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Category: Cool Stuff

A post on my favorite homeschooling forum prompted me to chat a bit about the various colored pencils that have worked best for Satori ages 4 through 9. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so when we first started homeschooling 4-5 years ago, I purchased several sets of different brands of colored pencils. I was most excited about the Prismacolors, but to my dismay, their leads kept breaking and so they never rarely used. Plus, one of our cats took to chewing on only this brand. You can see this in one of my photos below. This post is to recap some of our favorite colored pencils for various ages and situations. Although we love to draw, we’re not serious artists, this is just for fun.

For the Younger Satori – Lyras

Then I found the short, fat Lyra Ferbys! I actually did a short blog post on these back in 2009 I see. Anyway, we got the same vibrant, rich color, but with absolutely no breakage! This little snake filled with her 12 Ferbys followed us everywhere Satori wanted to draw.


For the Older Artist – Prismacolors

Over time, I eventually purchased a new set of Prismacolor pencils and these did not break quite so easily. However, a few might be lemons, sadly just this morning I had a red pencil break off a hefty chunk of lead. But I am seeing Satori prefer her Prismacolors over all the others now. She says they write the easiest. (I could write another whole blog post about her verses my writing pen preferences.) We have the widest color assortment of Prismas. Here they are on the right compared to various Lyra pencils.

Prismacolor vs Lyra

Prisma vs Lyras. Note the violet Prisma gnawed on by our cat, lol!


Lyras still rock, but they are harder to find. I haven’t been able to get more than 18 colors in a set, although I think if you try hard, you can get up to 36. Most of ours are the fat kind, which is hard to keep a sharp point, but those points never break! They also have a buttery smooth blend yet don’t wear down so fast you can to keep sharpening them.

I think both Prismacolor and Lyra colored pencils rock equally, but since we can more easily find a wider color assortment of Prismacolors, we’ll be sticking with these going forward. If I find an equal set of Lyras, we might switc

Yes, we’ve tried quite a lot of colored pencils. The solid woodless fuchsia one below is a Koh-I-Noor Progresso, which are fun and a delight to sharpen. The leads never break, the entire pencil is the lead. They have a weighty feel, but the drawback is that they just LOVE to snap in half. They’re so very fragile that if one rolls off the desk, we invariably end up with two shorter pencils. So most of our Koh-I-Noor is small, stubby half pencils and I just throw them away then. We also have a set of the Derwent Coloursoft, which is the dark brown pencil with red color below. Nice, but for some reason, they color laydown doesn’t feel as smooth as our favorite Prismacolors/Lyras. It almost feels dry and scratchy, but the color still looks nice. The pencils are a tad more thicker than most of our pencils.




For Watercolors – Derwent

The Derwent Watercolor Pencils are our favorite colored pencils that, with a brush of water, turn pencil drawings into watercolor masterpieces! I’d recommend a Water Brush to use with watercolor pencils for better control. Please note that we haven’t tried other watercolor pencils, so there’s a good chance we might prefer another brand over the Derwents.



Inexpensive Non-Artwork – Crayola Twistable Erasables

For homework, I try to keep a set of Crayola Twistable Erasable pencils. The quality is nowhere near the above that I’ve reviewed, and if your child is used to that, they might be a disappointment, especially when trying to write with them. But if Satori has to lay down a bunch of color for some homework, or write short words/phrases, these do the trick. They’re inexpensive, so we can keep purchasing them to add a bit of color to homework. They erase very well too!
Erasable Colored Pencils

The combination of being both “twistable” and “erasable” seems to offer only 12 colors, which isn’t as fun, but for homework, who cares! The downfalls are that the pencils are not labeled, so colorblind people can’t use them like they’re used to using Crayola brands which are usually labeled. Some people have noted the entire lead falls out, but we haven’t noticed that yet.

Crayola Erasable Twistables

So that’s our colored pencil review! I think for Christmas, we should get a new set of Prismacolors, some of them are quite bit up and worn down to small stubs already.

Last year we started enjoying watching CNN Student News as a family, which has been a quick and safe way for us to incorporate current events. It’s designed for middle and high school, but so far we haven’t seen anything that she hasn’t been able to handle, and we started in third grade last year. We’d sit around the table and watch the ten minutes of student news over dinner. Now normally we don’t have the television on at dinner, but this is a fun way to spark conversation.

It’s a free resource, simply head to Monday through Friday during the typical school year. Each episode briefly discusses a selection of today’s relevant topics as it spins the world covering the chosen events. There’s always a short quiz question which Satori and my husband race to answer before it delves into one of the topics. There’s always a way to preview the transcript if you wish to make sure the day’s news is okay for your child. Here is today’s transcript.

CNN Student news

CNN Student news resumes today

CNN Student News returns on Monday, August 11th, kicking off the 2014-2015 school year! Our commercial-free coverage includes reports on violence in the Middle East and the spread of Ebola in West Africa. We also introduce a new way for schools to get announced on our Roll Call, and we conclude with a “royal” cattle call. Hope you can join us on our first day back! News returns on Monday, August 11th, kicking off the 2014-2015 school year! Our commercial-free coverage includes reports on violence in the Middle East and the spread of Ebola in West Africa. We also introduce a new way for schools to get announced on our Roll Call, and we conclude with a “royal” cattle call. Hope you can join us on our first day back! 


I would love to conclude this blog post with some corny puns, but I guess I’m just not that cool. If you think your kids are ready, check it out today!

BrainPOP has been an exciting video supplement to our studies for over three years now. We use it mostly to supplement our Science and History lessons, but we also spice up almost every other subject as well. Examples include topics from Picasso and van Gogh, authors like Cynthia Rylant or Dr. Seuss, Time Signatures and Note Values, Magnets, to the Metric/US measuring systems. Those are just a few videos we’ve watched this fall from the BrainPop Jr. (K-3) site.  After viewing the video, Satori usually takes both the Easy and the Hard quizzes online.

I’m sure I’ve blogged about BrainPOP in the past, but each individual topic also includes a related game, activity, belly up cartoon, pop a joke, word wall, lesson ideas, suggested related books, and more.  The regular BrainPOP has also been applicable for us, even at a young age, and offers a dizzying array of videos that I learn from myself.

We’ve also always gotten the regular BrainPop site as well (included in the Family Combo), which is geared for grades 3 and up. BrainPOP Jr. features Annie and Moby the robot, and regular BrainPop has Tim and Moby. For those of you with iPad/iPhones, you can also view it on your devices with the BrainPOP app and BrainPOP Jr. app. Either watch the free Featured Movie or the whole she-bang if you already have a subscription. This has come in handy for us while on vacation or waiting at a restaurant. Aside from the full regular subscription, there are two other mobile subscriptions, which can save you some money, which are detailed below). However the BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. app subscriptions are separate, so you’d have to buy both if you don’t have the full regular subscription.

BrainPOP Mobile subscriptions

BrainPOP Explorer Subscription – The free Featured Movie and its quiz plus four additional related movies and quizzes, rotating every day. $1.99 per month

BrainPOP Full Access Subscription – The free Featured Movie and its quiz plus unlimited access to all of BrainPOP’s 750+ movies and quizzes. $6.99 per month (BrainPOP site subscribers can log in from the app at no additional cost.)

While we haven’t taken advantage of the BrainPOP Español version yet (which gets included free when you get the Family Combo), but I think it would be great Spanish listening practice for Satori, perhaps next year, once she learns more Spanish.

The Family Combo is a year subscription to BrainPOP Jr., BrainPOP, and BrainPOP Español that normally runs $175, but with the coupon holiday2012, you get it for 20% off, making it only $140, saving you $35. I haven’t seen a coupon for BrainPOP that I can remember, so I thought I’d blog about the deal. There is a Homeschool version which allows you to have 3 users (I believe simultaneously), but that just gets too expensive. The site doesn’t track what one child watches, so even for families, I would suggest the Single User and watch together or take turns.

To learn more, check out their video lists – BrainPop and BrainPop Jr. and then tune in to their free daily video. New to their offerings is GameUp, which offers free educational games. We’ve only tried that once, as we’ve been more than satisfied with their video selection. I’ve included the free Featured Movie on this blog post below, so you can sample a fun BrainPOP video for yourself!

We’ve been busy at Fox Mountain Academy the past few weeks, so I haven’t had time to blog much! (That’s the name we put on our homeschool ID cards and what we call ourselves.) We started September 6th with official second grade. Since Daddy has been in Chile a lot lately (and is there for two weeks), we are sending him a picture of Satori doing her work. She’s lost quite a few teeth recently, so one of her new nicknames is “Toothless”. 🙂

So far we’ve been very happy with all our curriculum, I think I’m finally getting good at picking out what might be a success in our homeschool. Some new curriculum we are trying out this fall include:

  • Adventures in America (plus our own additional readings for American/US History)
  • English From the Roots Up (just a few minutes a few times a week, so far we learned PHOTO and GRAPH)
  • Minimus Latin (another fun Latin we started after Song School Latin)
  • Writing With Ease 2(third time’s a charm, we flew through WWE1 in a few weeks and started 2)
  • Reading lots of books! Just finished Mary Poppins and The Hobbit this week. Starting Lord of the Rings and The Voyages of Dr. DoLittle
  • and a few others we haven’t started yet

We have moved to the next level/year in:

Satori is also attending a Colorado homeschool enrichment program called OPTIONS. We are in love with her first grade teacher!!! She’s been a dream… always so positive, creative, and nurturing. She even has a blog with included student family permission and no names listed of course. You can see what Satori did in her second week of school. Satori can be spotted in the second picture, next to her best friend! She loves hanging out with her friends but is glad it’s only one day a week. She tells me excitedly about everything they learn – the wordless books by David Weisner, all about the rainforest, warm and dry colors in art, her new Spanish teacher, and so on…

While I write this blog post, after she finished her independent work, she then started putting name tags on a half dozen of her stuffed animals, so they can learn along with her and I can ask the whole “class” questions. New students include: Peter Rabbit, Roxie Dog, Pixel Bear, Cobbler the dog, and Tigriss Tiger.

It’s getting cooler and we see snow up on the mountain tops when we leave the gulch we live by. We had to turn our heat on one day already.

We miss you Daddy and Gramy and Grampy!!!


Creating a Reading Tree has been a dream of mine for a few years and finally I am just going to build it. If anyone has any links to photos of Reading or Book Trees that they’ve done that are similar, I am all ears! I’m still in the brain-storming phase.

For every book read, we will add a leaf to our tree. I do have a leaf punch that I believe will work well. I didn’t want the leaves to be too big, as I envision a colossal tree with a huge abundance of leaves in the years to come. But I still need room to leave the details. We’ll add a little thumbnail of the book to the leaf, as well as date and one of the following codes:

  • IR – Satori Independent Read
  • RA – Mom or Dad Read Aloud
  • AB – Audiobook

These thumbnails might be a bit too big yet, I’ll still have to refine our leaves. Branches will be another decision…

Next, where to put the tree? I have magnetic walls in parts of our Reading Room and we stuck a small magnet on the back of some sample leaves and they stuck to the wall perfectly.

The advantage of this is we can take down the leaves easily and put them back up, without affecting the wall. Satori can easily reach the Reading Tree here. This location also “sets off” the leaves nicely with the deep green and vivid orange-yellow.

I would take down our Dr. Seuss shelf and timelines here to make more room. The disadvantage is that if our door is open, it will hide the wall.

So that leads me to wonder if we should place it on the far wall. I’d take down our map and make a grandiose tree in a position that would be a showcase in our library. It is not magnetic so I’d probably use some kind of putty to stick the leaves to the wall. Once I can make an appealing brown branch tree design on brown paper, I’d cut it out and put it up and then stick the leaves near the branches.


Anyone have any suggestions or ideas? Has anyone done this or know someone who has? Any help would be appreciated!

Satori has discovered the iPad/iPhone game Pocket Frogs that she started playing yesterday. It’s free and I like that it has goals that she has to work to reach. She budgets her money to save for things she really wants without blowing all her coins as soon as she gets them. Satori wanted to share with you her new game and typed it out on her blog. Below is entirely unedited by Mom except for the insertion of a few photos.



Posted by Satori, age 6

I want to talk about Pocket Frogs.

“At the Pond”

You level up, and earn more interesting frog kinds. Sometimes you win awards, new frogs, and prizes! You can earn money, breed, buy stuff, and unlock frogs as you level! Potions are very good.

Frogs must be in nursury or other habitats.

I’m almost at level 4!

You can also do puzzles and races!

We have been taking it easy the second half of the summer, enjoying the beautiful weather. We do a few lessons a week, but they’re on the bottom of our priority list at the moment. Instead we’ve been taking walks/hikes, learning how to ride a bike, organizing the library/garage, etc…

My parents visited a few weeks back and we all went cabin camping, along with my brother’s family. Here’s some pics. I should’ve taken more, but I only take it out when the lighting is good.

Gramy/Grampy (aka Nana/Papa) with all their grandchildren.

The twins… (Sorry I cannot be 100% sure who is Brady and who is Beckett.)

Satori just loves her cousin Peyton. They are going to be flower girls together in my other brother’s upcoming wedding! This was one of the few times I got Peyton to look directly in the camera. She loves to dance and flail her arms I noticed!

Satori with her two top front teeth yet (which she just lost in the past few days).

Our cabins were just outside Rocky Mountain National Park and moose were a common sight. We had some foraging just outside our cabin and all around the campground.

Paddle-boating on Lake Granby.

The highly anticipated opening of Denver’s IKEA led to the purchase of new bookshelves for our home library. Satori has been enjoying reading in the cozy library.

I am currently obsessed with filling out our library with the best literature for ages 6-14. Satori seems to enjoy reading books most written for late elementary/middle school age. We also got an Audible membership and have been listening to tons of quality literature.

Her flower girl dress has arrived and it fits perfectly! We will be getting a haircut next week, sorry for her long bangs and messy hair in these pictures.

Because Satori is losing all her teeth, she looks like a crazy jack-0-lantern when she smiles overly zealously. We now have 3 types of smiles that she’ll do for wedding pictures, lol!

  1. Controlled: Lips closed, no teeth
  2. Calm: Lips partly open, just top of teeth showing
  3. Crazy: Let it all loose! All teeth and gaps showing!

This flower is detachable, we can take it off it it’s distracting.

Thanks Dad for making our sturdy new deck step! We now feel confident that we won’t break our leg stepping off the deck. 🙂

We are off on another trip tomorrow – to Colorado Springs! I still have to share our photos from our Oregon trip yet.