Evolution Resources for Secular Homeschooling

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

What seems like a lifetime ago {actually autumn 2014} some much younger Agents and I visited the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. for the first time. The exhibits and displays in the Hall of Human Origins became a surprise hit, especially for {then} third-grade Agent E. 

Ever since we have spent at least part of each school year reading books focused specifically on evolution, including the big bang, early earth, Charles Darwin, and animal/human evolution.

Following are several evolution resources for secular homeschooling we have enjoyed throughout the years. We have used most of them as read-alouds, so in my opinion they would work for early elementary through middle school.

Even the ones in a more “picture book” style contain tons of great information and can provide excellent discussion starting points. Likewise, the more complex texts can be easily modified as well.

Open blank notebook and pen sit next to a cup of black coffee with pink roses and greenery laying nearby.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure 
Bang! How We Came To Be 
Big Bang! The Tongue-Tickling Tale of Speck That Became Spectacular 
Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story 
Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure 
Evolution Revolution {part of the big questions series}
Evolution: The Human Story {a beautiful coffee table book as well}
From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story 
Life As We Know It 
Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We Came From
Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story 

Older Than the Stars
One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin 
On the Origin of Species: Young Readers Edition
Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story {we especially love this one!}
The Story of Life: A First Book About Evolution 
What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World 
What Mr. Darwin Saw 
When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth 
When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight 
When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm 
When Fish Got Feet, When Bugs Were Big, and When Dinos Dawned {the three cartoon-style titles above in a single volume} 
Who Was Charles Darwin? 

Have you incorporated any of these books into your evolution studies? Any other evolution resources for secular homeschooling you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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Disney Cruise Tips for Experienced Cruisers

As a family we absolutely love All Things Disney, and Disney Cruise Line has been a favorite vacation option for years. We have been on five so far, with plans for a sixth in 2021. After spending a combined 36 nights on board three different ships, we still learn new things each time. 

In a previous post I shared several tips for first time cruisers—also a good refresher if it has been a while between voyages. Today I would like to offer some Disney cruise tips for experienced cruisers: Some new ideas to try or things I thought I had figured out and yet somehow they still managed to surprise me. 

View from cruise ship deck as it approaches port; city skyline buildings in the distance.

Morning Views Are Amazing

As a committed morning person I can tell you activities are not designed with early risers in mind. Except for a few Disney Junior inspired events, most of the action does not get rolling until late morning. 

However, if getting up with the sun is your jam, you are in for a real treat. Go up to the top deck just before sunrise. {Grab a sweater; it will be chilly.} The views are amazing. Pick up a coffee or tea on your way and just stand at the railing and swoon. 

It is also a great time to wander the ship looking at artwork and/or taking photos with virtually no one out and about. 

{Side note: I personally have never run into Sleepwalking Goofy during this time, but I think that would be awesome!}

Trivia Contests Are Loads of Fun

I cannot believe it took us so long to finally attend one of these trivia sessions! They are hilarious and a nice activity to do with the whole family. 

We actually won our very first challenge {Pixar movie trivia}, so we were quite pleased with ourselves, ha. They offer several sessions throughout the cruise, usually in one of the lounges, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

You Can Request the Same Waitstaff

Did you know if you recently sailed on the same ship—and your servers from the main dining rooms are still on board—you can put in a request to be seated in their section again? We did this on our last cruise and it was great to reconnect. 

It helps, of course, if the server is a real people person who remembers names and faces. I mean, they see a lot of guest shuffling through. We took a photo we had taken with them on our previous cruise as a reminder. 

We also discovered that our server on our very first cruise {different ship} eight years earlier was now a head server {managing several serving teams} on our current cruise. We pulled up a photo from our Facebook archives showing our much younger children with a much younger him. He was amused. 

You Might Still Get Seasick

This one completely shocked me. After five uneventful cruises {we went on one non-Disney cruise as well, a story for another day} I could not believe it when I started to feel woozy one night before dinner when the ship was moving a bit more than usual on our sixth sea venture. 

I simply passed on dinner went back to the room to rest, and by later that evening it had mostly dissipated. However, it was a good reminder to be prepared for all scenarios. And to make sure you are taking care of yourself and not overdoing—drink plenty of water, get enough rest, take breaks as needed {especially if you’re out in the sun a lot}. 

Vibe Is Super Cool To Visit

Our children have always loved the kids/tween clubs, but because they are not high school age we never thought to visit Vibe during open house. On a whim we decided to pop in and we all loved it!

They had old school arcade games set up, Guitar Hero, and tons of board game and art supplies. You can also get smoothies, although we did not. The space is bright and airy and exudes fun.

My oldest will be able to go to Vibe regularly on our next cruise {ages 14-17} but we will all be tagging along during at least a few open houses for sure.

Packing Doesn’t Get Easier

No matter how many travels I pack for, I always make mistakes and learn new things each time. I still follow a basic packing plan for all of our adventures, although cruising does present some new challenges.

{See Pack by Activity, Not by Day for more specific tips.}

What I have found, though, is that once I actually get there I care less about what clothes I packed. Honestly, on the last cruise I would have been happy just having 3-4 of the same dress in different colors to alternate. 

Ports Adventures Might Not Be a Bad Idea

On our very first cruise we had a planned port adventure for every stop. This was a ten-night cruise with six or seven port stops {I can’t even remember}. We had a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 8-month-old with us. I know what you are thinking and, yes, it was pretty much like that.

Our next few cruises we did not plan quite so much in the way of off-the-ship activities. Sometimes we would just head out on our own and it generally worked out fine. I know a lot of veteran cruisers who simply keep things open or plan their own excursions {and save money in the process}. However . . .

This last cruise we took I started to re-evaluate the benefits of going with an organized Disney group. 

We left the ship at one particular port and apparently I had totally blocked out what it is like to be constantly accosted by vendors and locals wanting you to buy their stuff, take their tour, try their wares. It totally took away from the experience and enjoyment of exploring a new place. 

So now I am re-thinking being a part of a group might not be such a bad idea. They typically either have separate transportation directly from the pier or—as far as I could tell—even if they are on foot they were generally seen as “off limits” to the pushy salespeople. To me this would make the extra cost of an official port adventure worth it.

Okay, cruising fans, what additional Disney cruise tips for experienced cruisers would you include? Leave any additional tips/comments below!

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5 Realistic Blogging Goals for 2020

Have you set goals for your writing in the new year? Are you already overwhelmed by them? It is only a few weeks into the new year, but it may already be a good time to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Following are some realistic blogging goals for 2020 that we can all achieve. 

Lined paper with a black pen sits next to an open laptop and a cappuccino in a white mug with saucer.

Reclaim Your Time

Figure out the time of day you work best, and maximize your efforts during this period. Don’t waste energy trying to force yourself into a routine that makes you grouchy and irritable. 

Have a plan whenever you pull out your laptop or phone in the middle of the day. Don’t ever assume, oh I will just peek at my to do list and maybe pin a few things

Know going in what your goals are with that time, and make them as specific as possible: I will re-tweet four posts from bloggers I follow. I will create one new pin for a recent post. I will share a new book I am reading with my followers and ask a relevant question to encourage engagement. 

Evaluate Your Social Media Habits

Cull your social media blogging memberships down to a reasonable number. Aim to be more active with fewer groups. {Make this part of a commitment to declutter your digital life.}

Recognize that you will see more engagement on some platforms than others. Focus your energy where you feel you can do the most good and provide the most value. This can be difficult when you realize your favorite platform is not where your readers/fans are. Learn to be okay with that.

Also remember it is okay to use social media just for fun and connection. Not every post needs to be blog-oriented. 

Commit To Quality Writing

Face it, no one is going to care how snazzy your pins look or how catchy your blog titles are if they click through and find a poorly written post. 

It sounds cliché but it is true: Quality over quantity. 

Take time to edit your posts carefully. Don’t think that once you hit publish you are done. Become a reader of your own blog; try to see it through the eyes of someone just stumbling upon it for the first time. Evaluate older posts. Always strive to improve your style and clarity.

Spread the Love

Share and support the work of others in your niche {and beyond}. A good rule of thumb is 20% self-promotion, 80% promoting quality posts from fellow writers. That means for every personal share from your own blog/writing/social media you are sharing four others.

This may seem like a lot at first, but trust me it will become second nature to spend this much marketing energy on writing that is not your own. When you post/share add a meaningful comment or question as an introduction {i.e., don’t just hit RT or FB share without context}. 

Do One Thing That Is a Little Scary

Find something that you have been thinking about doing and just go for it. It may not be pretty at first, but that is okay and that is how we learn. 

For me personally, my “scary” thing for 2020 is going to be starting a newsletter to send out to subscribers. It is something I have never done and I know it will involve a lot of trial and error.

{On that note, I would love more subscribers so follow this link to sign up!}

Fellow writers, how are you doing on your 2020 blogging goals? What have you learned so far?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via e-mail here.

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Favorite Homeschool Resources {Middle School Language Arts}

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

As a homeschool momma and lover of words, I totally geek out when it comes to choosing language arts books for the Agents. Following are some middle school language arts selections that I . . . ahem, they . . . have enjoyed most.

These have been consistent favorites during our homeschooling journey; we often re-read them each year as review. {Even the ones that have become a bit “young” for them.}

If you would like to peruse all the books we use by category {as well as what the Agents are reading for fun this year} check out our Goodreads account.

Open blank notebook and pen sit next to a cup of black coffee with pink roses and greenery laying nearby.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Middle School Language Arts Books We Love

Everything You Need To Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide

As I mentioned in our list of favorite middle school math resources, this entire series has been a huge hit. The language arts book covers grammar, usage, fiction, nonfiction, and writing; and includes quizzes and reading lists.

Grammar: Write Here, Write Now
Punctuation: The Write Stuff  
Creative Writing: The Plot Thickens  

We love Basher Books! Each concept is introduced by a different character or group of characters {e.g., in Punctuation the Divide and Conquer Crew covers parentheses, dashes, hyphens ellipses, colons, and semicolons}. The chapters are relatively short, but you could also easily just read one page a day {in order, or not}.

Painless Grammar
Painless Writing

As with painless math, these make great reference books. We tried including them in our read-aloud time, but unlike the Basher books they were not particularly conducive to going through page by page. Still, great books to have around when you need to double-check a particular grammar rule or brush up on your writing mechanics.

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook

Found this at the library randomly one day—we were not looking for a book like this at all—and the Senior Agents ended up loving it and re-reading it a few times each before it went back. Written by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, it is more motivation and inspiration for the writing life than how-to details. {Think Bird by Bird for your tween/teen.}

More Language Arts Books We {Still} Love

When I wrote about how to homeschool multiple ages together I addressed choosing excellent resources regardless of reading level. 

When teaching multiple grade levels sometimes your book choices won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It is okay if what you are reading is “too simple” for your oldest and “too much” for your youngest. If you read a variety of books—and a lot of them—it will balance out. And sometimes you just want to re-read some fun titles because it’s your homeschool and you don’t need to follow arbitrary rules.

That’s how we feel about these next several selections. Your mileage may vary with how your own middle schoolers view including these “young” titles. Mine personally find them more sweet and nostalgic than groan-worthy. {Also, I still have one student in elementary, so it works for us.}

A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What Is a Noun?  
To Root, To Toot, To Parachute: What Is a Verb?
Feet and Puppies, Thieves and Guppies: What Are Irregular Plurals?  
How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear? What Are Homonyms and Homophones?

These are just a few examples of the Words are CATegorical series by Brian P. Cleary, which provide an introduction to the parts of speech and basic grammar concepts. They are all roughly 30 pages and have lots of illustrations with only a sentence or so on each two-page spread. Simple enough for early elementary yet my middle schoolers still find them entertaining {and quaint}.

He also writes The Punctuation Station, a fun journey of animals trying to find their way to the correct train with the help of savvy punctuation marks.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!
The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes!  
Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! 
Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, All Punctuation Marks Matter! 

Lynne Truss writes these cool punctuation books, which illustrate quite comically just how important punctuation can be, and what happens when you get it wrong. They are all an easy, one-sitting read aimed at grades 1 through 4, but can provide a fun review for older students as well. 

{Yes, it’s the same Lynne Truss who wrote the “grown up” version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.}

Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes 
Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day 
Punctuation Takes a Vacation 
Silent Letters Loud and Clear 

Robin Pulver takes a humorous look at the English language in these books {just a sampling here}, which cover parts of speech, spelling, and punctuation. Several chronicle the adventures of Mr. Wright’s {right} class, in which a group of elementary students come to appreciate just how important good grammar is. Others include Miss Doover {do over}. Like the Lynne Truss books, these are aimed at elementary students, but appropriate {if not silly} for older students as well.

Look At My Book: How Kids Can Write & Illustrate Terrific Books 

Of all the creative writing books we’ve tried, the Agents like this one by Loreen Leedy the best. It includes step-by-step guidelines for young wannabe authors to plan, draft, edit, and illustrate their own works. Even now that they are older, they still return to the simple yet concrete guidelines this text provides.

Middle School Language Arts Workbooks We Love

I’ll be honest: we’ve never found a complete language arts curriculum we felt strongly about. Or even one that covered just mechanics or just writing.

{I know what you’re thinking, and nope not even that one. Or that one. Or even the one pretty much every homeschooler I have ever known raves about.}

However, we still need something specific for practicing skills, and we love a good workbook, so . . . we have found the following to be great for getting in written language arts practice without committing to a curriculum. 

As with others we have come across, you will find that many do not go past sixth grade {again disappointing my workbook-adoring children}.

Brain Quest Workbook Grade 6 

Brain Quest also covers math, science, and social studies, and provide an excellent overall review for the school year. In the language arts section specifically, the sixth grade version includes spelling and vocabulary; literature comprehension; research and analysis; writing; pronouns and punctuation; and metaphor and meaning.

Language Arts: Grade 6 
Reading Skills: Grade 6 
Writing Skills: Grade 6 
Spelling Skills: Grade 6 

Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning offers tons of specific practice in multiple areas. You can chose to have them all in rotation at the same time or focus on one topic/workbook.

{Note: While I have seen a few similar titles for grades 7 and 8, they appear to be much older editions and not as readily available, which is why I have only linked the grade 6 workbooks here.}

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 6 
Spectrum Reading Grade 6 
Spectrum Writing Grade 6 
Spectrum Spelling Grade 6 
Spectrum Vocabulary Grade 6 

{Spelling and Vocabulary stop at grade 6.}

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 7 
Spectrum Reading Grade 7 
Spectrum Writing Grade 7 

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 8 
Spectrum Reading Grade 8 
Spectrum Writing Grade 8 

We love that the Spectrum workbooks includes several options for later grades. Because of this it has quickly become one of our favorite go-to series for written work.

Have you and your students read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

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Homeschooling Update {December}

December was not nearly as chaotic as November, although I do feel like it rushed right on by. Looking forward to a productive and organized new year, in our homeschooling and beyond. 

We are still in the midst of numerous home improvement projects—and still unpacking from the move—so I am personally feeling a bit unsettled. Hoping that by January’s update we will be feeling much more together and be ready to share photos of our new spaces.

Two evergreen trees with lights; one slightly blurred.

Homeschool Antics

While not intentionally, we seemed to slow our homeschooling schedule a bit between Thanksgiving and the New Year. We have never been much for taking a lot of time off around holidays, but this year we dealt with more obstacles than usual this time of year {e.g., contractors working in the house during the day, not having everything we need unpacked, not getting settled into a “new house” routine soon enough}.

Moving forward, though, I want to be back on track with our typical {albeit flexible} schedule by the end of January. Even though we homeschool year round I still feel like the start of the new year is a good time to pause and evaluate. 

We have plans to get together with some local homeschoolers next week, so I am hoping the Agents can make some connections as well. 

Holiday Traveling

We spent a few days between Christmas and New Year’s visiting relatives out-of-state—as always, mostly nice but definitely exhausting. 

The cat showed his displeasure with being boarded at the cat hotel by hissing at me excessively upon our return. I was not particularly impressed with the place we chose; I think the next time we travel we will look for someone who can come to our home a few times to feed and check on him. 

{Our previous aloof cats would have been fine for up to a week without us, but this high-maintenance one needs fresh wet food every day due to his lack of teeth.}

Blogging {and Other} Ambitions

In addition to my usual grandiose plans for the new year—you know you have them, too—I will be incorporating a number of blogging goals into future posts. I hope you will follow along throughout the year and share some of your intentions as well. We’re all in this together.

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Indoor Activities for Kids of All Ages

In November we moved from San Diego to Virginia Beach. While Virginia does not have the weather extremes of say, upstate New York {where we spent three very snowy winters} it is most definitely not southern California. 

Suddenly we face colder temperatures {brrr} and more rain in a month than we saw in the previous two-plus years. 

Needless to say we have spent a lot more time indoors, and truthfully we are still getting used to the whole idea of “outside time” not being a realistic daily goal.

So what keeps us busy during all that inside togetherness? Well, homeschooling, of course. But in reality that only takes about three hours a day, tops.

Following are some things the Agents do to keep themselves entertained on days when being outdoors is just not an option. They are currently 13, 11, and 9—but honestly this list has not changed much since they were littles {although some things probably required more supervision/assistance back then}. 

Colored pencils in a circle formation with all sharpened points facing inward

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Color

I don’t care how old you are, a new pack of colored pencils, markers, crayons, or gel pens will make your day. All of mine have finally reached the stage where they want “adult” coloring books with more complicated designs or more specific characters/interests, but coloring is still a favorite activity.

Make a Collage

We always recycle paper and cards and magazines around here, but before some of it makes it to the bin we re-use instead. All you need is construction paper or cardboard for the base and some scissors and glue. 

Build a Fort

Who doesn’t love the idea of hiding in or under a large box or blanket pulled over some chairs and hibernating for a bit?

Throw a Book Party

This is so much more fun than just suggesting your kids have some quiet reading time. Gather up some books {include old favorites that are a bit “young” for them to add nostalgia} and plop them down next to some pillows/blankets/bean bags. Snacks/fireplace/other ambiance optional.

Use a Magnifying Glass

We bought this inexpensive magnifying glass years ago to look at rocks one of the kids collected on a camping trip. Since then we have pulled it out many times to examine things around the house more closely.

Make Homemade Play Doh 

Spoiler alert: Play doh is still fun for tweens and teens. Try our well-loved recipe {using old crayons}.

Author a Book 

Next time you are at the Target dollar spot {which, come on, will be soon} grab a pack of blank books. They are the perfect size for a short story with pictures.

Start a Puzzle

The more pieces and more complicated the better. When finished use puzzle glue and a simple backing to create unique homeschool room decor. 

Write a Letter

Years ago the girls decided to write to David Attenborough telling him how much they enjoyed his documentaries. He replied and that letter is one of their most prized possessions. 

Get Crafty

I only have one kid who likes to sew, but everyone can enjoy some craft time with random material bits and tulle and buttons and fabric glue.

Snap Circuits

Okay, you know you bought one of these sets at some point. It is probably in a closet somewhere. Dig it out; they will love it. 

For more great ideas check out these posts: 

The Magic Gravity Escape: A Surprising Game for Kids
Indoor Fun That Never Gets Old-Learn & Play with Cranium Games
Winter Sensory Activities That Will Warm Your Little One
A Super Simple Kids’ Craft Activity for Bad Weather Days

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via e-mail here.

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Favorite Homeschool Resources {Middle School Math}

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

One thing we have discovered—to our disappointment—is that many middle school math resources tend to assume homeschoolers prefer video lessons. {Actually, I find this assumption to be prevalent with a lot of subjects, not just math.} Even some “text-based” programs have DVDs and online supplements to be used in conjunction. 

However, we tend to be book people and so our favorite homeschool resources reflect that. Following are several book series and workbook options we have used or are currently using for middle school math.

I’ll be honest; these are not your typical textbook-style, teacher-led books. If you are looking for something that provides daily lesson plans and clear do this, then do that instructions, these may not be the resources for you. 

In many cases they are more math stories than math instruction. They also assume you already have a solid foundation of elementary school math. We enjoy them because they introduce math concepts in a more engaging way, and we don’t mind digging in and figuring out the specific how-to on our own. Truthfully we re-read some of them every school year just because they are fun—even after they seem a bit “young” for our current students. If that sounds like your jam, read on. 

Open blank notebook and pen sit next to a cup of black coffee with pink roses and greenery laying nearby.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Middle School Math Books We Love

Everything You Need To Ace Math In One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide 

We absolutely love this entire series of books! Agent E worked her way through the math one for her sixth grade year. It provides an excellent review of basic concepts and a great foundation for getting started with algebra and geometry. 

Algebra and Geometry: Anything But Square!
Math: A Book You Can Count On 

The Basher Books have been long-time favorites around here. They are so much fun to read, and introduce complex ideas in a fun way. My only criticism is that if you don’t already have a passing knowledge of the terms used, some of the quirky phrasing might go over your head. 

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories From the Lives of Great Mathematicians {volume 1}
Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories From the Lives of Great Mathematicians {volume 2}

We read these a few years back and really enjoyed learning more about the people behind the math. I always especially love digging into the contributions of the women who have traditionally been left out of the discussion. 

Painless Pre-Algebra
Painless Algebra 
Painless Geometry

Truth: We like this series, but not enough to own it . . . yet. They make terrific reference books, and come in handy if you can’t quite remember the right rule or formula and need a quick way to look it up. {They also have a great language arts series.}

Sir Cumference and All the Kings Tens
Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi
Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
Sir Cumference and the Roundabout Battle

These are just a few examples of what’s available in the series. Okay, so these aren’t 100% aimed at middle schoolers. But . . . we love them so much and have read all of them every year since Agent E was about second grade. Each story shares a different adventure {set in the world of knights and castles} that ultimately teaches a simple mathematical concept.

What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?
Pythagoras and the Ratios

These are fictionalized versions of what Pythagoras might have been like as a mischievous youth, and super fun to read. Again, more geared toward slightly younger students, but favorites we keep coming back to even as the Agents grow.

Fractions, Decimals, and Percents
Fun With Roman Numerals
Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra
Perimeter, Area, and Volume: A Monster Book of Dimensions

If you are not familiar with David A. Adler as a children’s author, you need to be! In addition to math, he also writes biographies and science books and so much more. {He is also the author behind Cam Jansen.} Many of his math books are clearly for younger elementary, but these are a few we have read more recently that can easily be adapted for older students. 

Middle School Math Workbooks We Love

Of course we also need to practice the skills we read about. My students all love a good workbook. I know “worksheets” get a bad rap in homeschooling circles, but it is so convenient to have a nice, bound book of review problems arranged by topic or grade. These are some of our favorite written practice resources for middle school math.

Brain Quest Workbook Grade 6
Math Skills: Grade 6 {Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning}
Math: Grade 6 {Skill Builders}

You will find that many workbook series only go up to sixth grade, which is kind of a bummer when you have homeschool kids who love workbooks, like mine do. These are a few that we loved for early middle school, but sadly they do not have seventh and eighth grade equivalents.

Algebra: Grades 6-8 {Skill Builders}
Geometry: Grades 6-8 {Skill Builders}

The Skill Builders series, however, does include algebra and geometry for this age/grade range. We like these for the extra practice; however, they are not very descriptive when it comes to actually explaining the process or how one arrives at the answer. I recommend these particular workbooks are best used for review.

Spectrum Math Grade 6
Spectrum Math Grade 7
Spectrum Math Grade 8
Spectrum Algebra Grades 6-8
Spectrum Geometry Grades 6-8

This series from Spectrum {which also includes language arts and science} is one of the few that includes options for seventh and eighth grades. In addition to the ones listed here, they also have workbooks for middle school math covering word problems, critical thinking, and statistics. 

Practice Makes Perfect Algebra 1
Practice Makes Perfect Geometry

We already loved the Spanish workbooks from this series, so we decided to check out the math ones as well. What I love most about these workbooks is that they give more detailed explanations of how to do the problems. Unlike many of the others, they are not just practice/review problems with limited context. Instead, it offers more of a textbook/workbook hybrid—perfect if you have a student who prefers reading about concepts and figuring them out rather than watching a video presentation. 

Have you tried any of these fabulous resources? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

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How To Be a Nice Human

In our current {American} culture—where me-first attitudes and thinly veiled racism and sanctioned bullying have become commonplace—I frequently ponder how I can better prepare the Agents to be forces for good as they grow up. Here are some things I want them to know.

Line drawing of three human figures inside a heart shape.
  • Privilege is a thing. If you don’t understand it, learn. If you have it {spoiler alert: you do} acknowledge it. Then use it to help someone who doesn’t. 
  • You can care about more than one issue, problem, or group at a time. Compassion does not limit you to a dichotomy of caring about this at the expense of that. 
  • People always take precedence over symbols, rituals, or traditions. You can still respect the symbols, rituals, or traditions, but people always come first.
  • No one aspect of your personality defines you. Or anyone else. So don’t judge someone by the one thing you know about them.
  • In general support what you love rather than bash what you hate, but sometimes a little edginess is required and appropriate. It may be the only way to break through.
  • If you think someone else deserves less than what you have because  . . . reasons . . . you might want to evaluate those reasons.

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Homeschooling Update {November}

November breezed right by in a whirlwind of packing, cleaning, traveling, hotel living, and unpacking. Of course homeschooling got done—as it always does—but what a reminder of how grateful we are to be able to engineer our days the way we can. I cannot imagine having to toss register three kids for two new schools and get them caught up and adjusted and—oh, by the way—drive them to and from said schools from a hotel across town every day for two weeks into the mix. No thanks.

Cornucopia decorated with fall leaves and filled with various vegetables sits on a wooden table.

The Move

Well, the biggest news for this month is that we completed our cross-country move from San Diego, CA to Virginia Beach, VA. We shipped our household goods {and cars} the first week of November, then flew out with five humans, four suitcases, and one feline on Friday, 8 November. Truly an all-day process—not to mention “losing” three hours with the time zone change—but we survived and have happily settled into being east coast residents once again.

We spent a total of fifteen days in two different hotels. Thankfully the Agents go with the flow with that sort of thing and did not completely disintegrate. We tried to get out and about and not go stir crazy, but it was cold and rainy most of the time, and then I ran over a nail and the car was out of commission for a bit. At least they can mostly entertain themselves and make things generally more survivable now than when they were all babes. 

The House

The house we moved into is actually not “new” to us—it is the same house Hubby and I lived in when we first married back in 2003, and where toddler Agents E and J lived until we moved to Naples, Italy in early 2010. {Agent A had never lived here; I was six weeks pregnant when we moved out.} 

However, after years of keeping it as a rental property, the house needed a lot of love. Luckily, my fabulous husband is good at all the things, and he has been making repairs, painting the entire inside, and generally creating a livable space again. We also replaced the carpeting upstairs, acquired a few new kitchen appliances, and will soon have new flooring downstairs as well. 

I feel like we usually have more things unpacked and put together at this point {we’ve been in the house for twelve days now} but we’re taking it a bit slower this time and making sure everything is the way we want it long-term. Still hoping to put up the tree and decorate this weekend and hopefully have the place looking like “home” by Christmas. {We will keep Christmas simple like we usually do.}

The Anniversary

While the move certainly took up a lot of our emotional bandwidth this month, I personally also passed a difficult anniversary. My dad died five years ago, a week before Thanksgiving 2014. Honestly, the time leading up to the holidays will never be the same again, always overshadowed. 

In reality it has been six years since I could have a real conversation with him, as he was pretty ill and out of it most of that entire last year. Contrary to popular platitudes, time does not make it easier, just different. 

For my friends who also miss someone this time of year, I get it. I have written about some of the ways I have processed everything as a non-religious person {because everyone always seems to want to bring the god angle into it} if you’d care to check it out.

The New Obsession

We always manage to find a new silly thing to obsess over, and during this particular moving adventure we discovered a new favorite show while having access to cable TV at the hotel. If you have not seen We Bare Bears on the Cartoon Network, we highly recommend. {It also has several—although not all—the episodes on Netflix.} 

Why this crazy little spectacle has become such a hit with the Agents, I do not know. However, I would be willing to bet that Bear merchandise will be dominating our Christmas shopping this year. 

The Homeschooling

Yes, we have been “doing” school through all of the craziness as well. We traveled with several books and workbooks, and also visited two new libraries while still living at the hotel. While I wouldn’t say we were up to 100% during this month, we did accomplish quite a bit given everything else going on. 

We have eased back into our loop rotation and will hopefully be back into more of a predictable routine for December. No doubt that will also include exploring the town, the zoo, the aquarium, and even more library branches. 

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Christmas, Simplified

When Agent E was about three and a half we watched a children’s Christmas special {I do not recall which one} that really pushed the whole “be good, Santa’s watching you, yay presents, reindeer fly around the world in one night” narrative. When it was over, she turned to me and scoffed, “That doesn’t really happen, does it? It’s all pretend, right? That can’t happen.” 

A skeptic from the get-go, that one.

So needless to say, we never did the Santa thing with the Agents. It just seemed like a lot of unnecessary work to be honest. We treat Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. the same as any other myths. They know they’re just stories that some people have fun with—but we choose not to. It’s not really a big deal to them.

Small craft project snowman sitting against a background of blurred snow.

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From the beginning we have chosen to simplify Christmas with our kids and it has worked out fine. I am here to tell you that you, too, can simplify Christmas. And it will turn out fine.

Truthfully I think the whole idea of “the holidays” has taken on a life of its own—and not in a good way. Social media in particular has drawn us into a vortex of blog posts and advertisements and Pinterest projects. We have forgotten that not participating is an option. 

But here’s the thing: You can forget about many of the extras you usually stress about this time of year and nothing bad will happen. The world will keep spinning and your kids will still be in awe and excited and joyful.

If you have been overwhelmed by many a holiday season, don’t try to change everything all at once. Think about the areas where you usually overindulge, and pick one or two to cut back on. Maybe this year you commit to a more reined in budget for gifts. Maybe you don’t have to make all homemade cookies. Maybe you leave a few decorations in storage. Start small and I guarantee you will not miss the excess.

So You Just Have No Christmas Cheer At All?

Ha, no. We just don’t get riled up about making things perfect or pleasing other people and we are totally chill with that.

It’s not that I personally grew up with no traditions; I did. We always had lots of gifts—from “Santa” of course—and tons of cookies and relatives visiting. On Christmas day we went to both grandmothers’ houses {one died when I was six, but I still remember that being our first stop}. Over the course of the week between Christmas and New Year’s we would have visitors almost every evening. They would ooh and aah at our presents and eat and chat. 

I guess I just never felt the need or the pressure to make this time of year “magical” for my own kids, because to them Christmas is just a fun celebration not worth getting too jazzy over. If they want magic, we go to Disney, LOL. 

Our nonchalance is probably also affected by the fact that we have rarely been living near family since the kids were born, so we cannot be sucked in to the holiday spiral of doing all the things because of preconceived expectations.

Truthfully, we do not really do anything special this time of year, and we are okay with that. Even when I still considered myself to be a Christian we did little more than attend a simple Christmas eve service and add a small nativity scene to our meager decorations.

We still like Christmas. We still celebrate Christmas. We just don’t let Christmas rule our lives for the last quarter of the year. 

{Don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving.}

But What DO You Do This Time of Year?

We put up a tree, sometimes two {a “regular” tree and a small tabletop one in the front room or one of the bedrooms}. The rest of our decor is pretty minimal. We might make cookies at some point. Oh, and stop at Bath and Body Works to pick up fancy soaps so the sinks smell like peppermint or vanilla. We still buy presents for the Agents. But they know they are all from us. And they often pick them out themselves. 

It probably goes without saying that no creepy elves grace our home.

During December we often read about various mythologies, both religious and non-religious. A Solstice Tree for Jenny is one of our favorite books that approaches the holiday season from a secular perspective. We also enjoy The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. 

Of course, we’ll re-read the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus as well. Agent J has never been impressed with the wise men and their choice of gifts. {She suggested they could have brought something useful, like some diapers or a nice meatloaf.}

We like to look into the history of the celebrations as well, and how they have changed over time. Two videos we enjoy watching are Adam Ruins Everything: The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas and this one put together by Seth Andrews  {aka, The Thinking Atheist}.

Christmas eve we go to the movies and then get donuts. Then come home and open presents. And eat more donuts.

Are we doing it right?

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