Monday, November 21, 2011

Internat'l Observe The Moon Night at NASA Goddard

International Observe the Moon Night logo
NASA: InOMN logo, duh.
Gasp! We saw Jupiter and it's four moons. Like in real life, in the lens of a telescope. It was truly one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I'll definitely be looking for it every night for as long as it'll remain visible. Ooh, I can't wait to see Saturn. You'll hear my excited scream when I finally set eyes on those rings, wherever in in the world you are. 

We attended the 2011 NASA Goddard's National Observe the Moon Night with some friends and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. We took turns looking at the Moon up-close through a telescope, which was kind of the goal of the night- until we set eyes on Jupiter through one volunteer's rogue telescope and it completely stole the Moon's thunder (ahem).
Image of Jupiter's ring
NASA: Jupiter's Rings
Jupiter's ring
NASA: Jupiter's Rings
There were so many activities the kids could participate in that added to the excitement of going out way after dark instead of to bed. They had crafts like Impact Painting (simulating with paint the objects that have impacted the moon to give it its prickly appearance), re-creating the phases of the moon with Oreo cookies, but best of all (at least for the kids) was making a slide out of the supports that held up the gi-normous rocket in Goddard's back yard under the cover of darkness- well, excluding the full moon's light, that is. 

Inside, their Visitor's Center is a tremendous resource, open every day and free to the public, complete with an interactive touch-screen table for creating and learning about Space Station Modules. The lobby of the Center has lots of educational materials for the taking and upstairs there's an incredible Teaching Resources office, where they offer exactly that. We scored some cool educational posters & booklets for homeschooling and it was absolutely free. There's a limit to how many you can pick up at one time, so be forewarned you'll have a tough time choosing since their selection is pretty broad, but do your best.

Their website has full-color photos, up-to-date info at what's going on at NASA, and pretty much anything you want to know about space exploration.

Follow @NASA on Twitter for relevant tweets on science, space news & events.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Day I Re-discovered PBS Kids

Allowing kids (supervised!) free play on the computer, whether it be locally on your hard drive or online can be a great way to add some excitement to their learning at home. Sometimes I work some of the games or activities I find for mine to do online into my (self-designed) curriculum to help reinforce something I'm teaching them or to get at the subject from a new, more interesting angle, so that it becomes a joy to learn. Enter: PBS Kids Lab.

Sketch-A-Mite demo on the interactive whiteboard
At a recent blogger event hosted by PBS I was turned on to some of the new things they have to offer. My kids are die-hard NickJr. fans so this was a totally new experience for me and I'm positively sure I was the only one in the room looking around like, "What? Super-Who??" It sure felt like it.

Well, when I left there, like a programmed robot, I began campaigning immediately for my kids to do the switch-over, or at least add the PBS Kids Lab web site into their repertoire. 

To my satisfaction, they were wholly compliant. Not that PBS has made it hard for them to be that way. The games are fun, engaging and some of them- with the right tools and electronics-are cutting-edge. Yes, PBS.

More Sketch-A-Mite, having fun with it!
To say I'm impressed with the new technology they've come out with to help kids (ages 2-8) play AND learn is likely the understatement of the year. I've been way out of touch but they've brought me back into the fold with their ingenious augmented-reality (squee!! = pure excitement) iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch apps (coming soon), games that are designed to be used with an interactive whiteboard in classrooms, and computer games that require a web cam and function very much like the games available for use with something like the Xbox Kinect. They pretty much made a believer out of me in one afternoon.

There's just too much opportunity and not enough room for me to gush over the goodness of it all in one post, so it's better that you see it for yourself. When you have a chance, give your kids a breather from the norm and check it out. You won't be disappointed.

PBS Kids Lab can be found on Twitter at #PBSKidsLab or @pbskids, and online at   
Especially great for homeschoolers: and         
The official press release is here.

BN: I have not been paid to promote any of the products or games mentioned above. I'm just an honest-to-goodness Mom who loves good, old fashioned learning, no matter what form it takes;^)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday Book Rec- Anna Hisbiscus Series

I am an admitted book worm, constantly on the lookout for new ones, both for the kids and myself. There's no better love you can inspire in children than the desire to read, but again, I am thousand-percent biased. A book can take you anywhere and let you be anyone you want to be- how does it get any better than that??

This is one in a series of posts spotlighting books we picked up and absolutely loved! Most of these can be appreciated by just about any age, and I say this because I love them just as much as the kids do. I hope you do, too!

Title & Author: 
Have Fun Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke (Part of a series)

What It's About:
A little girl from "Africa. Amazing Africa." goes to Canada to visit her Granny 
for the Holidays and this book catalogs her adventures as she learns to enjoy herself despite her sadness from missing her other family she left behind in Africa, and her apprehension about the new things she sees there- or rather, what she thinks she'll see.

My Thoughts:
Hands-down I love it! Oh yeah, and the kids did too. There were some references to Christmas in this one, which I used in part to broaden my girls' horizons (just because we don't celebrate it, doesn't mean they can't learn about what it is), but some things just had to be reworded for their consumption.

Still, it was so very refreshing to finally find a good, relateable book about someone from Africa, one that anyone can enjoy. Believe me when I say that it's such a rarity to find positive, enjoyable books that give African-American children something they can look up to and really relate to on a deeper level. We found a book series that lets us see some inspiring, non-stereotypical, not hanging-out-as-the-sidekick and definitely not placed in-the-background-as-an-afterthought characters that are actually lovable. Imagine that. 

We've happened upon a book/series about Africans that anyone of any race or background can and would want to enjoy. Not that they are not others out there, they just all haven't found me yet. But, I'm happy and relieved to say the Anna Hisbiscus series has us off to a great start.

Illustrator Lauren Tobia can be found here

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Bit of Honesty

The following post was inspired by another blog post called The Good,The Bad and The Ugly. If you have the time, please drop by and read it.

UPDATE: I happened upon another great post I think you should check out The Uncomplicated Homeschooler

Recently, when we were out and about, someone commented proudly on how much I do with my kids and how great it all is, according to my blog. I should have been affirmed by this, but was instead bothered- I guess I just felt so exposed. I had no reason or desire to dress it up for them so I thanked them and smiled but it got me thinkin'. So, when I read that post it was in line with what I was mulling over.

I think people have this perfect idea of what it is that those of us who homeschool or blog about homeschooling do all day but I assure you, it's anything but perfect. 

I remember being given that impression by other homeschoolers when I first came into the fold. It took some prying and lots of time to get the honest admissions that I grudgingly managed to eek out of them. They have no idea to this day how these tiny admissions gave me such a sense of relief and made me feel so human, not less-than. 

Especially for the weeks or days we don't get everything done because the printer ran out of ink and payday is still a few days away. Or because some construction project is going on in the new house and I have to closely supervise the work or give input. Or when we've worked so hard a few days in a row that we finally "skip" school to give ourselves a break, get some sunshine and  fresh air, and go hang out with our friends.

Homeschooling is a great option for many of us who choose to do it, and how does it get any better than a tailor-made education for our kids? But, we have to keep it real- our schools are not perfect because nothing on this earth is. If you think about it, that's what makes homeschooling such a beautiful thing, though. We are unknowingly teaching our kids to be flexible and resilient- not rigid, to realize when it's best just to go with the flow, and how to prioritize but understand that sometimes those priorities have to get shifted around so that life stays balanced. We are teaching them not live up to others' expectations of what they should be and to know their limits, or "know when to fold 'em". There's such a great strength in that.

I also think we all feel the need to defend it because we're constantly under attack. In doing so, we've hurt ourselves and others who haven't yet accepted or learned that in everything, especially homeschooling, life happens. We owe it to ourselves and new homeschoolers to admit that YES, we have to face days that lesson plans will have to be re-worked sometimes or totally scrapped in favor of some good, quality on-the-fly learning. That YES, there are times we don't get anything done or don't sit and do this for hours on end every day because we know there's more to life and learning than books. 

We are by definition non-traditional. So give yourself room to breathe and work toward loving what you're doing, not burning yourself out because of it. If there's one thing life has taught me, it's that when you're certain of something and you know it's right, it needs no defense. There's no reason to feel inadequate or insecure when the nay-sayers (who greatly outnumber us) start nay-saying. 

My challenge to you and to myself: work on getting to a point where you can stand behind your homeschool with pride- this includes the good days AND the bad and remember that even on their best days, nobody can do it like you.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday Book Rec- Dr. Soup, Can We Please Have Some More?!?!

I am an admitted book worm, constantly on the lookout for new ones, both for the kids and myself. There's no better love you can inspire in children than the desire to read, but again, I am thousand-percent biased. A book can take you anywhere and let you be anyone you want to be- how does it get any better than that?

This is one in a series of posts spotlighting books we picked up and absolutely loved! Most of these can be appreciated by just about any age, and I say this because I love them just as much as the kids do. I hope you do, too!

Title & Author: 
Another Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup

What It's About:
A scientist and his family go on the run back through time after his wife, their mother, falls victim to the villain whose main purpose is to get his hands on their coveted time machine. The prequel is called A Whole Nother Story, by the way. They hope to undo the curse on their family by returning the White Gold Chalice in their possession to it's rightful owner somewhere around 1668 AD, then somehow travel forward through time in time to save their mother before something happens to her- AGAIN. Needless to say, their life an adventure!

My Thoughts:

The most recent chapter book we finished is called 'Another Whole Nother Story' by Dr. Cuthbert Soup and it is a gem. When we finished it, it left all of us wanting MORE, so much that immediately after, with the  kids tucked in bed, I scoured the internet to find any info at all on when the next book would be released, because there has to be a next book...right? Right??? 

I was disappointed to find nothing on it but I'll standby to hear more at a later date. Although we all got into it right away, I almost put this book down because it seemed too advanced for my girls. But it was really good, so after awhile, I just got used to stopping every few paragraphs to teach them something new or explain what the author meant when he mentioned certain things.

Also, after awhile, they needed a little less explanation as they began to figure things out. I did have to edit and change a few words as I was reading so that they sounded nicer to six- & three-year-old ears, and I had to edit out some of the lovey-dovey stuff because we're not quite there yet. We are reading through this book a second time because the girls asked me to start all over again once we were done. Not that I mind...

Dr. Soup's website can be found at and look out for him on Twitter @ @DrCuthbertSoup.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nickelodeon Worldwide Day of Play

We attended the Nickelodeon Worldwide Day of Play in DC on the very muddy Ellipse by the White House the weekend before last. We knew better than to drive and opted to take Metro instead, which I think the girls generally enjoy more than whatever it is we're going to see or do!

Day of Play Entrance under a cloudy sky
While the event had so much to be desired in the way of planning, communicating those plans to attendees and organization/set up, I can see where Nick was going with it. But, being as allergic to mud as I am, the idea of tempting fate by actually PLAYING in or near the stuff in my prudently-chosen white linen pants (wink and a thumbs up!) was wholly unappealing.

We DID get to make about a couple thousand new friends and meet the Fresh Beat Band (score!), which was the highlight of our day and my entire mission if I'm being honest. Is there a support group for Mom-Groupies of kids' shows?

The Fresh Beat Band

If becoming one with the mud wasn't a huge issue for you, ahem, there were lots of things to encourage kids and parents to get out and play. They had soccer, basketball, tennis, free play with inflatable balls, hula-hooping, a rock-climbing wall, a mini obstacle course and lots more.

Outdoor play is so important to a healthy mind and body, and the earlier you teach your kids the benefits of regular exercise, the better off they'll be for it. It's a great idea to work physical activity into your lesson plans, and I've found it's best inserted mid-morning after we've done school, but before lunch time. Homeschooling isn't only done with books and papers. If you've never thought about it before, consider making this a normal part of your routine- biking, strolling, or skating around your neighborhood or favorite park definitely counts.

On the days you can't go out, try this: The next time you're doing jumping jacks, squats, push-ups or crunches, invite your kids to join you if they don't go ahead and jump in on their own (chances are they will) and throw in some learnin' while you're at it.

Keep track of your repetitions by doing some or all of these:

1) Count aloud together or alternating (fun!) by twos, fives, tens, etc
2) Spell out words or names relevant to what they are learning
3) Work memorizing math facts into the counting
4) Be creative!

It's a fact that the more senses you can employ while learning (smell, sight, hearing, taste, touch) the easier it'll be for the info to 'stick'. Teaching your child good habits now will go a long way and even better, the time you'll spend together exercising is most definitely time well spent.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Teach Your Child to Read

So, as promised, I am sharing how I taught my now six-year-old to read over a year ago and how I plan to also teach my almost four-year-old to do the same this year. It was so easy and it only took about five minutes a day.
Image Source: Graphics Hunt

For a craft-and-project-centered Mom's Night Out with my Mocha Moms (shout out!), I brought along supplies to make some very colorful, neon 3 x5 flashcards with the famous Dolch sight word list I had printed and cut out to glue to the cards. By the end of the night I was just about there and the next day, we began our learning. Using blank cards and/or rubber bands as a divider, I divided the cards into sections as follows: 

-easy, phonetic, 3-letter words** ('cat', 'run') 
-strictly learn-by-sight 3-letter words** (words that can't be sounded out, ex. 'eat')
-four-letter words** (I know, I know, but they were all clean, I promise)
-words to describe colors
-words to describe numbers
-all other words with more than four letters
-words we're working on (rubber bands)
-words she already knows cold (rubber bands)

Google Images
**I further subdivided the word types so that words that look similar or have the same letters (saw/was, eat/ate) were together as she learned them. I did this so that she could see the two words compared side-by-side as she learned them and hopefully not get them confused later on. Another way I subdivided the words types was into word families (hat/mat/rat/bat, all/ball/fall), which sometimes caused me to have to mix in a few of my 3-letter words with 4-or-more-letter words, but it made the learning easier via patterning.  

On Day One, I began with the first section, working with ONLY five cards to keep things simple, to help her focus and not be overwhelmed. I would hold up each one of the five cards, show her them and say the word on the card, only using it in a sentence (the sillier the better) the first time I read it. I read the cards to out loud to her at least two more times. Next, I held up the cards and quizzed her, having her sound them out if need be. If she had trouble with any of the words, I'd help, then move on to the next card in the set. I did this at least three times. We'd wrap up by me going over the cards once again out loud to solidify it all. I'd place this set of five in its own rubber band and into our handy index card storage box.

FYI, I never labeled the card sections, since I knew at first glance which section was which. 'Words we're working on' always went in the very front. 'Words she knows cold' always went right behind it but before all the other words we hadn't yet touched so that both sets were easily accessible.

Google Images
On Day Two, I began by reviewing what we'd learned the day before, only I'd quiz her first to see what she remembered. Next, I went over the cards out loud three times, then quizzed her again. I should mention that there was LOTS of praise every time she got a word right or remembered it without hesitation. A wrong guess always came with encouraging and a helpful correction.

On Day Three, I began just like Day Two, only by this day, we had real results (yay!!). She knew most, if not all, of the words without hesitation and was proud of it. Any words she learned cold, I'd put in the appropriate section. New words would be cycled in to replace the words she knew with confidence so that the amount of words she was learning every day was always five. 

For example, let's say our working set had the words 'hat', 'bat', 'sat', 'mat', 'fat'. Say she struggled with 'sat' and 'fat' but easily remembered and identified 'hat', 'bat' and 'mat', the latter three cards would come out and be replaced by three of the next words I grabbed out of the section we were working from ('our', 'are', 'you') so that the working set would now be 'sat', 'fat', 'our', 'are', 'you'.

You may be wondering why I kept the words she had down cold so handy if she already knew them. Here's why: I'd go back and review/quiz her on them every day to be sure she wouldn't forget them and more importantly, to build up her confidence  in forging ahead to learn the next set of words (it really worked!).

And that's it. That's all we had to do to really jump start her reading and boost her confidence to try learning more words on her own. Reading to them at night helped a lot, about three books per night, and I made sure they could sit next to me and see the words I was reading. 

Journaling or writing stories helped, because she would ask how to spell the words she didn't know, which gradually became less and less. She would also attempt to read signs on her own while we were out and about, too. Now, newly six, she reads like a champ and I am truly proud of what she can do. She surprises me all the time with what she knows and what she can figure out. And that is truly rewarding.

Monday, September 5, 2011

We're School!

Happy Back to School Everyone! Well, in reality the start of our school year has been pushed back due to observance of Ramadan & Eid ul Fitr, The Move, and general craziness in our lives, BUT taking the time to plan ahead and get organized for Year 2 has helped my sanity tremendously.

I found these great organizers at WalMart (if you must know).
Too much pink? Never!

These are our paper trays...exciting, I know. Plain paper for drawing is in the top tray.
Once we locate the box it was packed in, construction paper will go in the bottom for neat, easy access.

This past week, I've been lesson-planning and getting our new homeschooling area organized and neat. One new organizational thing I've decided this year to employ is using magazine files for each set of books: 1 for each child for books they use daily, 1 for foreign language books, 1 for relevant library books we're using for unit study, and 1 for books I use every day with the kids (ie, What Your 1st Grader Needs To Know and others).

One thing we're bringing back from last year is in the picture below hiding behind the pencil/scissor/marker holder. It's an open letter tray (not the stackable kind) so that once they're done with their masterpieces, they go in there and not all over the table or floor.

This is our shelf, look how neat- yay!
OK, so our new magazine file is lonely...but not for long. 

I also came up with a few topics I'd particularly like to cover this year in addition to the norm, such as all about foreign countries- probably a new one every 2 weeks, weather (thank you Irene and 5.8 earthquake for your inspiration), and our goal is to learn five new Surahs from the Qur'an this year. If we go over, great, but I think for kids so young, five will be manageable insha'Allah. Oh, and my three-almost-four-year-old is asking me to teach her to read, and we've already gotten started (I'll post on that next week) so I have much on my plate;^)

What you are doing or what have you done to prepare for the upcoming year? Feel free to share anything organizational (great supplies you've found), practical (taken a spa day, beach day or vacation time with the family to rest up), theoretical (brainstormed ideas you'd like to try or set goals for the upcoming year), or whatever's on your mind. All of it is part of the formula that makes your homeschool tick!

I hope your year is successful and full of many great adventures with the most important people in your life!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bear with me, I'll be back soon

Google Images

We are suddenly very busy over here and you'll notice my posts have been more spread out recently. There's been lots of work to do with our new house, packing for our move, getting ready for our year-end homeschooling review and making sure we properly wrap up our first year in time for summer. Please bear with me since I won't be posting as often until things are more settled over here. Hope to be back soon!

Taking a break
Taking a break, Google Images

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Book Rec- Anything Mo Willems!

Thursday Book Rec

I am an admitted book worm. If I could swim in books or sleep in them, truly I would. I am constantly on the lookout for new ones, both for the kids and myself. There's no better love you can inspire in children than the desire to read, but again, I am thousand-percent biased. This is one in a series of posts spotlighting books we picked up and absolutely loved! Most of these can be appreciated by just about any age, and I say this because I love them just as much as the kids do. I hope you do, too!

Google Images
Google Images

Google Images

Title & Author: 
Pigeon Series, Knuffle Bunny series, Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems

What It's About:
First you must know that Mo Willems has many more books than what I'm mentioning here, all of which I also recommend without even cracking the spines. Those I'm spotlighting here are his more popular titles. His characters share an interesting take on life and the things we do to make it fun, or in his case, funny. I can honestly say I identify with each one of them and Willems does a great job of making his characters relatable. 

There's Pigeon, who's very witty and just won't take no for an answer but you gotta love him anyway. Then there's Trixie, her beloved Knuffle Bunny, her doting mother, and comically clueless but quick study of a father; you have the pleasure of watching her grow up over the course of the three-book series *sniffle*. Last, we have Elephant (Gerald) and Piggie who are the best of friends, don't take themselves too seriously, and are totally adorable all on their own.

My Thoughts:
These books generally make great early reader books (due to the large, simple text and shorter sentence structure) and are extremely entertaining. Pigeon has become a household favorite and although it's been awhile since we've read a Pigeon book, we find ourselves goofily quoting the adorably persistent bird in normal conversation quite often and cracking up every time as though it's the first time ever hearing it. We also look out for cameos of Willems' characters across some of his books, 'Where's Waldo'-style, it's so much fun to see and keep watch for, and I feel like it's a shout-out to the true fans every time we find the hidden character.

My kids so obviously love these books and bless Mr. Willems for cranking them out like there's no tomorrow and sparing us all the unnecessary wait. I find myself scouring the "New" shelf at the library to see if he's slipped any more new titles by us, then I snatch up the first one I see like it's stolen goods and run to the check-out. Usually I sneak it in with our other books so the kids don't see, then later look like the hero when I present it as a bedtime surprise. Then, we happily devour it together.

Note: I've just discovered that this talented author has a website with games and fun. When you have a chance, check it out, as well! I also now follow Pigeon on Twitter & like him on Facebook.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poetry 101

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Introducing your child to poetry at an early age can be very beneficial for them. The casual reading and study of poetry gets them used to rhythmic patterns in sound, deciphering the art and the meaning behind the author's words (helpful later on when poets like Shakespeare and Dante are introduced), and the beauty and the flow of artistic language (helps with creative and/or essay writing).

If you have little ones, you can start with something as simple as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and build from there. One of my favorites as a child is The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson and I absolutely LOVE anything by Shel Silverstein. I still have very fond memories of my first grade teacher reading to us from Silverstein's books. When she retired and moved away at the end of a subsequent school year, she generously gave me a copy of two of his books, and now I read to my girls from the very same well-used copies.
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For Muslims and non-Muslims alike: A great study of poetry can also be made of the Qur'an. The language is beautiful, thought-provoking and deep, yet easy to understand; I'm not at all biased, see for yourself. 

A note: there are some historical and purely contextual elements that you should familiarize yourself with before teaching certain parts of the Qur'an so that they make sense and can be taught accurately and with understanding. A great website to help you, as the teacher and parent with this is under Qur'an translation and tafseer you'll click on Taleem Al Qur'an (English)/Amina Elahi. This tafseer is very clear and moving. Hers only goes up to the first five Parts of the Qur'an but there's a brief tafseer of all 30 parts that's great for Ramadan and other times, as well as a continuation by Hijab Iqbal.
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Teaching Moments*:
Be sure to read the author's name along with anything you read to your child, especially poetry. This familiarizes them with well-known authors and poets and after awhile they may come to recognize and compare different styles of writing.

Some links to check out:

*Life with kids is full of teaching opportunities and they are easily recognizable the more you practice looking for them. After awhile, they'll emerge on their own and you'll teach on the fly without even batting an eyelash, I promise. I will try my best to spotlight them in future posts.