10 Fun Ways to Hone Your Geography Skills

10 Fun Ways to Hone Your Geography Skills

I am severely geographically challenged.


I’m not in a challenging location geographically, which is probably what that sentence implies. Let me try again.

I am horrible at geography. All geography. Not just world geography, I’m awful at even United States geography.

To be honest, I’m not even good at Virginia geography, and I live here.

The only reason I know where Montana is located is because I have a friend in Montana. I was wishing I had a friend in Wisconsin the other day when I spent ten minutes looking for Wisconsin on our USA map puzzle only to discover I was trying to put it in the wrong half of the country.

In order for me to retain information, I need to relate it to something interesting or of a perceived value. For example, I know where Chik-fil-A is because they are delicious and I get hungry. I know where South Carolina is because that’s where I find my Dad. I know where Alabama is because my husband spent hours laughing at me for not knowing. I know where Sochi is because of the Olympics.

To help my kids, and myself, hone our geography skills, I compiled a list of fun things to add to our lessons besides playing board games like Destination USA and using apps like Stack the States and Stack the Countries.

Add these fun pinpoints to your maps (wall, globe, printable with WonderMaps), or add these activities to your afternoon!

10 FUN Ways to Hone Your Geography Skills

1. Where is your pet (animal breed) from?
2. Map your dinner. Where did that dish, spice, or veggie originally come from? What country exports it today?
3. Where is your favorite author from?
4. How many places can you find on the map that start with your initial?
5. Create a playlist full of songs native to the country of your choice.
6. Research the invention of something that makes your life easier and find out where it was invented.
7. Interview a friend or family member about a trip they took and map out where they went.
8. Start a binder of all the places you want to visit, get brochures, print info from online travel sites.
9. Research traditional attire from a country of your choice. Be a fashion designer and try to create a new outfit in that cultural style.
10. Look on a world map and choose a place to create a new land. Use graph paper to map it out. Name it, and give it some demographics. Share details about who it’s neighboring countries are and why you chose that place.

What do you do to reinforce your geography lessons?

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

A Quick and Easy Lesson in Personal Finance From a Mean Mom

Quick and Easy Lesson in Personal Finance

Two weeks ago, I was completely fed up with my kids. I know the fuss was over a mere $5, but sometimes $5 needs to be a big deal. To a lot of families I know, $5 is a big deal; and it’s a big deal all the time, not just on the day before pay day.

We are so blessed that rarely is five bucks something to fight about, but I did not want my children taking even one dollar for granted. All these blessings can be gone in a heartbeat.

I needed a quick and dirty way to get my point across to the girls, and it needed not to involve actual cash since it was a couple days before pay day, and I was terribly short on the green stuff.

Here’s a little spoiler: it’s all fun and games until the pickles run out and Minecraft is threatened.

By the time this little lesson in personal finance was over, I had been called mean, super-mean, uber-mean, and a meany-pants. Some other enjoyable remarks included:

  • “You want us to starve, don’t you?”
  • “This is SO not fun.”
  • “This is NOT what real life is like. You don’t know what REAL life is like Mom!”

I’m still laughing. Those were the most entertaining two days we’ve had this winter.

Teaching Personal Finance Step One

Make your money. 

Print it out, color it, cut it, or make it with construction paper. We made $8.45. Not sure why it was that much, but that’s how much we ended up with when they became bored with coloring.

Teaching Personal Finance Step Two

Create a bank register.

I only printed this because I didn’t want to make my own money for processing change. I printed a register for each child on which they could put money on deposit and spend money directly from their account. Next time, I’ll include a lesson in check writing. Get an easy printable register from moneyinstructor.com here.

Teaching Personal Finance Step Three

Price the important stuff.

Send the unsuspecting kids off to list their favorite things: favorite foods, drinks, games, and hobbies. Then momma gets to price them.

  • I didn’t put TV on the list, intentionally. When Dad gets home, he enjoys some TV downtime. I didn’t want to confuse the kids, nor did I want to keep track of who was watching TV on their own dime and who was mooching off of Dad’s TV time. We don’t watch that much television, so I left it off the list. It wasn’t a privilege they would have been willing to pay for anyway.
  • I did include lunch and dinner. They weren’t cheap either. Together, they cost each child $4.00. Yes, they had the choice not to pay and not to eat.
  • Yes, our list included a ton of junk food. In real life, they will have the option to make poor choices. It was risky, but it worked out for me in the end.
  • Water was free.
  • Quantities were limited, and everything was first paid first served.

Teaching Personal Finance Step Four

Learn to pay your own way.

For the first day, I had the kids pay the bank in advance for lunch and dinner so they didn’t go hungry because of poor planning. I explained the rest of the rules and then bit my tongue when the 12-year-old bought 20 Oreo cookies and an entire jar of pickles. Before bed, they deposited all of their remaining funds.

The next morning they received their daily pay of $8.45. This was the beginning of the “mean mom” remarks. Someone didn’t think it was fair that her sister had over $10. This is where we discussed saving money for another day.

By midday of day two, our nine-year-old was having a blast and our twelve-year-old was furious. Side work was offered in order to earn extra funds. Warnings, not available in real life, were given when funds were getting low. Finding yourself surrounded by people enjoying fresh cupcakes, with no money to purchase your own cupcake, does things to people. Pickles are not as comforting as cupcakes.

What My Kids Learned

  • You don’t get paid early just because you ran out of money; learn to plan ahead.
  • Just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should. Oreos for supper sound like a good idea until it ends up actually being your supper.
  • If you want the job to pay well, you best do the job well. It never hurts to go the extra mile. Sometimes it pays off (in cupcakes).
  • Every nickle matters, and it takes twenty of them to make a dollar.
  • Free time is more enjoyable when you know it’s limited. Cherish the moment.

What Momma Learned

  • If you give your tween an opportunity to buy all of your favorite cookies, she will.
  • She will also enjoy eating them in front of you.

So what do you think of my financial planning lesson? Would you attempt something like this to teach your children?

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Maybe You Shouldn't Homeschool

Maybe You Shouldn't Homeschool @BrightIdeasTeam @TheTadey

Raise your hand if you have ever said, “I homeschool,” and someone replied with, “I could never do that.”

Did you all raise your hand?

My initial response is usually to say “Sure you could” and then share how it’s not so big and scary once you get started.

I’m a firm believer that anyone could homeschool. If given the means, they could get the job done.

I’m also a firm believer that there are some families that could but probably should not homeschool.

Here is a list of questions one should reflect upon when contemplating a homeschooling lifestyle.

I’m not going to tell you that X number of yeses mean you shouldn’t do it, because that’s ridiculous. Everyone is different. If I went down this list, I probably shouldn’t homeschool, yet I do. And I do it successfully. Everyone responds to life’s circumstances differently.

Ask yourself. Reflect on your answers. Pray. Decide.


  • Will someone need to give up a job?
  • Will you want or need an out-of-the-box system which is usually more costly, or are you prepared to seek out other alternatives that might be more budget friendly but require more time to plan?
  • Will you be driving to co-ops?
  • Will you want to supplement with sports, art, or music lessons?
  • Do you want to use technology in your school and if so, what will that cost to maintain?
  • If someone gives up a job, will your insurance coverage change?
  • Are you prepared to provide food for all the daily meals?


The biggest sacrifice to be made regarding homeschooling, is in time. Time to plan. Time to teach. Time to drive to extra curricular lessons.

We don’t educate every minute of every day, but education can happen in any minute of any day. (Tweet this!)

That “me time” you were looking for might require hiring a mommy’s helper or trading with another homeschool mom. In winter months, because we are all cooped up together for so long, I find myself jealous of my neighbor with her hours of quiet time to clean house and do meal planning while her kids are in school.

  • What would you have to change to make time for school?
  • How would you build quiet time into your schedule?
  • Who can you call on when you need a break?
  • Homeschoolers don’t have to be up early to catch the bus. Will you maintain an early schedule or let your kids sleep in?
  • If you homeschool and work (which can be done), when would you plan for school work? And how would you balance relaxing family time with learning times?


I can only speak from the perspective of an introvert with not-so-introverted children, but homeschooling as an introvert is hard. I need alone time to decompress and refuel. Homeschooling, at least at our house,  leaves me with almost no alone time. There is always someone talking to me or near me. Some days are really tough.

Our extroverts want to go, see, play, do, and meet. Co-ops and activity clubs are great for facilitating socialization and providing a stimulating environment for learning. Signing up our kids and getting them to their classes stretches my comfort zone. It is a difficult step that I have chosen to take for the benefit of my children who thrive off the interactions.

Personalities are important to consider when evaluating the option of homeschooling.  It’s more than just a question of “can we get along with each other.” Homeschooling affords parents the opportunity to work with their children’s personalities, often requiring a parent to work against their own.

  • Does your child crave a lot of interaction?
  • Does your child thrive working independently with solo projects?
  • How will you feel about spending extended parts of your day out and about, at co-ops, the library, or on field trips with other families?

Your Family

No one knows your child the way you know your child. No one knows your family, your finances, your challenges, and your circumstances the way you know them.

Only you can decide if homeschooling is the right choice for you and your family. There are so many resources (free and paid) and so many places to find support that anyone who wanted to try homeschooling could try it.

For example, Bright Ideas Press is hosting a discussion about making the choice to homeschool via a G+ hangout (on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 3 p.m. ET). Watch the recording below.

The question of should you homeschool is something only you can answer. There are sacrifices that must be made by any parent in order to educate their children, whether they choose public, private or home education.

Careful evaluation of your time and your abilities (financial, physical and emotional) is the only way to confidently determine if homeschooling is the best choice for your family.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Curriculum Failure: 5 Things to Consider Before You Throw It Out

Curriculum Failure 5 Things to Consider

Last week, I hid in my room to finally admit math curriculum #6,534 was failing.

It seems like every year I get excited about a new style, a new method, or a new approach only to have it blow up in my school room.

I love that my children are different and have different learning styles. I feel blessed that homeschooling allows me to work with their particular needs.

There comes a time though, when you’ve tried just about everything and something has to give.

I asked friends and colleagues about their math curriculum. I priced out yet another math curriculum set. I made a list of all the online free places to do math.

I got mad.

There, I admit it. I got really angry. I was angry that I was spending so much time and money buying the next big thing, yet I couldn’t say, with confidence, that I had given what I already owned a fair try.

Kids develop so differently, and I began considering that our past failures may not have been because the curriculum didn’t fit my kid. It could be it didn’t fit my child that year.

What if my daughter just wasn’t ready to process math in that way yet?

I dug through a hard drive full of digital homeschool files to find the math books I had purchased last year, and I reprinted them. I took the first quarter of the book and bound it.

Then I removed everything but math from our school schedule for the week.

Ready for this? We have had a week of math, pretty intense math, with no tears. Some days, they even smiled.

Smiling Over Math

We did big, complicated, multi-digit math in the van. We laughed about math.

I discovered that they understood big math terms like subtrahend and they discovered that they really were very good at math.

I was not a bad teacher. They were not horrible at math. I had not bought the world’s worst math curriculum (again).

We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So, dear homeschool momma, before you throw away (or sell) that curriculum you spent your money on, consider this:

Maybe you have the right tools, but you’re just using them at the wrong time.

Maybe that really awesome science book isn’t working because the concepts are too big, or the reading is intimidating for your not-quite-ready reader. Last year, we used Christian Kids Explore Physics, and it was a complete win for our oldest daughter! She loved it, and she understood what it was trying to teach. Her sister hated it. She just couldn’t quite understand physics and energy, heat and light, and all those things you can’t really see. I lost her attention early on and never could get her actively participating again. The curriculum is awesome; my timing with her was off.

So before you throw in the towel, or take the lack of progress personally, consider these five things:

Just because they can read, doesn’t mean they want to. My daughter can read an encyclopedia but prefers to curl up with a good board book. She has difficulty staying focused over long passages. Charlotte Mason style lessons do not work for her no matter how much I want to make it work.

Not everyone is ready to grasp conceptual ideas at the same time. They may see that a dropped object falls down, but understanding that an unseen force called gravity is what pulls it down may be difficult. Try something more concrete, learn a skill, or focus on hands on learning until they are ready.

It’s not them; it’s you. Ouch, that realization hurt me because it’s true. I have given a big thumbs down to curriculum only to later acknowledge the failure was mine. I don’t always read through the “Teacher Information” section, or the “How to Use This Book” introduction. The curriculum isn’t really getting a fair chance when it isn’t used the way it was intended.

It wasn’t challenging. Maybe you need to take the lesson you have and add a deeper element in which you go a step further or dig deeper.

They just can’t relate. We often have this problem with history and geography, so I try to overcome the barrier by helping them relate to the people they are discovering. For example, the Olympics provided a great opportunity to study relevant geography as we looked for athletes’ countries on a globe. Watching a historical movie brings a period from history to life.

No one wants to waste money on the wrong curriculum and no one wants to waste time fighting with one that just isn’t working. One of the biggest reasons we love homeschooling is the flexibility that it allows. Be flexible! Step outside the box that te curriculum came in and see if it might work with a little tweaking or a little percolating. It might be that it just needs another year on the shelf.

Have you ever sold a barely used book only to realize a few years later that you should have kept it?

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

5 Unconventional Educational Activities for Sick Days

5 Unconventional Educational Activities for Sick Days

Sick days are the quicksand of our homeschool. It seems the harder we try to get anything educational accomplished, the less we get accomplished. This time of year, there is always someone in our family not feeling up-to-par, but taking half-days and sick-days all the time is not an option.

We recently had an entire week off from school while I recovered from surgery. Despite my efforts to plan lessons in advance and lay it all out for them to work independently, my kids just weren’t ready to be self-led learners. I had to break out of my homeschool box and come up with some way to bring education into our day. Here are my five unconventional educational activities for sick days.

Role Reversal Reading

Normally, I am the one doing the reading aloud. Occasionally, our oldest will read a lesson from The Mystery of History to her younger sister. This week, I invited the kids to read to me! I gave them time to read anything of their choosing to me while I rested. Even my pre-readers had time to sit with me with favorite books to “read” based on the pictures. Who knew a fire truck board book could be so entertaining?

Make Me A List

I wanted to sneak in some handwriting practice and hone their observation skills a bit. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are famous for saying they can’t find their shoes when they are standing right in front of them. I handed each of them a note pad with adjectives written at the top. The older kids had to find as many things as they could in the house that fit the description and write them down. The little ones draw pictures of the five things instead of writing the names. Some of our adjectives included yellow, squishy, sweet, loud, rectangular, and electric.

Invent me a Thing-A-Majig-Inator

We have a bit of a crush on Perry the Platypus. If you’ve never heard of Phineas and Ferb (the show involving Perry the Platypus), I’ll explain the basics. Phineas and Ferb are brothers with a pet platypus named Perry that is really a secret agent fighting to save the world from Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Dear Dr. Doofenshmirtz is not your typical mad scientist; instead he creates “Inators” in his attempt to take over the area where he resides.

Playing off of our love for Dr. Doofenshmirtz, I had the kids collect toilet paper rolls, boxes, scraps, and paper which they used to invent me a Thing-a-Majig-Inator. A few of the things I asked them to create included a Warm-Up-Mom’s-Feet-Inator, a Vanquish-All-Bird-Squawking-Inator and a Keep-Mom’s-Coffee-Warm-Inator. None of them worked, obviously, but it was a ton of fun to see what they created.

Sing, Sing a Song

Making a joyous noise brightens everyone’s day, right? I challenged my kids to either learn a new song or write a new song to cheer me up. Our oldest loves to write her own music, so she set off on her own to compose me a lullaby. It was an interesting lullaby, and a tad too upbeat for me, but she showed some strong rhyming skills. Her younger sister set out to teach the little ones a new song, The B-I-B-L-E, and had them perform it for me before dinner. I’m certain Lil Man was the only one of that trio that didn’t already know the song, but it was sweet to see the teamwork.

Meal Planning

This idea was greatly inspired by the countless hours of Food Network I watched in the hospital and my twelve-year-old’s constant request to be “Mom-for-a-day.” Her task was to find five dinner meals using only the cookbooks I have on hand. They had to be food that she knew everyone would eat and could not require kitchen equipment that we did not already own. Then she had to list out all of the necessary ingredients, adding up quantities for ingredients used in multiple recipes, and compile a master grocery list. Last, she needed to split her list into items we already had in our pantry and items we needed to purchase. The important part in my mind was her adding the ingredients. I love sneaking in math where she isn’t looking.

Odds and Ends

Never underestimate the educational value of a good card game or a good board game. Yahtzee is a favorite around here and can easily be played, curled up in bed or on the couch. A one dollar crossword or word-find book  is another easy entertainer with educational value. We also printed off outline maps with WonderMaps and colored them in while watching my favorite cooking shows. They enjoyed looking on our globe, and then finding the matching map for the country/state of origin for the style of food being prepared. 

Mom-sick days, kid-sick days, and everyone-just-feels-blah days don’t have to end up being documentaries-on-Netflix days.  They don’t need to end up with an absent mark on your planner either. Learning is happening all the time, and some of the best lessons come filled with laughter, creativity, and lots of duct tape.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

PocketBook Journaling and Timelines

PocketBooks: Mini-Journaling and Notebooking Bright Ideas Press

My children do not like notebooking. They don’t really like lapbooking either. It used to make this homeschooling mama sad because I love lapbooking and notebooking. I wish I had been allowed to journal my history lessons when I was a kid instead of just answering a list of chapter questions every night.

Still, my kids want no part of it. The thought of trying to fill an entire page with information is overwhelming. Lapbooks take time, and their attention wanders before we get it put together.

I had to be creative. We need something quick and less intimidating, so I made the pages smaller.

Introducing PocketBook Journaling and PocketBook Timelines

PocketBooks: Mini-Journaling and Notebooking Bright Ideas Press

What is a PocketBook?

How to Fold A PocketBook for Journaling and Notebooking

The base idea for folding the paper has been around a long time, but was reintroduced to me at a site called PocketMod. They use a simple piece of paper to make a weekly day planner. I took that simple folded piece of paper and turned it into a mini PocketBook for journaling our lessons and creating mini timelines. We keep our PocketBooks together in envelopes, grouped by unit, in the binders I created for their notebooking pages.

My younger kids draw pictures to follow the headings I give each panel. The older girls have to write brief details or short sentences about the lessons.

Folding the paper creates smaller blank spaces which are less intimiding. At the end of the lesson, they have written the equivalent of a full notebooking page without realizing it.

How to Fold a PocketBook

  1. Start with one sheet of paper. This can be done with any sized paper. We use printer paper or lined loose leaf paper. You are going to fold the paper into an octavo fold, creating 8 leaves (16 pages).
  2. Fold the paper in half, creating two long rectangle areas. Open the paper flat.
  3. Fold the paper in half again, this time along the other edge, as if you were making a card. Do not unfold the paper, but fold it again, into fourths.
  4. Unfold the last fold you made, and cut the fold in the middle from the page center to the first fold line.
  5. Open up the cut area, and pinch to create 4 book “pages”.
  6. Open the book up flat and flip the paper the other way, to find another 8 pages!

The PocketMod site has a great video that shows this process.

PocketBook Lesson Ideas

  • Create a 6 Days of Creation Book – Design the cover and give each day its own panel. Draw pictures on each panel showing what was created that day. Flip the book over to create a mini book with Bible verses for all six days.
  • Create Era Timelines – Before tackling a new era in history, create a PocketBook timeline giving an overview of that time. Each panel can represent an significant event, or each panel can represent a decade and students can fill in the panel with events that occurred in that decade. These are intended to be broad overviews to generate interest in the lessons to come.
  • Create War Timelines – Create PocketBook timelines for specific wars, creating panels for important battles on one side and important leaders on the flip side.
  • Create Continent/Country Books – Use PocketBooks to study geography. Fill your panels with information on population, industry, and more! Add some fun by printing out your country with WonderMaps. Color the map, and then create your book from your map! Fold it so your map is on the flip side. You can read your book, then open the page to reveal the map.
  • Create Character Books – Write about and illustrate the characters in your books.
  • Create Book Report  Books – Create a page for title, author, setting, plot, and more. This is an easy first book report idea for young students.
  • Create Science Books – Create a set on vertebrates, biomes, laws of physics, or the water cycle.
  • Create Math Reference Books – Create a book for multiplication tables, geometry formulas, or algebra rules.

PocketBooks: Mini-Journaling and Notebooking Bright Ideas Press

Why You Will Love PocketBooks

PocketBooks are another creative options for customizing a lesson to fit our child’s learning style. Can you answer yes to any of the following questions?

  • Is your child overwhelmed by big blank pages?
  • Do you have a younger child that participates with your older children?
  • Are you homeschooling in a small space, with little room for big maps or long timelines?
  • Does your child like to doodle and decorate her work?
  • Are you on a budget and need an inexpensive way to reinforce lessons with few supplies?
  • Would the idea of creating a miniature personal library interest your child?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, give PocketBooks a try. Now that we have a little library started, my kids are more excited than ever to read our next lesson from The Mystery of History.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy