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Archive for April, 2011

Shortly after I posted about Homemade Magnetic Map of Africa, I decided to make a more challenging magnetic map of Africa for Satori. They are now all white instead of color, thus the added challenge of not accidentally memorizing countries by color (and my original vision). In this second version, I also made it larger, using up two magnetic pages instead of one. It’s now approximately 12″x12″.

Here’s the completed map on a whiteboard. I took out Angola to show that it really is a cut-up puzzle. If you click on it, you can see a larger image, with the separate pieces being more visible.

This time I uploaded these two pages in case anyone wants to use these to print out their own version. I recommend cutting out the countries you can from the bottom map, and then cutting out whatever countries still needed from the top, as there are some redundancies. Feel free to click on these images to see the full-size and download them for yourself!

Africa (top)

Africa (bottom)

The pieces are larger and I’m not so worried about losing them. To see how tiny they were before, here’s a look at Senegal and Gambia, next to my scissors for comparison.

Here’s a selection of country pieces with our latest version. Going from left to right, we have Egypt, Togo/Benin combo, Algeria, and Kenya. You can see one of the largest and the smallest pieces, alongside a ruler for reference. I kept the tiniest countries together (Senegal/Gambia, Togo/Benin, Ruwanda/Burundi).

Because I am not as good at Satori at identifying the country shapes, when I first attempted putting this puzzle together, I kept calling Satori over to ask her which country it was. She’d take the piece, rotate it, and within 2 seconds state the name. After tiring of this, she set this globe in front of me so I wouldn’t bother her anymore. 🙂

I have to say, I have no problems with the online geography game websites, but this white blank puzzle was tough for me. After completing it a few times, I now am much more familiar with the country shapes. This endeavor has been well worth the effort!

One thing I learned back when we studied the United States is that Satori has an uncanny spatial memory when it comes to shapes of states. Learning Africa was absolutely no exception! The past month she’s been drawing Africa maps, coloring them in, labeling them…

Doing the Africa GeoPuzzle a few times…

We’ve worked with Shepphard Software and Seterra now and then… Examining all our maps and globes…

Within a few weeks, Satori has all her Africa countries, names, shapes, major geography features memorized, as well as most capitals. I was searching for some way to challenge her more and I thought of a puzzle we could make at home where we wouldn’t label the country names. I think this was more for my benefit, so I could figure out a way to get as good as Satori in memorizing country shapes.

I know you can use the above websites for challenging games that will tackle these skills. But I thought being able to physically manipulate country shapes would be super fun. I had some magnetic sheets lying around, and thought it would be even more cool if we made a magnetic puzzle.

If you already own a printer, you can make your own magnetic maps for just $7.49 with these full-page Avery Magnet Sheets (set of 5). They say they are for Ink Jet printers, but I printed our map on a laser printer and it turned out just fine.

At first I was going to leave it black and white for the ultimate challenge. Then I realized I would probably photo-blog about it, so we ended up coloring them in. Had I known we’d end up coloring the countries, I would’ve just printed them out in color in the first place. Maybe I’ll make another one. If I do, I will print it out on two sheets, to make bigger countries.

After Satori and I colored in all the countries, I carefully cut them apart. It wasn’t as excruciating job as I thought it would be. Here are all the African countries, including island countries.

Our first inclination was to piece together the puzzle on our magnetic whiteboard. However, some of the pieces are tiny and gravity made them fall when we tried picking them up from the board.

Closer look…

The completed puzzle.


Eventually we used one of the magnetic sheets itself to put the puzzle together. It will also make nice storage, I’ll just put it all in a zip bag and we’re done!

Satori’s knowledge (and mom’s) has come in so handy already! The latest National Geographic magazines had articles on several African countries, so we were able to visualize exactly where the volcano was, where the elusive Coelacanth fish was found, and more. Coincidentally, we had a chance to hang out with two people from Africa – David’s coworker from South Africa, and Satori’s friend’s dad from Zimbabwe. She was able to answer their geography questions perfectly. What’s the northernmost African country? (Tunisia) What’s the only country surrounded completely by another country? (Lesotho) What country is west of Egypt and what’s the capital? (Libya/Tripoli)

We’ll keep on top of our skills by making sure she quizzes herself every now and then using online geography games.

I am not sure why we started with the hardest continent with 53 countries, but next week we’ll be starting to learn Europe!

We haven’t really done many creative history projects lately, but I hope to spend more time focusing on history and doing some of the fun SOTW Activity Guide projects that we skipped. One activity we will do this month is build a Roman road.

I also think it would be a great time to actually make use of our history timelines. Due to limited wall space in our Learning Loft, I decided to take advantage of the bare wall along our staircase. Using 3M Command Strips, I can trust that these posters will not fall down from our rough, textured wall, and will come off cleanly once we need it too.

Here’s a section where we actually put up a few timeline figures probably over a year ago.

We look forward to filling it out more from now on!

This was the older version of the old Pandia Press History Odyssey Timeline. Here is a link to their new, updated 2011 timeline version that is supposed to work better with the History Odyssey program. We have this program and will incorporate it more in the future. They actually use SOTW as a spine.

Some of you may be familiar with the book BANG! The Universe Verse: Book 1 by James Lu Dunbar, which covers the beginning of the universe, stars and galaxies and black holes. Written for all ages to enjoy, the delightful illustrations and rhymes will educate and entertain your family. The second book of his wonderful series has recently been released – It’s Alive! The Universe Verse: Book 2. This picks up where Bang! left off, with the creation of our solar system, Earth, how life has evolved… In full color, this richly illustrated book is a great addition to our studies.

To celebrate, the author has released free PDF versions so everyone can enjoy his books! I’ve included his full email below, which includes the links to his free books. With permission, I’ve posted a few screenshots of his newest book.

It’s Alive! The Universe Verse: Book 2 tells the story of our Earth and how it was that life could have developed here from non-living elements. It covers the formation of our solar system, Earth’s early history, the fundamental principles of evolution and natural selection and the basic structures and systems of life as we know it. And all of it is wrapped in a river of well-written rhyme and richly detailed illustrations. Thanks to the generosity of my Kickstarter backers it is available for free as a PDF eBook, and it has been illustrated in full color.

Please download it and take a look. If you like it, please forward this email to anyone and everyone. I bet you know a lot of people who would find it interesting and would be happy if you sent it to them. And I bet they, in turn, know a lot of people… With your help, this could go viral and people (kids!) everywhere could have access to this wonderful resource.

It’s Alive! The Universe Verse: Book 2

Free Download: It’s Alive! High-Res (80MB)

Free Download: It’s Alive! Low-Res (5MB)

Preview online

Purchase the paperback ($15.95)

BANG! The Universe Verse: Book 1

Free Download: High-Res (30MB)

Free Download: Low-Res (5MB)

Preview online

Purchase the paperback ($12.95)

(These PDF download links will expire eventually. If that happens, just email me at to get a fresh set.)

There’s much more about me and all of my books (including a book of river riddles & a children’s book about calculus) on my website If you really like these books please consider buying a paperback or two. You can also become a fan of Jamie’s Books on Facebook or write a nice review on Amazon. As an independent author, illustrator and publisher with no marketing team or advertising budget, I can use all the help I can get spreading the word.

Many thanks!
Jamie Dunbar


Eventually I’ll begin work on Book 3 of the series, tentatively titled Great Apes!, about the evolution of the human race and the development of civilization. You can follow my progress at my new blog:

One of my biggest homeschooling concerns currently is how I should take advantage of my daughter’s writing enthusiasm.

We’ve been studying lots of grammar, using both Growing with Grammar Level 3 and First Language Lessons 2. They’re very similar in their scope so far, with GWG being more visual/written and FLL being more oral/memorization. Since we’re on Level 3 (grade 3) of GWG, we’ve started diagramming with that program first. We just started this week in fact. Satori loves it.

I don’t mean for this whole story to be read and scrutinized, but here’s an example book that Satori writes almost everyday. She wrote these pages in the first hour of her waking up one day this week.

Neither First Language Lessons or Writing With Ease has taught us what a paragraph is though, so you’ll have to excuse the solid blocks of sentences. In fact, I’ve heard that FLL/WWE doesn’t teach paragraphs at all in their first four years of books. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Growing with Grammar will be introducing paragraphs to us in their Level 3, 1.20 lesson, which coincidentally, we’ll be hitting tomorrow. The writing program we use – Write Source Grade 1 – covered paragraphs, however, in these early grades, they don’t require (or expect) children to be writing multiple paragraphs. So Satori has no concrete experience with writing paragraphs.

What I have noticed is that anything I do teach her, does actually come out in her writing! In Growing with Grammar we’ve recently learned Direct and Indirect Quotations and conjunctions. I am seeing both of these concepts properly applied in her writing. I guess our emphasis on grammar is paying off! I even see new vocabulary words being used. On this page, she used the word “knob”, which we learned in one of our Geography terminology picture books means a small hill.

I’ve also noticed usage of adverbs, which is a new part of speech we learned a few days ago in First Language Lessons.

Later that day, she wrote more pages and finished the whole book. You can find blank books like this on Rainbow Resource. I think that’s a bit expensive for just one book, but she loves them. We also quickly go through these smaller books for a more reasonable price.

But there’s more to quality writing than grammar and conventions. She has a pretty good writing voice. She often asks her reader questions in her writing. I want her to learn more of this as well, so I’ve been educating myself everyday. Here’s what I’m using.

BraveWriter – Writer’s Jungle

In my opinion, this is too expensive for what you actually get if you purchase it at the regular price ($79 for a download), so I was glad to find it 50% off at the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. I started reading it a few weeks ago and am halfway through. It isn’t a curriculum, but a 246 page manual that guides the parent in approaching writing. It debunks several popular writing misconceptions and has given me the courage to perhaps tackle writing (gasp) on my own with my daughter, using no curriculum. I’ve refrained from purchasing her Arrow subscriptions, but eagerly read other people’s thoughts. I’d like to finish this book first and then decide whether to buy the Arrow subscription, which I think should also be less expensive.

6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham

This is loved by public school writing teachers, but I’ve most definitely gotten my $18.95 worth out of the first book for primary students (grade K-2-ish). It goes into detail the 7 traits of writing – Ideas, Sentence Fluency, Organization, Word Choice, Voice, Conventions, plus the 7th trait – Presentation. It is chock full of actual student writing samples from from kindergarten to grade 2. It has given me tons of ideas on how to demonstrate great writing skills, as well as how to assess my daughter’s writing. Based on this book, my daughter is ready for the next book, 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide Grades 3 and Up. That just arrived in the past hour and I’ll be reading it this weekend.

Next week I’ll probably order her book, Using Picture Books to Teach Writing With the Traits.

Also arriving on Tuesday of next week is the entire Michael Clay Thompson language arts Island series program! I’ve heard so much about this, it was all I could do to wait until I thought my daughter was ready. This program is designed for 4th graders, or gifted 3rd graders. We’re far from either. Needless to say I really thought I should wait a few more years, but enough people were happily using it with their younger ones that I decided to give it a look.

I also look forward to improving my own grammar and writing skills. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in an academic environment (it’s been 13 years since college) and I know I need to brush up on several skills. I’m also quite psyched after reading both the books mentioned above (Writer’s Jungle and 6+1 Traits), there’s so many ways Satori and I can improve our writing and make it more fresh and appealing.

I received an email last week asking how I do it all.  I often get these emails and forum private messages along these lines. Well, here I’m admitting I most assuredly cannot do it all. I took a week break from blogging just to try to get more balance in other things in my life.

First of all, although my goal this year is to homeschool 2-3 hours a day (Tuesday through Friday), the reality is that it is more like 1-2 hours a day. That is enough time to get everything done that I need to do… IF I wasn’t addicted to blogging itself, perusing homeschooling forums, and reading about homeschooling. If it wasn’t for those addictions, things would be much easier.

I’m a night owl, and thus do not get up very early. I’m happy if I can get up before 9am. I haven’t even had breakfast yet and it’s almost 11am. Satori’s already had her breakfast and she’ll be drinking a carrot juice with me in the next 20 minutes. Then we’ll tackle about one hour of homeschooling.

After that I’ll encourage her to play while I do my own stuff. We will probably take a few hours today to go to Boulder to get groceries. We’ll hang out at a nice park enjoying the beautiful weather. Then, I’ll hope we’ll get to a second hour or two of homeschooling in the late afternoon.

That’s it. I have no strict schedule. I have a very relaxed and casual approach. Some days we might not even get to homeschooling at all! Some weekend days we’ll put in an hour. We homeschool year-round, so I don’t worry about sticking to a schedule.

I slack. I am currently slacking on history, art, writing, and music. I can go for months without doing some subjects.

We eat simply. I buy a lot of books and am obsessed with homeschool planning so I don’t have a lot of money or time to cook gourmet meals. Well, who am I kidding, I’ve never been much of a cook.

We don’t hire cleaning help. So it’s not unusual for me to take an entire day or two of from homeschooling to clean the house. You may only see pictures of neat rooms in this blog, but rest assured that they were tidied up before taken. 🙂 I can’t concentrate in the middle of messes, so I try to keep the main areas clean and tidy, but sometimes that’s not possible. Currently our bedroom, playroom, office, and garage are a whirlwind mess.

If I’m in one of my homeschool obsession moods (you’ll know when I blog a lot), then I may not have time to take care of myself the way I should. I think I’ve gained 5 pounds or more since last fall. I hate that, and who wouldn’t. So this past week that I’ve been not blogging, but have been exercising and eating healthy. We’ve been enjoying the nice spring weather outside. Getting to know our local ducks in Boulder Creek…

I seem to have quite a bright daughter and I worry that I don’t challenge her enough. (This could be a separate blog post.)

I also am aware that it seems that I spend a lot of money on homeschooling books and such. I guess I do, but that’s just where I put my priority. We don’t buy often clothes, shoes, purses, fancy house stuff, expensive dinners… Here’s my signature tag I use on the homeschooling forums, and the truth for me is even worse, lol.

“If I have a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus

I follow links coming into my blog sometimes and I see what some people think of me.

What I do have is passion. Whatever I decide to embark upon I put 110% of myself into it. That reflects in the way this blog is organized and our homeschooling aspects are detailed so thoroughly. I can’t help but make lists… lists of books we read, lists of curriculum we use, lists of homeschool area photos, etc… But it also probably doesn’t show the real me. In real life I’m not so organized.

That’s brutal honesty. I can’t do it all and I’m not as on top of things as some people believe. There are some things I cannot change about myself, but some that I can. I’ll try to take the things I can improve upon and work on those.

Although I love blogging everyday, and love hanging out on homeschooling forums, I need to have a healthy balance. (I think I blog about this at least once a year.) I am going to try to blog just a few times a week, rather than everyday. I am going to limit my time on forums. I’ll be making sure I get my healthy “me” time. I’ll be trying to hit up the neglected subjects, while at the same time, keeping my relaxed attitude so we can take advantage of the beautiful spring weather and just being happy as a family.

Let’s see how it goes.