Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Tale of 3 10-bead Abacuses

     The abacus is a wonderful math tool.  After trying numerous math manipulatives in our homeschool (pennies, Cuisenaire Rods, plastic interlinking cubes, etc.) we settled on "beads on a wire (or string)" as our very favorite.

     There is something satisfying about pushing the beads along a string or wire -- and besides, with an abacus, all the little pieces stay in the abacus-- not ending up scattered on the floor, in a crawling baby's mouth, or finding their way to unusual locations all around the house.

     Although the abacus was originally a Chinese counting system that is a bit more complex than the ten rows of ten beads that we've used, the term "abacus" has been borrowed to describe the simpler type, also.

     We used a 100-bead abacus for kids in K-2nd grade.  And for preschoolers, we found that offering a 10-bead abacus was just right; they might know how to count much higher, but when adding and subtracting they were using just numbers up to 10.  And giving them a 10-bead abacus made doing their math activities so easy, successful, and enjoyable.

     There are many versions of the 100-bead abacus available in stores, but it can be difficult to find one that is only 10-beads.

     The first one we used was a homemade abacus, made with a metal coat hanger.

     We used this type for many years (with several of our preschoolers), and the kids loved it! It was a little bit tricky to make, but very sturdy and worked great.  This abacus has very large wooden beads (the type used by preschoolers for stringing).  Instructions for how to assemble a coat hanger abacus are given in Gentle Shepherd's Preschool Math: Number Tiles (also there are lots of different work pages in this ebook, to be printed out and used with "number tiles" for simple adding and subtracting).

     In a recent journey online, I came across a unique type of wooden abacus.  This one can be 10-bead, or 20-bead, or 30-bead, or . . .  up to 100-bead.  The individual 10 bead sections are stackable, so they can be used in any combination or individually.  This looks like a great option for a preschool, and/or early elementary abacus.  It is sold by

     For more info take a look at this blog post about it:

       And here is a third 10-bead idea.  This handmade abacus uses string instead of wire or wood, for the beads to slide on.  It is a sewn abacus, made using felt and string-- with the type of wooden beads used for macrame.  These felt and string abacuses can be found in my Etsy shop, Allthetimelearning.  One advantage to this soft abacus is that it can be folded or rolled up-- so it would be easy to travel with, tucked away in a bag or even in a purse.

       You may find ideas for other types of abacuses to make-- for example, using cereal loops on a string or building a very large version using rings from a baby's plastic stacking toy . . .  but no matter which version is used, the abacus is a learning tool that is very useful and helps kids learn math in one more way; besides thinking and seeing, they are also touching the beads.  Using the tactile sense is especially helpful for kinesthetic learners, but also can make doing math problems easier and more fun for any young learner.

       If you're looking for a joyful math experience for young children, give the 10-bead abacus a try!

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Here is a felt project I've been working on lately.  It is a dinosaur play set-- several kinds of dinosaurs, with a volcano and lava.

The lava is in loose pieces, so it can be arranged when playing . . .

Here are the individual dinosaurs -- a long-necked purple one

a bright green stegosaurus

a  flying pterodactl

and two blue tyrannosauruses

They are made with a double layer of felt-- so can be held and played with, as well as using on a felt board (or anywhere-- on a blanket, rug, tablecloth, etc.).

This is a set for kids who like playing with dinosaurs!

Here is my Etsy listing:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Picasso Project -- Fragmented Faces

This drawing project can be a great way to introduce the idea of cubism; we did it when also reading about Pablo Picasso and looking at some of his works.  The children's biography we especially liked using was Pablo Picasso, by Linda Lowery; it was a book at the library.

Here is what a finished picture looks like. This is an example I made, using felt pens and crayon.

We decided to not make self-portraits, or to draw each other, but just to make random face pictures.  This one doesn't have hair, but it can also be put in by making some sections around the head . . . 

Here are some students' finished pictures:

Making these complex pictures was pretty simple-- here are some instructions:

Start by using pencil-- make a large oval shape for the head.  Then, make a side, profile view line going down the front of the face.  Then draw in the lips.  Next, make eyes-- keep in mind that they don't have to be aligned exactly like normal eyes are, and one could be drawn from a side-view angle.

Then add ears, and a hair section, if wanted.  Now make two large curving lines right over the face.  Add in a couple of straight lines, breaking the face (and hair) up into more fragments.

If needed, erase any unwanted lines-- especially where extremely small fragments have formed; you want the fragmented parts to be fairly large.

Then go over all these lines with a black felt pen.

The next step, using colored felt pens, is to make some line designs, dots, etc. in some of the fragments, and to fill in others with solid color, always having different colors in adjoining fragments.

After all the felt pen coloring is completed, you can add in some fill with crayon; putting crayon in over the felt pen designs in some of the fragments will help create more warmth and richness in the finished picture.

Here is another example drawing made entirely with felt pen (no crayon); you can see that having high contrast areas (colored felt pen and white paper) throughout is less pleasing to look at.

Here are a some more finished student pictures:

This was a fun exploration of cubism; the kids (third graders) seemed to enjoy the freedom of making all kinds of colors and patterns, and the results were amazing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Counting Cards . . . for Re-Doable Counting Fun!

My older kids, in elementary grades, were doing math work pages and other written schoolwork.  My young 3 year old was just beginning to learn his numbers, and I was looking for a special activity in number recognition, for him.

Thinking it would be fun for him to place number tiles to match with pictures, I made up some pages with pictures of items in groups . . . and a blank square near each group, for placing a number tile.

And it worked!  This activity was one of my young kids' favorite ones. The picture pages were passed down through several children, and it gave them something special to do for school-- just for them-- and just like their older siblings, they were doing "math pages."

Because we had a variety of different pictures, a very young child could go through them, doing one each day, and then start over again in random order-- so these pages could be continuously used for quite a while.

Later on, I redrew the pictures (our originals were getting worn), and made a set of these full-color pages that can be printed out (onto card stock); it is called Counting Cards, and is available either by itself, or in a preschool math bundle (along with Preschool Math: Number Tiles).

Here are some examples of the picture pages; there are 15 different printable pages:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Watery Pointillism

I helped with a recent art project in my granddaughter's third grade class.  We were making "waterway" pictures, showing a stream or river (or waterfall) and scenery/background of some kind around the waterway.

We also learned about James Seurat, and the art technique known as "pointillism."  Using lots of little colored lots (pointillism) to make the water areas made them really stand out -- the rest of the picture was done in black line art.

Here are a couple of samples I made:

For making the dots, oil pastels worked very well; the colors were vibrant, and it was fairly easy to make small dots; but this same idea might also be done using color crayons.

Here are some of the many wonderful pictures the kids created --

This river was still in progress when the photo was taken . . .

and here is a waterfall . . .

and another waterfall --

I like all the animals, insects, and creatures of all kinds in this one, by my granddaughter:

Here is one more picture; in this one a stream is joining a river . . .

Pointillism worked out very well for making the watery parts of these art pieces.  Maybe we'll try out some partial pointillism pictures, for other things, too . . .  

Monday, February 16, 2015

World History Shorts -- a middle school history framework

When studying history, it's really helpful to use a "framework" or backbone type of resource-- some people choose a book series, such as Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World, or Joy Hakim's A History of US, for this.  They read aloud, or assign reading, in these books to provide a continuing, overall story, and supplement with historical fiction and other resources that greatly enhance and enrich the total learning experience.

While reading aloud is wonderful, and both of the series mentioned above are well-written and interesting for either group reading or individual silent reading, there are situations that may come up where a certain child needs to do his own history studies, at his own pace and level, and doing a lot of reading just does not fit into his/her learning style.

This has happened several times in our own family's homeschool journey, and we were thankful to have found a great resource that has world history broken down into short, easy-to-read vignettes, just to cover the main events in chronological order.

It is called, World History Shorts (volume 1 and volume 2), by Kristina M. Swann, and published by Pro-Ed/PCI Publishing.

Volume 1 covers ancient history (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Greece, Rome) and progresses on through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ending with Japan's culture in the 1600's.

Volume 2 begins with the Scientific Revolution and Age of Reason, and covers major wars and politics as well as the Industrial Revolution and other social/cultural changes over the time period of 1600's through the 21st century (ends with the concept of terrorism, with the Twin Towers attack).

What I liked about this resource is that not only does it provide a short reading selection (one page-- about 6 paragraphs) for each topic, but it also has copy masters for reviewing the material; each topic has one page with info to read, one page with multiple choice questions, one page with a crossword puzzle, one page with a map or chart activity, one page with suggestions for extension activities that use writing, and one page with a short quiz.  This turned out to be a "perfect" fit for older kids (middle school) who were wanting or needing to do much of their work independently.  They could get an overview of world history, supplemented by reading some historical fiction (also independently), with very minimal direction/help needed from me as a teacher (just giving the assignments and looking over their written work was all that was required).

I found that the review pages could be assigned in different ways, depending on the situation-- for some kids doing one topic per week was a good pace, others might cover the same material faster-- there are six pages per topic, but we usually did reading on one day, then combined some of the other pages on 2-3 other days.  Because all these pages were about the same topic, the student's attention was brought back to what they had read about on the first day, helping to retain the information.

I liked that this history study resource included all parts of the world -- not just Europe and the United States, but also topics on some Asian countries, Latin America, and Africa.  It truly gave an overview of world history, and also the information was presented in a fairly "neutral" manner regarding politics and religion; the readings didn't appear to be slanted strongly in favor of certain ideas.

When I purchased this 2-volume set many years ago, it was only available in printed form, which meant I had copy masters and needed to make lots of copies . . . but now this resource is available in ebook format, as well, so you can have computer files that are printed out (and this takes no space on a shelf!) which is very convenient, as everything in these sets is presented in work page format (there is no actual book to read).

With our younger kids, we did lots of history related read-alouds, and there are many great series and individual books for this.  But when some of our older kids desired or needed independent world history materials, we were really happy to discover World History Shorts !

Note-- for some more curriculum recommendations, please see the "links" page at Gentle Shepherd: LINKS

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bugs in the house . . .

Here are some felt bugs I've been making . . .  some have pin backs and some have magnets. Their legs are made with crochet, and the eyes are small beads.

This one is a curtain climber . . .

This one likes to stay on the refrigerator . . .

Besides being around the house, these two are also up in my Etsy shop, Fuzzlemania.