Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Merlin’s Shadow, by Robert Treskillard

I was expecting to be entertained–but not educated when I picked up the YA book Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard. Lucky for me I got both!

The premise of  Merlin’s Shadow is that Merlin, his fiancé, a baby Arthur, and a few Druid and Christian tagalongs, are on the run from the evil king Vortigern. Their only escape is to head north into the hands of the blue Picti.

This book is a real page-turner, but at the same time Treskillard weaves an extensive amount of Celtic history into his new interpretation of the Arthurian legends.

But (insert evil laughter), I can take Treskillard’s fascination with obscure history, and up the notch of nerdiness. This past fall I studied Celtic Christianity along with the rest of my local United Methodist church. One of the favorite books I read was Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Sprirtuality by J. Philip Newell.

Our Advent spiral from church.

Our Advent spiral, complete with harp music.

After the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Christianity developed into it’s own culture, without interference from Rome. Whereas Roman Christians revered Peter and believed infants were inherently evil, Celtic Christians looked towards the apostle John and believed that God’s creation was naturally good, but that free will led to sin.

The famous Celtic Christian Pelagius, is either a heretic or a saint, depending upon whom you talk too. He encouraged women to read scripture and think about spiritual things.

The Iona Abbey in Scotland is still active, and people from all over the world travel there to learn about God and ancient spiritual practices that still have meaning today: praying while you work, blessing your children before they walk out the door, and enjoying nature.

If you take all of that history and put it side by side with Merlin’s Shadow, it becomes even more interesting. Treskillard is writing about a world right after the Romans left, when Celtic Christianity is just getting a foothold. Druids like Caygek, have their own sense of morality that will eventually be enveloped into the Celtic Christian church; the Earth is sacred because it is God’s creation.

I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the Merlin’s Spiral series.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Math with a Hello Kitty stencil

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

For some reason a Hello Kitty stencil makes this more fun.

Do you have any stencils or stickers laying around? Those are the types of things that breed in our playroom.

The other day my four-year-old found her Hello Kitty stencil. I told her, “Let’s do math with Hello Kitty,” and she was instantly intrigued.

Working on the number 9.

Working on the number 9.

For this activity we worked on building the number nine with stickers. This was also a chance to work on the commutative property; 4+5= 9 means that 5+4 = 9.

So unleash your random art junk! I bet “Math with Bob the Builder” would be fun too.

P.S. Can you see the spot on my camera? (I’m a pretty clueless photographer.) Ugh!

Life of Fred Pre-Algebra


Okay Public School families, this is where I introduce you to something from the Homeschooling world that can be useful for families like ours. Have you ever heard of Life of Fred by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D?

The “Life of Fred” series is a very unusual way to teach math, science, history, literature, and plain old common sense, in an integrated format. Half chapter book, half graphic novel, half textbook (hmmmm… those fractions don’t add up); the Life of Fred books teach through story and humor. The hero of the books, Fred, is a five year-old math professor at Kittens University, somewhere in Kansas.

I’ve been a bit harsh on these books in the past because Life of Fred uses a lot of algorithms early on, especially in the Fractions book. I’m much more of a Constructivist teacher, so too many algorithms, too early, makes me nervous. I also don’t think Life of Fred would be good for “mathy ” 1st-3rd graders who were emergent readers. The reading would hold back their math, which would be very frustrating.

But! If you were to take the opposite type of child, let’s say a kid who loved words, stories, pictures and funny jokes but who wasn’t very interested in math, then Life of Fred is absolutely perfect. I was just talking with a teacher friend last week who was dealing with that exact situation. “Have you heard of Life of Fred?” I asked her. “It’s just what you need.”


Another important thing to note about Life of Fred is that it is a spiraling curriculum. This means that Dr. Schmidt introduces a concept and then circles back to it later on. So if your child doesn’t quite understand something in chapter one, don’t worry, it will be reviewed again later.

Right now my son is reading Life of Fred: Pre-algebra 1 with Biology. In terms of Algebra, there’s nothing harder than Hands On Equations or Continental Math League. But there is a lot of other stuff, like fractions, decimals, and conversion factors. Kids with strong fifth grade math skills would do fine with this book.

I’ve been reading Life of Fred : Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics  for fun. I’ve also got Hot X: Algebra Exposed! by Danica McKellar on my reading list. It doesn’t hurt for a mom to brush up on math she learned 25 years ago, right?  Luckily, Life of Fred makes that pretty fun.

A Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. Carr

Fantasy isn’t usually my thing, but I’m trying to build a nice library of books for my son to read when he becomes a teenager. So that’s why I cracked open A Draw of Kings by Patrick W. Carr.  It’s the conclusion to  “The Staff and the Sword”, trilogy.

See my immediate problem? I should have read the first two books first!  Ooops… That’s probably why it took me a good twenty pages to figure out what the heck was going on. Luckily, Carr is a very competent storyteller and manages world building quite well. You can tell that his brain is half math, because his story structure is organized, there are systems in place, and things make sense.

For readers who are new to “The Staff and the Sword”, there are two major concepts: 1) the will of “Deas” is able to be determined by casting lots, and 2) the evil spirit of Malus can overtake living creatures and turn them into monsters. So a panther is just a panther unless it’s been corrupted by Malus, in which case it’s a MONSTER panther. If church people cast enough stones, they’ll be able to figure out whom that panther will strike next.

Not only was the premise clever, but I’d like to give Carr bonus points for including strong female characters that didn’t seem cartoonish.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

A family that skis

My ski jacket is so old it has a CD pocket!

My ski jacket is so old it has a CD pocket!

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140302/BLOG5205/140309976/Northwest-spirit-is-alive-and-well-at-Meany-Lodge

For my non-Washingtonian readers, here’s a little background.

I grew up in San Diego where it only rains 9 inches a year and never snows. Skiing was a sport rich people did, and required long drives up to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead. Then when you got there, you’d wait in lift lines forever. So for the first 30 years of my life, I only went skiing twice.

But here in the Pacific Northwest, skiing is a lot more affordable. Used gear is readily available and lift tickets are cheaper than taking your family to a Seahawks game. Plus, the mountains are only an hour away.

Being able to take your family skiing without breaking the bank is one of the reasons why Washington state is so great. Of course, I’m a little biased!  🙂