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A Fun Living Math Curriculum for Elementary to Middle School: Your Business Math

Curriculum Reviewsamy sharonyComment
A Fun Living Math Curriculum for Elementary to Middle School: Your Business Math

Here’s something I should have written about sooner: A math curriculum that my math-hating daughter actually loved.

Simply Charlotte Mason’s Your Business Math is designed for elementary school-age students, but I think it would be ideal for any kid who’s at that stage where she’s got the hang of basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) but needs some reinforcement before you can feel confident that she’s really mastered them. (For my daughter, 5th grade was perfect timing.) The premise is simple but brilliant: You’ve opened a pet store, and now you’ve got to manage all the inventory and accounting for your business.

My daughter was hooked from the first assignment, which was—instead of a review of her multiplication tables—a project requiring her to create her pet store’s name and logo. After getting set up and ordering the initial inventory, assignments are broken down into monthly duties: filling orders, updating inventory, paying bills and taxes, figuring out profits and losses, and dealing with chance cards, which are sometimes happy (Yay! A celebrity visits your pet shop, and sales skyrocket) and sometimes not-so-happy (a busted pipe means a pricey visit from a plumber). Kids have their own checks, ledger, and inventory records, and they have to do math—mostly addition, subtraction, multiplication, decimals, and percents—to keep up with their income and inventory. After the first month, most kids will be comfortable working through their monthly duties on their own, and by the end, most will be working completely independently. 

For most kids, this wouldn’t work as a spine for a math curriculum. Its nature is necessarily limited to the math you need to keep a business going, but it’s a terrific resource for reinforcing basic operations skills and helping kids make real sense of decimals and percents. (Don’t be surprised if your child starts calculating sales tax in line at the grocery store.) It’s a light math curriculum—the monthly assignments break down into just ten tasks—which is great if you want to opt for a period of relaxed math or if you want something fun to supplement your regular math curriculum without eating up too much extra teaching time.

There were a couple of things that we tweaked as we went. The “imaginary pet shop” was more fun when my daughter could imagine the real pets, so she made little cards for each pet. (She’d look up pictures of different kinds of ferrets or dogs or hamsters, draw pictures of them, and give them names, then laminate them with packing tape. When a pet got adopted, it would move to a special adoptions folder.) As she got more comfortable with the math skills needed to complete her monthly tasks, some of them started to feel a little routine, so we added special orders. (We also added owls to the inventory so that Hogwarts students could order their school pets from the store.) I also made sure that we started in January, when the pet store calendar starts, so that we were working in the right month. Obviously you could do the curriculum any time, but it would have driven me crazy to always be in the wrong month. (This could be a me problem.)

What we loved about it was how engaging it made the basic math that my daughter usually hated. She was excited when it was time to update her pet store inventory or figure out how a big order affected her profit for the month. After years of fighting against practice math problems, she practiced her math cheerfully because she understood the point of doing it. I can’t overstate what a revelation that was for our homeschool life. Math didn’t magically become her favorite subject, but it did become something that she was at least willing to try.

The spiral-bound Your Business Math: Pet Store, which contains everything you need, is $24.95. (You can also get the ebook edition for $18.95, but I think you’d just end up having to print a lot.) If pets aren’t your kid’s thing, there’s also a sports store and a books store option. Not all the Simply Charlotte Mason resources are secular, but this is.

We the People: A Community Model for Exploring the U.S. Constitution

Everyday HomeschoolingCarrie Pomeroy1 Comment
We the People: A Community Model for Exploring the U.S. Constitution 

One of the more rewarding learning experiences I’ve had with my 14-year-old son this year has been participating in We the People MN, a series of community teach-ins about the Constitution held at Solomon’s Porch, a Minneapolis gathering space housed in a former church. Run completely by volunteers, We the People MN bills itself as “A Community Conversation to Understand the U.S. Constitution.” I wanted to share a little about our family’s experience with the series in the hope of inspiring other programs like it across the country.

The idea for the series came from Cara Letofsky, a South Minneapolis resident who posted on her neighborhood Facebook group that the 2016 election made her want to learn more about the Constitution. About 60 people responded that they shared that desire to come together as a community to educate themselves politically. A small group of about ten volunteers followed up to plan the series, deciding what amendments they especially wanted to learn about and collaborating to identify community experts who might be willing to tackle leading a discussion of particular amendments. Working their community connections, they lined up a group of highly qualified presenters willing to volunteer their time, including a law professor from a local university, a Minneapolis city council member, attorneys, law students, and organizers from groups that are deeply involved in such contentious Constitutional issues as gun control laws, the right to vote, and reproductive rights.

The organizing committee decided on a format of 10 two-hour presentations, spaced out every two weeks from mid-January 2017 to late April 2017. The first program was a kick-off potluck (because everything always goes better with good food) and a public reading of the entire Constitution, with participants taking turns reading sections aloud at the mic. The organizers also distributed free pocket copies of the Constitution, donated by one of the organizers, Constitutional law professor Matt Filner. Finding free or cheap pocket Constitutions isn’t difficult, luckily. The National Center for Constitutional Studies, for instance, offers a bulk purchase of 100 pocket Constitutions for $40 on their website.

Cara Letofksy, the woman who’d sparked the idea, expected perhaps 20 people to show up to the first presentation. To her surprise, over 80 people attended that first event, and attendance has usually averaged between 100 to 150 participants at subsequent events.

In their initial planning discussions, the organizers knew they couldn’t cover the entire Constitution, so they decided to focus on Constitutional rights that might be most directly challenged under a Trump administration. Other communities might want to choose a different focus, such as looking at ways the Constitution directly impacts local issues and controversies.

The We the People MN series has covered such issues as the branches of government and separation of powers, as well as the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of expression and assembly and the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms (as well as the limitations implied by the wording of the amendment). One program was devoted to the right to privacy (and the limits on our privacy). Another event focused on the Fifth, Sixth, and Thirteenth Amendments and their relevance to criminal justice today. The series’ last presentation on the amendments will look at the right to vote guaranteed by the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Fourth Amendments—and how that right to vote is being steadily eroded today. The series’ last gathering, planned for the 100th day of the Trump administration, will feature a community potluck and “next steps” discussion.

Each event has included a “TED”-style talk by an expert to set the stage for further discussion, followed by time for participants to talk in small groups and share their thoughts and bring up questions for the expert presenter. Almost every presentation has also included brief talks by local activists working in some way on problems raised by ongoing Constitutional debates. Often, these activists have given participants in the programs concrete ideas about how to get involved. For instance, at the event devoted to Second Amendment issues, a presenter from the group Protect Minnesota passed out factsheets about upcoming gun legislation and tips for creating effective talking points. The group highlighted that the most effective advocates usually find a way articulate their personal connections to proposed legislation.

Each presenter also typically sends out readings ahead of time through the We the People MN Facebook page for participants who want to take a deeper dive into topics, though the readings aren’t required to understand the presentations. The readings have ranged from excerpts from the Federalist Papers to summaries of key Supreme Court cases to up-to-the-minute news articles about contemporary Constitutional controversies.

For my son and me, attending these events has been a bonding, highly relevant way to study civics together. Throughout our week, we often find ourselves still talking about what we learned at the most recent We the People presentation. The series has given us new tools for understanding how the Constitution relates to our everyday lives and the lives of those around us.

I’ve also found the series personally helpful as I’ve stepped up my own game as a citizen this year. I’m calling my legislators and attending more public hearings, meetings, and protests than ever (and when I can, hauling my son along with me). Studying the Constitution in this way has given my son and me a clearer sense of what people fighting for change are up against and how we as citizens can make the best use of our time and people power.

Above all, I love that my son has seen people of all ages and backgrounds getting together every other Sunday afternoon to educate ourselves about our Constitution. To me, that’s been such a powerful example of lifelong learning and civic engagement, one I hope will stick with him the rest of his life. I think another crucial piece of the whole experience has been learning from people who are actively involved in the conversation about how to define our Constitutional rights and who are fighting to preserve those rights.

The volunteers who set up We the People MN are hoping to export the model elsewhere. They have plans to create a curriculum to help other people set up their own series, ones that will be relevant to their local communities. If you’d like to learn more, see videos of the presentations, and keep apprised of curriculum developments, you can visit the group’s public Facebook page.

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 24: Set More Deadlines

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 24: Set More Deadlines

I know it sounds kind of counterintuitive—isn’t one of the best things about homeschooling that you get to set your own schedule and take as much time as you want with things?—but a few hard deadlines have the power to totally reshape your homeschool life.

Remember how sometimes you needed the pressure of a term paper being due in 24 hours to buckle down and start writing it? The way an actual looming deadline can motivate you to get stuff done is real phenomenon. (It’s called Parkinson’s law after a naval historian who famously said, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”) The more time you have to work on something, the more time you’ll probably take to work on it. So if you give your kid, say, a month to work on a project, he’ll take the whole month—but he probably won’t be doing productive work until close to the actual deadline.

This doesn’t mean you should run around setting deadlines for everything. Some things work best when they’re open ended. Not everything needs to get wrapped up neatly with a bow. Rushing through something rarely turns out brilliantly. But giving yourself a deadline—“I will go with the best language arts curriculum I find by June 1”—or your kids a deadline—“Let’s plan to finish this book by next weekend”—can help you work more efficiently. Another plus: Setting deadlines can help your children (and you!) learn to make more accurate guesses about how long something takes. How much multiplication can you do in 10 minutes? What if you tried to take a 30 minute lunch? Can you write a great research paper in three weeks? Understanding the time that goes into different projects can help you plan smarter and work more effectively.

Your challenge this week: Set a short-term deadline, and stick to it. An easy place to start is to give your kids a small project—finishing a book, writing a short essay, finishing a math quiz—by a certain date. Pay attention to how they use their time, and notice whether having a set deadline changes the way they work or the way you feel about how they are working.

Book Review: The Murk

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
The Murk
By Robert Lettrick

If you read the Fug Girls, you know all about the scrolldown fug. If you don't read the Fug Girls, you should know that a scrolldown fug is when an outfit looks totally normal until you get to about the waist, where it switches to clown pants or carwash streamers or the dreaded tights-are-not-pants territory. What does this have to do with book recommendations? Well, The Murk by Roberty Lettrick is essentially the literary equivalent of the scrolldown fug.

It starts out normally enough. Piper, a tomboy-turned-pageant queen, is convinced that the cure to her baby sister's rare genetic disease is a plant hidden somewhere in the Okefenokee Swamp. Accompanied by her former best friend Tad (whose botanist ancestor perished on a similar search in the Okefenokee in the 1800s and who has a giant crush on his ex-best bud), her stowaway little brother, and a teenage swamp guide named Perch, Piper sets out to find the mysterious silver flower that is rumored to heal every malady. Perch cheerfully narrates the wonders of the Okefenokee to Piper and her companions (not to mention the reader) as they explore the swamp, tracing Cole's path through the wilderness. It's edu-tainment at its most palatable.

Then things get weird. Because the mythical plant isn't just real, it's sentient, with the power to hypnotize the gators, turtles, and other animal inhabitants of the swamp to do its bidding — and apparently its bidding is to make Piper and Company its dinner. (Oh, did I mention that the plant is carnivorous, too?) The second half of the book veers into a bizarre horror movie territory, with Piper escaping the burning digestive acids in the plant's giant stomach and fire-bombing the heart of the plant. Yeah. I know.

Usually, I'd skip reviewing a book like this simply because of the violence (which definitely gets a bit over-the-top), but I find myself with a soft spot for this book, despite its turn-for-the-weird. It's about the Okefenokee—one of Georgia's seven natural wonders—and the book does contain a wealth of information about one of our country's most famous swamps. And while the whole killer plant thing is pretty wacky, it does introduce some pretty interesting facts about botany. And honestly, it's so utterly odd that I want someone else to read it so its weirdness can be fully appreciated. So I say this is one to stalk at the library — worth checking out, though I'm not sure I'd want to allocate valuable shelf space for it in a permanent way. Though obviously, if you've had a hankering for a book about mind-controlling, carnivorous plants, you'll want to run, not walk, to pick this one up.


home | school | life Newsamy sharonyComment
Cast your vote for THE MOST HOMESCHOOLERY THING EVER in home/school/life's HOMESCHOOL MADNESS tournament!

It’s time to battle it out! We nominated 16 entries to compete for the title, and now we're down to the FINAL FOUR. Which will take the title of THE MOST HOMESCHOOLERY THING EVER? Cast your vote to decide!

Cast your votes for the third round from March 17th through March 23rd.  The final two will be announced on March 24th, after which one last vote will decide THE MOST HOMESCHOOLERY THING EVER!


Voting for Round 3 is open until March 23.

Stuff We Like :: 3.17.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharonyComment
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Happy weekend!

around the web

If you have had a tough week, you need Friar Moustache.

And another story to make you feel better about the world: This college student is writing women back into the history of science, one Wikipedia entry at a time

Now this is an Instagram I could get behind.


at home/school/life

on the blog: Homeschool Madness is getting real, y’all! Round 3 starts this afternoon. Help us narrow the FINAL FOUR down to the FINAL TWO.

one year ago: The Music Gap that Filled Itself

two years ago: So What If All They Do Is Play Video Games?


reading list

OK, so I read a lot of books. I like a lot of books. But wow, The Hate U Give completely blew me away. It’s not an easy book to read—it’s about the shooting of a young black man by a police officer and the effect it has on a neighborhood and one girl in particular. But it is un-put-down-able. I passed this one on to my teenager immediately. I also bought another copy for my best friend.

I doubt that anyone will be surprised that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. If you are similarly obsessed with similarly obsessive books about words, this one doesn’t disappoint. 

My son and I are reading Ottoline and the Purple Fox. I love Ottoline for many reasons (Mr. Munroe! Those illustrations! The postcards!), but maybe the biggest reason is that my son sometimes takes one of these books off the shelf and says, “Can we read this one again?”


in the kitchen

I finally had to replace my beloved hand-held can opener. (One can of chickpeas too many, I guess!) I don’t even know how old it was, but it was my grandmother’s before it was mine, and it had a long, proud life. I got a slightly updated version of the same one so I can keep making those endless pans of roasted chickpeas.

Cookie of the week: Olive oil sugar cookies with blood orange glaze (these were ridiculously good)


at home

We’ve been having lots of open houses and Q&A nights for Jason’s school the last few weeks, and it looks like we’re set to have a full class for fall. So yay! But it’s definitely been busy and exhausting, and I will be glad to hole up with the spring issue alone for a few weeks to recharge.

The weather is so crazy—last week, it felt like summer was on the way, and we spent every possible minute outside. This week, it’s been so cold we lit a fire. In both places, we’ve been playing lots of Adventure Time Munchkin. (They always let me be BMO. That’s love.)

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Early Grades

Getting Started, Everyday Homeschoolingamy sharony1 Comment
Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Early Grades

From kindergarten through 5th grade, your goal is to instill basic skills and cultivate a love of learning.

A schedule is great, but don’t tie yourself down. Some of the best homeschool adventures happen spontaneously.

Play outside. A lot.

Read books. Kids can learn math, history, science, philosophy, grammar, and everything else from stories — and some of those lessons go down a lot easier than they would with workbooks and bubble tests.

Keep a homeschool joy journal. The time flies by, and your memories of hatching butterflies and visiting Cherokee pow-wows will start to fade.

Let your child take some tests. Don’t make them a big deal. Don’t even grade them if you don’t want to. But give him the experience of sitting down to communicate his knowledge

It’s okay to stop doing it if it’s not fun. You can always come back to it later.

Find a library system that works for you fast, or you’re going to be paying a lot of fines down the road.

Don’t spend a lot of money on curriculum items for the future. You will change your mind at least a dozen times about what you want to do before then.

Take every field trip you can. Making time for field trips gets harder as kids get older.

Forget grade level. It’s okay if your 2nd-grader isn’t ready to read or if your kindergartner is reading 4th-grade books. Don’t pin yourself down with a preconceived list of things your child needs to learn at a certain time.

Make me-time. It’s essential to your wellbeing. 

You will screw up sometimes. It’s okay. Be nice to yourself about it.

Play audiobooks in the car. 

Pay attention to what your child enjoys. There’s a good chance that the activities she engages in with the most enthusiasm are indicators of her natural learning style.

You will sometimes waver between feeling like you are doing way too much and like you are not doing enough. You are probably doing just the right amount.

Buy more pencils than you think you need.

Don’t be afraid of screen time. Documentaries, interactive games, and even Phineas and Ferb can be learning opportunities.

Once in a while, take a day off for no reason.

Buy more bookcases.

Accept that you will sometimes succumb to the midwinter blues, when everything about homeschooling makes you feel tired, depressed, and unsuccessful. Promise yourself to take time off and not make any big decisions till the daffodils bloom.

Incorporate housework into your daily routine. Your kids can help. Your kids should help.

Resist the urge to move on to the next thing if your child is in love with a particular subject or activity. You don’t need to rush.

Some day, you may have to push through difficult subjects until both you and your child are reduced to tears. That day is not today. There is no need to force a piece of learning at this stage.

Write down your child’s stories and poems. You will forget them, even though it seems impossible that you could ever forget a poem about a renegade cat with a band of angry inkblots.

Some days, your children will be annoying. Some days, you might not like them much. That’s okay. Tomorrow will probably be better.

Remind yourself that homeschooling is a lifestyle, not just an educational plan.

Your child will amaze you. Pack tissues. 􏰅    


This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.