Author Archives: Sallie

Online Learning Activities for Kids

Online Learning Activities for Kids

Online Learning Activities for Kids

With a learner who prefers video and learning online to just about anything else, I’m always on the lookout for new sites she can explore. Here’s a list of online learning activities for kids.

NOAA Discover Your World Activity Book

NOAA (North Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a free downloadable Discover Your World Activity Book for children.


It is full of hands-on activities related to science topics such as the earth, weather and climate. These would be especially good for upper elementary and middle school students.

Check it out here: NOAA Discover Your World Activity Book.

The University of Illinois Science Activities for Kids

The University of Illinois has a lot of science and weather related activities for kids.

Schools Online is their base site with links to many different topics. For example, Tree House Weather Kids has a variety of activities that help children explore various types of weather.

The have all kinds of audio books for younger children as well that cover topics such as insects, volcanoes, where food comes from, trees, the woods, etc.

BBC Science Clips

Caroline explored the BBC Science Clips site for a long time when I first showed it to her. Many of the science concepts were ones we hadn’t explored yet in a formal fashion so this was a fun way for her to begin to hear the associated vocabulary and see them in action.

The site is broken down into age appropriate sections although naturally curious kids will probably explore all over!

A bald eagle, a fox and a cat together on a porch in Alaska

Some things just defy explanation…

Library of Congress For Kids and Families

The Library of Congress has a wonderful section online called For Kids and Families.  There is lots there to explore for all ages.

There is also a section for Teachers which homeschooling parents would also find interesting. It also includes classroom materials on a variety of topics.

Around the Mall Blog (and more) from The Smithsonian

As one might expect, The Smithsonian has an excellent website.  Included in this is their always interesting Around the Mall Blog. From there you can go in dozens of different directions including educational videos, games, and the photo of the day.

Highlights for Kids Website

Caroline hasn’t started reading Highlights.  She had a subscription to High Five for about six years.  My parents bought her subscription each year and let me tell you… Those magazines are WELL LOVED.  LOL! They have been read and re-read and read again.

Highlights for Kids also has a website with lots of interesting content.

Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz from The Smithsonian

Here’s a fun quiz for your older students or for the parents.  The Pew Research Center and The Smithsonian created this quiz to test the knowledge of the public on science topics.

It includes topics that are both textbook-type questions as well as science questions related to daily living.

Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz

Esther Bible Study from Grapevine Studies

Esther Bible Study from GrapeVine Studies

Esther Bible Study from Grapevine Studies

Caroline and I are starting a new Grapevine Studies Bible study. I decided to do Esther with her since I thought the adventurous storyline would appeal to her. Esther is a strong woman and her story provides lots of opportunity for meaningful discussions about culture, faith, obedience and what it means to be a woman used by God.

The Appeal of GrapeVine Studies

GrapeVine Studies appeal to Caroline and me for a few reasons. (See also my previous review of Grapevine’s New Testament overview.) For me, they are easy to prepare and even I can do stick figures! LOL! Caroline enjoys them because they are creative, don’t require a lot of writing, and are content rich without being overly academic. They feel more like natural learning than an overly academic, school-ish approach to the Bible. This fits much better with her learning style.

How We Use GrapeVine Studies

We find it works best if I draw on the whiteboard and Caroline works in her own three ring binder. Seriously. I am not an artist at all (as you can see below). But it works well for us.

Esther characters on white board

One thing I’ve struggled with is how much to let Caroline embellish beyond the stick figures. They usually aren’t quite enough for her creative mind. I’ve tried to reach the compromise of letting her add things that are true to the story and will help her remember more. (Isn’t that one of the points of studying the Bible, after all?). But I suggested we probably shouldn’t add fairies and such since they don’t fit the story. Angels when they appear? Yes. Unicorns? No. LOL!

Free Sample Lessons

If you’ve never used GrapeVine Studies before, you can go to their Sample Lessons page where you will find a number of different studies to try, including one from the Esther studies.

Giveaway and Sale

Over the next few days, you can enter to win an Esther study! I’m giving away a Teacher and Student ebook to one person. And, if you don’t win, the biggest sale of the year at GrapeVine Studies starts on Friday! It will be for 40% off all student books and student ebooks.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

101 Things That Make Me Happy

101 Things That Make Me Happy

101 Things That Make Me Happy


Reading a book by the fire

Snow falling

The first day of the NCAA Basketball Tournament

Caroline’s belly laugh

Being married to my best friend

Playing favorite hymns on the piano

Autumn leaves

Rose-breasted grosbeaks at our feeders

Drives in the country

Black patent leather

Beaumont Tower




Vermont in autumn

Cozy candles

Peaceful Christmas music

Polka dots

Hugs from Caroline

Buzzer beaters on my birthday

My NIV Study Bible with decades worth of notes

Stones of remembrance

Watching robins in the birdbath

Loving parents

Miss Suzy

Marching band drum lines

Listening to Caroline and David playing

The wit of Downton Abbey

Picture books

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon

Pine cones


A good night’s sleep

New notebooks

A forest floor full of white trillium

Plaid skirts

Little Giants


Seeing people use my Little Free Library

Satisfied customers

You’ve Got Mail

The smell of new books


a capella

More a capella

And more a capella

A male cardinal feeding a female cardinal

The Enchanted Cottage

Traverse City


The Brandenburg Concertos

A smooth pen

Holly berries and greenery


Miracle finishes against rivals

Christmas lights

Snow days


Cozy bookstores

Black and white houndstooth

The Windmill




The Dowager Countess’ wit

Ticonderoga pencils

Harvest moon rising

The Look

Hand-written letters

Kindred spirits

Crescent moons


Mr. Knightley

More Mr. Knightley

Candles in the window

Comfy sweaters

Grace Livingston Hill favorites

Monarch of the Glen


Deer in the backyard

Once in Royal David’s City

Being a mommy

Dark-eyed juncos

Excellent dramas


Constable Benton Fraser

Johnny jump ups

The Drive

Constant friends


This never ever gets old LOL!

Using my strawberry planner

Caroline’s quick wit

The Little House Books

Thoughtful comments on my site

Christmas lights in the snow

Michigan State Fight Song

The Milky Way

Phoebe singing with the bagpipes

Yellow roses


The Rise of Video Ads (and Why I Removed Them from My Site)

The Rise of Video Ads (and why I removed them from my site)

The Rise of Video Ads (and Why I Removed Them from My Site)Before I begin, I want to make one thing clear.

I have no problem with people making money on their blog or website and I am all for people working successfully at home.

But I abhor video ads on websites. I especially abhor the ones that play audio as soon as they start. It drives me nuts when my entire browser freezes up because multiple video ads are launching in a sidebar all at once.

Which means lately I have abhorred even visiting my own site. There were days I literally had to relaunch my browser WHEN VISITING MY OWN SITE because three video ads were all loading at the same time in the sidebar. The same thing would happen to David if he went to my website. We aren’t supposed to get video ads with the ad network I’m a part of, but they slip through and it seems to be happening more frequently.

Last week I was so fed up I yanked them all out of the sidebar and said enough.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been interacting with a lot of different people about the issue of advertising on websites and blogs. It’s been interesting and I decided to synthesize some of those discussions into a post.

Why join an ad network?

I joined an ad network last summer because this website is a business. Some people view their website/blog as a ministry. Some do it for fun. Some do it for a creative outlet. Mine is all of those, but it is a business. If you aren’t familiar with my situation, my husband and I have been self-employed since 2001. He is a graphic designer and web designer. In addition to this site, I write and edit for business clients and also create learning products.

So this isn’t something I do just for fun. It keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table.

I’ve dabbled with advertising off and on since I started blogging in 2005, but never went all-in. I decided to go all in last summer as a way to bring in a more passive form of income. But one thing was clear and I expressed this. I DID NOT want video ads. They slow down your site load time, they are annoying when they play sound, and I know people don’t like them.

However, they are slowly slipping in more and more even though most people who read websites and blogs complain about them. I’ve seen the discussions all over and I have yet to see anyone say they like video ads on sites. They are almost universally disliked.

At the same time, I’ve been told by people in the ad industry that advertisers love them and that we should expect to see more and more of them in the days ahead. It is becoming virtually impossible to opt out if you use an ad service.

Who is the priority?

If you want an interesting read that looks at the various issues surrounding digital marketing, check out 10 digital marketing trends to watch in 2016 and beyond. When I shared it with someone in the ad industry, I pointed out numbers 9 and 10. He pointed out number 4. Obviously there is no consensus on what to do among the professionals in the industry.

But consider that there are three entities at play here – the advertiser, the website owner and the reader.

The ad company is going to prioritize it like this:

  • Advertiser
  • Website owner
  • Reader

They need to keep the advertiser happy above all else because that is how the ad company pays their bills. Yes, they need the website owners as well, but not like they need the advertiser. It all flows from the advertiser.

As a website owner, I prioritize it like this:

  • Reader
  • Website owner
  • Advertiser

Without readers, I’m not a website owner so readers come first. I do put myself above the advertiser in the sense that I have to remain true to my own convictions and what I believe I need to offer my readers.

It’s going to be very difficult to find common ground with those two lists. If advertisers love video ads, then they are going to want video ads and will expect the ad networks to make it happen.

Website owners are going to have to decide where their loyalty lies – with their readers or the advertisers.

The appeal of advertising dollars is real and I’m not condemning anyone who chooses to run video ads on their site. We each have to make decisions. If someone needs to run video ads to feed their children, then I’m not going to fault them for doing so.

But people have made it clear by the extensive use of AdBlocker that they do not want to be constantly bombarded with ads.

And what do you risk losing if you continue to irritate your readers?

In my case, I have other avenues I can focus on that benefit my readers and don’t leave them pulling their hair out.

Positive Advertising

I’ve not completely abandoned the idea of ads. I still have a few small, non-video ads on my site, but who knows. They may be gone soon as well. It may not be worth keeping them active.

My long-term goal is to sell ad space to companies who match my readers well. I have no problem connecting companies and readers if I believe in what the company is selling. But time will tell.


If you’ve put up with the video ads the past few months and are still here – THANK YOU!!! I have no idea how many people were driven away from my site by ads that wouldn’t let them navigate. I am genuinely grateful you didn’t dump me and move on while I sorted out this issue for myself.

What are your thoughts about advertising on websites and blogs? Do you use AdBlocker? Do you immediately leave sites with video ads? Are you a blogger or website owner struggling with this issue? Please let me know what you think in the comments!

The Loneliness of Homeschooling a Gifted Child

The Loneliness of Homeschooling a Gifted Child

The Loneliness of Homeschooling a Gifted Child

Sometimes things seem so obvious in retrospect. The loneliness of homeschooling a gifted child is one of those truths that somehow fully escaped me until recently. I realized it feels a bit like I’m going down a never-ending rabbit hole of moving further and further out of the norm in terms of our homeschooling. And the further you move away from the mainstream, the lonelier it becomes.

This post is part of the Gifted Homeschool Forum’s blog hop entitled Educating Gifted Children: The Many Ways We Approach Their Learning. I always kind of dread these blog hops because I never know what to say. I struggle to have a firm grasp of what our educational reality is anyway, but to try to articulate it to others? Most of the time I don’t even know where to start. And it’s not just with mainstream parents in public schools, but with other homeschoolers and even with other homeschoolers with gifted children.

I guess I would call our homeschool approach:

Carefully Making Educated Guesses Choices with Limited Information While Flying By the Seat of Our Pants and Asking God Regularly to Not Let Us Screw Up Our Daughter’s Life.

I drew it out like this and David made it look nice. (Click on image to enlarge.)

The Loneliness of Homeschooling a Gifted Child Diagram

The big red circle is everyone who is parenting. The green circle are the parents who decide to homeschool their children for whatever reason. The blue circle are those who are homeschooling a gifted child. Then comes the orange circle of those who are homeschooling a 2e gifted child (gifted with one or more learning challenges). Last is the black dot for those of us homeschooling a 2e gifted child who is an imaginative visual-spatial learner.

Each choice or reality moves us further and further out of the mainstream. Making the choice to homeschool moves you out of the mainstream. But we don’t fit in the mainstream of homeschoolers since we have a gifted child. But we don’t fit in to the mainstream of gifted homeschooled kids because we have a 2e child. And then we really don’t fit into the more traditional gifted paradigm because our child isn’t into math and science and reading like so many of them are.  So often when I see discussions online about the educational needs of gifted children, I don’t relate at all. Gifted homeschoolers is my big tribe and I’m very thankful for them, but I still feel on the fringe because our reality is so different.

Trying to find other homeschooling parents who relate to the realities and struggles of homeschooling a 2e child who is imaginative and creative and a visual-spatial learner?

Hello? Is anyone there?

I love learning from people who have gone before me and it’s nearly impossible to find people who have walked this road. I’m guessing because most of them felt like they didn’t know what to say either and so they said nothing.

If I wanted to find information about advanced robotics classes or gifted poetry writers or middle school students who want to take AP level physics classes? That’s out there. Summer camps for brilliant math students and science competitions for future biophysicists? Got them. Children who read Harry Potter at age seven and have finished all the high school classics by middle school? Lots of discussions about those. But none of those remotely touch on our reality.

To be sure, each parent represented in those examples faces his/her own set of struggles when it comes to homeschooling a gifted child. But information is available out there for them to find. There are resources, camps and online courses.

So why am I writing this post?

I’m writing it for the mom (or dad) who is scouring the internet at one in the morning, trying to figure out what to do to help their child who is a wonderful, intelligent little person but defies classification in any real way.

I’m writing it so she/he doesn’t feel alone when nobody really seems to “get” the reality they face. Their homeschooling friends with neuro-typical kids who successfully and happily use boxed curriculum don’t understand. Their friends with high-achieving children in a traditional school setting don’t get it. Their fellow gifted homeschoolers will relate to some of it, but they won’t fully relate to it either (and they have their own sets of issues they face as well).

I don’t have any big answers to share right now. We’re still in process here. Check back in another ten to fifteen years and I can give you pointers. I’ll be able to reflect on what we did well and what we totally screwed up. I’ll be able to tell you that by God’s grace it all worked out even though in the midst of it it felt like we had NO IDEA what we were doing.

But what I can tell you right now is that it’s an amazing experience to parent one of these unique little people. I know all children are special to their parents, but when you get one that’s wired so out of the norm? It’s a privilege to watch it all close up and in person.

GHB Blog Hop

Self-paced Online Math with Redbird Mathematics

Self-paced Online Math with Redbird Mathematics

Self-paced Online Math with Redbird Mathematics

We have a strange relationship with math in our home. Caroline and David are both visual-spatial learners so their approach to math is from whole to part instead of part to whole. I took a lot of upper level math (and science) in high school, but only because I was college prep and did what I had to do. I got all A’s, but I worked hard for them. Math did not come easily to me and was a necessary evil in many ways. So while I don’t have math phobia, I could take it or leave it. David and Caroline are fantastic in dealing with spatial concepts, but Caroline is not a fan of math in the traditional sense at all.

So math has been a bit of a thing for us as homeschoolers.

When I had the opportunity to review Redbird Mathematics from, I jumped at the chance. I liked what I read about it and I am SO trying to find the silver bullet for our homeschooling math needs. Caroline is in fourth grade and I still have not found it.

So I received a three month subscription for free and I am being compensated for my time to write this review. These are my honest opinions and I was not required to write a positive review.

What is Redbird Mathematics?

The goal of Redbird Mathematics: Advanced Edition Grades K7th is:

To help students of all abilities become advanced learners. We
believe the term gifted should be the destination and not a labeled starting point.
Our courses, originally developed through Stanford University’s Education
Program for Gifted Youth, have proven to increase learning, acceleration, and
academic confidence for students of all abilities.

I’m going to choose to not quibble over their definition of giftedness (which I take issue with in their goal statement). However, the important point is that their goal is not just to serve gifted kids with this program, but increase the math achievement for students of all abilities. So even if you don’t have a gifted/2e child, Redbird Mathematics might be an answer for your family!

Redbird Mathematics is a self-paced, adaptive online course. It provides practice and learning opportunities according to how the student has performed on previous tasks. So the course is constantly making adjustments and tweaking what your child does in order to give him/her the math experience that will be most beneficial.

Redbird Mathematics Online Math Course

Our Experience with Redbird Mathematics Online Course

So what was our experience when we jumped in?

In a word?


(Insert sad mom face here.)

Caroline found the program overwhelming. There was too much on the screen, too much going on at once, and too much to process.

(And, yes, I was majorly bummed that this was the case.)

I’ve written before that I discovered the best way to do math with Caroline is one problem at a time on the white board or a small selection of problems on a non-busy worksheet. Otherwise it is too much coming at her at once. However, since she loves playing all kinds of things on the computer (Minecraft, Animal Jam, etc.), I was hoping Redbird Mathematics would work well for her (and me).

Alas, it was not to be.

It was, quite honestly, a total no-go for our family.

Redbird Mathematics Online Math Course

So which homeschoolers will gain the most from Redbird Online Math?

Even though Redbird Mathematics was not a good fit for our family, I know that other kids in our group of reviewers ate it up. Some parents said they could hardly get their kids off the computer. Other kids loved the interactive, real-life aspects of it. Some moms were thrilled to find something that kept their math fanatic busy and happy while being challenged in new ways.

So it is a fantastic program for the right kid and the right family.

So who would love it?

Kids who love math. If you have a math kid that you struggle to keep up with, this could be the answer for you. You know that kid. That math lover who does a year’s worth of math in 6-8 weeks? That one would probably love it.

Kids who love real-life problem solving activities and want to do it on the computer. The curriculum offers lots of opportunities for applying math to real-life situations. If this is your child, you’ll want to check it out.

Kids who want to work independently. Be aware that it is a challenging math program. It’s not the traditional “have fun while messing around on the computer and pick up some math along the way” type website. There is a rigor to it and you’ll need to have a child who likes that sort of thing.

Redbird Math Discount Code

If you are ready to try Redbird Mathematics, I have good news! You can receive a discount as part of this review.

You will receive 10% off with promo code LEARNMATH. This code expires on 2/1/2016 and you will need to use the code at checkout during enrollment process.

If you are interested in learning more about Redbird Mathematics and following them on social media, they are everywhere! You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and YouTube. They also offer a newsletter at the bottom of the page at Redbird Mathematics.

Redbird Math Giveaway

You can also enter a giveaway to win a 3 month subscription! Ten winners will receive a three month subscription to’s K7 Redbird Mathematics: Advanced
Edition. This is a $60 value and is open to anyone in the world since it is an online product. The giveaway ends January 28, 2016

Sallie's Miscellany Links for Better Living and Learning

Sallie’s Miscellany (January 13)

Sallie's Miscellany Links for Better Living and Learning


Good Reads

Minecraft for Moms from Medium – I was one of those very skeptical moms when it came to the value of Minecraft. I’m not any longer.

How to Start Homeschooling in the Middle of the Year from home|school|life – If you are thinking of making the jump, here are some suggestions to get you started.

High Chance that 2 Rooms are Hidden Behind King Tut’s Tomb from NPR – Could be an amazing discovery!

Instant Pot

Have you tried one of these yet? They are getting rave reviews! I received one for Christmas from my parents and plan on using it for the first time tomorrow. (I’ve been putting in long hours working since Christmas!)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker

Winter Word Search Puzzles

Winter Word Search Puzzles are a great item to keep on hand for your learners! Lots of fun holidays and topics for the next several weeks!

Winter Word Search Puzzles

Polar Animals True or False

Polar Animals Activity

Polar Animals True or False

Polar animals are fascinating creatures! Whether it is polar bears, penguins, or the arctic fox, each one is an interesting part of the world. This polar animals activity is a great way to review facts about polar animals.

There are ten statements and your students will sort them into two piles – True and False. I purposely made a few of them tricky so students have to read carefully and not fly by the words too quickly!

Polar Animals True or False

This would be great paired with my Polar Animals Lapbook or any of the other polar, penguin and arctic activities I have in my shop!

Click here to download your free copy of this polar animals activity: Polar Animals True or False?

And don’t miss all of the other great polar animals themed projects featured today in our Early Elementary Blogging Group!

(Links go live by Thursday morning!)

More Polar Animal Ideas from the Early Elementary Team:

Penguin Addition to 100 with Hundreds Chart from Life Over C’s

Polar Animals Facts Game from In the Playroom

How Do Penguins Stay Dry? from Raising Little Superheroes

Polar Bear Food Chains from Rainy Day Mum

Polar Bear Place Value Math Games from Sugar Aunts

Polar Bear Footprint Multiplication from Still Playing School

Arctic Animals Sight Words Game from 123 Homeschool 4 Me

Polar Animals True or False? from Sallie Borrink – Living and Learning Outside the Box

Polar Animal Pattern Activity for First Grade from Look! We’re Learning!

Penguin Art Project from Preschool Powol Packets

Polar Animals Learning Activities