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Archive for June, 2011

Seeing that Amazon had quite a few Basher Books on sale for just $3.60 earlier this month, I decided it was time to start our Basher Book collection. I was happy with the books we got and took a bunch of pictures with the intention to blog about them. I dropped the ball on that though, and now only a couple are on sale. I apologize I didn’t have a more timely post, but it looks like Planet Earth and Physics are still on sale. Otherwise, you can get the new and updated versions at a decent price. Some qualify for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion.

What are Basher Books? These are colorful, quirky science (and other topics) books designed starting for ages 8-10, but like almost everything we use, we take off a few years. The cute illustrations speak to children in an memorable and accessible manner. They are small books, measuring 7″ x 7″  with 128 pages. The author and illustrator is Simon Basher.

So far we have these books plus Planet Earth which just arrived today.

Here’s a peek inside The Periodic Table.

A closeup of one of the “characters”…

It seems like most of the books (but not all) include a poster. They are attached in the back of the book and are perforated so come out easily, measuring about 9″x13″.  The coolest one is from their Periodic Table book.


Basher website offers a download page which includes a large version of the above poster, other posters, desktop wallpaper and more. Here’s their Periodic Table PDF poster.

Here’s a page out of Astronomy – Out of This World.  The lower right corner shows one of the books with the black remainder mark since I got it at the clearance price.

The included poster…


A page out of Rocks and Minerals – A Gem of a Book!

More posters in action.

Here is more information about each book on the Basher Laboratories website. It doesn’t seem to be a complete list though. We’ll be building up our little collection, although some of the books will not be relevant for a year or two for us.

We look forward to getting the new Grammar – Write Here, Write Now book next which just came out last week.



Recently I heard of a new Spanish curriculum called R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish, a Spanish curriculum specifically tailored to homeschooling families. It looked to be exactly what I was looking for in a Spanish program – flexible, easy to use, affordable, and most importantly, effective in getting our family speaking Spanish! Since a digital download option was offered, I was able to download it on my computer, print it out, and get started within days.

Current Offer on Homeschool Buyers Co-op

We’ve now been using it for a few weeks and have just started Unit 2 (out of ten Units). The reason I want to get this review up quickly is that there is a current offer for Homeschool Spanish on the Homeschool Buyers Coop where you can save 20-40%. As of writing this post, the Digital Format option is halfway to to the 40% off savings, where it would only be $29.97.  There is a good chance it will hit that, and if not, you can commit to purchase only if it reaches 40%. The offer ends this Sunday, June 26 at midnight PST. Normal retail price is $49.95 for the Digital Format. I fully trust and recommend the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, so do not hesitate to order through them if you’re interested in the program.

What You Get

Whether you order from the Homeschool Spanish website or through HSBC, you’ll get two order choices – Digital or Printed Format. For the Digital option, you will get the Instruction Book (Color and BW versions), Activity Book (BW only), Answer Book (BW only), and the Audio Files for all three components. For the Hard copy, you’ll get a Printed Book in b&w as well as 2 CDs for the activity book and audio files.

The website offers free culture links to enhance your Spanish language learning. Some resources include puzzles, maps, games, history, culture, songs, and more.

For those who own Proclick binding systems, it works perfectly, see the above image for our Proclick’ed books. I printed our Book in full color, glossy pages. The whole program is very professionally done and aesthetically pleasing – both the books and the audio files. I was very impressed.

About the Author and her Goals for the program

The author, Dr. Williamson-Coria, was very helpful with my email questions. She has 23 years teaching foreign languages to students and has homeschooled her own children. She designed Homeschool Spanish to enable homeschool parents to learn along with their child and build fluency in actually speaking Spanish. Her focus in this book is using the Spanish language in a conversational manner. Grammar tidbits are offered throughout the book, but it is not a grammar-intensive program.

In this way, the curriculum is extremely flexible. Families can use it from PreK-12. Not many programs are designed to be able to use with a preschooler and a high schooler! Parents not familiar with Spanish will find the included audio files very helpful in learning proper pronunciation.  The Vocabulary and Phrases are presented (both Spanish and English translations) by a native Spanish speaker.

A Peek Inside

The program is divided into ten Units. The units themselves are divided up into sections which include over 30 total Vocabulary Clusters. A high-school student could learn one cluster a week, completing the book in a school year. Dr. Coria says this book is suitable for a 1st year High School course. Elementary students may take 1 1/2 to 3 years to complete the program. A level 2 is in the works. Head to the Samples page to get the full Table of Contents section.

Here’s an sample of the first lesson’s Vocabulary Cluster (click to see larger image). For more samples, check the online Book Sample PDF.

Following the Vocabulary, an Idea section offers several ways to practice and use the new vocabulary. Sample ideas include puppet shows, make your own board games, vocabulary cards, lapbooking, bingo, and a continual emphasis to use the language in everyday conversation.

Although the program doesn’t want to hinder language learning with grammar, Grammar Tidbits (9 sections) are included for the essentials. Unit 10 also has verb work (3 Parts).

The Activity Book is meant to be done independently and includes crossword puzzles, word searches, cryptograms, and more, which correspond to each section of the book. A separate Answer Book will show the answers for the activities. There are several pages included for each Vocabulary section, giving plenty of reading/writing practice. Because it does require reading/writing, young elementary children may not get much use out of it. Satori could do some of the exercises by herself, but may need my help on others. Middle elementary age may be more suitable to start this workbook.

Our Experience So Far

Our experience in Spanish for Satori before using this program has been using Elementary Spanish online. She does it independently, so even though I do have a Spanish degree, I haven’t been using Spanish too much with her. REAL Homeschool Spanish is more interactive, allowing me to know exactly what vocabulary, phrases, and sentences to practice with Satori each week. She knows basic vocabulary, so the first units are mostly review for her. Rather, we will be focusing on using the vocabulary she already knows with dialogue back and forth.

We did get started making our own Vocabulary Cards, I knew Satori would get a kick out of making them. We’ve only written the Spanish words, but will add the English on the back as well soon. It actually was just suggested to me by another happy REAL Homeschool Spanish user to draw pictures when possible instead. By bypassing a translation to English, it will speed the comprehension of the Spanish words. We’ll make faces, use actual colors, write numbers, or draw objects as appropriate.

We are super happy to be using R.E.A.L. Homeschool Spanish! Out of all the Spanish programs we’ve tried, it’s the only one that really really encourages the whole family to use conversational Spanish at home. It’s pretty much open-and-go for us. When we want to do something more in-depth, it’s chock-full of creative ideas to practice our new vocabulary. It also offers plenty of practice in the Activity Book to read and write Spanish. I don’t actually schedule this program, we’re just taking it day by day.

Families who want to incorporate more grammar might like to use this program along with Getting Started with Spanish, another affordable, easy yet effective Spanish program that is great for homeschoolers.

Satori really enjoys the interaction the program offers and once she saw me pull out the book to write this review, she begged for another Spanish lesson. Halfway through the day, she stole the book off my desk to go off and teach her own (stuffed animal) students Spanish. 🙂

Reminder about the Sale

If you are reading this review in June 2011, you can’t beat the price that HSBC is offering. I believe that sale ends this Sunday, June 26 at midnight. Even if you miss the HSBC sale, for $49.95 you’ll get a great program that should last several years, and get your family speaking Spanish!


Up until this month, Satori hasn’t been big on reading. She’s quite bright, but did not teach herself to read at an early age. When we did start using a reading program, she just followed along but did not race ahead in our reading lessons. To my dismay, she has not taken much initiative in reading on her own. I was the complete opposite as a child. Sometimes I worried she’d never take up reading for pleasure. I reminded myself she was only six.

I’ve never strongly encouraged her to read the typical early readers, but as I want to be a great father and learn about parenting from sites like I knew I have to be patient with her. She’s read only a few books over 50 pages on her own this spring. One of them was a picture book on Anne of Green Gables, which I’d say was about 3rd grade level. Other larger chapter books she would start but not finish.

Well earlier this month she started reading. She’s finally interested! She’s been reading books like The Trumpet of the Swan, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and Anne of Green Gables Classic Starts books (more on those later). She’s perusing magazines like Ask and Click. And she’s not dropping them after reading just a few chapters. She reads during the day, before bed, the entire time we’re in the car (long time as we live far away from the city), in the grocery cart at the store… She still writes stories a lot, but now at least she’s reading stories as well.

We’ve dedicated an empty bedroom for a library in our house, but the past year we haven’t read in it much. Satori had no interest, and we do our read-alouds at night in the bedroom. The poor room has been neglected, and even worse, when we’ve finished a workbook or program, we just toss it in the room on the floor. Mounds of paper sat on the chairs and tables.

Well this week I decided to start using it again and it got cleaned and updated! I no longer have my wide-angle camera lens, so room pictures aren’t as fun/easy to take anymore, but here’s some updated photos.

The biggest change I made was adding our laminated timelines. We’ve got four Classical Education timelines on the far wall. Running along the entire twelve-foot length of the wall is our Charlie’s Playhouse Prehistory timeline. The Charlie’s Playhouse timeline is too high to touch and read easily, but we also have their Floor Mat timeline, which is the exact same thing, but bigger. The white shelf holds all our Dover coloring books, Poetry books, small history/science/math series books such as Read-and-Find-Out, If You Lived…, You Wouldn’t Want To…, as well as some chapter books.

On the left of this wall we have our magnetic paint space, but above it has a U.S. Presidents and an Ancient Civilization timeline. The closet that runs the whole length of the wall holds lots of homeschooling programs, games, manipulatives, and books.

This wall has Ancient Art history and Western Art History from 1400. The far shelf holds most of our history and science books.

I also moved our whiteboard/drawing table in here in case Satori wants to draw, doodle, or write if I’m reading aloud. She still loves her squishy beanbag!

Geography wasn’t forgotten, we’ve still got our World and US Maps in bright color in here, as well as a talking educational globe.

We’ve been using this room everyday this week, even while I was in the process of cleaning it. I want to incorporate a Read-Aloud time plus Silent Sustained Reading time, for at least a full hour of reading during the day. Our current read-aloud is The Secret Garden. We’ve also started up our Writing With Ease lessons again, the part where I read the story and she answers the questions in full sentences. We do this in the reading room now. It’s gotten her interested to read The Trumpet of the Swan.

Even Daddy joins in on the fun, as he reads his PMI book (Project Management Institute Exam). He’s taking his big test tomorrow, I wish him luck!

I’ve spent a few weeks researching how to schedule out MCT Island, getting valuable feedback from experienced MCT users and analyzing possible schedules. Initially attempting a 36-week schedule, it worked out more nicely as a 33-week schedule. Each week contains four MCT days. Here it is!


Below is just a screenshot, showing a bit of my desktop background to give this post a bit of color. 🙂 Click the image or the link above to download the PDF file. It’s 3 pages long.

I started planning the schedule by closely analyzing the actual MCT suggestions detailed on this PDF slideshow. You are supposed to “launch grammar first”, so you’ll notice that Grammar Island is covered everyday for one or two months and then you’re done. From then on, you’ll use Practice Island and cover one Four-Level Sentence Analysis per day to review constantly what Grammar Island taught.

The different parts of the program are staggered intentionally to best take advantage of concepts covered, which you might use later in one of the other books. This is where veteran MCT user experience came in useful. (Thanks gals!) For example, in the vocabulary book, Building Language, the child is asked to write their own similes using the new vocabulary. So I’ve made sure to schedule it after the Figures of Speech chapter in Music of the Hemispheres (the poetry book). Sentence Island, the writing book, contains delicious examples of alliteration and such, so I scheduled it after that’s covered in the poetry book.

Aside from starting the day with either Grammar Island or Practice Island, each day also may cover up to two other books, broken down into easily digestible lesson chunks.

Hopefully this helps people who plan to start using MCT, but wondering where and how to start. Of course, some people will have success in just winging it, and that is just fine. I myself cannot help it that I love to plan things out. 🙂

If you haven’t already, you may want to check out my blog post on “MCT and a Detailed Look into Grammar Island”. We are currently only in Week 5, thus I’ve only blogged about the first book – Grammar Island. If I see a need to make changes as we progress, I’ll update the schedule. Check back for future MCT posts detailing the rest of the series!

A few minutes ago Satori asked me for “that book that you read stories and ask me questions”. I handed her the big Writing with Ease workbook.

I then hear her downstairs reading to her American Girl dolls. She also has her Peter Rabbit book out, and she’s asking them the related WWE questions! 🙂

I am in the loft looking down on her class. Sooo cute!

This is Part II of a 3-part series demonstrating how we use Singapore Math, Part I was finished earlier today. This post will show how we use the extra books – Extra Practice, Intensive Practice, and Challenging Word Problems. All the books are smaller than average size, approximately 7.5 x10.5 inches, just high enough to peek out of a Desk Apprentice. In addition to the stack below, we also keep 1A Intensive Practice workbook around. A total of eight books for one program seems a bit too much, but we typically work with 3 or less books at a time. I guess I think of it as a lot of content, but in smaller, manageable books that we can take out as needed.

HIG Scheme of Work

First of all, while it isn’t that hard to figure out which pages to schedule to go along with your current lessons, the Singapore HIG (spiral-binded book above) does include the Extra Practice and Tests page suggestions to go along with your lessons. (Click image below to see larger size.) As you can see, it also schedules out the Textbook, Workbook and the Guide itself, broken down into suggested Weeks (18 weeks for 1A, 17 for 1B, total of 35 weeks). We do not use Singapore Tests yet, but I may end up purchasing them for Singapore Level 2.

We’ve finally decided how we’re going to incorporate the three extra books. Our way is just one way, your family may decide to do it differently, or may only use one (or none) of these extras. If we finish our main lesson early, we’ll pull out some of these books. I have scheduled Singapore Math to be 30 minutes. Yesterday we finished our lesson in 5 minutes, so we did a lot of the extras. Today we finished in 15 minutes, so half our time was spent in the extra books. We use this extra time as review and/or added challenge.

Extra Practice Book

We use the Extra Practice as a review, staggered slightly behind our actual lessons, working about 2-3 units behind our current work. The content is similar to what you’ll find in the Workbook. Answers are in the back of the book. This is a very optional book, I can see many families not purchasing it. If you do, you may prefer to use it alongside your current lessons instead of a review as we do. Or you may wish to only use certain pages that your child needs work in.

Extra Practice books are offered per year, so you only need one for the entire Singapore year, rather than buying both 1A and 1B. Another nice thing is that it is offered for both Standards edition (which we use) and U.S. Edition. The worksheets are perforated, so you can take out just what you need. It is a big book, over 200 pages, so I’m thinking I might want to ProClick it and bind it myself so the pages lie flat. They are $13.30 on and $12.50 on Rainbow Resource. “They can be used to review for tests or to review concepts taught a while ago, or as a summer math book to keep concepts fresh.  Although each unit contains “friendly notes” reviewing the topics of that unit, the notes are strictly for review, and the concepts are not developed as thoroughly as in the textbooks, so it is not recommended as a replacement for the textbook.”

As we use Extra Practice as a review, it’s an easy refresher for us and I can catch what may need to be worked on before we continue further in the program. Below are the examples.

There are four total Extra Practice pages for Chapter 6: Subtraction Within 100. There are five lessons covered in Chapter 6. Other chapters may include several note pages for review before hitting the problems. Unit 14 on Multiplication has 2 pages of notes and 6 pages of practice.

Intensive Practice

We usually try to fit in a few pages of Intensive Practice, but we’re staggering this a whole half level behind what we’re studying. Unfortunately for us, currently they are only offered in U.S. Edition, although we haven’t noticed any issues with that yet. You do have to purchase both A and B for the year, for a total of $18.60 from or $16.30 from Rainbow Resource. The pages are not perforated. Total pages are 152 for Intensive Practice 1B, with answers in the back.

Satori enjoys this book but there are a few here and there that she needs my help to figure out. She’s not a math genius, but if you have an extremely mathy child, I can see them loving to independently figure out these puzzles. In addition to typical math problems, you’ll also find a variety of interesting and diverse problems and puzzles.

The books include a “Topical Review” that exposes students to a variety of questions and then plenty of “Take the Challenge” that develop more mathematical reasoning and higher-order thinking skills.  The book concludes with a “Mid Year or End of Year Review”. The very end of the books includes “More Challenging Problems” to further challenge the child to think critically and creatively.

As you see, it includes word problems, but if you are really craving word problems, take a look at the book below.

Challenging Word Problems

I’ve heard such great things about this book, I even purchased this book a entire year before we even started using Singapore Math. There is one book per level, and it works with either Standards or U.S. Edition. It is $10 on or $8.75 on RR. My book (2010) matches exactly to the book on their website, but has a different cover. I hear there are earlier editions, and I am not sure how they differ from this. Book 1 is 218 pages with answers in the back. The pages are not perforated.

The book includes 17 chapters, plus a chapter on Miscellaneous Problems and a chapter with the Answers. The chapters begin with a few Worked Examples such as below.

It then gets into Practice Questions, at a level similar to the normal text/workbooks.

Then you’ll get into the Challenging Problems, which also include a few Worked Examples. Here is an example problem from the beginning of the book:

“A class had 3 fewer boys than girls. After 2 girls left the class, only 5 girls remained. How many boys were there?”

Here’s an example from the middle of the book, in the Multiplication section:

“An ant has 6 legs. A spider has 8 legs. A beetle has 6 legs. There are 2 ants, 2 spiders, and 1 beetle. What is the total number of legs”

Here’s a page toward the end.

Not Using Singapore Math?

Many families still pick up a copy of Challenging Word Problems and maybe even Intensive Practice. In fact, that was our initial plan before we ended up using Singapore as our main math. Hopefully I’ve given enough information for you to see if these books might be suitable for your current math program.

There have been lots of questions about Singapore Math so hopefully a short series of blog posts will help answer some of those questions. Since I took a lot of screenshots, I’ll break it up into 3 parts. Part I (this post) will cover a day in Singapore Math 1B, using the Home Instructor’s Guide, Text, and Workbook – the core lesson only. Part II will cover the extra materials – Extra Practice, Intensive Practice, and Challenging Word Problems and how our family ended up incorporating them into our lessons. Part III will cover more about why we like the HIG book and a few differences between the Standards and U.S. Editions.

Singapore Math Part I

Singapore Primary Math Level (grade) 1 covers 19 Units. We are currently on Unit 18: Numbers to 100 | Chapter 6: Subtraction Within 100 | Lesson 2 (Subtract ones with renaming). If you use the Home Instructor’s Guide (referred to as HIG from now on), pages 98-99 will introduce Chapter 6 – informing you of the content to be covered, basic strategies used, what the child should already know, and Materials used (Base-10 blocks, Multilink cubes, and playing cards). By this time, Satori should instantly know her subtraction facts through 10, and also either know instantly (or be able to figure out quickly) her facts through 20 (such as 17-8).

singapore math 1B HIG

Before we start our lesson, I pull out our table-top whiteboard and a small bin with Place-Value blocks. We use these pretty much everyday. MUS blocks, base-10 blocks, or cuisenaire rods can be used, whatever you have and feel comfortable with.

Page 101 (on the right side) covers the actual day’s lesson: (2) Subtract ones with renaming. You can click on the image to see it larger. This lesson is mostly a review, but using numbers over 40 up to 100.

The lesson goes over a few problems, illustrating how to approach the answer using either base-10 material (our place value rods/cubes) or using number bonds. I start the lesson using our white board and blocks and put up a problem on the board. Satori usually just answers it all in her head, but to reinforce/check her solution, it just takes a moment to go through the two methods to find the solution. Here we break off one ten from the 70, now thinking of it as 13-5. We take away 5 from one of 10-rods, leaving 5 ones and the original 3 ones. That’s a total of 8 ones, plus the remaining 6 tens – which is 68. I am probably making this sound more confusing than it really is, but once you understand it, it makes it so much easier to do in your head, as Satori is able to do effortlessly now.

Then we tackle it another way using number bonds.

In the HIG, there is a shaded area which shows how to coordinate the Textbook and Workbook with the current lesson. I find this super handy.

Sometimes the HIG offers extra sections to reinforce or challenge the child further. This lesson did not.

After we do our lesson using manipulatives and the whiteboard with just the HIG, we move on to the Textbook. This is the only book that is colorful. It shows the basic idea, but never goes beyond the basic idea. I actually find this the least helpful book in the program, even though you’d think it would be the most important. We usually quickly review what we just learned in the textbook, and it is typically 1-3 pages. You can see illustrations of children thinking in their head how to approach the problem.

After that, it’s on to the Workbook to try it out on her own! For this lesson, we are supposed to do Exercise 21 on pages 169-170. Workbook pages are usually 2-4 pages.

After that, we’re done with the lesson! Yesterday our lesson just took 5 minutes, today it took 15 minutes. I schedule 30 minutes a day for Singapore Math. Sometimes I add on a second lesson, but that can get too much, so I’m trying to stop it there. We will add the extra workbooks, which I’ll cover in Part III of Singapore Math.