Handcart list- critical thinking box

We live in pioneer country; this list is the result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on critical thinking and various ways to include it in your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-282013.)

Discovery level-

  • Household cleaning/sorting items to learn order, pattern, and classification.  Whether your young children are helping you put away their toys or scrub the bathroom, they will be learning how to create order and follow through on a multi-step process.  Consistency and effort are both requirements of thinking with clarity and purpose.  (Who knew having a clean bathroom or loaded dishwasher had so many benefits?)
  • Facts and vocabulary dealing with the world around them.  Without clear and correct information and verbiage, children cannot learn to draw valid conclusions and articulate them.  Give them data with which to work.
  • Word games i.e. Mad-libs, word searches,  crosswords- Early exposure to the fun side of language allows children to experiment with words and enjoy playing with them.  Vocabulary is more easily expanded when learning new word is enjoyable.
  • Math games i.e. tangrams, pentominoes, etc.- Visual and spacial skills are developed as children examine parts of the whole.  Learning to visualize how things go together to create an object helps with science and math studies, and can make the wonders of our Creator even more amazing.
  • Puzzles- Spacial skills again.  And developing the habit of close examination.
  • Picture books without words- When children have the opportunity to tell the story in their own words, they learn to find the words they need.  Watching the pictures closely can encourage them to express not just plot, but also emotional content, and can give them the opportunity to discern positive and negative behaviors.  Besides, they’re just good fun!
  • ThinkFun and Smart Games products- We have a number of critical thinking activities from these two companies.  They make great gifts, and it is not uncommon for the adults in the house to want to “help” the children work through them.  I find them from Timberdoodle and on  They are also sold by toys stores and educational supply companies.

Analysis level-

  • Conversation that requires thought and clarity.  Teach your children to speak clearly and articulately.  One of the most effective tools for critical thinking is exposure to contrasting points of view followed by discussion of the merits of each argument.  While this may not be helpful during the discovery phase, it becomes vital as youth grow and prepare for adulthood.
  • Logic problems- sometimes called quizzles or mind benders.  I learned to love these puzzles-on-a-grid as a child.  You can find them for every learning level from The Critical Thinking Company.  If you have an advanced or gifted learner, I would begin them in mid-late discovery level.  Others will do better waiting until they’re 10-12 or so.  Start slowly.  They require inference skills which have to be nurtured.  But be warned.  They can be addictive!
  • Crossword, sudoku, and other brain teasers- Much critical thinking ability is developed through looking at the world in different ways.  That requires thought and concentration.  Brain teaser puzzles help keep us mentally nimble.  These games are great to introduce when children are young, but have great impact as they enter the teen years.
  • Editorial section of the newspaper- Current events can be disturbing, but having only partial information makes things worse.  Teaching your older children what is happening, and helping them learn to think through the challenges of the modern world can allow them to process what is happening.  We read editorials (those from syndicated columnists and those from the local populace)  each morning as part of group time and then dissected them.  Do you agree or disagree? What is the premise of the article?  Is there a flaw or uninformed statement?  What words are the most persuasive?  The most inflammatory? Makes for some focused, in-depth discussion.  We also love editorial cartoons!
  • Games which encourage multi-step and/or logical thinking (ThinkFun and other companies) keep learning fun and low-key.  Rush Hour, Cool Moves, Q-Bitz, Labyrinth and other such games are favorites for our family.  There are always new fun things to find.  Have fun!

Application level-

  • Introductory Logic published by Mars Hill Press- Written from a traditional Christian perspective, this course is well-thought-out and teaches the basics of formal logic.  It will make you think! Purchase both the student and teacher texts.
  • Anything in the analysis level list- just keep them thinking!

For more ideas on critical thinking, see my blog post on April 17, 2013.


Games keep learning fun!

Every now and then in your homeschool you will have one of “those” days.  Everyone is edgy, or nothing seems to be going right, or there is stress elsewhere in the family and it is affecting everyone.  Every now and then it can be helpful to keep the books and programmed curriculum on the shelf, and take a day to play.  Don’t think I am necessarily advocating a day off academics completely (although that can have a place too).  I am talking about having a day to remind everyone-including Mom- how much we love being together as a family, and why we chose to homeschool in the first place.  One of the highest goals in our home was to love learning, and have joy in our time together.  That is not possible if we are so busy being “school-marms” that we forget that we are teaching our children whether or not we are “teaching” them.  It is so important that we show them how to have fun as well as how to work!

Here are some of our favorite games for various academic subjects.

Language Arts:

Scrabble by Milton Bradley

UpWords by Milton Bradley


Password by Milton Bradley

Whiz Kids by Discovery Toys

ABSeas by Discovery Toys

Brainy Daze by The Learning Cottage



puzzles- both tabletop jigsaw and 3D

Social Studies:

Five-State Rummy by School Zone Publishing Corp.

USA Bingo by Trend Enterprises


Dem Bones by The Learning Cottage

Go to the park, have a picnic, and draw.  (Okay.  Not really a game, but a great way to decompress!)


Made for Trade by Astroplay

Risk by Hasbro Games

Constitution IQ by National Center for Constitutional Studies

Blokus by Educational Insights

Labrynth by Ravensburger

Labyrinth by Ravensburger

Q-Bitz by MindWare



Just about anything from ThinkFun

Just for fun:

Apples to Apples or Apples to Apples, Jr.  by Out of the Box

Blink by Out of the Box

Twister by Hasbro

Leverage by Milton Bradley

What is your favorite way to let your hair down as a family?