Monthly Archives: March 2010

Homeschool Humor From the Onion

Today, The Onion published a very funny article about “school homing” that I thought you all might get a kick out of.

Labels: This and That
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Free 2010 Census Educational Materials

This year’s census is providing a once-every-ten years educational opportunity for our children. The Census has an official educational site with lots of materials, such as maps, lesson plans, coloring pages, population clock, and more.

Labels: This and That
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Free Lego Education Kit for Homeschoolers

Once again, Money Saving Mom has a post about an excellent freebie for homeschoolers. Lego Education is giving away Lego sets as part of their Lego Smart Creativity Contest. From their site:

Now through July 2010, LEGO Education is searching for 10,000 new contestants for its 2010 LEGO® Smart™ Creativity Contest, challenging classrooms across the United States to become LEGO Smart!

The 2010 contest, including prize information and contest rules, will be emailed to all pre-registered contestants on Monday, August 2, 2010, starting at 8am CST.

Would you like to be part of the fun?
The 2010 LEGO® Smart™ Creativity Contest requires the use of a LEGO® Smart™ kit (pictured above). Kits are available, free of charge, to the first 10,000 new, registered, and qualified contestants….

…If you are a teacher, home educator, after-school program director, or otherwise working with students within the education field, you are eligible to compete in this year’s contest. Previous year’s contestants are also eligible and must use their current kit for the contest challenge, due to launch August 2, 2010!

Only pre-registered and pre-qualified contestants are eligible for the 2010 LEGO Smart Creativity Contest. If you have questions or would like additional information, contact Debra at

Are You LEGO® Smart™?
Being LEGO® Smart™ is more than building with LEGO bricks. It’s having the ability to work in teams, solve problems, and create solutions. It means understanding key science, technology, engineering, and math concepts – not just on paper, but through demonstration.

LEGO® Smart™ students don’t just know it, they do it!

Labels: High School, This and That, Wrapping Up Our Week
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Free America The Story of Us DVD for Homeschoolers

Today, Money Saving Mom posted about a really great deal from (the site for A&E, the History Channel, Biography, etc.). From their site:

America The Story of US — premiering on HISTORY™ April 25 at 9pm/8c — is a six week event that provides a fascinating look at the stories of the people, events, and innovations that forged our nation. It will provide you with an unprecedented opportunity to bring our nation's history to life for your students. This 12-hour series will be supported by educational materials tied to curriculum standards and is copyright cleared for Fair Use in the classroom by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities.

* HISTORY is offering America The Story of US on DVD to every school in the United States. School must be an accredited public, private or home school, for grades K-12 and college. In order to receive your school’s DVD, your school principal (grades K-12) or Dean of Students (college) should fill out the request form below. HISTORY strictly limits one request per school. DVD requests must be made prior to July 1, 2010. DVD’s will be mailed around August 2010 and free shipping is included in this offer

Labels: Social Studies
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Free Printables to Use in Your Homeschool

There are a variety of situations in which I find myself wanting to use printables in our homeschool – for holidays, to supplement unit studies, to check for literature comprehension, to review math facts, to reinforce concepts, etc. So I really appreciate all the free printables that are available these days. Here is a list of sites that I have found to have good free printables:

  • abcteach has a variety of printables for all grades and subjects. They also have teacher forms, certificates, calendars, etc.
  • Activity Village offers unique and fun printables that tend to be more appropriate for younger children. They offer notebooking pages, file folder games, holiday printables, printable scrapbooking paper, bookmarks, ASL flashcards, printable play money, and more. Other parts of their site offer coloring pages, craft projects, recipes, origami, and other goodies.
  • Donna Young is a homeschooler who has been making printables for homeschoolers for many years. She offers blackline maps, blank timelines, graph paper, math drill pages, homeschool planning sheets, and lots of helpful information.
  • Education Place has many high-quality, blank outline maps, including maps of continents, countries, states, maps with and without labels, historical maps, and more
  • Family Education’s Printable Center has a large selection of printables, such as outline maps, charts, coloring pages, skill builders, graphic organizers, etc.
  • Free printable graph paper can be found at a few sites. This can be especially important if your child gets into more advanced math. Incompetech and Print Free Graph Paper offers customizable paper generators, which is great, but may be confusing for non-math types. Printable Paper and Waterproof Paper offer pre-designed papers, which is less confusing, but doesn’t include as advanced of options that Incompetech and Print Free Graph Paper does.
  • Homeschool Launch is a website with printables made by and for homeschoolers. There are some especially nice lapbooking, notebooking, and unit studies printables (I personally find it easiest to navigate from the “View File List” page).
  • Jan Brett’s printables feature her gorgeous artwork. She has some wonderful flashcards, sight word sheets, coloring pages, craft projects, and more.
  • Johnnie’s Free Math Worksheets has a nice variety of math worksheets for grades K-8
  • Kidzone offers printables for grades pre-K – 5. I particularly like their dynamic math worksheets.
  • Learning Page requires a free membership to access their materials, but I have never been spammed by them in the several years that I have had a membership with them. They have a medium-sized selection of high-quality printables, plus they offer printables for each month that revolve around important dates of the month. What I really like about them, however, is their theme sheets. They have six different themes (Oceans, Zoo Animals, Dinosaurs, Reptiles/Amphibians, Insects/Spiders, Space). For each theme, they offer printables that cover math, language arts, and science for grades pre-K – 3 (as an example, the 2nd grade Zoo Animals Unit includes 60 pages of worksheets, 20 pages of fact files, 15 pages to create a mural with 10 pages of cutouts for the mural, lesson plans, teaching notes, and a recommended reading list).
  • National Geographic has only one printable, a Print ‘N’ Go coloring book. The coloring pages, however, are made with beautiful illustrations of animals (more appropriate for grades 3-5ish). Each animal also has a webpage with information and links about that animal.
  • SuperKids has a math worksheet creator that allows you to customize your worksheets
Labels: Printables, Unit Studies
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Incorporating Geocaching Into Your Homeschool

(Note – I originally wrote this article for another blog, which I no longer maintain. The article had so much traffic, however, that I thought I would repost it here.)

Geocaching is a great way to spice up your homeschool studies. It is a sport/hobby that entails finding modern day “treasure”, hidden all around the world, sometimes in the very public places that you go to every day (we’ve found caches in the library, the rock in front of REI, public parks, etc). Skills involved in geocaching include map reading, coordinate locating, puzzle solving, researching various subjects, learning about local history, wilderness survival, etc. It also involves fresh air and exercise.

If you would like to try geocaching, you will need a GPS handheld unit. The GPS units that you put in your car for driving directions may not work because they may not get reception in the woods. Of course, you can stick to urban caches, which can be quite fun also. There are several brands of units, but Magellan, Tom Tom, and Garmin are three popular brands.

When I geocache, I also like to bring a compass because GPS unit compasses only work while you are moving. I usually also bring some basic survival equipment if I am going to be in the woods. I was very glad I did one day when we got lost on a mountain in 100 degree weather! In addition, I bring gloves because some caches require putting hands in some icky and/or prickly places.

To find out where some caches near you are, go to They have a basic membership, which is free. If you really enjoy geocaching, you might consider their premium membership, which is very reasonably priced. On the home page, you can enter your zipcode and search for caches near your home. You will get a page of caches listed that looks like this:

On this page, the things you need to concern yourself with are:

  1. Distance from the location you searched from (once you learn to enter your home coordinates, the caches can be centered around your actual house)
  2. Icons – There are two sets of icons to concern yourself with
    1. Cache type:
      1. Green ammo can = Traditional caches are the type of cache where you just head out to the location and find the cache
      2. Orangish file cabinet looking symbol = Multi-caches have multiple stops, with each being called a waypoint (WP for short), the cache page will give directions to the first waypoint and each waypoint will give you directions to the next waypoint, until you get to the last waypoint, which is called the “final”
      3. Question mark = Puzzle caches require that you solve a puzzle to get the cache coordinates, some of the puzzles are insanely difficult, but you can learn lots of neat things in the process of solving them
    2. Travel bugs or geocoins in the cache (more on these later)
  3. Ratings
    1. D=Difficulty rating: 1-5 stars (stick with a 1 or 2 for your first cache)
    2. T=Terrain rating: 1-5 stars, with 1 being completely handicap accessible and 5 requiring special equipment, such as diving gear (one cache that I read about was in a volcano, in a dessert!)
  4. Date last found – if the date is a long time ago, it is possible that the cache is missing and people have not logged that, at the very least, it’s location has not been recently confirmed

Once you select a cache, click on it and you will be taken to the cache page, which will look like this…
Things you need to look at on this page are:

  1. Cache name and owner
  2. Cache size:
    1. Large will often be in Tupperware or an ammo can
    2. Medium will be in things like 12 oz Gatorade bottles
    3. Small will be in something like an Altoid’s container
    4. Micros are often in things called bison tubes, which are about the size of a lipstick tube.
  3. Cache coordinates
  4. Attributes let you know if dogs are allowed, the cache is wheelchair accessible, etc.
  5. Map of area
  6. Cache description

Once you have your cache notes and equipment, you’re ready to head out. I try to look up any areas that a cache is in, if I am unfamiliar with the general area. It’s best to have a good idea where to park. Trying to reach a cache from a bad starting location can add hours to the find. Sometimes you can’t even get to a cache from certain directions. Some caches will give you parking coordinates, which is very helpful.

Be sure to note the coordinates to where your car is parked! Else, you may have trouble getting back to it. You’d be surprised how turned around you can get. Laugh all you want, but please do it anyway.

You then start heading towards the cache, using your GPS unit to help you get to “ground zero”, which means the general area of the cache. You’d think it’d be easy once you get there, but that is where the real challenge and fun begins. Caches need to be well hidden so that they aren’t muggled (“muggles” are non-cachers and when muggles remove or destroy a cache, it is said to have been “muggled”). The cache may be right in front of your face, but you won’t see it because it is camouflaged so well. Or it can be in a place you wouldn’t think to look. One cache we found was in a container with a reflector on a “No Parking” sign at the end of a dead-end street. The reflector looked like it was supposed to be there. I would never have found it, but fortunately my daughter figured it out right away. Also, if the cache is a micro, it can be hidden in all sorts of nooks and crannies.

While you are looking for the cache, you need to be discreet and not disclose the cache’s location to any muggles. If you are alone in the woods, this is easy. If you’re doing an urban cache, this can be the hardest part of the whole thing. One of my favorite caches is in a fake book in a library!

You also need to be careful not to damage the terrain. Caches should not be hidden such that seekers end up creating new trails, thereby ruining the landscape and giving away the location of the cache. An ideal cacher will leave the environment cleaner than when he arrived. In fact, there are many CITO (Cache In, Trash Out) events arranged by various cachers.

Sometimes you will not find the cache. Sometimes the cache is missing; sometimes you just can’t find it; sometimes it has geotraveled (“geotraveled” is a term for what happens when cachers don’t replace the cache exactly where they found it). I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to ground zero to look for cache for a second time and found it right away in a place that I was sure I looked in the first time.

If you do find the cache and it is a large one, there may be swag in the cache. Geocaching swag is small items that can fit in a cache. Examples of swag are small toys, pens, small calculators, key chains, etc. Geocaching etiquette dictates that if you take something from the cache, you put something else in to replace it. Never put in food as that will attract animals. In addition, explosive items, animals, etc. are inappropriate for obvious reasons. Also, somewhere along the line, used golf balls became a bit of a joke amongst geocachers as being the tackiest item one can leave.

There are a special type of swag called travel bugs and geocoins. These items are meant to travel from cache to cache. Sometimes they have a particular mission, such as to make it to Fiji. Sometimes they just travel. If you take one of these, you need to make sure you move it along to a new cache in a reasonable amount of time.

In addition to swag, all caches should have a log book. With micro caches, the log book may just be a strip of paper. You should sign the log with your name or geocaching name, date, and anything you want to say about the cache. With micros, you can usually only sign and date the log. There are some acronyms that geocachers use for logs.

  • TNLNSTL = Took Nothing Left Nothing, Signed the Log
  • TFTC = Thanks for the Cache 
  • TFTH = Thanks for the Hide

Sometimes a cache will be in a state of disrepair. It may have been muggled or the cache owner, who is the person who hid the cache, may not have been taking care of the cache like he should. Sometimes cache owners go AWOL and a cache will become badly neglected. In cases like that, it is nice to clean up the cache some if you can. Sometimes if the log book is full, I will put a new log in the cache. If you ever feel the need to do that, take the old log with you and e-mail the owner to see if he wants it. Some people do, even when the logs are moldy!

Once you are home, you should go back to to log what you did. You really should note if you did not find the cache as if there are several DNF’s (Did Not Find’s) in a row, the owner will probably want to check on the cache to make sure that it is there. When you record your find or DNF, you might mention a little bit about what your geocaching experience was like, the state the cache was in, and so forth. You also should always thank the cache owner for placing the cache. There are a couple of other options for logging for caches, “Needs Maintenance” and “Needs Archived”. Those should not really be used by newbie (new) cachers. If you log those and are wrong about the cache, people may get mad and nasty with you (for instance, it may not really be missing or you may feel the log book is too full, but the owner doesn’t). If the cache is in obvious disrepair, the top is missing for instance, then it is okay to use the “Needs Maintenance” option.

After you have logged the find, you are done. You can go celebrate your good work.

Here are some geocaching related links:

  • has a beginner caching page
  • Geocacher University has lots of helpful information
  • The “I’d Rather Be Caching” blog has several excellent posts about solving puzzle caches, such as here, here and here
  • Here is a page with cipher tools 
  • Secret Code Breaker Online can also help you with code solving
  • An article about treading lightly while geocaching is here 
  • The Caching Place is a good place to buy geocaching supplies and geocoins 
  • has swag and geocaching containers
  • Geocoin Club sells different geocoins every month, collecting geocoins can be a hobby unto itself 
  • Letterboxing is somewhat like geocaching, except that you use clues and a compass rather than a GPS unit, also there is no swag, instead you collect stamps in a stamp book
Here are some books at Amazon that can also help (many can be found at your local library too)
Labels: Physical Education, Social Studies
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Geocaching Television Special

It just so happens recently that a geocoin of mine was featured on an episode of Oregon Field Guide (PBS. If you would like to learn more about geocaching, this show offers a nice introduction to geocaching (the geocaching portion is at the end, approximately 20:30 – my geocoin makes its television debut at about 25:00).

Labels: Physical Education
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Educational Videos Online

One of the many great things about the internet is the number of educational videos online. Sometimes, it is so helpful to be able to use these videos to clarify things for ourselves or provide outside instruction to our children. Sometimes, I find that I just don’t seem to be able to teach my kids something, but when they listen to someone else explain it, it clicks for them (even though I swear that I explained it the exact same way!). Also, educational videos are helpful for kids with learning disabilities, who may prefer to be able to work independently, but have trouble reading books.  Some great sites for getting free educational videos are (as always, you should preview these videos for appropriateness before showing them to your children):

Labels: Online Learning
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff