Homeschooling Corner: Introducing Mr. Poop & Custom Dice

I happened to have a poop-shaped pinata sitting around (Why? Look, sometimes these things just happen) of the pull-the-flap-on-the-bottom variety rather than the smash-it-with-a-bat kind, so I decided to add a little fun to our day by filling Mr. Poop with school-related ideas written on strips of paper. Give Mr. Poop a shake and a scrap of paper flutters out–today’s idea was to design your own game, which the kids are working on now.

I’ve decided to incorporate the Cub Scout handbooks–which have lots of useful information about subjects like first aid, water safety, civics, history, etc.–into our rotation. (The Cub Scouts have a different handbook for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders.) Today we learned about knots–mostly square knots–complemented with The Camper’s Knot Tying Game. Knots are practical for anyone, but also good practice for kids with fine motor difficulties.

Over in Professor Astro Cat, we’re collecting space dust, keeping a moon journal (the eclipse was well-timed for this) and made impact craters in the sandbox. The book recommends spreading out newspaper indoors and using flour or cocoa powder, but sand, outside, is much easier to clean up. (Walmart sells beautiful colored sand for like $4 a bag. I sprinkled some green on top of the regular brown sandbox sand to simulate Earth’s surface.)

Custom Dice

There are lots of interesting dice–math dice, fraction dice, letter dice, place value dice, etc. Customized dice are easy to make: just take a cube (you probably have a building block or letter cube or some Legos lying around,) cover it with paper, and write whatever you want on the faces. (Note it is probably best to write on the paper before applying tape, as many pens won’t write properly on tape.) I have a custom die with +,-, <, and division signs on it that I use along with custom “numbers larger than six” dice for math games. (“Looks like you rolled 5,000,000,000 divided by 7,000!”) (For smaller kids, you may want to stick to + and -.)

I’m still trying to work out good ways to teach history. I’ve got some rudimentary ideas, but I’ll save them for later.


Homeschooling Corner: What is Educational?

Many years ago, I worked at a toy store. (It was a lot of fun–I like feeling helpful.) One day I was helping a grandmother pick out a gift for her young granddaughter, a  6-month old whom she proudly informed me was really at the developmental level of a 9-month old. She asked me to recommend something “educational” for the child.

Being, (I confess) not very good at this, I responded in confusion that pretty much everything is educational for a baby. Babies are learning all the time.

One of my co-workers helpfully jumped in and found her a stuffed dog that’s supposed to help babies learn to read.

Many years and a great deal of IQ and education research later, I stand by my original position: “educational” toys for babies probably aren’t. It would be great if we could find some magical technique–say, playing Classical music to your fetus–that could reliably make people into geniuses, but so far we haven’t actually found any.

Does that mean you shouldn’t play Classical music to your fetus? Of course not. There’s no evidence that Classical music hurts babies. It’s just highly likely that being the kind of person who would play Classical music to your fetus is a bigger factor in how your kids turn out than the actual music. But if you hate Classical, don’t sweat it.

If you’ve been hanging around the HBD-osphere for a while, you probably already know that adult IQ appears to be about 50% genetic and 50% random chance. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to teach your kids things (you should definitely teach your kids things.) It just means that it’s more important to be good and kind to your kids than to buy them any particular toy or splurge on baby genius classes.


The youngest child has been really into rocks and crystals lately; at this age, they’re still fascinated by freezing cups of water to make ice. A little food coloring (rainbow ice!) fresh mint leaves, flowers, whatever you want to add makes the ice extra interesting; add salt for a lesson about icebergs and the ocean. I don’t know if this is really educational, but it’s fun.

The rest of our time has been focused primarily on regular old rote material–times tables, multi-digit addition and subtraction, handwriting, typing, spelling, etc. Luckily these skills are pretty flexible and so can be taught to multiple kids at different levels. Competitive multiplication games (try to call out the answer first!) work well in our household.

We also learned about If-Then statements in code and the Apollo 11 moon landing, which resulted in them coding a short animation about the moon launch.

I do hope that once I feel a little more secure about their basic skills, we can move outside for some active learning/PE/map-making type activities.

Homeschooling Corner

Welcome! Highly unscientific polling has revealed an interest in a regular or semi-regular feature focused on homeschooling.

Note that I am NOT some homeschooling guru with years of experience. We are just beginning, so I want some other people to discuss things with. I don’t have a curriculum picked out nor a coherent “philosophy,” but I am SO EXCITED about all of the things I have to teach I couldn’t even list them all.

I was thinking of starting with just a focus on what has been successful this week–which books/websites/projects we liked–and perhaps what was unsuccessful. I invite all of you to come and share your thoughts, ideas, questions, philosophies, recommendations, etc. Parents whose kids are attending regular schools but want to talk about learning materials are also welcome.

One request: Please no knee-jerk bashing of public schools or teachers. (I just find this really annoying.) Thoughtful, well-reasoned critique of mainstream schooling are fine, but let’s try to focus on the homeschooling.

This week’s successes:

DK Workbooks: Coding with Scratch (workbook) has been an amazing success.

Like many parents, I thought it’d be useful to learn some basic coding, but have no idea where to start. I once read HTML for dummies, but I don’t know my CSS from Perl, much less what’s best for kids.

After a bit of searching, I decided to try the the DK Coding with Scratch series. (This particular workbook is aimed at kids 6-9 yrs old, but there are others in the series.)

Scratch is a free, simple, child-friendly coding program available online at You don’t need the workbook to use Scratch, (it’s just a helpful supplement.) There are also lots of helpful Youtube videos for the enterprising young coder.

Note: my kids really want to code because they want to make their own video games.

In general, I have found that toys and games that claim they will teach your kids to code actually won’t. (Eg, Robot Turtles.) Some of these games are a ton of fun anyway, I just wouldn’t expect to become a great coder that way.

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space is as good as it looks. Target market is 8-11 years old. There’s a lot of information per page, so we’re reading and discussing a few pages each day.

There are two other books in the series, Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book, which I’m hoping will make a good companion to this one, and Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, which looks like it fills the desperately needed “quantum physics for kids” niche.)

I’m still trying to figure out how to do hands-on science activities without spending a bundle. Most of the “little labs” type science kits look fun, but don’t pack a lot of educational bang for your buck. For example, today we built a compass (it cost $10 at the toy store, not the $205 someone is trying charge on Amazon.) This was fun and I really like the little model, but it also took about 5 minutes to snap the pieces together and we can’t actually carry it around to use it like a real compass.

Plus, most of these labs are basically single-use items. I like toys with a sciency-theme, but they’re too expensive to run the whole science curriculum off of.

Oh, sure, I hand them a page of math problems and they start squawking at me like chickens. But bedtime rolls around and they’re like, “Where’s our Bedtime Math? Can’t we do one more page? One more problem? Please?”

There are only three math problems every other page (though this does add up to over 100 problems,) the presentation is fun, and the kids like the book better than going to sleep.

The book offers easy, medium, and hard problems in each section, so it works for kids between the ages of about 4 and 10.

There’s an inherent tension in education between emphasizing subjects that kids are already good at and working on the ones they’re bad at. The former gives kids a chance to excel, build confidence, and of course actually get good at something, while the latter is often an annoying pain in the butt but nevertheless necessary.


Since we’ve just started and are still getting in the swing of things, I’m trying to focus primarily on the things they’re good at and enjoy and have just a little daily focus on the things they’re weak at.

I’d like to find a good typing tutor (I’ll probably be trying several out soon) because watching the kids hunt-and-peck at the keyboard makes my hair stand on end. I’d also like to find a good way to hold up workbooks next to the computer to make using the DK books easier.

That’s about it, so I’ll open the floor to you guys.

Some thoughts for homeschooling parents

You can’t build up immunity to a disease by never experiencing it.

I hear a lot of people around these parts vowing to homeschool their kids because of this that or the other public schools are doing–usually something related to modern liberal politics. They’re afraid of their kids learning about gay marriage, or social justice, or something similar, so they decide that the solution is just to keep the kids at home where they can learn without the agenda.

Now, to be clear, I have nothing against homeschooling–all of the evidence and studies I’ve seen on the subject indicate that it is a perfectly fine way to educate a kid, so long as the parents are mentally healthy, not-abusive, etc. If you happen to live in an area where there aren’t a lot of other people around, then you might want to consider conventional schools just because your neighborhood makes it difficult to associate with other humans, but otherwise, I see homeschooling as just another method of educating a kid. If your goal is merely to provide your kid with the best education possible, this post is not for you.

However, if your goal in homeschooling is to prevent your kid from learning about broad social trends, political ideologies, or ideas you don’t like, anecdotal evidence suggests you will fail.

Your kid will grow up, they will leave the house, and then they will learn about all of the stuff everyone else believes. If everyone out there believes X, and your kid is even remotely neurologically normal, then your kid will learn about X and start believing it.

Remember, the vast majority of normal people pick up their ideas and beliefs from the other people around them. This is not a bug. This is a very important ability. Other people are treasure troves of useful information about how to stay alive and not die. Imitating others is how you learned to talk, which things are good to eat, and how to behave in new situations. If you’re standing near a road with your friend, and they suddenly jump back, it’s in your interest to jump back, too.

Inability to properly imitate others is extremely problematic and one of the basic symptoms of autism.

So, like I said, if your kids are remotely normal, they will pick up the values of the dominant culture upon exposure. And then they will decide that you were a looney nutcase.

I’m going to talk about the personal experiences of 5 people I know who were homeschooled by conservative Christians. I’m not cherry-picking; they are all the homeschooled people I know.

One went to Bible college, got pregnant, dropped out, and got married. This person still professes Christian faith, but believes far more in materialism.

The second dropped out of college, became a die-hard SJW, and changed genders. I doubt they are still Christian, and they regard their parents’ faith as a cult.

Third completed college, but has become a die-hard SJW. Has a very dim view of conservative Christianity. No children.

Fourth became an atheist liberal who believes in gay marriage and abortion.

Fifth became a die-hard SJW who hates conservative Christianity, thinks their parents were culty, and makes pornography.

If you want an in-depth look at how this happens, I recommend the webcomic Dumbing of Age.

What happened?

In all of these cases, the parents homeschooled to keep their kids isolated from certain ideas, ideologies, or behaviors. The kids graduated with very little experience of the world. They did not have a thorough understanding of how the world works, the philosophies out there, and why, exactly, their parents disagreed.

As a result, when exposed to the meme-viruses of the world, they get infected. They have no defenses.

In my experience, the vast majority of conservatives cannot articulate a coherent explanation for their beliefs, and do not attempt to explain their underlying reasoning to their kids. Many of them, I suspect, simply believe as they do because of habit, convenience, or because everyone else in their area does. Liberalism, by contrast, has put a lot of effort into making arguments against conservative beliefs.

For example, let’s take gay marriage. Common conservative arguments against gay marriage are “Ew! Gay people are gross!” “God says homosexuality is a sin,” and “The purpose of marriage is to make children.”

Liberals have all sorts of counter-arguments, like, “Ellen DeGeneres isn’t icky,” “Separation of Church and State,” and “But we let infertile people get married.”

In short, if it is really important to you that your kid think gay marriage is a bad idea, you’d better have a better, more coherent argument than that. Same for everything else in your memeplex/ideology/worldview–up to and including the existence of god. You might think your proof for the existence of god is pretty solid, but most of the people your kids will be associating with will probably think rather little of your proofs.

If you can’t explain your ideology and rigorously support it, showing your kids that your explanations of how the world works is better than the dominant ones, then you’d be better off just letting your kid go to public school and then doing your best to defend any objections to the curriculum when they come up. Your kids might think you’re kind of weird (just as I thought my parents were kind of weird in the early 90s for defending the use of aerosols/CFCs and not being concerned about the hole in the ozone layer), but they won’t hate you or think you’re a loon.