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The Magic School Bus Science Club, Solids, Liquids and Gases kit

The Magic School Bus "Solids, Liquids, and Gases" kit

The Magic School Bus “Solids, Liquids, and Gases” kit

“Santa” brought Jenna(4) a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club this year. It was a 50% off deal through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. That comes out to $12 a kit, which is totally worth it.

A lot of these experiments you can do at home for free. The only drawback is that you won’t have the teaching script to read from. I’m not going to lie, the script is pretty nice because it’s so foolproof. But if you go to the library and check out some books, you’ll probably be fine.

Here are some titles to look for:

The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake: A Book About Kitchen Chemistry

Solids, Liquids and Gases (Starting with Science)

Experiments with Solids, Liquids, and Gases (True Books)

Here are some experiments to get you started:

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Dancing raisins. You need raisins and fizzy water.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

Drop the raisins in the water and watch what happens.

First the raisins sink because they are heavy. But then the gas bubbles (which are light) attach to the raisins and lift them up to the surface.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Blow up a balloon. You need at 2 liter bottle, vinegar, baking soda and a balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

Drop baking soda and vinegar into the bottle and attach the balloon.

If we had used a 2 liter bottle this would have been better. What happens is that the baking soda and vinegar make carbon dioxide, which takes up room and forces the air out of the bottle up into the balloon. Our dinky little bottle didn’t have enough air in it to blow up the entire balloon. Note to self, buy 7-Up!

Fizzy tablets and water.

Fizzy tablets and water.

The citric acid and the baking soda inside the Alka Seltzer tablet react to produce the gas, which is lighter than water, so the bubbles rise to the surface.

Milk goop: you need milk and vinegar.

Milk goop. You need milk and vinegar.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

Mix 4 parts milk, 1 part vinegar. Wait 10 minutes.

The vinegar causes the protein casein to separate from the milk. The result is an ancient type of Egyptian glue.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

More goop. You need cornstarch and water.

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Use your hands!

This is an experiment you have to feel to understand. The result is not exactly a liquid, but not really a solid. It changes forms depending on how you squeeze it.


That was a lot of  fun! We still have two more experiments to do before we finish the kit: making slime and a bouncy ball.

For more information about the Magic School Bus Science kits, visit the Young Scientists Club website.

Rotational Symmetry with Cookie Cutters

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters.

Bruce had homework regarding rotational symmetry and it totally confused me because I’m really bad at visual-spatial things.

What is rotational symmetry? That means a shape that can be rotated less than 360 degrees and still look the same.  More info right here.

For spatially challenged people like me (you should see me parallel park!), rotational symmetry can be hard to picture. Hands-on learning can help.

A long time ago, I blogged about using flour and cookie cutters to learn about flips and turns. Guess what? That idea also works for rotational symmetry too!

First draw the X and Y axis in the flour.

First draw the X and Y axis in the flour. Then start experimenting.

This butterfly does NOT have rotational symmetry.

This butterfly does NOT have rotational symmetry.

Neither does the shamrock. It does not look the same until a 360 turn.

Neither does the shamrock. It does not look the same until a 360 turn.

A circle definitely has rotational symmetry. But this one's pretty obvious.

A circle definitely has rotational symmetry. But this one’s pretty obvious.

A little bit of masking tape and this becomes more interesting.

A little bit of masking tape and this becomes more interesting.

At 180 degrees, this shape has rotational symmetry.

At 180 degrees, this shape has rotational symmetry.

A word to the wise: this activity is messy! It’s the perfect example of something that would be really hard to do with thirty fifth graders in a classroom, but doable with your child at home.

Just be sure to have a vacuum ready!

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 6

Kit 6: Volcanoes!

Kit 6: Volcanoes!

This is our first kit from The Young Scientists Club. (I ordered this in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.) We began our subscription with Kit #6: volcanoes.

I think (but I’m not positive) that the yellow goggles and animal tracks activity in this picture were some sort of special promotion with our membership. I don’t believe they are actually part of Kit #6.  Perhaps the blue folder doesn’t belong either?

Anyhow, kit #6 is all about making a classic baking soda and vinegar volcano. There’s also a pumice stone to examine with a magnifying glass. That’s about it.

Extra things you’ll need are:

  • a box
  • a bottle
  • tape
  • newspaper
  • flour
  • water
  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • food coloring
  • dish soap
First we got a box and small water bottle. You tape the water bottle into the box.

First we got a box and small water bottle. You tape the water bottle into the box.

Next, you wrap (included) black paper around the water bottle.

Next, you wrap (included) black paper  around the water bottle.

Using flour, water, and newspaper, wrap paper-mache strips around your volcano. Let dry overnight.

Using flour, water, and newspaper, wrap paper-mache strips around your volcano. Let dry overnight.

Paint the volcano black.

Paint the volcano black.

Experiment with different mixures.

Experiment with different mixtures.

Eruption time!

Eruption time!

Seeing the Nutcracker? Go prepared!


Is a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” on your calendar this December? If so, you can make the experience even more meaningful for you kids with a little advanced planning. Check out Tchaikovsky Discovers America by Classical Kids.

Tchaikovsky Discovers America tells the fictional story of real-life composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky running away from reporters with help from two children. The trio takes the train to Niagra Falls. Along the way, they learn about Tchaikovsky’s greatest musical accomplishments, as well as life in Russia.

This production is from Classical Kids, the same company that created Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Mr. Bach Comes To Call. Most of their CDs are available at your local library. But my family owns the entire Classical Kids collection because of  Carschooling. I consider it money well spent!

Killing time becomes “learning time”

This purse is packed for action!

This purse is packed for action!

The curse of the younger sibling: always being dragged along to something. Soccer, baseball, guitar, talent show rehearsals; you name it, it’s boring.

As an Afterschooling mom on the go, I try to be prepared. Killing time can become learning time with the proper materials.


Right now our kit is stocked with Bob Books, money, an abacus, tally sticks, counters, a pad of paper and a pencil. This is enough equipment to do lots of fun things.

I know December can be crazy. It’s easy for us all to feel stressed…

But sometimes the thing that you really want (your child’s mind to be enriched) can also be the thing that makes life easier (keep your kid busy).

All you need is a Ziplock bag!

Science Kits by Mail


Sorry about the dearth of blog posts recently. Our schedule right now is completely packed. The good thing is that brains are being fed, kids are being exercised, and the house is (marginally) clean.

I still want to do more science with my kids. That’s been on my mind ever since we went to the Pacific Science Center a couple of weeks ago. I just don’t have time to plan anything.

Yesterday, I saw that Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a deal going on with the Young Scientist Club.  I’m not familiar with this particular kit, but we have used a lot of the other products that the YSC also carries, like the one pictured up top and The Magic School Bus kits. Those kits have been fun, educational, and engaging, but not perfect. Every single one we’ve tried had at least one thing about it that I wished was different.

But… The idea of science experiments arriving at our door every single month without me having to do anything is really appealing. Even expecting imperfection, I’m intrigued. My eight-year-old son Bruce is thrilled with the prospect.

So I went ahead and placed an order for a 12 month subscription. The grand total was $157.92. That comes out to $13.16 a month, which isn’t too bad.

On November 25th Homeschool Buyers Co-op starts a similar deal with for The Magic School Bus kits. I’ll probably sign up for that plan too, because it will be a good fit for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.

Unfortunately, shelling out all that money for science kits is really expensive. I would hate for my blog readers to think that Afterschooling is only for people who can afford it.

So here are two top-notch, lower-cost alternatives from the homeschooling blogosphere:

  1. Science Without a Net
  2. Learning to Be a Scientist

I also have some Afterschooling science ideas on my Pinterest Board.

As for our house, guess what Santa’s bringing? Who knew they made science kits at the North Pole!

Finding Time to Afterschool


I don’t know you in real life, but I’ve got a hunch that your family is a lot like mine in that you don’t have time for gosh darn it, one more thing.

Phew! Just thinking about today makes me crazy. Drop off, pick up, run here, run there; I spent more time in the car than I did reading to my kids in our cozy corner on the couch.

All of our activities seem like a good idea in theory. If I was looking for someplace to cut I don’t know what would be axed. Swimming lessons? Nah. Cub Scouts? No. Homework? Not an option. Afterschooling? Yes and no.

Right now I don’t have the time to orchestrate something really cool like Science Without a Net. Heck, I didn’t even know Farrah had a cool new webpage design.

But I do have time to Afterschool. When life gets busy we go on autopilot. Here are the basics:

My advice is to be kind to yourself and your children. 15 minutes a day of Aftesrchooling will still add up to 120 hours a year (if you do something extra over the summer).

You don’t have to be Supermom. You don’t have to be Superdad. Your goal is to inspire your children to love learning. Sometimes that can be as easy as turning on a CD in the car, or powering up the computer when you’re trying to make dinner.

Can you find time to Aftershool even if you’re really busy? You bet you can! If I can do it, you can do it too.

What’s happening to Math Expressions?


Right now our school district uses the 2009 version of Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions. As math programs go, I like it. (Full review here.) Are there things I would like to change about Math Expressions? Yes. Do I think it’s horrible? No.

But here’s the thing. Washington State is fully implementing the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2014. Knowing how these things work, I’m guessing that 2009 Math Expressions will be considered outdated, especially since Houghton Mifflin has come out with a new version of Math Expressions that is Common Core aligned.

It makes me feel sorry for our school district. Those poor people at the district office, trying to figure out how to find $1 million dollars to buy new books that hopefully won’t be outdated in four years… Yikes!

In the meantime, the 2009 Math Expressions books are really cheap. I ordered volume one of the 5th grade textbook for under ten dollars.

Math Expressions: Student Activity Book Softcover, Volume 1 Level 5 2009 (Math Expressions 2009 – 2012)

Why did I do this? It’s nice to have the book at home so that I can see what my son Bruce is learning in school. Sometimes 5 minutes of “Mom Math” can really make a difference.

There are also a lot of things in the textbook meant to be cut out, like game pieces and little flashcards. This can’t happen in an classroom environment where the books need to be saved for future years…or something.

Vocabulary words can be underlined, important numbers can be circled, concepts can be pretaught or reviewed as needed. This was ten dollars well spent!

Having the textbook at home makes me wish we could all think bigger and be better about collaborating. School Districts, Teachers, Parents, Students; if everyone was literally on the same page, we could make good things happen.

But that would take two things that are constantly in short supply when it comes to education: trust and money.

If a school district is struggling to buy new math books that become obsolete almost as soon as they are printed, how could it ever afford to buy a second set for kids to use at home (maybe) with their parents?

That was a rhetorical question. Homeschools, feel free to give yourselves a smug little pat on the back right about now.

P.S. If you are looking for a Khan Academy alternative. Houghton Mifflin also has some sort of free online-tutorial that I haven’t checked out yet called Go Math Academy.

Math through Osmosis

Try to ignore this while eating breakfast. I dare you!

There’s nowhere to hide from learning at our house!

Here’s a quick trick to help promote learning at home. If your kid is learning a new vocabulary term, post the definition somewhere he’ll see it during breakfast.

In this example, I’m including some Greek words for numbers that will be helpful when learning about decimeters.

Btw, there’s already been a debate at our house over whether or not I spelled these words correctly. In my defense, I copied the Greek straight from the math textbook. So If I spelled something wrong, blame Math Expressions.  🙂

Turn Car Trips into Mini-Lessons


As an educator, I believe in giving children free time to play around in the backyard, goof off, and generally be a kid. But let’s face it; time spent in the car is usually wasted time. Some people use extended car trips as an opportunity for their children to break out the DS. In our household, car time is used strategically and purposefully.

That’s because carschooling is one of the easiest ways to expand on your child’s education. You have a captive audience on your hands, so you might as well use that to your advantage!

Of course, none of our carschooling curriculum is meant to take the place of meaningful conversation, and we don’t listen to educational CDs every day. If I sense that either one of my kids would like to talk or has something they would like to share, of course I turn the CDs off at once.

But if you think about it, every time you ride in the car you are probably listening to some sort of background noise already, usually the radio. So instead of listening to Radio Disney, why not immerse your children in history, language and meaningful ideas instead?

Some of our favorite CDs:

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind

The Story of the World Volume 1

The Story of the World Volume 2

The Story of the World Volume 3

Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Mr. Bach Comes to Call

Mozart’s Magic Fantasy Greek Myths

Sherlock Holmes for Children

Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America

Fairytale Favorites in Story and Song

Picasso, That’s Who!

Greek Myths

Speak Spanish with Dora & Diego! Vamonos! Let’s Go!

Kindermusik CDs

Yellow is the Sun

No written reviews yet but also great:

Gearing up for Summer

Last year we did A STEM Summer and had a blast.  This year I’m planning on doing the Activity Guide from Story of the World Volume 3.  Other ideas are for percolating as well…

I was shopping at JoAnn’s Fabric yesterday and saw that all of their teacher’s supplies were on clearance.  Even though I’m not a teacher any more, is was really hard not too go nuts.  Especially since almost everything was under a dollar.

It got me thinking some more about summer.

This reading poster is one of the things I am really excited about.  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it includes pictures about genres.  Then I got 100 die-cut books to with it.  So every book my son reads this summer, can be proudly displayed under the corresponding genre.  That will be really motivating for him, plus it will let us know “the big picture” of whether or not he’s reading in a balanced way.  If he’s not, that’s okay too.  It’s just useful to be mindful.

Another thing I found (not pictured) was a US Presidents bulletin board kit, also for super cheap.  So I picked that up too.  Maybe I can do something with presidents and books I pick up at the library.  (I’m still not sure.)

But what I do know, is that I’m excited by the possibilities!

Symbolism in Literature for Kids

Do you spend a lot of time driving your kids around in the car?  Here’s something fun (and educational) to do the next time you’re stuck in traffic.

Play the Symbols in Stories game.

First talk about basic symbols with your children.  The cross, the star of David, the peace sign, the dollar sign, etc.  Make sure they understand that symbols carry deeper meanings.

Then just start using your imagination.

Example 1:

There’s this kid named Rex.  His family has a lot of money.  His mom packs him really great lunches, that he usually takes for granted.  He’s also got super fancy gold sneakers, and even a golden backpack.  His little sister always gives him a big hug when he comes home from school.  One day Rex finds a magic coin that grants him a wish.  He decides to wish for a new bike.  But not just any bike, the best and most expensive bike ever.  So poof!  There’s the bike.  But one day when Rex is at school, his little sister sneaks out with the bike and gets really hurt.  That’s when Rex realizes that things aren’t as important as people.

Question for kids:  What myth does this story remind you of?

Example 2:

A little girl has a dog.  Every day she and the dog play in the front yard in front of a maple tree.  In summer, the tree is really shady and the girl and the dog both take naps in the grass.  In fall, the leaves start to fall off from the tree.  That’s when the girl notices that her dog isn’t feeling very well.  So she takes the dog to the vet.  It turns out, that the dog is really sick.  By winter, all of the leaves have fallen off the tree, and the girl sits in the living room and stare out at the empty branches.  The dog sits in her lap, and she holds him while he sleeps.  But by springtime, their are new leaf buds on the maple tree and the dog is feeling better.  The girl and her dog go on a slow walk around the neighborhood and enjoy a beautiful day together.

Question for kids:  What types of symbols were at play in this story?

Thanks for sticking with me

Regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers, I wanted to say THANK YOU for sticking with me through my whole crazy MyPlate on My Budget experiment.  This month my blog is veering almost completely off topic, but that doesn’t mean I’ve dropped the ball on Afterschooling.

Here’s what we have been up to:

Painting North America (Jenna 3.5)

Jenna has been really fascinated by maps recently.  That’s because she goes to Montessori preschool, and geography is a big part of the curriculum.  At home she’s been asking to “paint North America” with her watercolors.

I’m a horrible artist, but I try to oblige.  So I use a pen to draw out America, and then Jenna fills in Mexico, Canada, and the oceans.

This is definitely one of those ideas that make me go “Duh!  Why didn’t I think of this earlier?”

TAG (Jenna 3.5)

Jenna got a Leap Frog Tag for Christmas.  It’s just okay.  If you have grandparents who really want to buy something, then go for it.  If you’re spending your own money, I’d pass.

But the TAG system is really good for one thing.  When I’m making dinner, Jenna can occupy herself reading books.  That’s pretty sweet.

Reading and Math Games (Jenna 3.5)

I’ll save myself some time by referring to my earlier PreReading and Right Start Level A posts, but suffice to say Jenna and I are still doing this.  I shoot for two lessons a week.

Floating Math Books (Bruce 7.5)

Bruce is really obsessed with the geometry at the moment.   I came across this notebook paper the other day and thought “Thank you Basher Books!”   The Basher Algebra and Geometry book has really sparked his curiousity.

The interesting thing about the Basher books is that they floated around the house for about six months before they caught my son’s interest.  For a while there, I really thought I had wasted my money. But then Bruce started begging us for more, harder math books.

So I bought him the Art of Problem Solving Prealgebra book.  He has been reading it for fun.  Yes, that’s weird!

School keeps him so busy that we haven’t had time to work through the book yet, but I know that time is coming (probably starting in summer).

Vi’s “Doodling in Math Class” videos (Bruce 7.5)

I feel very lucky that my family is able to afford random math books floating around our house.  I realize that not everyone is able to do that.  So I’m ending this post with some free math inspiration that Bruce has also been intrigued with lately.

Vi Hart’s “Doodling in Math Class” videos are totally awesome and available for free online.  I’m sharing the one we watched last night.  This morning, I found Bruce’s own math doodles in his room. (I just didn’t have time to scan it.)

So see?  It’s not all insane budgeting and Choose MyPlate obsessions around here.  My kids have usual interests too.  😉

Afterschooling Priorities

I think that there are two main goals for Afterschooling:

  1. Keep you child’s brain full.
  2. Provide one-on-one instruction.

In our house, this is how we prioritize:

  1. School
  2. Homework
  3. Playtime/Free time/Outside time
  4. Limited extras like soccer or piano lessons
  5. Afterschooling
  6. Screen time

It’s been a while since I blogged about Afterschooling.  That’s because my son Bruce(7.5) is in a very charmed situation at the moment.

For the most part, school is keeping my son’s brain “full”.

Wow!  How many parents can say that?  I mean no disrespect to teachers by posing that question, because I used to be a teacher myself.

Sometimes getting a student to work at the top level of his or her capability isn’t even about the teacher.  There is a whole combination of factors at play:  curriculum, the other kids in the class, the teacher, what’s happening at home, etc.

Our current situation with Bruce illustrates that point.  He goes to a top-notched public school.  Every single teacher he has there is excellent.  At home he does about 30 minutes to an hour of meaningful homework each day.  Then he goofs off.  Depending on the day, he also has Cub Scouts or a guitar lesson.  Bruce is also learning piano (from me).  Most days, he barely has time to watch one episode of “The Fairly OddParents” before crashing into bed.

If I asked him to do anything extra, that would be cruel.

But I know that we are still hitting the 120 hours of Afterchooling mark this year because of my A STEM Summer curriculum.  We also occasionally do fun projects on holidays, like the noodle geometry activity you see pictured above.

Last night I also invited Bruce to do a spelling lesson with me.  He was really excited to comply and said “Yes!”.

Right now we are on step 22 of All About Spelling Level 3.  It’s probably going to take us a long time to get to step 28, and that’s okay.

My son’s brain is full, and that’s something to smile about.

Home-School Communication

For Teachers!

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is effective home-school communication.

In practical experience however, that is easier said than done. I know, because I’ve been there.

What if the parents in your class don’t speak English? What if they are struggling with literacy issues? What if they just toss a newsletter in the trash, or else it never makes it home? Why bother?

Or conversely…

What if the parents are so hyper-involved that they gobble up every word you email them twenty seconds after you click “send”? What if they are questioning your every move?

The Gold Standard

In my opinion, the gold standard of home-school communication is sending out a weekly classroom newsletter or email. Yes, it takes at least thirty minutes to write something decent, but those thirty minutes will solve a ton of problems before they start. Spend effort composing your letter, and you will earn parents’ trust.

If you are already sending out a weekly classroom newsletter, you get an A!

Want an A+? Here’s the next step:

Train parents to be teachers at home.

How are you supposed to do that? Don’t worry; I’m here to help!

All you need to do is include a Tip of the Week at the end of each of your classroom emails.

Each Tip of the Week is appropriate for grades K-4. They describe simple, meaningful things that parents can do to support learning at home. None of them include any advertisements.

The permanent home of this information is: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/for-teachers/  I will be updating that page soon, and building up my list of tips.

So if you have parents in your classroom begging you for more, more, more information, here’s something to help.

P.S. Please note that my entire blog is copyrighted. You cannot cut and paste from my blog posts, but you can cut and paste the links themselves. Does that make sense? So if you wanted to include my entire Tip of the Week list on your classroom website for example, you have my permission to cut and paste everything below. Just don’t cut and paste from the actual posts themselves. Thanks! 🙂

Tip of the Week