Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: The Climbing Knights

Yesterday was Jasper's birthday! His most exciting gift was an AWESOME game called The Climbing Knights. This is a multi-faceted strategy game with an interesting gameplay. The King is having a climbing tournament. You're a knight, and you need to get to the top of the tower, grab your colors, and get to the bottom without being caught by the guards. Three dice determine your turn - the guard could move around his catwalk, or he could fall asleep. He could catch you, or you could sneak by. If he catches you, you fall down to the next story and lose your progress. Make it to the top, grab your banner, and slide down the front of the castle twice, and you win.

This game is sturdy, TALL, and visually appealing. It requires no reading. Best of all, because of the size of the assembled castle, you can't really play sitting down, so it's perfect for squirrely little kids! The knights are magnetic, and if anything the only concern I would have is that the roof of the castle should be a little taller to accomodate for your knight when he reaches the top to grab his banner and needs to slide back down. They didn't stick very well for us; we kept knocking them off.

It's a Simply Fun game, which means all the pieces are guaranteed - if you lose one, you just let them know and they will get a new one to you. I don't know about you, but my kids lose game pieces all the time - however, they have not actually lost a Simply Fun game piece yet - and we play them ALL the time. I bet I can pinpoint why - the packaging. The boxes feature a molded plastic insert that shows exactly where each piece goes, so they can see if they are missing something at the moment they are putting it away, and can find it then, rather than later when the piece disappears into the ether.

We had a wonderful time playing this game this morning after breakfast. It took about 30 minutes, maybe a little longer because we all had to be reminded what order to read the dice in. The first time through a game is almost always super rough in this house, because nobody is totally comfortable with the rules yet, but for whatever reason, this one was already fun!

You can only get Simply Fun Games through a dealer. I mean, a playologist....yeah. And lucky for YOU, I know one! Katie Silliman is my dealer....I mean...playologist...and she can help you find all kinds of amazing games. The best way to get with her is to join her Facebook group!

And you totally should - I want you to know, I got this game for $1, thanks to Katie. So join the group, and get a copy for yourself.

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own personal views, I was not compensated for them in any way. I just like to share stuff I like, I don't have to get anything out of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How to Homeschool For Free: 50+ Free Resources

I realized a little bit ago that I may have neglected to share some important information with you. I'm so sorry about that.

You can homeschool for free, or almost free.

I mean, obviously someone in your home has to be able to support your family, and there may be some logistical challenges that I'm not qualified to adequately address. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the folks who say, "Homeschooling is so expensive! How do you afford it?" or "I wish I could homeschool but it costs too much."

Okay, look. I don't have a lot of money. We're a one-income family, here. We do use Thinking Tree as a spine for our learning, which is fairly inexpensive when you compare to a boxed curriculum, and I do buy new things. But I don't HAVE to. By no means do I have to. I buy books and games and materials mainly for pure materialistic fun. Because we WANT them.

Because you know what? We could easily homeschool using just free resources. Most of what we do is free. We do pay for internet, and Netflix and Amazon Prime, but we would pay for those anyway because we want to surf the web and watch the shows. You'll obviously have to buy paper, pencils, notebooks, etc - but you have to do that and more with public school.

The following are resources that I have either personally interacted with, or (far more rarely) a close friend that I trust has personally interacted with and told me it was great.

Teachers Pay Teachers has an amazing collection of free or cheap printable worksheets.

YouTube. Yes, I know, it's user created content. But there is SO MUCH GOOD out there, especially when it comes to science. There are some really amazing educational YouTube channels that can help you dig deeper into a topic. Additionally, many of the same documentaries you can find on Netflix and Prime you can find on YouTube.

PBS Kids: They make every list for me. Tons of games, lots of good science, spelling, reading, etc. Videos if they want. And PBS is provided by viewers like you!

Arcademics is Arcade + Academics. Educational and fun games that result in learning of reading, math, spelling, and the logic and reasoning that accompanies any video game.

Ambleside Online is an old, old, old Charlotte Mason homeschooling program that provides you with a list of books for each grade level that covers history, science, language arts, and geography. You can also get book lists from Sonlight and Bookshark, just click on your child's grade.
Easy Peasy All In One Homeschoolis a great curriculum, offers you a day by day plan and it's totally free. Lots of printing but I hear a lot of great things about it.

Oh gosh. Let's see. We used Starfall, which the boys didn't really like. They loved Teach Your Monster To Read, which is a free offering from Usborne.

Spelling City is really great, you can input their spelling lists. The boys have enjoyed this more than any other spelling app or program we have attempted. Which is to say, they still hate it, but they hate it....less.

Khan Academy is a wonderful math program (and it frees the parent from having to actively teach math). It goes all the way up through calculus, differential equations, all that. A godsend, I know. And free!
Prodigy: This math game looks like a MMO almost pokemon game, but in order to advance, you have to get better at your math. You set the grade level, then you can assign topics, say, measurement, or 3 times tables. Whatever you need.
Calculation Nation is a math game community for upper elementary through middle school, lots of gaming, nice interface.

Google Earth. We live in Texas, which is closer to Mexico than most other states, but that doesn't mean we can pick up and field trip there. Enter Google Earth. Recently, my boys took a tour of Mexico city, where they stumbled upon the Casa Azul (home of the renowned artist Frida Kahlo, whom we had just finished studying) and they were actually able to tour the inside. Hello?! We just did geography, history, and art, with a free mini Google Earth field trip.
Geography Games. I won't lie, they're pretty simple, but they get the job done. Everybody loves a good map game, right?

Foreign Language:
Duolingo and Memrise are great free apps for foreign language learning. You can also use the language pod websites: type in the languagepod101.com and it'll come up. Like, SpanishPod101.com, or HebrewPod101.com, or GermanPod101.com - ALL of their sites have a free version that is plenty of content that will last quite some time.

National Geographic is a wonderful website with many fantastic and valuable articles which you can view for free. Some things may not be appropriate for younger folks, may cause more questions than you have answers to, and for those kiddos, let me show you NatGeoKids. The website has videos, facts, articles, and games.
Love animals? Check out all the livecams on explore.org. We have watched baby bald eagles hatching, bears catching salmon, sea lions kind of laying there barking at each other. If you're not sure what to click, hit TRENDING to the left and it'll show you who's active right now. I highly recommend the bears if they are available to you. So entertaining.
My seven year old is really into endangered species, so recently he has been spending a lot of time on the US Fish and Wildlife website looking that up. He finds the animal, reads the blurb, tells me how beautiful it is, writes down the name, then we type it into YouTube and he watches a documentary about it.
He also loves All About Birds, which is....about.....birds. 585 different species of birds, actually. You can learn facts about them, hear their call, and videos are available too.
If astronomy is more your thing, check out Starchild, from the NASA website. This site is great for kids ages 5-13. If your astronomer is older (or just wiser in the topic of space) check out the sister site Imagine the Universe! You can also sometimes see live streamed interviews from the International Space Station. Considering the distance, it can be a little hit and miss, but when you get to see the videos, they are AWESOME.
I already mentioned the HHMI DVD offerings, all science, heavily medical, most will be best for older learners but some are appropriate for the younger. As of this post, 32 titles are available.
Save the Manatee will send you educational materials including coloring books and informational packets. You can send for this and then hang onto it for a day when nobody likes it, everybody hates it, and they guess they'll go eat worms. Just say, "Don't eat worms, let's learn about the manatee! New coloring books, guys!" That's my plan anyway.

The National Gallery of Art has a cool online presence. For kids, they explain kinds of art, teach about American folk art, Dutch art, and then let them create a little, both trying techniques, and creating a piece of jungle art in the style of Henri Rousseau
The Art History section by Khan Academy gets good reviews by two people I know who don't know each other, but I personally have not had occasion to use it yet.

Mission US! This is so cool. You're put in a position from history and you have to play the mission to see if you'll make it. You can be a printer's apprentice in the pre-revolution, an escaping slave, a Native American dealing with an oft-ignored side of the Westward Expansion topic, an immigrant in the labor movement, or a teen who is set to lose the family farm to the Depression. Yes, these are heavy topics. If your child is sensitive, you may want to wait. But the point is to showcase the struggle, the work, and the everyday lives of real people at the time, not just the big names in the history books. Who was it that made America, anyway? The people.
If you are more of a textbook type of person, or would just like to refresh your memory before you teach, check out US History, which is basically a searchable collection of textbook pages. It's really very impressive - go there and type something in!
If you grew up in America, chances are when you were little you watched Liberty's Kids. I bought the DVD collection a few years back, because I didn't realize I didn't have to. You can watch all the episodes online. *facepalm*
Eyewitness to History provides a great jumping off point for lots of conversations. The homepage gives you short blurbs of what they think people are interested in right now. Click through for a ringside seat to historical events. Best if you read them aloud. With feeling.
At some point, your kids will read Percy Jackson, and then they are going to want more. I did. Check out Greek Mythology on MythWeb. Type in a name, click search, and then click Encyclopedia for more information.
Khan Academy also offers very thorough US History and World History curricula.

I'm not sure if this goes under science or drama or what, but it's definitely educational. Probably computer? Anyway! Pixar in a Box! Does your kid want to be an Imagineer? Of course s/he does. Who wouldn't? Khan Academy has put together a whole course of how Pixar artists do their jobs, and then you get to learn to animate some things yourself. It's very cool.

Computers and Coding:
Blockly is a good one for teaching the very basics, though the child will have to be able to read. You can learn to code with code.org, or with Scratch at MIT, or with Python through Code Combat. Code Monster is good for learning Javascript.  Big kids can learn to create Android apps with AppInventor and I think that's pretty great. For bigger kids who want to learn HTML, CSS, and Javascript, Thimble will allow them to do lessons in how to create or modify those types of scripts.

Internet Safety:
Net Smartz Kids is a website that uses games and videos to teach kids about internet safety and cyberbullying. It's part of the CyberChip requirement of Cub Scouting, so you may already be familiar with it.

Financial Literacy: Visa has you hooked up here, guys. It might be because they want you to eventually open a card with them. But in the meantime, they offer tons of free materials. My kids have enjoyed the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy comic books, but there are also video games. Financial Football, Financial Soccer, Money Metropolis, and Peter Pig's Money Counter (for the little buddies). Isn't the lack of training in financial literacy one of the reasons we don't love the public education model? Get your kids some free materials to help with that.



Your public library. It is free (Except for the fees - that is the REAL cost of homeschooling) and crammed with resources. You can look through Magic School Bus, Magic Tree House, all the classic literature, you have experts right there to help guide you, you get to leave the house, it's wonderful. They have computers there too, if you haven't got one at home. And many libraries also offer games, CDs, and DVDs. Depending on their connectedness, they may be able to get you specific books through an interlibrary loan.

Anything you can't get through your library, you could try Project Gutenberg. This website offers a ridiculous amount of classic books as ebooks for free. Readability wise, not great for a kid, but you can use it easily as a read aloud. And it isn't fancy, just runs on a browser, so you can pull it up on your phone - you know you're never without it.

And so, that is my big list of free resources that can be used in homeschooling. It's by no means exhaustive and as I find new stuff I plan to add it here as well. If a link is broken, or if you have something you want me to check out and add, please comment and let me know!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Free Homeschool Materials: Science Documentary DVDs

Hey lovelies!! My friend sent me a link today that has me ALL excited - so excited that my husband is doing the post-dinner cleaning for me so I can tell you all about this. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will send educators (YES, that is you, you are an educator, educating your children after all) free DVDs about science. 32 different DVDs on different subjects.

They appear to be geared more toward middle and high school, and I know a lot of you are schooling big kids. But there were two (luckily for me, they were the first two) that were perfect for what my boys are studying!

Jonny is studying water birds for his NOVA Wild! project, so the one called Ecology of Rivers and Coasts is perfect for that. The description mentions fish, crabs, insects, snails, and algae, but it also says that one of the major themes of this program are food webs. Those animals are food for the water birds, and food webs are one of his goals on his checklist. I've got my fingers crossed that we will see some good birds in this DVD.

Jasper is interested in the outer planets of our solar system for his NOVA Out Of This World project, and The Farthest: Voyager in Space fits perfectly. The Voyager program has explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, which is a thing that my 8 year old child taught me. Go delight-directed learning! So he will be excited to watch that.

Like I said, there are 32 DVDs, most of which are for older kids and many of which are, perhaps very predictably considering the source, medical in nature. There are some cool ones, topics include DNA, evolution, AIDS, Alzheimers, Zika virus (if you live in southeast Texas and are homeschooling a big kid, you should totally do a project on mosquito-borne illnesses!), vaccines, the biology of skin color (which I have seen and it will make you feel very very disgusted by the fact that humans have treated each other differently based on something so ridiculously simple), and several about dinosaurs if you have someone who wants to dig in deeper and isn't intimidated by the big words. I'm not going to say it's for big kids because I have known some five year olds who could probably hold their own at a paleontology conference.

Anyway, check these out, sign up for an account, and get them mailed to you for free!!

Many, many thanks to Terra for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Unschooling in the Kitchen: Letting an Elementary Student Invent a Recipe

My 8 year old is probably a very typical 8 year old. He does not like to do anything that isn't his idea. Sometimes it's a little extreme, but for the most part, it just means he wants to decide what he wants to learn about, and within reason, be allowed to pursue that with my (very very basic) guidance.

Recently, he excitedly told me he was interested in baking. I said, "That's great! There's this book, and this one, and this one..." and he told me, "No, Mom. I want to create the recipe myself."

My gut reaction was to say no. First off, there was the issue of waste. Secondly....if it didn't work, he was not going to take it well. I know him. I said no. And his face crumpled. He walked away, drooping. I felt awful, and I could see all of a sudden how much I'm stifling him. So I said, "Well, hold on. If you know the basics of what has to go into what you're baking, I'm sure you could do it. Let's sit down and think this through."

He brightened, sat with me, and described a type of sugar cookie. I realized while he was talking that he really might be able to do this, and so I told him, "Now you know, right, that it might not turn out. What are you going to do if it doesn't?"

"Clean it up, toss it out, and try again. No big deal."

"Go for it," I said. He totally lit up. He started jabbering about eggs and baking powder and baking soda and making bubbles inside the cookies. He pulled down a bottle of homemade vanilla gifted from our friend, and cinnamon. He melted butter, measured flour, and mixed  everything together with a little cinnamon. He looked up finally and said, "Mom. It's not right. It didn't turn out."

I looked into the bowl, and his batter was runny. I said, "No, you have some options. You just need to bulk it up some. You could use more flour, or oats, even."

He chose oats, mixing in 1/4 cup at a time until he liked the consistency. He scooped them onto the baking tray and pushed them into the oven, saying, "Go with God." About halfway through, we realized they were burning on the bottom, but the top was raw. I explained the two variables - oven rack position and temperature - and he chose to change both. The second batch came out perfectly cooked.

How did they turn out? They were actually pretty good! Kind of a cakey oatmeal cookie, not too sweet, with vanilla and cinnamon. He named them "Leonid Cookies" after the meteor shower.

A few days later, he wanted to experiment with shortbread - a word he read in a *gasp* cookbook. They came out more like scones, because his proportions were not quite right, but they were absolutely edible. These he called Saturn Cookies, and he has since been working on his space-themed cookbook for kids.

What subjects did that hit?

Math - measurement of dry and wet ingredients
Science - adjusting temperatures and kitchen chemistry
Writing - he wrote down every step

We also hit life skills, attention to detail, self-confidence, and home economics.

I fully admit that it was a little scary for me to let him loose in the kitchen without a map. But even if he HAD wasted, what would it have been? An egg? 50 cents worth of flour? Nothing in comparison to the results - educational and personal.

Let them have control - for us, it was an unschooling win. What could really go that wrong in this situation? Have you ever let your kid into the kitchen unrestrained? Was your experience as good as ours?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review: Check the Fridge

If you have never played Check The Fridge, you should. Especially if you homeschool - but honestly, even if you have no children, you would have fun playing this game. It was made by Jeanie of Melon Rind games - a homeschool mom, just like me, only more artistic and creative! She also made the Clumsy Thief series of games, which I have not yet played but they are on my list. She told me recently that she has some more awesome games in the works and I honestly cannot wait to see what she comes up with. I bought this game several months ago, and am not being compensated in any way for this review - all my opinions are the real thing. And if you don't trust me, check out the smiles on my kids' faces down below. That should do it for you.

As a mom, I love when the game is attractive and fun even to me, and this game doesn't disappoint. The cards are beautifully designed - you have radishes, carrots, cauliflower, eggplants, peas.....and the stinky cheese!  Nobody wants to get the stinky cheese. The box itself is cleverly designed as the inside of a refrigerator, and the backs of the cards are a refrigerator door! It is so cute!

Each player is dealt 5 cards, the rest of the cards go back in the fridge. Your goal is to get sets of 25 - so if you have eggplants, you need a 4, a 6, and a 15, for example. On your turn, you ask for what you need - "May I please have some carrots?" The other players place their offer, face down in front of them, for the person requesting to choose from. Now, the rules do say that if you have what is being requested, you have to offer all of that type of vegetable. If you don't have them, you still have to put something down, to offer choices. Practice that poker face, because here's where you bluff: you can use this opportunity to get rid of something in your hand that isn't serving you.....or you could get rid of the stinky cheese! You then make sure everyone has at least 5 cards, refilling from the fridge if necessary, and play until the fridge is empty.

When you go to score, you count up the number of sets, and the person with the most, wins. If a person has a stinky cheese card, it cancels out one of the sets. We added a house rule, because for my competitive kids, the stinky cheese was close to causing a fist fight. We decided that if you have all three stinky cheeses, they count as a set. If you only have one or two, they cancel them out. Now, toward the end of the game, they are scrambling to figure out who has them.

This game is intended for 8 and up. I would agree with that age, because my 7 year old struggles with it, though he usually manages to win. Both boys have really improved on their counting and estimating, having played this game about once a week since the beginning of summer.  I love a game with a non-traditional play, and I especially love being able to get through math (no one here's favorite) with smiles on their faces.  If you are not ready to label yourself a gameschooler, that's okay - but you should definitely be playing games at least for math. There are so many great options out there for math games. I know you'll love this one.

To get your own copy, simply head on over to Amazon and order it! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Simply Fun's Math Room

Today I was inspired to review a game we own from Simply Fun! All opinions are my own, this is not a game we were given, this was purchased and I literally just love it to bits and have to share. So Math Room is a game that reinforces mental math skills. You have a hotel with numbered windows, and a key - one side minus, one side plus. On your turn, you roll the die, and everyone sees the color, then uses the key to complete the math fact. Then you take a window and cover the answer on your hotel board. Simple, right? Except that on your turn, whoever finishes their math fact first gets to ring the bell - which is a REAL HOTEL BELL and it's the most fun thing in the world, I think we play this game half the time just so the boys can ding the bell. It's wonderful. Anyway. If you're the first to ring the bell, you and only you get to flip your key to the other side, complete the math fact, and cover the window, just like Bingo! If you happen to roll a key instead of a number, everyone passes their key to the left, which gives you more numbers to practice with. The person who is best at math may not be the person who wins, because if the sum or difference is not on your board, you don't get to cover anything. So it's not like if you have a teen and a 6 year old, the teen will always win, because he's better at math. It's not your standard "math game" either - roll the dice, move  X amount of spaces, do a math fact. It's not flash cards. It's an educational game that doesn't FEEL like school - which is the whole point of gameschooling!

This game says it takes 15-20 minutes - it takes about 20 minutes to play - my 7 year old plays with a number line in hand so it does take us to the upper end of that window. But it's long enough to give them good practice, and short enough that nobody gets frustrated and over it. 
One of the things I really like about this manufacturer (which, again, is Simply Fun) is that the quality of the game itself is incredible. The boxes don't break down over time. We've had this game almost a year and it looks like we have never played it, it's still in perfect shape. The inside of the box is a plastic mold that fits perfectly to the items it needs to hold, so everything goes back exactly in its place and isn't in there loose flying around. The cardboard pieces are heavy chipboard, not cheap posterboard pop-outs. The bell, like I said before, is a real, heavy, metal bell. The kind you ring in a real hotel. Any piece that gets lost or damaged is replaced for free by Simply Fun, simply by contacting a playologist, which is what they call their consultants. You don't pay shipping for that privilege either. Your dog ate it, your toddler flushed it, it went out the window flying down interstate 10 into the swamp - whatever, they don't ask questions, they just send you the piece.
Math Room is intended for ages 5 and up, but the speed component really makes it still be a little challenging, or at the very least still fun, for older players as well. 

 This game is only one of 6 or 7 (honestly I'm not sure anymore how many we have, but I know we want more) that we have from this company. If you are interested in this game in particular, my friend Katie is a playologist with Simply Fun and she can point you in the right direction. She can also help you get discounted or free games - math, reading, history, geography, music, science, you name it, she has a game for it. Tell her I sent you, I bet she'd get a kick out of hearing you found her through me. So if you're into gameschooling, or if you just want your kids to do something a little more productive than stare at the TV or tear the house apart board by board while you make dinner, you should check out Simply Fun.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Travel Dreams: Mexico - A Review

Hello and welcome back! I hope you had a marvelous summer. We didn't really take OFF for summer, but I did take off of being on the computer so much. There is too much to do out in the world. We did a little traveling, caving, spending time with family, fishing, kite flying, rocket shooting, and game playing. But we also did a lot of school. 

We were recently given the wonderful opportunity to try out a PDF file of Travel Dreams: Mexico from The Thinking Tree, that company we have grown to love so dearly! I had that bad boy printed and I hole punched it and put it into binders for ease of use. This product is amazing - it provides the perfect outline for you to build your own country profile. You have pages that are big photographs of landscapes or places or things in Mexico. You have pages that say, "List 10 animals found in Mexico." We found out that Mexico has over 1500 different native species of animal, 15% of which are found NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. How cool is that? 

You have opportunities in Travel Dreams: Mexico to try Mexican cuisine, you are encouraged to find famous Mexican inventors, you learn where Mexico is on the map, and one ingenious page encouraged the boys to find 10 and label 10 things on a map of Mexico. It sounds simple, but it's not. You get to learn a few words in Spanish and practice writing and spelling them. All that stuff plus more, this is a really fun project. We wiped the library out of their books about Mexico.

One of the things we did to get some extra resources was write to the Mexican Embassy in Washington DC. The cultural promoter there, Mayra, sent us a lovely letter (thank you, Mayra!) and a HUGE packet full of full-color, beautiful informational guides. Everything from Aztecs and Mayas, to government, to geography, food, animals, holidays, music and dance. All written at about a 5th-6th grade level, so it was just fine for us.  We have so far worked our way through half of it, and the boys have not lost interest yet! The historical pages even seem to have inspired an interest in archaeology in Jasper (3rd grade-ish) and so we watched a couple episodes of Secrets of Archaeology on Amazon Prime, the Aztec and Maya episodes. Our cousin, who is an architectural conservator and has spent plenty of time in Mexico City, also sent us a Power Point presentation that she made to help the boys learn more about art, history, and Aztec cultural beliefs (Thank you Laura!) and that was a really interesting morning - and I don't think I could quite describe how excited they were to see their cousin IN the place they were studying. It was the same kind of excitement they got when my photo made it onto Good Morning America a couple years back.

The boys' big brother just got back from Mexico, so he let us check out a peso (Thanks Ben!). Foreign coins are always interesting to my little numismatists. We also spent a morning listening to mariachi music and taking a pretend drive around Mexico City with Google Maps, you know, since we can't just pop down to wander in person. When we were "driving" around, we accidentally came upon La Casa Azul! Frida Kahlo's house! Jonny figured out how to actually go inside it and walk around. You can go up the stairs to her room, see the paintings on the walls, go into the courtyard, everything! It was so amazing, and it was perfect for that day because we had read several books about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

You can't do a study on a country without spending PLENTY of time talking about FOOD. We live in Texas. Mexican food, or Tex-Mex, or whatever label you give it here, is part of our life. We've made tacos and nachos and quesadillas. We sampled spicy candy and sour tamarind candy. (Jonny is a BIG fan, Jasper is not even a little fan). We also learned from our packets that in Mexico, Maguey worms are considered a delicacy. Jasper got very excited and said, "Send Dad a picture of this and tell him I'm making this for supper tonight. Tell him it's educational and he HAS to eat it." Sadly, Brian didn't fall for it. We had guacamole and tortilla chips instead.
We also contrasted green versus red enchilada sauce, and discussed salsa preferences. We talked about restaurants we have been to down here that offer Mexican food. One of our packets was about food, so we found it really interesting to read that wherever you go in Mexico, the food is always different. Kind of like the United States. There is no such thing as "American food," really, right? Because you have Southern food, and Cajun, etc. Some parts of Mexico eat what's closer to native type food, some have more European flair to their cooking, some have some African and French influences due to slave trading after colonization started.

Of course we continued with some Spanish lessons, and one way we kicked it up a notch this time was to watch Coco in Spanish. Jasper was a little upset over my choice because, "I don't want to watch you cry in Spanish too, it's bad enough in English!" But Coco has a beautiful representation of how people have blended traditional and Judeo-Christian belief systems to create this wonderful concept of Dia de los Muertos to honor those who have gone before, and it reminded the boys that we need to hold on to the stories of our family after they're gone. We also enjoyed the introduction to canción ranchera music the movie provided - the boys love Tejano - especially Selena - so it was neat to see where Tejano music evolved from to become what it was in the 90s and then what it is today.

Our most recent - I almost said last, but we are not done studying Mexico and won't be for some time - lesson was for the boys to plan a trip to visit the capital of Mexico - La Ciudad de México - and choose who's going, how long we'll stay, and what we're going to do while we are there. Jasper was all about the sight-seeing, Jonny was very into the food. I think they would make for excellent travel partners and we would have a very balanced and fulfilling vacation to Mexico City! Maybe someday we'll get to go!

I cannot recommend Thinking Tree's Travel Dreams: Mexico more highly. It did not provide us with everything we needed to do the unit - and I find that to be an extremely positive thing. We learn by doing the work, by taking the steps to find out. Sure, I can hand my kids a book and say, "Read THIS book to learn." Or I can take them to a library and say, "Go find books about Mexican food." Now they have to go find a librarian, ask where the books about Mexican food are, and locate the book. Our librarians are great about not getting up and showing you - and I'm not being sassy. They write it down. Now the kids have to read the call number, use their Dewey Decimal skills, and locate the correct section. Now they're reading down a line of books that are organized alphabetically so they can find Mexico. They may even choose to use the computer library catalog to find the right book. If I make them find their own resources, they are also more likely to actually read it, because THEY pulled it off the shelf. They're committed to it because they chose it.

It allowed me to really dig into the lessons too. I never knew you could do so much with Google Earth. My 7 year old taught me more about pretend travel than I ever could have learned on my own. Frida Kahlo had a very interesting and active life, and a lot of that is not really G-rated, but we were able to find some books meant for children that showed her art to the boys, toured her home, and we read about Diego Rivera's murals as well. I was also inspired to find out more about her life myself and read my own books. So as a family, we were all studying Mexican culture and history, trying Mexican recipes, jamming to Tejano on the Pandora, and it became this all encompassing, awesome thing. And of course we were all loving the coloring, as with any Thinking Tree journal, there is PLENTY to color. It gives the mind a break from activity and lets all the information absorb.

I love helping my kids become citizens of the world. One of the best parts of homeschooling is that I can expose my kids to as many different ideas as possible. One of the major truths I want them to hold in their heart as they grow up is this: Most people are not like you, and their lives are worth knowing about. Digging into cultures in depth is a really great way to teach that kind of diversity, and when you don't have the money to jetset all around the world and experience things firsthand, it's tough to figure out where to start. That's the need this series fills.

I also like that Thinking Tree does not take any political or religious stance on anything in this book. Your job as a parent is to help guide your child in the direction that is right for you - and that may mean censoring some parts of a culture. Human sacrifice, for example, was a fact of Aztec cultural belief. They did that. You may want to keep that information away from your child at this time. There is plenty of political cannon fodder in the news right now - and it's all up to you whether you share that with your child and from which point of view. All these books do is provide the framework for you to learn about the country and the people in it - you provide your own resources and you can pick and choose which way to go on everything. That's really important for many families. 

The Travel Dreams series currently includes 14 different countries, and I believe more are in the works. We will be slowly working our way around the world - and we have our fingers crossed for a Travel Dreams: Poland sometime in the future! But until then, we have plenty to do. You can buy the PDF of your chosen Travel Dreams Journal through Educents and have them printed at Office Depot (yes, that is my referral link, you can always choose not to use it if you would prefer not to), or you can buy print-on-demand journals from Amazon to be sent to your home all ready for you to jump in. I am so thankful to the wonderful folks 
at The Thinking Tree, particularly Sarah Janisse Brown, who made this opportunity available to my kids and I.

What country are you most excited to study? Is there already a journal, or are you crossing your fingers too? Leave me a comment below; I'd love to chat about it!