Free Fun U.S. States Game!

Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational has created an awesome free printable card game that helps kids learn all about the geography and history of the states.

Battle of the States is played a little bit like “War” but by comparing numbers and dates related to the states such as population, number of counties, electoral votes and year of statehood.

One nice thing about it is that it is slightly skewed in favor of younger players, since they start the game and pick the category to compare first.  The player who has the higher number in that category gets both cards and gets to choose the next category.  The player with the most cards at the end wins.

I’m hoping to try the game with at least a few of my kiddos once I find enough cardstock to print them out.  I seem to have been raided by small crafters lately.  ;)


10 Fun Ways to Learn Today

It’s been a while since I posted one of these so I thought it would be fun to do another.  Here are some fun ways to work in all sorts of subjects with a bit of fun…

  1. Spit ball geography: Get a big world map and play a different game with it every day this week.  For today, try launching spit balls at countries that other people call out!  Here’s how to make spitballs, or you could also use a dart gun.
  2. Balloon challenges: There are all different variations to try with this one.  Blow up a balloon and bop it with family members as you take turns calling out math problems.  Kids have to answer before they bop it back up in the air, and everybody works as a team to try to keep it from hitting the ground.  Or take turns calling out items in a group (for instance, elements from the periodic table, states, words that start with M….).
  3. Sistine Chapel Art: Lots of folks have done this classic art idea.  Tape coloring pages of the Sistine Chapel on the underside of your table and let the kids color them on their backs as Michaelangelo did.  Here are coloring pages to print out if they want to use those (or they can create their own masterpieces) and here’s information on how Michaelangelo created the Sistine Chapel.
  4. Lego homeschooling: Here is a compilation of all sorts of Lego lesson plans, from Lego chemical reactions (complete with printables) from MIT to a Lego balloon-powered car to plans for building the Nile River from Legos to a subscription to the free Lego Magazine and more.
  5. DIY flash cards: Give the kids index cards and art supplies to make some really fun flashcards to teach any math facts they have trouble remembering.
  6. Famous person Who Am I: Gather the kids and put a sign on each one’s back with a famous person written on it.  Have them go around the room asking questions to figure out who they are.  You can use historic figures, artists, authors, you name it.  You can also use elements for older kids (Am I a gas?  Am I poisonous?).
  7. Make an educational video: Challenge the kids to give a 2 minute report on any subject they want to research and record it as a video.  If they like, they can use fun editing apps to add text and music.  If they get excited about the project, you can even start a family blog with a new video every week.
  8. Use window markers to do math problems: Enough said.  :)
  9. Photography Challenges: Let the kids use a digital camera and agree on some fun challenges such as taking a picture of something for each letter of the alphabet, 3 kinds of clouds, each state of matter, etc.
  10. Do the purple cabbage pH experiment: This is one of our all time favorite science experiments.  Even I have fun mixing and matching to make the cabbage water turn colors (and even turn it back!).

Anna is off in Arizona visiting one of her best friends, so I have one less child to occupy and educate for the week.  Now I’m off to find some Lego fun to play with Jack, and then I have a small girl who’d like to “eed yots of books!,” a boy who’d like to play a phonics game, a teen who wants to do some poetry exercises and a house that could use several hundred hours of cleaning (let’s be honest, it’ll be lucky to get one!).   :)

The One Room Schoolhouse Has Taken a Surreal Turn

This is what happens when you are homeschooling little kids and also have older siblings with a penchant for social justice in the house.

Victoria mentioned a few minutes ago that three teenaged boys were arrested in Rochester, New York, recently for “blocking pedestrians” by waiting for a bus.

Alex was playing in the living room next to us and shouted, “What?! That’s ridiculous! Why did they arrest them?”

Victoria, ever the social activist, told him, “Institutionalized racism.”

That, of course, led to Alex wanting to know what that was, and Victoria explaining about how some people think bad things about other people just because they have darker skin.

This outraged Alex, who then went off on a six year-old tirade about institutionalized racism and how ridiculous that was.

He went on to blast,

“I could understand it if the boys were super strong and they were snapping stop signs in half!

Or if they were half shark and half human and eating the people at the bus stop!”

He came up with some very good scenarios for when it was okay to arrest boys at the bus stop.

Then he moved on to another tirade.

“AND — I think girls should be allowed to vote!”.

Victoria told him that girls can already vote.

“Oh, well good,” he answered.

So at least there’s that.


Colin explores past ways…

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This week in Five in a Row, Colin is studying Cynthia Rylant’s lovely picture book memoir, When I Was Young in the Mountains. The text and detailed illustrations show what life was like in rural Appalachia fifty or so years ago, without modern conveniences.

This morning, after our first reading, we took a lengthy detour to explore the foreign-to-Colin concept of baptism, which is mentioned in the story. We discussed what baptism means to Christians, how Mommy and Daddy were baptized, why Alex and Colin don’t need to be, and what we do instead (child dedications). We even watched a YouTube video of baptisms being performed in a river. Colin found it strange but interesting.

Then we paged through the book again, looking for details of how the children’s lives were different from ours. Oil lamps instead of electric lights, an outhouse in the back yard, water from a pump carried to the house in buckets, baths in a tin washtub in front of the stove, handwashing with a bowl and pitcher, shopping from an old-fashioned general store, swimming in a swimming hole… all of these were fascinating details. We even did a Google image search to find out more about what outhouses look like. Then we thought of aspects of their lives that are the same as ours: they like cornbread, for example, and they eat dinner together sitting on chairs around a table, and the grandparents love the children and care for them.

This afternoon Colin tried washing his hands without modern conveniences. He used a little metal pail to fetch water from the outdoor tap, and filled a pitcher with his pail.

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Then he poured water from the pitcher into a bowl and washed his hands in the bowl using bar soap. He was tickled when I sent him out to get his hands especially dirty first!

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He poured the dirty water out of the bowl and replaced it with clean water to rinse his hands. While he did that, we talked about how cold the water was, and how much trouble it would be to get warm water for washing if you had to heat it up on the stove first. We agreed that the family in When I Was Young in the Mountains probably washed in cold water most of the time, except for baths.

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That led us on our second detour of the day, because Colin wondered how we get hot water from our taps. We went down to the basement and examined our hot-water heater. Colin knows that water comes to our house through pipes under the streets. We saw how water goes into the hot water heater, how it gets heated by burning gas, and how it is pulled up through interior pipes to come out our faucets. He was fascinated. I think he’ll definitely appreciate his next warm handwashing!

I love When I Was Young in the Mountains. I adored studying it with Alex – it was her first official kindergarten FIAR book – and I am delighted to be studying it with Colin now. It’s just a really beautiful book.

Back from the Civil War

We’re back from Wasioja!  It was so much fun and so much work, and I’m so glad we did it.

We learned so much I couldn’t possibly share it all, and it was so incredible.  I really recommend taking part in Civil War reenactments, not just as a visitor (do that the first time) but also as a volunteer/reenactor.

Here’s just a bit of what we learned….

  • How to do a field amputation.  In detail!

  • Why so many body parts were amputated.

  • The medical degree requirements of the time, and the medical “wisdom” (egads!).  It’s a wonder any human beings survived at all.

  • What it was like to be a southern woman in the south during the war.
  • The drugs (prescribed) of the day and how common they were for man, woman and child.
  • The language of the fan.
  • Battles, generals, songs and traditions.

  • What foods and materials were substituted during the shortages and blockades.  Roasted beet coffee, anybody?
  • The real casualty numbers of the Civil War and why they were so off (it’s actually closer to a million, they think).


  • And so much more.


We stayed with a fabulous unschooling family on their dairy farm Saturday night (Alexandra and her whole family are just delightful, and her Brazilian mother is a magical creature in her own right…. such neat people!!!!).

(Photo of Cupcake by Anna Bayer)

We got filmed for several news reports and for the Wasioja video, and interviewed for the local paper (note: How funny that the reporter managed to spell Hrdlicka right but misspelled Daryl, and that we have three children named Jack, Alex and Annie… reporters invariably get almost everything but your planet wrong even when you give them a direct quote and spell it all out!).

Jack and Alex worked tirelessly to teach kids (and some adults) how to roll hoops, play the game of graces and do other old-time games.  They also disappeared into the tall grass with our toy rifles to play war all weekend.

Daryl had a constant crowd in front of him to learn about old time musical instruments from the spoons to the dulcimer to the one string.  I hardly got to spend a minute with him the whole weekend because he was so popular.

Anna spent the first day in full costume (corset and all!) with me, but chose to go modern for the second day and be a little more comfortable.  :)

(Anna has taken part in the Wilder Pageant enough to know that you’re never supposed to smile in old time photographs!)

All of the kids (minus Victoria, who was up with friends in the Twin Cities for two weeks) helped out in the children’s craft tent where we were stationed too, and made me proud in the way they chipped in there.

Fiona stole the show on both days, waving and saying hi to every passer-by and even charming Abraham Lincoln.

We will definitely take part next time (two years from now).  Pipestone is next year again.  I’m so happy they stagger them so there’s one every summer.

It was a lot of work, but good work.  And we really came home with such a feeling of the realities of the Civil War times, minus the romantic movie versions and sound bytes.  We have a deep appreciation for the many ways it affected everybody.

If you have never taken part in a Civil War event, I highly recommend it.  Ren Fests are so popular but there are lots of historic times worth visiting.  Why just play in the Renaissance era?  :)


Fun free printable to teach kids the branches of government

I love this free printable from Layers of Learning. She writes:

Using a copy of the Constitution go through the “Three Branches by the Constitution” worksheet. Each of the powers granted to the Federal Government are written in the boxes on the worksheet. Color code each box to show which entity of the government has the specific power mentioned. You’ll have to consult the Constitution for the answers.

The Legislative branch should have two colors in the same color family to designate it, like orange and yellow, and the President and vice president should also have two colors in the same color family to represent them, like dark blue and light blue. The Supreme Court justices can all be in the same color, like green. Many of the legislative functions are shared by the House and Senate, these can be colored with both orange and yellow.

If you like, you can obtain and print portraits of each of the people currently in office to paste into the boxes. Images should be about 80×100 pixels and can be re-sized with photo editing software or using Paint.

Head on over to print your B&W copies!

Ancient Continent Found Under the Indian Ocean

Have you heard this exciting news?

National Geographic reports:

Evidence of a drowned “microcontinent” has been found in sand grains from the beaches of a small Indian Ocean island, scientists say.

A well-known tourist destination, Mauritius (map) is located about 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) off the coast of Africa, east of Madagascar. Scientists think the tiny island formed some nine million years ago from cooling lava spewed by undersea volcanoes.

But recently, researchers have found sand grains on Mauritius that contain fragments of the mineral zircon that are far older than the island, between 660 million and about 2 billion years old.

In a new study, detailed in the current issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists concluded that the older minerals once belonged to a now vanished landmass, tiny bits of which were dragged up to the surface during the formation of Mauritius. (Also see “World’s Oldest Rocks Suggest Early Earth Was Habitable.”)

The BBC says:

Researchers have found evidence for a landmass that would have existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago…

…Until about 750 million years ago, the Earth’s landmass was gathered into a vast single continent called Rodinia.

And although they are now separated by thousands of kilometres of ocean, India was once located next to Madagascar.

Once land started to drift towards their current positions, Mauritia was no more

Now researchers believe they have found evidence of a sliver of continent – known as a microcontinent – that was once tucked between the two.

Fascinating stuff!

Genealogy & Math

Wow.  This is kind of staggering…

(Original source unknown)


A Little History of the World

I mentioned that we’d been reading A Little History of the World the other day and Kat commented that she’d love to know what I thought of it.

So far, we love this book!  Having started out with Story of the World, the kids and I all much prefer the charming conversational tone of this fun little volume.

We also adore the history of it — written in a matter of weeks nearly a hundred years ago by a German art student, and then updated recently by the author in his old age, when it was still highly in demand after all of these years.

I think that SOTW attempted in many ways to copy this book, but that series failed for us where this one shines.

That one is full of so many names and dates that we could never remember past the paragraph when they were mentioned.  This one limits the amount of details and focuses on the big picture, plus cheerfully reminds us of the characters and events we need to remember later.

That one drones on and we had to keep pushing ourselves to read more.  This one makes us laugh and makes us love the author, and the kids ask for one more chapter.

So far, religion seems to be treated very differently in this book compared to SOTW as well.  I’m curious to see how it plays out as we go along, since I know the spread of various religions is supposed to be a big theme in the book.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

This is an unusual work for Yale: a children’s history originally published 70 years ago. But it is a work one can quickly come to love. Gombrich, later known as an art historian, wrote this primer in 1935, when he was a young man in Vienna (it was soon banned by the Nazis as too “pacifist”). Rewritten (and updated) in English mainly by Gombrich himself (who died in 2001, age 92, while working on it), the book is still aimed at children, as the language makes clear: “Then, slowly the clouds parted to reveal the starry night of the Middle Ages.” But while he addresses his readers directly at times, Gombrich never talks down to them. Using vivid imagery, storytelling and sly humor, he brings history to life in a way that adults as well as children can appreciate. The book displays a breadth of knowledge, as Gombrich begins with prehistoric man and ends with the close of WWII. In the final, newly added chapter, Gombrich’s tone sadly darkens as he relates the rise of Hitler and his own escape from the Holocaust – children, he writes, “must learn from history how easy it is for human beings to be transformed into inhuman beings” – and ends on a note of cautious optimism about humanity’s future.

We are on about chapter 6 or 7 and have MANY chapters to go, but so far the book not only teaches us but makes us smile.

I have heard that parts about America are completely inaccurate and I’ve told the kids as much.  We are anxiously awaiting our country’s mention so we can see how we’re portrayed.  The kids understand that all history is a reflection of who gets to tell the stories, and that it should all be taken in context with other sources.  We’re also planning on researching the areas that are supposedly inaccurate to see how far off he was, too.

I also understand that SOTW is much longer and has multiple volumes to cover all the history out there, so obviously this one is not going to teach as much.  But just in terms of what the title says… we love it.

It is also available as an audio CD, on Kindle and as a new illustrated edition, which are all tempting me as well.  I’ve heard of a lot of families that use the audio version in the car and enjoy it, and we are always on the road….

In any case, we’re very happy with it so far.

I’ll update as we go.  Considering it’s barely over $10 for the paperback edition, it was definitely worth getting for our gang.