Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: Roots and Fruits

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services (EDUDPS) was generous enough to send me a couple of different products to review. I'm going to be making separate posts about them.  The products I received included two semester long writing programs; a career, college and high school guide; and the subject of this post: Roots and Fruits, a vocabulary program for Grades K-12.

As with the other products, this is available either as an ebook, or in printed form.  The security software is not compatible with Macs, and only allows you to print twice.  I opted to print out the 70some pages, but this would be fairly straightforward to use from the computer too -- only I had to put it on the PC, which I don't regularly use.

What is it?  It is a vocabulary roots program, intended to be used with children as early as kindergarten.  I have to admit some skepticism on my part as far as how this would work with a 5 year old... but for my older boys, I was pretty confident this would be great.

But... well, I was totally overwhelmed and couldn't figure out how to start it!  The ebook primarily consists of an alphabetic list of 673 roots and prefixes, with 2-3 vocabulary words to go with each (1716 vocabulary words in total).  Some of the roots have asterisks, indicating that these are good words to use with the younger kids.  Some of the vocabulary words are underlined, meaning they are common SAT vocabulary words.

The introductory materials give a great layout as to how to make this work.  You can download that, and the letter A roots and try this out yourself.  I like it.  Really, I do.  I just couldn't figure out how to start (or did I mention that already?)

Fortunately, one of the other products I received to review (Illuminations, by Bright Ideas Press) suggested using a different roots program, and it schedules out roots to study in the weekly grids.  I ended up deciding that I would use Roots and Fruits but follow the order scheduled by Illuminations.  That finally let me off the hook, so I didn't have to think anymore.

I'm hoping that by the time we get through the 36 weeks of Illuminations, I'll be comfortable enough to just choose my own roots.  I'm sure most people are more competent than I am though, and could get started without so much hand holding.

So, Illuminations had us start with photo and graph.  Both of those happen to be asterisked, which means that they are appropriate for my K-3rd boys too.  So, the basic process:

I wrote both roots on our white board.  The big three boys wrote it on one side of an index card.  I did not have Richard write these out.  Then we discussed the definition.  So, using  graph, we talked about how it means "to write."  That was written on the back of the cards.  Roots & Fruits gives three vocabulary words:  graphic, autograph, and paragraph.

Connor looked graph up to figure out its origins (Greek) and noted that on the card.  Then we looked up the three vocabulary words, read the definition, and worked together to rephrase it using "to write" as a part of the definition.  Autograph, for instance, became "to write in one's own hand."  Had we already studied auto (self), we would have incorporated that into the definition too.  I did not have Thomas (3rd grade) write out all the vocabulary, but he was part of the discussion.

Then, for the rest of the week, we spent a few minutes each day reviewing the root, definition, and vocabulary words.  Starting from my youngest son, each child was asked to give me a sentence using at least one of the vocabulary words.  Connor started trying to put all of them into a single sentence, so after the first day, everyone was trying to use more than one per sentence.

On Friday, each child had to give me sentences for all the vocabulary words.  I'll probably adjust that for Richard now and then, but he handled these pretty well.  I do allow him to repeat sentences from earlier in the week, which is against the "rules" given in the introductory materials.  I'm using abcteach (another Review Crew product) to make Bingo games to review the roots and vocabulary (Bingo is one of the suggestions given by Roots and Fruits).

The suggestion in Roots and Fruits is to do activities during the week too.  I wasn't quite ready to add that in, but now that I have found abcteach, I think we'll be doing Bingo a couple days a week, and choosing another activity or two on other days.

Overall, I think this is an amazing resource.  My only complaint, really, is just that I have to make decisions about which roots to use.  Before receiving Illuminations, I was leaning towards going through the list alphabetically, picking out one asterisked root for everyone to do, one with italicized vocabulary for Connor to do, and one other for the three older guys.

The ebook is on sale for $11.25 right now, and the hard copy versions are $17.48 or $19.95, depending on whether or not it is bound.  I think this resource is well worth this price, even if you only use it as a reference, not as a curriculum.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various EDUDPS products 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 free products from EDUDPS.  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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scout School

This is our fourth real year as a Scouting family, though I did do some things fairly informally with the boys before that... we just hadn't yet found a pack to join.  As the years go on, I'm finding more and more ways to integrate Cub Scouts, and now Boy Scouts, into our homeschooling life.

Scouts and homeschooling is a great combination.  As homeschoolers, we have the ability to set our regular coursework aside for a day or two to focus on engineering for a Webelos activity badge instead of reading our biology.  Or to set Physical Science aside for a couple weeks to focus on the Environmental Science merit badge.

Science is one perfect place to do Scout School.  There are science related requirements or electives through all the levels of Cub Scouts.  But in Boy Scouts?  Wow!  I think a science plan that I will have for all my boys in late 5th (when they cross over from Cubs) and 6th grade is for them to choose three or four science related merit badges, and for us to use those as a spine for our "transitioning to junior high" science program.  I'll even do the same for my daughter... the merit badges are that good.

Science badges Connor (my only Boy Scout) has earned, include:  Nature, Insect Study,  Dentistry, and First Aid.  He is working on Radio, and starting Environmental Science soon.

Other science badges he could earn, though, include:
  • Natural Sciences, 11 total (archeology, astronomy, various types of animals, geology, weather)
  • Physical Sciences, 7 total (from Chemistry and Computers to Nuclear Science and Space Exploration)
  • Professions, 7 total (Architecture, Engineering, Landscape Architecture, Medicine, Surveying, Veterinary Medicine)
  • Conservation, 4 total (Environmental Science, Fish & Wildlife Management, Forestry, Soil and Water Conservation)
  • Miscellaneous, stuff like Animal Science, Composite Materials, or Gardening
The merit badge pamphlets, which cost less than $5, make fantastic textbooks regardless of whether or not you are a scout.  Sonlight used to use the Oceanography merit badge book as part of their Science 7 program, which I am fortunate enough to own (they no longer create -- or sell -- that level).

For almost all the Boy Scout merit badges, I can also add in belt loops, pins, rank requirements, or rank electives for my Cub Scouts too.  So when Connor chooses a merit badge to work on, one of the first things I do is to see what related requirements there are for William or Thomas... and either all three do the activities together, or I have Connor teach the appropriate material to his brothers.  For some merit badges, one requirement actually does involve teaching others... so Connor visited his brother's Webelos den to teach the Heimlich Maneuver, for instance.  All those boys met one Readyman requirement, and Connor finished the last thing he needed for the First Aid merit badge.

I'm in the midst of a Citizenship unit based on scout requirements... maybe I'll talk about that next week!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Frugal Friday: Oatmeal

I am going to try to be consistent about the Frugal Fridays tips hosted by Life as a Mom.

With five kids, who see to always be starving, I am always on the lookout for inexpensive ways to fill them up.  And healthy too.  My breakfast of choice is often a bowl of oatmeal.

Oatmeal is relatively quick to make, and it is inexpensive.  The reason for this post is that I had no choice but to shop a store last week that tends to have higher prices than my usual store (but some great sales!) and I really needed oatmeal.  I just about collapsed in the cereal aisle to see the store brand container of Old Fashioned Oats was $4 (Quaker was even more).  I quickly did the math, and realized that driving to my regular store would eat up the $2 difference in gas, plus I really did not have the time to be going.  So, I sucked it up and paid it, determined to analyze that purchase and be sure it was still a good deal.

So, on an oatmeal morning, life looks something like this... I put the teakettle on, and measure oatmeal into bowls lined up on the counter.  We use 3 cups of oatmeal in total.  I add something to the oatmeal (homemade cinnamon sugar, a spoonful of peanut butter, raisins, molasses, a bit of pancake syrup, homemade jam, applesauce, chopped apple, vanilla extract, powdered milk, protein powder... whatever jumps out at me on a given day) and by the time I'm done, the tea kettle is whistling.  I add hot water to each individual bowl, stir, and call over the kids.  They grab their bowls, sit down to pray, and by the time that is done, the oatmeal is perfect.

So, according to the container, there are about 30 1/2 cup servings in there.  That's 15 cups, or 5 breakfasts using 3 cups of oatmeal.  That works out to $.80 worth of oatmeal for breakfast.  Even if I'm using $.20 of added stuff (I doubt it, most days anyway), that still a buck for breakfast.  For all five of my kids.

And that's with the expensive stuff.  My usual price for the same size container is just under $2, which means somewhere around $.60 to feel them all, or just over a dime apiece.  And, my kids are full.

I do try to vary things quite a bit, so it isn't exactly the same thing every day.  When peanut butter is cheap, a tablespoon of it is great.  For a bonus treat, on the very rare occasion that we have them in the house, I'll add 4-5 chocolate chips.  It's not quite a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but the kids love it.

I try, and fail, to do the pre-soaking recommended by Sue Gregg.  Somehow I just can't be working on breakfast that far in advance though.  I need to adjust my routines.  But I do make baked oatmeal reasonably often, at least in the winter.  Here is one recipe I've used (though I use less butter, and I use a baking spice that includes both cinnamon and nutmeg and some other stuff, and I don't own brown sugar anymore, so I throw in sugar and molasses, though not as much as is called for, and... well, ummm, I never follow a recipe as written)

Oh, and lest I forget... oatmeal is good for you.  Not that I know all the ins and outs, but insoluble fiber, lots of great nutrients like vitamin E, zinc, selenium and on and on, reduces LDL cholesterol without reducing HDL cholesterol (I had to look that up, I can never remember which is which), may reduce heart disease and high blood pressure, and lots of other great stuff too.

So, pull out that container of oats, and have a healthy and inexpensive breakfast.

Go check Frugal Fridays for other great tips... today's main one is about moving in a frugal way, and I saw some great-looking ones on Halloween, movies, date nights, and many, many more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Growing Healthy Homes

One of the very best things about being on the Homeschool Crew this year has been the chance to try out some products that a) I never could have afforded, and b) I didn't know I needed.

Growing Healthy Homes provided me with one such product -- Nutrition 101: Choose Life!
PhotobucketWhat is it?  A nutrition and health program "for all ages" that goes through a lot of anatomy as well, so it could also be used as a science program.  It comes either as an ebook (448 pages) via CD, or you can purchase a physical book.  For the crew, we received the ebook.

I don't mind doing some schoolwork from my laptop, so we did not print the book out.  Printing in color would be expensive -- if I were to print this, I would do it in full in black and white, and then go through and print a few select pages in color.  Then have it bound.

The book contains six units, each with four chapters.  Each unit covers two body systems, which takes you through the twelve main systems of the body (the reproductive system is covered in an appendix, which would make thirteen systems covered in total).

Each unit also covers some aspect of nutrition that relates to the body systems covered.  For instance, when learning about the digestive system, you learn about enzymes.

The suggestion is to work through a chapter a week, and they lay out specific ideas as to how to do that.  The pace worked well for us for chapter 1, but after that, the text got to be far too much to read in a day.  We slowed our pace down to do a chapter over two weeks.

Each chapter includes text, discussion questions, activity suggestions, resources, a "power recipe" and activities to go along with that as well.  At the end of each unit, there are additional recipes.  We plan to take another week to play with one or two of them as well.  This means, the entire book should take us roughly a calendar year (53 weeks, if the remaining chapters continue to take us two weeks each).

They bill this as being for "all ages" and I got the chance to test this with my crew.  Trina (age 3) could not care less, though she enjoyed the kitchen part.  Richard, my kindergartner, quickly glazed over as well.  My big three, though (ages 8, 10 and 12) are all enjoying it.  I think I would say that it is good starting somewhere around 2nd or 3rd grade, and it certainly is meaty enough for high schoolers if they add in the upper level activities.

Activities suggested in the book include a nice variety of formats... in chapter 1 (the brain), the kids had a ball brushing their teeth left-handed, and my oldest son took an online cognitive style quiz, researched the etymology of the word "lobe," and watched a Youtube video about the brain.  We also as a family spent time in the produce section picking out what we needed for the power recipe (guacamole) using the guidelines in an appendix of the book (the only pages I've printed so far!)

Chapter 2 activities included a lot more research for my oldest, and a lot of trying different foods.

We have only made two of the recipes so far -- we're kind of stuck at the moment, because the recipe for Chapter 3 calls for flaxseed oil and a nut oil (walnut, sesame, pumpkin) and we simply cannot shell out $20 for a couple little bottles of oil right now. Both recipes we tried were very good.

In spite of us stalling out in chapter 3, one thing I do like is that although they are suggestion a lot of "health food" items, they do introduce them reasonably slowly, so you aren't stuck making a lot of purchases all at once.  Particularly if you skip the additional recipes.

In fact, in Unit 1, chapter 3 is the only one with what I consider to be unusual ingredients.  In Unit 2, chapter 2 suggests a different nut oil and chapter 4 calls for prune puree.  Unit 3, chapter 1 calls for Blue Agave Nectar, carob powder, and coconut or rice milk.  Unit 4, chapter 2 calls for tahini and chapter 4 calls for coconut oil.  Unit 5, chapter 4 calls for almond butter and carob chips.  You continue to use ingredients (especially Blue Agave Nectar) after they are first introduced.  Obviously, your definition of unusual ingredients is likely to differ from mine.  I didn't include produce that I don't normally buy but I know I can at Safeway.

Okay, so my overall opinion?  This is a great program.  There is a ton of detail, it is Biblically based, and the focus is definitely to let the kids know what their choices are and what those choices mean... with the goal that they will, as the title suggests, choose life.

I love this.  I'm very glad I have it.  And we will work through it multiple times over our homeschooling career.  It has already helped my family to eat better, and I'm sure as we work through the entire book that will become even more obvious.

The biggest con is the cost.  The CD-ROM is available for $80, and the book is $100.  This is something I would seriously consider saving up for though, as it is a treasure trove of information, and eating healthy is a family priority.  Again, you can check out their website, view the video, look at samples, etc.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Nutrition 101 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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What would you do with fifty pounds of potatoes?

I'm just on here looking for ideas...

I'll be picking up a 50# bag of potatoes on Friday (and a 50# bag of onions too), and I don't really have a fantastic place to store them.  What I'm thinking at the moment:

I've frozen mashed potatoes quite successfully before, so I'll do that.
I can keep potatoes for about a month, so I'll store enough for us to do loaded baked potatoes once a week, and to do something in the crockpot with a potato or two each week.
Twice baked potatoes, I've heard, freeze well.
Figured I'd try potato skins too
My husband would love me forever if I made pierogies, but that is so much work...
I also thought I'd do some potato wedges.

Any other suggestions?  If this works out, maybe next time I'll go for two 50# bags...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Write With the Best

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services (EDUDPS) was generous enough to send me a couple of different products to review. I'm going to be making separate posts about the products. The products I received included a Greek and Latin roots program; a career, college and high school guide; and the subject of this post: Write With the Best (volumes 1 and 2).

I was very excited to get this.  Writing is one of those things that I wanted to be a serious focus this year.  Write With the Best 1 is intended for students as young as 3rd grade, and can be used all the way through high school.  Volume 2 is intended for 6th-12th grade students, after completing the skills in Volume 1.  If done as written, the volumes would take a semester each.  For younger kids, Volume 1 could easily be stretched out over a year, by a combination of doing assignment less frequently than 5 per week, and/or by stretching the actual writing and editing part over a longer period.

I started my three oldest (3rd grade, 5th grade, and 7th grade) in the program together.  I think Connor could move faster, but it is far easier on me if I have them doing this together.  Some assignments I do have Connor go and do independently, while I work with the other two.  But it is mostly together.

Book 1 consists of eight units, each with 10 assignments.  Each of the units is set up similarly, so I'm going to talk about Unit 2 -- Writing a Descriptive Paragraph - Describing a Place.

Basically, it lays out something like this:

  1. You read an excerpt (included in the text) from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, where he is describing a place.  You talk about what makes this excerpt good writing.
  2. You go through the passage, color coding so you can really see the descriptive language used by Dickens.  There are a couple other things to notice, point out, and discuss about the passage and the use of language.
  3. You go through the passage again, talking about how Dickens appeals to the senses in his writing.  More discussion.
  4. Prewriting starts now.  The student thinks about a place that he can describe, and starts listing descriptive words.  There are some great little exercises to help you get more vivid words in these lists.
  5. Find a description of a place in another book, determine whether it is a good example of a description of a place, and why.  Make note of the descriptive words used.
  6. Begin writing a paragraph.
  7. Finish writing a paragraph.
  8. Go through the paragraph, coding the descriptive words used.  Add more if necessary.
  9. Proofread using the checklist included.
  10. Write or type your final draft.  Read it to your family.
So, what I like about this process is that you are starting with good writing, and spending a lot of time discussing what makes it good.  The student gets to start the writing process fairly early in the process, with a list of great words he can use when he does start the actual writing.  And the writing itself is spread out.  As is the editing.  And the editing is separated... add more description, if necessary.  Then the next day figure out the punctuation and spelling.

How does this work with my brood of reluctant writers?  Great!

I have had to help my younger two to brainstorm their word lists, but they are getting better at coming up with at least some words on their own.  I let them dictate the paragraphs to me initially.  We'll probably change that as we go.  But with the word list in front of them, they have done a fantastic job of creating interesting paragraphs.  Certainly not on par with Dickens, Jules Verne, or Daniel Defoe (the authors we've examined closely so far), but better than I expected.

Book 1 covers descriptions of objects, places and characters.  It covers dialogues, then moves to a short story and fable.  They write a friendly letter.  And finally, there are two units on poetry.

Book 2 expands on what has been covered in Book 1, with units on writing a business letter, various kinds of essays, critiques, articles and speeches.  I do plan to write up another review once Connor gets into Book 2.

One thing I really like about this program is that you can reuse it with a student.  There are additional suggestions for models in an appendix, so you could analyze different authors and passages a second time through.  And certainly, the child could write about different things.

The books are available as an ebook (Book 1 is currently on sale for $14.95), or in a couple of printed forms.  If you are looking at purchasing the ebook, please be sure to click through all the links to read about their eBooks.  The security software they use is not Mac-compatible, and you are only allowed to print twice.  I printed Book 1 in its entirety, and have been making photocopies (which is encouraged) of the pages my kids need to work on.

Unfortunately, you cannot just print the pages you need as you need them.  However, it is working out for us.  And Book 1 is only 106 pages, so it isn't terribly long.

Overall, I am very happy with this product.  If the teacher has a handle on basic writing terminology, and basic grammar, and isn't afraid to discuss things with her children, I think this is a fantastic, and inexpensive, option for teaching writing.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various EDUDPS products 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.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Musings

Who knew that selling popcorn outside of Walmart was so exhausting???  I mean, I guess I knew.  I vaguely remember from last year, that is.

The kids did great.  Thomas was just a little energizer bunny, with sincere "Have a great day" comments to even the rudest people.  A few observations:

  • The Eagle Scouts are the greatest.  We had so many people stop, either buy popcorn or give healthy donations, and tell the kids that they are/were Eagle Scouts.  Most of them also made some incredibly encouraging comments to either the boys, or me, or both.  It was sweet.
  • A very close second are the Eagle moms.  A couple made me cry.  They all either bought popcorn or made a nice donation too.  And somehow, their "they grow up so fast" comments didn't come across as trite as that phrase usually is.  
  • The people who told the kids no nicely were often quite wonderful as well.  Usually, it was that they had already bought from a nephew, a neighbor, a co-worker's kid -- or their own son.  But a smile with a no was an okay thing.
  • What was disheartening was the people who wouldn't even look up long enough to say no.  They just rushed past the kids, pretending they weren't even there.  I'm sure some of these people had serious problems on their minds, and they were caught up in their own world and truly did not even see the boys.  But most of them... would it really hurt to look at the kids and say, "I'm sorry, I just can't."?  William had a string of people totally ignoring him, and he was starting to feel invisible.  We chatted, and decided that he needed to start praying for everyone who seemed so totally self-absorbed.  Either they desperately needed it because they just had a child diagnosed with terminal cancer, or they really needed it because they need to learn to smile and be smiled at, and connect with the human race.
  • What nearly drove me to step in and hit someone was those couple of people who were downright rude.  The boys were trying to be sure to ask people coming out about buying popcorn, and when it wasn't busy, they'd ask people going in too.  One gentleman (and I use that term incredibly loosely), snapped when the kids approached him on the way out.  He yelled at them that they had already asked him once, and how dare they ask him as he was coming out too.  Energizer Bunny just smiled at him, and cheerily told him to have a great day.
I know, I see kids selling stuff at the doors of a store, and I groan a bit.  Popcorn is easy, obviously, as I smile, tell them I have three scouts of my own, and say something encouraging about something I notice there.  If it isn't busy, I ask what rank they are (if I can't tell) and say something about a fun thing they get to do this year (the advantage of having practically memorized the cub requirements).  Or I ask what their favorite thing about scouting is.  I don't feel guilt for not buying anything, as I certainly wouldn't expect them to support my scouts.

Girl Scouts and high school bands, or gymnastics teams, or whatever... those are harder.  Especially when I truly cannot afford to purchase something.  But I *always* look the kids in the eye, and show enough common courtesy to tell them no.  (I admit, when adults are doing things outside the stores, I do sometimes walk through avoiding eye contact and pretending I don't hear them.)

In seven hours of selling this weekend, my kids probably asked around ninety people an hour if they wanted to buy popcorn.  They made about thirty sales.  They got donations from probably around forty people.  That means they heard "no" about every 45 seconds.  For seven hours.

So, if you are out shopping this weekend, and you see scouts selling popcorn, please, please, please... even if you can't drop a dollar in a donation bin, can you at least smile at them and tell them what a fantastic job they are doing?  Assuming they are, of course.  And do the same when Girl Scout cookie season comes around.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scouting Saturday

In an effort to get myself to write more about some of the things going on in our lives, I am trying to do themes.  Basically, most Tuesdays and Thursdays I'll be reviewing something, Friday is for saving money, and Saturday I'll talk about Scouts, since it is such a huge part of our lives.  I'm still contemplating Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, but something will come together.  Those may be more random.

So, let me tell you about my scouts:

Connor, age 12, is a First Class Scout.  I posted about that back in June, and again in August at the Court of Honor.  He's planning his scoutmaster conference and board of review for the Star rank next month.  Currently, he is working on a bunch of merit badges: reading, camping, orienteering, communications, and fishing.  He's really close to earning most of those.  He is about to start environmental science with a group.  His troop is camping this weekend, without him.  This is the first trip he has had to miss.

William, age 10, is a Webelos.  He'll be awarded a couple activity badges next week (I'll be sure to get some pictures!) and is working on a couple of others actively -- artist and engineer.  Anybody here have an engineer in the family he could talk to?  He needs to discuss careers in engineering, or some such thing.  Anyway, he's been very involved with the Boy Scouts over the summer, but now that fall has arrived, it is back to Cubs.  He's looking forward to next month, as the troop invites the Web II den to go camping with them.  He plans to finish Outdoorsman there, which should pretty much complete Arrow of Light.

Thomas, age 8, is a Bear.  I think the Bear year is my favorite.  They have so many incredibly fun things they get to do.  The den leaders are ultra-organized this year, and it is going to be a fantastic year for him.

One thing we are doing this year is to work some of the scout requirements into our schooling.  I am reviewing Sue Patrick's Workbox System for the TOS Review Crew, and the last "box" of the day for each of my scouts is dedicated to scouts.  So, one thing I want to be posting about each Saturday is just what is going to be put into their workboxes for the next week, or what went into them the previous week.

Connor -- his workbox primarily needs to contain time to finish off his reading merit badge.  He has to polish off his book reports (I'm being pretty loose in describing this), and he needs to fill out an order form.  He needs to pull everything together, so that he can meet with his merit badge counselor next weekend.

William -- his workbox is going to include engineering activity badge items.  So, he'll be drawing bridges and building at least one model, discussing electricity and making a circuit, hopefully talking to an engineer, and maybe I'll give him an artist badge assignment, depending on how long these take.

Thomas -- I think this week, he is mostly going to be working on the faith requirement.  So Monday, he'll be making a list of ways to practice his faith, and each day for the rest of the week, he'll be checking off what he did.  Also, through the rest of the week, we'll be discussing things like discussing people in history who have displayed great faith.  Today, since I'll only have him & William, we are going to be discussing things as we go grocery shopping (a requirement for the Saving Well, Spending Well category).  Much easier to do without little brother and sister!

The main fun and exciting thing right now, though, is popcorn sales.  I need to figure out the online thing and post a link... but today and tomorrow, we'll be standing outside Walmart selling (hopefully a bunch) of popcorn to passing shoppers.  Next Friday, my Boy Scout is working on an Eagle project (William will probably join in too), and my two Cubs will be standing outside another Walmart that evening.  Saturday, Connor will spend  the whole day standing outside a third Walmart selling popcorn.

A friend was complaining about feeling like "just a homeschool mom" lately, and how she didn't have another identity right now.  I laughed, said I didn't have that problem.... and said, "I'm a Scout mom."  Homeschooling barely makes the cut in September.

Okay, so I better stop blogging, and start sewing.  Grandma gave William a tan shirt, and I need to get the patches sewn on before we head out to sell popcorn.

(I'll add some pictures tonight!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Frugal Friday: try something new

I am going to try to be consistent about the Frugal Fridays tips hosted by Life as a Mom.

I don't know if it is just me, but I find it is way too easy to fall into some cooking ruts.  And those are usually reasonably expensive ruts to be in.  Convenience foods, are, well, convenient.  Not necessarily healthy, not necessarily inexpensive.  But definitely convenient.

So if you are trying to cut your grocery bill, what is one little thing you can try this week?

I've been trying to incorporate new things into our diet, with an eye towards healthy and money-saving.  Getting the chance to review a Sue Gregg cookbook definitely helped with that.  As a result, we've found a couple of things that work really well for our family.  And a few that didn't.

So, one big change in our life is that I started cooking with lentils.  I can buy a pound of lentils for just over a dollar, and for a main dish, one pound seems to work quite well for my family.  Most of the recipes I have used have called for a half-pound, but I end up doubling that.  (And I'm sure, if I go looking around, I can probably purchase lentils in bulk and save even more... but I'm not sure I want a 25# bag of lentils around.)

We had lentil chili as my "try something new" idea.  And it was fabulous.  Everyone liked it, the leftovers tasted even better than they had the night before, and it was cheap.

So, having discovered that lentils aren't poisonous, we continued on to expand our lentil repertoire.  A friend shared a recipe for lentil tacos that was delicious.  I googled for more recipes, and have a stack of casseroles, mostly, that we will be trying over the next month or two.

I figure that if we can eat a lentil meal once a week, that is at least a $5 per week savings.  With the chili, for instance, I would usually use 2 lbs of meat (usually around $3/lb) and 3-4 cans of kidney beans (I shoot for $0.50 a can).  Instead, I can buy a bag of lentils for a buck.  And it is far more healthy, which is good for all of us.

Other changes I have tried include sprouting, and learning how to use dried beans (I have to soak them longer than every recipe I've seen suggests.  Does altitude affect soaking times?  I thought it only impacted cooking times).

You don't have to change everything all at once.  What is one thing you could try this week?  I'd love to know, because I need some more ideas too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: Guardian Angel Publishing

Guardian Angel Publishing was generous enough to send six different stories, in ebook form.  I'm going to do a quickie review of each, in the order we used them.

First, we read Rainbow Sheep by Kim Chatel, which is suggested for 4-10 year olds.  This one I read with Richard and Trina.  They really enjoyed the fuzzy sheep.  The pages just look so textured and inviting, using fiber art by the author.  I really appreciated the imaginative language use in this book.  Here's one paragraph:

"Genevieve's hill was as tall as a castle spire.  She climbed right to the top.  Rain splattered her face.  The clouds were heavy and grey, like the belly of a sleepy kitten."

This was a fun, fun story.  And I want to try felting with the directions given after the story.

Next was Hamster Holidays by Cynthia Reeg.  This is a wacky story about holidays celebrated by hamsters, and it is explicitly meant to be used to teach nouns and adjectives.    But each page of the story also includes a calendar, as there is a holiday for every month.  So it can also be used to learn those skills.

After the story, there is a study guide, which does get into some pretty advanced grammar concepts concerning nouns and adjectives, such as the discussion of compound nouns used as adjectives (ice cream dip).  The study guide also includes a couple pages of activities.  I love having this book as an ebook, just so I can print things off over and over for my kids.

The third book was Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair by Mary Jean Kelso.  This was a much longer story (2100 words according to the website).  It is the story of Andy competing in the 4H Horsemanship competition at the Nevada State Fair.  As you can see in the picture, Andy uses a wheelchair.  That doesn't stop him from much of anything though, and this was such a nice story.  Much of the story would apply to anyone -- the nervousness before the competition, the wonder at all the fascinating sights at the fair, the hurt inflicted by a bully.  Some things are unique to Andy, specifically the difficulties in getting his mind and body to cooperate

Andy reminds me a lot of a cousin I had.  She was in a horrible accident when we were ten, and was told she'd never walk.  She did use a wheelchair for a while, then a walker, then she went to pushing her wheelchair (Fred was his name) as the chair made a great place to store her schoolbooks.  She was strong and determined, courageous in a way I never could be.  Unfortunately, my kids never got to meet her, as she died a couple years before my oldest was born.

So one of the things I really appreciate about this book is how Andy is a real person, with hopes, dreams, difficulties... and he is strong, determined and courageous too.

Okay, so next is Maybe We Are Flamingoes by Safari Sue Thurman.  Oh, this one was just cute.  The basic idea is that these little white, then grey, baby birds look around at all the pink adults and think they are in the wrong family.  They (and we) get a lesson in why flamingoes are pink, and what flamingoes eat.  And the two adorable little birds get crazy, drawing all kinds of fantastic pictures of what they might look like if they ate other things instead.  You know, like tacos or pineapple.  My children adored this book.

Fifth on the list... Earthquake by Susan J. Berger.  This one certainly has an older audience, filled with lots of detail, statistics, maps and diagrams.  It is written in a very kid-friendly style, and could be read to younger children, especially if you live in an earthquake prone region.  I'd just skip over a lot of the factoids (little boxes where a lot of the statistics type details are included).  The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9.

One thing I really appreciated about this book was the idea of preparedness.  We do not live somewhere that necessitates us preparing for earthquakes.  But much of what is in this book applies to us still -- like life without power.  We got some new ideas for ways to prepare for our situations, plus just the reminder that preparedness may look a bit different from one place to another (we really don't need to be concerned about having pictures over our bed), the basic ideas don't really change.

Last, but not least, we read No Bones About It by Bill Kirk, part of the Sum of Our Parts series.  My oldest son loved this book.  It teaches the names of the bones, from bottom to top.  This one is suggested for ages 8-13.  There is a ton of information in this book.  The main part is the rhyming text, naming the bones from the bottom to the top.  But this book also has factoids on virtually every page, and those talk about the minerals that make up our bones, or that the bones produce red blood cells, or the types of fractures.

Overall, the ebooks from Guardian Angel Publishing were a lot of fun.  From looking over the site, it appears that all ebooks are available for $5, but the books are also available in traditional formats for around $11.

This is just a small sampling of the books they have available.  Check out the alphabetical list of titles on their website.
And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about some of the Guardian Angel Publishing books 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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Nature Friend Magazine

As part of the Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received the August and September issues of Nature Friend magazine, and the study guide to go with it. Having never heard of it, I was really excited to get the chance to check out a nature magazine with a Christian worldview. I was surprised to learn it has been published since 1983.

When the August issue arrived, my first response was awe at the stunning photography throughout the magazine. I flipped through, and was really intrigued by the Photo Critique section in the Study Guide. The September issue also contained beautiful photos, and the fall colors discussion in the Photo Critique is great too.

But how would this work for my kids?

We ended up reading the magazine aloud, an article or two at a time.  Once we had read through the magazine, I let it be available to the kids to peruse.  They give you permission to photocopy for classroom use, or for within the family, but my kids are not huge fans of word puzzles, so I did not do that.

Their favorite section across the board was the "In the Beginning God Created..." feature.  In August, it was about Screech Owls, in September they covered Weaverbirds.

Other highlights, according to my kids... William, my photographer, particularly enjoyed all the stories about the photos. The stories that start with, "The day I photographed this wild Canadian lynx..." or whatever the subject of the photo is, capture his attention.

Thomas particularly likes the "You can draw..." features. Okay, well, the August one had him drawing sunflowers, which wasn't a huge hit (but we have plenty of live examples in our yard), but September had us drawing bears (yes, that was definitely appealing!) One great thing about this section is that they include a page (or two) of reader-submitted drawings from a few months ago.

Each magazine also includes some kind of hands-on activity, various other regular types of articles, and word puzzles. There are plenty of opportunities for the kids to interact with the magazine.

The Study Guide, available for $2 per issue, gives even more chances for the kids to get involved. This is a fairly new feature -- the first one was published in April 2009 -- and I would definitely get this along with the subscription. For one thing, that is where the Photo Critique feature is. Photo Critique is a few page article that teaches about how some of the photos in the current magazine were set up, with a fair amount of detail.  But the Study Guide also includes more word puzzles, some research suggestions, a writing lesson, and lots more photos. I was very impressed with the Study Guide.

This is a very nice magazine, available for $36 for one year (12 issues). And did I mention that the photography is simply beautiful?

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Nature Friend Magazine 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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frugal Friday: accepting help

Today, my tip would be to accept anything you are offered. Within reason, of course.

This past week at Bible Study, for instance, there were a number of people with loads of extra produce. Now, normal me would take a handful of plums, a zucchini or two, and maybe a cucumber. You know, the socially acceptable amount. Well, all three people who brought stuff had said something about wanting people to take it all... so I swallowed my pride, and said... "I'll take whatever is left."

So, I walked out of there with a few pounds of plums, a stack of yellow summer squash, a zucchini, three cucumbers, some lettuce, and something else I haven't been able to identify (but it tasted great!) My kids were able to eat a couple plums a day all week. I used half the yellow squash in a stir fry, and the other half I chopped up to stretch spaghetti sauce. We had a salad. The zucchini is still there (what do you do with ONE zucchini?), and we dunked cucumber slices in dressing for a snack one day. A week where there is NO WAY I could have purchased fresh produce, and we did eat fresh fruit and veggies every single day.

The people who gave out the produce have the good feelings attached to knowing how badly we needed it, and I had far less stress -- aside from that involved in opening my mouth and admitting that I really needed the produce in the first place.

This applies to more than food... I have had friends give us clothing, and it always seems to happen precisely when we need it most. I make sure that I use what I can, and bless someone else with the rest.

I've had that experience with schoolbooks lately too.  Many homeschoolers are incredibly generous with their stuff.  Some go way above and beyond the call of duty, in fact.  But even at the most basic level, that of lending a resource out for a day or a week, it is so wonderful to be able to try things out a bit before spending the money.  My list of borrowed or given school items right now is rather lengthy, so I won't go on about it.  Many of the people who have been so generous with their homeschool belongings read this blog -- so thank you, you know who you are.

There is something rather difficult about admitting that you need help.  But there are people around you who can help, if only they know of a need.  They may have things sitting around that they haven't wanted to bother with selling, but knowing you need it, well, that would be easy.  So, don't be shy about mentioning things you need, or things you really wish you had.  My kids right now, for instance, are wishing for a coffee pot.  Ours broke, and they much prefer the normal Mom to the coffee-less one...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review: Study Pod

There is absolutely no way I can give this product justice in my review. What is it? Well, its a "book holder thingy" according to my eldest. But wow, this "thingy" is so much more than that.

Okay, picture a fairly small hardcover book. Only when you open it up, there aren't pages, but a nice little pocket where you can store quite a few essentials. And then you flip a couple things, set a book on the StudyPod, anchor it in place...

And voila! you can type Latin sentences from your book and not keep losing your place (Connor is doing that right now!), or you can set a cookbook up on the counter, or you can prop up curriculum and easily refer to it as you create a Homeschool Tracker lesson plan (what I was doing before the above-mentioned child insisted he needed it so he could finish his Latin), or...

This thing is SO nice. I wish it was possible to truly explain it. It is so much more than just a way to hold a book.

Pros: Easy to store, easy to transport, easy to use, holds just about any size of book.

Cons: flimsy little paperback books do not work in this well, but we had no problem with roughly 99% of the books we tried. The biggest con though is that there are at least five of us who want to use it, and we only have one.

I am seriously considering these as Christmas gifts this year though. And the folks at Genio/Study Pod have provided Review Crew readers with a code good for $5 off. Regular price is $20 for one, or two or more are $17 each. Discount Code: TOSBLOG5

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Study Pod 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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: A Journey Through Learning

Having never heard of A Journey Through Learning, I was intrigued to see how it would compare to other lapbooks we have tried in the past.

I must make a lapbook confession here. While I have managed to collect quite a few lapbooks (including, as it turns out, a couple from A Journey for Learning!), somehow, that doesn't often translate into actually doing any lapbooks. We completed one on America the Beautiful in an attempt to inject some local history (the poem was written locally) and because of a Scout requirement to memorize the song. And we completed a geology one (while working on Geologist Activity Badge). And we started one on Weather (to meet Scout requirements of some sort... anyone see a pattern here?)

All of that was about three years ago, and I've been hesitant to repeat the experience. While my kids enjoyed it, I found it frustrating.

When we discovered we would be receiving five lapbooks -- Autumn, Amphibians, The Desert, Reptiles, and Parables of a King -- I asked the kids if we should delay starting Ancient History for a week or two in order to do a lapbook. That met with very, very enthusiastic shouts, then a heated discussion about which to do.

The DesertThe vote was for the Desert one (we've just been studying the Sahara and Kalahari) *and* the Parables one. I chose to only do one though!

I'm assuming some familiarity with lapbooks here (if you are not familiar with lapbooks, go to their main page, scroll about 2/3 of the way down, and click "Click here to see how it is do." Then scroll down and sign up for their newsletter, which will get you a copy of their 17th Century lapbook.) What you get from A Journey Through Learning is an ebook that is between 50 and 80 pages long. It includes instruction on how to put together a lapbook, including full color photos of the completed lapbook and each individual folder.

Then comes the actual study. The lapbook guides are split into sections with a study guide page (a few paragraphs of text you can read aloud) followed by one (or more) mini-books that go along with that section. The mini-books are in color, however everything has printed very nicely in black & white. In most cases, the information needed to complete the lapbook is easy to find in the study guide.

There are some mini-books that are more open-ended: Things I learned, a great basic book report, and one titled "If I lived in the Desert." These were the most valuable ones for my 7th grader.

The final section includes a bibliography, a list of suggested additional reading, and some forms for the kids to record books read, to organize notes, or to write narrations. These forms would make it pretty easy to expand these into a more serious unit study.

How did it work out? Well, the kids had a ball. The study guide is informative, and written in a friendly style that has been very easy to read aloud. We loved the photos or maps that are included on most of the study guide pages. The booklets were all easy enough for everyone to put together, which is a huge plus for me.

And we got the chance to go outside on a cactus hunt:

But... it really boils down to: Lapbooks are not a great fit for my family. Connor would have his part done long before his brothers, and he was bored. And it just seems like we spend far too much time assembling, compared to how much we are learning. I could never make this a regular thing.

I know some families where mom cuts everything out in advance. Or where the kids cut things out themselves in advance. We tried that, but then I ended up having to reprint over half the booklets for one son (who shall remain nameless) because he lost them. In all liklihood, to be fair, his little sister probably stole them.

Okay, so aside from the fact that lapbooks don't seem to fit our family -- my review of The Desert -- there was some great information in here. I liked that the booklets were fairly straightforward. Most involved just a simple fold or two, with a couple that were more complex. A couple needed brads. I don't like complicated booklets, so I really appreciated this.

My 3rd and 5th graders learned from this lapbook. My 7th grader? Not so much. If I had it to do over again, I would have pulled some of the more open-ended mini-books out earlier (If I Lived in a Desert, specifically) and I would have had him work on that as we went along. And I think I would have had him get onto World Book encyclopedia and do a bit more independent research. But I was trying to do it as laid out in the guide.

For more of a unit study, you have a couple options. One is to check out some of the recommended books from the guide. Another is to add more lapbooks. Two that we received (Reptiles, Amphibians) go along nicely with The Desert. Let's Explore the Desert is another option for younger (K-3rd) children. There is also a copywork book available that correlates with the lapbook. I wish I had noticed this before we started the lapbook, as I think I would have loved this, if only for my 7th grader. It would have given him something to work on while his brothers caught up, and the quotes look very informative -- things he would have really enjoyed.

Overall, I think A Journey Through Learning has a quality lapbook product, for families who like lapbooks. This was one of the easiest on mom lapbooks I have ever done (and we have used lapbooks from at least four other publishers). I loved how the study guide was broken up... so I didn't have to do any real planning. Sit down, read the next guide section, do the booklets that go with that section, and decide whether to go on to another section or be done for the day. It was nearly open and go, which makes me consider doing another one, particularly now that I have an idea as to how to adapt for my older son.

They have lots of titles available, most priced at $13 for an instant download (CD or printed versions are more), but I saw some two-folder ones for $10, and the copywork books were $8. Right now, they have a back to school sale going, where you can get a second instant download for free. I'm tempted to pick up the copywork that goes along with Reptiles and Amphibians.

In addition to the ebook, you would need folders, staples, brads, glue and to be able to print out at least the booklets.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about A Journey Through Learning 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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Our greatest bargain ever: The Library

Pikes Peak Library District is amazing.

We pay something under $50 a year in property taxes to the library district. Less than a dollar a week. Today alone, I probably recouped this year's expense. And when I consider that lately, I get about 1/2 of our Sonlight books from the library... well, as for today...

The East Library was putting on a workshop - Homeschool Tools. I drove in to town, did the little registration/name tag thing, found a seat, and read through the materials provided. Nothing spectacular so far.

But the first session I attended was on the Teen Zone (the section of their website devoted to middle school and high school). WOW! All kinds of stuff I didn't know existed, or barely knew about. Such as:
  • BrainFuse - the kids can go on (3rd grade and up) and get free homework help from teachers. So when I am hitting my head against a wall, trying to figure out a different way to explain a math problem -- I don't have to. Send 'em online to have a math teacher do it, in real time, using awesome technology.
  • Or they can submit their writing assignments, and within 24 hours get it back with comments. Someone other than Mom can tell them about those run-on sentences. Maybe they'll believe me if they hear it from someone else too.
  • Science Resource Center - with a gazillion topics. Links to magazine articles, scholarly journals, and so on, and links to multimedia stuff as well, on all kinds of topics. So maybe Connor can do Nuclear Science -- not necessarily a credit's worth, but something anyway.
  • History Resource Center - with world and US topics. Timelines, articles, primary sources, and resources on how to write a history research paper
  • Biography Resource Center - short and longer biographies, and you can do things like search by occupation. So when I am trying to inject scientist bios into our program, I can come here, I don't have to know who the people are first, I can search by "nuclear scientist" or anything else.
  • Literature Resource Center - one of the things I'm pushing Connor to start doing this year is to know a bit about the authors of the books he is reading, and we'll be discussing some things about why they wrote what they wrote. Now that will be easy. We have easy access to criticisms, biographies, bibliographies, and on and on.
  • Testing and Education Resource Center - oh WOW! Free practice tests for all kinds of exams (SAT, ACT, GRE, Civil Service, CLEP, and on and on). Access to online test prep books for all kinds of tests. This part of the site is incredible.
  • And free access to Tell Me More for foreign language study
The second session was nearly as amazing, this one focused on the Kids' Web stuff, and I won't repeat things I learned about in the Teen one.
  • They have the makings of timely unit studies... September includes a Back to School section, a Hispanic Heritage Month section, and a section on Labor Day
  • TumbleBooks - online books that can be read by the computer, many are interactive in one way or another, some audiobooks can be downloaded, and many, many are available in other languages
  • A database of Series and Sequels. So I no longer have to go insane trying to figure out which book comes after Hatchet, because it is nearly impossible to figure these things out from the library catalog
  • A blog that is geared to 8-12 year olds, everything is moderated, and they encourage kids to be submitting stuff.
  • An amazing Colorado history page, that could definitely be the spine for at least a semester of state history study
  • Access to the paid section of Britannica Online, including the Kids' version of that
  • Homework help - the librarians are compiling links to good web-content in loads of content areas. Most of the websites I saw listed were not things I already knew about, but the few that were are things I love
They also fed us lunch, had a little local resource fair, where I found out about a few places I didn't know about, and where I could grill the homeschool guy at the local community college about the feasibility of a 13 year old taking college math courses.

There was another session on using the online catalog, which was good, but not terribly informative for me (I'm already something of a power user!)

What a great day!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Homeschooling ABCs by Terri Johnson

In August, Knowledge Quest had an offer to take the first five weeks of their Homeschooling ABCs course for free. I decided to do that, and I'm glad I did.

The first five weeks are covering the very basics...

A: A Quick Start. 10 Steps to a great start in homeschooling. This lesson was pretty much aimed at people pulling their kids from school to begin homeschooling, and it does a great job of outlining good first steps. As a forever homeschooler, there wasn't a lot that applied to me, but it was nice to get a reminder of the value of connecting with your kids and having fun together.

B: B is for Basics. This focused on the things that are truly essential to be teaching. I really, really needed to read the reminder about Bible and Character.

C: Copy the Classroom -- NOT. Great lesson on organizing and planning. What subjects do you need to cover, how do you figure out how much to do or how much time to spend... the lesson includes forms for planning. Solid lesson.

D: Dare to Differentiate. This one has to do with learning styles, a topic I tend to pooh-pooh. However, reading through what she has to say, and taking a test for myself online (that showed I was Multi-Modal, or some such phrase) and I realized that I dismiss the importance of learning styles because I learn well using any of them.

E: Establish your philosophy. This goes through some of the types of homeschooling: unschooling, school at home, classical, Charlotte Mason, maybe something else. As is usual in almost every modern definition of classical education, it is defined by the Trivium. Regardless, it was a good overview, and I liked the message that eclectic is not just okay, it is pretty normal. Use texts for math, unschool science, take a literature approach to history -- many of us use more than one style, depending on the subject and the age of the child.

Overall, I think this is a solid product, and I'm glad to have taken these five lessons. She's giving away the entire series, and I'd love to do that. For parents just starting in homeschooling, I think it is a bargain at $10/month. For moms suffering homeschool burn-out, it is probably also a bargain. And for moms who need some encouragement, or need to refocus, or are facing a change like kid #2 or #3 being school-aged this year, I can also see the value.

For me, it probably isn't worth the price, though. Not that I don't have things to learn still, but I am at a point where I feel pretty comfortable with the whole homeschooling thing. Most of the time. Now, their series for high school? If I had an extra $15 a month at this time of year, I'd sign up for that in a heartbeat.

Note: posting this is one of the things I can do to be entered into a drawing to win a couple more lessons or the whole series. The chance of winning this does not impact what I have to say, but obviously it did impact the timing of my saying it.