Marcia Miller's Reflections & Resources

Glorious Games!

Board games are great for all ages, and a fun way to spend some time together.

We love all kinds of games.  Over the years we’ve enjoyed a variety of board games, card games, and dice games.  Here are a few of our favorites:


Oh Scrud!  Word fun with cards

Apples to Apples: The Game of Hilarious Comparisons!

SET: The Family Game of Visual Perception

Muggins! Analytical Aerobics for the Mind

Yahtzee: The classic shake, score, and shout dice game!

The Settlers of Catan: A Game of Discovery, Settlement and Trade

Lewis & Clark Exploration Card Game

Into The Forest: Nature’s Food Chain Game

Monopoly: The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game


These friends are playing Apples to Apples: The Game of Hilarious Comparisons! This is an especially good game for group gatherings. We like to have lots of games available for whenever friends get together.

Bananagrams is a marvelous word game for all ages. Usually it's a fast-paced game, but sometimes we play a slower game in order to have time to find longer, more complex words just for the extra challenge.
This was a cooperative Bananagrams effort, with everyone working together to create one large collection of anagrams using all the tiles in the pack.
Aadrial and Ben enjoy a classic game of Monopoly.

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Do you have any favorite games you love to play with family and friends?  If so, please post them in the comment section.  I’d love to hear about them!

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Kapla Building Blocks

Kapla block bridge

Kapla blocks are beautiful, smooth-sanded pine building planks for people of all ages.  We got a set of these when Ben was about thirteen, and we’ve loved them ever since.  We keep them in a pretty basket in the living or family room so they’re always ready to play with.  It’s amazing all the interesting structures you can build with them.

Kapla teamwork: Ben and Cousin Jesse

Just like any other types of building blocks, Kapla blocks are great for quiet, meditative play, filled with concentration and creative designing.  Of course, they’re also great for working with a partner, giving opportunities for teamwork, conversation, planning, and laughter.

Accomplished builders
Uncle Paul and Ben planning and conversing
Kapla mug holder
Kapla tower
Kapla block creation decorated with pattern blocks

As you can see, there are numerous possibilities.  Here’s another great collection of Kapla images for more ideas and inspiration.  Have fun building!

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(Bonus photo of Cousin Jesse in the job he got after building with Kapla blocks.  Coincidence?  You decide.)

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Math and Literature

Photo by Anne Dziok

When Ben was younger, I loved reading aloud to him.  We enjoyed all kinds of good children’s literature.  Reading together was a sweet way to spend time together, to learn new things, and to enjoy good stories.

At some point, I became familiar with books that offered fun and interesting stories with a bit of mathematical thinking in the storylines.  Some of these were simple storybooks while others offered games and problem solving as well.  Over the years, I collected some of these books and recorded lists of our favorites.  That collection is listed here.

I think it’s important to mention that the reason to read any of these books is because they’re delightful! Of course, they might spark some good conversations about a variety of mathematical thinking, but I wouldn’t read them in order to teach a certain topic or focus on a specific math skill.  Just enjoy the stories.  That’s enough.

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Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Masaichiro Anno and Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Magic Seeds by Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Math Games I, II & III by Mitsumasa Anno

The Grapes of Math: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles by Greg Tang

The Best of Times: Math Strategies that Multiply by Greg Tang

How Big Is A Foot? by Rolf Myller

A Remainder of One by Elinor Pinczes

One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J Pinczes

The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

Mr. Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen

Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen

Sir Cumference and The First Round Table: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference and The Great Knight of Angleland: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference and The Sword in the Cone: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream: A Mathematical Story by Marilyn Burns

Spaghetti and Meatballs for All!  A Mathematical Story by Marilyn Burns

The $1.00 Word Riddle Book by Marilyn Burns and Martha Weston

From Head to Toe: Body Math by Time Life Books, edited by Patricia Daniels and Jean B. Crawford

Look Both Ways: City Math by Time Life Books, edited by Patricia Daniels and Neil Kagan

If You Hopped Like A Frog by David M. Schwartz

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David M. Schwartz

The Man Who Counted: a collection of mathematical adventures by Malba Tahan

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Ensensberger

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians by Luetta Reimer & Wilbert Reimer

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The above list is just a small collection of books to get you started.  If you’d like more, you’ll find plenty others to choose from here:

The Wonderful World of Mathematics: A critically annotated list of children’s books in mathematics by Diane Thiessen, Margaret Matthias, and Jacquelin Smith

Math Literature Lists by Topics from a wonderful site called Living Math! created by Julie Brennan

Chart of Children’s Literature from Math Solutions, founded by Marilyn Burns

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If you have any other favorite titles, please post them in the comment section below.   Happy reading!

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Creating Our Own Path

Every day, as much as we can, we try to create the life we want to live, not the life someone else wants us to live. We do our work, our projects, earn income, keep house, grow things, and build things. We read real books, talk with interesting people, go places, explore new things, ask questions, and do research to find answers for things we want to learn about. If we tried to do what everyone else thinks we should do, we wouldn’t have time to do what we think we should do, what we think is important for our own lives.

People are always recommending things: this curriculum, that program, this activity, or that field trip. All of these might be wonderful, but there is only so much time in the day, and we need to make our own best choices. We try to choose authentic, meaningful activities for individual family members and for our family as a whole.

The problem with doing someone else’s work, program, or curriculum, is that then you don’t get to create your own.  Every moment spent doing someone else’s assignment, worksheet, or project, is time not spent creating, building, or thinking about something that is intrinsically important to you, your children, or your family.

Create your own path.

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Homeschooling Authors & the Books We Love

Photo by Anne Dziok

If you’re looking for some good homeschooling books and authors to inspire you, check out my ever-expanding list of favorites on my menu page. Whether you want some practical everyday ideas, some new inspiration and encouragement, or some thought-provoking philosophical content, you’ll find it in these wonderful books!

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Beautiful Pattern Blocks

Symmetrical designs

I love wooden pattern blocks. They feel good to the touch, come in bright colors, and are wonderful for creating beautiful designs. We have a large collection of them in a basket in our living room, and whenever I put them out on the coffee table, people of all ages can’t seem to resist playing with them.

Pattern block trays are fun to fill with a variety of designs.

Symmetrical sunburst

Building up

Asymetric designs

Pattern block face

Repeating diamonds
Pattern block mask
A row of repeating hexagons and triangles
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Instead of Curriculum

  • A variety of good books and magazines according to our interests
  • Games, puzzles, building toys, and other fascinations
  • Family activities, field trips, and travel adventures
  • Musical instruments, power tools, and project supplies
  • Road trips, train trips, and camping trips
  • Tickets to the theater, concerts, history museums, and science centers
  • CDs, DVDs, and computer games
  • Classes for things we might not have available at home: metalworking, glass blowing, pottery, sailing, and robotics
  • Bicycles, bus passes, and running shoes
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Using a new drum sander to sand a guitar neck, age 16

In our family, we love projects. Big projects, small projects, projects of all kinds. They all involve real activities we pursue because we want to build something, create something, grow something, or find out about something. I’m not talking about projects that we parents think up, something “good for us” to learn, nor thematic units that “cover” a certain subject to show that we’ve “done American history” or “done fractions” for a given period of time. Projects that are valuable to us are those that come about because one of us is curious about something, and then things spiral from there.

In our son’s case, he loves building and creating things. Over the years, Ben has done a variety of projects involving woodworking, metalworking, guitar building, sewing, baking, photography, and indoor climbing, to name a few. My husband and I have worked on projects involving gardening, cargo bikes, guitar building, math workshops, and quilt making.

Guitar building tools and parts

At the beginning of a project, one of us gets an idea for something we want to do or learn about. It might be something we work on alone or together. Some projects are easy and short-lived, and others continue on and on. It might be as simple as Ben wanting to do some baking, and asking for a little help from me with a few recipes so he can eventually do them on his own. He’s done this with bread, cookies, and pies. He’ll make a lot of something for a while and then move on to something new. On the other hand, a given project might be as complex as Ben watching his dad build an electric guitar, then asking for help to build one for himself, and then wanting to build more on his own as independently as possible.

Each project typically involves a good deal of research, reading, planning, budgeting, talking with more experienced people, and then plunging into the activity itself. We learn real skills while doing meaningful work, and this meaningful work faciliates meaningful learning. We do as much as we need to do until a goal is reached or an interest is fulfilled. This is what we do as adults, and it’s at the heart of what Ben does as an unschooler.

Unschooling allows for many rich, project-based experiences like these. We have time for them – long stretches of uninterrupted time – because we’re not working on arbitrary lessons that need to get done before the good stuff can start. We’re not spending our time on worksheets or textbook questions just to cover a subject and say we learned a given topic. We have time to pursue meaningful goals, to find answers to real questions, and to learn things that will stay with us our whole lives.

Hand-carving a guitar neck, age 15

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Early Reading vs. Later Reading

Here’s a great article summarizing some newly published research about children learning to read at various ages:  Research Finds No Advantage In Learning To Read from Age Five.  It’s worth reading.  I thought these were a couple of the best quotes:

“One theory for the finding that an earlier beginning does not lead to a later advantage is that the most important early factors for later reading achievement, for most children, are language and learning experiences that are gained without formal reading instruction,” says Dr Suggate.

“Because later starters at reading are still learning through play, language, and interactions with adults, their long-term learning is not disadvantaged. Instead, these activities prepare the soil well for later development of reading.”

I’m happy that people like John Holt and Raymond & Dorothy Moore reminded us of these good ideas years and years ago.

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You’ve Got Lots of Time

There’s no need to rush. The days might go by quickly, but the months and years meander slowly on their way.

People are often in a hurry to make kids grow up. We want them to be independent at a young age, sleep on their own, wean early, tie their shoes by themselves, read their own books, get a job, move out, and start the process over with the next generation. All of these things are fine, but they’ll happen whether we rush them along or not.

People in many other cultures know that children want to grow up, and they grow up soon enough. They trust that children’s early dependence won’t keep them from wanting to be independent eventually.

From the nurturing mothers in La Leche League, I learned that children do eventually sleep through the night, they wean in their own time, and if their attachment needs are met, they become quite confident and independent. These mothers reminded me, “If you meet the need, the need will go away.”

I loved Nancy Wallace‘s description about how she helped Ishmael with tying his shoes and zipping up his coat long after others were wondering why he couldn’t just do it by himself. She knew he would do it eventually, and it wouldn’t hurt if she helped him just a little more.

We get impatient because when our kids are a certain age or in a certain phase of their lives, we can’t imagine them moving onward and upward. We think that we’ll always have to help them with their coats, read books to them, help them spell certain words, or clean up after them. But we won’t always. We need to remind ourselves that their whole lives are about growing, maturing, and becoming their own strong, independent selves.

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