Welcome to my blog, Aptitude Ability. My name is Annaleise Hall, and I have been homeschooling my children for over 9 years.

My hope is that this blog will inspire you and give you ideas for educating your children for lifelong learning and lifelong success. This is not a curriculum review blog, but rather the sharing of my experiences and research to help enrich your own family's educational journey.

Ideas for Elementary Math Help for the non-Math Student

Mathematics. To some children, simply the word makes them want to run for the hills.  I know when I was in middle and  high school it was one of my least favorite subjects.  I have heard it just like you probably have.  Why do I have to learn this?  When am I EVER going to use THIS?

Math is EVERYWHERE!  Of course mathematics is used for the sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics and even economics, psychology. sociology and engineering.  It's also used in technological fields including computer science, rocketry and communications.  It's even used in the liberal arts fields of sculpture, drawing and music.  Further, by teaching your students math, you are giving them a better understanding of the world and an appreciation for the amazing advances of man!

No matter where your child's natural abilities lie, learning will be important to keep as many doors open as possible while on their educational journey. Just because you're not a wiz at Elementary Mathematics or even Algebra doesn't mean you can't do it. For most people, it just takes work and practice!

What can you do when your child is having a hard time with math?

1. Slow down. Stop looking at what the public school system has deemed necessary for the age group and let them move at their own pace. Just like reading, even if they are behind at the beginning, if they take their time and properly learn the material, they will probably race ahead in later Elementary and Middle School.

2. Use manipulatives. Abstract ideas such as mathematics are made easier with the concrete idea of a math manipulative. My children even learned complex ideas such as long division and square roots using manipulatives. Sets can be purchased such as the Shiller Math set, or use the power of the internet to find items you can make at home to make difficult concepts easier to understand.

3. Read to them or have them read some books about the amazing people who brought us these wonderful equations and their stories. Some "non math" brains need this kind of learning.

Here are some that we loved.

The brilliantly bizarre, engaging books had even my most reticent math child enjoying learning math concepts. Life of Fred is a fun and educational companion to any math curriculum. We love Life of Fred.

In this book about Pythagoras, the concept of the triangle is presented in a fun, but memorable way. The explanations are well presented with amazing visuals.  How fun to learn about the Pythagorean Theorem in an inspirational way.

The Number Devil is for grades roughly 5-8.  It deals with many topics that are typically thought of as difficult or challenging.  It's fun to have students read a chapter specifically about a topic, and then teach it to them.  Break up the monotony! 

Millions to Measure covers introductory concepts of linear, weight and volume for early elementary.  It has wonderful illustrations and covers the concept of measuring throughout history. Teach your students to learn the metric system with this great book.

The Math Curse is another amazing book covering a wide variety of mathematical topics in everyday life!  Math is everywhere. It begins with the teacher, Mrs. Fibonnaci, telling her class that "You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem." It's an entertaining book and many children can relate to how frustrating it can be to not understand something. 

The most important thing to remember when educating our children with a challenging subject is not to let them give up on themselves. They CAN get this...and with gentle guidance and the proper curriculum for the child, it can be very rewarding for you both, just don't get discouraged.

Why Do I Homeschool?

Over my 9 years of working as a homeschool teacher, I have been asked the question of homeschooling quite frequently. Sometimes rudely, sometimes out of curiosity, but my favorite...when someone is considering doing it themselves. The answer has of course changed over the years, but one thing remains the same. I homeschool because each year I have concluded that it is the best option for my family.

When I view the public school system, I see a system providing our children with only a fragment of what they need to succeed in the modern social and economic world. Each year as I research the choices I can make for my children's education, the decision to homeschool is always an easy one.

In elementary school, I could provide an environment where my children could learn at their own pace and be inspired by what interested them. So, you want to learn about (fill in the space) rocks and minerals, space, the Roman Empire? Book reports, field trips, reading, reading, reading...they learned spelling, grammar, science, history all by learning what was interesting to them. Plenty of playtime outdoors, social outings, cooking, trips to library, art class, music, and more. There was no end to what I could offer them even on a very limited budget. We did math every day, but this was customized to the child since they all learned a little differently.

In middle school, we began to add in a few "formal" classes including co-ops and outside classes for math and science, spent 2 years on U.S. History and Government, joined the science team, and started playing chess regularly. In the 8th grade year, they each received 2 credits for high school courses.

Now that we've started high school, as a parent and educator, I feel a great responsibility to each of my children to provide them not only with a good secondary education but also to help them find their way in the world...their aptitude ability.

Yes, they have to learn Algebra and Geometry, Chemistry and Physics, but what are they passionate about? What is their calling? Public high schools with their rigorous AP or IB courses...are they really preparing for what these children will need to grow and function beyond high school? Do you really need hours of memorization and testing in order to become successful, happy college students, business owners, or employees? My children use textbooks and online sources to accomplish the courses they need for typical high school graduation. However, over the next two years, we will also utilize the community college for taking courses that are more specific to their talents and passions so they can determine if that is really what they want to do in their adult lives. They will have internships and jobs to get experience with how to raise and budget money and hopefully build a good work ethic. Finally, they will spend a lot of time reading and researching about current affairs so that they will be good citizens in a global community.

I would love to hear what others have to see about this. Am I the only one that worries about a generation of overworked students? Do you homeschool, and if so why? If you are looking for the answer to if you should or even can homeschool, try to think about what your children's future could look like and the best way to help them get there...not just credits on a transcript. You can absolutely do this.

Gamer Teens - The Good, the Bad, and Keeping Balance

Photo Courtesy of http://mckinley.house.gov/

As a parent of a teen who loves nothing more than to spend his free time playing video games, I have experienced first hand the challenges gaming presents to parent. Will so much computer time make him reclusive, antisocial or even worse, violent? How can I protect him from the vulgarities or even predators that can be encountered online? Trying to talk to my son about my concerns led him to believe that I thought gaming was bad and therefore, he was bad or doing something wrong. So, we decided to do some research on the topic to help us come to a reasonable agreement about computer time. This is what we found.

The Good

In the book "Reality Is Broken" by Jane McGonigal, the author argues that video gaming is not antisocial, but actually strengthens both social bonds and trust, making real life relationships healthier. Her view is that by gaming cooperatively with others, gamers learn to collaborate to find solutions to problems, set ambitious goals, rely on others to assist in a common goal, practice leadership skills, and learn from failures.
“If you are a gamer, it’s time to get over any regret you might feel about spending so much time playing games. You have not been wasting your time. You have been building up a wealth of virtual experience that, as the first half of this book will show you, can teach you about your true self: what your core strengths are, what really motivates you, and what make you happiest.” 
Scientific research has demonstrated that video game play is beneficial to visual perception and motor skills such as hand-eye coordination. Research published in 2009 further demonstrated that action video game play actually improves vision. In the study, non gamers were asked to play 50 hours of an action game. Results showed marked improvement in vision that lasted at least 5 months. This study can be found HERE.

The popular game, Minecraft, has reinvented the modern video game for youth. From the Minecraft website, "At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things". The creativity and imagination sparked by Minecraft play is evident by the amazing worlds and creatures created by young people around the world.

In the article, "Teaching in the Age of Minecraft", Alexandra Ossola shows how Minecraft and other video games are being used as educational tools. Educators and parents are using Minecraft for students to learn artistic skills, cooperation, and even mathematics such as volume, area, and perimeter. Basic computer programming  can also be learned.Youth Digital's class, Mod Design I teaches students to create Minecraft Mods (modifications) using the programming language JAVA.

From cooperative play to educational opportunities, video games can be used to strengthen social skills and relationships, visual acuity, and provide opportunities to learn new skills.

The Bad

An aspect of gaming that is of particular interest to my family is time. How much time is appropriate for my son to be playing? According to McGonigal's book, if you are spending more than 40 hours a week gaming, the psychological benefits of game play disappear entirely with a negative impact on physical health, real life goals, and personal relationships. She describes a "sweet spot" of game play that is in a range of 7-21 hours per week.

When does gaming become an addiction? In a study in 2009 by the University of Amsterdam, an addiction scale was developed for adolescents to determine addiction and addiction level. Research HERE. The indication of addiction is based on several indicators. These include salience (gaming is the most important activity in life), tolerance (the build up of game play time), euphoria (a buzz or high from playing), withdrawal (emotional or physical symptoms when game play removed), relapse (returning to previous excessive play after trying to abstain), conflict (arguments, lies, deception), problems (school, work, social).

Several studies using brain scan images of adolescents that were considered addicted, according to the addiction scale, pointed to actual brain damage. In this post in Psychology Today, Victoria L. Dunckley M.D, refers to a number of studies that show damage to the brain including grey matter atrophy, loss of integrity of white matter, and impaired dopamine function. Grey matter atrophy is a loss or shrinkage of tissue. In particular, the affected areas included the frontal lobe which controls functions including impulse control, organization, and prioritizing. Loss of integrity of white matter causes the brain to lose connections between lobes, pathways to cognitive and emotional/survival centers, and to and from the body. Dopamine which is released during game play has been linked to cravings similar to drug addiction. The studies also indicated reduced numbers of dopamine receptors and transporters. (Weng 2013, Yuan 2011, Weng 2012, Hou 2012)

We must also consider that, in a world of cooperative game play with people of all ages logging in from around the world, there is the threat of inappropriate language, photos, and videos.  As a parent, we must make the decision for when our youth have reached a maturity level to responsibly handle chat boxes and live communication with strangers. It is almost a guarantee that your gamer will be exposed to cursing, cyber bullying, and inappropriate photos or advertisements. Even if you avoid the games that have sexual connotations, adult content can be sent by others. Gaming companies have ways to report these instances, but once it's done, it's done.

Keeping Balance

Our research has found that video game play can have a positive effect on adolescence both physical and mental when kept in moderation. Here is how we have successfully agreed to video game play:

When your child becomes interested in online games or sandbox games, read about them looking closely at the ratings and content. If there is a game you do not approve of, talk to your child about it. Let them know why you don't approve and work together to find an alternative.

Sit down and come up with an agreed schedule so the expectation is there for both of you. How many hours will be played per week? How to schedule these around school and chores? What will happen if the time goes over the agreed amount?

Talk to your child about online dangers such as predators and pornography. Make sure they know never to give personal information to others, and make sure they know to come to you if anyone is ever inappropriate or asks them something uncomfortable.

Make sure you have an agreement about downloading or purchasing games.


Video games can be a beneficial and fun activity when done in moderation. Avoid the frustration and worry of your child's video game playing. Look at the research. Decide on appropriate games for the maturity level and amount of play for your family. Plan and implement a schedule for video game play. Communicate about dangers. When you've completed these, you and your child will have a better understanding of each other and you will feel better about the situation. You are now both in control. Happy gaming!

Middle School Grammar/Writing Part I: Grammar

I stumbled upon an amazing curriculum over the summer while perusing Amazon for books.  One of the most difficult subjects for me to teach my children has been grammar/writing.  I am personally, really good at these subjects.  I even scored a perfect score on the ACT college entrance exam in English.  However, I have been hopeless at teaching it!  I have looked into local co-ops and classes on grammar and creative writing, but they either didn't work with our style or schedule.

I discovered two books which have been such a huge help.  I will cover the first book in this blog.

Both books have words from the teacher that not only help with how to teach these subjects, but also to better understand my children at the age they are...middle school.  It is such a funny age.  I enjoy them so much, but they also drive me a little crazy.  Sometimes I feel more stressed now then when they were toddlers.  

The first is called Giggles in the Middle. It is an ongoing story that continues every day through the school year.  The humor and experience is specific to the middle school age.  Even though it focuses on life in school, it has been great for my kids.  I write the "Giggle" on our dry erase board each morning, which is a piece of the story (several sentences) with grammatical and spelling errors.  It gradually adds on rules as you go along. When we start school, I have a few minutes to get together our day while the kids work to rewrite the sentences correctly.  The object is to "catch me" on as many errors that I put in as possible.

They really like the story, don't complain about doing it, and they have learned so much.  They now can independently and consistently put commas after introductory words, clauses and phrases, before the conjunction in compound sentences and even properly punctuate quotations.

Although our more in depth study is with another book, I don't think they would have made the progress they have without our beloved "Giggles".  I highly recommend you give it try.   

Math Curriculum Blues

This semester we tried yet another expensive, promising math curriculum.  Ugh. Grrr.  I am not sure why it has been so difficult for us to find a good, solid Math program.  My children have done Teaching Textbooks in the past.  They enjoyed it for a while and did learn some basic arithmetic.  However, it did not offer enough practice and was way behind on the grade levels.  We really liked the way the material was presented, BUT even if the child was not understanding the material, it would simply move on. Yes, they offer an explanation on the ones you missed, but it still moves on to the next material. Further, there is no extra material or problems offered if your child is not understanding the concept yet.

We really like Khan Academy, but it is really geared towards older learners.  It is a great supplement, although it is not a curriculum, and I am still left to decide on what concepts to learn.

Then, at the beginning of this semester, we tried Thinkwell Homeschool.  Great videos.  Love the professor. However, even my math loving child was feeling there was not enough explanation of how to work different types of problems.  There was a good basic explanation, and then, your on your own.  If I had not known how to do the work myself, I am not sure he could have done the work just from the explanations given.

So now, wish us luck, another $100 bucks and we're on to the next trial.  We are diving into the Art of Problem Solving at the Pre-Algebra level.  I will let you know how it goes for us.  It is an actual textbook, and they offer online videos and a free service called Alcumus that gives problems and provides answers/feedback.

Wish us luck.

Update: The Art of Problem Solving is an amazing curriculum...if you have a math gifted child. At least at the secondary levels of Pre-Algebra, Algebra, etc. However, they have an elementary curriculum called Beast Academy that is phenomenal. From their website: Beast Academy is a new project from the math beasts at Art of Problem Solving. Beast Academy will provide a full, rigorous, and entertaining curriculum for aspiring math beasts in grades 2-5. The problems in the workbooks are not your typical elementary math problems. They use visual puzzles and games as well as problems to aid students in true understanding of mathematical concepts. The guide "comic" books are a little childish in the cartoons they show, but were nonetheless very helpful.