5 Reasons I Embrace Video Games in my Homeschool

 

 

 

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I know that this is not a popular opinion in some homeschool circles, but I think video games can be magnificent educational tools. Now, as the wife of a video game FX artist, I might be a bit biased, but I really think that people are too quick to brush off games as a waste of time. Can they be a gigantic time suck? Absolutely! Are there some games out there that I would not let my kids play? Of course! But there are so many great games out there these days and I think our kids can learn a lot from them.

So, in honor of National Video Game Day, here’s a list of 5 reasons my family loves to use games in our homeschool.

Reaon One: Games Can Bring Learning to Life

My husband recently brought home an Oculus VR headset. It’s amazing! Oculus has partnered with Discovery to provide some amazing 3D experiences. I may not be able (or willing) to take my kids on an underwater field trip with sharks, but thanks to Oculus and Discovery, they feel like they’ve had amazing undersea adventures. Their 3D shark experience inspired a lot of questions and further learning.

There are plenty of games on PC, tablets, and consoles that also provide ways to bring learning to life in a variety of ways. My kids love the Dragonbox apps for math. It’s a great way to make math real for visual learners. Scribblenauts is a great vocabulary based puzzle game. There are examples in just about any area of study. For a lot of kids, games are a fun way to make learning real.

 

Reason Two: Games Can be Great for Critical Thinking and Spatial Reasoning Skills 

Even when a game is not outwardly educational, it can help improve critical thinking skills. Studies have shown as much. While I am not advocating for kids to skip math lessons so that they can play games all day, some time playing age-appropriate games could actually be good for them!

“Visual-spatial skills are viewed by psychologists and educators as the ‘training wheels’ of later skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and there is little question that we will need more and more workers with skills in these areas.” (Linda Jackson, lead researcher of a study from Michigan State on kids playing video games.) 

 

Reason Three: Games Can Inspire Creativity 

If you know more than a handful of kids over the age of five, you’ve probably heard of Minecraft. In Minecraft, you can build the world around you. My son has used it to build historic sites we’ve studied- or just his own made up worlds Studies have shown that kids who play games are more creative, and it’s easy to see why.

 

Reason Four: Teamwork 

When my kids play a game together, they have to get along. It’s a great way for them to learn to work together towards a common goal.

 

Reason Five: It Makes My Life Easier

This reason may be selfish, but let’s face it, life is hard for moms who homeschool kids of multiple ages. It can be very hard to get one on one time with one of my kids when they need my help.  I can keep a kid busy with an educational game and it frees me up to work with their sibling. That’s a win-win in my book.

 

We don’t spend all day every day playing games, and I am very picky about what I let my kids play, but video games are a tool I am happy to have in my homeschool. What about you? How do you feel about video games?

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Back to Awkward

BACK TO

 

Back to school time can feel a bit awkward for homeschoolers. Personally, I love seeing all the pictures my friends are posting online of their sweet children on the first day of school and the excited posts from my school teacher friends about the anticipation of a new year. The start of a new school year is a big milestone for many.

Though we homeschool year round, I usually make a point of recognizing a new beginning this time of year. We’ve gone to “not back to school” picnics. We’ve taken special field trips. We always take a picture on the first day of public school. It’s always good to mark milestones as they come.

But to be honest, sometimes it feels wrong to share our excitement. It feels like I am saying “What we’re doing is better than what you’re doing.” But that’s not it. What I  want to express is this: What we’re doing works for us. We enjoy it. We want to celebrate it.

I  am blessed to know several school teachers. My kids would be lucky to learn from any of them. I am so glad that there are people like them in schools across the world teaching our youth. I know that sometimes, people feel like homeschoolers are anti-teacher. I am not. I don’t actually know any homeschoolers who are. There are good and bad teachers, just like any other profession, but I feel like most teachers are in it for all the right reasons. What they do is admirable.

And I know so many moms who would love to homeschool, but can’t for whatever reason. Or parents who just do not want to homeschool, ever. It does not matter  to me. All I care about is that kids are getting the best education they can in whatever form works for their families. If your kid loves public school or you found an amazing arts charter or you’ve found a way to pay for a great private school for your child – whatever your choice is, if it is working for you, I am happy for you.

 

BACK TO

I am not against schools. I don’t look down on other parents for doing what is right for their own family. I support whatever choice you make for your kids.

I just ask for the same support.  It gets old feeling like I have qualify our educational choices all the time. “Well we homeschool because….” Because if I give a reason that can’t apply to you, maybe I won’t offend you. But in the end, we’re doing what works for us. I can list of dozens of reasons why it works for us, but that’s really not the point. My kids are thriving in a way I don’t think they would in another educational setting.

I am going to keep celebrating their education. I hope you do the same, no matter where your kids learn.

 

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15 Summer Writing Prompts for Kids

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It can be hard to motivate kids to write. It can be even harder in summer when it’s sunny out and there are so many fun distractions. I put together this list of writing prompts to help motivate kids to keep  writing all summer long.

1.  You return home to find a package on your bed. Your parents don’t know how it got there. You open it to find…

2. You are on vacation at a cabin on a lake with your family. One day, you get up early to go swim by yourself in the lake. As you approach the shore you see what appears to be a sea monster come to the surface of the water across the lake. You gasp and then…

3.The familiar sound of the ice cream truck rises to your ears. You run outside to buy ice cream and find that this truck does not sell ice cream. This driver is selling…

4. Your dad takes you to the pool on a hot day. When you get there, instead of water, it is filled with Jello. What do you do?

5.You are off to Camp Flaming Arrow! You are excited for your first overnight camp, but when you get there, you begin to suspect that all of your camp councilors are actually ware wolves. What do you do?

6. A postcard arrives in the mail, addressed to you. On the front is a picture of a sunny beach. On the back, is a note, signed by you. You’ve never been to the beach. What do you do?

7. One day, you are swimming in the river with your friend, Dave. Dave sees something in the forest nearby. He says it’s a gnome and runs off into the woods. Do you follow him? What do you find?

8. It’s 100 degrees out. You are hot and sweaty and your air conditioner broke.  Your mom brings you a popsicle to help cool down. Your dog looks at you and says “Hey! What about me? I’ve got a fur coat! Don’t you think I’d like a cool treat?!” What do you do?

9. One evening, you are  catching fireflies in  jar in your backyard. You take them inside to observe them. You realize that one of the glowing creatures is not a firefly, but a fairy! What do you do?

10. Your best friend calls and asks if you can come to a sleepover at her house. When you get there, she says she has a special guest. The guest is an alien from outer space! What happens next?

11. A large, white owl flies up to your house. It has a package in its talons. It drops it on your lap and perches in a nearby tree. What do you find when you open the package?

12. You take a trip to the museum with your family. Somehow, you lose sight of them. You walk down a long hallway and see a door that seems to be glowing. A sign on in says “Keep Out,” but you can’t resist. What do you find when you open the  door?

13. You return home from a day at  camp to find a “For Sale” sign on your house. Your parents tell you that you are moving to China. What do you do?

14. On a bike ride to the park, you something moving in the bushes off the side of the road. You stop to investigate and find…

15. It’s the 4th of July! Your family takes you to a fireworks show. It’s the most amazing display of fireworks you’ve ever seen. You decide you want to get closer to see the fireworks being set off and you find that there are no fireworks at all. It’s actually a group of wizards sending beautiful designs into the sky with their wands! What do you do?

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10 Amazing Women Your Kids Need to Know

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History is filled with amazing women. I believe this so thoroughly that it’s the basis of my book series. The more research I’ve done, the more I am overwhelmed with some of these wonderful, world changing women. Some I was familiar with before I started researching and some previously unknown to me, and many others.

I think it is so very important for our kids, boys and girls alike, to learn about the amazing things women have done throughout history. It’s hard for today’s kids to fully contemplate how far women have come in a few generations.  I think if they learn from the past, their future will only be brighter.

Summer is a great time for a fun mini-unit of historical woman. Whether you traditionally school or homeschool, it’s always good to make sure the kids keep learning all year long. I’ve provided information about 10 amazing women and links to learn more.

1.Nellie Bly

Nelliebly

Image by H. J. Myers – http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004680180/ (Library of Congress), retouched version, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=478182

I knew nothing about Nellie Bly until about 18 months ago. I was so inspired by her that she is featured heavily in the 2nd book in the Nellie Nova series. (Estimated release date 12/2016)

Nellie Bly was not actually her real name, but a pen name. She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane.  She was a journalistic pioneer not only because she was a woman, but also because she pretty much invented investigative reporting. She turned the world of journalism upside down when she pretended to be insane to to an investigation of a Blackwell Island’s Lunatic Asylum. She spent ten days living as if she were insane so that she could see the dark side of the care of mentally ill patients. Her reporting in The New York World caused a $1,000,0000 increase in New York City’s budget for the care of the mentally ill.

Later, she made an incredible journey around the world in just 72 days. And all she took with her was the small bag you see in the photo above.

Find out more about Nellie Bly here.

Or check out this book!

2.Amelia Earhart 

Earhart

By Copyright by Underwood and Underwood (not renewed)

My first book, “Nellie Nova Takes Flight”is about a young girl’s journey to build a time machine to meet Amelia Earhart. So  you can probably guess that I think Amelia was a pretty amazing woman. Most of us know that she was a pilot. Many think she was the first female pilot. That’s not quite true. Amelia was the 16th woman to obtain her pilots licence. What Amelia did, however was break many records for altitude and speed. She was the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic. She was a wonderful example of a woman bravely stepping into a role traditionally filled by men.

Amelia Earhart disappeared on an attempted flight around the world. Neither Amelia nor her navigator, Fred Noonan, were ever found.

Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.- Amelia Earhart

Read more about Amelia:

My front page

Or try this book. 

Learn while reading a fictional tale about Amelia here.

3.Ada Lovelace

Ada_Lovelace

By Margaret Sarah Carpenter – object page. Original upload was at English wikipedia at en:File:Ada_Lovelace.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=354077

Did you know the person known to be the first computer programmer was a woman from the mid-1800s?! I didn’t until I started looking into Ada Lovelace.

She  was the child of the poet George Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke. Her mother was a mathematician and insisted she started studying math at the age of four. This was highly uncommon for the time. She excelled in math and science and at the age of 17 she met Charles Babbage, a met inventor and mathematician. She had the opportunity to watch him demonstrate a model of his difference engine, a huge mathematical calculating machine. This machine led to him earning the title“father of the computer.” While working with Babbage, Lovelace wrote out an algorithm clearly meant to be completed by a machine. During her time, her brilliance was not really recognized. It took many years for people to find her notes and realize that she’d written the first computer program.

Find out more about Ada Lovelace in this book  or here.

4.Jeannette Rankin

Rankin1973

By U.S. Congress – http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Jeannette_Rankin.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2153200

Jeanette Rankin was another happy surprise during my research. I’d never heard of her until recently, but I am so very impressed. She became the first woman to serve in the US congress in 1916. What makes this even more amazing is that is before women in the US had even gained the right to vote! But Jeanette (and many other amazing women) made sure to fight for women’s rights and  the 19th amendment was passed in 1920. Though she only served two years in congress, she continued to work hard an activist. In addition to her passion for women’s suffrage, Rankin was also a pacifist and shortly after her term ended, she served as a delegate to the Women’s International Conference for Peace. She returned to politics when she was elected to House of Representatives in 1939 on an anit-war platform. She held her ground even after the Pearl Harbor attacks, voting against entering WW2. Rankin served until 1943.

Learn more here and here.

5.Audrey Hepburn

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Ronald_Reagan

By http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/photographs/vips.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3530165

Wait, wasn’t Audrey Hepburn just another pretty actress? No. She was so much more than just pretty! Audrey Hepburn was an amazing humanitarian. She lived in Belgium as a child, but her family moved to Holland when the Nazis began invading much of Europe in WW2. Though her parents were Nazi sympathizers, Audrey secretly donated money she earned as a ballerina to the Resistance. Hepburn later she retired from acting become a Special Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund.”There is a moral obligation,that those who have should give to those who don’t,” she said of her work with UNICEF. Hepburn truly was more than pretty.

To find out more here

or check out this book.

6.Marie Curie

Marie_Curie_1903

By Nobel foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born Maria Sklodowska in Poland in 1867, Marie was the daughter of two schoolteachers. She always loved learning. She later attended Sorbonne University in Paris where she studied physics and mathematics.  In was in Paris that she met and later married scientist  Pierre Curie and started going by Marie instead of Maria. They began working together and earned a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. She was the first  She was the first woman to receive this honor. After Pierre died in 1906, she took over his position at Sorbonne. She went on to receive a 2nd Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry in 1911. Marie showed that women have a place in science.

“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie

Find out more about her in this book or here.

7. Mother Teresa 

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

By Manfredo Ferrari – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35010569

Mother Teresa was born Uskub, Ottoman Empire in 1910 (now called Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia). Her name was originally Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. Her father died when she was raised by her mother, a devout Catholic. She decided at a young age that she would become a nun. Her focus became India and she devoted much of her life to serving the population of Calcutta. She dedicated herself to the lepers, the poor and the homeless. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. The recipient of this award normally has a banquet hosted in their honor. Mother Teresa asked that the money be donated to the poor. In 1982, during the Siege of Beirut, she saved 37 kids who were trapped in a burning hospital. She created a ceasefire and traveled into the war zone with Red Cross workers to rescue the children.  Mother Teresa continued to serve those in need even as her health was in decline. She stepped down only a few months before her death in 1997. Mother Teresa will be made a saint later this year.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”- Mother Teresa 

Find out more here and in this book.

8.Sacagawea

 

Sakakawea-statue-bismarck-nd-2004

By Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944) sculptor, photographer Hans Andersen (Own work for the photo.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sacagawea is another woman who be featured in the 2nd installment of the Nellie Nova story. She was a Shoshone woman born in 1778 in Idaho. She was the daughter of the chief and was kidnapped at a young age by Hidatsa Indians. She was later sold as a slave to the man who would become her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader. Inspite of her hard upbringing, Sacagawea turned out to make quite an impact on history. She and her husband joined the Lewis and Clark expedition and she made the journey with her infant son on her back. She was valuable to the expedition as an interrupter with Native American tribes they encountered as well as for her knowledge of the landscape and safe foods t eat in the American West. She was so dedicated that when the travelers happened upon her own brother, she opted to stay with the expedition and was part of the team that made it to the Pacific.

Not much is truly known about her life, but what is clear is that Sacagawea was a brave woman who made an impact on history.

Find our more here or in this book.

9.Sybil Ludington

Sybil_Ludington_stamp

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6053610

Known as the female Paul Revere, Sybil Ludington is not nearly as commonly known as Mr. Revere. She was born in 1761 in Patterson, New York. She was the daughter  of Abigail and Colonel Henry Ludington. At the age of 16, she made a similar ride to that of Mr. Revere -but her ride was longer. On April 26, 1777, her father received word that the British were to attack  Danbury, CT,which was about 25 miles away. She rode 40 miles in the rain, shouting for troops to assemble at her father’s home. When she returned, over 400 soldiers had arrived, ready to fight. Later, President George Washington (then General) recognized her efforts. She continued to serve as a messenger throughout the war.

Read more here or in this book.

10. Rosa Parks 

Rosaparks

By Unknown – USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4344206

Last, but certainly not least, is Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white person on December 1, 1955. She was arrested for this act of defiance. This began a boycott of the Montgomery public buses by African American people. The boycott was lead by non other than Doctor Martian Luther King, Junior.After 381 days, the supreme court ruled that public buses could not be segregated. But Rosa did a lot more than just refuse to stand.She went on to Serve as the secretary of the NAACP, found the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development and author two books. She was given the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor by President Clinton. The mother of the civil rights movement died in 2005, but her impact lives on still today.

Find out more about Rosa here or in this book.

I hope you learned something new about these great women.  I hope this can be a starting point for a great study of women in history with your kids.

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Finding Hope in Children’s Literature

I think I write for kids because there is a certain authenticity that we can have with children that is harder to accomplish with adults. Kids are not carrying the baggage adults carry. Kids don’t need to pretend that their little hearts are not soft in order to make it through their days. When you are a child, your heart and mind are more willing to soak up all of the goodness books can pour out. I think this is why children’s literature sticks with us throughout our adult lives and is why, years later, our hearts can be healed by simple words.

I don’t know about you, but with all of the sadness in the world right now, I need some healing. I need to be able to believe in the goodness of mankind. I need to be able to remember the happy days of my youth. I need to be able to believe that, as a nation, Americans can do better. I mourn for the people of Orlando. For the families of the victims. For their friends. For our nation as we sit here trying make sense of madness.  I pray for change that is long overdue and answers that no one seems to have.

I’ve put together a list of quotes from children’s literature that give me hope.  My desire is that they will bring you some hope as well.

 

unless

trust

listen

life

grow

believe

choices

courage

And If I may add some words of my own-  In “Nellie Nova Takes Flight,” Amelia Earhart has these words of wisdom for Nellie and Niles:

change

 

 

Children’s books continued to bring me joy and wisdom into my adulthood. It really is why I write them. I hope and pray that I can inspire kids in the way I have been inspired.

Today, I hope that you leave this post with your spirit renewed. Our world can often be filled with so much tragedy. but let’s not overlook the good. Let us never forget to BE the good.

I pray for this nation. That we learn to love one another and that we can make the changes needed to overcome hate and fear.

 

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Coming Soon!

Nellie Nova Takes Flight by Stephenie Peterson

My 2nd book will be available in June! It’s called “Nellie Nova’s Flight Plan: Educational Activities for Knowledge Explorers.” The book is a companion to “Nellie Nova Takes Flight.”  It’s filled with fun, educational activities, information, and resources relating to concepts introduced in “Nellie Nova Takes Flight.”  Topics covered in the book include: Amelia Earhart, Physics, Botany, Victorian England, and the Ancient Aztecs.  The projects and activities in the book are fun-filled and help kids learn more about these topics.  The activities include science projects, art extensions, writing prompts, engineering tasks, and more! I am very excited about this new book! It would be great for homeschoolers and teachers.  but also for any kid who loves to learn and can’t get enough of Nellie Nova!

 

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What Does it Take to Be a Hero?

A few days ago, my hero died.

My Grandma Ann, who some of you may remember from my book dedication, passed away on Sunday evening after a long battle with cancer.

hero

That’s her in the photo, running her first marathon. At fifty.

She didn’t let her age restrict her.

Not even at the end. As long as she was able, she ran, then walked through her neighborhood daily.

She went to college when her kids were grown. Not a lot of women went to college when she was younger.

She did not let society’s ideas about gender limit her. 

She traveled the world with my Grandpa Jim. (He was another great hero, a fire chief,  Purple Heart recipient and a wonderful man.)  They spent 18 months living in Costa Rica and learned Spanish to do so. She also drove from Maine to Oregon with him-  in a fire truck.

She didn’t turn away from adventure. 

She was always kind, even when she did not have to be.

She acted with grace and respect at every turn. 

She was stubborn in the best possible way.

She never gave up. 

As an author, I create pretend heroes. The heroine of my book takes characteristics from my grandma. This is no accident. When I was writing “Nellie Nova Takes Flight,” I used a writer’s workbook to help me fine-tune the book. At one point, it asked me to think of a moment when someone showed a characteristic I wanted my protagonist to have and I thought of my grandma.

A few years ago, my grandma fell and broke her hip. I flew from TX to WA to visit her after she had hip replacement surgery. The next day, the hospital staff asked her to walk, with a walker. I thought, “That’s too much! She’s still recovering! She’s in pain!” But my grandma got up and did it. Each step was excruciating, but I vividly remember the look of determination in her eyes. I will never forget that strength.

She was strong beyond measure.

That moment is what I looked back on when I wanted to think of ways to make my character strong.

There are several definitions out there that tell us what a hero is supposed to be, but I don’t need one. I have a lifetime of memories of my grandmother to illustrate what the life of a hero should look like. I only hope I can live my life with half of the strength,dignity,and bravery that she did.

Goodbye, Grandma. I’ll see you again someday.

Who are your everyday heroes? Tell me about them in honor of my Grandma Ann. 

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