Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Curriculum Choices -- from Elementary to High School


Today's Back to Homeschool Blog Hop is about curriculum choices.  If I know one thing about homeschool moms, and especially those moms (and dads) on the Schoolhouse Crew, it is that we love to talk curriculum.  This ought to be a fun hop!

I can't decide whether to go being really specific, or fairly general.  Maybe because that is pretty much how my curriculum choices have been coming together... a vague mix of everything.  Yeah.  It's been a year.

So -- my students first:
  • Connor - going into 10th grade.  Very science and math oriented.
  • William - going into 8th grade.  He's my brilliant struggling reader, and figuring his schooling is always a challenge
  • Thomas - going into 6th grade. He loves hands-on and loves a good story.
  • Richard - going into 3rd grade.  This kid is scary-smart and would be hard to keep challenged except he has his big brothers' stuff to listen to.
  • Katrina - going into 1st grade.  Her focus this year has to be reading.

We've homeschooled from the start, and collected oodles of things that have worked great.  And we've learned quite a bit about what doesn't work for us very well.  So I'll break it down in groups here.

Elementary School:  my approach with Richard and Trina tends to involve making sure we are covering learning to read, doing math, and then mostly tagging along with the rest of the crew.  Very different from my approach when my older set was this age.  I'm not sure which kids are better served, but it is what it is.
  • Richard and Trina are both using Math U See as their primary math curriculum.  They also do a variety of additional things, mostly review products, to stretch skills in different areas.  Richard is using IXL.  Both are using the free membership at ZooWhiz.  We also utilize SplashMath apps on the iPod Touch.
  • Richard is currently using Reading Kingdom to brush up on his spelling.  Eventually he'll get up to the point where it works on his reading too.  Both of them are using Samson's Classroom, another online program.  We just started this, but I think it has the potential to be fabulous for Richard.  My hope is to pull Primary Arts of Language (PAL) out again and work with both of them with that.  Richard, mostly the writing aspect.
  • Otherwise, we're using Truthquest for history (the American History 1), doing some Spanish with Speekee, and getting back to using Kinderbach.  And they do a whole lot with their brothers.

Middle School:  by this point, I start to let my guys have some more input into what they are doing for school.  I think it is important for them to have some choices.  I don't always agree with the choices they make, but I do try to go along with as much as seems reasonable.  Sometimes it turns out they clearly knew what they were talking about.  Other times, they learn a bit about factoring in Mom's misgivings -- a lesson that probably teaches them more than any curriculum could.

So what are William and Thomas doing for school this year? 
  • Well, they both need to continue working on reading.  At least through December, they are using Read Live, an online program from Read Naturally that has literally changed their lives.  I'm not sure what we'll do in January, as I am quite sure they will continue to need some focused work.
  • In addition, they are using Lightning Literature's 7th Grade program.  I'm loving that.
  • For math, my plan was to have them work with Math U See as well, but that hasn't panned out quite like I intended.  Instead, I'm having them work with appropriate books from Math Essentials.
  • In history, we'll be doing Truthquest some more, somewhat coordinated with what the elementary set is doing.  We're also using unit studies from Homeschool Legacy.  I never ever ever ever thought I'd say we were using a unit study seriously.
  • Science is an area where we are still talking over some options. 
  • And then there are a variety of extra things too.  For one, we are looking at using Spanish for You

High School:  I see my role in high school curriculum as mostly pointing out constraints (required numbers of credits, budget restrictions, etc.) and acting as part adviser, part research assistant, and maybe a small part teacher.

Connor plans to get a degree in science.  So we've talked about what he needs and how he can get there.  He is making many of the decisions about what to do and what to use.
  • Math -- he is finishing up MyMathLab Algebra 2, and we simply have no idea what he'll do next. 
  • Science -- I am pretty sure he is going to be starting over with basically an AP Chemistry course, using DIVE and Apologia's chemistry materials.  At least that is the way he is leaning.  He got sidetracked last year, and ended up in a totally different science direction.
  • English -- he is using Lightning Literature also.  Specifically, the Early to Mid 19th Century American Literature.  He'll use another Lightning Lit program for the second semester of 10th grade, but he hasn't quite decided which.  He is also using IEW, hopefully the Student Intensive Continuation Course.  (That is one of those budget constraint items... I'm hoping to purchase it in September.)
  • History -- he is using James Stobaugh's World History materials as the base of his history studies, and adding a bit from Truthquest as well.  Mostly, he has decided that we've been pretty intense with history and history readings, and he needs something different. I'm hoping to get a review posted on the World History today.
  • Economics -- he'll be using Sonlight's economics package, and probably taking CLEP tests for both micro- and macro-economics throughout this year.
  • Spanish -- he is using some things we have around at the moment, including Mango through the library, and we plan to get him started using Homeschool Spanish Academy later this fall.
  • Plus, he's working on things like music history/appreciation, art history, and PE.  And he hopes to pull together a robotics 1/2 credit course this year.  And finish up a computer programming credit.
To read what other people on the Crew are up to, check out the hop below!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Homeschooling Methods: Literature Rich


The Schoolhouse Review Crew is doing a blog hop this week... a Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.  I'm hoping to be participating, but we shall see. 

This first topic, however, is on Homeschool Methods and that is something I've actually meant to post about.  I've always felt like I totally don't fit into any box.  First, we go do something crazy like homeschool in the first place.  Then, we never did do the "school-at-home" type of homeschooling that "everyone" allegedly starts off with.  That approach never appealed to me.

Everyone I knew when I started either did a school at home thing, or they did unit studies, or they were unschoolers.  Those weren't me.  I attended some things early on, and found I had a hard time relating to anyone.  The unschoolers were aghast that I owned a phonics workbook, as were the unit study moms.  The school-at-homers were appalled that we didn't have a set schedule or that most of our schooling happened on the couch or on the floor.

After a couple of years, I became familiar with the neo-classical methodologies.  That didn't really float my boat either.  All the emphasis on how you have to teach history chronologically in four year cycles <shudder>   I got so confused when jumping back and forth all over the globe doing ancient history!  I realized I needed more narrative, and my kids did too.  We'd rather study geographically, most of the time.

I discovered the book Latin Centered Curriculum, and that was the first thing that really screamed out at me as far as methodology went, but that turned out to be not quite us either.  I started calling us eclectic, but that didn't really fit.  (All the eclectic homeschoolers I knew were really unschoolers who didn't want to call themselves that!) 

The one thing that stayed consistent through all of our homeschooling though?  Literature.  Lots of it.  Read out loud.  Or listened to as audiobooks.  Or even -- gasp -- occasionally read by my kids. 

A year or two ago, I started referring to our "homeschool methodology" as "Literature-rich" and I think that sums up our schooling fairly well.

When we first started out, we attended a homeschool book fair in Colorado Springs... thirteen years ago, if you can believe that.  At that bookfair, and the state homeschool convention we went to a month later, we discovered two companies, Five in a Row and Sonlight.  Talking to the people at their vendor booths, it just felt right.  My vision for my two baby boys was a whole lot of time spent reading.  Reading great literature.  Reading good books.  Reading inspiring biographies.  Reading non-fiction.  And a whole lot of time discussing what we had read.

I have seen that this works for us.  When we are focused on real books, our schooling goes well.  When we aren't spending time with read-alouds, everything starts falling apart.

That isn't to say that we don't use textbooks, most certainly we do.  In math and science especially.  But we also read biographies of mathematicians and scientists.  We are even successfully using a unit study for nearly the first time ever.  This study uses a lot of real books though, which makes a difference. 

What are we reading right now?  Anne of Avonlea is our current audiobook.  We're reading Shay's Rebellion for history, along with some biographies of the founding fathers, and Uncovering Exciting History.  We're reading Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers.  We're reading Lord of the Rings.  We currently are not exactly reading any science, though we did spend a chunk of time on Benjamin Franklin and at least one of the biographies spent a significant chunk of time on his life as an inventor. 

Tomorrow, when I post about curriculum, you'll see what our plans are this coming year... and even if I don't spell it out, a lot of that centers on curriculum that emphasize reading a wide variety of real books.

I'm guessing that most of my crewmates have completely different homeschooling methods than I do... and below you can click through and read what they have to say!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: From the Library of C. S. Lewis

I just love reading anything by C. S. Lewis.  I like reading about him, too, and I've done a fair amount of that.

From the Library of C. S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey is a new way to experience Lewis.

Compiled by James Stuart Bell, this book is arranged topically, and each topic contains a number of short excerpts from authors who impacted C. S. Lewis.

I'll confess that reading the description of the book didn't exactly leave me knowing what to expect. 

From the publisher:
C. S. Lewis was one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. But who influenced C. S. Lewis? What were the sources of his inspiration? Who were his spiritual mentors?     

Drawn from Lewis’s personal library, annotations, and references from his writings, this book includes more than 200 selections from literary giants such as Dante, Augustine, and Chaucer, as well as more contemporary writers such as G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien, providing a vast array of inspiration from those who have shone forth as messengers of light in Lewis’s own thinking, writing, and spiritual growth.

In this treasury, you will…

·  Glean wisdom on living a devout life from Andrew Murray and Brother Lawrence
·  Tap into fantasy and imagination with William Wordsworth and Geoffrey Chaucer
·  Ponder creation and poetry alongside Sir Walter Scott and Aristotle
·  And much more!
What I am enjoying about this book is that each selection is short -- a page or two -- and fairly easy to read.  Each selection includes a brief biography of the author, and I really love that, particularly when the two-three sentence bio includes a statement that specifically relates to Lewis.  G.K. Chesterton's biography, for instance:
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) -- Roman Catholic artist, poet, journalist, essayist, and author, Chesterton wrote over one hundred books.  C. S. Lewis says, in Surprised by Joy, that Chesterton's Christian apologetics had a marked impact on him, and Lewis's own apologetic work owes a debt to Chesterton.
I have really enjoyed reading through this book.  I tend to flit around, not reading it straight through.  I'll read the bio for a selection, then go back up to the beginning and read the selection itself.  Sometimes that sends me back to the index to find out if there are more works from that author included.

This has been fun.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bountiful Baskets: July 21

Oh, oh, oh!

My basket is so totally yummy today!

Doesn't that look great?

I contributed for three baskets again, and... another lady at the site asked me if I wanted her corn.  Her husband can't have it, so she didn't want to bring it home.  I swapped her a couple English cucumbers for her corn.

The above basket had an extra raspberry.  One of the other baskets had an extra cantaloupe and an extra English cucumber, and the other had an extra bag of grapes. 

So all total, I brought home:
  • Twenty ears of corn
  • 3 bunches of broccoli
  • 3 bags of carrots
  • 2 English cucumbers
  • 6 zucchini
  • 3 heads of living butter lettuce
  • 3 pounds of strawberries
  • 4 6-oz packages of raspberries
  • 12 big plums
  • 5 bags of grapes
  • 4 cantaloupes
Plans for all this yumminess?

Corn will be served with dinner, three times (including tonight, with just the four of us) and I'll freeze two ears worth.

Broccoli -- we'll do up a tuna-broccoli casserole for lunch one day this week, some type of stir fry with broccoli for lunch another day, and I'll chop one up and have it available in the fridge as "free food" that the kids can grab whenever.  Dale doesn't like broccoli, so I try to avoid serving it for dinner if I can.

Carrots -- I'll be chopping these (and celery and onions) and sauteing until I run out of celery.  That will go in the freezer.  I'll add some to the stir fry.  And we'll definitely need to do some as a veggie with dinner a couple of times.  Because I already had a few pounds of carrots in the house.

English cucumbers -- oh, I don't know.  This is the one veggie we NEVER succeed in using.  I'm begging for suggestions here.  We can manage to go through about one-half of an English cucumber b slicing and eating it.  So I have 1.5 more to do SOMETHING with.

Zucchini -- I think I'll be doing some baking (and probably freezing some of it)

Lettuce -- we'll keep doing salads.  And I'll shred some carrots for the salads too. 

Fruit -- I don't have specific plans for any of it.  Just eating it.  :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

FIRST Wild Card Tour: The Last Hunger Season

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

PublicAffairs (May 29, 2012)

***Special thanks to Rick Roberson, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


For 30 years, Roger Thurow was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, 20 of them as a foreign correspondent. He has reported from more than 60 countries, including two dozen in Africa. He was co-author, along with Scott Kilman, of ENOUGH: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. Their coverage of famine in Africa was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting in 2004. In 2005, they were honored by the United Nations for their reporting on humanitarian and development issues, and in 2009 they received Action Against Hunger's Humanitarian Award. ENOUGH won the Harry Chapin WHY Hunger book award and was a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for excellence in journalism and a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Since 2010, Roger has been a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Visit the author's website.


Africa's small farmers, who comprise two-thirds of its population, toil in a time warp, living and working essentially as they did in the 1930s. Without mechanized equipment, fertilizer, or irrigation; using primitive storage facilities, roads, and markets; lacking capital, credit, and insurance they harvest only one-quarter the yields of Western farmers, half of which spoil before getting to market. But in 2011 one group of farmers in Kenya came together to try to change their odds for success-and their families' futures. Roger Thurow spent a year following their progress.

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

My take: This isn't an easy book to read.  I like nice, easy reads.

But this is an important book to read.  I like important books too.

The whole idea of the One Acre Fund is to help out those small farms in Africa... farmers who have less than five acres of land.  Which of course gets me thinking too.

Such a small amount of money makes such a huge difference to the yields of these farmers.  $45 is a figure I saw a couple of times.  Such a small amount of money that can transform the life of a family.

Why aren't we doing more with the space we have too?  I know the point of the book is that Africa is where we have hungry farmers, and I agree.  Bringing small farmers in Africa to a point where they can be self-sufficient, and have some food to actually sell, will make a huge difference.

But can't something like that help the 'food insecure' or whatever the current pc term is for people who are hungry in America?  I know that the working poor in urban areas don't have an acre of land to plant, but there are community gardens, and vertical gardens.  Though undoubtedly more than $45 investment to get a family up and running, isn't it something worth investigating?

The rural hunger problem in America though... I know in my area almost everyone has access to some land.  It's just that the soil is poor and the climate is fairly harsh.  We grow tumbleweeds quite well, and cactus.  Everything else takes some effort.  What if I marked out an acre and really worked at making it productive?  What if...?

Anyway, none of that is exactly the point of the book.  At least not exactly.  The "What if?" That is definitely huge.



I wasn’t in western Kenya long before I met my first Wanjala.

He was Francis Mamati, a smallholder farmer, unfailingly gra- cious, who smiled relentlessly as he lugged chairs and tables from the dark sitting room of his little house to the expansive shade of an avocado tree. With a slight breeze stirring, Francis began telling the story of his life as a farmer. He mentioned that he was born in 1957. We were the same age. I asked the date of his birth.

“I don’t know a day,” Francis said, “but I think it must be May or


“Why’s that?”

“Because my mother gave me a third name: Wanjala,” he said. “Wanjala is our word for hunger, for the time of year when we run low on food. The hunger season. And that is usually May and June.”

Francis Wanjala Mamati. “You can call me Hunger,” he said.

In western Kenya, the Luhya people like to name their children for the time of year in which they are born. Sitawa, for instance, is a girl born during the time of flying termites. Wamalwa is a boy who arrived during the brewing season. Nasimiyu is a girl delivered during the hot, dry months. Particularly popular are boys’ names that match the rhythms of the growing season: Wafula (rains), Wanyonyi (weeding), Wekesa (harvest).

The most common name of all, it seems, is Wanjala. There are an awful lot of people called Hunger. That is because the hunger sea- son can be the longest, stretching from the time the food from the previous harvest in August and September runs out to the time when the new crops begin to come in. It is a time when food prices soar with the shortages, and parents scramble for whatever income they can find and scrounge whatever assets they can sell to afford daily nourishment. Household food rations are cut and meals elimi- nated. Three meals become two, then one, and then, on some days, none. Work in the fields slows, children drop out of school, the lit- tlest battle for survival. May and June are the high season for hunger in western Kenya, but for some families the wanjala can begin in April or even in January.

After Francis, I would meet many more Wanjalas, and Nanjalas, the female version of the name. Teachers, preachers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, aid workers, farmers. Especially farmers.

HUNGRY FARMERS. That is perhaps the most confounding, trou- bling phrase on a confounding, troubled continent. “Hungry farm- ers” should be an oxymoron. How can farmers, who rise every morning to grow food, be hungry? But in my frequent travels to Africa’s hunger zones as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, I knew that phrase to be one of the continent’s saddest truisms: her small- holder farmers, the people who grew their own food, were also her hungriest people.

It was this discordant fact that brought me to the hardscrabble homesteads of western Kenya, a paradoxical region of breathtaking beauty and overwhelming misery. The area that stretches from Lake Victoria north to the slopes of Mount Elgon on the border with Uganda is one of Kenya’s breadbaskets, especially for the produc- tion of corn, which is known across much of Africa as maize. But it is also the region that leads the country in malnutrition and poverty. Collectively it may boast the nation’s highest agriculture output per acre, yet individually millions of smallholder farmers struggle to grow enough to feed their families throughout the year. Few fami- lies escape the annual wanjala.

Hungry farmers are the legacy of the “criminal negligence” of agricultural development foretold by Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in

1970. “We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenua- tion, if we permit future famines,” Borlaug warned back then. And that is indeed what came to pass. After Borlaug’s new breeding sys- tem produced a wheat strain that conquered famine in India, Pak- istan, and other places in Asia in the 1960s and ’70s, and after the Malthusian worry that the world would run out of food was dif- fused by the transformation of formerly hungry countries into new food powers, a long era of abundant and cheap food dawned, and the world turned away from agricultural development. The move- ment to spread new farming advances to hungry countries derailed before it could reach Africa. Aid to farmers and investment in rural areas in Africa by both the international community and the conti- nent’s governments declined precipitously, shrinking to negligible levels through the 1980s and ’90s and into the twenty-first century. The private sector, particularly the agriculture industry, likewise largely ignored the smallholder farmers tending less than five acres of land, deeming them too poor and remote for its attention. Neglecting the well-being of the largest segment of the population

on the world’s poorest continent defied logic. Yet this was the pre- vailing development philosophy in the United States and other rich precincts of the world: our farmers, who are heavily supported by our governments, are producing vast stockpiles of food cheaper than farmers anywhere else. Better the poor countries buy their food from us than produce it themselves. And if they are hungry—if famine were to flare from drought, turmoil, or evil politics—we’ll feed them with our food aid.

And so it went for decades, even as the world’s population grew and strains mounted on the global food chain—until the worldwide food crisis of 2007 and 2008. Shrinking stockpiles of some major grains sent prices skyrocketing, triggering food shortages and riots in dozens of countries. The ranks of the chronically hungry on the planet soared past one billion. The era of cheap, abundant food was over. Once again, the prospect loomed of a wanjala for all mankind.

I FIRST MET ANDREW YOUN in the middle of a Chicago snow- storm at the end of 2009. He was just back from western Kenya, where the hot, dry season reigned, but he insisted on keeping our appointment, even as blizzard conditions escalated. We ordered warm drinks in the café area of a bookstore.

Andrew eagerly told me about the farmers he had encountered when he arrived in western Kenya a few years earlier. He was a budding social entrepreneur, then working on his MBA at North- western University’s Kellogg School of Management. He didn’t know much about farming, but he did know that what he was see- ing on the rural homesteads didn’t add up. With all of the agricul- tural advances in the world, he wondered, how was it that the farmers he met couldn’t feed their families for the entire year? The rain was plentiful; the soils, though overworked and depleted, were laden with potential. Yet the wanjala persisted.

It was there, during the hunger season, that Andrew had his epiphany. For the first time in his life, he had come face-to-face with hunger. He watched one farmer ’s adolescent daughter stretch a thin mixture of maize porridge for the family’s only meal of the day. It was an image he couldn’t shake from his mind. He founded a social enterprise organization to reverse the neglect of the smallholder farmers by providing access to the seeds and soil nutrients and planting advice that never made it deep into the rural areas. The “social” aspect was to banish the hunger season; the “enterprise” part was to do it as an efficient business. He called his operation One Acre Fund.

“The existence of a hungry farmer is completely crazy. It’s mind- boggling. A hunger season shouldn’t exist,” Andrew said on that cold Chicago day, as the wind howled and the snow drifted beyond the bookstore’s windows. “Our mission as an organization is to make sure it never, ever happens.”

In that bleak winter setting, far from Africa, I recognized this passion, for it was also mine. I repeated to Andrew what an aid worker for the World Food Program (WFP) had told me during the Ethiopian famine of 2003: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.” It was that profound connection that led me to write the book Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty with my Wall Street Journal colleague Scott Kilman. And it was what subsequently led me to leave the Journal to continue to pursue the story that had come to seem more important to me than any other, and one I felt unable to stop covering regardless what else was dominating news headlines that day or that year: Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the twenty-first cen- tury when the world was producing—and wasting—more food than ever before? For me and my own diseased soul, Enough hadn’t

been enough. From my new post as senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, I set out in search of smallholder farmers I could follow for a year to both chronicle the impact on people’s lives of the “criminal negligence” Dr. Borlaug had warned of, and to illustrate these farmers’ potential to grow enough to escape the hunger season and benefit the global food chain.

Andrew told me that One Acre was then working with nearly twenty thousand farmers who were doubling and tripling their maize yields. He was optimistic they had the wanjala on the run. “I really believe,” he said, “that agriculture is the fundamental human- itarian challenge of our time.”

The urgency of attacking that challenge was palpable. We both believed that smallholder farmers, who were the majority of the population in most African countries, would be central to any suc- cess. In the wake of the 2007–2008 food crisis, agriculture econo- mists and development theorists had begun clamoring that the world needed to nearly double food production by 2050 to keep up with a growing global population and the growing prosperity of that population. Estimates placed another 2.5 billion people on earth in that time, which would be the equivalent of feeding another two Chinas or two Indias. In addition, there were already one billion people in the world who were chronically hungry. Adding to the challenge, this doubling would need to happen on roughly the same amount of arable land and with less water than was being used in the existing agricultural breadbaskets. All the while, a growing demand for biofuels that was channeling more and more food, corn especially, into gas tanks instead of stomachs, and extreme climate patterns that were wreaking havoc on harvests from the Russian steppe to the Texas panhandle, would be adding to the unprece- dented strains on the global food chain.

Where would the needed doubling come from? Likely not from the present breadbaskets of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia, where the great jumps in yields over the past decades have been narrowing. Nor can we confidently count on repeat per- formances of the large gains in productivity in green revolution stars such as India, China, and Brazil, where future growth depends on continued costly investments in infrastructure and research. In fact, under some scenarios, water scarcity in India and China could cut wheat and rice production by 30 to 50 percent by 2050, even as demand for these crops in those countries was expected to rise by the same amount over the same period.

From where, then, will come the quantum leaps in production?

Only from Africa, food’s final frontier. Because it is so far behind

the rest of the world agriculturally, Africa now has the potential to record the biggest jump in food production of any region by apply- ing technologies and infrastructure and financial incentives that are common most everywhere else. Africa, where the hybrid seeds that revolutionized American agriculture in the 1930s are only now beginning to spread, is the one continent where yields of maize, wheat, rice, beans, and an array of local crops, have yet to have their growth spurts, and lag as much as 90 percent behind the yields of farmers elsewhere. With only 4 percent of its farmland irrigated, Africa has water resources that are underutilized. With one-third to one-half of its harvests routinely going to waste, Africa could give an immediate boost to the world’s food supplies with improved storage facilities and more efficient markets.

With all this potential, Africa’s long-neglected smallholder farm- ers, who produce the majority of the continent’s food, have thus become indispensable for our future. It will be impossible to multi- ply global food production without creating the conditions for them to grow and bring to market as much as they possibly can—to at least feed themselves, their communities, and their countries—and to not only stop being a drain on the world’s food supply, but to add to it. They need to be at the vanguard of a new agriculture economy for the twenty-first century, an economy where all farmers are encouraged to grow as much nutritionally beneficial food as possi- ble and then be rewarded through the global market for doing so. The farmers who have been fed by the world’s food aid are now needed to help feed the world. We continue to neglect Africa’s smallholder farmers at our own peril.

Andrew Youn embraced all this. He invited me to come to western Kenya and meet the farmers.

INCREDIBLY, much of rural Africa is the same today as it was in the 1930s when a classic tale was told about farming in Kenya.

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” begins Karen Blixen’s endearing and enduring memoir, Out of Africa. Her farm, a coffee plantation in the central Kenyan highlands, was in many ways typical of white landholdings during the colonial period in Africa. It was a sprawling six thousand acres, full of var- ious crops, and wildlife, too. But even more typical were the farms of her African neighbors, who worked on her farm and tilled their own small plots called shambas in a corner of her land. She wrote,

Whenever you walk amidst the Kikuyu shambas, the first thing that will catch your eye is the hind part of a little old woman raking in her soil, like a picture of an ostrich which buries her head in the sand. Each Kikuyu family had a number of small round peaked huts and store-huts; the space between the huts was a lively place, the earth hard as concrete; here the maize was ground and the goats milked, and children and chickens were running.

That stooped farmer raking in her soil, children and chickens running over concrete-hard dirt between her tiny mud house and the flimsy small round storage huts with peaked thatched roofs— that’s Leonida Wanyama and Rasoa Wasike and Zipporah Biketi, and it is Francis Wanjala Mamati. You will meet them all in the pages of this book. One Acre Fund farmers, they have been working their shambas at the foot of the Lugulu Hills in western Kenya in much the same manner as Karen Blixen described three-quarters of a century ago. The political landscape of Kenya has changed greatly since the time of Out of Africa; the country gained its independence in 1963. But life on the shambas is still very similar. Kenya’s, and Africa’s, smallholder farmers toil in a time warp, living and work- ing essentially as they did in the 1930s.

If anything, the rhythm of the seasons has grown harsher, and the harvest yields more miserly over the years. The romantic ideal of African farmers—rural villagers in touch with nature, tending bucolic fields—has hardened into a horror scene of malnourished children, backbreaking manual work, and profound hopelessness. No one should dare mistake the romantic for the reality, for rural Africa is a nightmarish landscape of neglect. There is, in the main, no electricity or running water. Health care is distant and meager. Sanitation is rudimentary. Roads are wretched. Growing food is the driving preoccupation; buying additional food consumes almost every spare shilling. And still the farmers don’t have enough to eat. The wanjala abides.

THIS IS THE STORY of a year in the life of African farmers, in par- ticular four farmers in western Kenya—Leonida, Rasoa, Zipporah, and Francis—on the brink of change.

As their year began, international efforts to finally reverse the neglect of agricultural development couldn’t have been more

important—or more threatened. In the first days of 2011, staple food prices were soaring to record highs around the globe. In another part of Africa, north of the Sahara, the outrage ignited when a food vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire was spreading. Unrest partly fueled by the escalating cost of food and deepening poverty was roiling North Africa and the Middle East, toppling governments. A drought was creeping across East Africa, including Kenya, threatening millions with famine. In Kenya itself, commod- ity prices and the value of the country’s currency, the shilling, were beginning a turbulent ride (the shilling/U.S. dollar rate jerked from 80 to more than 100 and back to 80 again). In rich world capitals, the building debt crisis was eroding promises to invest more in agricultural development. In Washington, DC, President Barack Obama and his administration were readying for battle with Con- gressional budget cutters to save his Feed the Future initiative, which sought to assert American leadership in the push to end hunger through agricultural development, particularly among smallholder farmers.

And on the shambas of western Kenya, the farmers were stirring with the fervent hope that this would be their last hunger season.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: The Jesus Scandals

Over the past month or so, I have been reading The Jesus Scandals by David Instone-Brewer.  With a subtitle like Why He Shocked His Contemporaries (and Still Shocks Today) I knew this was a book I had to read.

I wasn't disappointed.  In fact, this book went beyond my expectations. 

From the publisher:
Although Western culture has been shaped for centuries by Christian teaching, a closer study of the Bible reveals that we routinely ignore the uncomfortable heart of New Testament ethics. It's too extreme, too confrontational. Even Christians pander to the world's way of thinking, making the astonishing bland.
In The Jesus Scandals, Dr. David Instone-Brewer identifies thirty areas where Jesus challenged the assumptions and practices of His contemporaries with insights that provoked shrill opposition and that continue to generate debate today. Some of these issues are familiar to us, such as the killing of unwanted children. But Jesus also taught His disciples humility--to take lowly titles, to consider themselves less; the New Testament church soon chose to ignore that teaching, just as we continue to do today.
Instone-Brewer has split this book up into three sections:
  1. Scandals in Jesus' Life
  2. Scandals Among Jesus' Friends
  3. Scandals in Jesus' Teaching
These chapters contain 6-12 chapters each (30 in all) that are fairly short (5-6 pages) and very easy to read.  Each also contains quite a bit to think about, and most contain tidbits of cultural or historical information that I didn't know.  And I found it fascinating.

I'm planning to work through some of these with my kids -- the older two, mostly -- over the next few months.  This isn't a book you necessarily want to just hand over to kids though.  There are some pretty serious issues being addressed, and I know I would prefer to have read the material before trying to talk it over with my young teens.   Rape, sexual abuse of children, prostitution, lap-dancing... just to name a few topics that come up.

The book is fantastic.  Totally worth reading.

Disclaimer:  I received this book through Kregel Blog Tours.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Company

When I saw the book The Company by Chuck Graham, I knew I wanted in on this book tour.  This is the kind of book I tend to read, but not the kind of book I tend to get an opportunity to review. 

Maybe that can change.

From the publisher:
A meteor strike plunges the world into darkness. A stranger to the village of Brigos Glen restores power and light, supplied by three businesses, known as “The Company,” located beyond the forbidden mountains. The stranger reveals a plan so the Brigons can maintain the power and share the light with outlying territories, which remain shrouded in darkness.

Now, seventy years later, The Company summons six Brigons, including the young engineer Sam Mitchell, to attend a conference in the mountains of the forbidden Outlands.

Responsible for compiling a report about Brigos Glen from his five companions, Sam learns how managers and villagers largely ignored the plan or compromised it to self-interest, forsaking their duty to share the light. They also took for granted The Company responsible for generating and transmitting the power.

In an ordeal fraught with failure, revelations, and judgment, Sam discovers the true identity behind The Company and learns the fate that may befall Brigos Glen . . . that is, unless he can stop it.

A fairly quick read, which I also tend to appreciate, this Nook book was only 179 pages, plus some appendices.

I really enjoyed the storyline.  Parts were fairly predictable, but not in a bad way.  Sometimes it is nice when you are able to sense what is about to happen and then watch how the characters react.  There were also a fair number of twists and surprises.  This is a hard one to write much about, though, without giving away too much.

I found the main character (Sam) to be very believable, and many of the other main characters were nicely fleshed out as well.  Since the story is told from Sam's point of view, the characters who stay fairly flat and one-dimensional are the ones he doesn't get to know.

This story did keep me turning the pages, and it did get me thinking besides.  A great combination.

Disclaimer:  I received this ebook through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, Volume 2

About a year ago, I reviewed Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, Volume 1.  One of the things I loved about that volume was the introduction.  I also appreciated the short chapters that you could read in those little snatches of time.

Having the opportunity to review Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, Volume 2 definitely interested me.  Here are 40 more supposed contradictions in the Bible, which are discussed by a variety of people.

Like the first volume, this is a fairly skinny (176 pages) paperback, that showcases forty contradictions in the Bible in fairly short chapters.

From the publisher:
The Bible is accurate and without error! Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volume 2 offers 40 powerful explanations to prove it.
There is an increasing focus in our culture on dismissing the Bible and its authority. Generations of skeptics and the religion of evolution have influenced even some Christian leaders.  By highlighting supposed errors or inconsistencies in the Bible, doubt is created in the minds of believers and stumbling blocks are put up for those trying to present the Gospel. But Biblical evidence disproves the toughest of critics while bringing to light the indestructible power of God’s Word. Tim Chaffey, Ken Ham, and Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis highlight the answers to these debates and more:
  • Is all Scripture inspired by God, or is some of it the opinion of the writers of Scripture?
  • After His resurrection, did Jesus first appear to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee or in Jerusalem behind closed doors?
  • Can God be tempted?
  • Why don’t Christians follow all the Old Testament laws?
Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volumes 1 and 2 are must-have references for every believer who wants to have an answer to give to those who ask a reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). Join the battle armed with the sword of Spirit, the truth that will defeat the lies aimed for this generation and those to follow.
I love that the contradictions brought up aren't all in the same category.  Some chapters talked about the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek.  Some wrapped up pretty conclusively.  Some were a bit more complicated.

The organization is similar to the first volume, with the contradictions put in Biblical order.  It was interesting once I got into the chapter on the Gospels to see how many times issues relating to the differences between how the various writers recorded the same event would come up.  If the Gospel authors were in collusion, as I've heard so often, why in the world wouldn't they have gotten their stories straight and made sure to get their facts in the same order?

Unlike the first book, this one flowed more easily from one contradiction to the next.  With the first volume, I knew that it was different authors writing the various sections.  This volume was just more seamless.

I would recommend both of these books.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Passages

When LitFuse announced a blog tour for the book Passages by Brian Hardin, I was interested immediately.

A few years ago, with our brand-new iPod Nano, we had discovered podcasts.  And one of our favorites was the Daily Audio Bible.

We started listening probably around January 10, 2006, and listened to two a day for the weekdays in January in order to "catch up" and be "on track" for the rest of the year.

That was an amazing year.

This book is written by the guy who did most of the podcasts for Daily Audio Bible, so I was certainly interested in hearing more about him and his journey.

From the publisher:
Many Christians feel guilty when they think of reading the Bible. Though they want to love reading Scripture, they rarely have time for more than a few verses on the run. But the Bible is not meant to be a burden. It is the story of God's passionate love for His children. It is also not a book of mystical incantations. It is a best friend offering counsel and companionship. And it is not a distant relic, but something very near. Near enough, in fact, to be every reader's story. So how do Christians delight in this story rather than see it as a source of failure? The founder of the immensely popular Daily Audio Bible, Brian Hardin shows readers how reading through the Bible in a year will change their life and the lives of others.

Passages by Brian Hardin shows readers how to read the Bible and offers practical ideas for immersing themselves in God's life-giving words. Here readers will discover that reading the Bible can be a breathtaking adventure. 
I did enjoy the book.  Brian always seems to be in touch with reality, and the challenge of daily Bible reading, and this book gives some great arguments in favor of immersing yourself in God's word.  He also rekindled a desire in me to listen to the Bible. 

Another fun aspect is the included stories from Brian's listeners.  It made me wonder what would have happened in our lives had we continued to listen through the Bible with Daily Audio Bible the past few years.  Though I know that in 2007, we read through a chronological Bible in a year, and that was wonderful too.

So yes, I've subscribed to the Daily Audio Bible again.  And I'm considering having the kids go through the (new to me) Daily Audio Bible for Kids podcast.

Daily Bible Reading & Devotion!

Disclaimer:  I received this ebook through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My 1000th post!

I cannot believe I've been blogging long enough to be up to 1000 posts!

I wanted to do something special for this, ummm, milestone.  But this week is so crazy.  So it is going to be a mish-mash of an update on things happening here.

  • My oldest three kids are doing their second week of science camp this summer.  It definitely keeps me busy, chasing back and forth to town every day.  Glad they are getting so much out of it.
  • We are finally (over a month later) able to move forward on fixing up the damage from the tornadoes in June.  Yuck.
  • Thomas had an amazing week of scout camp last week, and earned his Archaeology merit badge.  And TWO Eagle-required badges.
  • There are actual vegetables growing in my garden.  Not many, mind you.  But we may just harvest something this year.
  • We are having a complete blast reading about Ann with an E.  
  • I am planning to write up a post about how much Read Live has changed the lives of two of my boys.  I actually wanted that to be post 1000... but, alas, I just can't focus enough this week.
  • We picked up orthotics for Thomas last night.  And forgot to have him take them out of his shoes when we dropped him off at camp.  <sigh>  I am hoping he is okay today.  Ugh. 
  • I have a whole bunch of book reviews I want to get written, and now that I've posted this, I should be able to get myself to work on them.
  • We're sitting at a kids program at the library.  Love having some entertainment for Richard & Trina during this fairly long week.  Especially since we'll spend the afternoon at the DMV.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord

It has been awhile since I've read a general parenting book.  It's not that I think I know it all, but this genre grabbed me more when my oldest was 5 than it does now that he is 15.

On a whim, I requested Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord by Dave Stone when it came up for review at Booksneeze.  I expected some big book by someone claiming to have all the answers, so I was pleasantly surprised when this arrived.

An almost pocket-sized book (with 144 5x7" pages), it is divided into fairly short chapters that can be read in those oh-so-brief snatches of time that you tend to have as a parent of young children.

I really appreciated that so much of the book focused on fixing ME.  If I want my children to be reading the Bible, do they see me doing it?  If I want my children to be caring for the hungry, do they see me doing it?  The big idea I got from the book is that I need to be authentic.  My kids see the real me regardless.

The other aspect I really appreciated was that Stone wasn't at all patronizing or condescending.  He didn't come across as someone who has everything all together and has a perfect life with perfect children.  I felt like I was listening to a real person.

Definitely worth the read!

Disclaimer: As a Booksneeze Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson. No other compensation was received. For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review: Great for God

For the past few weeks, I've been reading a section from Great for God: Missionaries Who Changed the World by David Shibley a couple of days a week as a devotional, basically.

What a fabulous book.

I never heard stories of missionaries growing up.  My church may have supported one or two, I have no idea.  It wasn't something that ever came up.  I was vaguely aware that missionaries existed, especially in the past, but it was never talked about.

It wasn't until I started investigating homeschooling that I learned that there were actually books about missions, and there were even missionaries serving today.  Since then, reading missionary biographies and stories has been a reasonably regular part of our family life.

So while I was interested in reading this book, I wasn't necessarily excited.  We own so many books about missionaries already.

What wows me about this book is that even in the short little stories about missionaries we're already very familiar with (in my case, Rowland Bingham, William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Adoniram Judson, Eric Liddell, David Livingstone, Lottie Moon, Mary Slessor, C. T. Studd, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, and Nikolaus Zinzendorf) I often found bits I didn't know, or connections I had never made.

But the best part were all the others I really don't know at all.  These include:
  • Bill Bright (okay, I knew he founded Campus Crusade for Christ, but I didn't know much more than that)
  • Charles Fuller
  • H. B. Garlock
  • Paul Little (I have a couple of his books, but again, I didn't know much about him)
  • John Mott
  • Bob Pierce
  • Warren Shibley
  • Oswald Smith
  • Dawson Trotman
  • Samuel Zwemer
I received the Kindle format of this book, so it is now becoming something we do when we are waiting somewhere.  Each of the 23 sections takes roughly ten minutes to read, which is usually just about perfect.  This means that I am going through these stories again, with my kids.  And it is just as enjoyable the second time through.

If you are someone who has already read a fair amount about missions, this book is probably going to be a combination of hearing a slightly different take on people you know and being introduced to some new people too.

If you are like me a dozen years ago, this is a fabulous introduction to nearly two dozen missionaries and it may inspire you to find some full-length biographies to read more.

Either way, this is a fantastic resource.

Disclaimer:   I received this Kindle book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bountiful Baskets for July 7

I love Bountiful Baskets!!  For only $15 per basket, every other week (in my state... most places that have Bountiful Baskets seem to have it every week) I get to go hang out with great people while helping to load up the baskets for everyone, and I come home with yummy fruit and lots of veggies.

We purchased three baskets again this week, so once again, I brought a LOT home with me.

Pictured is the produce from ONE basket.  I describe the total for all three though (which cost me $46.50)

Fruit included:
  • 4 1-lb package of strawberries
  • 3 bags of green grapes
  • 24 limes
  • 30 nectarines
  • 27 plums
  • 4 enormous mangoes
 Veggies included:
  • 5 bunches of leaf lettuce
  • 4 heads of cauliflower
  • 3 big bags of green beans
  • 16 beautiful tomatoes
  • 21 fabulous, huge baking potatoes

What are we going to do with all of this?
  • Cauliflower - I chopped up one and declared it "free food" so the kids are free to munch on it whenever they want.  I made spaghetti alfredo with another.  The other two are in the cooler.  I'm probably going to chop 'em and freeze 'em, but I may cut one up for the kids to munch on.
  • Lettuce, oh, my.  Five of those.  That is more than we are likely to get through, let me tell you.  I have one washed, torn up, and available in the fridge as "free food" and we are likely to do a couple of salads for dinners.  I also bought bacon, as I am thinking BLTs tomorrow for lunch.
  • Green beans - we'll do two dinners, and I think I'm going to get the other bag frozen. 
  • Potatoes, well, we always have 30-40 pounds of potatoes around, so these will be used somehow.  These are great baking potatoes, so if it is cool enough some evening, I may bake a bunch.
  • Tomatoes -- besides the BLTs, these are just a staple and will get used.
  • Limes -- I'm looking at making up some limeade concentrate.
  • Mangoes will be the basis of some smoothies this week.
  • The rest of the fruit will probably just be eaten.  I may can some nectarines.  I'll probably can some nectarines.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Lightning Literature

Hewitt Homeschooling-- and particularly their Lightning Literature program -- is something I have heard about ever since I first began really thinking about homeschooling.  Lightning Lit was one of those programs everyone seemed to "just know" was good, but I hadn't had an opportunity to view it myself, so I was just never sure.

I've seen it now.  And it has changed our literature studies.

Lightning Literature is available for junior and senior high (with programs for elementary grades coming soon!) and the Crew had the chance to work with almost all of these products.  Lightning Lit uses a combination of novels, plays, and autobiographies (full-length texts), and also essays, short stories and poetry, to teach composition, literature, and other language arts skills.

I've looked at their website over the past four or five years, and my reasons for not trying this mostly boiled down to my concern that this just wasn't enough.  Whether it is simply a matter of getting the product in my hands, or the fact that I'm looking at things for son number two, or just that I'm getting a bit older and wiser (frankly, I think it is all three.  Well, maybe not the wiser part!) this program totally clicked for us.

The junior high levels (we used Grade 7) are full year courses, and include a student guide, workbook, and a teacher guide.  I intended to use this with William (who just finished 7th grade, but with his dyslexia, he struggles with most language arts products) but I ended up having both him and Thomas (a rising 6th grader) use it.  That meant ordering an additional workbook (the only consumable portion).  This probably would be too much for Thomas on his own, but combined with William, it really works out.

The program is set up so that you alternate between major works (novels like Tom Sawyer, or a biography of Helen Keller) and minor ones (Rikki Tikki Tavi is the first selection).

With each work (or works, in the case of poetry), the student goes through a similar process:
  1. Read a short introduction in the student guide.  This includes biographical information, and things to be watching for in the reading.
  2. Read the work/s and answer comprehension questions.  There are also vocabulary lists available by chapter.  For the longer works, this stage can last a few weeks.
  3. Read the lesson and mini-lesson in the student guide.  For Tom Sawyer, the lesson is on sub-plots or multiple plot lines.  The Mini-lesson is on outlines, specifically on outlining the stages of the plot.
  4. There are workbook pages to complete.  These worksheets include ones that reinforce the literary lessons or the mini-lessons.  There are composition skills worksheets.  Some pages address thinking skills.  There are worksheets covering grammar.  Each chapter includes a couple of puzzles.  There are 'extra challenge pages' which I am discussing with my 8th grader, but not with the 6th grader.
  5. Finally, the student chooses a writing assignment.  One thing I love is that the writing assignments are of varying difficulty, and the teacher's guide helps to explain these assignments so that you can help the student choose an appropriate one.  For more prolific writers, the schedule suggests doing an additional writing assignment.  That won't be happening here.
If you do the basics, this means that over the course of each semester (18 weeks) the student will read complete four chapters, which means four writing assignments, plus the writing practices in the workbook. 

I love the progression.  The Teacher's Guide will comment in various places about how a certain literary topic is being quickly introduced now, but will be explored in depth in the 8th grade program.  That keeps me from thinking I need to go adding extra explanation.  And it really makes me look forward to using the next level.

High school Lightning Lit programs are intended to be semester programs (though there are schedules available for using each over a full year) and there are a dozen options.  Connor is working with Early to Mid 19th Century American Literature, which is intended for grades 9-12.  All of the high school levels consist of a Student Guide and a Teacher's Guide.

Like the Junior High programs, this uses a combination of longer and shorter works.  There are no worksheets, which also means the entire program is non-consumable. The basic lesson set-up is similar to the Junior High levels as well:
  1. Read introductory material in the student guide.  This includes biographical information, discussion about the work in that lesson, historical background, etc.
  2. Read the work and answer comprehension questions.  Most of the major works are scheduled over two or three weeks.  Moby Dick pretty much goes on forever (you start reading in week 12 and finally finish in week 16).  (I confess, I am not looking forward to Moby Dick.  I need to find an abridged audiobook. For me.)
  3. Read the Literary Lesson in the student guide.
  4. Choose a writing assignment. There are quite a few options available.  The writing assignments tend to be essay-length, but some are shorter, and there are some research-style options in there as well.
  5. For a book-length work, choose a second writing assignment.
In a semester, the student works through four major works and four shorter ones, completing twelve writing assignments.  That sounds like a lot, when I write it out here.  But it hasn't felt like too much as we are working through it.  Maybe because Connor has so many choices when it comes to what kind of writing assignment to complete? I'm not entirely sure.  But the pace is workable.

For The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (the first lesson in the first unit), Connor chose to write a short research paper on Franklin the Inventor, and for his second writing assignment, he opted to write a letter introducing himself to a new penpal.  We're going to use this to send to our new Compassion child, actually.

The high school levels can be completed at a slower pace (one guide over a year) with a schedule provided.  They can be completed at the college-prep pacing of one guide per semester.  Also, there are additional reading suggestions, and Hewitt considers this an honors course by adding some of those.

My bottom line:  I love this.  My perusing-the-website-and-samples impression of Lightning Literature was that the pace was too slow and we wouldn't be reading enough.  My 'older and wiser' thoughts are different.  While I definitely want my children reading more books during a schoolyear, they certainly do not need to be doing in-depth analysis of a new book every week.  Lightning Literature gives us room to add books that relate to the history or science we are studying, or just add some because we want to.

As for papers, we probably will cut back some from the suggested schedule.  Unlike my high school experience where paper writing happened only in English, Connor is writing essays for his history course, his humanities class, and in science too.  I suspect we'll drop at least one paper per quarter from this schedule.

The price is good too.   The Junior High (7th or 8th grade) level costs $60 for all three workbooks, and $20 for each additional student (for the workbook).  The high school levels cost $32.90 for the two guides, which I can use for each of my children.

The kids' bottom lines:  Connor has asked that we continue with Lightning Literature.  He wants to do the British Christian Authors book, pictured here.  He wants to do both World Literature titles.  He wants to do British Medieval.  And Shakespeare Tragedies. And...

William and Thomas want to continue to use Lightning Literature.

I'm planning to use their new First Grade materials with Trina.  Richard, I'm afraid, is going to be the only one not using Lightning Literature at the moment.  His turn will come.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about the different Lightning Literature courses and some of Hewitt's elementary products, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew, I did receive some of the products mentioned for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

If you are interested, here are more of my Schoolhouse Crew Reviews.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: Homeschool Spanish Academy

We have tried, off and on, to learn Spanish.  Dale really wants that to happen, but it is hard when I don't know much of the language myself.  Whatever we have tried in the past has had some positives... we learn some words, we learn a bit of culture.  But we've never stuck with anything very long, mostly because nothing has ever felt like it truly would work out.

Or at least that used to be true.  Homeschool Spanish Academy is different.  In lots of ways.
  1. I don't have to do the teaching.  Native Spanish speakers, who live in Guatemala, teach live, ONE ON ONE via Skype.  (The teachers all speak English also, and will use English as much as necessary in the class time.)
  2. While there is a standard curriculum, it is adapted to the student.  So if your student has already learned to count, or has learned the colors, they will briefly touch on that and then move on. 
  3. Homework (for the elementary levels) consists of reviewing what has already been taught.
  4. Unlike other online courses we've used that involve a real person doing the teaching, we can schedule it around our lives.  So one week, we have class on Tuesday afternoon, another week we head to the library after stuff in town and do a class Monday early evening.  Classes are available between roughly 9:00 and 5:00, Mountain Time.  (Of course, if you want a set time, you can schedule it for every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. too.) 
Summer has been a little crazy, but Thomas is over halfway through his half-semester (he's attended five of the seven classes) in the Early Learning Level.  At $59.99, that is just over $8.50 per class.  Twenty-five minutes of one-on-one attention, from a Spanish teacher in Central America.  (Prices are lower per class when you purchase a full semester at a time, or do two classes per week.)

These teachers are top-notch too, and they have to continue to learn -- all instructors are required to spend a certain number of hours each month studying English, Bible, and education methodologies.

What did Thomas think?

Well, I have to be honest and say he was NOT excited about the chance to learn Spanish this summer.  It's been tough on him, as the timing pretty much stinks.  We were in Fargo when this started, had a visit from family, had a week-long science camp (that's when we did class in the library), Dad was on vacation for a week, we spent a lot of time this past week volunteering with the area fires, or watching news broadcasts as he had a handful of friends in evacuated (or pre-evac) areas, and now he is at Scout Camp.

If I could have chosen this, I would have been starting him next week.  This past six weeks has not exactly been conducive to him focusing on much of anything.

That being said... his statements about the classes have been fairly positive.  Especially after this fifth class.  The first class is a chance to learn how the course works and for the teacher to assess the student's knowledge.  In his case, the next three focused primarily on learning the alphabet, most especially learning the sounds the vowels make, and reading Spanish words.  It was class #5 where he started having more "real" conversations with his teacher, and that was the point where he started to get a glimmer of why I was so excited about this program.

He loved that the teacher would personalize things.  This is a slight paraphrase of the conversation they had on Friday (Rosa, his teacher, in italics, Thomas in parentheses.  I know some of the stuff the teacher said in Spanish first, then in English, but, ummm, did I mention I don't speak Spanish?):

Do you have brothers and sisters? (Si) How many brothers?  (tres)  Are you the oldest or the youngest? (in the middle)  What is your oldest brother's name? (Connor)  Is Connor a nino or a senor? (giggle... I guess a nino, but really he's kinda in between).  Oh, we have a word for that too!  Connor is a muchacho.  Can you say muchacho? (muchacho)  Thomas, you are really a muchacho too.  You're too big to be a nino, but not a senor yet, right? (Si, I guess...)

How old is your sister?  (seis)  Is she a nina or a senorita?  (nina)  How about your mother, is she a senor or a senora? (senora)  What about me?  Am I a senora or a senorita?  (senora)  Oh, Thomas!  I was hoping you'd say I was a senorita! 

They also went through some basic greetings -- hello, how are you, good afternoon, etc. -- and conversed a bit back and forth.

Thomas thought that was fun.

One thing I think I would do differently if I could go back and start over, though, would be to bring up that he has struggled with reading.  He really struggled with the part where he was mostly reading words (class #3 and #4).  I think most older elementary students would move through that section faster, just because they wouldn't have to expend quite so much energy in the process of reading.  I'm guessing (because I'm not a language teacher) that he would have been better off if they had focused on the sounds of the vowels, then covered the consonants, and then mostly moved on to some of the more conversational materials.

Another really great thing with this program is that after your initial class, you have a choice as to whether to schedule your class with the same instructor, or whether to use any instructor.  We did have the same instructor (Olga) for the first two classes, but then with our weird week, she wasn't available when we could do things the third week, so we had a new instructor (Nora), and then we had Rosa for sessions 4 and 5.  Thomas seemed to like the variety, and all three were simply wonderful.  I can see one of my children, however, getting very stressed out about switching teachers.  For him, I would be scheduling further in advance and trying to stick to one teacher.

I am very, very seriously contemplating purchasing more time with this program.  I am tempted to have Richard and Trina do the early learner level together (you can have two students take the course together, if they are close enough in age/ability and if they work well together).  I am tempted to have Thomas and William do the middle school level together (middle school is longer -- 50 minute classes, and starting at that level there is homework).  And I am seriously tempted to have Connor do the high school level.  Given his Latin studies, I think he could fly through some of the early portions of the program (did I mention how much I love that this is personalized?)  I'd love to do the Adult Program too... but that is a fantasy. 

If this is something you are interested in, you do need to install Skype, if you don't already have it.  I didn't.  A headset with microphone and headphones is good if you can't have your student in a quiet room.  And you do need a minimum amount of download/upload speed.  My very rural internet easily met the requirements.

This method of teaching language is simply brilliant.  Tech support is wonderful.  I highly recommend Homeschool Spanish Academy.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about the different levels of Homeschool Spanish Academy, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew, I did receive products as mentioned above for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

If you are interested, here are more of my Schoolhouse Crew Reviews.