Sunday, August 30, 2009

Verse of the week -- James 4:2,3

Come empty. I have heard those words repeated continually this past week. Sometimes whispered by a still small voice, sometimes through a song, some days through a verse of Scripture, but continually, repetitively, gently . . . come empty.

How about with my talents? No. Empty.
With a general outline? No. Empty.
With some limitations? No. Empty.
With some successes? No. Empty.
With some security? No. Empty.
With some self-confidence? No. Empty.
With a few expectations? No. Empty.

Really empty, completely empty. That's how He wants me to come. Raw material for Him to create and mold and fill.

The good news is, He can still fill me even when I don't come empty. He doesn't fill with a trickle, He fills with the fire house and washes everything else out anyway. It might be more painful that way, but we will still be filled.

With this on my mind I came across James 4:2,3, "2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.."

When we come with our own agenda, we don't receive the same blessing. We often ask to satisfy ourselves -- our wants, expectations, schedules, talents, interests, pride, successes.

I want to come to Him empty, and let Him fill me and my day as He sees fit.
I need to bring Him all of my day. Not just my quiet moments, or my blog posts, or my easy times. If I don't bring Him an empty cup, I miss out.

And, if I only bring some parts of my life empty I miss out. Remember the widow in I Kings 17 with the jars of oil? Every jar she brought, God filled with oil. If she brought less, He would have filled less. If she brought more, He would have filled more. I want to bring every "jar" I can find in my life for Him to fill. The less I bring, and the more I try to fill things on my own, the less room for Him in my life.

He may still work, but I will probably continue on oblivious to His working. He may still fill, but I might miss the overflowing blessings right in my hands. When I come emptied of myself, I come expectantly. Awaiting His working, His filling, His expectations, His agenda, His successes, His message, His growth, Him, and all He has to offer.

Lord, You have the perfect plan, the perfect perspective, the perfect power. You know the best for each minute of each day. Help me to come empty, with each part of my life an empty vessel for You to fill. ~Amen

2You desire and do not have, so you murder.
You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
You do not have, because you do not ask.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.

~James 4:2,3~

Friday, August 28, 2009

TOS Crew Review Table of Contents

This year I have the wonderful opportunity of reviewing a number of products and resources geared mainly toward homeschoolers.

As these reviews are posted on my blog, I will record the links in one place (here) as well for easy reference.

In addition to the link to my review you will find the link for the TOS Crew's blog and the vendors' websites as well. At times there may be products that I will not review, but others on the crew did. In that case you will find the link to the TOS Crew reviews, and a note that I did not review this product.

These are the companies that we plan to work with throughout the year, so this list will be fleshed out as the year goes by.

Here is what we have so far (links take you to the vendor's site -- as reviews are completed they will be added to this listing):

3 P Learning/ Mathletics

A Journey Through Learning
ABC Teach
  • TOS Crew Reviews of their membership privileges
  • My review of ABC Teach coming soon

ACT, Inc

All About Spelling
American Heritage Education Foundation
AVKO review coming in November

Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting

Barnum Software- Quarter Mile
Bible Charts and Maps review coming in late October
Bonnie Terry Learning
  • I will not be reviewing this item
Bright Ideas Press
  • My review of Mystery of History 3 coming in October
BrillKids Early Learning Systems

Christian Keyboarding
Classical Legacy Press
College Prep Genius
Critical Thinking Co.

Dollar Homeschool/Ray's Arithmetic

Educaching/ SDG Creations Ltd. review coming in October

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services
English for Life/Madsen Method

Grapevine Studies
Growing Healthy Homes
Guardian Angel Publishing

Homeschool Library Builder


Lesson Planet

Maestro Classics
Master Innovations
Math Mammoth
Math Score/Accurate Learning
Math Tutor

Maverick Books

Nature Friend Magazine coming in October

Passkeys Foundation
Professor in a Box

Rocket Phonics
  • TOS Crew Reviews of this phonics program for learning and struggling readers
  • I did not review this product

Sarah Books coming in Sept/Oct
Saxon Harcourt
Sense and Sensibility Patterns
  • TOS Crew Reviews for an epattern for an adorable apron
  • I did not review this item
Sue Gregg Cookbooks
Sue Patrick's Workbox System

Talking Fingers Inc.

Vantage Learning
Virginia Soaps and Scents (reviews coming in November)

Web Design for Kids -Click Drag Solutions
We R Fun Life on the Farm
Worship Guitar Class

Zeezok Publishing/The Book Peddler

Homeschool days at Legoland in Schaumburg

A representative from Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg contacted me recently about letting you all in on a great deal. More than likely you have heard about this exciting facility, and maybe you have visited. However, maybe you haven't. Maybe the admission prices made you reconsider, especially when you start adding up all of the members of your family. Maybe you didn't know what to expect when you arrived.

If that sounds anything like you, or if you have any Lego lovers in your home, then you will want to check out this offer they have put together especially with the homeschool family in mind:

At the LEGOLAND Discovery Center we aim to make learning fun! Journey through an informative LEGO world of color, interaction and creativity for a visit your children are sure to remember!


Special rates will be available for Chicagoland Homeschool Network families on each of the following Wednesdays during the 2009/2010 school year:

  • August 26 through November 18, 2009 (each Wednesday)
  • January 5 through March 17, 2010 (each Wednesday)
  • $7.00 per Child plus a FREE workshop
  • 1 FREE adult for every 5 children booked
  • $7.00 per additional adult


Students get a chance to build towers and test them on an earthquake table.
Grades 1-3,Science/Math

Educational Objectives
This 30-minute workshop helps your children:

  • Learn about structures such as houses and towers.
  • Learn how to increase the stability of tall structures through hands-on experiments in a workshop.
  • Relate hands-on activities to the experience of the attractions in the LEGOLAND® Discovery Center.

Workshops must be booked at least 1 week in advance. To reserve your workshop, please call 847-592-9708 or email

Click here to download your Chicagoland Homeschool discount coupon. Download and print off your coupon, fill it in and bring it with you when you visit.

If you end up loving it, you can become a member (just $32 a year per person if purchased online) and enjoy it even more frequently, but either way you will more than likely come away with some great memories. Please feel free to spread the word about this fun learning opportunity.

It gets even better . . .

To help spread the word about these specially designed homeschool days, Legoland Discovery Center is giving away a free pass for one family (2 adults and up to 4 children) to enjoy their facility.

If you would like to enter this drawing you must leave a comment on the post about this on the Chicagoland Homeschool Network. Everyone gets one free entry just by leaving a comment. You can earn additional entries by spreading the word. If you facebook, blog, or tweet about the homeschool days at Legoland Discovery Center and this contest you can earn another entry, just come back and comment again each time, telling where you spread the word.

Contest closes on September 15 at 10:00 pm and the winner will be announced at that time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TOS Crew Review -- Quarter mile math

Quarter Mile Math

Most programs have a limited age capacity, but everyone from my 4 year old ( letter and number recognition) to my seventh grader (pre-algebra concepts) have gotten in on this race.

Quarter Mile Math allows kids to practice their basic math skills through friendly competition with themselves. Recording their five best times, the program allows the student to run as either a car or horse trying to outrun their previous speed.

1/4Mile Image

You can purchase the product on a standard CD version in level 1 (k-3), level 2 (4-6), or level 3 (6-9) for $39.95 each, or all together for $89.95, and be set for speed drills into high school.

If you would like to enjoy the program for a shorter period of time, but with some additional features, you can purchase their deluxe version which is a subscription based program you can purchase and download from their site. This automatically includes all the levels and costs just $2.95 per month for the whole family, or $19.95 a year, $34.95 for two years!

My 12 year old likes the competitive aspect of it, and also likes to race against his sisters (an option with the deluxe version). With a standard version they could also compete against each other, but not at the same time.

Quarter Mile Math was easy to work into our school day as well. Each student really only needs to spend about five minutes each day on the program to strengthen and reinforce their basic math facts. My kids would often want to spend more time on it, but the expectation was at least five minutes of racing. This easily rotated in during my spelling practice with each of the kids.

If you need a product that will motivate your kids to drill their basic facts easily, self-motivating, and for a reasonable price, you will want to check out the Quarter Mile Math website for a demo you can download, full details on prices and products, a special section just for homeschoolers to help make the most of this resource, many other testimonials, and how to order this product for your homeschool.

For a limited time, through September 30, Christopher Wright of Quarter Mile Math is offering a special $5 off discount off any of their products (Standard or Deluxe) if you use the referral code: 7K7Z7. There is a place to input this code on the order forms.

Read more TOS Crew Reviews of Quarter Mile Math.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eggciting news!












Cheesy, I know, but I can’t help it. We have five good looking chicks right now. One more cracking egg (maybe), and two that haven’t shown any signs of cracking at this point. Five is just right, since that’s how many kids we have right now.

They are finally here. First some pictures of Bill, Mr. Whitaker, Jenny, Eugene, and Batman (that’s what you get when kids name their chicks – inspired by hurricanes, Adventures in Odyssey, and superheroes). I’ll try to pick my favorites, but it was so amazing, and they are soooo cute!

And, some videos . . .


Egg pipping:

Chick making it’s “hatch line.” Each chick would first methodically peck a crack all around the egg before pushing the two sections apart. AMAZING!

The final pushes:

Just hatched chick:

And, some more information . . .i

f you would like to attempt a chick hatching of your own, I would heartily encourage you to do so. My kids are already asking when we can get more eggs and start over again. This has been an all around amazing, spiritually significant, and wildly educational experience.

First, you need to figure out a few things:

- Where to get the supplies (incubator, chicks, brooder box supplies, etc.) Either check online (through a hatchery, like McMurray’s, or a company like ENascos) or your local 4-H or Farm bureau.

- Where the incubator will be kept and how to keep track of egg rotation

- What to do with the chicks after hatching. If you went through your farm bureau they might be able to make arrangements for the chicks as well.


We contacted our local 4-H group that had classes in the spring, which we had already missed. So, they referred us to the farm bureau and they were amazing to work with. Once we signed up as members ($30 for a 15 month membership), they would loan us everything that we needed for free.

They sent us home with an incubator, brooder box supplies, and lots of materials for classroom activities and experiments. Visuals, games, quizzes, teaching material, and a video that explained it all.

A few days later we stopped by our farmer’s house and picked up a dozen eggs to place in our preheating incubator.

Twenty one days and lots of turning later, we have chicks!

The final numbers:


- 12 eggs
- 9 candled well on day 4-7

(minus 1 that had a crack in it, so really just 8)
- 8 eggs showing good growth and movement on days 7-10

-   5 chicks, and counting!

Some places that helped us for information while caring for the eggs and chicks:
- The University of Illinois Extension has a great site with lots of info. We also got all of this in print with our egg supplies, but you can see it just as easily right online.

- My favorite answer location was My Backyard Chickens. They have a wealth of information and an active message board forum with limitless answers

- Some cute classroom activities for incubation time.

Some passages of Scripture that we used in our Bible time today to tie in our chick fever:

- Matthew 23:37 (portion), “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”
- Psalm 139 – the marvel of created life, the omniscience of God
- Psalm 8 – the responsibility of man to care for animals and all creation
- Matthew 6:25-34 – God takes such care of creatures in nature, how much more will He see that our needs are met

An amazing experience. All of my kids thoroughly enjoyed this, even my non-animal lover who has gotten out of bed three times already to make sure the chicks are doing okay. If you can’t do it in your home, or enjoy someone else doing it, there are lots of videos to watch online and much to enjoy even if it is not beak to nose.

Time to pray

Over the weekend the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

I have enjoyed spending this month in prayer for Muslims worldwide. 30 Days is a tool I have used for a couple years now. Here is the excerpt from Sunday's email. Please follow the links if you are interested in subscribing or learning more:

30-Days of Prayer for the Muslim World Ramadan 2009 / 1430: August 22 - September 20

Muslim Attitudes: Concerning the West and Christians in General

For Sunday 23 August, Ramadan 2009. "Loving Muslims Through Prayer"

Many Muslims do not practise their own religion regularly. They find themselves torn between Islam and Western values and culture. The relationships between Muslims and Westerners are sometimes tense. Each have attitudes of suspicion, rejection and feelings of injustice toward the other. This can lead to hatred. In addition, simple non-moral differences between cultures can be a major source of prejudice, problems and misunderstandings.

Unfortunately, believers are not always good examples of God’s character. In the words of one person who knows Muslims well, “Many Muslims have never met a believer who is actually living a real Christian life. This is certainly one of the greatest hindrances to effectively making the Messiah known among Muslims.”

Prayer Starters:

  • Pray that Muslims will be able to meet sincere practising believers and discern how they are different from cultural Christians.
  • With your children, share how a Christian should live in order to show a Muslim what it means to believe in Jesus.
  • Scriptures to meditate on and proclaim in prayer: Leviticus 19:2, Mt 5:48, Rom 12:2

Complete article:

You are welcome and encouraged to forward these e-mails to others.
Order Prayer Booklets in many languages.
30-days mailing list: Subscribe / Unsubscribe details

Chicks and carnivals

He's here.

Or, she's here, we won't know for two weeks from what we've heard and read. For now, Blake has named this first one Bill, but that is subject to change. We'll also get better pictures when he fluffs up and we move him out of the incubator. If you look off to the left in the picture you can see the little shriveled up piece of yolk that he was attached to right when he hatched. And, the egg shell to the right.

We saw a tiny crack before heading to bed last night and thought for sure we would wake up to a chick or two this morning. But, nothing changed overnight. If you look closely, on the top left corner of the egg you will see the crack.

So, this morning we watched and watched. Little cracks, little beaks peaking out. Nothing more. We read it could take 2-24 hours for hatching to actually finish, so we decided to do our Bible time.

Gone less than half an hour and we came back to a little chick! Can't believe we missed it with how much we have been glued to this thing. Oh well. Four more have definite pipps in them.

Did you know . . .

The eggs chirp? Shortly before hatching we could hear the chicks already vocalizing!

You can see the chick's belly button? After hatching you can see the little spot where it had been attached in shell

The chick actually eats the yolk? Before hatching it absorbs the yolk into its belly and that gives it the energy to hatch, and means it often doesn't eat or drink for the first day or two after hatching.

More to come . . . In the meantime jump over to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers for another great edition of the Homeschool Showcase.

Be sure to check it out! Lots of ideas for organization, crafts, and great educational interactions with your kids.

Day in the life

Each homeschool family, schedule, philosophy, and environment is unique. We can also all learn from each other. Even people who do things in a way completely different from my own have lots to teach me.

Taking a peak into the everyday life of any given homeschool family will show you a bit about who they are, their goals, and their priorities. I'll share a glimpse into my day, and then you can jump over to 3boybarians to see a number of other "day in the life" links.

I already posted on my other website about how I print out individual schedules for each of the kids' school days, but there is much more to our day, and lots of life that happens even in the process of a normal day.

Keep in mind, while this may be "normal" we only expect about 2-3 normal days each week. Many days end up differently as we roll with the punches.

6:30 -- I'm up, usually run or walk a mile or two with the dog

7:00 -- My quiet time. If the kids are already bustling around sometimes I get breakfast started, or tell them to and try to get my prayer and Bible reading in while being peppered with "Good mornings" and questions about the day ahead.

7:30 -- Breakfast. We all eat and then while they clean up I usually jump in the shower

8:00 -- Daddy leaves for work and we get our morning chores done(for a sample of our daily chore breakdown you can see this chore post). My reward for myself for staying on task in the morning is computer time. :-) If I'm a good girl and get all my chores done before school starts at 9:00 I get to spend the remaining time on the computer.

9:00 -- Bible time

9:30 -- Missionary Biography

9:45 -- Spelling Power (5 minutes each child, just older 3)

10:00 -- Math hour (15 minutes with each of the four school aged kids) While they are not with me they rotate between working on their math/English on their own, typing, music practice, handwriting, and silent reading.

11:00 -- English/reading hour (15 minutes each again)

12:00 -- PE -- one day a week we run, one day we go to the weight room, and three days of other activities (units: soccer, badminton, basketball, etc)

12:30 -- Lunch with Dad and midday chores

1:15 -- Study hour for older kids and I do Sonlight Core 1 with the younger 3

2:15 -- Free time/quiet time for little kids and I do Ambleside Online year 5 with older ones

3:15 -- Notebooking page, one a day on rotating topics

3:45 -- Reading with Nathan if it didn't get tucked in somewhere else

4:00 -- Outside free time

5:00 -- take turns helping prepare dinner

We have been on this newly tweaked schedule for a week now and it is going really well. Friday we do all the things that don't fit into a regular day including studying artists, composers, nature, foreign language, music, etc. I'm pretty sure by Christmas I'll be bored with it all and will revamp it all once again, but that's the way it goes with homeschooling.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Verse of the week - Psalm 119:35-37

Nearing the end of The Principle of the Path, I have realized that although the general direction of my life is honoring to God and seeking Him, I have many little areas that still need reigning in.

These verses highlighted this thinking:

35Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.

36Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.

37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

My daily direction needs to submit to His direction. My attentions need to focus on His way. I need to find my life in His way of living.

This paragraph screamed at me:

"Wait a minute; who said anything about resisting God? I may be guilty of a bit of misprioritizing but I don't have anything against God," here's something to consider. When we resist God's will for our lives, we are in essence resisting God. When we resist the priorities he has established for us through Scripture, we resist him. When we resist taking full responsibility for the people he has entrusted to our care, we resist him. When we are poor stewards with the financial resources he has entrusted to us, we resist him. Subtle, I know. But it is still there.

I don't want anything competing for God's attention in my life. I want to follow His direction in my parenting, in my homeschooling, in my marriage, in my stewardship. If I allow something else to steal my line of sight even for a moment, I begin to veer off course. I've got to stay solidly focused on Him.

Reminds me of a friend of mine who recently got to ride in an aerobatic plane as a passenger. She was so struck by the need for the pilot to completely focus on the lead plane. "All" he had to do was follow precisely through loops and dives, accelerations and dips. Just keep that lead plane in the same spot out front.

That's all God asks of me. Should be pretty simple, really. No doubting or questioning, just focused following.

Lord, keep calling me back. I just want to follow. ~Amen

Make me to go in the path of thy commandments;
for therein do I delight.
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies,
and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity;
and quicken thou me in thy way.

~Psalm 119:35-37~

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekly Wrap up -- Week one

One afternoon the kids enjoyed making creations from our garden harvest.
This tomato basil bite was a big hit with my little tomato lovers!

Getting back into the school routine always brings some relief, and some grief.

We definitely enjoyed getting back into the swing of things, rediscovering our groove. Next week we will add back a couple more subjects that we skipped or stayed light on this week, and within a couple weeks we will have ballet and gym and swim back in the mix as well. And, before we know it we will be taking a break for Christmas!

Our first week of "real" school went well. This year I have combined the kids into two core classes for history and science. This is so much easier than trying to do the three or four that I attempted last year. We have more time to really dig into the topics and discuss the readings rather than just rushing on to the next thing.

We stayed home all week! I love that. We had a couple sweet guests one afternoon (my neighbor's children), and my girls LOVED having a baby to hold all afternoon, when he wasn't sleeping.

Our chicks should be hatching over the weekend or the early part of next week, so stay tuned for pictures of those. Today we spent the morning doing all the activities that I had intended to spread over the last three weeks, and somehow we didn't get a single one of them done until today. Good thing I planned open Fridays this year . . .

I went to find my camera to see what pictures I had to include this week, and found the memory card full. I deleted most of the extra 200 pictures, but wanted to share a couple of these "favorites" from my five year old photographer/camera thief:

Reading we are enjoying . . .

- Abraham Lincoln's World -- I really like these books. Last year we read George Washington's World, and this pretty much picks up where that left off. It is amazing to watch the progression of history and put it into the context of the life span of one major historical person.

- We enjoyed the summer reading program at the library so we have extended it to home. When my girls finish five reasonably sized books we will go out for sundaes. Well worth the expense. They are reading like they usually only do in June. :-) Reading on their own -- Little House in the Big Woods and A Cricket in Times' Square. Love it!

Projects that enhance our learning . . .

- We have started a lapbook which you will hear more about soon as well. From Journey through Learning. We are currently doing the Parables of the King and even my anti-lapbooking child is enjoying it.

- Chicks, chicks, and more chicks. We swung by our farmer friends house this afternoon after our school week ended. Enjoyed the new baby goats nibbling our fingers and said hello to all her beautiful chickens. Excited to have our own soon (at least temporarily)! We picked up some feed to get our little ones started, and talked eggs and chickens and all that fun stuff.

Challenges we wrestle with . . .

- Work to be done. My husband is excessively busy with work right now and somehow managing, but it is hard having such limited time together each day. That hour or so is precious, but not enough. Just a season, and the end is in sight. He is amazing the way he manages it all and stays so level headed!

- Motivation. Isn't that always the case? Sitting here on the computer is so easy. But, I really have much, much, much to get back to. So despite my minimal motivation, I better move on.

More weekly wrap ups.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

TOS Crew review -- ALEKS

If ever a math program could be tailor made for the tech-loving, middle school aged boy, ALEKS would fit the bill. It has a much wider audience and application, but in my home it met with the most enthusiastic reception from Blake.

ALEKS describes itself as follows:
Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. ALEKS can provide you with the instruction and support that you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. ALEKS offers highly-targeted, individualized instruction from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a comprehensive and mobile education solution for your children.
Overall, we really enjoyed our trial with ALEKS, so let me break it down for you.

What we loved (and, some of this I might not have discovered if my 12 year old had not had so much fun poking around to figure out all he could do with it):

- Jump right in! You don't really need to figure anything out ahead of time, it is ready to use once you start your subscription or trial. Pick the grade level for your child, and let them loose!

Student MyPie

- Visible progress. As each topic is mastered the kids fill in wedges of their pie chart. The sense of victory is impossible to miss in those glowing eyes.

- Very little writing! Once again, my 12 year old loved this. He loathes anything involving a pencil, but didn't mind doing the few problems on scratch paper that he needed to since the vast majority of his work was typed or clicked in.

- You can send little messages to your math students through the ALEKS program, and they can send them to each other. Blake would send his little sisters challenge questions by emailing them screen shots and links to his problems and reward them with Webkinz dollars if they got it right. What a clever kid! He had to show me how to do that one. :-)

- Make your own quizzes. They give you so much flexibility in putting together a quiz for your child, and still without you having to come up with the actual problem. You can pick the length of the quiz, the topics it covers, when they have to take it, how long they have to take it, how much each problem is worth, etc., etc. And, they walk you through all of it, so I could even do it without my 12 year old helping me.

- Weekly email updates. Each week, just in case I forgot to check obsessively throughout the week, they would automatically email me a summary of each student's progress.

- Online records and progress. You can see everything they do summarized into neat little charts for your knowledge. Attendance records show when and how long they were logged in, how many topics they attempted and mastered, their level of mastery of each topic and much more.
Master Attendance Report
(This is just a sample, not mine My kids did not spend hours every day on ALEKS)

- No grading! That doesn't need any more explanation.

What we tweaked:

- Because I let the kids work on their own, we had to lay down ground rules initially about when to use the calculator (only when ALEKS lets you use their calculator), how much time to spend on it, and avoiding distractions during logged in time.

- The assessment at the beginning is rather lengthy, and my kids got a little weary of the process. So, I let them complete it in more than one sitting. It was just fine. The next time they logged in, it put them right where they left off.


- This is designed for kids in 3-12 grade, but they wisely recommend younger kids (3-4 grade) have parental assistance in the process. I definitely agree with this. My 8 year old is not a strong reader, and could not always follow the explanations. It would be nice if they had an audio option or some animation to make it easier to follow for young readers. We knew it going in, but it did make it less desirable for her.

- Also, as with most computer programs, some kids learn to work the system. I assume he would eventually have to tackle these tough topics, but I found in watching Blake that when he picked a topic he didn't like or found too hard, he went back and did something else. If we were to use it long term I think I would need to go through and assign him topics to work through at least some of the time so he didn't just put them off.

- I would have like more review. Maybe I'm just used to Saxon and similar programs, but I didn't feel like ALEKS had enough review built in to their program. It will review a couple problems at the start of each session, but I would be interested to see if the retention is there long term using this program.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely, in certain situations. Personally, I would probably not use ALEKS as our regular math program, but I could see using it to keep skills fresh through the summer months or breaks. It would also be helpful if you were taking an extended vacation where you would still have internet and wanted the kids to keep up on their math while gone. Or, in a time of family crisis it would be a great fill in to free up mom/teacher while not compromising academic excellence.

If you have not tried ALEKS before, you can also get a free one month trial and discover all they have to offer for yourself:

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

If you already know ALEKS is for you feel free to jump into a subscription. It regularly costs $19.95 per student per month, but they have other discounts for families and 6 and 12 month subscriptions.

To learn more of what others have to say about ALEKS, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beginners guide to notebooking

After much anticipation on my part, but plenty of procrastination as well, I have decided to add notebooking to our school schedule.

We dabbled in it a bit this summer, and have done lapbooks and various notebookish assignments in the past, but we will now make it a regular part of our school day, starting next week. :-)

Long ago I discovered the wonderful resources at Notebooking Pages, and have borrowed some items from their site already.

This summer I attended a workshop led by Jeannie Fulbright about notebooking and came away excited, but still not quite sure what notebooking was supposed to look like. I came back and searched the web a bit more and rediscovered this great description of how it works.

So, I pulled out the paper and we had our first official notebooking session.

The one thing that encouraged me that Jeannie Fulbright had said was you should expect to do one page per subject every other week. For some reason I had envisioned notebooking being a task that happened at the end of each subject every day (no wonder I was overwhelmed by the thought!) When she said that, it all seemed a lot more doable.

What it looks like in our homeschool:

- Study the topic as usual (books, pictures, online research, worksheets, etc.)

- Discuss the topic we have been studying (renarrate the books we have read, summarize the information we have pondered, remember the key people and events, discuss favorite parts and details, etc.)

- Write down key words that kids might not know how to spell (names, places, and technical terms)

- Pull out the paper (right now we usually just use one lined and one plain sheet, but this is where all those great notebooking pages come in handy)

- Each student creates their own memory of what we studied. They draw a picture of their favorite event, person, piece of artwork. They copy a map or portion of a timeline.

- I require my kids to each write some words with varying expectations. The youngest (4 years old) I expect to write (copy) one word. The oldest (12 years) expect a couple paragraphs from. One sentence per grade seems to be a reasonable guideline in our house.

- We have three pages a week scheduled. This way, over two weeks they will do one page for science, history, Bible, math, English, and two of their own choosing (art, music, nature study, folk song, etc.)

Around the web:

I love the casual addition of notebooking to our homeschool, and look forward to treasuring this permanent, portfolio type display of their learning progress.

For more Thirsty Thursday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Homemade Parachute




Homemade parachute -- for toys. Not for human use (in case you were wondering).

Have some dead time you need to fill? Bored kids looking for something remotely productive to fill their free time?

One Saturday afternoon I woke from a sweet little nap to find these supplies covering our table and my husband and kids having a lot of fun together.

DSC07182 First, gather supplies:
- Hole punch

- Plastic grocery bag
- string
- rubber bands

- tape

- scissors
- small toys ready for flight.


Second, arrange bag

- Best done with brand new, never opened bag if you have one.
- Otherwise, try to flatten it out to somewhat resemble a new bag

Next, this quick video clip shows how we folded the bags to easily cut two circles to use as parachutes:


Once the bag has been folded properly, you are ready to cut the excess off and easily form two circles in what is left in the middle.


Take one of the circles and put tape over six spots evenly spaced around the edge to reinforce the plastic. Punch holes through the bag and tape.


Decorate if desired using permanent markers



Tie strings to the holes, and attach to rubber band which then gets wrapped around the toy that is ready for take off.



This is a really fun, simple, inexpensive way to spend the afternoon. These can be wrapped carefully and thrown up to parachute down or dropped from a loft area or deck.

And, if you feel the need to make it educational as well, compare different items, make different parachute sizes, try different materials,  drop from different heights, etc. I’m sure your kids can come up with lots of variations to this simple “game.”

Enjoy more Works for me Wednesday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

TOS Crew Review -- Web Design for Kids


A quiet weekday afternoon in the summer -- too cold to swim, too wet to play in the yard, light school work and chores already done.

Now what? The DVD cover caught my 12 year old's eye and he popped it in. As I finished dinner prep in the kitchen I looked over and saw him absorbed. Then he was gone. Back again, gone again, back again. It would be helpful if we had a laptop I suppose. :-)

What had he discovered? A wonderfully straight-forward, simple enough for a child to understand, intro to web design and HTML.

He didn't need any encouragement from me to watch the video completely through, and he didn't need any help from me to accomplish the tasks that the instructor, Brian Richardson (creator of Web Design for Kids), so thoroughly explained for his audience.

We loved:
  • Easy to follow. Clear screen shots to follow along with, basic instructions, and step-by-step teaching
  • Can be started with or without internet access
  • Opens up a door to learning and creativity. With the foundational information that this video presents you can take some solid steps toward basic web page creation, or just have a lot of fun trying out different codes, graphics, and color combinations.
  • A 12 year old could easily follow this independently.
  • Now I know how to spot faulty codes, change text color, make words move, and a few other useful html skills.

We tweaked:
  • Don't know if it qualifies for tweaking, but we found it much easier to watch right on our computer since we don't have a laptop. This worked well with half the screen showing the video, and the other half showing the notepad that we typed on.

  • For slow typers it can be difficult to keep up, but the pause button is just a click away. We found it helpful to work in pairs on this project so we could enjoy each other's progress and help pause and type as needed.

On the website you can watch a quick one minute clip of the video and view samples of web pages other students have created using this class. The DVD runs approximately 1 1/2 hours broken into 7 sections plus bonus material.

He is currently offering this basic HTML introduction for $19.99 plus shipping with a money back guarantee. If you are interested in getting a grip on the basics of HTML, need something to keep a technologically enraptured child productively engaged, or maybe you are looking for material for a little computer unit in your homeschooling, this video can satisfy any of those needs.

For more reviews check out the TOS Crew's blog

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Verse of the week - Hebrews 11:16

Note: With our first week of full time school ahead, and lots still to accomplish this weekend, I am reposting my very first verse of the week here. A verse I love, and one that brings back memories of working through Hebrews 11 with my kids a while back. Enjoy.

As I jump into this new blog, one straight from my heart, I want to share what God is teaching me that it may encourage and motivate others in their walk with Christ. As a homeschool mother of 5 also with a full time job, I know how our spiritual walk can get lost in the shuffle of a busy day. I desire to walk through my busyness hand in hand with my heavenly Father. He hears all my fears and confidences, weaknesses and strengths, sorrows and joys, losses and triumphs, and loves me through it all.

Each week I would like to share a verse that has ‘jumped out’ at me. This verse I will carry through my week, and pray that it will be a help and challenge to others as well. For this upcoming week I am highlighting a verse that I and my children are memorizing right now as we work through Hebrews chapter eleven. This is from verse 16, "Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

I love that verse. God has worked so diligently in recent months and years to instill an eternal perspective in my daily living. I pray that my actions and choices this week will show that I long for a better country, a heavenly one. I pray that God will not be ashamed to be called my God.

Wow! That’s quite a high calling. The hope of an eternal city built for us by a loving God should help remind us how temporal this life is.

“Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

~Hebrews 11:16 ~

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ambleside Online -- Artist study

Self-portrait in Florence
I have not studied art very much, but have enjoyed a good meander through an art museum now and then. This year, we plan to spend a bit of our time on Friday mornings studying a few artists and their work.

The first term we get to learn about Raphael

Ambleside links to a wonderful biographical summary of his life and work, and includes many links where you can view his paintings including some explanations to enhance the learning.

***That website, a Web Gallery of Art, has a vast database of images and information for the years 1100-1850. Whether you study Raphael or anyone else falling in that time period, that is a website you will not want to overlook.***

A warning regarding Raphael that I have read more than once now . . . if you go to Wikipedia to read about his life, you will want to pre-read the entry because it includes details regarding his death many would find inappropriate (and unnecessary) to share with most students.

These works by Raphael can be viewed and discussed (recommended by Ambleside):
The first chapter in this online book, Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, is devoted to Raphael.

A coloring page for his famous painting of the Madonna. You can click through to see an image of the real painting as well.

We got our feet wet with a couple art studies over the summer, and here is what our time together looks like:

  • Look at one or multiple pieces of art
  • Discuss what we see, what we like or dislike, etc.
  • Look some more, with or without conversation
  • Offer more opinions, emotions, note details, and read some additional background information
  • Every couple weeks we use our art time to compile a notebooking page

We plan to study two other artists later in the year, but I look forward to studying Raphael's works. Many have great spiritual significance, despite the immoral life he seemed to often lead. Always something beneficial to learn, if you just keep looking.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chick Flick ;-)

Photographing and movie making in a dark room is no easy task.

Despite their blurriness, I figured I would share:

We are about half way at this point. From some angles the eggs are half dark, half light. From other angles you can see through more of the egg, and you can kind of see the extra dark spot near the left side of the egg where the little chick is hopping around. Sometimes they really get moving. It is amazing to watch. Our earlier candling pictures were much clearer, but now you can really see the egg filling up.

Last night we pitched our non-thriving eggs. :-( So, we have 8 left in the incubator, and hopefully all will live. I hadn't thought about having to deal with all the death when I took on this project. Reading other people's experiences has me a little anxious. I just have a thing about dealing with dead animals. Don't know why, it's just one of those things. I could never be an exterminator as much as I like the idea of removing unwanted pests.

Here is one more clip if you want to play a little I spy . . .

If you watch carefully you can see the dark spot moving around. It kind of looks like it is swimming, dipping, bobbing, and having a good ol' time.

Half way to hatching!

On my nightstand -- The Principle of the Path

The new book at my bedside is called The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley. While the basic premise of the book isn't something that you couldn't come up with on your own -- if you want to get somewhere, you need to choose the path that ends there -- Stanley's applications and teachings springing from this principle are far reaching and thought provoking.

I heard about this book on the radio while out running errands one day and was struck by his illustration. It went something like this . . . someone approached him with their life in shambles, on the verge of divorce and/or financial ruin, and asked what the answer was. Stanley responded that there was no easy fix. If you get on a highway going the wrong way and drive 500 miles, you can't come up with some "fix" to suddenly bring you where you want to be. You have to start by driving back those 500 miles, and even then you are just back where you started!

So obvious, but so ignored in our regular life choices.

If you want to hear what the author has to say about this fairly new book, check out this 3 1/2 minute video.

Just wanted to share a couple quotes from my reading last night:
Our problem rarely stems from a lack of information or insight. It's something else . . . Our problem stems from the fact that we are not on a truth quest. That is, we don't wake up every morning with a burning desire to know what's true, what's right, what's honorable. We are on a happiness quest. We want to be -- as in feel -- happy. And our quest for happiness often trumps our appreciation for and pursuit of what's true.

That made me catch my breath. How often is that true in my life? How often do I intentionally look past the true truth, to what I want or what makes me happy at the moment, or my fabrication of the truth? I've got to filter my choices through a desire for truth, God's Truth!

Of course, Stanley has much, much more to say, and I am devouring this book. I do have one more follow up quote to share before I move on for now:
When we stand at the crossroads between prudent and happy, we lie to ourselves. We turn into dishonest salespeople. We begin selling ourselves on what we want to do rather than what we ought to do . . . Once we get fixated on the happiness option, we assign our brains the task of coming up with a list of very convincing reasons to support our choice. Reasons, by the way, that really have nothing to do with why we chose to do what we did.

He then gives an illustration of the typical car buyer that says they bought the newer SUV because the gas mileage on their less than two year old one was killing them. We all have our own scenarios where we rationalize our choices with completely irrelevant reasoning, sugar coating our poor choice to make it go down better. I couldn't help but thinking of the ice cream I ate at 11:00 the other night . . . and my husband even lovingly asked what I was doing. I should have listened, but you should have heard that dishonest salesperson jabbering away in my brain.

Need some inspiration to make sure you are on the right path? Can't necessarily change the past besides driving back those 500 miles we shouldn't have driven in the first place, but we can make sure that we choose our current paths based on where we want to end up. I still have two thirds of the book to finish, but so far I really recommend it (and, of course, I found it at my library, so even if yours doesn't have it, you should be able to get it through interlibrary loan, at least when I'm done. :-)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Party time


















Another year, another party. Paige turning 10, and Faith turned 8 (no more booster seat!)


I always enjoy planning their parties and then always somewhat regret the excess hoopla we put into it all.

Since their birthdays are close together, we usually try to celebrate together if it works out. As different as they are, they have occasionally been able to agree on a theme. This year, the vote was unanimous – baking!


The festivities began with shirt decorating. I found these t-shirts for $1, and thought they would make perfect “aprons” for the party.



A bag full of Sharpies, some paper in the middle of the shirt to prevent bleeding, and lots of child-like enthusiasm.

Then, we cooked, and cooked . . .


Funnel cake, pretzels, sugar cookies (just a mix, no great recipe to share)! I couldn’t believe how well all the girls did. They had lots of fun, and got a little, uh, enthusiastic at times, but everyone seemed to have a great time.

We skipped the traditional cake and put candles in the ice cream when we sat to take our eating break.

And, although we had plenty of activity with the cooking, the girls still wanted some games. So, we played “pin” the number on the measuring cup:

This actually turned out pretty well. Please ignore my lame excuse for a measuring cup. I was proud of it when I first drew it, but now it looks like a pretty pathetic excuse for a measuring cup. Oh well, it worked. At their turn, each girl was blindfolded and given a sticky note with a number on it (from 1/4-2) and they had to try placing it on the appropriate line on the cup.

We also played a very messy round of popcorn relay. The first team to fill their cup with popcorn by carrying it on a spoon would win. Should have gone with my initial plan to play this outside. My laziness kept us in. My husband graciously vacuumed after we finished. :-)

A few other games that were ready to go, had to stay unplayed as the clock ticked faster than we could cram things in. I was quite grateful that one of the moms stuck around for the party she was an immeasurable help.


Now, I’m exhausted. A week off of school, lots of final planning to be done, eggs to be turned and a couple last fun flings to enjoy. Oh, and in case you don’t already know about my party planning consultant, feel free to check out Birthday Party Ideas. I get some of my ideas and almost all of my inspiration from their site.