Molly’s Mid-Way Update on Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1

We are about halfway through Mod Design 1, which I wrote about starting here.

As I wrote in my first post, Youth Digital promises this course will teach kids to program their own Mod (an alteration of the program code of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version).  In doing so, students also learn the fundamentals of Java Programming.  Yay!

As I also mentioned in my first post, Youth Digital gives students 365 days to finish a course, which has really made this whole course stress-free.  Molly really likes that she is in complete control over when she does the sections and how quickly she moves through each section.  She thinks it is especially cool that she can do them later at night (her best time of day), in her pajamas, wrapped in Bucky (her special blanket/BFF) with a Ninja-Turtle mask on, if she wants.

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Here are our mid-way impressions:


  •  The videos are very entertaining.  There’s an appropriate amount of humor targeted to her age.
  •  The videos contain suggested times to pause and carry out coding tasks.  These are generally well placed – not too short or long a time between pauses.
  •  Molly has enjoyed the selected modding tasks.  They are small and thus, simple to do.
  •  The difficulty of the tasks seems appropriate so far.  The structure is well thought out, with each lesson building on the previous.

In sum, Mod Design 1 is a very practical, task-based, learning activity. It’s building Molly’s practical computer science skills, like being careful with typing and syntax (computers have no mercy for typos), cutting and pasting, window/graphical user interface management, mouse skills, etc. She is also becoming comfortable with basic coding concepts like using named variables and objects to define how things work.  She’s learning how to be creative, while also being careful with her coding.


  • The quizzes are occasionally too GIMP and keyboard-shortcut centric.
  • The templates have contained two coding errors so far.  These were straightforward to fix with adult help, but were frustrating for Molly alone.  She really doesn’t like to ask for help!  Back on the PRO side, though, Youth Digital offers excellent customer support.
  • The fact that Molly is already eying up App Design 1 and Game Design 1, reminds me that Youth Digital courses are, although worth it in our opinion, pricey.


So far, as billed, this is a “show me how, then I do it” class with little “20,000 foot view” discussion.  We like that.  It is actually teaching Molly Java.  If theoretical discussion of computer science fundamentals is what you’re looking for, another course might be better.  For learning the Java basics in a fun but structured way, this course is the way to go.

Wondering if this is an advertisement?  It is not.

I have not been compensated for this review.  As I mentioned in my first post about Mod Design 1, I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog.  They haven’t asked for any additional reviews, nor did they have any control over either review.  I just think this has been a great find and want to share it with you.

Fall 2014 Curriculum Ideas for the Overwhelmed Homeschooler – Part 1 Math

I received this e-mail recently:

I wanted to ask you what core curriculum you are using for Molly this year for 3rd grade specifically for Math and ELA. Also, my other child will be starting a bit of Preschool-Kindergarten work. Any recommendations for that age level for learning letters, number etc.? There is SO much out there for, which is a great thing. I am finding it overwhelming at this point, though, to narrow it down. Your recommendations in the past were great. Thanks for your continued help and support.

-Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed

I haven’t written about our daily schedule or curriculum since this glimpse of our homeschooling days well over a year ago. This has been, in part, because, although we do use workbooks, I feel that relying on them too much gives up a major advantage of homeschooling – flexibility.  I also don’t trust completion (or lack of completion) of a certain level of a curriculum as the last word on competency.  Because I’m there, every day, working together with them, both strengths and weaknesses are easier to detect.  We use one standardized test a year to double check, but don’t use our school’s (multiple) annual standardized tests.  I don’t think having the kids jump through too many curriculum hoops is useful.

Maybe, if I hadn’t spent +/- 20 years in school myself, and if I were braver, I wouldn’t make my kids do workbooks at all.  Alas, I’m just not ready to give up my reliance on a curriculum.

As August is a great time to get organized, even for homeschoolers, I thought I’d share my response with you, in case you find it helpful too.

Here is Part 1 of my response, which covers Math.


Whatdaya mean another chapter of Singapore math!?!?

Hey, Overwhelmed!  Thanks for writing.  I can feel your pain.  Besides sugar, my main vice right now is that I buy too many books!  I cannot help it.  Homeschooling, as a market, has exploded and all the information and resources are daunting, especially as a lot of advertising plays on parents’ fears of “missing something”.  It can be very hard to parse out what matters!

If I could offer a word of advice before I tell you what we use, it would be to stick with whatever you pick for at least 3 months.  It will take you time to get comfortable with the resource.  Give yourself and your kids a chance.  I hear a lot from parents who change books because they have a bad day or week.  Trust me.  No matter how awesome your homeschooling life is, we all have bad days and bad weeks.  Talk to me in February and I’ll tell you that some of us even have bad months!

Molly is technically in 3rd grade and Joseph in 1st, but their workbooks vary by grade level.  Most of these books go in order so, if you are not starting at the beginning, you may need to try more than one until you find the right fit for your child.


1.  After trying several other curricula like Everyday Math, which our school uses, we committed to Singapore Math (Standards Edition) two years ago.  We chose them because, in our opinion, they balance critical thinking with rote memorization of concepts very well.  The books have great visuals and offer lots of games and activities to help reinforce the lessons, so they have worked for Molly, who likes to read the book, as well as Joseph, who likes to see the math come to life with items he can touch. Plus, the company offers great customer support.

We buy our books directly from Singapore Math.  You can find placement tests here.  I usually buy the textbook and workbook, and the Home Instructor’s Guide.  The textbook and workbook are repetitive so Molly uses one or the other, but not both.  And I save the other for Joseph, which does save us money.   I have no desire to follow the Common Core but if you do, I just noticed they sell a Common Core aligned edition as well.

One of our main goals for the kids is for them to be self-motivated learners.  Although I remind Molly and Joseph that it is time to “work”, I usually let them decide how many pages to do.  This lets them set their own goals, which they always meet or exceed.  They usually set higher goals for themselves than I would.  We usually do Singapore Math 2-3 times per week, depending on what else is going on.

2.  We also use Daily Math Practice from Evan-Moor.  This reinforces what they are doing in Singapore Math, although I use it more to build discipline because I expect them to do the book 5 days a week.  Each day only has 5 questions so it only takes a few minutes.

As you know, not every kid learns the same way and even the same kid needs to look at something in different ways to really understand it.  So, in addition to workbooks we use the following:


Some of our favorite Apps are:  Sushi Monster, Hungry Fish, Mathmateer, Creature Math, Yahtzee. Factor Samurai, Dragonbox Algebra 5+, Dragonbox Algebra 12+, Math vs. Zombies, Counting Money, Pizza Fractions  and BrainPop.  Molly had a hard time sitting and memorizing her multiplication tables.  She finally did it with the Multiplication + app.


Some of our favorite games are: War with a plain old deck of cards, Sum Swamp, Math Dice, Pizza Fraction Fun, Rush Hour, Hoppers, and Chess.  We also play often with a cash register.  All three of my kids love it!


Some books we’ve read and enjoyed about math include The Grapes of Math, Math for All Seasons, and Sir Cumference and The First Round Table.


Donald in Mathmagic Land, LeapFrog Math Circus, and more recently The Story of Math, are our favorites.  We also watch a lot of Ted-ed, including most of these.  Although we mostly just watch videos of our choosing, you can find a whole curriculum through Khan Academy here.


The kids take piano lessons.  Not only does music sound good because of its mathematical patterns, but there’s evidence that music lessons may boost IQ and grades.   There is no question that playing an instrument benefits your brain.  And I love to hear them play!


Here are some other ways to add math to your world:

  • For fun Molly really loves books like Art Fraud Detective: Spot the Difference, Solve the Crime!Detective Club and Orbiting with Logic.  They are not just for math, but as deductive reasoning is so important to math, I am putting them here.  If you ask me, what they teach – – logical thinking – – is more important than any single subject you can buy a book for today.
  • Sign up for Bedtime Math.  If you do, you’ll get a prompt delivered to your inbox every day with a math problem you can do with the kids at the table, in the car, or on a walk to get ice cream!  Find more information here.
  • Baking!  It is one of my favorites ways to teach math.  It is 100% how my kids learned fractions (so far).
  • Fields Trips.  Remember to get on mailing lists for museums, performances, lectures, homeschool enrichment programs, and anything else your community might have to offer.  Join Facebook groups in your area or nationally.  I belong to groups where I live, where I don’t live, and several states in between!  I always “Like” educational institutions because they share a lot of great information.  Because I don’t really have a homeschool community where we live, I find these groups invaluable!
  • Let your kids start paying for things themselves.  Having to do mental math while someone watched her was both exciting and a big challenge for Molly.


I really could go on and on, especially because this post only covers about 1/10 of all the places my kids learn math.  I hope it helps, though.  And to help you realize that there is no one correct way to do it.

Remember, one of the great benefits of homeschooling is the relationship you have with your kids.  No education is perfect, no matter where your child gets it.  So, forget trying to “do it all” and enjoy today!


Molly, When I Think of 7…

I STILL laugh at the ridiculous dancing green bean, all elbows and knees and giggles, bopping across the floor after bath – – even though you don’t do it so often anymore.

I run the headcount with you before bed:  Bucky, Snookums, Mr. and Mrs. Chucklebottom, Bob, BlackLack, Sophie, Striped Bucky, Rudy, mini-Rudy…

I catch you on the couch.  In my bed.  At the table.  On the floor.  Walking across the lawn.  In the little nook you set up at Nana and Pop’s house.  Reading.  Always reading.

I am amazed that you figured out how to change the color of your Minecraft sword to the perfect hues of Pink and Orange Bucky.

I kind of get a tickle in my throat as I watch you march up to the children’s librarian with your notebook of ideas,  to ask whether you can start a book club this Fall.

I breathe deep watching you sing “Happy Birthday” to JohnJohn, even though it’s actually your birthday and your cake.  I know you wish for magic powers, but, you know, you already have them.

I run all those 5Ks with you all  over again, chatting about this and that, repeating “I am awesome.  I am awesome.  I am awesome.”

I hear Joseph’s laughter pealing throughout the house as you crack him up with “A Kooka Maraca Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Nana, A Kooka Maraca Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Nana…”

I trip over the power cords to one of your cousin’s laptops as I pass your Minecraft huddle.

I try to revel in your independence and be grateful for it instead of missing you,  as you march away from me to go to camp, without even a backward glance.

You are a joy, so poised and competent and interested in everything.

I love to watch you in the world.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Molly McGurkles!


Molly Running


The Saddest Moth Fact You’ll Learn Today


We peeped the antennae of these spectacular little creatures at the edge of our window today and then spent the next hour watching and photographing them.  We had no idea what kind of moths they were at first.

The green one, who is actually about 4-5 inches wide (wider than Joseph’s hand!) is a Luna moth.  We think the one on the right is an Agreeable Tiger Moth. 

Sadly, Luna moths don’t have mouths because they NEVER eat.  They only live long enough to mate.

4 Summer Reading Programs to Prevent “Summer Slide” or Just for Fun

Do you worry about summer slide? According to Reading is Fundamental, “children who do not read over the summer will lose more than two months of reading achievement. Summer reading loss is cumulative. By the end of 6th grade children who lose reading skills over the summer will be 2 years behind their classmates.

We homeschool year-round because we don’t separate “learning” much from our daily life anymore, so we don’t worry about summer slide.  We do, however, change up our schedule about every 6  weeks or so.  Starting now, here are four summer reading challenges we plan to participate in.  The kids love charting their progress and “winning” prizes.  Join us!


Joseph, back when he couldn’t read, just listening.

1.  Read any 8 books, record them in a journal you print from their website, bring the journal to a Barnes and Noble store between May 20th and September 2nd, and Barnes and Noble will give you a free book.  Find more information here.

2.  For TD Bank members, they’ll will give K-5th graders $10 if you complete their  form (which you can get here), list 10 books your read, and bring it to a local TD Bank by August 31st.

3.  Kids who read any 8 books from the Pottery Barn Kids recommended list by July 31st will receive a free book at participating retail stores.  Our absolute favorite from their recommendations is What Sisters Do Best/What Brothers Do Best by Laura Numeroff and Lynn Munsinger, which is going for about 1 penny, used, right now on Amazon.  One penny!  We got it when JohnJohn was born and I find us coming back to it over and over because the kids just love flipping it around to read it forward and backward!

4.  Scholastic is trying to set a new world record for summer reading minutes.  Help them by reading and logging minutes between now and September 5th here.  You can win books and other prizes as you go.  Register here.


On Running and my Beautiful Daughter

You may remember from some older posts that I am involved in a running challenge this year.  I am running 40K of races for my 4oth year and blogging about it with some friends at Girls Gone 40.

This week it was my turn to write about “why I run”.  I was so touched by the response to the piece.  After hearing from some other parents, I realized that the post belongs here too.  It is as much about being a Mom as it is about being a runner.

Happy Mother’s Day, all!


Why I Run

The first time I went for a run just to run, my father was dying of cancer.

Dad had been given 6 months to live and so in those hot, wet, summer months when I lived with him for weeks at a time, I took up running.

Running was simple. I didn’t think about it or plan for it. I had no goal. I certainly didn’t blog about it. I just laced up my sneakers one day, went out into the neighborhood and ran the streets, trying to catch my breath.

I didn’t do anything right. I stared at my feet. I clenched my fists. I held my arms tight up against my body. I didn’t even wear a sports bra on those early runs (I’m sorry, boobies).

But, I did it. I remember thinking, as my lungs burned and my feet ached, “I’m running because I can”.  My Dad couldn’t, that’s for sure.  I didn’t know what a mantra was but I repeated that mile after mile.

And I thought “Shit. This hurts.” Sometimes I cried through entire runs shedding grief and frustration. Those runs gave me big freedom and big choice, even if the choice was choosing pain that I could control.

After my Dad died, I grieved him by training for the Philadelphia Marathon. I needed something to look forward to and I needed time to think.   Why not?

During the marathon, at mile 16, I broke my foot (a stress fracture), but I finished.

I tried to run a half marathon about a year later but my foot still wasn’t right and I re-fractured it (but finished, again).  I fractured my foot a third time and realized I should maybe take a break from running.

Then I had kids. For the past 7+ years, I have been too exhausted and too afraid to run. I have gotten soft. And round.




When Rachel suggested running 40K for her 40th year, I jumped on it because I irrationally thought that if I could get over the hump of starting, I’d be the runnergirl I was in my twenties again. I’d run because I could. I wouldn’t have to think about it. I would just do it. We’d do it together. And we’d turn my fear into fun, one race and one margarita at a time. Though never long and lean, in my mind, GirlsGone40 would give me the body and the endorphins of “runnergirl”, with the race bibs to prove it.

That’s a lot to put on running. I know. First I used her to comfort me in the worst loss of my life so far, and now I expect her to help me find my way back to a place I haven’t been in almost a decade!

When I started running again in October (and calorie counting, and trying to change other habits), instead of thinking “I’m running because I can”, I thought “I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean!” All I could think about was how I was going to “crush the miles” and get smaller.

Over and over, for the first 4 months of this challenge, even when I wasn’t exercising, it was all I could think about. That mantra, instead of motivating me on the treadmill, became a harsh trill in my ears the rest of the time, reminding me how I was failing because I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t getting even one size smaller.

Instead of lifting me up, my relationship with running became complicated. I mostly just felt bad about myself. And really embarrassed that at 39 I care so much about being “thin”.  I’m usually judging the fattists out there for being so judgmental. When did I switch teams?

Rachel was having a hard time getting motivated too and so I thought about letting the blog and the challenge go. In my mind, I had no good reason to run. Weight obsession is a small, small world. And I wanted to get back to my big, rich life. It was still pretty painful getting back into shape and the mental baggage was messing with my head.

Then Molly, my 7-year-old daughter, one day, asked to run the rest of my races with me, telling me her “goal was to run 20K before she turned 8”. How could I say no to that?

Molly doesn’t care about weight loss. She doesn’t care about being “fit.” She has no desire to change habits. Luckily, she has no losses to grieve. She does not care how long it takes her to run a mile or if she walks when she needs a break.

Molly runs for one reason: She just wants to be with me.

We’ve run three races together so far, a 5K, a 5-miler, and 4-miler.  Mother’s Day will be our fourth race.

When we are out there together on the course, or running laps around my house, Molly laughs. Sometimes she skips.  Or hops.  Or leaps.  And she chats about her dreams from last night. She imagines us winning our next race. She designs t-shirts to go with our matching running skirts. She plans entire meals to eat when we are finished. She chants quietly “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Sometimes she switches it to “I am awesome. I am awesome. I awesome.”  In our last race two women overheard her and joined in.

Molly’s made running simple for me again.  It’s not about the miles.  Or the minutes.  Or the calories.  Or being fit.   Or whatever ridiculous expectations I started GG40 with.  I run because I can.


#1 Running Partner

Behold: the two absolutely worst arguments against homeschooling

That’s not my title.  And it’s not really my post.  It is Matt Walsh’s. I am re-blogging it because he wrote it way better than I ever could.

In his post Mr. Walsh responds to one of his readers on whether we should keep our kids in public school in order to help “the system” and whether 2) homeschooled kids aren’t properly socialized.

Not only are they two of the worst arguments against homeschooling, they are the two I hear the most.  I don’t agree with him on everything, but I laughed out loud when he wrote “I give you this: with the exception of about 14 thousand other times, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this argument.”  It’s true!

Check it out here :  Behold: the two absolutely worst arguments against homeschooling.

An Afternoon in Manhattan


This gallery contains 11 photos.

  Joe had off last week and we decided to take a last minute trip to New York City.  Freedom to travel is one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling. After visiting family, we spent an afternoon in Manhattan.  I’ve … Continue reading