DIY: Africa wall map that’s dry-erase friendly

I needed a  large map of the continent of Africa that was durable enough for students to roll up, take home, and complete homework assignments; and big enough for them to write on, label each country, color and label the surrounding water bodies, highlight the major biomes, and draw the animals that dominate the various regions. I couldn’t find on that fit all of my needs, so I made my own.  Here’s how:


First, I put two 11″ x 17″ poster boards side by side and taped taped them taped them together vertically, along the back seam. I centered a large puzzle of Africa on top of the two pieces (see photo above). I traced each piece in pencil and then traced over the pencil with a Sharpie.


I taped the two pieces together and used my computer to print the title, “The Continent of Africa.” My hubby laminated it it for me. It works great! Students can write and erase with no problem.


Homeschool cooking: Sloppy Joes and Spaghetti

8-oz. mason jars are perfect for freezing single servings of just about anything from homemade applesauce to Mama’s spaghetti.  Moreover, they easily fit into lunch boxes.


Today, I made a big pot of spaghetti sauce. I plan to spread the love three ways: dinner for James and me tonight, sloppy Joes for the girls’ lunches tomorrow, and twelve jars of homemade spaghetti in the freezer. If thawed overnight, the jars take mere minutes to stir and heat. Add a fresh cut of salad greens and veggies, a couple of crackers, a fork, and Voila! Your child will enjoy a healthy lunch that beats a sandwich and potato chips any day.

Sloppy Joes for lunch tomorrow
Sloppy Joes for lunch tomorrow

A few nights ago, James and I had burgers for dinner. We have some buns left over, so I’m gonna serve the girls a hot meal of Sloppy Joes and buttered carrots.

As you can see, whether you’re packing lunch boxes or serving up a hot meal in your own kitchen,  with some simple pre planning, back-to-school meals can be healthy, hearty, and fun!

Homeschool cooking: Graham cracker fruit faces

Children need at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. These graham cracker dessert treats make achieving that goal a little easier. We made a little game out of it:


  1. I prepared a mixture of cream cheese, honey, and vanilla and spread some on half a cracker.
  2. Students selected their own fruit and then created a fruit face or fun design on their crackers. As you can see in the photo above, our students could also choose a cracker without the cream cheese concoction. 


The end results: lots of giggles as the girls enjoyed their treats. Here’s the recipe:

FILLING: Spread filling on 1/2 graham cracker. 

  • 8-oz. pkg. plain cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp honey

FRESH FRUITS: Selections can vary. Choose the fruits that you and your family enjoy! 

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Mandarin oranges


Encourage your kiddos to be creative and have fun! The more you can involve them in the meal, the more apt they are to eat and enjoy!

Creative ways to enrich your baby’s world

Babies learn in a variety of ways.  Research shows that those who grow up in stimulating environments learn more easily and become more well-rounded individuals. This blog aims to share ideas that will help you train up your child in ways that will develop a strong sense of self esteem, teach him/her to love others, spark creativity, express feelings, develop listening and understanding, encourage responding, and more.

Napping at Galveston Beach
Napping on Galveston Beach

Spend time outdoors. An NC State University study found that proximity to, views of, and daily exposure to natural outdoor settings increases children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities. Expose your baby to daily walks, naps at the beach, and some some fresh air.

Observe the brightly-colored flowers. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, outdoor time improves eyesight. More time spent outdoors is related to reduced rates of nearsightedness, also known as myopia, in children. 

Talk to baby in a second language. Learn simple phrases and repeat them to baby. For example, greet baby each morning with “Buenos días,” (Good morning) or “Te amo,” (I love you).

Cover a small blanket with “noisy toys” such as empty plastic bottles. Allow baby to crawl over the blanket. As he crawls over and crushes one of the plastic bottles watch for a reaction to to the noise. Respond with “surprised” smiles and laughter. This activity helps develop listening and understanding.

IMG_20150706_172642Blow up several balloons in bright colors. Allow baby to crawl, touch, bump, and watch them float in the air.

Babies love bubbles
Babies love bubbles

Blow bubbles. No, not spit bubbles, the ones from a bottle. Blow them close enough so baby can see them float through the air

Turn on the music.  Babies will respond to music they’ve heard in the womb.  Allow your baby to listen to a variety of great music. Zydeco is lively and fun. Classical is soothing. Feel free to mix it up. Just be careful that it’s not too loud though!

Experience new friends of various cultures.  Join parent groups with a diverse membership that represents individuals from of a variety of races and cultures. As we all know, racism is learned. Combat prejudice by sharing diverse opportunities and friendships made with people who look different than you and your baby.

Play dress up. Tie a colorful scarf around your head. Put on a pair of over sized sunglasses. Pop on a red nose or a pair of gigantic ears. Allow baby to touch, explore, and even remove the items.

Paper plate tambourine
Paper plate tambourine

Play with bells, maracas, and other musical instruments. A simple tambourine made with paper plates and bells becomes a great musical toys for you to tap and chant for baby to enjoy. For more noise, make tambourine with aluminum pie pans. Sit on  the floor facing baby. As you tap the tambourine or shake the maracas, say “Shake, shake, shake,” or “Shh, shh, shh.” The repetition helps baby respond to sound and rhythm.

Make giant blocks from a variety of covered boxes. Re-purpose your old cereal and shoe boxes by covering them with solid colored wrapping paper.  Stack them and allow baby to knock them down. Careful don’t let them fall on baby’s head.

Talk with exaggerated movements.  Open your mouth wide , stick out your tougue, move your head from side to side, and smile to encourage positive reactions such as smiling, babbling, and wriggling.

Say, “Please” and “Thank you.”  Good manners are learned at home.

Clap your hands. Clapping games help develop baby’s concentration. Try syllable clapping by clapping out each syllable as you say baby’s name or short phrases such as “Hell-o – to – you.”

Cover your face with sheer fabric (like a small curtain sheer). Make sure that the fabric is sheer enough to see through so you don’t frighten baby. Allow baby to pull the fabric off. When he does, say, “Hello _____________,” (baby’s name) or “Mommy loves _______________” (baby’s name). Young babies have poor vision, but they learn to recognize their parent’s faces very quickly. This game instills confidence and bonding.

Stroke her hair or face. Babies love soft touches that reinforce gentleness and your love for them.

Sleep in a tent. A tent with a window is a fun way to play “Peek a boo” with older babies.

Wild and wacky family time
Wild and wacky family time

Involve baby in family activities. Try not to confine baby to a play pen or crib during family time. Last Easter, the cousins included Duke in the Easter egg hunt and even cracked a confetti egg over his head.

Play Peek-a-boo. Cover your eyes. Then uncover them and say, “Peek a boo.”

Play with mud.  Buy some clean, disease and bug free free soil and allow baby to feel the contrast between dry soil and wet, muddy soil.

Make some Texas clay shapes. Here in Houston, Texas, we have beautiful red clay soil that we can dig up and make clay balls for baby to touch and hold.

Stick out your tongue. Blink your eyes. Turn your head from side to side. Wriggle your nose. Pull your ears. Contact with you and watching your face is an important first step towards learning to talk.

Laugh. Babies love to laugh. Reinforce that behavior. Be silly. Laugh along for no reason.

Sing to baby.  How about, “Jesus loves you, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves you. Yes, Jesus loves you. Yes, Jesus loves you. The Bible tells me so.”

let it shine! Line the bottom of a flat box with shiny, reflective paper. Aluminum foil works well.  Fill the box with an assortment of brightly colored objects. Allow baby to explore and play.

Cover an unbreakable mirror with strips of duct tape in contrasting colors. Babies recognize patterns made from objects that have sharp contrasts. Use black/white or blue/yellow tape and create a pattern of colorful strips.

Make a paper plate puppet.  Use a white paper plate or cardboard and use a black marker to draw a face. Glue on a chopstick or pencil for a handle. Hold the puppet about 8″-10″ from baby’s face. Talk to your baby. Move the puppet slowly from side to side. Move slowly enough so that baby’s eyes can follow. If baby reaches for the puppet, guide her hand to it and allow her to touch it. This game helps baby recognize facial movement.

Hold her close. Let him hear your heartbeat.

Breathe on the mirror and create a steamy fog cover. Guide baby’s finger through the mist. This helps baby learn to use his fingers and create imprints.

Buy some houseplants. Studies show that green plants reduce stress. If you don’t have a green thumb, here is yet another reason to spends lots of time outside.  Grassy areas or vistas with green plants and trees and greener views show significant results in reducredreducing stress in high-stressed children.

Exercise together. Facilitate developing movements with simple exercises. Lay baby on his back. Help him twist left, twist, right, and roll over. Exercise his legs. Help her stand up and sit down. While she is laying on her back, bend her knees. Or, gently push his knees towards his chest.

Massage baby’s shoulders, hands, legs, neck, and back.  Enhance the experience with soothing music. Remember, the sense of touch is very important to babies. Introduce healthy, positive touches.


Go to the beach. Let baby twinkle his toes in the water. Take a nap in the ocean air.

Make “pat mats” for baby to explore different textures . Fill Ziploc bags with different items such as brightly-colored paint, cotton balls, sand, or fruit slices. These “pat mats” encourage the use of baby’s arms and help her develop her muscles and control her hands and arms which will be useful as she learns to write.

Let baby climb in the laundry basket. A floppy, plastic laundry basket is a great place for baby to crawl and explore as you load the washing machine.

Watch TV together.

Read. Read. Read. This activity increases sensitivity to word sounds and the sound of your voice encourages bonding.

Give your baby a board book and let him explore the colorful words and pictures.

Pray for your baby everyday. Speak God’s Word over your baby.  Allow baby to hear you speak scriptures and positive affirmations from the Bible.

Begin and end each day with a kiss.

A super fun way to introduce Spanish to elementary-aged kiddos

Feliz, feliz en tu dia means “Be happy on your day.” Today is my granddaughter’s 5th birthday.  I turned her special day into an afternoon of fun with new Spanish words, songs, and phrases. We celebrated God’s gift of life to Khloe, had lots of fun, and explored a new language along the way.

Teaching Spanish to young children is nearly as easy as soaking up water with a sponge. Their minds are like little learning machines that can easily process a second language, especially when creative games and activities are a part of the fun.


There are many simple ways to introduce Spanish to to children.  I used a birthday theme to make today’s hands-on Spanish lesson a memorable one. First, I asked my students, “What do you think of when you hear the words, ‘birthday party'”? They yelled out, “Cake! Balloons! Presents!” We celebrated with a few of the exact things that they yelled out.

balloons - los globos

gave the kiddos several balloons in a variety of colors. I turned to my trusty white board and wrote the name of each color in English and in Spanish. The girls did the same on their balloons of corresponding colors including the following:

  • green – verde
  • yellow-amarillo
  • red-rojo
  • pink – rosa
  • purple-morado
  • white-blanco
  • blue-azul

butterflies - las mariposas Next, I gave them a simple craft that would would reinforce learning the new color words. They each got four (cuatro) butterflies (Las mariposas) and wrote the name of of the corresponding color word on on each one.

Feliz cumpleanos

We then moved on to birthday cards for Khloe. While they decorated their cards, cards I taught them the Happy birthday song in Spanish. It is sang in the same tune as the traditional English version. It goes like this:

Feliz cumpleanos a ti,                                     Feliz cumpleanos a ti,                                   Feliz cumpleanos a ____________ (name), Feliz cumpleanos a ti.


Our next project was to have them write name strips to put by their stuff. I wrote, “Me llamo______” on the board and asked them to write the same and then fill in the blank with their own names. “Me llamo,” means “My name is.”

Me llamo/ My name is...


Las formas

  • circle / el circulo
  • triangle/  el triangulo
  • square / cuadrado
  • rectangle / rectangulo

Since this was a part of of our half-day homeschool program, I had to come up with a way to include some math in our day. I gave the girls a simple coloring page and and had them write the name of each shape in Spanish. Las formas

Chessboard math: 2nd – 3rd grade

HANDS-ON MATH: Today, my 3rd grader, Kennedy, and I are building her chess kit, including the board and pieces. Helping  her make her own game inventory creates a win-win situation for both of us. She gets to cut and glue (which she loves) and I get to teach and reinforce valuable math lessons.

She got to use whatever two colors she wanted as long as they created a light-dark contrast. She chose pink and purple. Throughout the process, we discussed following concepts;


WHAT IS A SQUARE? Kennedy  and I looked at a few different chessboards to determine the make up of a square. The first thing she identified was the four sides. A square is a quadrilateral. “Quad” means four.


It took her a bit longer to process the idea that a square is made four equal sides.  So I pulled out an assortment of square and rectangular boxes and compared them to the chessboard. We then discussed the similarities and differences between the two shapes. Eventually, she realized that a square has four equal sides and a rectangle also has four sides, but they aren’t all all equal. A rectangle four sides with unequal lengths that are parallel.


PROBLEM SOLVING: How many squares does she need altogether? How many squares does she need of each color? How many chess pieces does she need per side? A few strategies, including patterns, simple addition, and multiplication will help her figure all of this out:


  • STRATEGY: describe the pattern. She counted 8 rows with 8 squares laid out in an alternating pattern of light and dark.
  • ADDITION: 2 rooks + 2 knights + 2 bishops + 1 queen + 1 king = 8 pieces on the first row (rank).  Plus 8 pawns on the next rank = 16 per side.
  • MULTIPLICATION: To determine the total number of pieces for both sides, she would need to multiply by 2. Rooks, knights, and bishops would be 2 × 2 = 4 of each of those pieces or add them together and then multiply by 2 would look like this: 6 × 2 = 12. The queen & king would be 2 × 1=2 or, if you add them, 2 × 2 = 4. The 8 pawns would be 2 × 8 = 16. Finally, 16 pieces per sides would be 16 × 2 = 32 total playing pieces.

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Teaching chessboard math to children as young as 6

Look at a chessboard.  What math lessons do you see? I see lessons in basic math, algebra, and geometry. I see all of the primary operations including: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I see numerous ways to teach math to children as young as 6 years old. Take a look.


addition In the photo above, you can see 8 horizontal rows (called ranks) numbered 1- 8. There are 8 rows with 8 squares each.  Add row 1 to row 2, you get 8 + 8 =16. Add rows 1 & 2 to rows 3 & 4, you 16 + 16 = 32, and so on, up to 64 squares.


subtraction Once we  position all of  the chess pieces on the first row, we see 7 empty rows left. 8 – 1 = 7. Add another row and we get 8 – 2 = 6. Set up the whole board and get 8 – 4 = 4 empty rows.


multiplication: My 3rd-grade homeschooler loves practicing her 8s on the chessboard. Again, the board has 8 rows of 8 squares.  Each rank is numbered 1- 8. Thus she can “read” the board and count the squares on each row: 8 × 1= 8, 8 × 2= 16, and so on.

division 16 ÷ 2 = 8 or 24 ÷ 8 = 3 the opposite of multiplication.

fractions simplify 16/2 = 8. That’s equal to 2 rows  divided in half.  Or 8/8 = 1 whole board. Or 4/8 = 1/2.

It touches my heart as I watch my younger students connect all of these mathematical ideas: 4 is half of 8; 8 × 4 = 32, and since 32 is half of 64, my 2nd and 3rd graders can process the idea that when you double the numbers, 8 × 8 = 64. I am especially reminded of a specific student of mine, a 3rd grader who struggles with her 2 times tables. She gets frustrated and cries. Well, as she and I play chess together she beams with pride.

We started with the 8s and she totally gets it. After two days, she has the 8s memorized through 8 × 12. Clearly, this game of chess is not only fun, but also there are many math concepts that are being reinforced at the same time. 

geometry:  A chessboard is a perfect square.  A square is a polygon with four equal sides. To help my 3rd grader understand this concept, I allowed her to use a measuring tape to measure the four sides.  Then, I showed her a rectangular Cheerios box (which would later become her Chess storage kit) and asked her to measure the four sides. She could then tell me the difference between a square, with four equal sides, and a rectangle with two long sides and two short sides.

exponents: A chessboard has 8 rows with 8 squares in each row. Thus, the exponent 8 squared, or 8 × 8 = 64, which is the number of squares on a chessboard.


  • straight line: pawns move in a straight line.
  • diagonal: pawns must move in a diagonal direction to capture.

patterns: My students have to make their own chessboards, which are made up of 8 rows of 8 squares arranged in alternating light/dark square patterns. This hands-on board making activity reinforces a basic 2nd grade math concept.

As your child begins to learn how to play chess, take every opportunity to discuss the various math concepts you encounter. There are patterns and symmetry. There are moves that create right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles. There are moves that run parallel and perpendicular.

A great exercise is to have your students draw their possible chess moves and then trace over the lines to reveal the angles that each move creates. Research shows that chess is the perfect game to help increase your student’s overall academic performance. It helps students develop stronger analytical skills. It helps them with logic and reasoning. My students love it and so do I.