Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scouting Saturday: Popcorn, Arrow of Light

Okay, so I didn't have time yesterday to post about scouts. I was chasing around, picking up our popcorn orders, all kinds of fun. My kids did okay selling popcorn. William gets to go to camp this summer. Connor should be able to as well. And we will have to talk about Thomas -- it is possible that he could do Webelos residence camp, and be the first one in the family to do that. So, all in all, it was a good popcorn season. It will be really nice to have things completely delivered and not have to think about it at all anymore.

The bigger scouting news, of course, was that William was showered with stuff at Monday night's pack meeting. The important one was Arrow of Light. The cubmaster said all kinds of really nice things about him, and that really made William uncomfortable. 

William can be so black & white. As his leader is talking about William really exemplifying the scout law, William is shifting around a bit. Afterwards, he told me that this stuff just isn't true. I was trying really hard not to laugh at him when he gave his examples though.

He said something like: "A scout is clean, that's part of the law, and I'm NOT clean. My hands are always dirty, I hate to take a shower. He wasn't telling the truth." If you read my post on Monday, and his comments about washing his hair made before the meeting, you can understand my amusement at his comments.

The other big news was that Connor went for his Scoutmaster conference. He got himself scheduled for a Board of Review next week, November 9, and at that point he should make Star. That's a pretty big deal too.

And something that happened in his conference was that the Scoutmaster went over the Life requirements... and since we had to replace Connor's book (a little sister who shall remain nameless, likes tearing pages out of his book) and purchased the new one with the brand new rank requirements, his scoutmaster got to actually see the new Life requirements for the first time. And he got excited. 

The new Life requirement states: While a Star Scout, use the EDGE method to teach a younger Scout the skills from ONE of the following six choices, so that he is prepared to pass those requirements to his unit leader's satisfaction.

(Followed by a list of first aid, outdoor, cooking and camping skills from Second Class and First Class requirements)

So that doesn't sound all that exciting. But turning back to page 53, you find out what in the world EDGE is:

  • Explain how it is done 
  • Demonstrate the steps 
  • Guide learners as they practice 
  • Enable them to succeed on their own  
Doesn't that sound great? We're actively teaching these kids how to teach others.

Anyone else blogging about scouting?  I'd love to read it!!  Please, include a link!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Lima beans.  I knew I didn't like them.  I avoided them at all costs.  Wouldn't purchase them, wouldn't order anything with lima beans in it.  And one day, somewhere, I was served lima beans.  And of course, it turned out that I think lima beans are really good.  They may be my favorite bean in fact.  And I wouldn't have ever known that had someone not forced me to try them just to be polite.

That's a lot like some of my experiences as part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew.  One such dish is  I looked at it, and knew that we simply don't school that way.  We don't use a lot of worksheets.  It looked like a lot of busywork.  I knew I didn't like it, and certainly wasn't going to try it.

Except I was chosen to review the site, so I had to.  And, like those lima beans, it turns out that I really do see the value in their website.

So what is it?  A subscription based site, though they have plenty of free stuff too, that advertises that they have over 35,000 pages of worksheets and activities available to members. An individual membership is priced at $40 per year, with discounts available for purchasing two years, or as part of a group.  That works out to something just over $3 per month.  In my free month, I easily got that much out of it.

They have thousands of worksheets, and worksheet generators, in all kinds of categories, for kids up through middle school.  It is definitely skewed towards the younger ages, but there is some good content for young teens.

My favorite item of all is the handwriting worksheet generators.  I was able to easily put in my own text and create copywork for my kids in Handwriting Without Tears font, with their 2 line paper.  Oh, that feature alone is worth the price of membership.  I would generate a sheet for William, print it, then make the font a bit bigger and maybe delete a sentence and print it for Thomas.  Then I could cut it some more, make it even larger, and even make dashed lines for Richard to trace.  Wow...

But wait, there's more!  William was working on some scouting activity badges, and I was able to print up a bunch of great information about baseball that we could use towards his Sportsman badge.  There was a little set of worksheets for creating a home fire escape plan that was just perfect for another requirement.  There were more too -- I found things for pretty much anything I looked for with scouting.

I found similar things for Thomas and his scout requirements.  I could locate little stories or worksheets that helped me to cover all kinds of different things, like some great worksheets on various tall tales.

For Connor, I was able to print up some fallacy posters to go with what he's learning in Fallacy Detective.  I created some Sudoku puzzles for him.  I printed off some logic puzzles.

And another great aspect was creating my own BINGO games using the vocabulary we are learning in our roots program.  My kids loved this.  You can create BINGO games for anything... math facts, phonics, foreign language study, history dates, whatever.

I didn't really use them, but you can also create crossword puzzles and word searches, which would also be excellent for reviewing vocabulary especially.

For the younger kids, well, I didn't do much.  However, there were a couple things that really excited me.  One was that they have a whole bunch of flashcards available.  Now, I don't "do" flashcards as such.  But with printable flashcards, you could easily print up a couple sets and use them to play memory, go fish, Old Maid, or various other games.  I love, love, love being able to do things like that.

And of course, they have gazillions of coloring pages and all the little fill in the blank worksheet things I expected.  They have reading comprehension activities, little booklets to read, math worksheets, etc.  And not all of it is in English -- French, German and Spanish materials are available as well, including fables, cultural information, biographies, games, etc.

They have materials for "themes" or basically unit studies.  For Veteran's Day, for instance, you can read about the holiday, or about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.  You can do a few activities based on the poem In Flanders Fields.  There are forms you can use to do research.

All in all, I was incredibly impressed.  Yes, there is a lot of stuff I just wouldn't use in my homeschool.  But there is also a lot of stuff that really came in handy for covering things like the rules of soccer, or what to consider when making a fire escape plan.

I am saving up the money to purchase a one-year subscription.  I'll get my $3 something per month out of it just by being able to easily create copywork.  Go ahead, cruise on over and check them out.  There is a lot of free content.  But it was when I was able to get at the members only materials that I was able to see the value in this site.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about abcteach 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 one month of membership for free, and a discount offer to purchase a one year subscription from  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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: My Access

Vantage Learning has an online writing program called My Access that I was given to use for the TOS Review Crew.  What I received was a 3-student subscription to the Home Version of the program.

I have heard about My Access fairly often over the years I have been homeschooling, and I was intrigued.  So trying it out for myself has been great.  They say it is for ages 8 and up though I found it too much for my 8 year old.

The program is completely web-based, so there is no software to load, and you can work on it anywhere that you have internet access.  There are 90 writing topics already included in the program, or you can create your own.  One thing to note, though, is that the assumption is that you are writing an essay-type of paper.  If you input assignments from another curriculum where the child is to write a paragraph describing an object, My Access is going to include criticisms that it isn't long enough -- because it is expecting a five paragraph essay.

While I'm being nitpicky, another issue has to do with being docked for spelling -- if you are writing about people with unusual names, those will bring down your score for that essay.  Or if your writing includes Latin phrases, names of Egyptian Pharaohs, or the word homeschooling.  If there is a way for me to go in and say "Yes, that word is spelled correctly," I did not find it.

In implementing this in our household, we've hit a couple of snags.  As we are winding up our official school year this week, one of my plans is to spend some time working with My Access specifically with my oldest son.  He is certainly capable of a higher level of writing than he has been doing, and I really think that with a bit of coaching from me, he can get a lot out of My Access.  The problem is that he is not actually working through the coaching aspect of the program, nor is he really putting a lot of thought into what he writes.  We need to back up and go over the basic format of an essay again.  Once he gets that back into his head, I think My Access is going to be a great tool

I'm also very seriously contemplating pulling Thomas out and using that "student" for me.  My writing certainly needs work.  From watching Connor work with this, I think My Access would be a great option for a student who does have a basic grasp of essay writing already, but needs to practice.  Unfortunately, that does not describe my children right at the moment.

My Access Home Edition is available as a one year subscription for up to three students for $99.95, or up to six students for $129.95.  If you do have three kids who can use this, that's something under $3 per kid per month.  Although I don't think this would work as a stand-alone writing curriculum, I do think -- as long as you take the time up front to walk your kids through the first essay -- that this would be a great way to not only supplement whatever you are already doing, but also a nice tool to get "someone" else telling your child his sentences are really fragments, or whatever issue your child doesn't seem to hear from you.  My Access will continue to be used in my home.

I would highly recommend watching the demo videos if you have any interest in the program.  Maybe not the one on setting up the accounts, but the others.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about My Access 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 a one year membership for my family for free from Vantage Learning.  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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Random Stuff

I'm pretty scattered today.  So just a few random thoughts from my day.

  • It's got to be a good thing when your 5 year old tells you that you should put some Mozart on.  So, of course, we're listening to Mozart right now.
  • William got a haircut and took a shower today.  Any of you with 10 year old boys know what an event that can be  So, in honor of becoming a Boy Scout, he informed me that since he is so much more mature now, he will willingly take a shower before every Court of Honor.  Great.  (Those happen roughly once a quarter, just so you can understand my enthusiasm.  So four days a year he'll shower without kvetching about it.  I want faster progress.)
  • It is a beautiful thing when your kids can make a nice healthy breakfast for everyone on their own.
  • Or when they start telling jokes in Latin, just for fun.
  • And it is really fabulous when a certain 5 year old gets a minor cut, and all three of his big brothers know exactly what to do, and they simply DO IT.  No drama, no looking to me for approval.  They get it done and get on with life.
  • And when I can take a gardening class... on the same day that I have to run into town anyway.  Just me.  Well, me and a hundred other people.  But none of them are going to think they need to sit on my lap, nor will they ask if we can go yet.  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Scouting Saturday: William and Arrow of Light

Okay, I did not take the camera camping.  I'm sorry!

But an update on the camping trip is definitely in order.  It was fun.  It was cold, of course.  But it was a lot of fun.  I had a good time.  It was weird being the only female.  But the guys (scouts and dads) were all pretty good about that.  But what is it about male chromosomes and the need to tell jokes with punchlines involving bodily functions???? Best joke of the weekend... from a dad... Why doesn't anyone want to be friends with Tigger?  Because he's always playing with Pooh.

William had a fabulous time, and he finished off his outdoorsman activity badge -- which means he has earned all 20 of the activity badges.  He set this goal last spring, and was so proud of himself for accomplishing it.

Let's back up.  Last year, he made the decision not to complete his Webelos badge for the Blue & Gold ceremony, because nobody else in his den had earned it yet, and he didn't want to be the only one.  Well, the kids in his den weren't doing a whole lot, actually, towards earning Webelos, so he finally did complete the last requirement and was the only one at the April pack meeting to earn Webelos.  The rest of his den earned their rank advancement at the last meeting for the schoolyear, at the end of May.

It was at the point where he went ahead and earned Webelos without them that he decided he wanted to earn all 20 activity badges as of the October pack meeting -- and Arrow of Light too.  I tried to encourage him to do things with his den instead of working on everything on his own.  But he had a goal, and in the end, I had to support it.  Though I told him I will not find time to work on his scout stuff unless he gets his schoolwork done without a hassle, and his attitude about school has been 1000% better.

Over the summer, he got involved a fair amount with the Boy Scouts -- working on an Eagle project, hanging out in the back at the Boy Scout meetings, working with Connor on some things like First Aid and knot tying.  And he started thinking he wanted to not just earn all 20 badges and earn Arrow of Light, but that he was really ready to be a Boy Scout.  We prayed about it, told him we'd think about it, but we certainly weren't making a decision.

So, this fall, he completed those one or two things he needed to do to finish most of the activity badges.  He sat down and demonstrated the first aid skills he's been working on.  He even went back through some of the badges he had already earned and completed more of the requirements, above and beyond those he had done to earn it.  And he has completed the 'homework' given in his den for work towards activity badges he has already earned. (I made him do that before working on his own things.)

The week before the camping trip, we were still discussing what he should do... stay with his den, or bridge to Boy Scouts.  We had a pretty even list of pros and cons going, and no decision was made.

The camping trip though, wow.  He was right in there, acting like a Boy Scout.  He was asking the patrol leader what he could do to help, he was pretty consistently a part of the action.  I watched his behavior, and he was just "lit up" the entire weekend.  He's thrilled to be camping, he thrilled to be cooking.  He respected the boundaries and didn't try to be wielding an axe, nor did he try to be putting wood on the fire. (Boy Scouts need to get through special training before they are supposed to be doing those things, and William knows he hasn't completed that, and was mature enough to realize that his turn is coming.  Just not on this trip.)

I was totally impressed.  But still... February isn't that far away, and I've been encouraging him to stick it out with Cub Scouts.  (I'm just not old enough to have two children who are Boy Scouts!!!  Well, uhhh, yeah, I know I am.)

This past week, we got together to do his last Arrow of Light requirement -- a Scoutmaster Conference with the scoutmaster (that would be the adult leader) of the troop  he wants to join.  That conference was fabulous.  Mr. H. is totally open to William crossing over whenever he wants to, and he doesn't think any of William's dyslexia-related issues are going to cause any problems at all.  He gave him fantastic advice about being "his own scout" and not just following in his big brother's shadow.

William told him he plans to make Eagle by age 13 or 14.  He told him he wants to make Tenderfoot by the first Court of Honor (he can't do that -- there are a couple requirements he simply cannot earn by then.)  He told me that he wants to earn all 121 merit badges.  (YIKES!!)  I told him that he needs to focus on First Class first.  Then he can focus on Eagle.  Then he can decide if he wants to earn all those merit badges.  The scoutmaster, without hearing the merit badges comment, also encouraged him to focus on all those great skills necessary for First Class, and then to think about merit badges.  William seemed to buy it coming from him, instead of "just Mom" and her silly ideas!

So... sometime in the next week, I am going to be the mom of two boy scouts.  We even signed him up for the Merit Badge College that is coming up in a few weeks.  Fingerprinting, Crime Prevention and Photography.  He's thrilled.  (He's been trying to convince Connor that the two of them should work on Photography together.  Connor has NO interest.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Educaching

Educaching.  What a fun concept.  Let's take modern technology (GPS), a modern hobby (geocaching), and add national educational standards to make a fun, hands-on way to "do" education.

As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received the ebook version of the Educaching manual.  It is 128 pages, and is available to purchase for $32.  It is also available already printed, at the same price (plus shipping).  They have recently added classroom sets, which would include GPS and some other accessories.

So what do you get?  The Educaching book is divided into five sections:
  1. Teacher Training: eighteen pages introducing the terminology and the basic idea of the program.
  2. Lesson Plans: half the book is devoted to the 20 detailed lesson plans, going from beginner to advanced.
  3. Field Sheets: a couple dozen pages of forms to go with the above 20 lessons
  4. Acquiring GPS: a couple pages relating to funding a GPS purchase for your classroom.
  5. Beyond the Basics: Setting up clubs and more advanced activities.
And what did I think?  Well, I do like this.  The author is a 5th grade teacher, and it is obvious that he does a great job of working with this age group.  The ebook is pretty easy to read, and he takes you step by step through the process.  As a teacher, though, his material is geared to a classroom setting, though most of it is simple to adjust for a "class" of only a couple students.

The materials say they are for grades 4-8, and I think that is probably fairly accurate.  I'd pick and choose a bit at either end of that range, and I think you could use the materials outside of the range too.

As far as the actual activities, some of them are far too hokey for me to consider implementing, but I can certainly see the appeal in a classroom.  If I want to have my children research careers in science, for instance, I'm going to have them pull up a list of careers, choose one, and research it.  I'm not going to hide career names and clues in boxes on my property, find the coordinates, have my kids go search for those coordinates, and then do the research.

But many of the projects are fantastic.  I love the one on the pyramids (maybe because we're studying Ancient Egypt right now).  To complete this activity, I have Connor and his dad go out and plot out the coordinates for the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.  They do the prep work, I don't have to.  Then, Connor takes his 5th and 3rd grade brothers out a couple days later, and they go finding the coordinates, measuring distances, and doing *some* of the suggested calculations, depending on age.  (My 3rd grader certainly needs help figuring out the volume of a pyramid!)  Marching out the dimensions of these structures in the backyard certainly gave us all some perspective on what an immense undertaking it was to build these structures!  And with six of us out there, we can all take a corner, or the vertex (I pair up with the 3 year old, or she doesn't stay put!)

We plan to follow up this activity by "building" Noah's Ark out back too.  I haven't yet sat down to figure out what that means exactly, or how many arks would fit into Khufu's pyramid or anything, but I think that is going to be a lot of fun.  And since we don't live on public property, we can keep our pyramid staked out for awhile.

Overall, I think this is a terrific resource.  I love the idea of integrating some activity into the schoolday, and getting some geography reinforced along the way is a huge plus.  Also, I love being able to make use of the GPS for school -- and to have a starting point for coming up with even more ideas.

This is a product I am thrilled to own.  And the website includes lots of great resources as well... and samples.  Check it out!

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Educaching at:

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

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this product for free from the vendor in question.  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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: The Amazing Bible World History Timeline

As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I recently received an Amazing Bible Timeline with World History chart to review.

The first thing that struck me when it came in the mail was how HUGE it is (37" by 45" in fact).  We unrolled it, and started looking over the colorful chart, and commenting on what we found.

This doesn't do it justice, let me say.  You can see in the picture, though, that this is a colorful chart, jam-packed with information.  I love the circular format, and since we are studying Ancient History right now, we are able to make pretty extensive use of the beginning parts of this chart.

Okay, so let me try to explain it. Time begins at the center on top. The yellow represents Shem's line (and his ancestors).  The blue at the beginning represents Cain's descendants.  The dark line at about 2:00 is the flood.  From there, blue represents Ham and his descendants.  The dark pink represents Japheth's line.  There is some other color coding too, to differentiate Reformation (light pink) and Roman Catholic (purple-y).

The timeline is split up geographically as well.  The innermost dark pink circle is all about China, the next one out is Japan.  Other lines include Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Phoenicia, the Americas (the outermost yellow circle), and so on.

They acknowledge up front that some of the dates are open to question, and scholars do not agree.  (See here for their explanation of the dates used.)  Obviously, with Adam and Noah, this fits in with a young earth perspective.  Ushers is a major source of the dating of Biblical events, and while I don't necessarily believe his dates are infallible, they are good enough for the purpose of this (or any) timeline in that it gives you that broad overview... you know, things like David was king around the time that Aeneas was fleeing Troy and heading off to found Alba Longa (the beginnings of Rome.  Or that Nebuchadnezzer was in power about the same time as Ninevah was destroyed, Athens was thriving, Cyrus was reigning in Persia, Buddha was such an influence in India, and Confucius was about to be born.

My response to the timeline:  We are loving it for studying ancient history.  I'm not so sure that I'll like it nearly as much as we get further along though.  The format of the timeline is really to integrate Biblical history with world history.  As a result, the amount of space dedicated to more current events is fairly small.  That is really nice for gaining some perspective on how small a portion of time the US has existed.  But it necessarily leaves out a lot of detail.  And some of their choices as to what to include are a bit strange.  Of the thirteen events included for the Americas during the 1800's, Brigham Young leading Mormon pioneers to Utah is included; Lewis & Clark and/or the Louisiana Purchase, or any other western migration for that matter, is not.

I love having this timeline though.  It is adding so much to our studies, and we are having fun looking it over and making connections.  We will use it for our studies this year and probably next (next year will be roughly AD 30 through 1456) and then we will rely on other sources.

You can check this out for yourself, and see the freebies that come with it, at their website.  $30 for one ($50 for two) also includes a couple free downloads with maps and a digital version of the timeline.

I would recommend that you check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about The Amazing Bible World History Timeline, as some of them are addressing issues that may be important to you.  And since I really have not looked much at all at the more recent events, their reviews are especially important.  You can find those at:

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

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this Timeline and the downloads for free from the vendor in question.  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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Virginia Soaps & Scents

This review is so much fun!  My favorite item(s) so far!!

As part of the The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I got the chance to review a selection of products from Virginia Soaps & Scents.  The set included 3 bars of soap (and if you go read about it here, you discover this is real soap -- not the detergents referred to as soap that we purchase in stores), a shampoo bar, and a laundry soap kit.  Virginia Soaps & Scents is a homeschooling family owned business, started based on a hands-on history lesson.  They take their craft seriously, with wonderful results.

I've been wanting to make my own laundry soap for a long time.  I even had all the ingredients on hand, but I just couldn't get myself to go ahead and do it.  Well, having to do it was a good thing!  I found an empty scout popcorn tin (believe me, we have a few of those around!), and used a canning ring to do basically a double-boiler.  Melted the soap in water, added the already measured dry ingredients, stirred, added more water, and let it sit.  Easy peasy.  It took maybe fifteen minutes.  And... it works great!  My kids' clothes were actually coming out cleaner with this than they have been.  I am almost out (I think we'll finish it tomorrow), and then I will probably make some laundry soap using what I have on hand...  but soon, very soon, I absolutely am purchasing the laundry soap bars from VSS.

The greatest thing about their laundry soap is that you can choose how much work you want to do.  You can purchase it in a kit, where the soap is already shredded, and the Borax and Washing Soda are included and already measured.  That is ideal for trying it out without committing to huge boxes of ingredients.  Or you can purchase the bars, grate them yourself, and add your own other ingredients.

The shampoo bar was Ginger Lime.  Okay, never heard of a bar of shampoo.  But I loved it.  The folks at Virginia Soaps & Scents started making this for some Civil War re-enactors.  Anyway, you get your hair wet, rub the bar across your head a few times, then wash as usual.  The scent was very, very mild (It was mild enough that my husband didn't complain about it when he tried it.) I did not use conditioner.  My hair felt a little weird, and I just let it air dry (I do own a hairdryer.  I know I do.  I use it every fall to put plastic on the windows.)  When I went to brush it, I was pretty surprised at how full it looked.

The next day it looked even better.  And because it was a pretty sedentary week, I decided to see how long it would look presentable.  The fourth day it looked a bit grungy, but still acceptable.  And I am thrilled.  Colorado is SO DRY, and taking showers daily to keep my hair looking decent means having to slather a ton of lotion onto my skin to keep it from flaking off.  With the shampoo bar, I think I have a nice, happy medium.  At least until I do something crazy like starting to work out every day again.  I have not used conditioner at all since starting the shampoo bar.  And my hair has felt "right" since the second time I used the bar.  I want to order more!  This would also be one way to bring your own shampoo in your carry-on luggage, as it is not liquid.

Last was the soap.  They sent mini-bars of three different ones... Fresh Orange (smells yummy!), Oatmeal, Milk and Honey (textured, simply wonderful), and Coconut Lemongrass (the lemongrass scent is fabulous).  These made me feel pampered, and every time I have washed my hands I reflect on how lucky I am to be on the Crew!  My hands are far softer than when I use the liquid soap pump, and I'm using the soap far more often.

Check the website, read their stories, and look at the yummy looking soap.  I want to try the Cookies and Cream, and the Badlands ones from their gourmet soaps page.

I am not going to like going back to store bought, so called soap after this experience.  Nor do I think I can go back to store bought shampoo, or laundry detergent.  I'm now spoiled.  So I'm saving up my paypal balance to pamper me.  And to support another homeschooling family.  I can rationalize this, I know I can...

The products all seem to be a good value as well.  The soap is quite long-lasting, as long as you store it properly.  The regular soaps start at $4.50 for a single 4.5 ounce bar, with discounts for purchasing in larger quantities.  The shampoo bars, slightly larger at 5.5 ounces, are $5.50 for a single bar.  The laundry soap bar is $3.95, which makes two batches of unscented laundry soap, or the kit is available for $4.95.

I wish I had the funds available to give out a few dozen of the soap trios (near the bottom of the page) for Christmas this year.  Oh, and the sampler pack at the top?  That's the size of soap I received.  I love that size, and am tempted to figure out a way to order a sampler set for me.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Virginia Soaps and Scents at:

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

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive these products for free from Virginia Soaps and Scents.  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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Random Dozen

I've never participated in this before, but I keep reading The Jo's Know's weekly posts, and enjoy them so much.  So today, I need something like this.

1. I've always wondered why we were taught both printing and cursive. Do you prefer to print or write cursive? (Keyboard is not a choice.)
Printing.  I hate cursive.  Maybe I'll learn to like it eventually in teaching my kiddos.
2. Are you a dreamer or a realist?  Uhhh, probably a realist.
3. Billy Joel or Elton John?  While I like some individual songs, I'm not a fan of either of them.
4. What is the scariest movie you've ever seen? Not just horror flicks but also ones where the tension or suspense is killer, for example, Flightplan (2005): A bereaved woman and her daughter are flying home from Berlin to America. At 30,000 feet the child vanishes and nobody admits she was ever on that plan.

Well, I'd have to say The Killing Fields.  I went with a friend of mine in high school.  Neither of us had the first clue what it was about, nor would it have occurred to me that there would be a problem had I known.  My friend really tensed up shortly after the movie began, and got more and more stressed as we watched.  I had no idea why.  It was after the movie that was scary.  He was so shaken up.  So, while chain smoking about a pack and a half of cigarettes, he told me about his father.  I had no idea his "dad" wasn't his father, or that his sister was his half-sister.  His mom remarried when he was only a toddler.  His father was killed in Cambodia when he was a baby.  He told me all kinds of things about what little he knew about it, and I ended up shaken up.  I mean, in history class we always stopped at the Baby Boom.  I vaguely knew about a war in Korea (you know, because of MASH), and even more vaguely about a war in Vietnam.  I kinda sorta remember seeing war protests on tv news.  And I vaguely knew that lots of soldiers had died.  But that was truly the first time it occurred to me that those soldiers had families, and that they left kids I knew fatherless.  I didn't know that I had family members who had served in 'Nam.  It had never crossed my mind that my father was one of those people worried about the draft board.  Mostly because I knew virtually nothing about anything that happened in this country after 1950, because we hadn't been taught that in school.  Even my 20th Century History course spent about three weeks on the Great Depression and how FDR saved our country, half of the semester on World War II, and about a week each on every other decade through the 1970's.  The only thing we learned about the Vietnam War was about the protests, and how it was all Nixon's fault.  Anyway, probably not the answer people expect... but this movie still reminds me that it is real people fighting and dying not just then, but now.  And it is worse now, because the side I didn't recognize back when I first saw The Killing Fields is that those soldiers have mothers and fathers and brothers too.  And grandparents.  
5. Now what is the scariest real-life moment you've had?
Hmmm.  Not sure I'm willing to blog about the scariest moment.  But very close to the top would be when I realized that Connor was not expected to live long enough for them to perform an emergency c-section.  I didn't exactly grasp it as it was happening, but as I woke up in the recovery room all I knew was that my baby was gone.  And I vaguely recalled that there wasn't enough time to give me a spinal and they had to knock me out.  And I vaguely recalled how incredibly serious everyone had been, gradually realizing that they were all expecting to be removing a dead baby.  And over that haze, I heard a nurse saying, "She's coming to.  Someone get her husband." and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was never going to be a mother of living, breathing children... 

Of course, the nurse came over, told me it was a boy, and that he was in NICU (whatever NICU was, I had no idea).  Dale came, gave me the vital stats (3 lbs, 6 oz, 15.5 inches).  Everything eventually worked out.  But that barely conscious time was horrible.  
6. What word do you misspell without fail?  Pretty much anything with more than three syllables.
7. Name something you like to do but are not really talented or good at?  Sing.
8. Do you get your emotional/mental batteries recharged by being around people or by having alone time?  It used to be from being around people.  Now it is by being alone.
9. Have you ever been on TV?  I think so.  Part of an orchestra, maybe?  I remember needing to figure out how to set the VCR to record (VCRs were incredibly high tech devises then!)  I don't remember what it was for though.
10. Apple or pumpkin pie? (Don't be greedy.)  Apple.  I only make pumpkin pie because my family thinks it is essential for Thanksgiving.  I like pumpkin cheesecake though.
11. How many magazine subscriptions do you have?  Ummm.  I don't think I have any currently.  Received my last issue of Answers.  Received my last issue of Bible Study Magazine.  OH!!!   The Old Schoolhouse!!!  So I have 1.
12. What lesson do you have to keep re-learning?  That when I don't have enough time to pray, I really don't have enough time not to pray.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Sue Patrick Workboxes

I have to be honest.  When I first found out I'd be reviewing workboxes, I groaned.  I had so hoped not to be chosen for this particular review.  But I was, because God has a sense of humor, and he knows what I need even when I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and insisting something is NOT for me.

Workboxes.  If you read any homeschooling blogs (besides mine!), forums, or yahoo groups, you have heard of them.  Even I knew about workboxes, and I actively avoided threads about them on the SL forum, or deleted posts with workboxes in the title.  Basically, for each kid, you buy a dozen clear plastic shoeboxes and a rack to put them on.  You fill them up with their assignments for the day.  The child goes through the boxes in order, emptying them as he completes his work.  And at night, you go through the completed work, and refill the workboxes for the next day.

Multiplied by five kids, that sounded like WAY more work than I was used to doing.  Sixty boxes?  At 20 minutes per kid, that's over 8 hours a week of time, not teaching, but sorting stuff into containers.  And even if I had time for the work, no way no how could I afford all those containers.  And even if the containers fell from the sky, I truly have nowhere to store more than one of those racks.  Maybe the bathtub could hold a couple, but that doesn't sound convenient.

But then I received the ebook.  And when I committed to the Review Crew, I took that to mean that I would seriously try whatever was sent my way unless there was some extreme reason why I just couldn't.  So, I read the ebook, took a deep breath, and in spite of Sue Patrick's admonishment to not mess with her "perfected" system, I tweaked it to fit in my household.

Okay, so back up a bit.  Sue Patrick designed this system as a way to organize schooling for her autistic child.  She saw the benefits, other people saw the benefits, she played with different ways of doing it, until she found a system that has done wonders for lots and lots of people.  She sells a book (I received the ebook version) for $19-$20, and you can also purchase packages that include consulting time with her, or some of the "stuff" to make it easier to set up workboxing for one or two kids.

What we ended up with was a folder system.  I already owned hanging file folders, milk crates, and a portable file box.  Here's what Sue has to say about this, though:
Changing from the Workboxes to file folders is not the answer.  It is far too easy for a file folder to be moved from one place to another and never be opened.  The child never opens it to do their work and the parent never opens it to check and see if the work has been done.  Business file folders always seem like a more mature way to use the Workbox System theory, but it is at least 60% less effective.  There really is no good reason to give up on the Workboxes.  (pages 93-94)
Okay, so she definitely does not endorse what I'm doing, but I can live with that.  And she doesn't tell me anything about where that 60% less effective figure comes from.  I'd love to see the research.  Meanwhile, I have to "do workboxes" in a way that works in my home, so file folders it is...

I'm going to describe how this works for Connor specifically.  Mostly because I was convinced he would hate it.  I set up his box with 12 folders.  The last one is red, and that is his Scout folder.  He decides what that means... but it is his opportunity during school time to work on merit badges, or librarian duties, or planning his next campout, or whatever.  (I tell him that's not my job.  All I get out of him earning a merit badge is another patch to sew on... If he wants to earn 'em, he needs to figure out how to do it.  I've got enough to do.  But yes, I do help if asked!)

I filled the other 11 folders, explained the system to him, and... HE LOVES IT!  As he finishes the work in a folder, he moves the entire thing to the back of the box.  During his individual school time, that red folder inches towards the front, giving him the visual cues as to what he has left to do.  I pull work out of the folder either during the day or in the evening, just what I actually need to correct.  90% of his material is the same from day to day, and most of it does not require me to do anything.  He knows when he gets to his Latin book to go online and either attend class (okay, he does that when it is scheduled, regardless of the position of the folder) or to look up the assignment for the day.  He knows when he gets to his Apologia folder when the module test is scheduled, and it is his job to figure out how much work to do so he is prepared for it.  When he gets a new literature book, I put it and the study guide (with daily assignments) into the box, and I don't have to update it until he moves on to the next title.

It takes me about 2 minutes to "reboot" him for the next day.  I spend maybe 5 minutes each for William and Thomas, so that is under 15 minutes per night.  I have not yet started workboxes for Richard... I need to.  But I need to purchase something for him, and that doesn't work right now.

So, my opinions on the workbox concept have done a complete 180.  My kids are more motivated, and the best part is that we are not losing our schoolbooks now.  And my boys are actually getting to the scout projects (they all have a red scout folder as #12) they want to do.

So, is the ebook a worthwhile investment?  Or can you just do it by reading the plethora of workboxing information available in the blogosphere?

Well, there are a couple of reasons I do recommend getting the ebook.  First, I strongly believe in supporting financially the people who bring value to my life.  Sue Patrick is the one who introduced the workboxing concept to the homeschooling community, and I think there is a lot of value in reading the "why" behind her design of the system.  Reading the ebook did make a difference, I'm convinced, in how effective my system is.  Just from reading the blogs and forums (which I did after I found my name on the Sue Patrick Workbox list for the Crew) I wouldn't have had that little extra something that made this work for us.  And learning a bit more about autism was an added bonus.

But (there had to be a but) I don't particularly like the tone.  She repeatedly tells you that her system, if you do it exactly as she lays it out, will work for all kids and all parents.  That it will drastically reduce discipline issues in your family.  That it will be a magic cure for all your organization challenges and all the bad attitudes.  And did I mention that it will work for everyone?

And, in my opinion, she dishes out too much advice on things that have nothing to do with the workbox system.  Like the "fact" that you have to teach your child 2000 sight words before you start a phonics program.  Or that you have to put homeschooling first in your life, or that homeschoolers talk too much and don't give enough tests.

It boils down to:  while I totally respect Sue Patrick, and found her a wonderful speaker at an online convention this summer, many portions of the book really irritated me.  For my family, striving to instill a love for Jesus in my children is what we try to do first.  I'm not sure homeschooling is even what we do second.  Homeschooling is part of life.  And phonics?  Um, I don't believe a child needs to memorize the shapes of 2000 words before I teach them that M says mmmmm.  And I'm not sure what difference it makes if I discuss The Iliad with my 12 year old while we are making pancakes, or whether we do it in some hypothetical dedicated classroom space. (I'd have to move the beds onto the front lawn in order for us to have room for five desks... and a place to sleep is way more important to me than each child having their own desk.)  We probably do talk too much and test too little (Connor, with all his practice SATs, would disagree) but what exactly does that have to do with workboxing?

The sections that do stick to workboxes and how to implement them are really insightful though, and I am glad to own this ebook.  I really appreciated some of her samples about how to tweak your curriculum to make it more visually appealing.  And she had some great suggestions on ways to incorporate review in a more hands-on way.

Again, you can check out all kinds of great resources on Sue's website, including a video, testimonials, and information about packages you can purchase, and her other products.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Sue Patrick Workboxes 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 a free ebook, and temporary access to the website from Sue Patrick Workboxes.  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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Those plans they are a'changin'

Only about a month into the school year, and my plans have changed so much!  The Review Crew is mostly to blame.  But I figured I better update things

So, kid by kid, my plans this year month (I'm only linking the first reference to something):

Everyone:  Illuminations.  Connor is doing the high school level (but listening to all the family read alouds).  William and Thomas are doing 3rd-8th.  Richard and Trina are doing Early Learners.  This includes history, literature, humanities, geography, grammar, Bible, and vocabulary.  We'll be going back to Grapevine for Bible, though we are currently on break while doing Illuminations for review.

As a family, we are also using IEW's Poetry memorization program, and the older three are using Teaching the Classics.

Connor - 7th grade:
William - 5th grade:
  • A-Ha Math for another week, then we'll go back to Singapore or Right Start. Also using Quartermile Math for drill
  • Writing: Write With the Best, Volume 1 (currently taking a break)
  • Reading: TATRAS, Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills, various readers (Sonlight, mostly)
  • Science: We aren't doing anything formal.  Watching Dragonfly podcasts mostly.
  • Other LA: All About Spelling.
  • Other: Computer programming, typing, still deciding on something for fine arts, other things as they come up (like TOS Review Crew stuff!), Scouts (Webelos II, going for Arrow of Light and all the activity badges, crossover to Boy Scouts in February if not sooner)
Thomas - 3rd grade:
  • A-Ha Math through next week, then we'll go back to Singapore, probably doing a bit of review of 2A, and starting for real with 2B. Also using Quartermile Math for drill
  • Writing: Write With the Best, Volume 1, though we're currently taking a break
  • Reading: Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, various readers (Sonlight, mostly)
  • Other LA: All About Spelling, First Language Lessons Level 3.
  • Other: Computer programming, typing, still deciding on something for fine arts, other things as they come up (like TOS Review Crew stuff!), Scouts (Bear level)
Richard - kindergarten:
  • Math: He's using A-Ha Math for another week, going to Singapore Primary Math 1 after that. Also using Quartermile Math for drill
  • Reading: AVKO's Starting at Square One
  • Other LA: All About Spelling, First Language Lessons Level 1.
  • Other: Typing, still deciding on something for fine arts, other things as they come up (like TOS Review Crew stuff!)
So, there is the updated list.  Subject to change of course!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scouting Saturday: Civics

So, this past week my scouts accomplished a couple of things.  Connor finished off his camping merit badge, and talked to the Scoutmaster about doing his Scoutmaster conference for Star.  We also figured out that there will be Boards of Review held... so before month-end, Connor should make Star.

William has been trying to get a lot of the activity badges finished off.  He is down to needing nine more requirements to complete all twenty of the activity badges.  Assuming the weather forecasts are remotely correct, he should have these done by the time I write a Scout post again (you won't hear from me Saturday... I'll be camping with the Boy Scouts!  So it will be a Scouting Sunday post next week.)  He also has five requirements (besides the two required activity badges) left for Arrow of Light, most of which he can do, he just needs to officially show it.  Those should all be completed by the time I post again also.

Thomas hasn't done much.  He's enjoying his Bear year, and he isn't motivated to finish every single requirement or anything like that.  For Bear, you only need to complete 12 of the 24 areas.  He'll have that done easily enough.

But on to subject I came on to post about -- creating a Civics unit that incorporates scout requirements.

First, Thomas is the only one who has "civics" requirements to meet this year, explicitly.  William earned his Citizen activity badge last year, and Connor has completed two of the three Citizenship merit badges (and he's waiting for William to cross over before starting on the third.)  So, this year's plan was based mostly on Bear requirements.  After doing this, Thomas will have completed the What Makes America Special and the Tall Tales areas.  I would have added the Law Enforcement section too, but the den is planning a field trip to the Sheriff's department to do that, so I'm leaving most of that out.
  1. Learn how to raise and lower the flag properly.  Learn about the flag too, using Ben's Guide for part of that.
  2. Display the flag on National holidays (need to do 3 for the Bear requirement).  Columbus Day will complete the requirement.
  3. They will be participating in a color guard at pack meetings, and in an outdoor flag ceremony.
  4. Learn what folklore is.  Listen to a couple folk tales per week, finding out where the tale happened on a US map.  Use American Tall Tales, by Jim Weiss for at least part of it.
  5. We'll be using the Veteran's Day week of Amanda Bennett's Patriotic Holidays unit study in early November.  The scouts will be marching in a Veteran's Day Parade.  Yes, I promise to take -- and post! -- pictures.  
  6. Talk about what makes a good citizen.  Ben's Guide has some good pages on citizenship for 3rd-5th graders.  Thomas will make a poster about that.  We'll also discuss what we can do to help law enforcement as part of being a good citizen.
  7. And finally, wrap it up by having each of the kids write (or tell) why they think America is special, and discuss the character traits of Citizenship.
If you are blogging about scouting, any day of the week, feel free to leave a link in the comments.  I would LOVE to read what other homeschool scout families are up to!

Friday, October 9, 2009

National Ichthyosis Awareness Week

Sometimes it is so easy to get wrapped up in how tough we have it, and to forget how many other challenging situations are out there.  Conditions I didn't even know existed.

A fellow Crew Mate, Midwest Mama, has a very interesting post this week for National Ichthyosis Awareness Week.  This is not a condition I knew anything about prior to "meeting" her...

Stop by and learn about her sweet 4 year old, and tell her I sent you (no, you don't have to do that!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills

I had never heard of Bonnie Terry Learning prior to joining the TOS Review Crew, so seeing the name on the vendor list didn't do anything for me.  One day early on though, I went through and checked out the websites of all the vendors I didn't already know about.  When I got to the website for Bonnie Terry, I knew this was something I just had to have.  And when I read details about a few of the products, I started praying about whether or not this was what William needed.  And praying that the right product would show up on my doorstep.

So, I was thrilled to see my name on the list for Bonnie Terry, and ecstatic when Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills showed up in my mailbox.

This is something that any parent can do, not just a homeschooling family.  When she says "five minutes" that is exactly what she means.  The premise is very, very simple.  The program consists of two books (teacher and student), which mostly consist of word lists.  The teacher book has a few pages of introductory material so you know how to use it, and some forms you can copy to track your student's progress.

The idea is to spend 3-4 minutes practicing the current word list, and then to time the child to see how many words they can read in one minute.  Then they chart their words per minute (wpm) and their errors per minute.  Bonnie gives guidance as to setting a goal wpm for each page, and you keep going, doing five minutes at a time, at least a couple days a week, until they make their wpm goal with only a couple errors.  Then they get to move to the next drill page.  The other suggestion is that you have the child read aloud after doing the Five Minutes drills.

All four of my boys loved this.  Connor (12) probably doesn't really need it, and I am not having him do it daily.  I think he will see some benefit when we get further into the book.  Richard (5) gets a little stressed about the one minute timing, so I keep that part very low key.  If I just had these two, the program probably wouldn't be worth the money for my family.

William (10) and Thomas (8) are the ones who are benefitting though.  And yes, I saw improvements in William's regular reading within days.  He was doing a drill sheet of short a vowel sound words (the last row is 'pad, fat, rap, jam, lag, pan, dad') and yet I heard his reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe improve.  I can't explain it.  Except that seeing his little graph go up, and having the visible progress... I don't know.  He gained confidence from something.  He is nowhere near "grade level" for his wpm, but we're working through the drills, shooting for something in the 3rd-4th grade range.  We'll repeat the drills after we finish the book, and hopefully will be more in the 5th grade range then (though he'll probably be a 6th grader).  I plan to keep going through it with him.  Given his dyslexia, I may not push him to ever reach "high school" level, but if he could get to the 7th-8th grade level anyway...

Thomas was similar.  He's been fighting me about reading aloud.  Since the third day of Five Minutes, he brings his reader to me and asks if he can read to me now.  And he usually reads more than assigned.  I knew he was capable of reading better than he thought.  He's working at the bottom end of "grade level" for words per minute.  He'll be repeating the drills after we complete the book too.

A few more details about the program.  There are 45 drill sheets in total.  A few samples (I already gave words from drill 1), each is the last row of words on the sheet:

Drill 15: sort, nor, fork, lord, short, form
Drill 30: earth, please, thread, bread, speak
Drill 45: percentage, dictate, projector, carefully

So you can see that it does get to a fairly high level, not just the simple stuff.

For Richard, we probably won't go through the whole program this year.  The first seven drills are your typical short vowel level, so we may just work through those, then start over and add the next section (drills 8-12 do some vowel combinations and digraphs).  We'll see how his reading is going, but since he is only in kindergarten, we may do a lot of starting over and adding another section.  I think this is going to be absolutely fabulous for him.

Five Minutes to Better Reading is available as a set on the website for $60, or you can get it as part of a Reading Pack that looks fabulous.  She also has materials for math and writing... I want it all!

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various Bonnie Terry 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 Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills for free from Bonnie Terry Learning.  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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: Sarah Books

One of the joys of being part of the TOS Homeschool Crew is discovering delightful little gems that I never would have found otherwise.  Jim Baumgardner, and the Sarah Books, are such gems.

When I found out I'd be receiving Sarah's Wish, by Jim Baumgardner, I'll admit to being skeptical.  We're studying ancient history this year.  And by "we" I am speaking of myself and four boys, K-7th.  So historical fiction written about a girl in Ohio in the mid 1800's... well, I just wasn't sure.  And most of the fan mail on the website is from girls.  But I figured that I would enjoy the book anyway.

My fears were unfounded... the boys were all hooked from the very first chapter.  I mean, really... snakes, runaway buggies, slave catchers?  It got their attention.  Throughout the story, they begged for "one more chapter, PLEEEEEEEEASE!"

Sarah is orphaned in the first chapter.  Since you are only introduced to her mother in the course of the buggy accident, that isn't as emotional as it could be.  It would have been harder if you had already learned more about her and her work on the Underground Railroad.  I appreciated that mom's death wasn't some tearjerker scene.

As for the rest of the story, well, it was fascinating.  The story is somewhat predictable, but not completely so.  The characters are written realistically, each with their own little quirks.  We read a lot of historical fiction in this household, and have read quite a bit about America in the 1850's and 1860's.  But nothing that has truly brought to life so many facets of daily life as this story does from the time period right before the war.

There is the whole thing about the Underground Railroad, and how Sarah's mother had not even told her best friend what she was doing.  And the detailed description of putting spokes into a wagon wheel.  Or watching with Sarah as a new steamship is slid into the river.  Or learning about the new game of baseball.  It's all these little details that really make you feel like you are living right there with Sarah.

A third Sarah book has just come out.  Book two is called Sarah's Promise.  Book three is Sarah's Escape.  The author also send a monthly newsletter via email that is filled with fascinating little tidbits about Sarah's times mostly.  You can sign up for the newsletter on the website.

All in all, I highly, highly recommend this series.  The books are a fairly easy read, and well suited to a family read-aloud.  There was enough action to keep my 3 and 5 year old's attention.  There was enough detail to keep my middle schooler involved.

And while it may sound like a "girl's book," my guys said that any boy who lets that stop him from reading the book is missing out.  And while there are no real boy characters to identify with, there are men who are well-developed characters, and who are worthy of emulation.  Doctor Baumgardner (the great, great grandpa of the author) is the most obvious.  But there is also the pastor, the steamship captain, and even the guy fixing the wagon wheel.  These men are solid, respectable citizens, and Sarah's interactions with them were fodder for some great conversations.

We are requesting books 2 and 3 for gifts this season.  And if you purchase from the website, the books are signed by the author.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Sarah's Wish 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 Sarah's Wish for free from the vendor in question.  I also received a discount on the purchase of additional titles, which I plan to use. 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, October 3, 2009

Scouting Saturday

Okay, some photos, since I promised them a couple weeks ago.

Thomas, in blue.  William is looking at the camera.

Those were both taken at popcorn sales last weekend.  We've done fairly well.  William should have most (all?) of Boy Scout summer camp paid for.  Some family members are contributing to the kids' camp funds instead of buying popcorn, so those funds will primarily go to Connor's summer camp.  Connor did a lot of free babysitting while William and Thomas did popcorn sales.  We figure Connor earned the discretionary funds!

So, beginning of month scout report time:

Connor -- he's close to earning Star, as he just needs to put in a couple more weeks of active participation and serving in leadership before doing his scoutmaster conference and board of review.  He's slacking on merit badges lately.  He wants some help trying to map out a plan for the next few weeks, though, so maybe he'll finish off some of these he's been working on.  He'll be finishing up Camping this week, which is Eagle required.  He's also planning to attend a merit badge college in November.  Maybe that will get him a bit more fired up too.

William -- he's been cruising.  His plan for October is to earn the rest of the Activity Badges for Webelos.  He has five left to earn, but for the most part, he just needs one or two requirements for each.  His den has been invited to go camping with the Boy Scouts mid-month, and that will finish off Outdoorsman and probably Arrow of Light.

Thomas -- he has started on his Bear requirements, and has been having a lot of fun.  The new denner (that would be a boy in the den who acts as a leader in the den for a time, and then chooses the next boy for that position) told him that he plans to choose him.  Thomas was very excited about that!

For October, we'll be continuing an outdoor focus in our Scout School time.  And I'm planning a civics focus for November, to correspond with Veteran's Day (the Cubs will be marching in the city Veteran's Day parade).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: College Prep Genius

About a month ago, I posted about College Prep Genius here.  I'm not going to repeat that post, except to explain that this is a set of a workbook, book and four DVDs that makes up an SAT prep class, designed to help students apply logic to taking the SAT and PSAT.

What we have done at this point:
  1. Took a practice SAT, minus the essay, at a pace of roughly an hour worth per day. 
  2. Read through the College Prep Genius introductory sections
  3. Watched the overview DVD with the workbook
  4. Read through College Prep Genius Critical Reading section
  5. Watched the DVD for Reading
  6. Took another practice SAT, only the Reading sections
My impressions of the program are mixed.  First, the intro section of the book needed some serious editing, as information was repeated multiple times, and the typos/grammatical errors were extremely distracting.  Honestly, I'd recommend *not* reading it and just watching the DVD.  The overall information is virtually the same, but the DVD is organized, and doesn't have the typos.  The overview DVD was good, and seemed to motivate Connor far more than reading the material did.

The information is great.  A lot of detail about how the test is organized.  Specifics about what a "good" score is for the SAT and PSAT, and what that translates to in college entrance or scholarships.  Connor was easily able to set a goals and had a good idea as to what to expect.

As for the errors, I just opened the book up randomly in the intro section.  The first sentence on page 10 reads: "Treat the test as challenging puzzle that can be figured out logically."  I'm probably being overly picky, and this isn't the best example, but it should either be "puzzles" or "a challenging puzzle" as the sentence just doesn't work as written.  (And yeah, my grammar isn't always fantastic... but I'm not publishing an SAT Prep program either!)  There were frequent missed words.  Even more frequently, there are weird verb endings. ("You should be able to find the answering the cited part or right around it." p. 42, which is not in the intro but in the critical reading section.  I didn't go through the book with a red pencil... I'm just flipping through pages glancing around for examples.)

As for the organization, in re-reading it right now to write the review, my impression is that it isn't written to be read straight through.  If you just go to the section you need -- FAQs, Extra Transcript Information, etc. -- and read only one section, I think the intro is more valuable.  Don't read it straight through.  And don't force your kid to either.

Once we got into the meat of the program, I liked the text more.  Connor read through the Critical Reading section, practiced with the problems presented, and worked on getting a grasp of the acronyms.  He spent about two weeks on that.  A frequent comment from him was, "That makes so much sense!"  He then watched the DVD, and it was clear some of the information was clicking that he hadn't picked up in the book.  He enjoyed the DVD.

Now, I have to say that I'm not convinced about all the acronyms.  Probably it's one of those learning-style things, but for me anyway (and Connor seems this way too), acronyms work for memorizing order of relatively random things... but if you give me a logical process, I do better learning the steps and practicing them, rather than adding a new step of remembering some acronym, remembering what it stands for, and what it means.  If *I* were the one taking this course, I would find a couple of the acronyms to be worthwhile and I would memorize them, jotting them down on my test book when I took it.  But the majority I would not bother to memorize.  I do believe some of them are useful, but I'm allowing Connor to make those decisions himself.  I won't be quizzing him on these.

Finally, last week, he took the three Critical Reading sections of a practice SAT.  Confession time:  I was nervous -- I was anxious to see a dramatic increase in his score.  On the pretest, his Critical Reading section translated to a score of 440-500, as I posted a month ago.  On the test he just completed, his answers translated to a score of 440-500. No change at all.  I was disappointed, especially as he told me that he felt so much more confident that he had done well this time.  (Okay, let me try to rephrase that.  I'm not disappointed in his scores... his scores are fantastic for a child who isn't even old enough to sign up for an account with the College Board!  I was disappointed that there wasn't an improvement.)

I dug a little deeper, and I am feeling a lot better about this now though.  On the first test, he answered less than 2/3 of the questions.  Mostly, it was that he skipped questions, but sometimes he ran out of time.  On the test this week, he answered all but one question.  Since the SAT penalizes you for each incorrect answer, this means that he maintained his score while answering questions significantly faster, and answering at least a dozen questions he thought were too hard last time.  That is an accomplishment, and I don't want to minimize it.  Maybe he will need to work on knowing when not to answer a question.  Or maybe the next step will take care of that.  Because now he'll have significantly more wrong answers to work with!

The process at this point is to go over the questions he got wrong, using forms provided in the book.  Each day, he'll be going over four questions that he missed, rewriting them, figuring out what he did wrong and why he got it wrong, and explaining it to me.  He'll be creating his own study journal.  (They don't specify how many to do in a day... but four questions fit on a single form, so that is what I plan on assigning!)

Once he completes that, we will move on to the math section of the book.  I will assign him to review his study journal at times though, so he will continue to see the material.  After working through the rest of the process, I think this is where the true value of this program lies... in giving you a logical format to use in looking at your own mistakes and your own pattern of errors.  And to study from that.

I think it is going to be fascinating to see how he does with the math section, since that is where he is naturally the strongest.  In looking the section over, I think there are tips in there that will help him tremendously.  Of course, starting high school geometry this past week is likely to help too...

And the writing section?  There he has some serious room for improvement.  I suspect doing that section of the course will bring his writing scores more into line with his reading and math.  And although we don't truly care about this particular score at this point, seeing it improve would still be nice!

I do believe this to be a very good product, and I am thrilled to have had the chance to review it.  This will get used in my home, probably with everyone eventually.  Of course, I am one who believes that some practice with timed tests is generally a good thing, and I believe that learning to apply logic to test-taking situations is a very good thing.  There are a number of "real life" situations where being calm and logical in a multiple choice test situation is good -- driver's license exams, workplace tests, and professional exams, to name a few.

Bottom line:  if you have a student doing high school work and even remotely considering college, I think you should go check out the College Prep Genius website.  Poke around.  Read the FAQ section.  Sign up for their newsletter. Poke around some more.  Pray about it.  If any of it resonates with you, seriously consider a purchase (the DVD course right now is available for $79).  And then don't feel like you have to put in the hours they recommend, or memorize everything.  Use what works.  There is plenty of value here.  Certainly more than in most of the thousand-some dollar SAT prep courses I see advertised.

I will add to this review throughout the year, as Connor finishes up the math and writing sections, and most certainly if he does take an actual SAT test.  I'll create a short post, and link it here.

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about College Prep Genius 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 College Prep Genius for free from the vendor in question.  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.