Another school year done

It is hard to believe but we are finishing up our second year as homeschoolers!

This week we got together with several other homeschoolers for an End of the Year party and Field Day. There were snacks, Field Day games, and awards presented to the children.

Even though we school year round, I really like the idea having this “end of the year” celebration. We do follow the traditional school year to an extent – our Science and History co-op follows the school calendar and so there are some things coming to an end during this time.

We also use the end of the traditional school year as a time to recognize achievement and transition to the next grade. For us there is also a blurry line between grades – we work at whatever level Kyri is at. But to keep things somewhat neat and tidy, we claim a grade level based, on average, on where she is at academically.This also acts as a motivator for her and gives her a sense of accomplishment. Knowing she is finishing up the first grade and becoming a second grader is very exciting for her!

This year, I prepared several awards to recognize her hard work and interests. First, I prepared a Certificate of Completion – recognizing that she has finished another school year and is entering the second grade. Next, I presented her with awards for both her Reading and Math skills. She continues to amaze me with her love of reading, and the enjoyment she gets from working on math. I want to encourage this is as much as possible, and let her know how proud I am of her hard work. Finally, I presented her with an award that recognized a passion of hers – her love of bugs.

Kyri is lucky to not have critical people in her life that would discourage her interest in insects. She loves collecting and studying them, and is quite comfortable handling them. I certainly want to encourage her curiosity and fearlessness, and so I presented her with a Young Entomologist Award.

Kyri was quite proud of her awards, and her Field Day particiption ribbon. She is motivated to finish the last two weeks of school, and then move into her Second Grade year starting this summer.

Critical Thinking for Kids

I think Critical Thinking is a skill┬áthat needs to be fostered as we develop. Too often in our attempt to make life easy for our children, we take away opportunities for them to problem solve and strengthen their critical thinking skills. Our schools unfortunately do much of the same – teaching kids what they need to know rather than how to find the information and what to do with it.


Kids need to learn through different experiences how to take in all the information available, process it, and come up with whatever “answer” is required. In many situations there is no one correct answer, but it is the process of working through the information that is important.

There are many different ways to “teach” critical thinking skills to children – basically we are providing various situations and scenarios for our children to work through. The methods we use to present these scenarios can vary.


I think I am lucky in that Kyri loves to do fun worksheets. One resource we have used this school year is Lollipop Logic. These workbooks cover a variety of exercises: sequences, relationships, analogies, deductive reasoning, pattern decoding, inference and critical analysis.



We have some really fun games we enjoy around here. These are not your typical Monopoly-type games. I have tried to build up our collection of logic games so that we can play and have fun, but still have an educational experience. These games from FoxMind are awesome – they are challenging and a lot of fun. Even for the tougher levels, you can work with your kids and help a little, but still have them do the bulk of the problem solving. Metaforms is a logic game where you follow a set of sequential instructions to fill in a 3X3 grid with colored geometric shapes. Tanagramino is a tanagram game where you are given a list of pieces to use and a final shape to build. Equilibrio is essentially a 3D tanagram game much like Tanagramino.


Computer Games and Apps

National Geographic Kids – lots of games here. Kyri LOVES the Dung Beetle Derby, where you have to make paths for the dung beetle to roll… you guessed it… dung!

Minecraft – We just put this on the iPad (the Pocket edition) and Kyri really loves it. She build houses and fences and has fun tormenting zombies. There is a lot of thinking and planning that is required playing in Survival mode.

National Geographic GeoDash – This game involves jumping and maneuvering around to collect animal traits, and collecting animal cards along the way. We just downloaded the second Habitat, which has twenty additional levels to explore. She loves this game, and as an added bonus, she is learning about animals and their habitats at the same time.

Flow Free – This is a really cool app where you connect colored dots in a minimum number of moves, and without crossing paths. The puzzles increase in difficulty as you go up in level.

CDC Solve the Outbreak – This is definitely a lot tougher for Kyri’s age and experience. This app puts you in the role of disease detective. You are tasked with solving a disease outbreak, and as you read details about the case you have to decide what to ask (from a short list of choices) and how to proceed in the investigation. You ultimately determine what caused the outbreak. It is a lot of fun, and it is one that we work on together. I do a lot of the heavier reading (it is designed for slightly older kids) and we talk about the options we are presented with. Even if it is still a little advanced for her, she really enjoys it!


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Review: Reading Rainbow App for iPad

We love using our iPad in our schooling. I am always looking out for education apps that Kyri will enjoy.

A friend recently suggested Reading Rainbow for the iPad. I grew up with Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow, and I have always loved the way the show brought stories to life.


The Reading Rainbow app is more than just a continuation of the now-retired television show. It is an interactive library of books which have had animations added, and field trips which are video clips covering a wide range of topics. Many of these video clips are from the original show, and there is also new content as well.

When you subscribe to Reading Rainbow, you enter the names and ages of all the children who will be using the app, as well as three areas of interest for each child. Each child then has their own “backpack” where they can have up to five books downloaded at a time. Books are recommended based on the child’s age, but you access to all the content. You return books to the libary in order to check more out. There is no limit to how often you can check out a book. Backpacks can be personalized by choosing from a selection of patterns and designs.


In order to select a book, your child clicks on one of the several floating islands on the main screen. Each island is basically a category of books to choose from. The islands include:

Action Adventures and Magical Tales

Genius Academy

Awesome People

National Geographic Kids

Animal Kingdom

My Friends My Family

There is a new island that is labeled Coming Soon – I am excited to see what the new content will be!

When the child select an island they are presented with a sliding selection of books in that particular category. Below the book selections are relevant video field trips.


After choosing a book to read and downloading it to the backpack, the child can choose to either read it themselves, or have it read aloud. Often it is Levar Burton who is reading the book.

As the pages are turned, the words are read and there are select animations that have been included. These animations may be as simple as the wagging of a dog’s tale, but for many of the National Geographic Kids books geared toward younger kids, there is a lot more interaction with the book – selecting items on the page, counting items, etc.


Each book has a game that can be played as well. This is a matching game, with snapshots from the book covered under each tile

When a book is finished, the child gets a sticker for their sticker book. The sticker book is accessed through the reward ribbon icon, and each island category has its own page in the sticker book. Stickers can be selected and placed on a picture of the island – and these stickers can be removed and placed again as often as the child wants.


This is a great app – there are plenty of book selections, the animations really capture the imagination of the reader, and the sticker rewards are a big hit. I love having book categories presented as islands to be selected. As an added bonus, I can go into the settings menu and check on her reading progress. There is a report that tells me what books have been read and what length of time was spent on each book.

Now the details… downloading the app is free. When you download the app, each child you list will get to select one book to try it out. Reading Rainbow has a paid subscription to continue downloading books. The regular rate is $9.99 a month, but you can get six months for only $30 – this is a great deal! I am always a little hesitant about spending money on apps, since there are plenty of free ones out there. In this case, though, I think it is worth the investment. A lot of effort has been put into the app, making it easy for children to use and enjoy.