Multiplication & Fractions: Math Games for Tough Topics by Denise Gaskins (Review AND Giveaway!)


Have you hit the mid-November slump yet?  Thankfully, I haven’t, but it’s mostly because we started our school year late this year.  If you have, I have just the thing:  a brand new math games book!  Math games add that spark to our homeschool week that makes me, the mama, feel like I can go on one more day.  That may sound a bit melodramatic, but when you’re the mama doing math with three different children daily (and entertaining a three-year-old in the middle of all that!), it is pretty close to the truth.  🙂   We’re math games fans from way back, having used Right Start Math and its math games book from the very beginning of our homeschool journey.  However, I like a bit of variety in my weeks, so I’m always on the lookout for new-to-us games.  I discovered Denise Gaskins’ Let’s Play Math website several years ago, and I have since considered her both an online mentor in the math education department and a kindred spirit.

Multiplication & Fractions: Math Games for Tough Topics  by Denise Gaskins is book three in her Math You Can Play series.  (You can read my review of the first two books here.)   I’m so excited that she has written a book that will benefit my older children!  This book consists of four sections:

  • “A Strategy for Learning”
  • “Multiplication and Fraction Games”
  • “Playing to Learn Math”
  • “Resources and References”

Sections one and three are common to all of the Math You Can Play books, and they’re the place to learn the nitty-gritty behind Gaskins’ philosophy.  Section two, of course, is where the magic happens:  four chapters’ worth of math games dealing with mathematical models, the times table, mixed operations, and fractions and decimals.  A total of twenty-five games are detailed in this book, with countless variations.  My girls and I have already tested out a game called Distributive Dice from the “Mixed Operations” chapter, and we found it lots of fun.  I love that it provides opportunities for deep thought about the way multiplication works.  Manipulating the numbers into different sums, differences, and products increases the brain’s facility for mathematical thinking!




We’ve also tried out a fractions game called My Nearest Neighbor.  This game involves comparing fractions and determining which one is closer to certain unit fraction or integers.  This necessitates converting fractions to like terms and then comparing them.  Because this is not something that Louise has mastered yet, I put Lulu in the “teacher” role and let her explain each fraction to Louise.  We all enjoyed playing this a lot, and the fraction chart got a workout.  img_1627

I’m eager to try more of the games from this book.  One thing I really love about Denise Gaskins’ books is that she gives you practically everything you need to play the games:  the games either require common household items (like basic playing cards, tokens or small toys for game pieces, etc.) or she offers them as free downloads on her website.  [Note:  the cards above are not from the book; they’re from the RightStart math games kit.]

 In the very last chapter of the book Gaskins delves further into her philosophy and confronts “Workbook Syndrome”–

a distressing malady that afflicts children in public, private, and homes schools across our country.  A child suffering from this disease has learned to do calculations on a school math page but cannot make sense of numbers in real life.

She offers many tools and tricks for making math more playful and providing a balance between the pencil-and-paper work and mental math, including memorization.  In the last section of the book, Gaskins provides all kinds of helpful information, including the basics of game-playing and some of her favorite resources.

Reading one of Gaskins’ books is like going to a really great teacher workshop–part philosophy, part practical ideas, and all excellent.  She just oozes expertise and enthusiasm.  Truly–the depth of her knowledge and her ability to communicate it are life-giving to a homeschooling mama.  I couldn’t recommend this book, or her others, more highly.

And so, dear readers, I am pleased to announce that the author has offered one reader here at Hope Is the Word a copy of this brand new book–winner’s choice of either the e-book or the paperback!  Here’s how you enter:

Please leave a separate comment for each of the above things you do, and be sure to put your email address in one of the comments.  🙂

This giveaway will end at one week from today, Friday, November 25, at 9 p.m.

{Disclosure:  I read a pre-publication version of the ebook in order to write this review.  The link is an affiliate link to Amazon.}



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Fall 2016 Circle Time


So far this year, Circle Time has been short and sweet.  Well, that’s not exactly true; schooling a seventh grader and a first grader (with a fifth grader in the middle and a very chatty three year old bringing up the rear) has necessitated a re-ordering of our days.  What that means is that we start our days at home with a very brief together-time, and then the girls and I get back together sometime just before or after lunch for our own “big girls” Circle Time.  It looks like we have finally settled into a routine, and so I’m finally ready to share it.

We start with music.  After several years of traditional hymns, this year I decided to bring in something that I thought might appeal a bit more to my six-year-old who really likes music.  I decided something very upbeat and fun was in order, and what’s more upbeat and fun than fiddle music?
I bought the album Getty Kids Hymnal:  In Christ Alone and started with the first song:  a medley of the Doxology and “Oh, Shout for Joy.”  It has turned out to be a lot of fun as well as a great song to take us into the Thanksgiving season.  I think we’ll just continue with this collection of songs after Christmas.  I’ve never regretted investing the time in hymn singing with my children!

I let the girls pick out their own memory work poems for this first session.  Lulu chose “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, which she almost already had memorized because we’ve watched this video so many times.

You’re welcome. 🙂

Louise chose Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Oak”:

The Oak

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Live thy Life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold;

Then; and then
Gold again.

All his leaves
Fall’n at length,
Look, he stands,
Trunk and bough
Naked strength.

This poem has turned out to not be a super easy one to memorize, but she’s working at it and will eventually conquer it.

Most days we also read the Bible together and pray, though the Bible reading part has begun to shift to supper time so we can share that with Steady Eddie.

That’s pretty much it, unless I read a picture book or two.  Well, I always try to do that, but I leave it up to the girls as to whether or not they’ll stay and listen.  Predictably, the eldest almost always opts not to, and the younger sister almost always does.  I want to do more, but right now is not the time to bring the boys in on it. We’ll work on that as they get older.

This year has by far been the biggest year of change we’ve had yet in our homeschool.  I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t really prepared for it.  It’s good, though.  My girls are taking on huge amounts of responsibility.  That’s what we want!  (Although I will admit that it’s a little bittersweet. . . )

How do you handle your family/together work in your homeschool?



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Thanksgiving Party School (or how to host an authentic Thanksgiving feast)


I first heard the term party school from Julie Bogart of Bravewriter fame.  I’m pretty sure she mentions it in her magnum opus, The Writer’s Jungle.  However, I’ve been immersed in the Bravewriter world for a while now, so I’m really not sure where the idea first came up.  I do know, though, that she explains the whole idea thoroughly in this video.   The idea is that you study something in your homeschool deeply (a “deep dive,” as Julie would say) and then you throw a party to celebrate and show off what you learned.  This almost always involves food, and it could also involve games or art or whatever is appropriate to the study (and whatever your children are inspired by).  We had the party school to end all party schools a few years ago, and I wanted to bring it up out of the archives and share it again, just in case it might inspire someone.

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Reading Eating the Plates by Lucille Recht Penner aloud together was the catalyst for this particular party.  I mean, how could we spend ten chapters (about a hundred pages) immersed in the the Pilgrims’ eating habits, mealtime etiquette (or lack thereof, at least according to our standards), and way of life without wanting to recreate it?  Through this book we learned how they benefited from the help of the Indians, as well as how their lives changed over time after trade was established that enabled them to get a greater variety of spices, etc.  We also learned about their houses and just how they lived from day to day.  A lot of their time, of course, was devoted to procuring and preparing food!  One thing I love about the book is that Penner intersperses “wit and wisdom” throughout; an appropriate little poem prefaces each chapter, for example.  The crown jewel of the whole book, though, is the collection of recipes at the end.  These recipes are purportedly authentic, but from different times during the Pilgrims’ first years in America.  We made all but two of the recipes included in the book:

  • fresh corn soup
  • red pickled eggs
  • hot Indian pudding
  • succotash stew (we started this one but ran out of time)
  • spicy cucumber catsup
  • bannock cakes
  • whole baked pumpkin stuffed with apples
  • bearberry jelly
  • swizzle
  • hot nuts (we opted not to do this one since nuts are expensive and something we eat anyway)

Here are a few pictures of the most interesting recipes:  bearberry (cranberry) jelly, red pickled eggs, and the apple-stuffed pumpkin.



We topped this meal off with Goody O’Grumpity‘s spice cake.


We invited over the grandparents and shared this meal with them.  The girls picked out quotations and shared them on our placards.



Louise also shared some of the rules of etiquette and decorated the table with stern warnings about which utensils were acceptable at our authentic feast.


We did this four years ago, and none of us has ever forgotten it.  It is a lot of work (yes!) and time-consuming, but most things worth doing are.

Some books that pair perfectly with Eating the Plates and this whole “what did the Pilgrims eat?” experience are

And of course, our favorite Thanksgiving chapter books and Thanksgiving picture books would add even more layers of learning to this already rich learning experience.

Holidays are the perfect time to inject a little excitement into our homeschool, and party school is a fabulous way to do just that!



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Thanksgiving picture books to read aloud


We’ve read a lot of Thanksgiving books over the years.  On Monday I shared a quartet of longer Thanksgiving stories to read aloud.  Today I’m sharing what I consider the best picture books–our favorites.  Enjoy!

Books that tell the story of the first Thanksgiving:

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Kate Waters’ books about the Mayflower, the Wampanaog, the Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving are must-reads.   Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast focuses on what we traditionally think of as the first Thanksgiving.  Of course, this whole story is one which for which it is somewhat difficult to separate the fact from the folklore, but I think Giving Thanks does a good job of illuminating what really might have happened (i.e. a series of meals together, in celebration of  harvest and friendship, etc.)  This story is told in alternating voices:  that of Dancing Moccasins, a 14-year-old Wampanoag boy, and Resolved White, a 6-year-old English boy.  It’s interesting, if a bit cumbersome at times, to note the differences between their ways of life. Russ Kendall‘s photography of historical re-enactors at Plimoth Plantation absolutely brings both of these stories to life.   All of Waters’ books provide a very realistic depiction of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans and how they lived, and we love them.

Other Kate Waters books we Highly Recommend:
On The Mayflower
Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy
Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl (Scholastic Bookshelf)
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times

These books are ideal for mid-elementary aged students and up.

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When it comes to factual books that sum the expected Thanksgiving story up in a few pages, the two I recommend are Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving by Peter and Connie Roop and The Story of the Pilgrims  by Katherine Ross.  Both picture books provide the facts in what seems to be a fair and balanced way.  Of the two, The Story of the Pilgrims has a slightly more storybookish feel.  The illustrations in both books are stylized, so pick the one you like the looks of best–you can’t go wrong with either.

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If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving book that explains the first Thanksgiving for the preschool set, The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene is just the book!  Written in rhymes, three or four lines to a page, this book covers the well-known basics:  the food, the Indians, the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, the community, and the coming together.  The text is reminiscent of “The House That Jack Built”; full of repetition, it’s sure to captivate even the youngest listener.

How Thanksgiving Became a Holiday

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Thanksgiving in the White House by Gary Hines is simply the story of how the holiday that we celebrate here in the U.S. on the last Thursday of November each year came to be.  Really, though, it’s as much about Tad Lincoln and his White House hi-jinks as anything.  It is also about the loving relationship he had with his esteemed father.


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If you want to bring in the little woman who campaigned to make Thanksgiving a holiday, check out Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Anderson’s research is impeccable and the story is wonderfully written.  Matt Faulkner’s illustrations are quirky and fun.  For mid-elementary age and up, this one is indispensible if you want to know the historic origins about our national holiday.

Thanksgiving traditions

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Melissa Sweet is one of my favorite author/illustrators, so I cannot leave out Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.  This well-researched and whimsically illustrated book is the story of Tony Sarg, the genius behind the huge floats we know and love from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. As a child, Tony had quite the engineering mind and loved figuring out how to make things move.  As an adult he began making marionettes, and his lifelike puppets were soon performing on Broadway.  This led him to a job at Macy’s, where he was asked to design a window display for the holidays–a “puppet parade.”  This was a hit, so Macy’s then commissioned Tony to do something even grander:  put together a parade for the immigrant employees who longed for the fanfare of the holidays they celebrated in their native lands.   After this, the parade just got bigger and bigger, with Tony’s crowning achievement being figuring out how to engineer a marionette (of sorts) that would float instead of hang down–one that could be “articulated” (moved in precise ways) but still be seen high above the crowded New York City sidewalks.  If you haven’t enjoyed anything by Melissa Sweet, or even if you have, be sure to read this perfect picture book this Thanksgiving!

Family togetherness

Traditionally, Thanksgiving means family fun.  Many books highlight this; here are a few great ones.

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Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller is a fantastic rhyming story that focuses on family togetherness and teamwork. Everyone in the family–Mama, Daddy, Sister, Brother, Baby, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, and Uncle–has a job to do to prepare for Thanksgiving.  Rhyme and repetition make this book perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.  Jill McElmurry’s old-fashioned illustrations set the perfect tone for this lovely family celebratory tale.  Fun and old-fashioned–so much to love about this one!

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Thanksgiving Is Here! by Diane Goode focuses on the fun of family at Thanksgiving.  The text in the story literally floats across the pages; this gives the story a lilting feel, even though the story doesn’t rhyme.  The first several pages end in a sentence that begins with “we”:  “We all love to cook at Thanksgiving”; “We all have a place at the table”; etc.  This is a fun book to read, and the whimsical illustrations really add to the overall feeling of the story.  My favorite picture is the two-page spread of the whole family (well over twenty people) sitting down at the long table they have created by pushing smaller tables together.  This feel-good story that would appeal to just about any age, from preschool to adult.

Just for fun 

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Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin is the tale of Mr. Whiskers and his plot to get Grandmother’s secret cranberry bread recipe.  I dare you to read this one and NOT make cranberry bread after you’re through reading it!  A fun plot, silly and likable characters, and a recipe to boot–lots to love for old and young alike in this story.

The Peterkins’ Thanksgiving by Elizabeth Spurr (who adapted the 1886 stories of Lucretia P. Hale for this picture book format) is a story of high hilarity.  The Peterkins are a family of eight, with members having a varying degree of dim-wittedness (the adults, mostly) or common sense (the children, mostly).  The format of this book is a letter, written to a “Lady from Philadelphia,” about the Peterkin’s Thanksgiving she missed after being called away home suddenly.  Of course, all kinds of chaos ensues:  their feast is stuck in the dumbwaiter, and the Peterkins go to all manner of difficulties to remedy the situation.  In the end, it takes the simple act (by a carpenter they’ve gone to great lengths to procure, no less) of readjusting the weights to get the dumbwaiter to work properly and deliver their meal.  It’s a silly story about a silly family, and the silliness is a little bit sophisticated because of its unfamiliarity:  I had to explain to my girls about dumbwaiters, and it’s set in a society familiar to us only in books.  This book (and the Christmas one) inspired me to read the original work to my girls .  The Peterkins are my favorite silly family, and what better time to enjoy some family silliness than at Thanksgiving?

So that’s it–our favorite Thanksgiving picture books!  Do you have a favorite to add to my list?


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Thanksgiving chapter books to read aloud


My homeschool philosophy can best be summed up in two words:  read aloud.  I truly believe it to be the most effective and efficient means of family learning. Reading aloud to a group of children (even one’s own!) isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it.  Today I am sharing a trio of  longer Thanksgiving stories we’ve enjoyed together over the years in hopes that it will inspire you to read one with your family this Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving chapter book that tops my list is The First Thanksgiving by Lena Barksdale.  Written in 1942, it is a vintage gem.  It is currently available from Amazon third party sellers for less than $10 a copy, and well worth it.  At only four chapters long, The First Thanksgiving is the perfect length for young listeners.  It’s written from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl named Hannah who goes to visit her grandparents for the first time ever for Thanksgiving. You see, Hannah’s grandparents were among the first settlers at Plymouth, so Hannah’s mother is determined she will hear the Thanksgiving story straight from their lips.  This story provides something we need these days, which is perspective.  And it’s illustrated by Lois Lenski, to boot.  Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Read my original review here.)

Squanto:  Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla is another vintage read aloud.   Short and simple, this is a chapter book that makes a good read-aloud (or read-alone) for very young listeners as it is one that could be read in just a few sittings.  In the end, Squanto finds a place to belong, which is a nice ending to this fictionalized account of his life.  It’s not my first choice for sharing the story of the first Thanksgiving, but it is a story that most children will enjoy.  (Read my original review here.)

Another choice for a Thanksgiving chapter book is Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen.  If The First Thanksgiving  and Squanto offer the historical perspective, Molly’s Pilgrim stays true to the spirit of Thanksgiving.  This is a tear-jerker as well as a mean-kid-at-school story, but if your listeners are old enough to understand that, don’t miss this classic.   Its message is another one that is sorely needed today.  (Read my original review here.)

Image result for old fashioned thanksgiving book coverLast, if you want something humorous and heartwarming, check out Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving. It’s a sort of home-alone story in which a bunch of kids from about sixteen years old down to a baby end up responsible for fixing a Thanksgiving feast by themselves.  The best comparison I can make to this story is that chapter from Farmer Boy in which the Wilder kids stay home alone and hilarious chaos ensues.  Add a Thanksgiving dinner into the mix, and there you have it.  This story does have a good bit of antiquated language in it, but if your listeners don’t mind that, this is a fun one.  (Sunday’s literary quote of the week on my Facebook page was from this book.)  While maybe not truly a chapter book, it is a long-ish story best suited to children with chapter book-level attention spans.  It’s available online through Project Gutenberg as a part of Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag VI and as a paperback here.  The copy I read years ago to my girls was from the library, so it’s definitely worth looking there for it first.  (I first shared my thoughts about this story here.)

Each of these books is short enough that you still have plenty of time to locate a copy and read it before Thanksgiving!

Does your family have a favorite Thanksgiving chapter book?  I’d love to hear about it!


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