Saturday, January 30, 2010

Verse of the week - Psalm 143:5-6

Life passes by at lightning speed.

It seems when we get behind in one way or another we stay there as tasks get backlogged.

I renewed my commitment this week to start my day in His Word. Most days I get into the Bible at some point, but I see such a difference if I start there.

Continuing to read through the Psalms, I drank in these verses in Psalm 143:5,6, "I remember the days of old; I ponder all your deeds; the works of your hands I recall. I stretch out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land."

Taking the time to stop and remember, to stop and meditate takes time and discipline, but when I do it, WOW! This past Monday as I renewed my morning quiet time after a few weeks of skimping on it, God faithfully met me in that fresh way of His. Gently reminding that He was waiting all along. That it was I who inched away. Forgivingly meeting me with His love and presence.

As I look at all He has done through history, all He has done in my life, His presence cannot be ignored. When I recognize Him, and reach out to Him with my dried up spirit, He meets me.

I thirst, and He quenches.
I crave and He satisfies.
I reach and He is already there.
I hunger and He fills.
I question and He comforts.

I remember the days of old; I ponder all your deeds;
the works of your hands I recall. I stretch out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

~Psalm 143:5,6~

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Kinderbach


Although not a core subject, people have long recognized the benefit of gaining an understanding of music.

Even from a young age, children love to dance and sing and make noise, I mean, music. Through a wonderful website and online program you can turn this play time into productive learning about music, keyboarding, and even some basic music theory.

: Kinderbach
Details: A web based music program for ages 3-7. They offer a total of 60 weeks of lessons, with four lessons each week. Teaches basic keyboarding and music theory.
Price: $19.99 per month paid monthly or $95.88 for a full year.


What we loved . . .

  • Sheets to print off for kids to work on along with the video. Kids enjoy having something in their hands to help them follow along with what they see in the video. I could print out one for each child watching that day and they could participate as they watched.
  • Fun music, engaging songs and videos. Older kids might find them cheezy, but their target audience will most likely love them. They teach and encourage movement.
  • Memorable characters. Children will meet characters that teach them about music along the way. As they remember the characters, they also remember the musical lessons that they taught.
  • Enough material to last you over a year (60 weeks of 4 lessons each week!). They have their full curriculum for those weeks listed on their website as well.
  • Perfect for preschool through first or second grade (ages 3-7). This is a great introduction to music and keyboarding for young ones. They can march around, sing along, and learn the basics about notes, fingering, rhythm, tempo, and more. Music theory for preschoolers!

Some considerations . . .

  • You do need a keyboard that you can bring over by the computer, preferably one per child, or they can do the lesson more than once, taking turns with the keyboard, or one can pretend to have a keyboard as they take turns. But I don't need to tell you all that, you're a homeschool mom. You know how to improvise.
  • It does start very basic. If your kids have some music knowledge they might want to skip the first lessons. Or, they might want to do them anyway because they are so much fun.
  • Of course, the price is a consideration. If you were thinking of paying for private lessons anyway, this might be a more inexpensive alternative. However, over $90 is a lot to pay for a preschool music class.

If you have a young one at home that you would like to expose to some music lessons and want to take a closer look at Kinderbach, check out their free trial. You can enjoy the first two weeks of lessons free. If you like what you see you can sign up for more of this great resource.

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

Disclaimer: This web based membership was provided to me free of charge from Kinderbach 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.

Update on MathScore

Recently I posted a review of a product that we have enjoyed called MathScore.

Well, there is even more excitement to share, as they have recently added a number of new features to their website.

Straight from the CEO, this is what you can expect to find, along with the results of a recent study:

- Improved critical thinking topics: Several topics, primarily word problems, feature improved solution explanations. We now highlight the keywords that lead students to the correct operation. Our Commutative Property and Associative Property topics have been completely redone and are far more instructive than they were previously.

- Now you can press the ENTER key to move to the next problem. Previously, you had to press the TAB key to move to the next problem, which was good if you had a 10-key keypad, but difficult if you had a laptop without a keypad. Now if you are using a laptop, type the numbers mostly with your left hand and press the ENTER key with your right hand to move to the next problem.

- Improved clickable keypad: If you are using the clickable keypad (which can always be disabled), we now support the ability to go back to a previous problem.

- You can now sort topics alphabetically.

- Added new prerequisites for certain trophies: Students won't lose trophies they've already earned, but we did add a couple prerequisites to some of the trophies to make them more complete. For example, the math facts trophy now requires mastery of some word problems. The final fraction trophy now requires fraction simplification. We added these new prerequisites to make the trophies more mastery-based and aligned with the latest research-based recommendations.

- Added new Algebra assessment. If you want to do a diagnostic test for the first half of a typical Algebra I curriculum, you will now be able to select it.

By the way, we recently achieved some impressive test score gains in Del Norte County, California. A group of 4th and 5th graders that used MathScore for 6 hours or more in the 2008-2009 school year substantially outperformed 4th and 5th graders at the same school who either didn't use MathScore, or barely used it. The MathScore users rose in proficiency from 45% proficient to 83% proficient! In fact, the percentage of students who scored Advanced rose from 12% to 45%. For details, check out .

We're proud to be able to cost-effectively deliver the same quality service to individual families like yours.

Steven Yang
CEO, Accurate Learning Systems Corporation

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pilgrim's Progress Lapbooks -- Part 1

Three weeks ago we began reading through the incredible classic tale called Pilgrim's Progress and compiling lapbooks in the process.

Daily, we use many of the Pilgrim's Progress resources that I compiled in a post back at the beginning of this time.

This is the third lapbook that we have ever done, so we are still relative newbies to the lapbooking realm, but I find it a great way to compile, review, and visualize what we have learned. Some of my kids enjoy it more than others, but all of them prefer it over a plain written narration.

This is the first lapbook we have done since we really knew what we were doing {wink}. So, I have given the kids a little more leniency in how they compose their books. They can choose the format, style, and substance of their minibooks. However, as we read and discuss the book some passages and events clearly evolve more easily into minibooks and those have naturally appeared in all of their books.

We have used Homeschool Share heavily in our lapbooks. I especially like their listing that offers many different formats based on the number of divisions you need. For example, when they decided they wanted to make a mini-book on the main characters we had met so far, they needed something with 6 divisions. You simply look on the chart at the different options and pick which one you would like to work with. Some like the tabs, others the graduated books, and others simply an envelope that they put cards for each of the characters inside of.

Also, we have started to get comfortable with even making some of our own minibooks using auto shapes and such in Word. This is not nearly as difficult as I first thought. If you open a new Word document and click on the autoshape function you can create your own speech or thought bubble, hearts, rounded rectangles, etc. Then, you either type the words you want on it or print it blank and hand write it.

They each have four or five minibooks in place so far, and here is a sampling of what they have put together, with some of the discussion and methods that prompted their creation:

- Naturally, we first began with the author, John Bunyan. The front has his picture and name. The tabs contained various information that the kids thought important. Birth, employment, writings, imprisonment, family, and death. They each picked three tabs, but each of them put different titles and information on their tabs. We also went into a brief discussion of the time period.

- Into the text then, as Christian walked with Pliable he talked of the glories of the Celestial City. We took the questions and answers and put them into a graduated lapbook with words, illustrations, and Scripture references about what we can expect in heaven.

I made one of these heaven minibooks with my four year old and the next day he was flipping through saying, "Crowns, shining robes, lots of people praising God, angels, and we follow God to get there." I love that he has this tangible way to remember what we discussed!

- A few miscellaneous minibooks . . . the memory verses we have learned so far, and "What is an allegory?" For these we just used simple shapes doubled up. The question or passage on the outside, the answer or text on the inside. These are quick and easy.

- Every few weeks they will compose a book of the main characters that we have met during that time. They had many different formats to choose from for these, and they did well summarizing the characters and included pictures that we had found online.

My daughter made a book on the living illustrations from Interpreter's House using images she found in yet another web based rendering of Pilgrim's Progress:

Interpreter's House has given us some of the greatest conversations so far. We spent a whole week walking with Christian through this house. He saw an unquenchable fire fed secretly by a man with oil, a vivid picture of our own lives fueled by God. He watched as Patience and Passion showed their true selves and received their ultimate reward. And, he saw a man in an iron cage overcome and swallowed up by his own sinfulness.

This reminded me of a segment I have seen a few places now by Joshua Harris on giving in to evil:

My kids really enjoyed watching that and it gave a great visual for how important it is to just stay away from sin and not give the Devil a foothold in our lives.

Here is one of their lapbooks at this point in the game:

This is a long project which we will not wrap up until March or April. We have really enjoyed using Pilgrim's Progress for our Bible time and really spending time learning and discussing the various Scriptures and allegories throughout the story. I look forward to spending another 9 weeks in this book and really soaking up the richness of this great classic.

Monday, January 25, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Facts First

Math cannot progress well if we do not have a hold of the basic math functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. However, the drill or repetition required to master these is rarely exciting. Until now.

Facts First offers an affordable, entertaining way for your kids to learn, master, improve, and excel at their basic facts. They want your child to have fun developing an instant recall of these facts, and based on our experience with this program over the last month, they definitely succeed at this goal.

: Facts First
Details: A web based math program that was created by Skills Tutor, a sister company to Saxon, and is being distributed by Saxon Homeschool.
Price: $49.95 per year, this includes a one year household license for up to four users.

What we loved . . .

  • Fun, fun, fun-- Although entertainment is obviously not my chief goal during math lessons, my kids definitely ALL enjoyed this program. And, since it focuses on building their mastery and speed in basic facts, I don't mind a little fun in the process. Or, even a lot of fun.
  • Limited game time -- While it does reward the hardworking child with games, it limits these to 5 minutes at a time, and even the games often help reinforce their math facts.
  • Tracking progress -- You can easily log on and see how each child is doing. These easy to read charts show which facts they have mastered, and gives you an idea of how close they are to mastering other facts they have been working on.
  • Adjustable expectations -- I clearly expect my seventh grade to know his facts more quickly than my kindergartner, and Facts First allows for that. You can go into the controls and change the standard for mastery. This alters how fast the program expects an answer, any where from 1/4 of a second to 60 seconds, or even untimed if that works best to motivate your child.
  • Audio! -- Even my kindergartner can use this program fairly independently. A voice reads everything that she needs to know in order to continue to improve in her basic math facts
  • Instruction and drill -- The program doesn't just drill the facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), but it also introduces a new fact before drilling it and then adding it to the list of facts they might see in their quizzes.
  • Great graphics -- Just take a glance around their site, and you can't help but enjoying what you see. Colorful, eye-catching, this site is fun to use and fun to explore.
Some considerations . . .
  • Limited in scope. This program is just about basic math facts. These are extremely important to master, but don't expect something else from this program. It drills and redrills, and encourages kids to improve in their basic math facts.
  • One license for the house. My daughters didn't like that my son could also look at their accounts and see their mastery grids. Simple solution, I just made other people's information off limits, but as far as I am aware, there is no setting to prevent this.
  • Still may have too much game time. While I generally felt this offered a good balance of games and instruction, 5 minutes of play for a few minutes of work is still quite a bit. Of course, the games do include further reinforcement.
Facts First has a limited scope, but one critical to your child's success in math in the years ahead. Especially for multiple children, the cost is reasonable, and since the program is fun and able to be used independently, this is a great way for kids to work on their own and see their mastery grow without groans.

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

Disclaimer: This web based membership was provided to me free of charge from Facts First 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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Verse of the week - Romans 1:21

An emotional week. A powerful church service. Another soul stirring small group time.

I cannot begin to blog all my thoughts or responses over just the past few days, but here are a few snippets of what God has been teaching me.

First, the back drop:

My pastor spent a couple days in Haiti earlier this week and came back clearly shaken and moved by all the pain and also the fortitude of faith he say in surviving believers. I followed his experience on Twitter. Stirred to action.

Second, in small group we continued our study of Tozer's book, In Pursuit of God. He says, "God wants the whole person and He will not rest till He gets us in entirety." Reminder number 3,764 -- He wants ALL of me. Tozer speaks "of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper. . . we step out of the world's parade."

Lastly, God's Word works deeply within me with a verse my husband highlighted and I could not ignore. Romans 1:21 says, "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

It is relatively easy to know God. Read His Word, attend a sound church, study doctrine.

However, it is a whole nother realm to glorify God and come with a heart of gratitude. Too often, I foolishly fall short and glorify some imaginative tangent rather than keeping my focus centered on the real deal.

If my glory, ALL of my glory and honor, propel their way toward God, my whole being will continue to reallign itself in accordance with Him.

We closed church today with this song, and I continued to repeat those lines, "It's my joy to honor you, in all I do, I honor You."

Because that, when they knew God,
they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful;
but became vain in their imaginations,
and their foolish heart was darkened.

~Romans 1:21~

What about SOCIALIZATION?!?!?!

When I first started homeschooling I cringed at this question – oh no, they got me, the fatal flaw of the path a tread!

A couple years into it I answered with greater confidence in our choice -- I would rattle off our various involvements and talk about training in social skills and character and if that failed to impress then I would say that we also live with 12 other boys most of the time, so they get plenty of interaction with other kids since we have 17 of them living in the same house. Good enough?

I do like how one mom chose to answer the question about how she would socialize her children, she simply said, “Properly.” To read some other responses to this infamous question, check out this page.

As for myself, after many years of fielding this question, I now have a different response. I often snicker a bit under my breath reliving the many conversations I have had with people on this topic. And, I don’t say much of anything. I do often ask them to clarify what they mean by "socialization," because it means vastly different things to different people. And our conversation carries on from there.

In my journey to accepting homeschooling in all its glory, so to speak, I had to realize that my children don’t always need everything that ‘society’ tells me they need. They don’t need to spend their days with 27 other children all within a year of their age, studying the same topics at roughly the same pace, for a state prescribed amount of time by someone they never met before September who won’t even recognize them 10 years from now.

Socialization is one of those many ‘things’ that society tells me my kids need. Well what is socialization anyway? A few interesting definitions that I dug up around various web dictionaries:
  • The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure
  • The process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status
  • Socialization is the process by which humans or animals learn the values, norms and culture of their particular society. They learn to conform to the way of life in their society.

That makes you think, doesn’t it? Where better than home, surrounding by two loving parents, and an accepting environment to learn (which always involves stumbles and mistakes before mastery) how to prepare for adult status, to acquire values, norms and culture. I don’t think I would want my child ‘socialized’ in a school setting anyway. Behave similarly to others? Group pressure? Popular culture? Conformed to society?

Romans 12:2 is coming to mind here . . .

Then there are others that are really asking how my child will be able to socialize, which means something else entirely, that is to take part in social activities. That I really don’t see a need for. I suppose we do our fair share of it: sports, homeschool activities with other families, family get togethers, and various clubs.

However, were kids raised long ago largely removed from social contact somehow worse off? You know, that Laura Ingalls. If she had just had more human contact earlier on maybe she would have amounted to something. Poor Abraham Lincoln, just think what he could have been if he had access to today’s public school system!

Okay, I digress a little. God created something amazing when He designed the family. I know there is an incredible breakdown in families today, and this post doesn’t address that. I do know that God created me to mother and teach my children. He created my husband to father and teach our children. We enjoy our roles and take them seriously. I don’t think I could accomplish all that I feel I need to in mentoring these incredible lives He entrusted with us without 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 18 years, give or take.

I do give standardized tests occasionally for my own peace of mind, although they mean far less to me as the years go by, despite the ever rising scores. If I followed the school’s pattern my 12 year old wouldn’t be heading into Algebra 2. If I followed the state’s mold we wouldn’t have gotten in that 3 on 3 soccer game after lunch today. If I worried about society’s list I wouldn’t appreciate the depth of their individuality.

I guess the call to socialization is a strong one. I want to be the best example and encouragement possible for my children to learn biblical values and worldviews. That won’t come casually, I definitely plan on socializing my children, daily.

For more responses to this infamous question, check out the TOS Crew page on Facebook this coming Tuesday.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Keyboarding for the Christian School

Typing has become a necessary skill in this age of the computer. My high school did not offer a keyboarding or typing class, and I took advantage of the hunt and peck method through college. I actually got pretty good. I could type 35 words a minute with 95 percent accuracy.

Well, a few years later I ended up teaching typing, so I figured I should really learn, too. I spent a couple weeks really working on learning to type properly and almost doubled my typing speed with roughly the same accuracy. It has made my life significantly easier knowing how to type correctly.

So, now in teaching my own kids I have found it important that they learn to type starting at an early age. If you find yourself in search of a tool to help with this skill as well, keep reading.

Photobucket Photobucket

Product: Christian Keyboarding
Details: A typing curriculum for students utilizing some Scripture selections.
Price: $12.95 for the Elementary Version (K-5) ebook; $15.95 for the ebook for older students (6th and up). See below for current deals and combo discounts.

What we loved . . .
  • Immediate access-- Since this is a down-loadable ebook, you receive it immediately after purchase and can get started with it right away.
  • Easy to follow-- The books are set up like the typing books that I used when teaching keyboarding. Each lesson is clear in expectations and duration.
  • Scripture use -- I appreciate any curriculum that takes a necessary topic and incorporates Scripture use. While there is nothing spiritual about typing, these books bring your mind to the Bible, something we can't do often enough. Obviously, it doesn't jump right into verses, but once the letters are learned, verses are incorporated into the typing assignments.
  • Word processing basics -- While the focus is clearly on typing well, the lessons include some basic instructions on using most standard word processing programs and include necessary skills for preparing reports (centering, setting tabs, etc.)
  • Freebie pages -- To get a look at the type of lesson these books offer you can check out their Freebie page with sample lessons and resources.
Some considerations . . .
  • Not an easy program for young children to use independently. Because this is a book and not a software program young kids must be guided through the work. Even older kids will need some accountability to make sure that they use the material correctly and have typed as they were supposed to. Since typing is outside of the "core" subjects, I generally prefer a program that they can work through independently with just occasional feedback from me.
  • Not a "fun" product to use. While the elementary book especially incorporates a good bit of color and a cute ladybug, these books teach typing in a very structured way through repetition and drills. Obviously, people have learned this way for decades, so it works, but it isn't really fun for most students.
  • Works best printed out. While it comes in ebook format, it is difficult to fit both the word processing program and the book on the screen at the same time, so it works best to print the pages your child will be typing from before assigning the work.
While I appreciate the idea behind this program, infusing Scripture into typing instruction, I think the program lacks that something special to keep children's interest. I see greater benefit in the program for older students as that offers more than just a basic keyboarding course. It is definitely a solid course that will help your child learn to type or type better if they use it diligently.

From their site, some deals that you will find there currently:
Need a Coupon to start the year right? Type NewYear5 in the Discount Code section for $5 off of your purchase of $12.95 or more available until February 28, 2010!

2010 NEW YEAR SPECIAL: Purchase both the Keyboarding for the Christian School, Revised Edition and the Elementary Edition for only $22! Yes, this is a big savings! So, purchase your e-books now for only $22 for both typing books!

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

Disclaimer: This typing curriculum was provided to me free of charge from Christian Keyboarding 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, January 19, 2010

Basics to the art of asking questions

Okay, I thought I would have just two other posts in this series on questions, but I felt I needed another quick one before those. So, here we go on some of the basics that I have learned (some recently, and some years ago) in the art of asking questions.

Avoid questions that only require a yes or no answer. Obviously these have their place, but in most of our conversation, if we really want to learn something valuable from the other person a question like, "Did you have fun?" isn't really going to get us anywhere.

Use fewer, or better yet completely avoid, rhetorical questions. If kids get used to not answering your questions (Bill Cosby's Fatherhood sketch comes to mind here . . . ) they will generally just keep their mouths shut and wait for you to stop talking so they know they can leave.

Sometimes answer a question with a question. Keep them thinking, keep the conversation flowing, keep moving deeper.

Don't feel the need to jump on dead air. As a teacher I remember being told to allow 5-6 seconds for volunteers to respond. That seems like a lot of empty time (count in your head -- 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc.), but sometimes they really need those few seconds to process their thoughts. I now do the same in talking with my kids. Rather than jumping right in with another question or explanation, I give them at least those few seconds to begin to process the information if not formulate a response.

Eye contact. I've got to look like I really care, too. Sometimes I need to stop scrubbing that pan or folding the laundry and make sure they know that I am really in this conversation.

Repeat back and clarify. When they do give an answer make sure you understand and even ask a further question to get further details and verify you are on the same page.

Just some basics I try to have down and make a habit of before moving to more involved questioning.

Any other great rules or tips for meaningful conversations in general, or asking questions specifically?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Encouragement from the Boyer family -- FREE!

Check out my other website for a free resource designed to encourage the Christian homeschooling parent and help you grab afresh that vision for eternity in your homeschooling.

Hmmmm, sounds like this would fit perfectly with my goal for the year -- focusing on the eternal.

You'll find all the details about this free resource at the Chicagoland Homeschool Network.

While you're at the Boyer's website be sure to check out some of their other great resources for homeschoolers as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Verse of the week -- Psalm 103

I really appreciated all of Psalm 103 when I read through it recently for my quiet time. While I would encourage you to read the whole chapter, a few verses seemed to sum it up well for me:

"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us."

We think so often of what we feel we deserve. At AWANA this past week I heard a girl repeat our world's mantra multiple times, "That's not fair." My kids have learned not to say that . . .

Fair? No, life isn't fair by a long shot. And, if I truly got what I deserved it would not include any of the blessings existent in my life today. I have blogged in the past about what I truly deserve and ignorantly defending my "rights," but these verses in Psalm 103:8-12 reminded me not only that God has shown me mercy by not giving my what I deserve, but He has also shown incredible grace in blessing me with things I could never earn either.

Simply because He loves me, more than I can ever comprehend. It all comes back to His character.

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9He will not always chide:
neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10He hath not dealt with us after our sins;
nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11For as the heaven is high above the earth,
so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12As far as the east is from the west,
so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

~Psalm 103:8-12~

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up - January 15

We did get another great week of schooling in, but all that pales in comparison to our excitement from Thursday.

Thursday afternoon my brother-in-law babysat while my husband and I went to a private showing.

We came home with some special pictures to remember the event by:

We have to wait until May 22 or so to actually meet this precious little one, but the baby often makes its presence known already in my expanding waist line. I found it extremely encouraging and reassuring to hear how very healthy our baby appears at this point. Not that we have had cause for concern, but for some reason my worried-mother thoughts have been working overtime.

Aside from that major climax for the week, we also enjoyed . . .
Pilgrim's Progress lapbooks -- We have added a couple new mini-books, not all the same. I have gladly seen my kids show some originality in the topics they choose and they way they put them together. One more week of getting these together and hopefully I'll get a full post up on what we have learned about the book, and about lapbooking. Great conversation about heaven after the readings this week.

Runny Babbit -- probably deserves another post all its own. This silly book by Shel Silverstein caught our attention. It is all about switching the first sounds of two different words. Hence, Bunny Rabbit became Runny Babbit. It has some questionable mixes (like when it talks about eating "Pea Soup"), but we were able to challenge ourselves to mix sounds. I found this a good stretch for my child learning to spell and sometimes struggling to isolate those initial sounds. It actually turned into a great phonics exercise. And, when she asked, "How do you talk like that?" I just couldn't resist responding, "Walk like Tut?" :-D

Other books we are reading -- To the Edge of the World. Although not for young children (I dismiss the little ones while we read this since it does get a little graphic at times), this well written historical fiction account of Magellan's voyage has drawn us all in. We enjoyed the snippet in Mystery of History 3 about Magellan, so this is a great way to delve into the story a bit more and really relive that amazing adventure of nearly 400 years ago.

On my own I have started a book about Jonathan Edwards, thanks to a recommendation from another blogger. Although just barely into it, I find encouragement in his great strength of character and willingness to stand for his convictions.

As the temperature got above freezing for the first time in quite a while we also enjoyed a walk in the "warm" weather. The kids kept finding ice balls to kick along the road until it wore down and they had to find another one. We found a number of animal tracks, some ice to slide around on, and enjoyed taking a look at the trees as we walked.

A great way to wrap up our school week.

This weekend I look forward to enjoying a time of refreshment just for homeschool moms along with my neighbor, and then Monday off. Then, we'll see what another week will hold!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- MathScore

Math is one of those core subjects that all students need to study. It is also one of those subjects that often elicits groans from its prisoners, I mean students.

Fortunately, there are many great resources for helping your child through math while reducing their discomfort and maximizing their benefit in the process.

MathScore provides students a place to learn their math, enhance their skills, attack their weak points, and build their mastery of basic math, computation, and applications of these skills.


Details: A web based program that allows students to work on math skills online. The program awards them with points for building their math skills in both speed and mastery.
Price: $9.95 per month for first child (introductory rate, after two months this goes to $14.95), $5 for second, $3.95 for third. There are other discounts for ordering for multiple months.

What we loved . . .
  • Flexibility -- You can choose and switch levels as you desire. You can decide which topics to work on. The kids don't have to be stuck on something frustrating, or stay on a topic that bores them. They can do a little and return later. Or, if they like to do one topic and complete it, that is possible as well.
  • Tracking -- I would receive a daily email automatically that would summarize the student's work. This would let me know the topics they worked on, the level of mastery achieved, and how much time the worked (as well as how much time they spent idle in the program). I really like that I knew not just how much time they spent on it, but also how much time they spent engaged with the worksheets.
  • They encourage rewards -- They don't have any built in rewards (games, characters, etc.), but they do encourage you to recognize your child's achievement. When they reach that 100 level saying they have mastered a topic, don't let their hard work go unnoticed. They do earn "trophies" that are displayed on a page that shows their progress.
  • Variety of approaches -- Your child can choose to either simply begin the "worksheet," follow a mini-lesson, or try some sample problems depending on their level of comfort in a given topic.
  • Free resources as well -- Their website has free math worksheet generators and lessons available to everyone.
  • Timed lessons -- Some kids might not do well with these, although they start pretty generous, but for my daughter they really helped her stay on track and not let herself get distracted. If she ran out of time, she had to work on that level again.

Some considerations . . .
  • Might be difficult to use as a complete math program. They do present that as an option, but I prefer to use it as a supplementary program or as a break from the regular math book.
  • The scoring confused me a bit. To master a topic they must reach "100." There were too many classifications of accomplishment for me to really grasp -- rating, points, percents, etc. I wasn't quite sure why they had so many different ways of presenting the same information. It was like reading a standardized test result.
  • If you have a particular goal for your child in math, you might need to spend more time with them. Since they do have a fair amount of free reign once logged in (they could choose grade 1 material if they feel like it), you will need to guide them and make your expectations clear if you want to make the most of their time on the computer.
  • No frills. This program does not come with a lot of extras. It gets the job done efficiently, but when my daughter first tried it out she said it was "boring." Now, when I let her try it for a couple days in place of her regular math text it became "fun." So, I guess it depends what you compare it to.

MathScore meets a definite need in developing a child's mastery in mathematics. It makes it easy for the parent to track progress, and provides tools for helping a child learn and excel at a variety of levels. I think it is reasonably priced, especially for families with multiple children. This might be a great tool if you are looking for something to supplement your current math curriculum or to help students retain knowledge during those longer breaks from school.

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

Disclaimer: This web based program was provided to me free of charge from 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, January 12, 2010

wfmw -- clean or dirty?

I cringe to tell you of the times (yes, more than once) that we would find ourselves half way through a bowl of cereal only to have someone walk into the kitchen and say, "You didn't take that bowl out of the dishwasher, did you?"


Nothing to ruin a quick snack like learning you were eating from a dirty bowl because you assumed the dishwasher was full of clean dishes, not dirty ones.

Enter the Clean -- Dirty sign.

Even our preschooler, although he can't yet read independently, knows whether the dishes are clean or dirty with this clever sign. The "Clean" even looks clean, and the "Dirty" is clearly dirty.

My husband printed this onto magnetic paper, but you could also use those magnetic business cards and relabel them or hot glue a magnet to the back of card stock or a homemade laminated sign. I'm sure you can figure out how to actually make a sign that works for you.

The word that is upright tells you what you will find behind the door. When my daughters (or another person graciously helping with their chores) finish loading the dishwasher and start the wash cycle, the sign gets flipped to "Clean." When the dishwasher is emptied and the refilling process begins with a few dirty dishes, the sign goes back to "Dirty."

Ahhh . . . no more unpleasant meal or snack interruptions due to surprise dirt.

This has definitely worked for us!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Verse of the week - Romans 8:24,25

God breathed each verse of the Bible. Each chapter contains His power packed words. But, it seems that some chapters consistently jump out at me more than others. Romans 8 falls into that category. I have committed so many of the verses in that chapter to memory. Many of them have spoken to me at specific times and trials in my life.

In our small group this last week we had an interesting conversation about faith. Of course, we started in Hebrews 11. What is faith, what does it look like, how does it impact our living?

One word jumped out at me in Hebrews 11, again a verse that I have memorized. "Hope." Faith is being sure of what we hope for.

That brought us to Romans 8:24, 25, "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

Faith by very definition rests on what remains invisible. It has a lot in common with hope. It looks ahead, it requires patience, it will face tests, it will carry us through.

Fortunately, faith does not come from somewhere inside of me, faith has come from God as a wonderful gift (Ephesians 2:8,9). If I produced it, we wouldn't have anything to talk about. Faith comes from God and keeps us focused on God. It will require patience, require us to overcome, to bear up under many burdens, but it doesn't rest on ourselves, it focuses on Him.

For more on this, I would highly recommend A.W. Tozer's book Pursuit of God (you can follow that link to an online copy of the book, and read this chapter for yourself). These thoughts came as we studied the chapter entitled "The Gaze of the Soul."

My eyes transfixed on Him. Hope.

For in this hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.

~Romans 8:24,25~

Saturday, January 9, 2010

TOS Crew Review -- Kregel Publications

Historical fiction books fill a wonderful role. Teaching a bit about history while also weaving a story. They generally help bring an era to life that most readers did not have the experience of living through.

Bertie's War tells the tale of a young girl struggling with the typical fears and insecurities of growing up placed in the time period of the 1960s. She lives in fear of just about everything, often caused by her misunderstanding of her circumstances.

The threat of nuclear war seemed very real and she even chose her clothing to give herself the best possible chances of survival. She also feared her father, intimidating bullies, embarrassment at school, and the room where a loved one died.

Product: Kregel Publications' book, Bertie's War
Details: A historical fiction account of a young girl growing up in the 1960s.
Price: $7.99

What I enjoyed . . .
  • Fairly easy to read. Not necessarily a page turner, but I enjoyed the story overall and wanted to continue reading to watch the main character grow and see how resolution arrived.
  • A clean story. No violence or innuendos to worry about in this story. One boy shows some interest in Bertie, but it doesn't go any further than the mention of it. It is definitely not a focal point in the story.
  • Good family values. The parents love each other, the family works together, they look out for extended family, and they occasionally express the importance of their faith in God.
  • The ending. Bertie learned an important spiritual lesson that helps her to conquer her fear, and most importantly she understands the love of her earthly father and her heavenly Father in the process.

Some considerations . . .
  • Some characters are not very likable. I don't know if it was because she was so pathetically human, or if I could identify too much with her experiences from my own junior high days (although they weren't in the sixties), but I just didn't like Bertie very much. She lived too timidly and didn't seem to have anyone to show her true colors to.
  • Bertie day dreams, a lot. The book often takes you into these imaginary moments that Bertie has while playing or working. She suddenly sees the surroundings through the eyes of some character, either historical or fictional, and reinterprets everything she sees in that light. I found the frequency and length of these somewhat distracting.
  • I personally didn't appreciate the portrayal of God. Bertie first seems to begin to understand Him through one of her daydreams, which made Him seem like just another fantasy to me. I had a hard time reconciling the image of God in a mackinaw (as she saw Him) with her wake up call to reality. It left me wondering if she really understood He was real or not.
  • Not enough history for my liking. Maybe the world just hasn't changed enough since then for me to appreciate recent historical fiction (we still drive cars, go camping, deal with power outages during storms, have back to school shopping, etc.) Maybe I wanted to know more about the briefly mentioned newscasts. I didn't live during this time period, and honestly don't know much about it. I would have appreciated a little more detail about the international situation that frightened Bertie so much.

Bertie's War did not leave me wanting more. I thought the conclusion was fairly satisfactory, but more a relief that Bertie finally might attain some likable qualities.

If you want a dip back into history, not too far, but back to days when family was more valued and life was a bit simpler, you might enjoy Bertie's War. And, if you have an older child struggling with fears that sometimes find themselves blown out of proportion, the message of the story could be quite helpful in starting a dialogue about that on a very personal and practical level.

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

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me free of charge from Kregel Publications 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.

Weekly Wrap Up – January 8

The first week back, and the kids pleasantly surprised me with their hard work and focus. We had an incredibly productive week.

Of course, a normal week would have to include its share of arguing. This week they usually centered around this little guy:


"It's my turn" -- "No, you have already had him for 10 minutes" -- "No, I started on the '4' so I still have 5 minutes." :-) Obviously, they are enjoying our two week babysitting stint with our neighbor's children. And, he even got in on the homeschooling, sporting a crown made from the leftovers from our conquistador helmet (see further down).

After another blanket of snow (on top of the foot still around from the day after Christmas), we headed out of doors to take a peak at the cattails growing in the small lake outside out home. You'll have to click on the album to get a good look at the pictures, but I have to say we enjoyed taking time to see the beauty in the snow and winter which we sometimes miss. Obviously, our nature studies had gone unobserved for too long.

I am thankful to other blogs that keep me coming back to these activities even when they have spent more than a fair amount of time on the back burner. The Handbook of Nature Study blog prompted this activity, and even though we didn't completely follow through on it all, we all enjoyed the breath of fresh air and time spent observing something we see so often it has become invisible.


We also picked a cattail to take it home for a better look.

This week we finally wrapped up the first quarter of Mystery of History 3, with the study of Cortez, Pizarro, and Ferdinand Magellan. I am loving this curriculum more than ever as I took some intensive time over Christmas break to line up a number of their extra activities for the weeks ahead. They had a great project to make a conquistador's helmet, and our kids have had fun with the finished product:


My 6 year old daughter walked around the house with it saying, "Cortez is looking for chocolate to bring back to Europe." Nathan modeled for the pic, and commented that it would not be comfortable if it was really made out of metal. Quite observant!

Science -- we discussed simple machines and set up a lever to observe and also a pulley. I love the hands on projects that bring learning to life. I used to stress over getting these things into my day, but there are so many simple ways to make learning real, and the conversations that it sparks are definitely worth it.

Reading -- We spend the week mostly at home, so didn't get in our usual time in our audio books. We did hear an abridged version of King Arthur and His Knights performed by Jim Weiss. At home we read through some books about explorers as well.

Bible -- Pilgrim's Progress has already grabbed the kids' attention and kindled a number of good conversations about the Christian life. I'll share more on this as we get further in as the weeks go by. Each day we listen and work a little on our lapbooks that I talked about earlier. I'll post pictures and such in a week or so as they gain a little more substance.

Some new links --

In looking for some quotes, I came across a site containing a number of R.A. Torrey's works that are in the public domain. If you want some spiritual stimulation including Bible studies, books on prayer and the Christian life, you will want to take a look through the titles available there.

On a completely different plane, a pizza making forum caught my eye and we have enjoyed trying some of the recipes of these pizza aficionados. The Home Run Inn style crust is my favorite so far, but they have lots of great tips on making the best pizza possible.

Another site with some great audio books. They have some free to download, and more available with purchase of an annual subscription. Some of these are available on librivox as well, but My Audio School has it in what I feel is an easier format to access.

And, lastly, not a new site to me, but at the start of a new year 66 Books has come up with a new line up, a catchy new banner, and of course new content as they again lead us on a reading through the Bible.

Looking forward to another great week of school in the week ahead. To hear how others wrapped up their week, check out Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The American Girl Party

Recently we celebrated our six year old daughter's birthday American Girl style, and I just had to share some of the fun ideas that I found to fill our time.

When searching for party ideas (at Birthday Party Ideas website as usual) we kept coming up with nothing that interested her or that sounded feasible or interesting, without hiring a person or a place to have the party. Finally, we came on the American Girl Doll party ideas and a few inspirations later we had ourselves a party!

Since most of the American Girl Dolls have historical time periods to fit in, we decided to play games that little girls have played throughout history. Some of these still populate playgrounds today, but some were new to us.

Here are some sites that we used for reference . . .

Parlor games -- These games enjoyed a time of popularity during the Victorian age (roughly 1800-1900), before TV, but when some families began to enjoy some more leisure time.

Games from the 1800s -- Here you can actually purchase some of these long ago games. We didn't buy any from them, but came up with our own Whirligig and Game of Graces from this site.

American Girl -- this didn't give us game ideas, but it showed what time period the girls were from and gave us a mini history lesson to intro the new time period as we moved through the afternoon together.

Ducksters -- If you want to know some of the story behind the story, this site has some interesting stats about where the American Girl dolls came from, which molds they use, etc.

On to the party . . .

We spent most of the party traveling through time. We briefly introduced each of the American Girl dolls in order chronologically. We have a few dolls, a few books, and a few other knickknacks. We used the pictures and some of the bio information in the front of the Rebecca book.

Whirligigs -- buttons on string. I got the buttons on sale for a bout 60 cents each and we tied them on a loop of string and then used pencils to keep from squishing our fingers as they spun. Simple craft and activity to get the girls started and engaged.

Jacks -- Originally called knucklebones, because that's what it was played with, this game has survived the ages. We had two jacks sets and let the girls each take turns trying to pick up as many as they could while bouncing and catching the ball.

Hopscotch -- Another age old game that really only requires a rock and some open dirt or concrete. We have a nice hop scotch rug and beanbag set which was perfect for an indoor game of hopscotch.

Game of Graces -- This has become a family favorite. Each player gets two sticks or dowel rods about 1 1/2 feet long. You also need one hoop of some type 6-12 inches in diameter. The bigger the hoop, the easier the game. Holding the sticks in an "X" shape you pull your hands quickly apart. This causes the hoop to fly off toward your partner who then tries to catch the hoop and send it back your way. Not really an indoor game, but we have a high ceiling and large living room, so it worked well.

Ball of Yarn -- This is a parlor game involving a table and a ball of yarn. All the guests sit around the table and try to blow the yarn around the table. The idea is to protect the spot on your right side while trying to blow it off the table by someone else. They had a lot of fun with this, and fortunately kept the spitting to a minimum (one of my hesitancies in playing this game, but it proved unwarranted).

Hobo signs -- Kit introduced us to these and the kids each took turns choosing one off of the sheet I had printed out and the others would try to guess what it meant.

Throwing your smile -- We ran out of time for this parlor game that simply involved keeping a straight face at the appropriate time. One person must "throw their smile" to another while the rest remain stone faced. The last one able to maintain their somber appearance wins.

We had so much fun, and even learned a lot in the process. We had cupcakes made after many of the American Girl Dolls, as well as one for each of my daughters' faces, and a few "nobody" faces.

I'm trying to talk my older girls into using this theme also, because we just scratched the surface of the games we could have played and they were different than your traditional party games. But, they usually each have their own idea of what they want for their party.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The art of asking questions

image from

Parenting never eases up. Just when you think you might have a handle on the new "phase" or developmental level, someone blinks. God chuckles as we roll our eyes, and we continue to learn.
Good questioning skills may be the world's most unsung talent.

This concept of questioning bubbled to the surface as I attended a parenting workshop a couple months ago with Mark Gregston. While he deals quite a bit with troubled teens, he has lots of great words for those of us that continue to build solid relationships with our kids, even before the teenage years (I've got a few months yet before officially become a parent of a teenager, so I do not speak from experience . . . yet). He kept emphasizing the power of questions.

In browsing for other's thoughts on the topic I found an article discussing the importance of questions in sales. The author points out that questions are required to gain information, the one who asks the questions controls the conversation, and the depth and quality of your questions reflects the depth and quality of your relationship with that person.

How often do I ramble on and not really control the conversation?

How often do my questions flit about the surface rather than really diving in to where I want to swim?

While out for my morning walk recently, I continued to listen to Tedd Tripp's session on The Heart of Communication. He, too, (surprise, surprise) brought up questions. Conversation must be two ways. Otherwise we have a "good talk, and they have a good listen." We need to learn the craft of drawing out the deep waters (Proverbs 20:5). He has so much wisdom in this area, and I have listened to this twice in a row, and poured over the many Scripture passages referenced. God continues to chisel away at my speech -- smoothing, focusing, infusing with His love.

Some of my goals I am thinking of in this area . . .
  • Ask at least one meaningful question of each member of my home each day (not just, "did you take the garbage out?")
  • Make a list of questions that I want to ask my kids over the course of the maturing years. Not that I need to pull it out like a cheat sheet, but to get me thinking more along these lines.
  • Continue to study this area of questions to understand it better and to gain greater skills in it.
  • Ask more questions, listen more, and babble less.

I want to know my kids, and my spouse, and I want them to know I care about knowing them. Questions show a sincere interest in the other person. Questions should be selfless. Questions should keep us engaged. We've been asking questions since the 2 year-old "why?" and yet, many of us still don't know how to craft a really good question. I sure have a ways to go.

As soon as I started this post, I realized it would run into far more than one post, so I plan at least two more posts to come -- asking questions in the classroom; asking questions in relationships. Never thought this topic of asking questions could run so deep, and I still feel like I'm skating over the surface.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Verse of the week - II Corinthians 4:18

As perfect as we paint ourselves when we begin playing the comparison game with that rare person that doesn't measure up, we can readily admit most of the time that we have much in need of repair.

So, what do you feel the need to commit to change this year? Specific resolutions? General goals? Character growth? New verse to cling to?

I happen to have a little of each one of those.

A few posts I have read recently have prompted me to think more about December 31, 2010 and what I would like to look back on at that point. Mrs. White has a few good thoughts, and others have linked some of their posts there as well. And, my bloggy friend Courtney helped me think along the lines of "one word" in her beautifully written post.

This verse caught my attention once before, nearly a year ago now, but each time I read it God puts a new spin on it. II Corinthians 4:18 says, "as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Keeping my focus on the eternal will improve my marriage, my parenting, my eating habits, my homeschooling, my housekeeping, my relationships, my ministry involvements, my conversations, my priorities, my quiet time, my everything!

I find it easier to remold my mindset than look for specific points to improve on. An eternal perspective will hit it all.

Look past the child to their soul. Look past the mess to the character needing growth. Look past the numbers on the scale to the surrender needed in my habits. Look past the inconvenience to the opportunity to show God's love. Look past the academic subject to the wisdom to be gained.

This year, I want to live with eternal-vision goggles strapped in place.

As we look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.

~II Corinthians 4:18~

TOS Crew Review -- Worship Guitar

I have long had this fascination with playing guitar. In fact, for the past number of years I have owned a guitar. You can often find it under my bed, in its dust covered case.

For some reason, that image of guitar accompanied songs around the campfire has not pressed me to learn it very well. I do pull it out and sing with my kids now and then, but I wouldn't ask for much more of an audience than that.

Regardless of my poor guitar's neglect, I did pull it out with some gusto as a package arrived that helped me do what I really longed to do with the guitar . . . Worship!

Worship Guitar Class DVD 1 and Book 1

Product: Jean Welles Worship Guitar Vol. 1
Details: A DVD and lesson book for beginner or advanced beginners. Includes introduction, 7 lessons and practice sessions, and Spanish subtitles if desired.
Price: $29.95 for DVD and book set.

What we loved . . .

  • Easy to pop in and use. You can come with no knowledge, or have been playing guitar for years, like myself (ahem). This DVD gives you a basic introduction to the instrument, tuning, and how to read chord charts and then jumps right into learning some well known praise choruses.
  • Jean has a wonderful presence. Calm and professional, and with a constant reminder of our goal -- to worship our Creator -- Jean does a wonderful job leading these lessons and keeping you in a worshipful frame of mind.
  • Worship focused. She is clearly not helping you learn guitar for pure entertainment or to advance your music knowledge. The purpose of these lessons is to worship God in your quiet times or in small groups. I never thought guitar lessons could be such a spiritual experience.
  • Includes various strumming patterns. I love the sound of broken chords, but had never learned how to actually do it. I could kind of figure it out on my own, but Jean walks you through it step by step.
  • Slow practice sessions. In addition to the lessons on the DVD you can also go through the practice sessions that have the same songs, but redone much more slowly which is helpful when you are learning and trying to switch fingers and learn strumming at the same time.
  • Help in learning to hear and sing on pitch. She didn't spend a lot of time on this as it was obviously not the purpose of the course, but she gave me some hope for some of my "tonally challenged" children.
  • Free online sample. If you want to get an idea of what the course is like, feel free to jump on their website and see for yourself what Jean Welles has to offer.

Some considerations . . .
  • This is not a music class. This course was designed to teach you to play worship songs, a few basic chords, and some fingerings. It doesn't get into pitch, identifying keys, or other techniques that might come in regular guitar lessons, or music classes.
  • You won't learn a lot of different chords. After the first volume you will not be able to just pick up any book and accompany yourself or a group in singing. You might want to jump into Volume 2, or work on learning other chords, transitions and fingerings so your new knowledge is more applicable.
  • This is not for young kids. My 12 year old was able to follow along fairly well, but if you are looking for a course for younger kids, you would want to check out their course for kids 6-9.
When you compare this cost to private guitar lessons, you are obviously getting a deal. It's still not a teacher that can look at exactly what you are doing and address your individual needs, so that's not quite a fair comparison. However, it is still a good course to get you started. If you have a guitar just gathering dust under your bed and you would like to put it to better use, you would likely enjoy this class.

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

Disclaimer: This DVD and book set was provided to me free of charge from Jean Welles Worship Guitar 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.