Using Math Journals

I decided over the Christmas break to mix up our Math time a little by having Kyri use a Math Journal. I had seen them mentioned on some homeschool blogs in the past, and occasionally pins for journal pages will show up in my Pinterest feed, but I hadn’t really considered them until recently. What we are doing around here is working, so I haven’t felt the need to change things.

Honestly, the idea to introduce the Math Journal came about while shopping at Target shortly before Christmas. I happened to see a purple composition notebook in the school and office supply aisle. I decided on a whim to buy it since Kyri LOVES the color purple.

I figured she would be smitten with the purple notebook (she has also inherited my love of office supplies…) and would be more than willing to do school assignments that included this notebook.

I told her we would be using it for a Math Journal and explained briefly what a Math Journal was. I told her we would be doing a page a day, a couple days each week, and that often our Math exercise for the day would involved cutting and pasting, and oh yeah doing some Math. Have I mentioned she loves paper crafts? She thought this Math Journal idea sounded great!

So when we started back to school after the holidays, I incorporated our new Math Journal into our weekly schedule.

Review and Reinforcement

I have been actively searching Pinterest and other sites for free or inexpensive worksheets to use in our Math Journal. I have found several that reinforce what we are learning about Fact Families and equalities,  place value and expanding numbers, things like that. While these worksheets we have been using would work fine as homework sheets to be holepunched and placed in her binder, she really enjoys cutting them up and putting them into her journal.

While I usually will print worksheets to be used in the journal, I also sometimes take ideas I happen to see online and just write them out on a page. For example, I will give Kyri a number and ask her to write it down in several different forms – as a written word, as a tally, in an expanded form to show place values, drawn in pictures.

While I have pinned several resources that can be used in a math journal, I wanted to mention a few that we have really enjoyed using, and are making quite the impact.

First Grade Shenanigans We have used her math printables in our journal and Kyri has really enjoyed them. This blog offers more than just math resources though, so please check out her site.

Mrs. T’s First Grade Class This has been our resource for balancing equations and equalities. This is a great site for math worksheets!

Made for First Grade This site has both reading and math resources. Some resources mentioned are available throught the site Teachers Pay Teachers, but they do offer freebies.


Incorporating Manipulatives

I am trying to build up a collection of math manipulatives that we can use to learn different concepts, such as time, measurement, place value, and fact families.

Recently we put together a set of pipe cleaner rings, each one containing a different number of colored pony beads. We use these rings to practice Fact Families. In her notebook, she labels her activity “How Many Ways?” and then chooses a ring. She uses the beads, moving along the ring, to determine how many ways she can add parts to get the whole. She lists these part-part addition problems in her notebook. The activity is dynamic enough so that she doesn’t get frustrated as she might had I just given her a worksheet asking her to generate Fact Family equations.



I found another idea online which uses a set of dice. On her journal page, she labels three columns Roll It, Make It, Expand It. She rolls the dice and this gives her a two-digit number. She then draws this number as cubes – single cubes for Ones and stacks of ten cubes for Tens. In the Expand column, she lists how many Ones and how many Tens make up her number. She had a blast with this activity, doing several pages in one sitting.


Thinking about Math

Math Journals can be very good at getting a student to think about math, rather than spitting out answers. The Math Journal format really allows for open ended questions that let the child think about why they are getting a particular answer and how they arrived there. It is a good tool to have a child learn to explain in words what they are doing mathematically. Math discussion prompts, rather than straight-forward questions can be used here. Journal prompts could facilitate thought on a topic, such as:

What are some ways we use fractions around the house?

What is my favorite shape and why? What are some everyday objects with this shape?

These types of prompts would result in more traditional, written responses (perhaps with illustrations) that might be expected in a journal.

Other prompts could be used to facilitate open-ended thinking on a problem. For example:

There are five items (i.e. cupcakes), and there are two varieties (flavors). How many of each (flavor) are there?

This entry would have words and illustrations to show addition fact families. Kyri can show a single possibilty, or several different possibilities (showing her understanding of addition fact families).

I am really excited to be using this as part of our Math studies. I am actively searching for printouts, ideas, and writing prompts to incorporate into our journal. I am pinning my finds onto my Homeschool Math pinboard, so check it out if you are on Pinterest. If you have a Math resource or pinboard you would like to suggest, please share in a comment.

SREIT Open House

I have been so impressed by the offerings and support for the homeschool community here in San Antonio. There are so many wonderful resources available to us here in the Alamo City, that I often find myself a bit overwhelmed trying to choose which opportunities to take advantage of.

In case you didn’t know, we are a family of Science nerds – we both have our PhDs and have a background in research. We love science and encourage Kyri to read about science topics that interest her. I love finding opportunities that promote Science among young people – this is the age to catch their interest and encourage them. So I am really excited about a resource here in San Antonio that does just this.



SREIT is a local group that organizes classes throughout the school year, geared toward homeschoolers. Kyri will be participating in an upcoming class this spring that focuses on Bugs – she is very excited!

SREIT is also sponsoring the upcoming homeschool Science Fair hosted by TORCH, scheduled for April 13th, 2013.

SREIT has a new location and they are hosting an Open House tomorrow night to showcase their new space and upcoming classes.

For my fellow homeschoolers in the San Antonio area, I would encourage you to make it out tomorrow night and check it out!

SREIT Open House

February 15th, 2013

6:00 – 8:00 PM

6322 Sovereign Drive

Suite 138

San Antonio, TX 78229

Book Review: Shells! Shells! Shells!

If you haven’t had a chance to read any books written and illustrated by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, you are really missing out. The author has written several books which cover science topics, and her books are geared toward a younger audience. We have read several of her books now, and just love them!

This week we read Shells!Shells!Shells! This book follows the two main characters, Buddy and his mother, as they search for seashells on the beach. Buddy’s mother explains what animals form the shells and what purpose they serve. She points out the different style of shells that are found. Finally, there is a craft suggested at the end of the book.


The story is illustrated using a combination of real images (in this book, the images are of various types of sea shells) along with paper cut-outs. It is a wonderful children’s story, with plenty of interesting facts about mollusks and how shells are made. The explanations are simple enough though, so children (target age is preschool through early Elementary) will understand. Wallace does introduce vocabulary that is relevant to the topic, defining words such as mantle, pigment center, operculum, univalve and bivalve.



Wallace’s books often end with a suggested craft that follows along with the topic. This particular book gave instructions for making a sea shell book marker. We used colored card stock along with some colored construction paper to create ours. We ended up with several colorful and creative bookmarks.


I would encourage you to include this book in your study of Mollusks, and be sure to check out additional titles she has written on various other topics, including leaves, seeds and rocks. Her other offerings are wonderful and can be a wonderful addition to your homeschool reading selections.

First Grade Math Curriculum

One of the great things about homeschooling is having the ability to change things up when needed. This is our second year homeschooling. I have written previously of our struggle to find an approach to Math that Kyri responds to. Last spring, we put our workbooks aside when it seemed Kyri was getting tired of them. We spent a couple of months focusing on manipulatives, and I made place value cards that she has enjoyed using. This year we made a clock manipulative to use as we work on our Telling Time skills.

Kyri has since gotten over her dislike of workbooks and actually loves to use them now. We have used one or two First Grade Math workbooks (Spectrum and Flashkids) since last Summer, and I think these have worked well, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well Kyri has enjoyed the Kumon workbook series.

I originally picked out the Grade 1 Addition as a method of drill and review for her. The Kumon approach is straightforward. Each two page exercise is repetitive in nature, and each subsequent exercise gets progressively more advanced. Initially I had picked out both the Addition and Subtraction workbooks to be used on our “drill” days.

We recently finished up the Addition workbook and started into the 1st Grade Subtraction. The first several exercises in the Subtraction workbook are Addition review, and then the Subtraction exercises start, following the same style of progression as in the Addition workbook.

This fall, I started to work on word problem skills with Kyri, and got the 1st grade Word Problems book from Kumon. The earliest exercises, which Kyri is currently working on, uses simple sentences and visual aids to help the student get used to extracting information from the sentence and putting together the number sentence. By the end of the workbook, short paragraphs are introduced.

Over the Christmas break, Kyri told me she wanted to get all the first grade workbooks (they were listed on the back of the ones she currently uses) so we picked up the Geometry and Measurement 1st Grade, the only one in the Grade 1 series we had not yet tried. This one covers a lot of material. The earlier exercises are focusing on fact families. This has been something we have been giving a lot of attention to in our new Math Journal (more on this to come…). Later exercises deal with measurement, temperature, time and money, and geometric shapes.

We will also be starting the Dollars and Cents and Telling Time workbooks in the Kumon series. These books aren’t part of the Grade 1 series, but rather the series that is listed for the age range 6-8.  We have been using a couple different resources, but since she has responded so positively to the Kumon workbook style, I will be switching her over for all of her math topics.

I have been pleasantly surprised with Kyri’s response to this workbook style. I’m definitely going to run with her enthusiasm on this and stick with what is working. If she continues to prefer this style of workbook, I’ll plan to continue with the entire 2nd grade book series.

I know not everyone is into workbooks, but Kyri loves them. I also know that some kids prefer flashy colorful workbooks – Kyri loves these too but I think they can be distracting to her. Kumon workbooks aren’t super colorful and are definitely more content than cartoon. Some might consider them “dry” for this reason but we think they are great.

And as an added bonus, they don’t have perforated pages. We recently went through a phase where Kyri wanted to choose her own school work – not a bad thing, mind you. But she went through our workbooks and started tearing out random pages she thought looked nice and interesting (one risk of cartoony workbooks…) and really ended up making a mess of our classroom and organizing system. We dealt with this issue by setting apart the workbooks she could choose from (extras that we weren’t using as our main content along with plenty of extra workbooks from the Target Dollarstop – these are great!) from the ones we needed to keep in order for our everyday work. The only drawback to not having perforated pages is not being able to hole punch pages and keep in our binder – can you tell I am a type A?