Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Day in the Life

I'm joining in a blog hop sponsored by CHEER for Colorado homeschooling bloggers.  The theme for April is "A Day in the Life."  I'll try to remember to post a link to the blog hop when it is up.  So here goes (I'll try to link products, or my reviews of them):

I was up way too late last night.  My darling 9 year old thought he'd do something special for me... so at about 9:00 last night, he started a pot of coffee and poured me a cup.  I had to drink it.

Anyway, so that meant I got up a bit before 8:00.  Connor (12) was already awake, fortunately, as he has an online Latin class at 8:20 through Lone Pine Classical.  Trina (4) got up about then, and asked to do Time 4 Learning.  She finished the Preschool Level 1 material this morning.  Three weeks it took her.  Richard (6) got up and started begging to go outside.

Got a phone call from Dale, and he has to be in Grand Junction next week, which is great for him -- he and another amazing store manager are heading there to get a whole bunch of stuff set up and straightened out.  But that throws a huge wrench in our plans for next week.  Connor is supposed to be going to Latin Convention.  I was kind of counting on Dale being around.  And I got an email about changing Pinewood Derby time, which would make it so that Thomas could attend.  Here's hoping.

William (11) and Thomas (9) are still sleeping at 9:30.  Thomas wasn't feeling well last night, so I suspect he'll stay in bed for quite awhile yet.  Connor is done with class, so he's joining his brother and sister outside.

We ate really, really late.  About 11:00.  While eating, the kids listen to our daily podcasts -- Merriam Webster's Word of the Day, Podictionary, and Answers with Ken Ham.  We also listed to a couple chapters of Famous Men of Greece from Librivox.  While making breakfast, the kids took care of the dishes, and I had a conversation with Connor about what's up with Latin for next week.

After that, I had three kids get on to work on Let's Go Learn reading assessments.  Richard was the only one to finish.  Yeah, late 5th grade vocabulary.  Surprise, surprise.  Trina played with Imaginext toys.  Connor worked on some Latin.  Normally, he wouldn't have to do that, but between convention and the fact that he is behind, well, he has to do it daily for awhile.  Richard headed off to play, and Trina worked on IXL math.  She's identifying cubes, pyramids, circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.  She has a tough time differentiating squares and rectangles.  Thomas got busy with Mathletics.

Somewhere in there, breakfast dishes were washed, lunch was made, and I read aloud for awhile.  The kids got back to some of their individual schoolwork, which included me spending time doing All About Spelling with them.  Everyone headed outside to run for awhile.  And then to play legos.

Everyone picked up the living room a bit, and settled down to listen to D'Aulaire's Greek Myths on tape while waiting for Dad to come home.

Basically, between not quite feeling well kids and a beautiful day outside, school was only done in bits and pieces today.  Not exactly a typical homeschool day, but not totally atypical either.  Hopefully, we'll be watching a bit of Drive Thru History:  Greece is the Word tonight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Homeschoolers" is just who we are

This week's Blog Cruise question is:  How has homeschooling affected your family?

Wow, I just don't even know where to start.  "Homeschoolers" is just who we are.  It permeates so much of our lives.

My kids have never been to public schools, so I really don't have anything to compare to.  My suspicions, though, are:
  • My kids are pretty good friends with each other.  I'm not sure how true this would be if they were in public school
  • My kids don't get hung up on how old someone else is.  They make friends with kids their age, kids older than them, kids younger than them.  
  • We can go on vacation more or less when we want to.  Scouts is really the only thing that seriously trips up our traveling plans.
  • I'm forced to spend so much time with my kids that I do really get to know them.  
  • Since we are in the house all day, the house tends to always be in some state of chaos.
  • We don't have to have 8:00 bedtimes.  Because the kids don't have to be on a bus before 7:00.  We can stay up later at night, which means the kids get more time with Dad too.  If they were in school, I know that their time with their father would be limited extremely -- he gets home between 6:30 and 7:00 at night... so it would pretty much be dinner, some battles about homework and showers, and bed.  
  • We don't have to take snow days.  We can instead take off time because the sun is shining and it is simply too beautiful to be inside.  Sometimes that means taking a read-aloud outdoors.  
  • Everything turns into a learning experience.  I'm not saying this is always a good thing.  
  • We have all kinds of quirky family sayings, because we spend so much time reading aloud the same book.  Dale will frequently listen to a book on tape (uhhh, yeah, right... a book on mp3 is more accurate) so he knows what we are currently reading too.  Sharing all that great literature strengthens connections.
  • I think the kids are more aware of the idea of us working together to benefit the whole.  They see how clipping coupons helps us eat better, they see how counting dollars or items in various grocery promos helps us get more groceries too.  So they keep track of those things when we shop.
  • It hasn't occurred to my kids that they "should" have things like game systems or cell phones.  Some of that might not happen at our public school either, seeing as you can't get a consistent cell signal out here.  But still.
Of course, some of the impacts aren't all that positive.  Like it is tough for me to earn money when a significant part of my day needs to be spent in teaching my kids.  And there are moments I wonder if I shouldn't be contributing more to our bottom line.

The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday. Next week has to do with burnout. Uh, yeah, I think I've experienced that.  

Stone soup

I don't plan to get into a whole lot of griping about Obamacare... but I did discover this weekend the first impact of the new legislation on my family.

Starting in 2011, there will be a cap of $2500 on Flexible Spending Accounts (that doesn't directly impact us right now, we're way under that) and you will no longer be able to use those pre-tax monies to purchase over the counter medications.

So that means that the $20 or so per month that we spend on bandaids, tylenol and cough drops will no longer be able to be spent from our FSA.  Which means we'll obviously reduce our contributions, resulting in an extra $14 per month in our paychecks.  And if I add that to our grocery budget, we'll have $214 per month for groceries *and* medications.

But that means I have $6 less per month for those items.  I know.  $6 a month doesn't sound like much to most of you.  But run those numbers and tell me how in the world I am supposed to not notice it.  Right now, we have $200/month for groceries.  That is $6.58 per day (averaged out over the year).  That is for 7 people, remember, which means I spend less than a dollar a day per person to feed my family, on average.  No, I don't know how I do it.  For one thing, I skip a lot of meals.

I guess if I institute a one day a month fast for everyone, we'll be okay.  We'll even have an extra $.58 per month to spend on groceries.

Like I don't have enough stress right NOW in feeding my family.

Anyone have a recipe for stone soup?  Or tumbleweed soup, as we have more of those available than we do stones.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Math, math, and more math

So, I've mentioned before that we've been blessed with about a million math products through the TOS Homeschool Crew this year.

Well, while I was busy beating myself up and writing my earlier post (by the way, now it is SNOWY days and Fridays getting me down!) my children grabbed Timez Attack and went to the old computer to play it.  We have an old version of the game which we can't use on the Macs, and it hasn't been touched since, oh, last summer.

When last they played, ALL of my kids found the game pretty frustrating.  That would be because my kids do not know their math facts like they "should" so they just aren't fast enough.  All of the boys can multiply.  They just can't do much of it quickly.

Well, since they last played Timez Attack, they have used ALEKS, Quartermile Math, Mathletics, Math Score, Facts First, Math Mammoth, Math Galaxy, and some of them have been using IXL Math.  Plus they've had a couple different math videos, and some of them have even been using a regular math curriculum. (And I've probably forgotten something!)

So after about an hour of playing Timez Attack today, my boys excitedly informed me that all these programs (each one credited something different) have paid off... they are now finding TimezAttack to be a lot of fun, and are making serious progress with it.


So, apparently, I can do something right.

Rainy Days and Fridays always get me down...

For everyone who still mistakenly thinks that I have it all together, well, stop reading.  I love the idea of someone thinking I'm doing something right.

For the rest of you, those who know better...

Let's talk Latin.  95% of our homeschool budget this year (okay, maybe that is slightly exaggerated.  But not much.  It's probably closer to 90%) is going for Connor to take a wonderful online Latin course. He's done well with Latin in the past, but this class is definitely stepping it up a notch and the biggest problem is falling behind.

One of the reasons we are doing this is because I don't know Latin, and Connor needs a challenge, and I need to have something off my plate.  Unfortunately, I've taken it off the table, not just the plate.  I'm tired.  I want to think I can trust my kid when he tells me he's caught up with Latin.  I know better, I guess.  But I'm just too tired to micromanage something else.

I guess I don't have a choice.  I was working on All About Spelling with William, while Connor was on his laptop working on Latin. With my Mac, I can pull up the screens to see what my kids are doing, so I did.  Connor has spent a LOT of time lately reading comics.  I knew that.  I wanted to just be able to occasionally take over his mouse, close out the comics, and have him get back to work.  I got something else entirely.

He wasn't working on it most of the time.  He was either reading comics on his dashboard, or he'd pull up the Quia matching game and just systematically click answers.  It was blatently obvious that he wasn't even reading, just clicking until he got a match.  

So he had to talk to his dad.  I'm failing him.  Again.  I just don't know how to prioritize some of this stuff.  William needs a lot of one-on-one time with his reading.  He has made SO MUCH progress this year.  Thomas has been neglected, but I've been working with him on reading a lot more lately, and he does great -- he just totally lacks confidence.  We're working on that.

Do I dump the history and read-alouds and geography and art and music?  It's not like most of that is taking up a whole lot of time.  How do I prioritize all of this?  I just don't know what to do about anything anymore.  And now all of you know that too.

I know I'm not alone in this.  A friend of mine told me in our 10 minute phone conversation that she's struggling with exactly the same thing... she's trusting her kids' reports about their schoolwork in the areas that she has delegated away, and she isn't following through.

But I still feel alone.  My kids deserve a mom who can at least occasionally finish something right.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Free iPhone app for math, today only

A friend (Jodi) turned me on to a homeschooling family that is creating educational apps for iPhones or iPod Touch.  iHomeEducator has created a handful of math applications, and I have a few on my wishlist at the moment.

Well, today only you can get their iLiveMath Animals of Africa for FREE :)  Gotta love that.  I'll confess, I've downloaded it, and just barely played with it.  I can tell you that it features beautiful photos, and lots of interesting animals in the problems.

Level 1 has problems such as:  In an African animal preserve there are 3 peacocks and 4 hippopotami.  What is the sum?

Level 2 has problems such as:  A tracker followed a crash of 39 rhinos and a drove of 23 cattle.  How many animals were tracked?

Level 3 has problems such as:  Last month we saw 85 hyenas.  This month we saw 8 times as many hyenas.  How many total hyenas were seen?

Here's a blog post about the freebie.  Go get yours.  
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Review: Galaxy of Education

Math Galaxy is the latest math product that we've been privileged enough to review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew this year.  Since I wrote up the post for the Crew blog, and my brain isn't quite working today, I'm going to copy a bit of what I said there:

Math Galaxy includes three different types of products. 

The main product type is a computer program (that works on both PCs and Macs) that gives you a choice of topics, and within each topic you can be guided step by step through the problem, or just give the final answer. 

There are also games included in the program.  One has you competing against the computer (or another player) to build a bridge across a swamp.  Other games have you unscrambling words, or figuring out riddles.

The second product type is a worksheet generator.  It is a computer program that will create riddle worksheets.   The third product type is an ebook with already created riddle worksheets.  A sample riddle worksheet page is shown to the right.

The subjects covered include:
  • Whole Numbers Fun, meant for grades 1-4
  • Fractions Fun, meant for grade 5
  • Decimals, Proportions, % Fun, meant for grade 6
  • Word Problems Fun, which covers elementary and middle school math
  • Pre-Algebra Fun, for middle school
  •  Algebra Fundamentals, obviously, is for algebra students
The above subjects are each available in the computer program, but the worksheet generator and ebook options only include some of these topics at this time.

We tried most of the computer programs.  And they are a huge hit with my boys.  Thomas has been working in Whole Numbers Fun.  William is using both Fractions Fun and Word Problems Fun.  Connor is using Algebra Fundamentals, and he did test out the Pre-Algebra one just to see the differences.

The programs all work in basically the same manner.  There is a menu with a lot of different topics.  You choose a topic, then get another menu of subtopics.  At that point, you start doing some math -- and the sections have a basic tutorial component along with options to work problems.  When working problems, you can have the computer walk you through the problem step by step, or you can "just" give the final answer.

For instance, when dealing with adding 1/4 and 3/7, the step-by-step version will start by asking you to find a common denominator (28), then have you figure out the numerator for 1/4, then for 3/7, and then have you add the fractions together.  The "final answer" option would just be looking for 19/28 (if my math is right... I probably should check my work, huh?)

As you get answers correct, you earn robots.  Why robots?  Because in the Labyrinth game, you need to try to collect treasures with those robots.  Labyrinth isn't just a mindless computer game... in one level of it, you are trying to get your robot across a river by pushing rocks to form a bridge, all the while, avoiding little cartoon snakes that are slithering around.  You can only push one rock at a time, and you can use those rocks to trap the snakes too.  My guys spent a fair amount of their game time figuring out their next few moves.

So what did we think?

  • The instruction provided in the tutorial part was solid.  It does require the child to be reading (or to be read to) as there is no option to have it read aloud.  That's a drawback with my younger kids who are more advanced in math than they are in reading.  
  • I like how they take you step by step through the problems.  That was especially nice for Connor, who can solve a lot of math problems just by looking at them, but doesn't necessarily know how he got the answer -- because he skips steps in his head.
  • I love that I can have the kids work on a specific concept with a very patient tutor.  The computer doesn't get frustrated with them when they get it wrong, or can't figure out a step.
  • I like that the "reward" of the labyrinth game is building logical thinking skills too.
  • I love that between the six computer programs, they really are covering pretty much all of elementary and middle school math.  Not the very beginning stuff (counting, number recognition, etc.) but most everything else.
What I don't like:
  • I don't see any straightforward way of keeping track of what areas a student has actually worked on.
  • I'd love an option (especially on the Whole Numbers game) for audio.
  • At $29.95 each, it is a fair amount of money if you have kids at many of the levels.  If you only have kids at the lower elementary ages, getting one new program every year or two isn't so bad.
  • We're using this on a Mac, so I don't know if it is different on a PC, but on the Mac the program is pretty sensitive to where it is saved, and I can't do something like open it up to play on it, then switch back over to write another paragraph of my blog post.
The other types of products that Math Galaxy has includes Worksheet Generators and Riddle ebooks.  I have to confess that I have not done much with these at this point. However, what I do really like is how incredibly easy it is to create a worksheet dealing with a specific topic.  And the riddles are very motivating for my boys too.  One downside though is that if they can figure out the riddle, they can use that to back into the right answers for the math problems.  When I do use these I will require the kids to show their work...

There are quite a few sample activities available at their website.  I'd encourage you to check it out.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Galaxy of Education at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive these downloads for free from the publisher.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Children's Bible Hour Ministries

Children's Bible Hour Ministries is apparently a familiar organization to many people.  I had heard of their Keys for Kids devotionals, as we had used them for a couple months.  But I was not familiar with anything else this ministry produced.

As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a package of four picture books in their new Seasons of Faith series.  Each book includes a CD where Uncle Charlie reads the story -- complete with little noises signaling when to turn the page.

The first thing I noticed was the beautiful illustrations, as you can see from the cover of Race with Midnight.  The inside illustrations are wonderful also, with a full-page illustration on each (most?) two-page spread.

I skimmed a couple stories as I looked at the pictures, and was pretty sure my kids would enjoy these.

I was right.  I let them choose which to start with, and I think they picked the best story of the bunch -- Seventy Times Seven.  We put in the CD, the kids gathered on the floor around the book, and we all listened.

I loved that the kids were completely capable of keeping on the right page.  They enjoyed the story and loved the pictures.  The basic plot comes straight from Matthew 18:23-35.  A shop owner forgives Brad for breaking a sign.  The child turns around and refuses to forgive his best friend, Doug, for ruining his baseball cap.  The shop owner finds out, and calls on Brad to pay for a new sign by working in the shop.  The greatest part of this story was that when the shop owner calls Brad's father, Dad backs up the shop owner and makes Brad work off his debt.  Everything ends happily ever after, as Brad forgives Doug and they both learn a thing or two about forgiveness.  And Brad goes into his obligation to work off his debt with a good attitude.  Each book ends with an invitation to ask Jesus into your life.

There are also discussion questions available for each book.  We liked these on our second time through the books.

The other three books deal with different seasons of life.  Braving the Storm is about a boy whose family has been hit by a string of traumatic events -- health issues, job loss, a move -- and he learns to thank God for watching over him during all kinds of storms.

Race with Midnight and You Can't Come In both related to telling nonbelievers about God.  Like most children's picture books, the stories were simplified quite a bit.  My kids enjoyed hearing the stories, but they made me a little uncomfortable.  It seemed like the kids in both stories had a lot of responsibility placed on their shoulders to go save the neighbors.  Of course, they did a great job and handled the responsibility well.  And while I know that kids can have a huge impact on the adults in their lives, I don't like the idea of making kids feel that it is their responsibility to be 'the one' to bring the gospel to the unbelieving adults in their lives.

I wanted to have the child in both stories talking naturally about his/her faith with the other child.  But I wanted them all to see the parents reaching out to the other family as well, in more than a 'hey, why don't you come to church with us' kind of way.

Anyway, we did really enjoy the books, we were able to talk quite a bit about the kids and their friends.  I'm glad to own these books.

You can see more about the books, including a video preview and a radio promo, by visiting the website.  The books can be purchased there for $10 apiece, or right now, the set is available for $20.  And if you use the code FREESHIPAPR15 by April 15, 2010, you will get free shipping on the set.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Children's Bible Hour at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive these books for free from the publisher.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.
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Monday, March 22, 2010

You're sending them to school for high school, right?

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that...

I think one thing that has changed since we first decided to homeschool (a decision that was made the first time fifteen years ago) is that most people no longer question a parent's ability to teach elementary subject matter.  They may question socialization, they may question areas like PE or music, but there are far fewer questions about whether "just" a mom can possibly teach first grade math.

But change that to middle and high school, and all those questions resurface.  How are you going to teach chemistry?  How are you going to teach trigonometry?  How are you going to teach British Lit?  How are you going to teach French?  (Never mind that most of the kids I graduated with never took any of those classes.  And I only had two of them.)

Of course, I have a snippy answer.  If my chemistry instruction in high school was so poor that I can't work through a high school textbook with my children, then obviously I can't do any worse than my school did.

But I do have a serious answer too.  And that answer is:  Yes.  This concerns me.  I'm not sure that I do have what it takes to teach high school (I feel pretty okay about middle school though).

But the thing is, I have a student taking high school courses right now. And so far, we are doing okay.  Let's talk about those a bit, and maybe some of you will feel better about your abilities, or about mine.

Algebra I:  Connor used VideoText Algebra (among other things) and clearly mastered the material.  So sometimes the answer might be to purchase a program that makes it really easy for the student and the teacher.

Geometry:  Connor is using Math U See, and doing fantastic.  Again, this is a video-based learning program that pretty much does the teaching for me.  In both cases, however, we're talking about material I know reasonably well and feel confident about.  

Financial Accounting:  Connor started taking a course from Professor in a Box.  We put it on hold, and he will return to it later.  Again, I'm purchasing expertise in an area I know fairly well, and it just makes my life easier.

Biology:  Connor is in an online co-op for this.  He's pulling about a 98% average so far, so clearly he is understanding the material.   Online coursework makes so many things possible.

Like Latin.  He's taking high school Latin (and struggling a bit) online as well.  Someone else does the lesson planning and the grading.  I don't have to know the difference between a declension and a derivative.

History.  We're studying Ancient History this year, and Connor is using a variety of resources.  This includes college level lectures on CD from the library.  That includes college level lectures on DVD from the library.  That includes high school and college level podcasts.  That includes jr. high and high school level books that we own.  

So how am I getting through high school?  I'm looking for resources that provide more of the teaching directly, leaving me to correct papers or discuss concepts.  I'm choosing some online classes.  I'm choosing some web-based courses (that's part of my other resources for math mostly).  I'm finding lectures from the library.  And in some cases, I'm actually learning alongside my kid.

Will this work all the way through high school?  I don't know.  It works now.  And I've already investigated taking online courses at the community college so that I don't have to relearn calculus.  But if push comes to shove, I'm positive that with a decent textbook I could learn it again, and teach it.  I just hope to not have to.

The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday. How Do You teach advanced subjects? is planned for 3/23. I plan to participate as often as possible.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scouting Saturday

Nothing terribly exciting to report, but it has been awhile since I've chatted about scouts.  Let's go youngest to oldest here.

Richard got a cub scout shirt for his birthday.  Just a few weeks more and he can sign up to be a Tiger.  He is SO excited, it is not even funny.  Personally, I'm not looking forward to all of the tour a radio station, tour a fire department type of stuff.  But he is going to love it. Now if we can teach him the Cub Scout promise and law instead of the Boy Scout one.

Thomas is going bowling with his den on Monday.  He's thrilled.  He has the best group of dads ever leading his den.  Thomas has been busy making plans for Grandpa for this summer too... working on his craftsman activity badge.  It should be fun to see what kind of project they come up with.

William is steadily making progress towards new ranks.  He is also finishing up his third merit badge (Crime Prevention, more on that below) and starting his fourth.

Connor has some work to do to make Life Scout.  He hasn't been doing much on merit badges lately, though he'll be finishing off Crime Prevention soon.  He did spend some time in the past week trying to figure out a plan of attack for finishing off some merit badge requirements though.  He has quite a few that he is oh, so very close to earning.  I want to assign him some of the stuff for school, but I'm forcing myself to make him take the initiative.  It's hard though.  You know, just an hour here, or a half hour there, and he could have some of this stuff earned.

Crime Prevention merit badge.  This is one the two boys worked on last fall at a merit badge college.  They learned a ton, but still had a couple things to do.  The big thing was to go tour a jail or visit a criminal court trial.  I had told them I'd take care of that part, and I finally followed through.  What a great experience that ended up being.

We headed to court, visited the jury room (that was suggested to me by someone on the phone a few weeks ago) and they gave us a list of four courtrooms to try.  That was discouraging.  The first one was done for the day.  The second one had "Absolutely No Children Allowed" signs posted.  The third one we simply could not find.  And we were striking out on the fourth one too.

Some nicely dressed gentleman was hanging out -- a district attorney, as it turned out -- and he could tell we looked confused.  Turned out we were looking for "his" courtroom.  But they were doing plea bargains.  Not a trial.  I asked for advice... HOW do I find a trial that is appropriate for these guys to go to.  He started giving suggestions, and then decided to take us for a walk.  He suggested an economic case happening in another courtroom on the same floor.  We waited outside, while he slipped in to obtain permission for us to observe.

We did get to go to that one... and we tiptoed in, sat down, listened to two minutes of testimony relating to whether or not someone was feisty... and the court recessed for lunch.  Ugh.

An hour and a half later, we returned... and rode up the elevator with "our" judge.  He explained the basics of the case to the boys (some lady died and left her caregiver her $1.2 million house).  We sat through a bit over an hour of the case.  Without the coincidence of meeting the judge in the elevator, we would have been totally confused.

The boys still need to meet up with their merit badge counselor and talk about it.  But other than that, I do believe they are finished.  And I finally did my part :)

Anyone else busy with scouting?  Pinewood derbies?  Service projects?  Anything fun going on?

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Free book, today only

Are you on Facebook?

Go become a fan of Bethlehem Books. Then email them for a free book. You have until 3:00 CDT.

They have amazing stuff, I want so many titles of theirs. I requested Victory on the Walls.

Other titles that screamed at me (some I own and recommend, some I just want):
  • Beyond the Desert Gate
  • Archimedes and the Door to Science
  • The Ides of April
  • Hittite Warrior
  • God King
  • The Winged Watchman
  • Augustine Came to Kent
  • Son of Charlemagne
  • If All the Swords in England
  • Rolf and the Viking Bow
Go, go, go! Request yours now!

And I'd love to know what you get :)

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Review: Homeschool in the Woods

Can I confess to having mixed feelings when I found out I'd be reviewing the Old World Style Maps from Homeschool in the Woods?

We've been using the timeline figures that they put out for years and years, and I love them.  And I was quite certain that the maps would be of a similar, very high quality.  But we've finally actually started doing things with geography and I didn't want another product thrown in the mix to mess with what was working.

I should have known better.

This product is fabulous.  Between the two products (World Maps and US Maps), I received over 300 maps, and scads of notebook pages.  And the maps are simply beautiful.

I printed off the maps for Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, thinking we could use them to review for the National Latin Exam.  That worked okay, but what really happened was the my oldest two latched onto the maps and created some sort of an ancient Risk game.  They spent HOURS using those maps as gameboards.

And as we are participating in a postcard swap, I decided we would use the US Maps and notebook pages to create a postcard notebook.  I printed a map (the version that is labeled) and a blank notebook page for each state as it comes.  We read the postcard and fill in whatever we can (state abbreviation, date of statehood, state bird, etc.)  If the postcard pictures a specific spot, we find it on the map and mark it.  And if the return address is present, we locate where the family is from as well.

We are not going through and looking up the "missing" information... just filling in what we know from the postcard.  And this project is FUN.

These sets are available as downloads for $18.95 each, or $28.95 for the set.  CDs are available for a dollar more.  I highly recommend these, and I've already seen that having the maps readily available makes it so easy to print a quick map, and the quality of the artwork makes my kids take it a bit more seriously than some other things I "just print off" in the course of our schooling.

Great samples are available at the website.  Check it out!

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about the Homeschool in the Woods at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive these products for free from the publisher.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

What in the world am I doing?

Some of you know that I've been fighting sick kids here, and that I spent a chunk of yesterday sleeping because I was feeling yucky.  So maybe this sudden attack of self-doubt is illness-induced.

But I am solidly in the midst of a self-confidence crisis.  What am I doing?  Am I failing my kids?  Wouldn't they all be better off somewhere, anywhere, else?

I think maybe it is partially because I have so many review products here right now too (check out the "reviews to watch for" sidebar!) but I think maybe I need to do a back to the basics week next week, just to reassure myself that my kids are really okay.

Is it just spring fever?  I don't know...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Have you signed up for the Schoolhouse Expo yet?

I know part of it is that I feel sick.  And discouraged.  But I simply cannot wait to hear some of my favorite homeschool "celebrities" speak in May.  Andrew Pudewa (known in my house as the Ooey Gooey Guy) is talking about the four areas of Language Arts.  Boy, do I need to hear that.

Susan Wise Bauer (I'm reading her Ancient History book right now... I need to update my sidebar on what I'm reading, don't I?) is talking about teaching writing.  Yeah, I need to hear that too.

The Clarkson family (some of the nicest people in the world... never met Sarah, but Sally, Clay and Joy are wonderful) are speaking in April.

Todd Wilson is talking about being REAL.  I'm all for that.  

Diana Waring, Sue Patrick, Amanda Bennett, Deborah Wuehler, Gary Bates, Lee Binz, Karen Braun, Davis Carman, Mark Hamby, Kim Kautzer, Heather Laurie, Jill Novak, Malia Russell.... and not only can I go hear them "live" (and in my pajamas!), but I'll get mp3s after the conference, so I can listen again (or not feel guilty about missing them the first time!)

And all of this can be yours too for under $20, if you sign up in the next two weeks.

But wait!  There's more!  No Ginzu knives, but there are a ton of freebies.  I spent hours downloading stuff.  Check that out here.

And there are giveaways.  Gift certificates, science supplies, magazine subscriptions, books, and more.

And March Madness is still going on too... and if you're customer 139,000, 139,500, or 140,000, you will win over $348 in prizes. Prizes include a 5 year subscription to TOS (U.S. only), Scripture Sleuth literature series, guitar lessons on CD, and more! Hurry, they are just past customer #137,818.

I hope to see you there...

Disclosure:  as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I am attending the conference for free in exchange for blogging about it.  That being said, I planned to spend the $20 when I get paid on Monday and urge anyone reading my blog to go too.  I think this is a fantastic value, and would love to see some familiar faces there.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Critical Thinking - Balance Benders

I was very, very excited to find out I'd be receiving a book from The Critical Thinking Co. as part of the TOS Review Crew.  I love their products.  I already own a LOT, and there have only been a couple that I didn't think were fantastic.  So I was pretty sure we'd enjoy whatever they had to send us.  I just hoped it would be something I didn't have.

I was not disappointed.  I received Balance Benders Beginning, which is logic and algebraic reasoning puzzles for grades 2-6.  My fifth grader dug right in, and my third grader is moving a bit more slowly.  So let me tell you a bit about it.
The idea is that they show a scale (or two, or three) with some objects on it, and they show that it does (or does not) balance.  Think of these like equations.  White square = solid circle, or white square + solid circle = grey star.

Then they give six answer choices, in the form of equations and you are to choose the three that will always be true.  All can be figured out using basic algebra concepts.  They start out fairly easy, but get fairly complicated by the end.

I'm using this a bit differently with my two children.  Thomas is sitting down with a page or two per sitting, and he is merely figuring out the answers.  If he gets stuck, we talk about it a bit.  If you look at the sample page, if he was stuck on this one, I'd start by asking him if he could see something he could do right away to make the scale simpler.  He'd light up, realizing he could take the black square away from both sides, and if he didn't see that gives him answer c as a correct choice, I'd guide him to that.  I'd suggest that he look at the answer choices to see if they put extra stuff on both sides of any of the equations.  Hopefully, he'd pick up on the fact that equation d has two black squares on both sides of the equation, and taking them away leaves him with an equation that balances too.  He's usually pretty good at picking up the fact that you can divide things in half, so at this point, he'd pick out the fact that equation e is just the simplified equation divided by two, and turned around.  We usually talk through why the wrong answers are wrong too.  For equation f, we'd talk about how the scale doesn't give us any information about black squares and grey circles in relation to each other, so maybe that is true, but we just don't know.

William goes through the above process without any input from me.  I make him explain the algebraic concepts he used to get to his answer though.  So for answer c, he'd tell me that he would tell me that he used the subtraction property of equality.  (Subtracting the same weight from both pans does not change the balance.)  Answer e would be the division property (dividing equation c by 2), and the symetric property (flipping which weights are in which pan).  Answer d would be the addition property of equality, the symetric property, and the associative property (putting the things in the pan in a different order).  

At the back of the book, there are two pages of "balance tips," basically the algebraic properties diagrammed using scales (we would not have come up with all these terms ourselves!).  And there are answers too, that explain which tips were used.  So the answer key for c says "Remove {black square is pictured} from both pans. (Tip 4)"

We love it.  Some of the problems really make me think, which is always good.  And it is only $9.99, and like other Critical Thinking products, you can use it with all your kids, making it even more of a bargain.

The great thing about ordering from Critical Thinking directly is that you also always (I think) get some free downloads with a purchase.  With this "order" I received a sampler and Cross Numbers Math Puzzles A1, which is a set of puzzles that lets kids practice addition and subtraction.  This book has a total of 42 puzzles, which start pretty easy and get progressively more difficult.  We enjoyed this product as well.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Critical Thinking products (Balance Benders or Language Smarts) at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this book for free from Critical Thinking.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post 

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding Time

This week's question:  How do you find time for everything?

I don't.

I'd love to just end it with that.  But I probably should say more.  It's just that other crew members have been so eloquent and wonderful.  

So, in no particular order, here are some of my random thoughts on finding time for it all:
  • I pray.  I can't do every good thing that comes along.  We need to pick and choose.  I'm biased.  Prayer will usually convict me of what is truly important versus merely great.  I try to only say yes to the things that are truly important or utterly fantastic.
  • We try to be sure that most everything we do will be a benefit to multiple kids.  One of the disadvantages of having four siblings is that we really can't do things that only benefit one child.  Sometimes we have to, but it has to be exceedingly important.
  • The same thing goes for how we spend our time at home.  We choose to spend time mostly on things that help more than one child.  While I adore programs like Right Start for math, there is not enough time in the day for me to teach math their way to everyone.  I have to compromise, and math is something where they can be more independent.  
  • We tend to do some school in the van... particularly listening to our read-alouds via iPod school.  
  • I do very little extra stuff.  I don't have time to become a library board member, or even to go scrapbook.  I spent ten years teaching Sunday School before I had kids.  I'll undoubtedly spend time doing similar things when my kids are out of the house.  For me, now is not the season in my life to be doing some of these things.  
  • And while I don't think my house is unsanitary, it is certainly not clean.  Even when we have a working dishwasher (ours died in December), I tend towards things like paper towels in lieu of plates for lunches.  
Other crewmates have far more inspiring things to say, though, so you really should check out the other posts.  I'll try to link it tomorrow if I remember.

The TOS Crew Blog is sponsoring a question of the week every Tuesday. How Do You find time for everything? is planned for 3/16. I plan to participate as often as possible.
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility Insight Edition

I did not discover Jane Austen until I became a homeschool mom, and I have since read a few of her novels.  I had not, however, read Sense and Sensibility, so when I had the chance to review the Insight Edition, I jumped at it.

What a fun book!  I was familiar with the story (from the 1995 movie), and I'm assuming most of my readers are as well.  What makes this particular version of the book interesting are the extra notes added in the sidebars.

Some notes explain the historical/cultural aspects of the book, such as one about "livings" being valuable and rarely being given to a stranger.

Some notes give information about Austen's life, such as a note about her living in Bath for years, and rarely portraying the town in a positive light.

Some notes talk about the film (and other contemporary culture) versions, including comments about characters that didn't make it into some of the films, or events that were changed in various versions.

Some notes comment on faith issues, frequently quoting Bible verses.

And the rest of the notes are either pointing out likes, dislikes, or other comments.  

I loved the notes.  It was a bit like talking about the book with a friend.  In fact, I'm seriously thinking I need to find the Insight Edition of Pride and Prejudice next.

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.