Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bring the Magic School Bus Science Home

The Magic School Bus series was one of my favorite ways to introduce science lessons with both of my sons.  It was a science lesson and a real story line.  Unlike educational videos that often only provide information, the Magic School Bus was an adventure to get lost inside of exploring subjects such as decomposition, digestion and microbes, just to name a few.  Imagine bringing the science out of those episodes and books and into your home?

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If you have children (ages 5-12) who enjoy the Magic School Bus books or videos–and if you like doing science experiments with them–then you'll LOVE The Magic School Bus Science Club!

Developed by a team of Harvard graduates, scientists, and educators, the award-winning Magic School Bus Science Kits are delivered monthly right to your doorstep. Children will explore science through experiments that will spark an interest and curiosity in science.

Each kit includes a colorful manual based on The Magic School Bus characters, as well as everything you need to complete at least seven experiments related to that month’s theme.

What is included?

1 year subscription includes 12 Magic School Bus kits + FREE SHIPPING in the Continental USA (Ships to Canada for $2/month).

Each kit includes:

  • Detailed, large 12-page colorful manual that is full of experiments and topic information
  • Each manual is based on the popular Magic School Bus books and TV series
  • Includes an adult section so that adults with no science background will find the kits easy to use
  • Materials and information necessary for a range of interactive experiments
  • Online Clubhouse for further exploration on each kit topic
  • Certificate of Completion

  • Kit Topics:

    Would your family have fun with this? If so, now’s a great time to sign up:

    Through the end of the weekend you can receive 50% OFF a year’s subscription through Educents… and FREE shipping in the Continental United States! Ships to Canada for $2/month. This is an incredible deal! It's just $10 per month, DELIVERED!

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    Enjoy your exploration alongside Ms. Frizzle!

    Monday, July 4, 2016

    Summer Reading Incentives

    Each summer we sign up for the summer reading program at our local library.  Our family has participated for more than a decade.  There are nice prizes and our libraries are the absolute best - high tech and high energy.  I still like to spice it up and offer even more incentives.

    $100 for 100 books

    This idea came straight from the Dollar Tree.  I picked up the poster and thought, what a motivator!  We take it light during the summer and video game usage is not restricted to "weekends only" as during the traditional school year.  Offering additional incentives to encourage self-motivated variation in the evening activities seemed liked a great idea! 

    Summer Reading Bingo

    I got this great idea from the Free Homeschool Deals blog.  Visiting the library is a part of what we do as a family.  Our libraries offer lots of fun activities, classes, programs and even chess. Most of the time I choose the books from the library. I will sit down on the floor and slowly go through each book on a shelf to find just the right treasure.  My sons may not go that far, but this activity will encourage them to explore the many genres in the library.  Scholastic also has a summer reading bingo printable that includes fun activities to do while reading.  Successful completion equals a $25 gift certificate to Game Stop from mom.

    The Read the World Summer Book Club

    Reading around the world is something we already do.  Joining a club of readers doing the same thing sounds like fun.  So we are joining the Read the World Summer Book Club with Jamie C. Martin of Simple Homeschool.  Each week the club reading will focus on Africa, Asia, Europe and other parts of the world.  Membership includes free downloadable activity suggestions and a link up party at the end. I've also added a fun incentive.  We will choose a place to have dinner as a family that features the cuisine from one of the places we visit in our readings.

    Teen Summer Reading Incentives

    KingMan has lots of reading to do this summer that is not related to summer reading.  He is studying for his learner's permit, studying for his life guard certification and participating in a summer academic enrichment program.  Still, I want him to do some summer reading too. So I did a quick Google search on the "top" and "must read" list for teens and African American teens. What an exhausting and frustrating search! Slideshows are particularly annoying because you have to click through each one.  A nice list of books with links and descriptions, maybe grouped by categories such as leadership, coming of age, adventure, would have been nice!   So I searched the 50 Books Every Black Teen Should Read, the 15 Books That Should Be On Every Teen's Radar, and a host of other lists.  There were two titles that caught my interest:  Between the World and Me and The Outliers.  I have also created a Pinterest page for this book list. Please add your suggestions to my board. Incentives for teens are quite easy ... a fresh pair of sneakers, an iTunes card, PlayStation currency or a gift card to his favorite store.

    Set A Good Example

    This year our local library has a summer reading program for adults. I read widely and all the time, mostly for information.  I don't read as much for pleasure.  The last book I read for pleasure was No Woman No Cry-My Life With Bob Marley, by Rita Marley. I love biographies.  So my first summer reading choice is the biography of Grace Jones!

    Get creative with your rewards which can range from a trip to a favorite place, a night out at the movies, or a visit to a water parks.  Enjoy your summer reading!

    Wednesday, June 8, 2016

    Mixed by Me Thinking Putty

    I love old-fashioned, "back in the day" toys that have been given a modern day makeover. Think back to when you used to play with Silly Putty.  It was fun; but let's face it, the color was down right bland!  This new take on putty is educational and has a chemistry vibe.  The Mixed By Me Thinking Putty kit includes five tins of clear putty that you can creatively transform into a putty masterpiece.  When I was asked to review this product, I sought out a beautiful and talented vlogger, Sia Sunshine, who just so happens to be a homeschooled tween and my community niece. She and another homeschooled friend are going to show you in detail just how much fun Mixed by Me Thinking Putty can be.  Check it out:

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Graffiti Art Lessons with Draw Tags

    Graffiti is said to be an American art form that was started by kids and has lasted more than 40 years with no sign of its popularity wavering.  Lionheart has been fascinated by the fat, colorful letters ever since he first began to draw.  When Draw Tags arrived in the mail, he couldn't wait to pop it open.

     I like instructions.  A nice little booklet that explained the materials with suggestions on how to best utilize them would have been nice.  Lionheart needed no such thing.  He opened it up and got right to work.

    I spent a great deal of time trying to peel off what I thought were stickers, but it turns out is a guide for how to color the blank graffiti letters that are in the smaller coloring book that is included.  It also includes 6 train car sheets to practice creating colorful bubble-letters and 3 blank truck sheets.

    Again, clearly my old-fashioned way of thinking about instructions didn't slow down LionHeart one bit. He understood right away that double-ended, felt-tip pens, included with the set and also labeled with numbers, were to be used to replicate the designs in the coloring book.

    Maybe leaving off intrusive instructions was intentional in order to preserve the "joy of creating."  When I visited the website of the makers of the product, I learned Djeco was a French-owned company started by the mother and later taken over by the son.  Their focus is importing unique toys from all over the world and creating those that don't exist.

    Besides, graffit artists don't really need instruction manuals, do they? As a child of the 80s, I understand how graffiti art and Hip Hop music are intertwined. However, when I think of graffiti, I think of New York City, certainly not France.  After a few Google searches, I learned that French were among the first to embrace Hip Hop music.  Who knew.

    It's no wonder that these cardboard versions of New York City storefronts are so authentic.  What I loved most about this Draw Tag kit were the extended learning opportunities and conversations it sparked.  We looked up famous graffiti artists and learned about Jean-Michel Basquiat.  We also re-read one of our favorite picture books about Hip Hop, When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of HipHop.

    Lionheart, a doughnut lover, chose a doughnut shop to decorate with doughnut graffiti art.  There's also a nail shop, a Chinese and an Indian storefront, accurately reflecting the international flavor of NYC.

    This Draw Tag Kit will surely provide many weeks of not only creating, but also studying graffiti.  We'll probably use this timeline as our guide as we tag our way through the history of this art form.

    One thing for sure we'll do is visit the famous Mural Arts Program in the city of Philadelphia, where LionHeart's father was born and raised.  The are more than 3,000 graffiti art murals around the city. You can also find a large concentration of graffiti art and programs in New York, Miami during their annual Basel festival, Los Angeles, Bogota, Colombia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, London, Paris, Montreal and even Berlin

    Monday, February 29, 2016

    Trombone Shorty

    Youth Orchestra Petting Zoo

    Lionheart was only three years old when he first tried on a trombone for size.  I'm not sure why he was drawn to such a large instrument.  Fast forward six years later, Lionheart has studied violin and an assortment of percussion instruments, but no brass.  Yet, he's still drawn to the instrument.  Maybe it's on the horizon?  Maybe Trombone Shorty and Lionheart know something that we don't about the power of brass!

    When I saw this book at the local library, I knew we had to read it.  I had never heard of Troy Anderson or the Treme, "music in the air," neighborhood in New Orleans where he grew up.  Anderson was a musical prodigy who taught himself to play using an old, discarded trombone.  By the time he was six years old, he had his own band.  That kind of determination and confident spirit reminded me of Lionheart.  After we finished reading his story, we searched YouTube and found a performance by Trombone Shorty at the age of 13.

    When Lionheart asked me if the man playing the trumpet was any good, I chuckled and said, "Look him up."  I explained that Trombone Shorty playing with Wynton Marsalis would be like him playing basketball with Michael Jordan.  He immediately got it.  So many conversations were sparked from reading this book.  We learned about famous jazz musicians, Mardi Gras, New Orleans Jazz and just how far determination, hard work and dedication can take you in life.  Today, Troy Anderson is a Grammy-nominated artist who headlines the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    How Chess Is Transforming My Son

    2nd Place Winner at the Homeschool Education Association of Virginia Conference

    Kingman has been playing chess since he was 4 years old.  His father taught him the game purely for pleasure.  But when Dr. Quito Swan began teaching chess at the Sankofa Homeschool Collective in 2011, he stirred up a dormant volcano.  As KingMan's chess study continued, his passion and seriousness about the game grew.  Fast forward 4 years later and he is now a member of the Bravo Zulu Chess Club.  Thanks to the mentoring and leadership of his chess coach, Mr. Shaka Greene, KingMan is now a competitive chess player.  He has traveled to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to attend the national championships twice.  But what is most pleasing to me are the things that are happening in the process.  

    Male Mentorship

    Because my boys lost their father in 2013, I am so very grateful for their male teachers.  My deep thinking son pays very close attention to what people say and especially what they do.  This is a time in his life when he is formulating ideas about manhood.  So when I ask, "how was chess?" and he starts with, "Mom, do you know what Mr. Greene said?" Well, I know it's going to be something that made him think, something that inspired him, or something that made him laugh.  This regular and consistent relationship is so crucial at this time in his life.

    Goal Setting

    KingMan's chess coach knows how to inspire his team to set personal goals.  When KingMan announced that he was going to fast from video games for the next 21 days while he participates in a chess challenge, I was stunned. I could have nagged or confiscated the video game controllers, which I am known to do from time to time.  But it would not have had the same impact as this self-imposed sacrifice he is making to reach his goal.  He has a goal chess rating posted on his bedroom door that he wants to achieve by June 2016.  I almost cried when I saw this display of self-affirmation.


    I can't count the number of events KingMan has missed because of chess tournaments.  The social calendar of teens is one of the  most important aspects of their lives.  Yet, he is willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of a tournament.  Recently, I told him about an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia and visit several colleges with friends and eat at several famous Philadelphia eateries, including Ishkabibbiles, his father's favorite Philly Cheese steak spot.  He looked at me with a stern face and said, "Mom I can't miss this tournament."  Unbelievable! He is showing me how serious he is about reaching his goal. 


    KingMan attends chess practice four days a week.  After my van was totaled in a car accident, I was not able to drive him.  So he learned how to get there on his own. He is out of the door by 3 p.m., each day for the 90 minute commute that includes two buses and 15 minute walk.  It pained me to not be able to drive him and show my support.  Yet I am so proud of  KingMan for not allowing transportation to be an excuse or an impediment to him pursuing a passion.

    Teamwork and Camaraderie

    One afternoon I had the pleasure of attending chess practice with KingMan. I sat outside the door planning to catch up on some reading, while waiting for practice to end.  I couldn't help but eavesdrop.  It sounded like one big happy family.  There was lots of analysis, strategy and concentration going on, but they were still having fun.  Most impressive were the "team generals" who had been given the responsibility of not only setting a good example for the rest of the team, but also maintaining order during practice.  I felt so much good energy and leadership development emanating from the room that day.  I understood why KingMan didn't want to miss practice.

    Neurological Benefits

    Before I did a Google search, I didn't realize the neurological impact of chess! Chess study grows dendrites, the tree-like branches in the brain that receives signals.  Playing chess develops the prefrontal cortex and helps them make better decisions.  We all know how important that skill is during the teenage years! Chess also improves concentration, reading, memory and problem-solving skills.  I wouldn't think chess would improve creative thinking, but studies say, yes that's a benefit too.  Finally, and most impressive, chess study helps develop both sides of the brain.  As a mother of a left-brain dominant learner and a right-brain dominant learner, I find this to be fascinating and useful!


    This ancient game is shaping and molding KingMan.  Becoming an International Chess Grand Master, his goal, will be the cherry on top.  But all the things that will have happened along the way are what I am and will be most grateful for.