Math Monday::Memory Games = Better Math Skills

I noticed with Naturalist and myself that a lot of our problems with math actually have very little to do with the numbers and lots to do with our poor short term memory. (well, actually, we also have big problems with numbers, too, but one thing at a time!)

If you have a mathphobic kid that you are trying to help out, I suggest doing fun memory exercises rather than keep focusing on the rote memorization stuff or straight computation. Because the foundation for doing any of that well is a strong memory. How can you memorize math facts if your memory is full of swiss cheese holes?!

This is a great thing to do if your child has panic attacks surrounding math, or who says they hate it with a passion. If you can make math fun, then they have a harder time hating it, and when they stop hating it, they relax, and when they relax their brain works better. So spend your math time doing fun games instead! And if you can combine fun games with candy, then it’s all that much better.

Here’s a few that we like to do…without pictures because I’m in over my head with life a little bit this week. But I’ll explain it really well for you.

Take a handful of M&M’s. Put up a barrier of some sort, so you can see them on the table but your kid can’t, then arrange 4 of them in a pattern. Lift up the barrier for 2 seconds, then lower it, then have them recreate the pattern in front of them. If they can do that without a problem, increase it to 5 M&M’s. Then 6, then 7…the point is to build up to as many M&M’s as they can. You may need to adjust the time they can see them from 2 seconds to something longer. Then switch and have them come up with the sequence and you try to reconstruct it.

If you don’t want to use candy (but really why wouldn’t you?!), this can be recreated with just about any colorful toy. Legos work really well! Just sequence the colors in a specific pattern, let your child see it, then cover it up again, then have them try to reconstruct it with their legos. Keep building up to a greater and greater number of legos. You can also vary the time they reconstruct it…have them wait 30 seconds after you cover yours back up, or a minute, or even 5 minutes after they see it.

This has been a fun way for Naturalist and I to work on our memory skills, which in turn has helped our math recall. And, we’ve gotten to eat candy in the process! It’s a win win!

Other Resources:
My favorite fun math skills gamebook…125 activities to build skills for better math, and not necessarily through math computation drills! Mega-Fun Math Games and Puzzles for the Elementary Grades: Over 125 Activities that Teach Math Facts, Concepts, and Thinking Skills (Jossey-Bass Teacher)

our family favorite memory game, this one is so much fun, and no math at all!!! But totally develops memory skills that will help with retaining math facts/ideas. Tell your kid it’s time for math, then play this game, they’ll think they’re in heaven! STARE! Game

(STARE! JUNIOR if your kids are younger!)

Christmas Day!

Happy Holidays, for those who celebrated! We all got nestled in our beds by about 11 Christmas Eve, making sure to leave some goodies for Santa on the kitchen table:

everyday life 38.

We were up before the sun, the kids woke up first, ran down to make sure Santa had come, and then ran back up to report to us. Golfer, who had been over to his cousins the night before, remarked that even though Santa had been here, we still had less presents under our tree after Santa came than his cousins did under there tree even before Santa. It’s tough to explain presents (or lack thereof) in economic terms to a 10 year old, but we tried. “Christmas is about giving, it’s about love and family!” we told him. His look let us know he didn’t really agree.

But a happy time was had by everyone, we were left with an explosion of wrapping paper and discarded boxes in our living room, and kids scattered to the four corners each to play with their own toys.


I spent lots of time in the kitchen, preparing for the Christmas feast. I love everything about the holidays, but this ritual is my favorite. I put on my little apron and begin to create the holiday staples: cinnamon rolls, roast, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, rolls, sweet potatoes, peach cobbler, and candied carrots.

everyday life 40.

When I’m elbow deep in bread dough, kneading and punching it, I feel like I’m welcoming in all the women who came before me in my family. I think about my spunky great grandma, who lived long enough to know Naturalist, and who I adored. I think about my dad’s mom, who lived long enough to see me into college. And I think about my mom’s mom, who passed away from cancer when I was barely 2. Maybe because I have so few memories of her (eating apples and cinnamon oatmeal at her table is one), I think about her a lot. Many of our staples have come from her cookbook, and I know that she was doing the same things at Christmas for my mom that I am doing now for my family. I hope my thoughts welcome them all into our home, in one form or another, as these amazing women are the foundation of everything I am.

And that’s kind of what Christmas means to me…creating traditions and memories that will last throughout our lives, no matter where my kids end up, or what happens to me. I love that part of celebrating together! I know that years down the line, when they’re baking cinnamon rolls or playing games or something, they’ll think of me and I’ll be with them even if I’m not.

And, the large family gathering–some years we’re close together, and some years we’re spread apart. This is one of those years when all 4 of my siblings (and all the cousins…it seems our family grows exponentially!) are close by:


And of course I can’t forget all the holiday hugs:


Simple Abundance.

simple abundance

white christmas
perfect snowflakes
Colorado winter
hot chocolate
french toast with cinnamon and vanilla
cozy blankets
christmas lights

simple things that make my heart full.

look at the snowflakes up close…

A Very Special Episode In Which A Mom and Her Teenage Daughter Go On A Date.

Everyday life 34.

Today I had planned for all three kids and myself to go to Colorado University’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’. And then realized that wasn’t likely to happen when Golfer started crying at the thought of going ‘to another play this year!’. I still was going to pack him along, explaining that the ticket cost money to buy and I wasn’t going to waste it. He offered to pay me double the price I paid for the ticket to let him stay home, which made me laugh and think of all the starbucks hot chocolate I could get for myself, so we made that deal. I went to gather Sassy up to come, but she had watched what Golfer did and gave me 5 quarters and some pennies to let her stay behind, too. So she did. (And I think I’m on to something here…)

This left Naturalist and I to go just the two of us. As is the custom, as soon as she got in the car she went to put her earbuds in her ears to listed to her itunes music. Instead, I offered to let her be the DJ and spin some of her tunes hooked into the car speakers. At least that way I could communicate with her…even if I did have to listen to some Metallica on the way.

The play was amazing! We met up with a huge audience-full of homeschooled kids, who were totally into the show. In fact, afterwards, the actors came back on stage to thank us for being the best audience they’d had for the show. One of the leads admitted that he often doesn’t look forward to the matinee performances for schoolkids, but that our group was the most reactive and fun to perform for. So, that was nice!

On the way home we stopped by Smashburger to share a burger and fries using Golfer’s money, and then we stopped at a bakery so we could eat some delicious pastries in peace and quiet. There is no happier place in the world than a bakery during the holidays!

Christmas at the bakery

At first we just sat and looked at each other. Naturalist is really good at giving off this vibe that says (to me, anyway…) “I am so uninterested in being here right now with you.” LOL. I think it’s a common gift most teenagers have in common. But I’ve developed thicker skin in the last year of her teenageness, so don’t let that stop me from starting a conversation with her. Usually best done by doing something silly or making her laugh in some way. And then, once I make initial contact, it’s imperative I don’t mess it up by talking. She’s listened to me talk at her for 13 years, now it’s my turn to listen to her.

She talked about being an ornithologist. She talked about her dreams of becoming a falconer–but first she has to find a mentor and capture her own hawk. She talked about how California has some amazing and unique birdwatching. She said that she wants to travel the world, looking for birds, but not with kids because kids would ruin it (!!!!lol), she wants to go with friends first. And then she’ll go back with her kids, but they’ll be adopted because there are so many kids without homes or families. She talked about so many things, once she got started. We named her well, Todd and I, because her thoughts and voice runs along in so many directions and speeds, just like a brook running down a mountainside. We didn’t know she’d be a Naturalist back then, but if we had we couldn’t have picked a better name than Brooke.

And then, after stuffing ourselves silly and talking up a storm (or, her talking, me listening), we returned back home.

Having a teenager is still a new experience for me, it still feels strange to look over at my baby and see her taller than I am with an attitude to match. It’s as foreign as the time when I brought her home as a newborn–not knowing what to expect or how to act. But, so far, these days have been good ones, and watching her grow into herself continues to be one of my life’s biggest joys. Especially if pastries are involved.

2e Tuesday::multisensory learning

I have a big mix of friends that read this blog; some homeschoolers, some public schoolers, some private schoolers…some dudes, even…of course, all are awesome. One thing I know is that if you have a 2e kid–creative, right brained, divergent thinking, gifted with significant learning differences–regardless of where they go to school, you are a homeschooler. You have to take their homework and then reteach it so they understand. You have to work, hard, with them to help it make sense and stay relevant. They may go to school every day, but the real learning probably only starts once they’re one on one with you.

With that in mind, here are my favorite resources for learning with this particular learning style. All these have been tried and tested chez Child’s Play, and all are in continual use…some for the last 5 years pretty solidly. Even though we don’t divide our day or ‘homeschool’ into sections (thus, we are unschoolers!), I will here for some clarity, and to help out those that do!

English and writing:
probably one of the most stressful things for a 2e kid and parent to work through–writing for a visual thinker is torture. I love the following resources because it allows kids to think in visual mind maps, type it out, and then with a press of a button it will take the mind map and put it into an outline. With another press of a button, it will take that and form it into a paragraph! These programs can be used across every subject. I started out with this when Naturalist was still in public school (3rd grade) and even though we don’t do ‘school’ anymore, my kids still use this program…it’s that fun!

elementary and middle school:
Kidspiration 3

The visual way to explore and understand words, numbers and concepts. For K-5 learners, Kidspiration develops thinking, literacy and numeracy skills using proven visual learning principles. In reading and writing, Kidspiration strengthens word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension and written expression. With visual math tools, students build reasoning and problem solving skills. Across the curriculum, students express their creativity and thinking with pictures, words and numbers.

for middle school and up:
Inspiration 8.0

Inspiration® 8 is the essential tool students and adults rely on to plan, research and complete projects successfully. With the integrated Diagram and Outline Views, they create graphic organizers, develop ideas and expand topics into writing. As a result, students gain and retain a better understanding of concepts and demonstrate knowledge, improving their performance across the curriculum.

This has the ability to be so FUN and imaginative, and it’s a shame that at school it can be so boring (if it’s taught much at all–the state testing has decreased the time spent talking about art/history/science/music and focused more time and attention on math and english). Multisensory history can be supplemented with lots of things. Puzzles, for one!

american history puzzles,

and don’t forget all the History board games

I wonder if, instead of boring essays, teachers would ever accept a completed puzzle instead?!

For video/computer games, you can’t go wrong with Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, and Golfer went nuts for History Channel: Battle For the Pacific. There are tons of historical video games out there!

Basically, go to Amazon or google, and type in whatever point of history you/your kid is studying, and add the word ‘game’ after it…it’s amazing how many fun things there are to do with history!

For the most epic science game ever created, look no further than:
Spore and the follow up Spore Galactic Adventures

You start as a single cell, and then spend the game evolving into more complex creatures until you are exploring and conquering the universe. It is amazing, and highly playable even though it touches on just about every kind of science imaginable.

Also, if you have a naturalist (like I do!) run and get Zoo Tycoon 2: Ultimate Collection I linked to the ultimate collection, which has the original Zoo Tycoon game plus the 4 expansion packs: African Adventures, Endangered Species, Marine Mania, Extinct Animals. A SIMS like game, the goal is to create a thriving zoo. This means constructing correct habitats for the animals you put in your zoo, maintaining the grounds, and keeping your guests and animals happy. This has been a part of our gameplay for 5 years, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Not only are my kids learning about biology and ecology, they are also getting a fair amount of math. Understanding economics and spreadsheets are a vital part of the game if you want to make it to 5 stars…one night I overheard Naturalist ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind looking over some spreadsheet information on a zoo she was creating…”I’m losing money somewhere, I need to stop the flow to be successful!” she pleaded.

And again, don’t underestimate the power of science puzzles!

I kind of covered all this here!

Overall learning:
I know there are a lot of people out there who really don’t like video/computer games, and certainly wouldn’t consider them educational. I am not one of those people. Video games were made by visual spatial thinkers for visual spatial thinkers. I love the intuitive way video games level the difficulty up, so you’re always on the edge of knowing what you’re doing but not knowing what you’re doing. That’s where learning happens…when you’re pushed to really think about things. We have the Wii platform, and they have some amazing games that teach you to learn how to learn. Super Mario Galaxy…amazing! The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess…solving puzzles and using brain power to beat the game, not to mention hand/eye/brain coordination…I think this was the best kind of occupational therapy my kids ever had.

But my favorite favorite learning game is hands down Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree I could have skipped all the professional testing we did for Naturalist to determine where her scholastic strengths and weaknesses were, and just played this game to see it. There are five categories to play: memory, analysis, number crunching, visual recognition, and quick thinking. You cycle through, answering a handful of fun questions for each category–they level up in difficulty as you answer them correctly. At the end it gives you a graph that charts out where you scored for each level. My 2e self was very apparent on the graph…I was off the charts for visual recognition and analysis, but barely scored at all on number crunching. The best part is, the more you play the better you get!

So, there’s the top of the top resources for us here at 2e Central. If you have anything to share that I haven’t mentioned here, give it a shout out in the comments…I’m always on the lookout for more!

Math Monday::Gumdrops & Toothpicks

Tis the season for Christmas candy! To take advantage of all the gumdrop packages on the grocery shelves, the Creative Math Club went ahead and organized a gumdrops & toothpicks day. Each kid had two packages of gumdrops and a container of toothpicks to use, and we started our meeting by making 2D shapes with them–officially called regular polygons because the equal sized toothpicks make them automatically equilateral (all sides have same length) and equiangular (all sides have equal in measure).


I made a spreadsheet with 20 spaces for regular polygons, starting with a triangle. It also had spaces to fill in how many edges and vertices it had, as well as space for what the angles measured. Edges are the sides, denoted by how many toothpicks are used…vertices are where two sides meet up, denoted by how many gumdrops are used. Once the kids modeled a 2D shape, they measured the angles with a protractor and then they filled in the spreadsheet information.


The wikipedia article on regular polygons has the names for the polygons up through 20 sides, and then the names for even bigger polygons like the megagon.

I found it really fascinating to watch how the angular shapes changed the more toothpicks we used. A triangle opened up into a square, which opened up into hexagons and octagons. By the time we got to the 20 sided icosagon, it more closely resembled a circle. Those were used as necklaces and embellished into peace signs.


Once we were done investigating 2D polygons, we moved on to 3D polyhedron shapes. But! Not just ANY polyhedron shapes, we focused on the five platonic solids. I also made a spreadsheet for this, with spaces for the polyhedron name, how many edges, how many vertices, and how many faces it had. And then we went to town building, from simple to more complex. I used a hands on resource page, here, as a rough lesson plan.



(which apparently I forgot to take a picture of)


we talked about how Plato associated each of them with one of the four elements, and also how they were the shaped dice used for games like D&D (any kid who’s a gamer will enjoy this association a lot!)–those dice are actually called polyhedral dice that we use for most if not all of our math games!


Being creative math, I’m not promising that everyone filled in their spreadsheet 100%, or that there wasn’t a fair amount of creating other shapes going on. But I am promising that we all had a good time discovering shapes (2 and 3D) and characteristics using gumdrops & toothpicks!

gumdrop math

If your kid really gets into hands on building with gumdrops, I highly recommend the Zometool, which is based on this kind of constructing, and it takes it into different interests like chemistry (making chemical reactions), biology (making viruses), etc. It’s a big hit over here.

Links to resources I used to prepare for this that I’ve bookmarked on delicious is here.

Christmas prep!

our tree

We’re getting our tree all decorated–Sassy is a big help and puts on the ornaments right where she wants them.

We’ve also hung the stockings:

everyday life 28.

set out my snowglobe collection:

nutcracker snowglobokeh

and even set up the nutcrackers, even though they freak Sassy out:

santa nutcracker

I love getting out the nativity sets, too…

bear angel

basically, I love christmastime!

I :heart: ...


Candy Canes bring out the love.


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