Journaling the Journey

Homeschool Mother's Journal

I’m picking up where I left off nearly a year ago, journaling our journey. And I’m back for more than one reason. Of course, it’s nice to have these little journals, brief summaries of where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished. But another reason is that I’ve missed having the opportunity to become vulnerable before you, to throw back the curtains and let you behind the scenes of our lives.

It’s easy as a blogger, as I go through my photo archives, to only present you with our triumphs and successes. After all, how many of us remember to grab the camera when the art project flops or our child is throwing a temper-tantrum.

The other side of the coin is that these journaling posts are hard for me to keep up with. I can’t schedule them ahead of time, and I don’t like to force myself into an appointment  with my blog every Friday. So here’s the trade-off: I’ll journal our ups and downs as often as I can. Please don’t hate me if I miss a week, just kiss your babies and understand that I had to spend a little extra time that week doing the same.

So without further ado…

In my life this week~

This week has been jam-packed! From wrapping up Easter festivities to preparing for a Ladies Fellowship at our church, it’s been hopping around here. Not to mention that prepping lesson plans for the next nine weeks happened to fall this week as well. And throw in making curriculum decisions for next year while the sales are on.

But one delightful thing that I have been reveling in is the timing of our last unit of Tapestry of Grace ancient history. We’re studying the Roman Empire, the life of Christ, and the early church and martyrs. And in God’s perfect timing, Easter is kicking off our unit. We’ll be looking at “growing up where Jesus lived” and reading about those who gave their lives to share the gospel message.

Though it might not have been the timing I would have chosen, it is great timing.

I’ve also been reviewing a product with the kids that has really been helping Middlest with her phonics. I can’t wait to share with you.

The last thing on my agenda has been overhauling the school room. It’s been making me extremely claustrophobic. Hanging pockets are falling off walls; I’m drowning in kids’ artwork and work pages; and it seems like we have flash cards everywhere. So here’s what I’m asking help for this week.

Please give me ideas on how to organize the flash cards. We have all sizes, and everything on Pinterest assumes that my flashcards are all one size. These are what I have to work with.

Flash cards of all sizes!
Please, oh please! Leave a comment with your brilliant solution. I would forever be indebted.

Reflex Math vs. flashcards: math facts review your kids will love

While I was hanging out at a homeschool forum the other day, I read a post that mentioned Reflex Math and a free trial. I’m always interested in “free,” so I googled the site and signed up for my 14 day trial. I was so absolutely impressed that I had to post about it. No free products, no exchange for a review—just because I REALLY loved this website (and so did my son, but we’ll get to that). Why? Because we’ve ditched our math flashcards. 

Both of us hate those dreaded flashcards and the endless drill. I want him to know his facts, and I understand the importance of math facts review, but please! There has got to be a better way. And truly, there is. Reflex Math has completely replaced all the drill and flashcards.

Reflex math | math without flashcards | math facts reviewThe idea of Reflex Math is to provide an engaging way for students to learn and review their math facts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But rather than traditional drill, the site is structured like an arcade. Each lesson begins with a “Speed Cube Challenge” where the student types in numbers (for the website to gage the child’s typing speed) and then answers to math problems (to gage the child’s skill level). Then, a rule is introduced or reviewed (a cute bear pops up and announces that a rule is a way to get a lot of facts “game ready” at the same time). Next, it’s game time!

Reflex math | math without flashcards | math facts review

Seven games are provided for the student to select from, and in each game, the student answers the math facts quickly and accurately to progress through the game. Answer quickly to move away from the bad guy, to build the alien’s ice cream cone before he gets upset and leaves, to make your ninja jump to the next level, to jump from lily pad to lily pad eating bugs, to fly your hot air balloon across the sky, etc. It’s math facts review that your kids will actually want to do! 

Reflex math | math without flashcards | math practice
Egyptian Conniption


Reflex math | math without flashcards | math facts review
Ninja to the Stars

Tokens are earned for the number of questions answered during play. At a certain point during the lesson, the “store” opens and the child can purchase items using the tokens he has earned. He can purchase clothes, shoes, sunglasses, and other items for his avatar or decorations, animals, and other items for his tree house.

The website is also set up for a teacher to be able to track the progress of the student with several different reports. You can easily see how many facts your child has mastered, how much practice time he has completed, and more.

How effective were the games? My son not only answers his math facts more quickly, but he can now do them in his head! He was even introduced to subtraction for the first time, and he never missed a beat. All in only 2 weeks time! My son loved this so much that he told me he wanted to save his money to purchase the year subscription ($35 per student/year).

Reflex math | math without flashcards | math facts review

I absolutely recommend Reflex Math, particularly if your child is a hands-on (kinesthetic) learner. Skip the flashcards, seriously. This is the ticket!

**UPDATE 2/2017: We have purchased subscriptions for Reflex Math for both of our kids for nearly five years, and absolutely love the program. It has completely eliminated the need for flashcards in our homeschool, and my kids excel in timed math and speed drills.**

The Miracle of Combination Dot Cards

We’ve definitely had our struggles with math this year, among other things. And though I nearly switched math curriculums mid-year, I discovered that what I really needed was not so much a new approach as a few added resources.

The journey

After a few hours on the internet one afternoon (following a particularly frustrating morning of math), lots of research and reading, and a phone call to a classical education curriculum representative, I finally concluded that the answer was not as “simple” as switching curriculums. I believed in the method of memorizing over “learn by doing” when it came to math, and rather than switch to another curriculum that stressed drill and repetition, I decided I’d stick with what was hailed as the ultimate in drill and repetition (i.e. A Beka Book).

But I knew that I did need something to make my A Beka math work better. My epiphany—flashcards. As in, the ones the curriculum recommends but that I was too cheap to buy. But I will say, that even after my epiphany I was too cheap to buy them new. Instead, I scoured Amazon and eBay. And prayed.

The search

I lost out on several eBay bids (I hate bidding on eBay) before resorting to a “buy it now” item and a couple of Amazon deals. Overall, I still saved nearly $50 buying used flashcards. And—oh!—what a worthy investment.

My favorite have been the Combination Dot Cards, the ones I thought would be a definite “over-spend” at the beginning of the year. These cards are ingenious, even bordering on the miraculous. The cards themselves are akin to giant dominoes with dots on each half of the card. The student reads the card as an addition problem based on how you are holding it.

For instance, if you have three dots on top and 2 on bottom, the child says “3+2=5.”  Then, you turn the card so that the 2 dots are now on top and the three dots are on bottom, and the child says “2+3=5.” You can also do the same thing by holding the cards horizontally and reading left to right. The cards can be used for subtraction as well, but we’re not there yet.



The success

The cards address the exact problems that my son was encountering. First, just learning the addition families was giving him some trouble. But even more difficult for him was reversing the numbers in a combination. Once he learned 1+2 he would still be utterly stumped at 2+1.

My son’s reaction to his new cards— all smiles. (As well as a possessive “that’s mine” when his sister came to take a look; which of course resulted in Sister’s rebuttal of “no, it’s mine,”and Mommy intervening with “Actually, they’re mine.”) And I’m so thankful I get to share.

How to have fun with flashcards

I love to use flashcards with the kids. It might sound dry and boring and really old-fashioned, but we do have fun with them. And the kids respond really well to them. Here are a few ideas of how we use our flashcards.

  • I try to introduce new flashcards only one or two at a time. We talk about the new flashcard, and then I hide the new card in the stack, close to the front. Every time the new flashcard shows up, the kids stand up and shout “hello” to the new card (I join in with them until they are doing fairly well on their own). Then, I hide the card again just a little bit further in the stack. We do this several times depending on how many cards there are in the stack. For example, I just added the number 8 to the little one’s stack of numbers flashcards. We talked about the number eight, counted to eight, traced the eight on the card. Then, I hid the card about 2 to 3 cards from the front as we both said, “Goodbye, Mr. Eight.” When she got to the card and recognized it as our new card, she jumped up and we both said, “Hello, Mr. Eight” and then we hid it again.
  • Another game we’ve played with flashcards is our matching game. This works particularly well with the capital and small letter flashcards. First, I spread all of the cards out on the floor in random order. Her job is to match the baby letter to the daddy letter. When she makes a set, she hands the cards to me and tells me the names and sounds of the letters.

  • My son loves to beat his own time, to see how fast he can get through a big stack of cards. But every now and then, he gets stuck on a new card; and I have to get really creative. This last week the cards that gave us trouble were his new phonics sounds “ou in out” and “ow in owl.” He kept wanting to say short a or long o for the sound. After a few days of failed attempts, I finally thought of the wolf cry. He loved it. And the sound really stuck for him. So every time those cards come up in the stack we howl like wolves, and he remembers to use the right sound.

You can have fun with flashcards and drills. It’s all in how you choose to use them. So, it’s your turn. What are some fun ideas that you have used with your flashcards and drills?