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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.

I’ve found myself purchasing tons of eBooks and PDFs versions for our curriculum. I print them out and place them in a Staples Better Binder. That habit was getting too expensive, especially at $9 per binder. I also found myself loving spiral bound books, as they lie flat. So I was open to some new ideas…

Yesterday I took the splurge and purchased a ProClick P50 Binding System. I found the best deal at Office Depot, where I got it in-store for just $50. I got some sturdy back covers, glossy front covers, and some combs, and the total came to under $100. You can use your own cardstock for covers though, so the fancy covers aren’t necessary.

Right away I bound my History Odyssey Ancients book that I hadn’t been using as it was just loose papers that I had filed away a year ago. Now, I have a beautiful, glossy history book!

One thing I am losing over putting them in binders is the ability to place a label on the spine. I have colored tape that I rolled around a top coil, so we’ll see how that works in identifying them if they’re all on the shelf.

Here’s a look at how thick it is, with the clear front cover and black, sturdy backing.

A look at the device itself. It looks very simple, and it is – yet it’s very sturdy and weighted, so you stick the papers in, and then run the top thing over the papers to punch the holes. This inexpensive version will punch 6 papers at a time, but I normally like thicker or glossy papers, so I only punch 3-4 pages at a time to make it easier. It’s super easy to run the top over the papers if you give it a manageable job.

I purchased two boxes of spines, for 45-page and 85-page capacity. If you do use covers, that lowers the capacity. There are only three sizes of spines that I’m aware of, and the 110-page capacity spines I could only find in boxes of 100 for $50. I decided to wait on those.

I love these special ProClick spines because you can open them back up, take out, reinsert papers, and then zip them back up! They feel nice and sturdy, and they look great. Books now lie flat.

I asked for some ideas over at the WTM last night… Thanks ladies! I finally found a use for the beautiful scrapbook papers I had been collecting just because they’re so pretty, even though I’m not a scrapbooker! The spines are easily cut. So I made a cute mini-notebook on Africa for Satori to use.

I made this template super quickly last night, but hey she totally loves her new notebook! She even slept with it last night. 🙂 We’ll be putting all 53 African countries in here (more on that later).

Another great idea is to put the spines on top, which makes it easier for a child to write in a workbook.

Since the spines hold up to 85 pages (110 if I purchase the bigger size), not all complete programs will fit. Some people split their programs up into different volumes. Also, an affordable option is to purchase 3:1 spiral coils (Thanks Paula for this idea), which are both more cost effective and hold more paper. The con is that they won’t click back open. This is a good idea for larger teacher’s manuals.

Last month I was specifically looking for state geography iPad app games, and I found Stack the States, recently released for iPad. This game rocks! It is only $0.99 and so very worth it. It’s cute, colorful, fun and extremely educational.

It quizzes you on capitals, states, nicknames, abbreviations, bordering states, and more. You select the state answer and then you position your state to fall and stack up below the b&w line.

The states will tumble, bounce, and finally settle, hopefully on the platform. If you’re not careful, a state will fall right off. What’s cool is that you can plan how your state will fall so it will best stick. Even better, is you see the relative sizes of the states. I happen to have a lot of big states here, but the sizes are very apparent when you have some of the smaller northeastern states paired up with a state like Alaska and Texas. It’s so funny as the states look at each other with their huge eyes.

Once your stack of states goes over the line, you win that session. You then earn a new state to add to your map.

After you earn a certain amount of states, you are able to play more games. Here’s the bonus Puzzler Game. The states bounce off each other if you hit them, so you have to keep that in mind and carefully position each state in place.

A week later, Stack the Countries was released on 2/24/2011!  This is $1.99, but of course, you’re learning the entire world, so very worth it. A game on the world world can be daunting, especially for a 6 year old, so you can start out on “Learn” mode for a continent.

Clicking on a country brings up the basics, you’ll see the country shape, name, flag, and capital.

Click View Flash Card to learn even more.

When you’re ready to play, you can control which types of questions are presented…

Now you’re set to play!

Just like in Stack the States, you earn countries to unlock more bonus games. It reinforces the position of a country, as well as making the game totally addicting.

Check out this YouTube to experience Stack the Countries:

These two iPad apps are our absolute favorites and by far the best value. Our entire family plays these games, and we also literally have a “blast” with Rocket Math, another great educational app by the same person who made Stack the States. I’ll blog about that in another post.

I have been working non-stop getting our school year scheduled, preparing for a visit from Gramy and Grampy, and organizing my 20-year class reunion. So we aren’t getting to all our lessons except for reading/phonics/handwriting. To keep Satori intellectually stimulated while I’m organizing, she’s been on BrainPop and playing with jigsaw puzzles!

In fact, she quickly ran through our selection at home, so these came in the mail last week. The Geopuzzles just rock, Latin America GeoPuzzle completes our set. They were easy enough for Satori to do at age 4, yet still fun for David and I.

Try as I might, I couldn’t stay away from the puzzles. When times are very stressful, taking the time to do a puzzle forces me to stop and breathe and take my mind off things. So I helped out with one…

And when David came home, he joined in on this 300 piece Dinosaur puzzle. It’s beautiful!

Because we all had a blast, we picked up this one specifically made for families to do together. This line of puzzles by Ravensburger is called their Family Fun puzzles.

They have three different size pieces – huge ones for PreK-K children, regular-sized ones for K-3 children (or so) and tiny pieces for older children/adults!

Our local toy store had one Family Fun Puzzle in stock for $19.99, but we used a $5 coupon. Amazon has them at $15.99 though, and their Ocean Marvels puzzle (380 pc) is an additional 25% off. We’ll be doing this together soon, maybe with Grandma and Grandpa who are visiting this week!

My previous post I mentioned some great sources for art prints. Just this past week my Art Page-A-Day Calendar 2011 arrived and looks fantastic. Of course we’ll have to stare at the front cover for a few more months, but we’ve all looked through it and are excited about the daily images it will bring next year. This is the same publisher that makes the Brain Quest and What to Expect products by the wayl.

It comes in a plastic case with dimensions 7.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches. Here’s what it looks like on our window ledge for size reference.

Here’s the first photo. It isn’t all famous paintings, there is also sculptures, pottery, textiles and more. That’s fine with us, already we’ve seen some Ancient Egyptian art that we can appreciate. The images are in a square format though, so if the original image isn’t square, it may cut off some of the painting. They do show a thumbnail of the whole image in the upper corner if this occurs.

A handful of pages…

Once my 2011 calendar arrived, I loved it so much I jumped online to purchase previous years. Unfortunately, they were not the $10.87 I paid, they averaged anyway from $45 on up into the hundreds! I did manage to snag a used but unopened 2009 calendar for just $19.95. Once that was gone, I was shocked to see remaining ones go up to $999.98!

That is why I think these calendars are a great investment. After the year is up, keep them and use them for art appreciation projects. Use them for art games, flashcards, etc… Or, keep it for a few years and sell for a profit! Here’s the current listing for Art Page-A-Day calendars so you can see what they’re currently going for.

The Smart Lab You Explore It Human Body has been a cool homeschool investment. It comes with a body model that you can explore with the included plastic tweezers and forceps. Lots of fun squishy organs, skeleton and muscle examples, and a clear “skin”. There are already very thorough Amazon reviews, so I won’t go in that much detail, just wanted to share a few photos.

You then place the organs and parts on the Organizer sheet.

As you’re doing all this, you’re following a pizza slice going through the human body and hitting all the major systems. Step by step they guide you where the pizza is and which systems are processing it.

It was really a great educational toy!

And then it helps you reassemble your body. Here he is with his organs back in the body.