Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Orange Juice and other adventures

We have enjoyed a wonderful break from everything! No school, no work. Lots of time to relax and enjoy each other.

Can't say we haven't been productive though. We have cleaned and decluttered and I've been spending lots of time planning out the rest of the school year. My school room is in order, the papers from the first part of the year are filed away, and I compiled the kids' grades for the first term.

We have also had lots of snow to enjoy. LOTS! We have shoveled and plowed and sledded and piled and climbed and enjoyed, some more than others of course.

We also celebrated a birthday, American Girl style, but more on that another time, because it definitely deserves a post of its own.

Mostly, we have had lots of time together. Cooking, playing, celebrating. Together.

The other day I decided to make some fresh squeezed orange juice to serve with breakfast since we have time to spare at the moment. Nathan came to help and loved feeding the peeled wedges into the juicer.

As he took a sip he marveled at my cooking prowess, "Mom, you even know the recipe for orange juice?"

Yeah, I'm something else in the kitchen . . .Add Image

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress Lapbook

Pilgrim's Progress has entered into a few conversations recently in our home, and I had an inspiration to use this for our Bible time for a while. We will read the book, some of the corresponding Scriptures, memorize a verse a week, and put together a lapbook as we go.

Spark Notes -- study guide for the book. This is not from a Christian perspective so they misinterpret the main message of the book (in my opinion), but it is a good starting point to gain a literary understanding of Pilgrim's Progress.

Ambleside Online -- has a number of links and suggestions for online copies, the best editions, and audio versions available as well.

Bunyan Ministries -- offers coloring pages that provide a perfect hands on activity for the preschool group

J. I. Packer -- wrote a book on the principles in the booklet. I could not get may hands on it, but anything I have read by him I have enjoyed, so I need to keep my eye out for this one.

A Sunday school curriculum -- This builds around Pilgrim's journey and has some fun ideas for acitivities and such. At first it threw me off because it is called the "CM curriculum." I was of course thinking Charlotte Mason, but no . . . I think they are referring to Children's ministry. :-)

Brief biography of John Bunyan -- This gave us enough of what we needed in terms of background and to complete a minibook about him. Just a short, one page summary.

Map of Pilgrim's journey -- we will use this for the cover of our lapbook, and a great reference throughout the reading.

Jimmie (lapbooker extraordinaire) offered a simple tool that helped me organize the actual material and my whirling thoughts into a workable lapbook.

Other products available for purchase if you want more to pull from, or even an organized curriculum to use:

Answers in Genesis -- a study guide combined with the original text of Pilgrim's Progress. This looks like a great resource if you like the all-in-one deals. It has discussion questions, a unit study design, and lots of extra information.

CurrClick -- not the lapbook I was hoping for, but a 127 page notebooking type resource designed for use with Pilgrim's Progress

The Plan:

12 weeks of reading
  • Reading 3 days each week, one day a week for review and more discussion or questions, and one day for extra lapbook work if needed. Each week we will also choose a game from the Sunday School curriculum as well. We may end up moving faster, but I get frustrated when I set my sights too high and end up taking twice as long.
  • Ambleside recommended a text broken into 36 weeks, we will use this guideline for the amount we cover, reading three "weeks" each week.
  • For our actual reading, we will most likely use this online text that includes the text of the Scriptures right in the body of the text. I may not read them all out loud, but I like the convenience of having them all right there.
Memory work

We will work on a verse at a time, reciting it a few times each morning until all of the children have it mastered. It was really hard to narrow this list down to the dozen or so verse I think my children can all learn in this amount of time. These are the verses I plan to use: Psalm 38:4, Isaiah 64:6, Titus 1:2, John 12:25, Matthew 7:14, Matthew 7:7, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 1:13, Proverbs 6:6, Romans 8:37, Psalm 38:18, Proverbs 23:23, Proverbs 9:10, Revelation 22:14

The lapbook

We will construct a little of this each day (doing two to three mini-books each week), but I don't want it to be a distraction from the text and Scripture discussion either. When we did our parables lapbook at the start of the year it prompted great discussions, so I am excited about another Bible related lapbook.

Cover: The map of the journey. This printed fairly well. Some parts appear to small or unclear to read, but most of it is easy to follow.

Other Graphics (Original pictures from Pilgrim's Progress are in the Public Domain. There are not tons of them out there, but definitely enough to add some authenticity to the lapbooks):
I printed out multiple copies of many of the illustrations and numerous blank lapbook templates for the older kids to use on their own. I will help my kindergartener put hers together, and I will use the coloring pages from Bunyan Ministries for my preschooler to use.

Topics for minibooks:
  • Author info
  • Characters (I decided not to require my kids to do a mini book on each character, but rather to highlight ones that stand out to them as we go along. They should choose at least one a week, but can do more if they desire) - Pilgrim, Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, Worldly Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Charity, The Interpreter, Apollyon, Shining Ones, Faithful, Talkative, Mr. Byends, Hopeful, Giant Despair, Diffidence, Demas, Temporary
  • Locations - (These are just some of the highlights) Destruction, Slough of Despond, Interpreter’s home, Valley of Humiliation, Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity, plain of Ease, Doubting Castle, Delectable Mountains, Enchanted Ground, land of Beulah, and Celestial City.
  • Lessons taught
  • Memory verses
  • Symbolism (for the older kids)
  • Themes
  • What is an allegory?

I expect them to complete at least 25 mini-books (just over two each week). For the younger ones I will pre-make many of these, but the older kids can have more, but not complete, freedom to include and exclude what they want.

As the weeks go by I will try to post the progress on the lapbooks, and of course the finished product in March or April. I am interested to see how different each child's book is and to really dig into Pilgrim's Progress in this manner.

Something to think about

Our extended family Christmas celebrations have already wrapped up for the year, and now we look forward to a couple relaxing weeks off of school and work. Lots of time together as a family, lots of laughter, sleeping in, playing, and down time.

I received an email with this video that got me and the rest of my family thinking.

Really made me think, once again, about our priorities and choices at Christmas time. God gave His Son to save us, and to set the example for us to follow. Selflessness, humility, people-focused, service oriented, giving.

Made us think . . . What else can we do to show God's love to other's this Christmas?

What can we change in our Christmas habits and traditions to bring greater glory to God?

My son, 12 years old, especially recognizes that he doesn't need much. His basic needs are met, and he won't get much benefit from new or more video games, gadgets, or other temporary gifts. He asked for gifts for others. He received $490 of clothing, two soccer balls, Mosquito netting, and school supplies, of course all sent on his behalf to those that really need those things.

My daughters got boxes of stuff for the American Girls. Great gifts, they love them. But, what will really last longer? I pray I can be as selfless as my son when it comes to receiving gifts.

I can usually think of something that I "need." But, when I put that into the perspective of people dying from lack of clean water or warm clothing, it changes a bit. Or, people dying without a saving knowledge of the gospel. WOW, I don't need anything that I don't already have, and I could survive without half of what I already own.

This Advent Conspiracy group (that made the above video as well as an updated one for this year) doesn't take donations, they are just urging you to get involved, somewhere.

Who can you help?

Where can you volunteer?

What ministry can you get behind? So many of them are facing serious shortfalls right now.

Follow God's tugging on your heart, and scrape together some extra money, or return that gift that you or someone you know doesn't really need, and instead give a little more.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TOS Crew Review -- Maestro Classics

As long as I can remember I have loved classical music. The sound of an orchestra tuning up, the rich french horns, the beat of the timpani, the shrill piccolos, the conductor losing himself in the piece. Between piano lessons and attending concerts, my parents encouraged this interest.

I was quite excited to receive The Tortoise and the Hare from Maestro Classics. This CD, just one of many that they offer, combines music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and professionally narrated tales in a way that children will enjoy and learn through listening.

Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon have created these sets to help children learn about instruments, classic tales (including Casey at the Bat, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, and Swan Lake), and the joy of great orchestral music.

Maestro Classics

Product: The Tortoise and the Hare by Maestro Classics
Details: A CD combining music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra with a re-creation of the classic tale, "The Tortoise and the Hare." The CD repeats the performance twice and includes explanations of the tale and the music, a fun song called "The Pretzel Vendor of Paris," and a music-only version of the Pretzel Vendor song so kids can sing along on their own.
Price: Generally these CDs sell for $16.98 each, but they often have sales, especially when purchasing more than one. At this time they have a deal for 3 CDs for $45.

What we loved . . .

  • Very professional productions. From the music to the narration to the interesting facts shared in the other segments of the CD, this is a high quality production.
  • The CD offers a great introduction to the instruments of the orchestra, awareness of tempo and the feel of various types of music and instruments, and music appreciation.
  • Easy for young ones (preschool) to understand while not sounding too babyish for lower elementary kids to listen along and learn as well.
  • Endearing graphics. The conductor, the animals, and the other images are well done and memorable.
  • Your child will probably get the most out of it by listening through it with you and discussing what is being played and taught throughout the CD, especially the first time.

Things to keep in mind . . .
  • Some kids just don't enjoy classical music, at first, or even for a while. As much as I loved this CD and wanted my kids to feel the same, it didn't keep their attention the way I had hoped. Maybe it was because the story was too familiar, maybe it was the music, I'm not sure, but this unfortunately wasn't something they requested to listen to on their own.
  • The tale itself is 20 minutes which we found a bit long for the preschoolers to sit and really pay attention to. They don't mind having it on in the background while they play.

The Maestro Classic website offers bios on the creators, listening samples, lists of available products, and even a few lesson plan ideas for a couple of their musical stories.

If your child enjoys music and stories, or if you want a simple tool to help introduce them to orchestral music, the Maestro Classics definitely will fill that role.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This CD was provided to me free of charge from Maestro Classics as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Brooke!

Today we return to all even number status. Our kids are now 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4. For five months I have a relatively easy time remembering their ages.

In honor of my dear little six year old's birthday, she wanted a gymnastics cake. So, of course I did my best.

Really fairly simple. Butterfinger bar held up with pretzels for the balance beam, skewers for the uneven bars, and Polly as the star of the show. Of course, after I wrote "Brooke 6" and thought I was done she asked, "Where does it say 'Happy Birthday'?" So, we squeezed that in, too.

Happy birthday, Brooke!

My 7-11 baby. All births are memorable, but yours was a bit over the top. Just Daddy and me, the front seat of Grandma and Grandpa's car on a cold dark Sunday morning.

My ballerina gymnast. You are amazing to watch in your small class of older girls. You really hold your own and rise to the challenge.

Lover of green. I need to occasionally remind you that all shades of green don't necessarily match.

Loving older sister. You are so sweet with Nathan. Although he is just 18 months behind you, you show such love and care for him even in the midst of the precious friendship that you share. Of course you have some great older sisters to imitate as well.

Your big eyes and contagious smile are a blessing to our home.

Happy birthday, to a very special little girl.

Verse of the week - Ephesians 5:1, 2

Children love to imitate their parents. "Cooking" their favorite meals in plastic cookware with child-sized utensils. Clomping around in shoes ten sizes too large. Beautifying themselves with makeup. And, helping with adult jobs whenever allowed.

We don't criticize them for their clumsiness. They don't shy away because they can't quite do it right. They keep trying, and grin up at us in their childish innocence seeking our approving smile or words.

My Christian walk should look similar. Ephesians 5:1,2 says, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

Sometimes in working out my faith the shoes might seem too big or the sleeves a touch too long. Sometimes, I might try to imitate God and I don't really understand what He is doing, but I copy and mimic, and humbly follow, knowing He knows best.

Lord, Help me to follow you as a simple child. Not always seeking explanation, but trusting You completely, and knowing I will slowly grow into the wisdom and habits that You lead me through. Thank you for coming to live it out for me in human flesh -- Emmanuel. It still doesn't all make sense, but it helps having that tangible picture to follow after. Thank you for accepting my feeble attempts at following. When I grow up I want to be just like You. ~Amen

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
And walk in love, as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

~Ephesians 5:1,2~

Sunday, December 13, 2009

TOS Crew review -- Mathletics


: Mathletics
Details: An online subscription to a site featuring math competitions and teaching.
Price: Right now this is $59 per year per child. And, knowing the Human Calculator's favorite number is 9 should get you an additional discount.

While I didn't know that we really needed another math product floating around the house, I quickly learned that Mathletics was not just another math product.


This became a common site on our computer screens, as my kids raced against kids from around the world in real time. But, the real competition was against their previous scores. The rewards poured in as my kids' math abilities continued to thrive in this lightly competitive and highly rewarding environment.

In addition to the speed drill type races against other kids they also boosted their math skills. Mathletics offers nine levels of math teaching and practice, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Students learn about various topics and again receive recognition for increasing their math knowledge.

I was surprised to see my kids highly motivated by the characters they chose and getting to "buy" new hairstyles, backgrounds, etc. as they completed more problems correctly.

What we loved . . .
  • Friendly competition. While the drills take place against other students, you really compete against your own best times. You receive rewards as you improve your personal score.
  • International involvement. My kids loved seeing what countries popped up in the races. New Zealand, UK, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico, UAE, etc.
  • Many levels of material. Topics cover mathematical concepts from kindergarten through eighth grade. It is not just speed drill material. A couple times now, in our "regular" math time, my daughter has said, "Oh yeah, I learned that already on the computer." It is definitely more than just playing games, but the kids don't need to know that.
  • Lots of recognition of achievement. Students receive points for topics mastered and improved skills, and printable certificates are available as well.
  • Easy to change levels. If you feel your child is struggling or having too easy of a time, you can easily change their level to one more appropriate

Things to consider . . .
  • Not a complete curriculum. While Mathletics offers a great supplement to math and definitely presents the material in an interesting and engaging format, it does not offer a thorough math teaching for each level. They seem to present it as a curriculum, but I do not feel it is as thorough as most texts we have used.
  • A little pricey if you have multiple children. While in general the price is reasonable, it adds up quickly with many school aged children.
  • Parents should check in on their student now and then. You will want to take some time now and then to see what they have worked on, how much time they spend on various topics and activities and check up on them. While the student can easily work independently, you will want to stay involved to make sure they make the most of the time online.
Mathletics is another great math resource. It definitely kept my kids' interest throughout the time that we had the subscription and they were sorry to see it end. It offers entertainment and motivation for a student to learn and practice their math skills even outside of the regular school day.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This web membership was provided to me free of charge from Mathletics as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

WFMW -- how do you measure up?

Time passes so quickly that I try to find any simple way possible to hold on to the memories. Not to keep time from moving, but to not forget where we have passed together, to capture the moments that have built who we are as individuals and as a family.

A wonderful garage sale find nearly five years ago now helps us record the simple passing of ages and growth in our children.

We have one for the boys and one for the girls.

Each birthday and half birthday we measure them to see how they have grown. We all gather round, grab the nearest book, and put a new mark on the appropriate panel.

My oldest son now likes to make sure that this gets done first thing in the morning, since you are tallest right when you wake up. :-)

Although I did not have to create these boards since I found them very inexpensively, you could easily make these yourself. I love that they are simple, sturdy, provide plenty of room for each child, and when we move, we simply take them with us, and reinstall them in our new home.

Here's the specs:
  • They are four feet long (from 2 feet to 6 feet) and just about three inches wide.
  • A simple yard stick, ruler, or tape measure can help you mark off the inches.
  • Then, either free hand if you are able, or grab a couple fitting stencils. Remember not to pick anything too babyish if you want to use them for years to come. Or you could do progressively "older" graphics as you go up the chart.

Simple memories in the making. Definitely works for us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekly wrap up -- December 11

This week provided a great balance of fun and work, but unfortunately no pictures to show for it. Of course, lots to get done this time of year, but with homeschooling we at least get to tackle it all together.

The fun . . . Before the temperature dropped on Wednesday night we did get some time to enjoy our first significant snow fall of the season. The girls especially loved it and spent every spare minute outside on Tuesday. They built a snowperson nativity scene, complete with baby Jesus on a broken snow shovel.

Wednesday we ducked out for a couple hours of sledding in the morning before buckling down with our school work in the afternoon as the temps began to plummet.

Despite the single digits on Thursday we enjoyed an open swim time in the afternoon. We met with some other homeschool friends we don't see often enough. They met us at the swim time and we all had a great time (moms talking, kids swimming, doesn't get much better than that!)

Friday we wrapped up our truly productive school week. Despite the various excursions we still got five pretty full days of school in, just not during "normal" school hours.

Books we are reading . . .
  • Right now we are listening to The Call of the Wild and The Endless Steppe. The Call of the Wild is a book I have never liked, and I'm not really enjoying it any more this time through. But, it was not a book I picked because I thought I would enjoy it. Others seem to be liking it.
  • The Endless Steppe on the other hand I am definitely enjoying. It tells the challenges faced by Polish Jews deported to Siberia during WWII, mostly from the perspective of the daughter in the family. It is high quality historical fiction. Clear glimpses into their difficult lives and unforgettable characters to take you there.

Some websites that have caught our fancy . . .

  • My son came across this one. You can listen to air traffic controllers at various airports, and see graphics of flight patterns from today and months past. He found the re-creation of the flight we took out to Hawaii last year . . . wishing we were there again, especially after this week's weather.
  • Grace Gems offers downloads and online readings from various authors and pastors of years gone by. Lots of rich encouragement and spiritual nourishment.
  • With the gazillion homeschool sites out there, and many of them great ones, too, I could probably easily find a new site each week. I enjoyed looking through Sunflower Schoolhouse. They have lots of links to free homeschooling resources and if you use workboxes they link to a number of other blogs that use that as well.
This coming week will wrap up our schooling for 2009, bring our children's ages back in line (all even ages again, for 5 months anyway), and lead us right into the hectic season of the Christmas parties. Then we get to breathe for a couple weeks.

How was your week? You can see what other people are up to at the Weekly Wrap Up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TOS Crew review -- Tektoma


Programming seems a difficult task for the untrained, and generally that holds true. However, Tektoma offers web based tutorials to help interested individuals get started in creating their very own computer games.

On the Tektoma website, the creators Tom Marx and Matilda O'Connor have built a place for budding video game designers. Using GameMaker software, a free download, they have put together a number of tutorials to help you understand this somewhat complex program.

GameMaker "allows you to make exciting computer games, without the need to write a single line of code. Using easy to learn drag-and-drop actions, you can create professional looking games within very little time." They make it sound easy, but without the tutorials on Tektoma I could not begin to create a game on my own. I know nothing of rooms and sprites and sound effects. But, with Tektoma, you don't need to know anything to get started.

Product: Tektoma Game Tutorials for Kids
Details: Web based tutorials geared for kids 7-17 (but fully appropriate for interested adults). Forums, FAQs, and technical help via email as needed
Price: Monthly membership is just $14.95 per month. Or, you can join for a whole year for $140. They have a free 14 day trial for a limited time that can help you see if Tektoma is really what you are looking for.

What we loved . . .
  • Easy to follow. Although my 12 year old son jumped into this easily, I was a little more uncertain. But, after a little time watching the videos, I realized that even I could use this program and have fun doing so.
  • Very well made. Clear visuals and sound. They really covered the bases. Step by step, everything you need to do shown clearly. They even have a video on how to use the videos. They do move a little fast at times, which is good when you kind of know what you are doing, and it is easy enough to pause or back up a bit if you missed something.
  • Great introduction to programming even if you have no knowledge.
  • The videos don't just show you what to do, they explain what you are learning as well. With enough use and interest you could easily become independent of the tutorials, at least until you move on to the next type of game. They plan to continue to add to the website, so even if you made it through all of the tutorials that they have, you will likely find more on their site to continue to expand your knowledge and ability.
  • You can share your games with others. Once you have created your own game, you can post it to their site for others to see.
  • They help you create a variety of games. Racing games, memory games, and arcade games are geared specially toward beginners. Then you can move on to platform and fantasy or adventure games.

Always a downside . . .
  • You can easily get hooked and not realize that you have just spent two hours in front of the computer. (ahem . . . not me of course, but my son)
  • Make sure you check out the system requirements (Currently, the tutorials are for computers running Windows XP or Vista only. Macintosh versions coming in the future. Broadband internet connection also required).
  • I found the GameMaker software complicated, but that's why they made the website. In one of the tutorials they say something to the effect of, "Even if this does not make sense to you now, just keep following along and doing exactly what I do and you will begin to understand." VERY true. I had no idea what all the numbers and labels and tabs meant, but after mimicking his actions in the video, I began to understand what I was doing.
Although this says it is geared toward kids between seven and seventeen, adults would definitely enjoy this product as well if they have any desire to begin learning how to create computer games. I also think the prime audience would be 10-14 year olds who would be old enough to do it independently, but not ready to conquer real programming. My 12 year old son really enjoyed using this and created quite a few different types of games with it, with no help from me (not that I could have been any help at that point).

Of course, right now they have that 14 day free trial so you can give it a test drive and see what you think. This might make a great Christmas gift for a computer inclined pre-teen or teenager (or adult . . .) If you would like to find out more about subscribing to Tektoma you can follow this link.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This web membership was provided to me free of charge from Tektoma as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lesson Learned

Just a quick inspiration from our trip out today . . .

If you accidentally push the "shuffle" button on your CD player without knowing it,

And, you are listening to an audio book,

Things might get a little confusing.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Instant Challenge -- Ready for take off


Just before Thanksgiving I came across a new challenge for homeschoolers, an Instant Challenge posted weekly over at Delightful Learning.

Basically, at the start of the week she posts a challenge, sometime during the week you hopefully accept the challenge along with your children, and participants return the following week to report on their results.

Last week's challenge involved flying objects, so I easily convinced my kids that we would attempt this project. Michelle makes it incredibly easy, and has everything right in the post that you need to know. The supplies needed, the time allowed, how to score the project (the competition aspect of this hooked my son for sure), and other details to help you enjoy this challenge with your child(ren).

So we set up the room and gathered our supplies:

Then, after a quick review of the rules we dug in. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my kids worked together to come up with an interesting plan for their flying object. We added some incentive as I decided to make my own project. I couldn't benefit from the group interaction, but it encouraged them to try even harder to beat me, or at least to give it a try.

Their flying contraption:

Interesting. I guess next time I will need to specify that you need to use the whole object, not just the piece that you tear off of it. Their idea: a rubber band wrapped with the various other supplies that they fling toward the designated target.

My plane:

Less creative, but with the supplies all included, just tucked inside the plane. And, just for the record, it flew further . . .

Nevertheless, the kids took their best shot. The girls cheered Blake on as he launched their production. It did well. Went almost 21 feet on its longest run, but still not the 22 feet that mine finished with ease.

I had some sympathy on them, and let them take a second launching time. That round they hit the target, at 21 feet, and easily outscored me with a total of 112 points.

A fun activity perfect for a Friday afternoon when the brain cells are begging for mercy. Can't wait to try this week's challenge . . . the leaning tower.

Some inspiration from the Duggars

Watching the Duggars always inspires me. Their joy and cooperation, their love for the Lord, and the difference it all makes in their everyday life helps me to refocus and re-sparks my own devotion to God and my family.

The Duggars: 20 and Counting!  -              By: Michelle Duggar, Jim Bob Duggar

So, I decided to check out their book from the library. 20 and Counting is an easy read and I finished it in just a couple days. The effects are a bit more lingering.

The book spends quite a bit of time talking about their personal backgrounds and many of the business and career involvements they have pursued over the years. I found those areas mildly interesting. They have some unique stories and experiences to tell, but I really soaked up the rest of the pages that overflowed from their hearts.

You might find encouragement from different passages and stories, as we each have our own challenges and questions, but I wanted to share some of what stood out to me:

- Keep God in the everyday. Michelle talks about bringing God's marvelous creation of our bodies very simply into a potty training time. I have that heart, but I know my parenting is not that intentional about weaving Scriptural principles into the nitty-gritty of life as much as I would like.

- Control your own anger. She gave a simple tip that I confess to having used at least a few times already this week. She referenced the verse, Proverbs 15:1 where it mentions that a soft answer turns away wrath. I have often thought of this in my interactions with others in terms of diffusing their anger. Michelle put a whole new twist on it. When she feels her own anger well up, she lowers her own voice. And, her emotions settle as well. Incredibly simple, but I cannot tell you how well this has worked in our house this week. Too often I set the thermostat for our interactions.

- Blanket time. I tweaked her description of this, which she tweaked from her source as well. And, to be fair, my kids are 5 and 4, not the toddlers that she had at the time. Sometimes my school room gets a little noisy while I try to work through Algebra or sentence diagramming, or some other intense school subject. Usually, I would loudly tell everyone to quiet down, or find something for the little ones to do, or turn on an educational computer game. Well, instead, we now do blanket time. And, as silly as it sounds, my little ones beg for it now.

They each get their blanket, spread it out, and choose one book and one toy. The rules are no talking and no leaving the blanket. For about a half hour I expect them to entertain themselves quietly while I teach the older kids in an environment much more conducive to learning. Another simple, but life saving method. :-)

- Love and joy in the home. What so many people love about the Duggars is their obvious love for one another, and the peaceful home they have as a result. It isn't perfect, and I love that their book is transparent about those rough spots as well. But, grounded on Scripture and a relationship with Jesus Christ, they clearly take the call to train up the next generation seriously while recognizing the great blessing that children bring to the home. If we model it, they will generally follow.

Parenting is a continual journey, and I continually search out those who I see doing things right so I can continue to learn and grow as a Christian, wife, and mother. Learning from those that are at least a few steps ahead, even if our paths look a little different, definitely works for me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TOS Crew Review -- All About Spelling

"Yeah, spelling!"

Not words you hear too often. Not words I recall hearing in our house until we started using All About Spelling after receiving it through the TOS Crew to review.

The perfect spelling curriculum for a variety of learning styles, from the beginner through middle school, students needing remedial spelling help (or phonics review -- this was great for my third grade daughter), or parents seeking a solid curriculum geared specifically toward the homeschool environment.


Product: All About Spelling
Details: A multi-sensory, logical, gap-free, mastery based, review-filled, and easy to use spelling curriculum for preschool through middle school.
Price: $26.95 for the starter kit (used throughout all levels); $29.95 for Level 1; $39.95 for each level 2-5 (level 6 coming in the near future)


What we loved . . .
  • This curriculum is clearly designed with the homeschooler in mind. Not some rewrite of a classroom program. Scripted lessons geared toward a one-on-one interaction with your child.
  • Very hands on. Lots to look at and touch to keep the learning interesting and keep the student engaged.
  • It works! My third grader has had a few glitches in her reading. We'd resolved most of the issues, but I hadn't been able to nail down one or two last areas that she was missing because she has a tendency to read whole words (despite her phonics upbringing) :-) This program has helped her slow down and helped us both identify and solve these remaining problem areas, already making a huge difference. I know it's not plugged as a reading program, but it ended up working that way for us.
  • Based on ability not grade level. We know that kids don't often fit the mold they "should." All About Spelling presents spelling in a progressive format, but not restricting it to grade level classification. While Level 1 had lots of easy material for my third grader, it ended up being a great place to start her off to make sure that we didn't miss anything.
  • Easy to use. A quick glance through the lesson and all the materials on hand and we can quickly jump right into the lesson.
  • Comes with just about everything that you need. With the starter pack and Level 1 (and we also received Level 2 which we have just begun to work with) you have everything you need. Letter tiles, magnets, CD, Phonogram cards, sound cards, key cards (with rules to learn along the way), and the spelling word cards. You do also need a magnet board, a file box for the cards, and possibly a dry erase board or chalkboard for spelling practice.

But, the downside . . .

  • Yes, this is a little expensive for "just" a spelling curriculum. However, most of the material can easily be used for later children with little or no additional purchase depending on your methods and preferences. And, I really felt like it reached into far more than just spelling. If I did not know how much we would love this product the price would turn me off, but in my opinion, it is definitely worth it.
  • It does take a little time to set up at first. Cards need to be torn along perforated lines (LOTS of cards), letter tiles need to be cut apart, and magnets affixed to the backs of them. With some extra hands this isn't a huge project, but it does take some prep before the first lesson.
  • Others have done it, but I had a hard time working through two students in the same level at the same time. Trying to keep their cards straight did not work well for me. I kept forgetting and putting them back in the wrong divider, or reviewing the wrong set with each child. So, since my younger daughter is just in kindergarten, and my third grader is moving pretty quickly, I am just waiting until she is done with level one at least to begin my younger daughter.
We really love All About Spelling. I am pleased with the quality of the product, the ease of use, and the excellent academic standard. If you think it might be for you, I would encourage you to visit their website. They have a free download with 20 spelling tips that everyone can take advantage of on their home page. You can also view their FAQ page and their advice on what level to order for your child(ren).

I definitely highly recommend this product.

For more TOS Crew reviews on this product, check out the TOS Crew blog.

Disclaimer: This spelling curriculum was provided to me free of charge from All About Spelling as part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew. I received no additional compensation and the opinions expressed here come from my personal experiences and sincere thoughts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

wfmw -- Intentional losing

There are only so many hours in a day. So,we obviously make choices. I like the reminder that whenever we choose to do something we simultaneously choose to not do hundreds of other things.

Well, one thing that I don't enjoy is playing certain board games. Now, I still treasure the time with my kids, the conversations peppered in throughout the time spent together, the smiles, the shared memories. But, the actual game. Hmmm.
Not my favorite pastime.

So, I sometimes intentionally lose. I might even stoop to reverse cheating.

"Are you sure it's my turn? Well, you can go ahead and take another one."

"I need to go check on ______ really quick, so go ahead and skip me this round."

"I'll sell you Boardwalk for a dollar."

Now, some games I do enjoy, and other activities with my kids I enjoy more (like reading books outloud, going on nature walks, or enjoying a good meal together). So, we still get lots of quality time together, but when it comes to certain board games, I'd rather rush it along. Plus, when you have multiple kids asking to play multiple games, you need to keep things moving, so I'm willing to take one for, uh, the team.

Intentional losing really has worked for me.

I guess this is also a good reminder, that what works for one person, might just not work for another. We all have our own love languages, preferences, and opinions. So, I'll keep playing those games, but I can't promise that I won't at least occasionally "help" them along.

Little Helper

Does it really help to cover just one ear?

Anyone else have kids that vacuum this way?