Sunday, February 27, 2011

World Maths Day Starts Tomorrow - March 1st!

(Note: I am publishing this early to give you as much notice as possible!)

I don't know why I am finding out about things at the last minute lately. I feel like there's too much going on for me to keep up with. But at least I have time to share with all of you about World Maths Day. Have you already heard about it?

On Tuesday, March 1st, students all over the world will be competing in real time against other students from around the world playing mental arithmetic games on the World Maths Day website. With math, communication is fun and easy - no translation needed! It is a universal language that allows people to connect around the globe. In 2010, there were 56,082 schools that participated in this global education event. In fact, there were 2,403,526 students who participated from 236 countries - and a new Guiness World Record was set!
This year there are four age categories: 4-7, 8-10, 11-13 and 14-18. Students can play up to 100 games during the 48 hour period. Each game lasts exactly 60 seconds. There are five levels of play, each of which contains 20 games.

The best part? It is 100% FREE! Your student just needs internet access.

My daughter is excited and is "practicing" as I type this. I hope that your children or students get excited, too!

You need to register by February 28th (TODAY!) to be able to play. In fact, the event starts at 6:00 a.m. EST today - which happens to be 12 a.m. tomorrow in Auckland, New Zealand.

To add to the education madness, this year, for the first time, World Spelling Day will be held in addition. It will take place on March 3rd, 2011. And next year, they will be adding a World Science Day, too.

So here's your chance to make math fun and get your kids excited!

A sumar! (O a restar?)

Con mucho cariño...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to Create Your Homeschool Portfolio

If you plan to homeschool your children, you may need to create a homeschool portfolio to document their progress to comply with your state laws. Or you may be homeschooling a high schooler and need all that documentation to help with college applications (the colleges don't ask for proof, but you may need to look back in order to fill out a high school transcript). Or you may simply want to put together a keepsake of your child's learning journey.

It may sound tricky, but it's not hard to keep track of important education-related information when you know what you need to document and how often you should do so. 

What Is a Homeschool Portfolio?

A homeschool portfolio refers to the portfolio a parent would keep on each child to help document different things, such as their test scores, progress made throughout the year in various subjects, and more. Whether you're homeschooling one child or five, it's important to have a portfolio for each one that enables you to keep track of their progress and document their education. In fact, in some states, having this portfolio is a requirement because it serves as evidence of your child's education.

How to Create Your Own Homeschool Portfolio

Now that you know about the homeschool portfolio, you may wonder how to make one. The first thing you'll want to do is purchase a three-ring binder for each child, putting their name on the front of the binder. If you have a Cricut, you can even create customized labels for the kids.

Next, don't wait until the middle of the year to start tracking each child's progress. Start the portfolio at the start of the new year because it makes everything easier and allows you to keep documents in chronological order. You should be able to flip through the pages of the binder and document the different tasks your child completed throughout each month, starting at the beginning of the school year, whether you began in August or September.

Print a record sheet and include it in each child's portfolio. You can use the record sheet as a grading system, much like a teacher would do in a brick-and-mortar school. The idea behind this is to see how well your child is doing in each subject and if they need to work on making progress. You can identify the subjects your child may struggle with the most and then work more on those subjects to help them.

Remember – everything doesn't need to be perfect. If your child doesn't pass a test or struggles with a subject, you should still include those documents in your portfolio. No one is perfect, and everyone will struggle with a subject at some point or another. If you have an evaluator visiting the home to review the homeschooling material, they won't get upset if your child didn't do well at something because it's totally normal.

Video Inspiration for Creating a Portfolio Cover

Many parents let their children create the cover for their homeschool portfolio. Your child might not need any direction at all... or they may need a little nudge to get their creative juices flowing. Here are a few ideas for you to use:
  • Give your child a different theme each year (i.e., hobbies, favorite book, passion, food, colors, etc.)
  • Turn it into an art lesson and have them learn or practice a different art style for each cover
  • Make this activity the focus of your first day of school for the year
  • Have them create blackout poetry
  • Print a storyboard for them to fill out

Here are some great video tutorials that may inspire your child as they create a new binder cover at the beginning of each school year.

Great Homeschool Portfolio Resources

Although you know that you'll need to get a binder for each child to create a portfolio for them, you may still not know exactly how to set these portfolios up and use them to your advantage. The good news is that many resources from other homeschooling parents are available. You can use these resources to your advantage to create the most professional portfolios for your children.

My Little Poppies is one blog offering valuable information on homeschooling portfolios. The blogger includes all the most crucial documents worth adding to your portfolio to ensure you won't have to worry about forgetting anything important. In addition, she goes over the possibility of having a digital portfolio, which can help you save time and effort while reducing paper waste.

From Tiny Seeds has this excellent video: Homeschooling Portfolio Example for Annual Evaluation: Elementary. She shares one of her daughter's portfolios and really makes it all look simple. 

You can also check out Abeka's blog on putting together a homeschool portfolio to get tips, suggestions, and a list of things to include in your portfolio for each child. You can compare the information between blogs and use that to build the most reliable portfolio full of valuable information regarding your children and their educational activities.

If you plan to homeschool your children, you'll need to create a homeschool portfolio. It may sound tricky, but it's not hard to keep track of important education-related information when you know what you need to document and how often you should do so. Check out various resources from experienced homeschool professionals to get a better feel for how to create the perfect portfolio.

Supplies You'll Need


Optional supplies:

Other Posts on Homeschool Organization

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Operation Organize It! : Cabinets Under the Kitchen Sink!

Operation Organize It! is floundering here in our home. A very busy month with a two week trip right in the middle has slowed me down a bit in my cleaning madness. But I know that homeschooling moms CAN be clean and organized, just takes a little longer.

But for the record (and because I am still holding myself accountable...), I can happily say that I managed to accomplish my task for last month: to clean out and organize the cabinets under my kitchen sink. Wepa! And the kids managed to relocate all of their toys to the bedrooms upstairs. Yay! Here's a few pics...



My nicely organized pans :)
And the rest of the newly organized cabinet!
I'll admit that although my goal was to clean and organize without spending a lot of money, I did spend un poquito. I bought the shelf liner on sale at Lowe's for $5. And I also bought a set of two upright steel racks ($17 - ouch!) for organizing my cookie sheets and cake pans. They kept spilling everywhere, and I need something to provide support and help keep those babies in order.

Now I am super happy to see that at least one of you, dear readers, is standing up to the challenge and has dedicated herself to creating a cleaner, more organized space for her family, tambien. Kudos to Amanda, who has started small and is happy with her work. She says it only took 10 minutes to organize her food storage area.

And that's the point, no? Sometimes organization and cleanliness is only a matter of making ourselves stop for 10 minutes to rearrange and discard a few things.

¡Bueno! Our challenge for this next month/week is:


The linen closet. The other day I went to change the sheets on my bed and nearly died under an avalanche of sheets spilling from my linen closet. I then proceeded to steam and fume as I tried to find sheets the right size. Now, I know that I am not the only mama who's got old sheets, pillow cases, and quien sabe que in her closet. So I'm off to sort and separate...

FOR THE KIDS (Pobrecitos. They don't know what they're in for...):

Crayon culling and marker sorting. I have millions billions of broken pieces of crayon bits showing up in the strangest places (inside the fridge?). So their mission (whether they choose to accept it or not), is to divide and conquer - and sort and banish.

Con mucho cariño...

LEGO® Magazines for Young Minds {GIVEAWAY}

I'm sure you have all figured out by now that we are LEGO® fans. I enjoy the creativity that they inspire in my children, and I like using them as manipulatives to reinforce concepts that I am teaching in math, science, and other subjects.

LEGO® publishes two magazines: Club and Club Jr. (school editions). In their magazines, you can find puzzles, comics, building ideas, fun contests, and other activities. This latest issue of Club magazine features Ancient Egypt and includes facts about the pyramids, mummies, and myths and legends. You can visit their website at and discover more building ideas, games, and other activities. You can also subscribe to their free magazines.

But because I happen to have a few extra copies of their LEGO® Club magazines that I'd like to share with you, I am going to giveaway a set of both magazines to four (4) Mommy Maestra readers. If you have children who enjoy playing with Legos, and would like to see some samples of their magazines before you subscribe, then this giveaway is for you!


• To enter for your chance to win a set of LEGO® Club magazines, simply leave a comment below.

The deadline to enter is Monday, February 28th Tuesday, March 1st at 11:59 EST. Four winners will be chosen using and notified via email next Tuesday, March 1st! (So be sure to leave your email addy in the comment.)

For an additional chance to win, you can follow us on our Facebook page. Don't forget to let us know by posting a separate comment for each entry!

¡Buena suerte!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Celebrate International Day of the Mother Language

In honor of International Day of the Mother Language, I have two beautiful works to share with you. A special "Gracias..." to my mami for sharing these with me....

The first is this video of an ancient Nahuatl poem by the pholosopher-king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, as recited by a young boy. The translation that follows is in Spanish....

And second, is this beautiful poster of Mexico's 62 indigenous languages shared by Think Mexican...

Con mucho cariño....

Mommy Maestra Specials: Enciclopedia Larousse de los Pequeniñes

I stumbled on another great find while prowling through the bookshops in Texas a few weeks ago. This one is a set of two Enciclopedia Larousse de los Pequenines: Los Adjetivos and Los Verbos.

These books are a treasure for children. Inside, each book lists words in alphabetical order and they are defined by a quote from famous Latinos, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel de Cervantes, Carlos Fuentes, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and José Martí, just to name a few. Each word is also accompanied by a small illustration showing an example of the verb or adjective.

This book is written completely in Spanish and I have not seen an English version. They are first editions, printed in 1986 and 1987. Both were written (and illustrated?) by Agnés Rosenstiehl.

I haven't been able to find any others online, though I have found copies of Diccionario Espanol - Ingles on Amazon. If you’d like to purchase this set, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Just visit the Mommy Maestra Specials page.

Con mucho cariño...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekend Links: Nature Journals to the Underground Railroad

Friday morning I will be busy teaching a bunch of homeschool students about bird watching as we participate in the GBBC. I'll be sure to share some pictures on the Facebook page!

Bird Nature Journal Ideas and the Great Backyard Bird Count Reminder :: Handbook of Nature Study

FREE ebook! 101 Activities to do with your Preschool Child :: Five J’s

Lapbook química :: ORCA (Awesome! We need to talk about lapbooks soon.)

Cursive :: Homeschooling in a Bilingual Home

The Underground Railroad for all ages :: The Homeschool Classroom (This month is Black History Month, and this link is an excellent resource!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Field Guides in Spanish and English

In my opinion, no home is should be without a good set of field guides for identifying wildlife. Maybe my family goes a little overboard; I stopped counting at 32, but it is a diverse collection that includes titles such as, "Birds of the West Indies," "Reptiles & Amphibians of the Smokies," "Bats of Papua New Guinea," and "Lemurs of Madagascar," just to name a few.


At any rate, they come quite in handy for animal studies. And they are an absolute must-have for bird watching. Here are the first ones that came to my mind when I started preparing for this weekend's GBBC:

The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America is the best field guide without question. (We have gone through at least 4 in the last 18 years, but we are pretty hard on field guides when we travel/camp.) I highly recommend it for every family.

Unfortunately, the other three guides were purchased in Spain and they are really hard to find here. For a while, Amazon was carrying the Miniguia de las Aves, which I absolutely love because despite its miniscule size, it is packed with information about birds including, growth, feathers, nesting habits, senses, feet, beaks, eggs, migration, habitats, and so much more. But when I double checked today, they didn't seem to have any more :(

The Gemas Collins Aves Guía Fotográfica is a cute book, laid out in a more traditional field guide style and includes a picture, a brief description and a few facts. My kids like the small size.

The Aves del Mundo is a more serious book. Originally published in English, it is a visual guide of over 800 species representing the diverse families of birds. It is excellent and I have used it extensively when I can't remember the name of a particular bird in Spanish. It also has a small section at the beginning that describes anatomy, classification, etc. It also has a glossary in the back, completely in Spanish, defining the technical terms used in the book.

I have been scouring the web to find a source for these Spanish books, but have hit a brick wall. If any of you know where to purchase any of these, please share with all of us!

I really, really wish there were some fun bilingual field guides for children. If there are any publishers reading this post, I hope you will consider publishing some!!!

Con mucho cariño...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quick and Easy Handmade Bird Feeders

So this week I seem to be obsessed with birds and crafts. We are preparing for the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend, and I thought that maybe some of you are, too. Here is a super easy and fun activity that is beneficial for both your children and your birds. Buen provecho (to the pajaros, not to your kids!)...

Peanut butter
Bird seed
Old, plastic tablecloth
Dull knife or popsicle sticks
Small tub
Clean up towel

1) First thing, be sure to cover your work area with an old (plastic) tablecloth. This activity can be a wee bit messy, and it is no fun cleaning peanut butter off of 'Buelita's heirloom tablecloth. A small towel for wiping fingers is a good idea, too.

2) Spread peanut butter all over a pinecone using a butter knife or popsicle stick.
(I keep a cheap-o brand of pb exclusively for craft projects.)

3) Pour your birdseed into a small tub and roll your coated pinecone in it until
the seed is stuck to every inch of peanut butter. Small seed, like millet, works best for this craft.

It should more or less look like this:

4) Tie a small knot in one end of your yarn, creating a small loop.
Take the main part of the yarn and pull it through the look to create a larger one that is adjustable.
Repeat on the other end.

5) Slide the loop over the pointy end of your pinecone and pull tight.

During non-blizzard like conditions, the pinecones will hang nicely and the birds will actually eat the seeds off of them. But if you prefer to simply lay them on a ledge with no yarn, los pajaritos will eat it anyway and be grateful. 

The picture below was taken during our massive snow storm. There are two juncos on the left, and a towhee on the right. Sorry about the quality of the picture, but the snow was blowing like mad and I was too nice and warm to venture away from my window to go outside to photograph them properly!

Con mucho cariño....

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count is Almost Here!

This weekend, our family will be participating in the 14th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). As you may remember, we are already participating in Cornell's Project FeederWatch, and this is very similar. If you were interested in the FeederWatch program, but didn't want to commit the time, then this project may be more your style. It only runs from February 18th through February 21st.

The four-day count occurs in February each year and typically records more than 10 million observations! People of any age can participate by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. Then all you have to do is click on over to, where you can enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time and watch as the tallies grow across the continent.

And contrary to its name, you don't have to do it in your backyard. You can visit your local park, or any type of wilderness area, and complete your count there.

This citizen science program is a valuable tool for aviculturists studying bird populations across the continent.  Previous data collected from the GBBC has shown delines in some bird species that coincide with the widespread outbreaks of West Nile virus.

The GBBC's website is a wealth of information and includes games and activities for kids like puzzles, coloring pages and bookmarks. You can also learn more about birds, flip though their photo gallery, and even see last year's bird count results.

Con mucho cariño...

Math Manipulative: Bean Counters {TUTORIAL}

It is so nice to be back on a schedule finally. While vacations are times to relax and enjoy, there still is a certain amount of stress involved in the planning, and there usually is (to some degree) a chaotic element to them. I think that this time, even my kids were happy to be back on a routine. My daughter even asked to do school this weekend!

So one of the activities we decided to do was make bean counters to help her as she began learning about number placement. Here's a quick and simple activity that most children can do on their own with minimal parental involvement...


Beans (we used lima beans!)
Wood sticks/tongue depressors

1) Primero, gather your supplies...

2) Then you lay down a bead of glue on a stick.

3) Count out ten (10) beans.

4) Carefully attach the beans to the stick, and allow to dry.

5) Repeat steps 2 through 4, nine more times until you have ten (10) sticks each with ten (10) beans.

6) For learning time, count out nine (9) loose beans so that your child can learn to count the higher numbers.

Con mucho cariño...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend Links: Spanish Valentine's Cards to Mexican Flan

Valentine´s Day Cards in Spanish for Your Niños! :: Spanglish Baby

The 2011 Pura Belpré Award Winners :: The Latin Baby Book Club

A simple craft when mami is sick : Un projecto facil cuando mami esta enferma :: Sabor a Cajeta

Project #74: Kid's Totem Poles :: Bookhou Craft Projects

Free songs at Amazon: $2 off MP3 Coupon Code :: Teaching Español

La Revolución Francesa :: ORCA (Hilarious! Shows how it is possible to incorporate legos into your history lessons!!)

Coordinate Plane Homeschool Math Game (FREE download!) :: Five J’s

And because it is yummy...

Mexican Flan! :: Nibbles & Feasts

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Biography Series for Children: Who Was...?

For the last week and a half, we've been traveling (which explains why you haven't seem many posts on here!) on business and to see family. We arrived in Texas two Sundays ago, praised the beautiful weather, only to be bitterly (and I do mean bitterly!) disappointed when the snow storm of the century hit, closing schools and most businesses for 4 days straight. Add into the mix one husband down with the flu and two kids down with a cold, and you can see that things really put a crick in our plans to museum hop and visit with friends.

But despite the wretched weather (how do people in Canada survive??), we ventured out to make use of our Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo passes that we had purchased before we left home. I was determined to treat the children to some sort of educational experience, and we didn't want to waste the tickets - or the dinero we paid to purchase them. The kids had a blast, and new botas were bought; one pair for each of our little vaqueros.

One of the perks of homeschooling is that I don't have to worry about how much school the kids are missing...I can just take it with me. But I try really hard to keep vacations exactly that: vacations. So I don't go traipsing around the country pulling a wagon full of text books, manipulatives, etc. Instead, I try to think about the main subjects I want to keep the kids up on, and then I pick one or two small workbooks to keep the concepts fresh and strong. Or I might try introducing something fun and new. In this instance, I want my daughter to keep moving forward in math, so I brought along a few worksheets. And I thought that for fun, we would try the new Who Was...? series of biography books for children and published by Grosset & Dunlap.

I am so excited to share this series with you! So far, we have only read the one: Who Was George Washington? Pero, ay, mama! I LOVE this book! Roberta Edwards does a fantastic job describing the history surrounding Washington in terms that children (and probably some parents!) can easily understand. My children really enjoyed learning about him, mostly because Edwards is careful to include personal stories about Washington as a child and young man (i.e., did you know he had a hunting dog named Sweetlips? Mwuah!), which allows my kids to connect to the story. My son loved hearing that he was a great athlete who loved the outdoors, and my daughter was happy to hear that he took music lessons just like she does. Illustrations are also scattered throughout the book.

I cannot wait to read more of the dozens of titles included in this series. My only complaint? You guessed it... only one Latino (Pablo Picasso) is included. Come on, Grosset & Dunlap! If you need a list, I'm happy to oblige...

Con mucho cariño...

UPDATE: This series is now being translated into Spanish!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lego's World People Set

We are huge lego fans. I think that many homeschoolers are. Mainly because they really provide a wealth of opportunities to encourage creativity, and can complement almost any subject: math, science, art, etc.

And I am especially happy whenever I find products (especially by companies I like) that promote a global outlook. This 16 piece set represents families from around the world. By role-playing with these figures, students learn to appreciate and respect cultural and generational differences, developing an awareness for the multicultural society in which they live. I like the idea of being able to use these people to either reinforce geography lessons, or maybe even to supplement some of the books that we read. 

If you are interested in purchasing your World People Set, visit Lego's site.

Con mucho cariño...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekend Links: Foreign Language Learning to Women Scientists

Fun Activities for Teaching a Foreign Language :: The Homeschool Classroom

Muñecas Rusas - Russian Dolls :: Mi Escuelita Montessori 

A few ideas for el Día de San Valentín :: Teaching Español 

The Piñata :: maya*made 

Valentine Card Ideas ::The Crafty Crow 

Q.T. in the Kitchen :: Heart of the Matter 

My favorite, healthy and yummy Ecuadorian snack! :: Kids Go Bilingual 

Beyond the Fizz – How to Get Kids Excited About Doing Real Science :: Steve Spangler's Blog 

Creating your microbe biosphere (make-along project, Part 2) :: The Magnifying Glass 

Also, Evelyn has recently posted on her blog, 2 Pequeños Traviesos, some excellent examples of her Montessori-based homeschooling days. 

Women Scientists Who Made a Difference :: Steve Spangler's Blog (This is a super list, but I am disappointed that there are not any Latinas included.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

We... Dig! The Maya Project

The dreaded flu has hit our house, but before I disappear for the rest of the week, I want to share with you a new website that I learned about yesterday. The Dallas Museum of Art has put together a fun (and educational!) site for students ages 10 and up. Dig! The Maya Project is an interactive game that allows you to explore the Maya culture by pretending to be an intern to an archaeologist.

You begin by choosing the archaeologist with whom you'd like to intern and then you go to the dig site, which is loosely based on an actual dig site in Central America or Mexico. Once there, you can dig up valuable artifacts and record your findings in a journal or sketchbook. The journal also holds information on the Maya, and includes images and games.

If your child is an Indiana Jones fan, or if you are studying ancient civilizations or the Maya culture, this is a great site for developing their spirit of adventure while learning valuable facts about an ancient culture.

Bravo, Dallas Museum of Art!


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