9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books for Tweens and Teens

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books

Lewis Carroll. Thomas Pynchon. David Foster Wallace. They’re best known now as writers, but all of them started out as mathematicians — a fact that delightfully dismantles a piece of the divide between “math people” and “book people.”

In fact, math and literature have more in common than you might realize. One of the first novels about math was written more than a century ago. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott, published in 1184, is both an exploration of the nature of geometry and dimensions and a satirical analysis of Victorian social structure. Abbott’s story — about a Square whose world view expands when he meets a Sphere from three-dimensional Spaceland — inspired several similar works, including Flatterland by Ian Stewart and The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster.

Bloomsbury offered a $1 million prize to the first person who could prove Goldbach’s Conjecture within two years of the publication of Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, a novel by the Greek writer and mathematician Apostolos Doxiadis. No one claimed the prize, which is no real surprise since the life-shaking difficulty of the conjecture (which postulates that every even number is the sum of two primes) and its affect on one mathematician’s life is one of the key points of the book.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series posits a system of mathematical sociology that can predict the future. Mathematical sociology — also called psychohistory — works a little like economics and can only be used to predict large-scale events. Thanks to mathematical sociology, the mathematician Hari Seldon is able to predict the collapse of the Galactic Empire and the Dark Ages that will follow it — and to safeguard human culture and scientific achievement.

In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, former math prodigy Colin Singleton is obsessed with proving his theorem, a formula that predicts which of two members of a romantic relationship will be the one to end the relationship. Colin grapples with the challenge that confronts many kids whose early giftedness does not clearly manifest itself as genius as they get older and with the mathematical mindset that failure is just as likely — and ultimately just as important — as success when it comes to proving mathematical theories. Similarly, the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime uses mathematics to make sense of his world. But making sense doesn’t mean making simple, as Christopher explains in one chapter-long rumination on the Monty Hall program, a probability logic puzzle that baffles even some professional mathematicians.

Colin Adams — you may know him from the Mathematically Bent column in the Mathematical Intelligencer (and if you don’t, perhaps you should) — has collected some of his funniest math stories in Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories. In “The Deprogrammer’s Tale,” families seek help from a professional when their children are tempted to major in mathematics. In “A Killer Theorem,” a detective investigates a series of murders committed via an irresistible proof method for an unsolvable theorem.

This list is excerpted from an article in the winter 2015 issue of HSL.

Fun Ways to Celebrate Pi Day in Your Homeschool

Fun Ways to Celebrate Pi Day in Your Homeschool  (PHOTO by  Stephanie  from Austin TX via Creative Commons

March 14 is Pi Day—and celebrating this mathematical constant makes a fun family party, any way you slice it.

Do this

Get on pi time: Turn your wall clock into a pi clock by translating the hours into radians. (You can use this pi clock by SB Crafts as a model if you want to get fancy with your equations.)

Put your pi skills to the test with Buffon’s Needle, a geometrical probability problem that dates back to 1777. It involves dropping a needle onto a sheet of lined paper and determining the probability of the needle crossing one of the lines on the page—an answer that’s directly related to pi. The Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE) division of the College of Education at the University of Illinois has a cool simulation that walks you through the problem.

Take the Pi Day Challenge. Matthew Plummer, a former math teacher at Boston’s Hanover High School, likes celebrating Pi Day so much that he created a delightful series of online pi puzzles—some of which call for mathematical solutions, some for research, and some for critical thinking.

Write a Pilish—a poem based on the successive digits of pi. The number of the letters in each word of your poem should equal the corresponding digit of pi: so, the first word would have three letters, the second one, the third four, and so on.


Eat This

Bake a Beef Bourguignonne Pot Pie or Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie in a square pan so that you can make jokes about “pi are squared,” or just order a pizza to keep things simple. For dessert, pie is practically mandatory. (We’re having this one.)


Read This

In Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander, the bold knight’s son Radius must find the cure to the potion that turned his father into a fire-breathing dragon.

Pi may be an irrational number, but it’s definitely an important one — and Johnny Ball's Why Pi traces its significance through history to modern-day technology with plenty of facts and engaging anecdotes. Ball does a great job of making math — and pi — feel like important pieces of human history.


David Blatner’s lighthearted The Joy of Pi is a playful history of pi, full of intriguing anecdotes and mathematical details that never bog down into only-math-nerds-will-get-this territory.

Kids who want to try things for themselves will appreciate the hands-on pi activities in Piece of Pi: Wit-Sharpening, Brain-bruising, Number-Crunching Activities with Pi. Though some parts are a bit classroom-y, you’ll find lots of activity inspiration for middle school and up. (Younger kids with a knack for math would enjoy it, too.)


A History of Pi
By Petr Beckmann
Pi: A Source Book
Springer Verlag

Brainy and opinionated (you will find out what Beckmann thinks of the Roman Empire — spoiler: he’s not really a fan — in addition to what he’s discovered about the history of pi), Petr Beckmann's A History of Pi isn’t for everyone. But the mathematically minded will appreciate the obsessive, nuanced detailing of this impossible number’s place in history and math.

The historical documents about pi in the fascinating collection Pi: A Source Book — including the 1897 proposed Indiana law to fix the value of pi and Lambert’s 1761 proof for the irrationality of pi — make great primary source reads for pi aficionados.


Wear This

The Einstein Look-a-Like competition is a beloved part of Princeton University’s annual Pi Day celebration, so join the festivities by getting dressed in your Einstein-ian best.


This post was adapted from a story in the winter 2016 issue of HSL.

Women’s History Month Biographies: 3 Math-Minded Women

Great biography booklist for Women's History Month, focused on women who made contributions to mathematical knowlegde. (Yes, Emmy Noether is on the list! :))

For Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring biographies of women in history who may have beenforgotten, neglected, or misunderstood by traditional history books. In this edition: three women who contributed to the world’s mathematical understanding.  

Ada Lovelace

Sorry, Steve Jobs, but Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace may just be the pioneering genius behind modern day computer science. Lady Byron steered her daughter toward science and mathematics, which inspired her to work wit Charles Babbage, a mathematics professor whose Difference Engine is often considered the first proto-computer.

Read more about her in: Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger


Emmy Noether

Albert Einstein called Noether the most important woman in the history of mathematics, and even if you’ve never heard her name before, you’re familiar with her work if you’ve ever studied abstract algebra or theoretical physics.

Read more about her in: Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra by M.B.W. Tent



Henrietta Leavitt

Leavitt’s work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s was supposed to be methodical and uncreative, but Leavitt was too intelligent to record without analyzing. Using blinking stars to determine brightness and distance from the Earth, Leavitt helped astronomers understand that the universe was much larger than anyone had previously suspected.

Read more about her in: Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh


 This information was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home/school/life, but Women’s History Month seemed like the perfect time to bring it to the blog. You can read the full article—with lots of other cool women included—in that issue.

Beast Academy: A Fun Math Curriculum for Kids Who Like Math

Review of Beast Academy for homeschool math. The gist: This is a smart, think-y elementary/early middle math curriculum for kids who like math. (With bonus comic strips!)

Math has never been my thing. In school I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid the subject and since then my attitude hasn’t much improved. Six years ago, when I began homeschooling my oldest son, I vowed he would never feel that same dread for any subject that he studied—especially math! 

From the start I was stunned by my little boy’s enthusiasm and desire to go deeper into the world of numbers, tables, formulas, and graphs. Finding a math curriculum to satisfy his curiosity was difficult. Frankly, the first few years were a disaster, and, despite my best intentions, my son began to share my dread of math. Thankfully, I discovered Beast Academy—a curriculum that could both excite and satiate my math-loving son.

The moment we opened up the new math books we knew that we’d stumbled onto something special. Full of colorful comic book-style pages, the Beast Academy Guides tell the story of four lovable “beasts”—Lizzie, Alex, Grogg, and Winnie. Loaded with appealing kid-humor, the Guides follow the four young beasts as they attend math classes and attempt to solve challenging equations, puzzles, and games.

Replacing the textbooks found in most traditional math curriculums, the soft-cover Guides are divided into three long chapters, with each chapter further divided into shorter sections. The Guides rely on lots of visual representation to explore concepts and to inspire analytical thinking.

Corresponding black-and-white Practice books accompany the Guides. Though not nearly as colorful as the Guides, the beasts make plenty of appearances here as well, and the text is pleasing and easy to follow. These Practice books contain more than one hundred problems to solve. Each page presents questions ranging from easier to double-starred and triple-starred problems requiring multiple steps.

My son enjoyed the fact that each practice page contained far fewer problems than he was accustomed to in his old math workbooks.  Rather than repetitive drills, Beast Academy provides fewer but more complex problems requiring the application of the newly acquired skills. “Mathy” kids are likely to view these exercises as games and will find them far more rewarding than repetitive drills.

Beast Academy’s curriculum does not come with a teacher’s guide, but I was (very) relieved to find that both the Guide and the Practice books provide some support for parents. At the front of each Practice book appears a recommended sequence briefly explaining how to use the Guides and the Practice books intermittently. The Practice books include an answer key at the back of the book and I won’t lie—I refer to it constantly!  Hints are also provided at the back of Practice books to help get kids started on the trickier starred and double-starred challenge problems.

‘I have more tools now, mom,’ he told me the other day. ‘I have more ways to think about numbers and more ways to solve problems.’

Beast Academy’s materials are eye-catching and fun, but this is also an accelerated, ambitious math program. Among the things my son has appreciated most about this curriculum is that he is learning to approach math in new ways.  “I have more tools now, mom,” he told me the other day.  “I have more ways to think about numbers and more ways to solve problems.”

Subject matter is covered earlier here than in other math programs. While working through a different curriculum, my son was using a program several years ahead of his actual grade level and was quite bored. When it came time to take the free assessment test provided on Beast Academy’s website, he came out at grade level. Although he did wind up reviewing skills he’d already acquired, we were both pleased to see all of the new ways that he learned to approach these familiar concepts.

Beast Academy is a comprehensive program and does not require any supplementation. The company accurately states that “Beast Academy is loosely based on the Common Core standards. However, it covers the key grade-level standards but in greater depth and with more opportunities for problem-solving and logical thinking than other curricula.” 

Beast Academy is for enthusiastic math students. It is for children who are sailing through traditional math courses and yearn to go deeper. It will reengage students who have grown frustrated and bored with repetitive drills.

Aside from being familiar with the concepts being studied, very little preparation is required from parents. Just be aware that the problems on the bottom of the workbook pages are far more complex than those at the beginning. I find that sitting beside my son helps him to stay focused and to maintain patience as the problems grow more difficult.

If I had one suggestion for Beast Academy’s publishers, it would be to develop a teacher’s guide.  I am fortunate in that my oldest son prefers working independently on math and, for the most part, is able to do so. If my son needed more help from me, a teacher’s guide would be very handy and almost essential as the teaching methods used by Beast Academy are so different than those most of us grew up with.

A fairly new curriculum, Beast Academy is not yet completed. Eventually the program will cover grades 2 to 5 with four guides and four practice books per level. For now grades three and four are available and a portion of the fifth grade set is completed as well. The rest of the fifth grade books should be available by the winter of 2016/17 and the full curriculum will be available by fall of 2018.  A complete year-long curriculum containing four guide books and four practice books sells for $108. Each book can be purchased separately as well.

I highly recommend the Beast Academy program for children with a fondness for math and the antics of funny furry beasts. I can tell you from personal experience that even the most math-phobic parents among us will find much to enjoy in this unique resource.

Monday Pep Talk No. 18

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite weeks of the year—how can you go wrong with food and friends and pausing to appreciate all the really good stuff in your life? But it’s still Monday, so we’ve got a few ideas to kick your week up a notch.

3 fun things to do this week

Make your own Thanksgiving Day parade: Buy a bunch of helium balloons and decorate them during Thanksgiving cooking breaks. (There are some really cool balloon decorating ideas here.) You could even make balloon tributes to each of your Thanksgiving diners, and tie the decorated balloons to their chairs instead of using traditional place cards.

Put your Thanksgiving leftovers to work in the lab with one of these Thanksgiving science experiments. (I think we’re definitely going to do the butter versus whipped cream experiment.)

Monday is Fibonacci Day. Learn more about this ubiquitous number sequence by watching National Geographic’s video and studying the information on the Math Is Fun Fibonacci page, then get hands-on with some of the activities in Fibonacci Fun: Fascinating Activities With Intriguing Numbers.


3 ideas for this week’s dinners

When you realize that all your cooking efforts for Thanksgiving have not alleviated your family’s need to eat dinner on Wednesday night (or basically on any night when you can’t believe that people just keep wanting to be fed all the meals), this Welsh rarebit grilled cheese will save you.

When you get burned out on turkey sandwiches and potato croquettes, whip up a batch of leftovers nachos with your Thanksgiving extras.

Have an easy soup for dinner: Italian bread and tomato soup (better known as ribollita) is a one-pot meal that’s ideal for pre- or post-feast meals.


one great readaloud

I was going to recommend Animals Charles Darwin Saw, a really lovely science picture book, to commemorate the anniversary of the day Darwin published his theory of evolution (Nov. 24, 1859), but Audible has the Harry Potter series now, and I can’t think of a better soundtrack to Thanksgiving prep work, can you?


one thought to ponder


in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration}

glissade chocolate pudding

At Home with the Editors: October Homeschool Rewind

Fun peek behind the scenes at what's happening in the homeschool life of the editor of home/school/life magazine #homeschool.

We share lots of little things happening in our homeschool lives in our Stuff We Like posts every week, but we don’t really talk about the big-picture stuff often. I thought it would be interesting to share some of those now and then on the blog—because maybe you’ve had similar things on your mind and can commiserate or have brilliant advice to share. Here's what was on my mind in October:

Homeschooling with a (temporary) disability is hard. Until I broke my ankles, I never realized on how much our homeschool moves around: We’re in the backyard nature journaling, hanging out in the rec room for math, cuddling on the couch for readalouds, walking around the block before lunch—I think of myself as a fairly sedentary person, but now that I am really and truly stuck on the sofa, I see that I relied a lot on changes of scene. Physically moving from one space to another works like an intellectual palate cleanser for us, and I’ve had to get creative about getting similar effects when I am stuck in one room. (To be honest, more days than not, I’m cutting things short with our more structured learning and sending the kids outside to play because it feels like we’ve gotten bogged down.)

I want to read more for pleasure. I read a lot, as you probably know if you read all the book lists in every issue of home/school/life. But I realize that I’m not reading for pleasure very often these days—I’m reading books to review or to brush up on a subject or to keep up with my daughter’s ridiculously long reading lists. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this reading—usually, I do—but I’m not browsing shelves, judging books by their covers, and reading things just because they look interesting very often, and I miss that. Plus, I think pleasure reading just looks different from required reading, and that's something I'd like to model for my kids. I want to integrate more pleasure reading into my life.

We are struggling with math—again. My son gets math instinctively, but my daughter struggles. Lately, it’s hard for her because her little brother likes to jump in and solve her math problems before she can finish working them out—and when you’re a teenager, getting one-upped by a first grader doesn’t feel so great. I’m not sure how to navigate this—I think my son should get to be proud of being good at something and my daughter shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about being the kind of person who has to follow the steps to solve a math problem. I’ve moved to trying to point my son toward another project when my daughter is working on her math, but her confidence—her hard-won math confidence!—has really taken a hit, which stinks.

So those are a few of the things on my mind as we move into November. What’s got you thinking in your homeschool life right now?

Stuff We Like :: 10.9.15

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

While the fall issue gets it final tweaks (subscribers should have it by the end of the weekend!), Shelli's sharing some of her favorite homeschool fun in this week's Stuff We Like.

at home

My kids are growing, and so are my mornings as I have so much more to teach! But so far, so good. I really like All About Spelling Level 1, which I bought for my nine-year-old. It’s easy to use and thorough, and since he can already read, we’re moving quickly. I can tell it would be easy to use with younger kids too as I could just go at a slower pace, so I’m thinking of using it with my six-year-old next year. I’ll be buying Level 2 soon.

My nine-year-old and I went back to Life of Fred: Dogs, and we just finished, and I have ordered the next book! I’ve tried a lot of different math resources, but for my eldest, we’ve always returned to Life of Fred. It suits him.

But for practicing math facts, I finally found a cool little app that my son doesn’t mind playing. Check out Math vs. Zombies. It’s available on Apple products and Androids.


all the craze

What my boys would want to tell you about is Blocksworld. They can build anything on it and program their creations to do all sorts of movements and cool things. The more you play, the more functionality you get. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the iPad though.


at home/school/life

on the blog: I love Tracy’s latest post about the autumn of unschooling.

pinterest: I’m going to have to show my sons some of these nerdy Halloween costume ideas that Amy has pinned.

future issue: And speaking of Halloween, that means more holidays are on their way. I am looking forward to seeing the Holiday Gift Guide in the next issue of home/school/life, which is usually full of unique gifts that are perfect for homeschoolers!



My six-year-old loves birds, so we’ve mostly been watching David Attenborough’s Life of Birds series. It’s phenomenal. (This is the third time we’ve watched it.) Before we started it, however, we watched Decoding Neanderthals, and we thought that was pretty fascinating too. For fun, we’ve been watching Iron Chef America. Netflix offers a “best of” series. (Okay, that’s not exactly a documentary, but the boys love it!)



For Kids: Right now I’m reading The Jungle Book to my nine-year-old, and we’re both thoroughly enjoying in.

For Adults: I finished reading Lalita Tademy’s book, Cane River, a fictional account about four generations of her Louisiana ancestors who endured slavery and the aftermath. I could tell you how much I liked it, but instead, I’m going to tell you that Stanford University just made this book required reading for all incoming freshmen in 2015. Need I say more?

And since I was talking so much about Cane River, my history professor husband told me I needed to read Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves In the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White. This is non-fiction and well researched. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important work that everyone should read.

Monday Pep Talk No. 5

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Here are a few ideas to make this week of your homeschool life a little more fun.  

3 fun things to do this week

Hit your local thrift shop on Monday, and you might find some extra-bargain prices in celebration of National Thrift Shop Day.

Make your own set of magnetic building blocks. (These are so cool!)

Play math with Alexandria Jones. (Even math-reluctant kids will get into solving mysteries with the homeschooling detective.) Her first adventure is here if you want to go chronologically.


3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Sweet corn and bacon fritters would be great on their own with a salad or as a side for grilled meat.

Soup may seem out of place in August, but this easy roasted tomato BLT soup tastes like the essence of summer. (Plus, it’s customizable for pickier eaters.)

Enlist a little help from your sous chefs to prep the veggies for this bún vermicelli bowl — you’ll have to do a lot of slicing and dicing to get it table-ready, but the result is delicious.


one great readaloud

Celebrate Ray Bradbury’s birthday on Saturday by reading aloud The Martian Chronicles.


one thought to ponder

in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration} 

campari granita

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

You can spend your entire homeschool life second-guessing yourself — or you can trust yourself (and your kids) to get where you need to go.