Brain Game

imageHere’s an idea I adapted from a friend.  She calls it “Circle Time”.

What it is:  near the beginning of your school day (we do it right after our Bible lesson), hit several subjects quick, in the form of a little quiz-challenge.  I had no idea how our boys would take it, but jumped right in and tried. They actually love it, and it’s their favorite part of our school day currently (excluding break time)!

What we do:

I pull two to four cards from our Bible Question Card box related to our Bible lessons for that week Here’s what we use but any quiz book/cards/out of your head will do.

First–I ask 2-4 Bible questions quickly and see who can answer!

Next–if we have time, we do a Bible sword drill type question.  I read a verse and see who can find where I’m reading. I try to find important verses that they’d find handy to know.

Next comes the map game. Simply–I name a country, they find it on the map with the capital.  We are focusing on European countries, and I’ve been surprised at how many I’m not all that familiar with. For us, it’s better than focusing on the whole globe.  Learn one area well before moving on.  I usually do one or two only.

After countries we do 2 states.  Most of the boys know their states and capitals pretty well, so I may say the abbreviation, and let them find it quickly. Or, to make it harder, I’ve tried telling facts about the state, such as flower, nickname, etc.  They always want one more.  Everyone wants to find one first. I make it a point to stop before they get tired of it so they look forward to next time.

Finally, we go quickly over math facts. I do get groans here, but just pretend I can’t hear them.  We run through mostly times and division tables, 2-3 sets, for review.  I just have one boy who struggles here, so it’s nice to not single him out.  He gets the benefit of hearing and saying the correct answers, and we do more individual review later on.  This always reminds me of the Little House on the Prairie school scenes, where all the children recite together.

On a good day, this takes about ten minutes or less. Some days have stretched out more, mostly because the boys want more Bible navigation challenges, or more map searching. I like to see them excited. I am not kidding myself–I believe much of their enthusiasm  is fueled my the male need to conquer and win. For that reason, I attempt to avoid any spirit of competition, which immediately kills the nice learning atmosphere that we so desire!!

Thank you, Gloria, for the winning idea you passed along to me!

Now go make your own Brain Game!


Pray and Prepare…a new journey 

We needed a change in our homeschool. Interest and attention seemed to be waning, which, I realize is kind of normal; after all, how many boys would admit that they LOVE school?  Not mine, anyway. They look at it as something to be endured, until they get to go ride bikes and play around outside. Still…I do have a desire that they enjoy themselves while learning, and I knew this was possible.

I made the somewhat radical decision to totally change up our curriculum, mid-year!  It may be a crazy experiment, but I believe that whatever happens, we will learn from our time along this new trail.

Speaking of trails, that’s really what our new curriculum is all about–blazing trails, wilderness survival, and practical approaches to everyday life that will help us to meet whatever challenges the future holds. The best preparation, as Christians, is to have our hiding place in Jesus, who is the only one who can protect us ultimately. Yet there are prudent measures families can take to deal with emergencies and unexpected life events.  Taking a first-aid kit along while hiking, anticipating tornadoes and making some basic preparations, learning how to care for illnesses from what grows around us–all of these things are really common sense skills, but we don’t always give them much attention.

So, the name of the curriculum is Pray and Prepare.  You can get it here: Prepare and Pray.  It’s not very well-know, I’m finding, and so as I’ve tried to do some research on the curriculum, I haven’t found too many users of it.  That’s why I decided to share what we end up doing with it. Because it is a unit study approach, many subjects overlap, and every home using it will have its own unique way of carrying out the projects. It’s very much pick and choose, and since we are just getting started, I am having to figure it out as we go.

This is our third week into it, with one whole week housing a sick boy.  So, there have been some bumps in the road. I think the biggest bump so far is figuring out how much to try to tackle each day. Those first days, although they had fun activities, stretched out way too long into the afternoon, which was wearying. I’d been told to not try to tackle every project listed, but I tend to want to, and that leads to fatigue and mental overload. So, a couple projects per week is all we can really tackle, and concentrate on the basics the other times.

Our first week projects included making a bear bag, which is what you’d do while camping to store your food away from bears. I read the description of how to make it to the boys, and was content with that information. That’s my tendency. But I felt a prick of conscience telling me that I got this guide so that we could learn hands-on, not just read it & regurgitate it.  So, we toon the mesh onion bag, and packed it with food, got the tape measure, and had to go outside to hunt up the right size tree, then measure and hang the thing.  I can tell you which method the boys and I will remember–the one we did, not read!!  Lesson for me, who would often rather sit on the sofa than get up and go out!  Maybe this curriculum is more for me!!!

In our wild edible portion (you get to pick your own plants research), we studied the pine tree and mullein. We ended up learning so much about the pine tree and all it has to offer in a survival situation, that we needed the whole week instead of one day.  We actually harvested the inner bark if the pine tree and cooked it–we kind of liked it!  I don’t think we will be frying pine bark in coconut oil in a survival situation, unless we happen to be stranded on a tropical island, but it was good learning.

Also from the pine tree, we made pine needle tea, which we all agreed tasted more like medicine than Celestial Seasonings. And the tea left our mouths feelin dry, like when you eat an unripe persimmon. Not really a big hit here. But, it does contain five times more vitamin C than an orange, so don’t cross it off your survival list!!

Pine sap is useful in many ways, one of which is making a torch!!  As soon as my youngest two heard that, they shot off outside to cut a big stick and harvest some pine pitch!!  I think their eagerness probably led to some skipped steps in their torch-making process, because I never did see a very long time-burning flame, but I believe that understood the process.  Do remember pine pitch for any wounds or cuts while hiking, because it has soothing and healing , as well as antimicrobial properties, and makes a pretty good glue for your cut!

Mullein, we learned, had many useful properties too. The boys remember the “Cowboy Toilet Paper”!  We finally found some right out back today, so I harvested some for tea. While the tea is fairly pleasant, those tiny hairs from the leaves do not feel good, so I would think long and hard before I’d use the mullein for TP.  I need to mention that to the boys.  Not everything has to be experienced!

Not directly from the P&P, we have been studying camping skills also. So, yesterday, youngest camper showed how he could build and start a fire with just one (almost) match. The windy day did not help his one match, but it did ignite with just one!  Also, he needed to bake bread on a stick!  He gave a valiant attempt, but since the biscuit dough was gluten-free, it just would not stick to that stick!!  So…we got biscuits the ordinary way!!

Middle Man Bro build us a nice fork thing for hanging pots on over the fire. We haven’t made any soup on that fire yet, but one day we will try.

For writing projects so far, the boys have had to create posters detailing the nine survival priorities, which is very practical. Don’t worry about food if you don’t have shelter or water available, etc. The next week was a small research project on ducks. Is week we chose our own writing project out of our Bible lesson on Naaman. We are focusing on Little Maid and the preparation her parents obviously gave her before she was carried away into captivity.  That was a sobering thought for me–we are preparing our children for an unknown future.  That’s where the Pray really comes in.

I’m leaving out lots, but for now will just hit on some of the hands-on projects, because that’s what we are trying to fit more of into our learning.

Today we took another side trip because the boys are working in a Seed honor for Pathfinders. They had to collect thirty different kinds of seeds!  That would be much easier during a different part  of the year, but even on this dreary and cold day, we traipsed around and found enough.  No, we don’t have black beans growing in our back yard;  they were allowed to choose ten from household and seed packets. I was surprised but not surprised to see which of our boys really don’t into this project–my Middle Man!  He loved it! Sometimes I am at a loss as to what will motivate him–turns out it’s Nature!  The Little Man seemed to enjoy it too–they worked together!  Big Bro–my most motivated usually, did his part, but it was not really his cup of tea.

Here are a few shots from these first weeks (Unit one).  So far so good.  The major lesson is to not over-do the projects.

Organizing the seeds

Mullein from out back!


The cooking fork

Freshly harvested inner pine bark

Thirty-plus seeds!

Toasting the bark!

One match fire

Inner pine bark that we toasted

Up a tree harvesting pine bark


On boys and writing…

Boys.  Writing.  Hmmm…

I will have to say that for all three of our boys, we have had a love hate relationship with writing.  They simply don’t enjoy it.  It’s tedious.  It seems hard.  Ideas are slow to come.   It’s a drag.   For a while.

I don’t think that this is uncommon.  I have spoken to several moms of boys and they have expressed similar sentiments. Their boys don’t enjoy writing.   I recently learned that this is sometimes a developmental hurdle.  Boys’ brains don’t myelinate at the same rate as girls’, often two years later (depending on the area), so tasks that girls master at a set age may take longer for boys!  Boys take longer to develop the motor skills for fine-tuned tasks such as writing, and so when they seem to be bungling along with writing, it may be because it is literally difficult for them!  Enough about that!  Bottom line–boys often don’t like writing and it may be hard for them!

This is VERY TRUE in our household!  Our older boy, who is approaching twelve, is finally getting to where writing is not a tedious task that saps him of all of his energy!  It used to do that, and not too long ago!  Our ten-year old still struggles with the mechanics of writing.  And I believe that, like our firstborn, it will get easier, but we have to work with nature.

To help inspire our boys with a desire to write at all, I’ve had to be creative and find something they would be interested to write about!  Letters to Grandpa, uncles and aunts, Grandma, friends–those provide interesting topics and usually help to get the creative juices flowing. Usually.  😕

But I’ve got one who just has a hard time thinking of anything to write about.  He does love to chatter, but when I would ask him to write a letter, or a creative writing assignment, he would just freeze, or sit and apparently daydream, for LONG periods of time!   Sometimes, after thirty minutes, only two words would be written down!   This greatly frustrated me, and many times I would command, in exasperation, “Just write something!”  Which, of course, didn’t really inspire much writing at all, just more pressure. 😕

One day, exactly a month ago, I happened to be talking with a lady from the umbrella school that we are registered under. Somehow the topic of reluctant writers and daydreaming boys came up.  She offered me an idea that sounded promising.  I have implemented it, and I already see a relaxing of the tension that prevents creative thought and paralyzes the writing process!  In other words, so far, so good!

Here’s the simple idea.  She called it a game.  We just call it the new creative writing time, and, now, that is turning into a positive time!

•Everybody gets a pencil and blank paper

•Explain rules:  no erasing, no crossing out, no worrying about spelling, punctuation, or grammar

•Timer gets set for ten minutes

•Announce a topic that the children know very well, like Noah’s ark, or Grandma, or whatever they are very familiar with.

•Say, “Go!”

•They must write whatever pops into their heads, no matter how ludicrous it seems!  They may be thinking, “I wonder why Mom is making me write about ______.” Well, then that’s what they should write down.  Just write, write, write the whole time, and when the timer goes off, stop!

•Share the writing, then toss it in the trash!

•After this process becomes very easy, then start taking the papers they wrote and begin the editing process, using them as a rough draft.

The first day, all the boys really got into this!  It was low-pressure, and I was pleased to see more than two words in a certain someone’s  paper.   After we read them and I told them then to throw them into the trash, they looked at me in horror!  No way!  I’m telling you, writing around here is a challenging thing, and there was no way they were going to throw hard work into the trash!  So, I let them file them.  Fine with me.

We’ve done this a couple of times a week, and I’m already seeing improvement!  I think my reluctant writer wants to have everything just right before he begins, and this is showing him that it’s ok to just brainstorm.  I’ve also seem that he does better if I give him a little advance warning about the topic instead of springing it upon him.   He is like me in that respect–needs to mull things over before the thoughts start to flow.   Yesterday and today, I chose a boy and secretly told them to choose the topic for the day.  They really liked that!  And I got a glimpse into what was in their minds by what topic they chose to write about, so that was neat for me.

I hope that this will encourage some frustrated mom or some frustrated reluctant writer.   If your child believes that he can’t write, this can really help him to see that he can!

And, just as a side note, if the cumbersome burden of getting the actual words on paper is holding your child back, he can dictate to you what he is thinking, and you can write the words down.  This will help him to learn to think clearly, and the words will still be his own.  He will learn by watching you, and he can gradually start to replace your writing with his own!

Give it a try and see what you think!