Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Geography Corner

What Are Continent Boxes?

Our Montessori-inspired Geography shelf is all set up.  It's amazing how much learning can be packed into such a small area.  To explore geography, we are using Montessori continent boxes and the Little Passports program.  Who doesn't love to open a little box? I know LionHeart does and it's packed with so many activities.  Continent boxes allow you to make geography a hands-on learning experience.  You can include maps, postcards, photographs - anything that will spark learning.  Once the learning is sparked, we visit the library for books, find videos on Netflix, listen to music or make food from the continent.  You can even do hands on projects to explore the physical features of geography.  We are definitely going to incorporate this graham cracker/yogurt idea for studying landforms.  Click here for details.  I dedicated an entire shelf to Africa.  I found the basket at a thrift store and purchased the miniature drum from a local art gallery that is going out of business for 50% off.  The continent boxes give us a reason to collect objects of meaning from around the world.

What Goes Inside of a Continent Box?

Recently, while attending the annual Panafest, I purchased a miniature Buddha statute.  I can see this object sparking so much conversation about religion and ultimately geography.

 I picked up this item from an art gallery closeout.  This is a rendering of the Kariang of Northern Thailand.  Can you see where we can go with this? After identifying Thailand on the map, here's something LionHeart can hold in his hand as we explore the music, food and culture of the Kariang, also called Nyang, people of Northern Thailand.  It will also be placed in our Asia box.  Click here for ideas on how to fill your continent boxes with learning. 

Inside of our Africa continent box is a 3-part nomenclature card that has as image of the continent and the spelling of the name.  Manipulating these objects helps with the child's ability to identify the continent and correctly spell the name of the continent. Also, inside of the Africa box is a miniature mask from Ghana and a hand-made card from Swaziland.  I also plan to add these maps from Montessori Print Shop.  When we study the continent, we'll visit the places where the objects originate from first because a connection has already been made.

Setting Up Your Continent Boxes 

 A good friend and fellow Montessori trained homeschool mom gave me this idea for the Continent Boxes. I purchased the containers came from Family Dollar for $2 each.  Those beautiful labels are courtesy of the Dollar Tree.  They're actually window clings that I glued onto the container with clear Elmer's glue.  Continent boxes can be created in a multitude of ways.  You can use baskets, folders, or anything that allows you to store items from to the continent you plan to study.  Click here at Living Montessori Now for more continent study ideas.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learn Math Fast System

I am a big fan of simplicity, especially when it comes to curriculum. There is something soothing about a text that has lots of white space, little color and an absence of distracting text in the columns.  The Learn Math Fast System, developed by a homeschool mom, is a no-nonsense, no frills program that gets right to the point.  Starting with addition and going all the way through Algebra I in six volumes, Learn Math Fast can be used for a variety of needs.

When I first saw the program, my thought was it would be ideal for unschoolers or for children who do not "love" math.  According to the website, you can learn years of math in a matter of months.  So let's just say you have been unschooling a child whose primary interest is art and that same child would rather pull off his fingernails than spend time with a math text.  Learn Math Fast allows the child to literally see the progression of the whole math thing from start to finish.  Steven Covey's famous quote, "start with the end in mind," can be a powerful motivator for a child to get through this program.  When I was in college, I abhorred math so much that I took an intensive 4 week math class that met on - gasp - Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just so I could get it over with.  I don't feel that way about math anymore, but there are some who do.

Learn Math fast can also be used for parents whose children attend traditional schools where they are doing all kinds of fancy "new" math that leaves a parent clueless.  This text can provide both parent and child a way of learning and understanding traditional math concepts together. The Learn Math Fast System also provides a way for parents to help a child who is behind in math, but unable to afford expensive tutoring.  All answers and fully worked out solutions are provided in the back of the book so the child and parent can see how the solution was found.

If you have multiple children on varying levels, the cost of purchasing individual math programs can quickly add up.  Learn Math Fast can be used with multiple children of varying levels because all worksheets are provided on the website at no extra cost when you purchase the program.

If you are using this program with a child that needs to catch up or review and don't know where to start, there is a free place test on the website.  Click here for more details. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dyslexia Games for the Visual Thinker

I received a sample of Dyslexia Games to review.  I know so many families whose children struggle with reading or some sort of visual disability, that I thought a review of the program would be a great resource for parents.  Creating art to improve reading is a brilliant and fun concept, especially for children with Dyslexia.  According to experts, when children diagnosed with Dyslexia learn to read, brain scans show right brain activity. Consequently, traditional phonics-based programs may not work for struggling readers.  Simply put, most phonics programs are left-brain based and Dyslexic readers learn differently.  According to Dyslexia therapy experts, teaching a child with Dyslexia to read requires a parent or teacher to get creative with 3D images, art, logic, creative thinking games, manipulatives and other hands on techniques. When I asked LionHeart to give the worksheet a try he stomped over to his table with lips poked out.  Because the worksheets are fun and appeal to a right-brain learner's creative side, struggles quickly fade away.  Once he got started, he couldn't stop.

Learning to Read Right Brain Style

A mother's love and determination to help her own daughter is how Dyslexia Games was born.  Frustrated with her daughter's slow movement in reading, Sarah Brown began researching everything she could about Dyslexia, current therapies being used and brain development options.  Unable to afford costly therapy, like most trailblazing homeschool moms, she created her own program.  The program transformed her daughter in a matter of weeks, helping her improve in reading and handwriting.  In fact, Brown's daughter even illustrated a book, A Day Like Tomorrow.  Brown credits the program with helping her develop her artistic skills.

How Does It Work?

Dyslexia Games use visual art and puzzle exercises designed for children who think visually.  The workbooks start off with art, puzzle games and 3D drawings.  When the child is working on the games, the right brain is activated.  Gradually, the art and puzzle games become symbols, letters and numbers.  Finally, these games are transformed into reading exercises, and according to the website, over the course of 2-3 months, the child is now using the right brain to read. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Geography Costco Style!

I can always count on Costco to have something I can use in my homeschool.  This year it's a large magnetic world map for $19.99.  It's nice and sturdy, the usual high quality product you find at Costco.  We’ll be using this map along with Little Passports for our geography study.

 To ensure that we don't lose any pieces,  I separated the countries from each continent and labeled colorful sandwich storage containers I purchased from the Dollar Tree.  Mentally, I think this will also help LionHeart to understand that each land mass has individual countries that make up the continent.  My plan is to visit the library and let LionHeart choose a book about a particular country, then we’ll explore it on the map.  Since he loves music, we search the music and other important features about the country we choose.

The cuisine of Mozambique from the Travel Channel Show No Reservations

We also plan to study whatever country his aunty and cousin study in their Geography unit which will be based upon the Travel Channel show No Reservations with foodie Anthony Bourdain. His cousin loves to cook, so her mom has wisely chosen to approach Geography from the palate's point of view.  That is the beauty of homeschooling.  A child can learn any subject through his or her particular interest.

We're using the World Edition

Of course when LionHeart's package arrives in the mail from Little Passports, we'll explore that country and focus on areas of interest to LionHeart, like the sports of the country. I'm sure it will be the highlight of the day. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

African-Centered Algebra

NKALA Environmental

Yaw Agbede and his wife founded NKALA Environmental, an engineering, consulting and educational firm, to provide a place of employment for students who had been educated in African-centered schools and programs and desired to work for a firm that embraced those same principles.  The husband and wife team are just as committed to education.  Nkala Educational services is the second pillar of their firm.  What started out as online tutoring has grown into curriculum publishing.  What Baba Yaw found is that he spent so much time combing through his math texts and creating worksheets for the students he tutored, that it would serve him better to create a workbook of his own.  This is how African Pre-Algebra was born. Baba Yaw's work seeks to correct the misconception that mathematics cannot be taught from an African-center.  Why is this important? For the same reason knowing our history is important.  The oldest math textbook in the world was written in Africa.  But when our children encounter higher level mathematics, they hear names like Fibonacci and Pythagoras, totally alienating them from ownership.  Baba Yaw goes even deeper saying that teaching Algebra and other higher level mathematics from an African center is also political. "The biggest motivation for me to do what I do, for me and my children, is that I want them to use their skills for our people; and, if they are going to do that, they need a political education in every single subject, including math and science." Approaching mathematics in this way encourages our children to start firms and not just work for others.

NKALA Educational Services

African Pre-Algebra is the first in a series of workbooks that NKALA Educational Services plans to publish.  African Pre-Algebra is more than 300 pages and includes basic counting lessons in Akan and Twi. Click here to see a sample, including the scope and sequence. Baba Yaw says it is important to learn African languages as it relates to math because it expands a student's knowledge of traditional number systems and patterns, which develops skills in mental math.  Future workbooks will include Algebra I, Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus, but not necessarily in that order.  

Translating The Ahmose Mathematics Papyrus

Another project NKALA Educational Services will embark upon this year is the translation of a 3,800 year old math text from ancient Africa.  The Ahmose Mathematics Papyrus will show specific examples of Algebra, Trigonometry, Sine, Cosine, Tangent, Cotangent, Area, Circumference and more.  How can we be afraid of something we originated!

Tutoring Services

In addition to traditional tutoring services in mathematics and engineering, NKALA also offers custom, project-based or skill-based tutoring programs.  For example, one of their clients, a college graduate, wanted to learn everything there was to know about Solar Panels.  Baba Yaw designed a program, tutored, mentored and prepared him to take the assessment.  This kind of unique tutoring is ideal for out-of-the-box learners who have ideas and projects that require more than a parent can offer.

Stay tuned

This year NKALA will also publish Numbers and Nature:  A Guide to Counting in 4 African Languages (Twi, Kikongo, Yoruba and Swahili).  Baba Yaw, who speaks 3 African languages fluently, says that studying languages helped him be more creative and have more clarity as it related to his technical studies.

For more information, visit their website:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Curriculum Plans for 2014-2015

KingMan is officially a high schooler.  It seems like just yesterday I was nursing him in my arms.  Now he is taller, bigger and stronger than I.  Where does the time go?  Amazingly enough, KingMan has never been to school.  When we first started this journey, I had intended to homeschool through middle school and then he would go off to high school.  But in the words of the African American Spiritual, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round."  So much has evolved since I started homeschooling more than 10 years ago.  The sky is the limit for homeschoolers and there is no need to get into a box after living and schooling so many years outside of it.  KingMan will begin the process of studying for his first CLEP exam this year, a process by which he can earn college credits and high school credits at the same time.  The only downside to not attending a brick and mortar high school for KingMan is sports.  He is a gifted athlete and has been playing competitively for years.  His sports of choice are baseball and, his first love, basketball.  But in the words of his Auntie Renee, "If our babies want to go to the moon, then Mama will just have to give NASA a call."  We had a good laugh about that, but it's true.  Homeschooling teaches you to go after your dreams and let nothing stand in your way. We'll find a way to make sports happen!

2014-2015 Plans for KingMan

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning with other homeschoolers has been a central part of our learning and it's a part of our culture.  On Fridays, KingMan will participate with the Sankofa Homeschool Collective.  He'll take classes in African History, Speech Communications, African and African-American Art and Poetry.  He doesn't "love" to write, so being in a class with other highly motivated peers will be just the nudge he needs.  He will also participate in the Cheverly STEM program.  This will be KingMan's second year of Coding and Engineering. He'll also take Cell Biology, Chemistry, Yoga, and Newspaper -- resulting in the publication of a homeschool newspaper.  I have a journalism background, so I'm excited to help out with this endeavor.


I learned of the Aya Education Institute at the Liberated Minds Homeschool Expo.  It's a full middle school and high school program delivered via a live, web-conference platform where students and instructors can see each other real-time and interact real-time.  KingMan will learn with African people from all over the world.  I plan on enrolling him in the Sankofa Word class, which will include writing essays, storytelling, reports, reflections, speeches and digital media presentations.


This year KingMan will participate in a homeschool newspaper class, so we are switching up from Rod and Staff, the solid grammar program we have used for years, to give Editor-in-Chief a try.  It's a software-based grammar program that teaches through editing.  There is a book format as well.  We are also incorporating Afrikan Centered Grammar from Kamali Academy.  Though it's geared toward middle grades, we're using it for review and for the historical nuggets that are buried in the grammar.


After many years devoted to Singapore Math, we are moving in a different direction.  Teaching or should I say learning Singapore Math alongside my son has been a most rewarding experience.  When I was in 5th grade, I thought math and science were for boys.  I wonder if I would have pursued a career in STEM had I learned math in that way.  For Algebra, we are using Video Text Interactive.  I still plan to learn alongside my son, but the interactive Video Text will be doing the teaching.  Because of his interest in Engineering and my lack of background in mathematics, I don't want to slow him down. I also just discovered Afrikan-Centered Algebra from Nkala Education Services.  I have not seen the full text, but the website says it includes practical mathematics for real-world applications, ancient Afrikan problem solving techniques, instructions in English and Akan/Twi, and problem-based learning from real engineering challenges.  Sounds exciting! The Algebra I text is not yet available.  KingMan is also blessed to have one of the most passionate math teachers I have ever encountered.  Mama Lifoma makes math come alive.  During our homeschool co-ops, I have seen with my own eyes children who were willing to skip lunch to continue working on a math problem.  Stay tuned for a full blog post dedicated to this gifted educator.

Foreign Language

Despite my desire for KingMan to explore Swahili, Amharic, or any indigenous African langague, KingMan wants to tackle Spanish.  I have a background in Spanish, so I can help him.  We'll just dust off our Rosetta Stone for language study this year. 

Vocabulary and Spelling

We will continue to use Vocabulary from Latin Roots and Vocabulary Cartoons to continue building vocabulary and comprehension.  We'll finish up the Spelling Workout series, which KingMan really loved.


I am very grateful that KingMan has been a part of not only learning history, but reliving history through his participation with Mass Emphasis Children's History and Theatre Company.  He has been taking history classes with Baba Obi for the past three years.  I love how history is taught based upon where African people find themselves in the world and the relationship to that particular place.  For example, when he learns American History, he doesn't just a bunch of random facts that he'll soon forget, instead he learns what was happening in the African Diaspora during that particular time in history.  We also plan to use the text Journey of Liberation developed by Dr. Molefi Asante, for the required examination of American History.

Art and Music

I give art as much weight as math in our homeschool.  It's not an extra.  It is a worthy expression.  I am blessed that he will be learning and creating African and African-American as a part of our homeschool collective. KingMan will continue to grow and learn with the Farafina Kan family where he studies African drum with Baba Mahiri who has poured not just the skill of drumming but a love of culture into my son.  I am so proud of his most recent performance at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Farafina Kan.  You can see KingMan's solo here.  He'll also continue with piano at Levine School of Music where he also studies piano.  Here is KingMan in a master class performance

Physical Education

I am so happy that KingMan will participate in a regular yoga class through a homeschool cooperative.  I believe yoga is so important for athletes to help protect against injury.  Team participation in basketball and indoor soccer will keep KingMan busy.  We are still searching for a baseball team.

2014-2015 Plans for LionHeart

The Sun smiled on me the day LionHeart was born.  Our educational journey has made me re-think everything I thought I knew.  KingMan marveled at me one day when we were in the middle of our homeschool lessons. He said, "Mom, I think it's really cool how you can switch up like that -- going from middle school teacher to elementary school teacher."  Keen observation! LionHeart is my right-brain learner.  What I had perceived as a resistance to learning was his way of articulating that what I was putting before him did not resonate.  When I discovered the website The Right Side of Normal, my whole attitude changed.  If my job, as the ancient Afrikan proverb says, is to "make my student shine like a star," well--bring in on!

Cooperative Learning

LionHeart will also participate with the Sankofa Homeschool Collective, where he'll take classes in Geography, Art and Jr. Lego League.  For science, he will continue in the tradition of his big brother through his participation in the Little Genius Science and Math Program, a STEM program designed to introduce our children to not just the field of science at an early age, but to actually see people of color working in the field.


In addition to working with our beloved tutor at Selah Educational Services, we'll use All About Reading at home, as well as the Seeing Stars program.


All About Spelling is a program designed to work with children whose eyes would glaze over trying to memorize lists of words.  Instead, this program is designed to engage a child whose learning style requires the use of sight, sound and touch.  Click on this video to learn more.  All About Spelling is a wonderful mainstream spelling program, but is also used by parents whose children display symptoms of Dyslexia.  This is one of the best definitions I've seen of dyslexia.  Click here to read it.

Learning to Spell through Copywork is another resource that I will utilize.  I love simple programs, especially ones that can be adapted to be more culturally affirming and interactive.  I will definitely need to adapt the language to make more this program more culturally relevant and appealing to LionHeart.


I will continue to use the Primary Arts of Language: Writing program (PAL).  I wrote extensively about it in a previous blog post.  For more on that click here. This is a program that I can pair with folk tales and all kinds of African-American literature as the source material.  I will use the portion of  PAL curriculum that is focused on early grammar, story sequence analysis, and writing paragraphs. I will adapt it until LionHeart is ready for the Institute for Excellence in Writing's Student Writing Intensive Level A.


Language Lessons for Today is a simple, incremental program.  It is Charlotte Mason-based and has short, simple lessons that focus on English usage, punctuation, composition, oral language skills, letter writing, narration, picture study, copywork and dictation. LionHeart is a storyteller, so he’ll love this part of the program.  In addition to the picture study that is included, I plan to use DiscoveringAfrican American Art for Children (ComeLook With Me) as our source material.


We are delving into a extraordinary right brain math experience for LionHeart with a program called African Math.  It is a program that teaches the way the ancients computed math, quickly, mentally and at a very high level.  We'll do drills using Flash Anzan.  These math exercises will strengthen his mental imagery and appeal to his learning style.   I plan to do a full curriculum review of the African Math program later.  I will still incorporate Montessori Math to present math concepts and Singapore Math for practice.


Anthony Browder's Timeline

LionHeart is also a part of Mass Emphasis History and Theater Company.  He is learning history while performing; something he loves to do. In addition, I will pull together our history curriculum from a variety of resources to make it interactive and fun.  I will not use a text and the emphasis will be on OUR story.   In addition to reading lots of library books, I may use Lessons In History: A Celebration In Blackness by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu as a a guide for topics to explore.  But we'll mostly read lots of biographies and picture books about our Heros and Sheroes, such as this book about Queen Nzingha, which can be purchased from Seeds Publishing.  There is so much history and geography in that story alone.  Approached in this way, history is never boring, but always a new and exciting story.  We'll probably also use a timeline as a way of visually organizing the information. Ideally, I'd love to have Anthony Browder's timeline, but I'll have to start saving now.  It is more of an investment in art and history.  In the meantime, we'll use art paper to create a timeline.  In this way, I can be selective about the history I present.  We will NOT start our history with slavery. 


Because we read so many library books about people from around the world, geography is a subject that we learn through living books.  I like Galloping the Globe, but it's a little too paper based to be my only source.  My off-the page learner needs something a little more tangible.  So we are going to give Little Passports a try.  It's similar to Montessori's Continent Boxes where you get real stuff from the country your child is learning about. I know LionHeart will be excited to get mail each month and I can only imagine the fun we'll have exploring the items and stamping his passport.  The package comes with a little suitcase and a map. We love map work!


Now is the time to master typing, and not the one finger method.  We'll using Typing Instructor Kids Platinum.  He's already fascinated that mommy can type while looking away from the keyboard.  So he's motivated to learn how to do the same. 


LionHeart loves to draw.  We will continue using Draw Write Now books, which combine art, handwriting, spelling, history and science.  This blog does the series better justice than the website so click here.  He will also be participating in an afterschool art program.


LionHeart will be switching from violin to piano, like his big brother.  He will continue African drum instruction with the Farafina Kan family.  It's hard to believe that LionHeart already has 5 years of study under his belt.  African rhythms are a part of his soul now.  If he hears the drum anywhere, he responds.  It's amazing to see.  Click here to see a solo. I believe in my soul that studying music, specifically African drums enhances his learning.

Physical Education

LionHeart will continue instruction in Capoeira and tennis.  He will also play organized soccer and basketball.  New to the physical lineup - speedskating! After having so much fun with friends in iceskating summer camp, he wants to give it a whirl.  The only wrinkle - and it's a big one - is the start time.  He has to be on the ice by 6:30 a.m.  Ouch!