Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bountiful Baskets: March 31

Okay, so here I get to brag on one of many angels in my life.  You know who you are.

I was able to go in and pick up stuff at Bountiful Baskets today -- at a sane time of the day.  Rumor has it though, that it isn't going to continue to be at a sane time of day.  Rumor also has it that Colorado may go to every week come May.  And (be still my heart) a location might open in Ellicott.  Oh, oh, oh... 20 miles from me.  Even if it is a 5:00 a.m. volunteer time, that would mean leaving my house around 4:45 instead of the 4:00 am I have had to do.

Okay, so back to my angel of a friend -- she bought me a basket.  And a box of tangerines.  And a hostess basket.  And a cookie pack.  My youngest three are totally beyond excited about the cookies.

I got photos of the basket and the hostess pack.  I'm totally excited about the asparagus.

In the basket, we got:
  • leaf lettuce
  • 4 smallish heads of broccoli
  • 2 normal sized bunches of asparagus
  • 6 good-sized sweet potatoes
  • a box of grape tomatoes
  • a 3 pound bag of pears
  • 3 grapefruit
  • 4 tangerines
  • 7 oranges
  • 6 big bananas

In the hostess pack, we got:
  • 2 5 pound bags of potatoes
  • a huge bunch of asparagus
  • a bag of carrots
  • a bag of radishes
  • a bunch of radishes
  • a pineapple
  • a bunch of green onions
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 big onion
  • a bag of some type of herb.  I'm guessing mint.  I just put it in the fridge and didn't even try to id it.  I'm tired.
  • a big bunch of celery
  • a big bag of green beans
I simply cannot believe how much food there was between everything.  And did I mention I'm excited about all the asparagus?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Simon and the Easter Miracle

I'm not terribly in touch with my Polish heritage, so when I get an offer to review an Easter picture book with a description that includes "a Polish folktale," I simply have no choice but to check into it.

Simon and the Easter Miracle, by Mary Joslin, would be the book in question.
From the Publisher: The gospels tell of Simon of Cyrene--"a man coming in from the country"--who was ordered to carry Jesus' cross. Over the centuries, his story has been woven into a Polish folktale. In the tradition of "The Three Trees," this folk tale gives a fresh perspective on the Easter story. When Simon the farmer brings his wares to market, little does he expect how he will be involved in the events of that very special day, nor how his items--bread, eggs, and wine--will become important symbols of Jesus' passion and resurrection, remembered throughout the ages.
What struck me immediately upon receiving this book were the captivating illustrations by Anna Luraschi.  There is so much detail in them.  My youngest kids (6 and 8) have spent hours poring over the pictures and examining all the details.

The story initially struck me as a bit weird, but re-reading the book description, and reading the story a couple more times, and now I do think it is sweet. It did give me a chance to talk about folk tales in general, and more particularly about folk tales involving real people.  

This is an enjoyable addition to our Easter traditions.

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

Review: Academic Success for All Learners

The TOS Homeschool Review Crew had the chance to check out the I See Sam readers from Academic Success for All Learners last year, and I was disappointed to not be able to be a part of that.  However, a friend gave me some of her books (sets 1-4) as she thought they could be a good fit for my family.  I kept meaning to pull them out and actually try them, but something always seemed to come up.

Then, it was announced to the TOS Crew that we'd have the chance to review this series again, and that now there was an online placement test, and we could choose which sets we wanted based on that test.  You better believe that got my attention.

Checking out the website, I realized that Trina would probably just barely not pass the first test, so I didn't bother.  Richard sat for the tests though, and it really was a great experience for me.  He ended up scoring right on the border as to whether he should start with set 5, or start with set 4.  Since we owned set 4, I opted to start him there while I waited to find out if I'd be one of the lucky few to be chosen to do this review.

I opted not to put Thomas through the placement tests, but once our materials arrived (sets 5 and 6), I did decide to casually work through set 6 with him.  So, if you weren't keeping notes, that meant I had children working in sets 1, 4-5 and 6.

What does all that mean?

The Little Books program (commonly known as the I See Sam books) is a series of eight color-coded sets of "little" books.  Each set includes between 27 books (Sets 1 and 2) and 10 books (Set 8).  As you move along, the stories get longer, and there are more than one in an individual book. These go from a kindergarten to a third grade reading level.

Let's take a look at the experiences my kids had, just to get a feel for how the program works.

Trina started in Set 1.  This is the only set I had actually looked at before, and it never truly impressed me.  The first book can be read with only the words "I," "see," and "Sam."  Not exactly gripping literature.  The illustrations do the bulk of the work in moving the plot forward, but yikes.  Dull for Mom.  Trina, however, loved that she could sit down and read a whole book all by herself.

The stories get more "real" as you work through the level, fortunately.

Let's take Book 20:  Nat Sits, and use that to illustrate the basics of how this program works.
  • Each book starts off with sound practice.  Trina had to be able to read all the sounds correctly,  including:  e, Th, wh, W, t, N, f, th, w, etc.  I loved that Th and th were both included. 
  • Some books (not this one) will then introduce new sounds.  
  • Each book has word practice.  For this book, that included words like Will, mess, We, when, with, will, etc.  Again, words such as "We" and "we" are both included.  Love that.  Again, she has to get them all right in order to move on.
  • Most books have New Words, which she sounds out, and once she gets them all right, we move on again.  In this book, that includes fit, fits, Nat and Sits.  
  • The the story.  There aren't many words to a page, and the illustrations help carry the plot along.  At the bottom of each page, there is small text to the teacher -- some with comprehension questions, some just reminding me to praise her for a job well done.  One of the longer pages of the story is:  "Nat!  Nat!  Nat sits in this.  Nat fits in this."
  • The student is to read through the story at least twice.
  • After the story, there is a page for "Coming Attractions!" where you get a chance to try out the new sounds and new words for the next book.
What I love about Level 1 is that words are introduced slowly and logically.  The text is not quite as predictable as you would think.  The pictures might help you figure out what is going on in general, but they don't necessarily help you to decode the words.

Set 4 is where Richard started.  He moved pretty quickly, and also worked in Set 5.  I'll focus here on Set 4 though.  This set contains fewer books (15) but each book has two stories.  The format was similar (sound practice, new sounds sometimes, word practice, new words) but there were also other little "drill" activities in the "Preparing for Success" sections before the stories.

Specifically, there would be exercises dealing with silent e.  These drills were scripted, and Richard hated them.  But the point was to stop and notice those e's at the end of a word and to figure out what that means to the rest of the word.

There were also drills relating to the /k/ or /s/ sounds of "c" and the /g/ and /j/ sounds of "g." Or which sound the -ed ending would make in a word.  I loved how these exercises were done.  These drill exercises totally sold me on the program.  I'm tempted to make my 7th grader (severely dyslexic) go through and do all the drill exercises from the beginning, they are that good.  He'd have a major attitude about it though. 

The stories are far more interesting at this point.  These stories would generally have one partial page illustration per two-page spread, and a lot more words on a page.  A sentence from one of the later books in this set:  "Then I will send freezing waves to sink you," said the Man of Ice.

Something else to point out is about the questions listed at the bottom of the pages of the story.  Wow, are these great!  Let's look at the questions in one of the Level 5 stories.  The Ant Jar is in the first book, and the questions include:
  • What does Beth have to do for homework?  -basic comprehension question
  • What do you know about how ants work? What do they do? -this one totally draws on the student's outside knowledge, as the story has not addressed this at all
  • Do you think Beth should do her homework or jump rope first? Why?  -question looking for an opinion, obviously, and something that lets us have a great discussion
  • What happened when the jar broke? -basic comprehension question
  • Why do the ants run to get the ham? -inference question. 
  • Why are the ants taking the ham into the jar? -another inference question
  • How does Beth know ants work hard? -summarizing question
I love that there are a variety of question types, particularly the inference ones.  Most of the time, in beginning readers, any comprehension questions are very fact based. 

Thomas worked in Set 6.  This was pretty easy for him, but it gave me the chance to reinforce some rules.  Set 6 consists of 13 books with four stories in each book, and it is very similar to the Set 4 books, except the stories are longer, and now there are pictures every 2-3 pages.  The drill still does things like working with silent e, but now it is with words like change, else and taste.

Thomas thought these were a bit too young for him, but he did find himself interested in the storyline in spite of himself.  And that works for me. 

I like these.  A lot.  They worked for my struggling reader.  They worked incredibly well for my self-taught 2nd grade reader.  They worked well for my barely past beginning reader.

Some key strategies for the Little Books are:
  • fairly short, daily sessions with the child (15-30 minutes)
  • the sound practice and word practice sections help to ensure the student will be successful when reading the story
  • the stories are interesting.  At least for the kids.  Not always for the mom.
  • praise, praise, praise
These books have taken Richard from being an early reader totally lacking confidence to a child who reads constantly: billboards, milk cartons, or my emails over my shoulder.  He still isn't reading everything, but this has given him the tools to try to figure it out.  And I'm confident that by the time he works through Set 8, he'll be ready to tackle practically anything.

The sets are available for $30 each, and I will be looking to purchase sets 7 and 8.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about various levels of The Little Books, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive sets 5 and 6 of the Little Books for the purposes of a review.  I already owned sets 1-4.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

E is for Eagle Required Merit Badges

I know, I know... I blogged about scouts just a couple weeks ago (B is for Boy Scouts) and I will undoubtedly blog about scouts again (S is for Scout Camp?  M is for Merit Badge?  S is for Star Scout?  L is for Life Scout?  V is for Volunteer Projects?)

This topic seemed to fit this week.

Connor & William spent a couple days doing a mini-retreat to work on merit badges.  Primarily, Eagle-required ones.  To make Eagle, among a bunch of other stuff, a boy needs to earn roughly 21 merit badges.  About half of those are merit badges of his choosing.  About half are required ones.  Most of the required ones are fabulous -- First Aid, Communication, that kind of thing.

My two oldest are both in need of some Eagle-required stuff.  So this weekend, they focused on these two:

Personal Management -- this merit badge requires all kinds of amazingly wonderful stuff like keeping track of your income and expenses, keeping track of time, learning about compound interest and stocks, and so on and on and on.

After the discussions this past weekend, Connor has almost earned this.  He should get it finished off at the scout meeting tomorrow night.

And that means that I do actually have some hope that he is moving forward towards Eagle.  This is an Eagle-required merit badge that I would prefer my kids work on later rather than sooner.  I think Connor is learning so much more from this now than he would have three years ago.

Personal Fitness -- this merit badge primarily involves creating a 12 week fitness program and doing it.  All three of my boy scouts are working on this one.  This is not only the very first Eagle-Required badge for Thomas, it is also the very first merit badge he is working on (Archaeology will be starting up soon too!)

The plan was approved, and tomorrow marks the start of the 12 weeks.  The boys are using the Couch Potato to 5K plan for part of their fitness plan... and they are planning to run a 5K too.  I can't wait.

Connor has a couple others that he needs to be working on too, but these two have been his focus right now.

William is at a point where he needs to be earning Eagle-required merit badges in order to advance too.  In addition to the Personal Fitness one, he is looking at working on Citizenship in the Nation, and I'm trying to encourage him and Thomas to work on Family Life.  We have no shortage of family projects around right now. 

I mean, really, how amazing is a merit badge that forces the kids to do a couple somethings to significantly benefit the family?  I can come up with about a bazillion ideas --
  • Run a freezer cooking session and get a bunch of meals into the freezer
  • Reorganize the kitchen cupboards
  • Go through all the VHS tapes so we can donate most of them and get 'em out of the house
  • Put up the shed Dale bought a few weeks ago
  • Get a box of Ziploc bags and put together bread machine mixes 
  • Get the cinder block garden set up to go for this summer, then get it planted
  • Reshelve all the books (okay, that may be too big of a project for a mere Boy Scout!)
  • Build the climbing gym thing that is sitting in pieces outside
  • Build a chicken coop
  • Inventory and defrost the chest freezer
  • Clear the tumbleweeds from around the house
  • Process some of the bulk food we have around here and get it stored (dried beans cooked and into the freezer, for instance)
Can I borrow someone else's Boy Scout?  I've got enough ideas here for at least six kids, and I only have two boys in need of this merit badge.

You know, I need to look into the Home Repairs merit badge, which isn't Eagle-Required, but maybe it should be... I could at least look at requiring it for MY scouts, right?

Go check out others in this E Week for Blogging Through the Alphabet, where people are blogging about topics such as Education, Embrace, and Energy.

Action Alert

One thing I have observed over the past dozen or so years that I have been actively homeschooling is that technology is getting more and more important.

Back when my oldest children were little, I felt very strongly about seriously limiting their computer time.  I avoided the few computer-based educational programs out there, and I had a bit of an attitude about how much better that was for my children.

I still think that a lot of the stuff out there marketed to little kids is a total waste of time, but I have found a number of programs that have been a fabulous addition to our homeschooling, not only for my teens, but also for my younger ones.  My kids can do online math lessons, or they can read to wonderful, patient computer programs that let them repeat material innumerable times.  They can virtually dissect frogs, or they can watch a hurricane forming.

There are some huge potential downsides to technology though.  Kids can find all kinds of yucky stuff online, or they can get sucked into time-consuming pursuits that aren't necessarily bad other than that they take away from time spent doing something more productive like playing outdoors.  They can strike up online friendships with some wonderful people, but there is also the risk of telling the wrong people too much about their lives and habits.  Lots of internet dangers

It can be scary.

We've taken a few different approaches to how to handle all of this.  Our Apple computers gave us the ability to easily set parental controls that would allow us to see what they were up to at any time, and that gave us the freedom to allow the kids to be online in quieter areas of the household.

But what about the PC computers?  Well, for us, one is the desktop which is located where it is visible to anyone in the living room.  The PC laptop doesn't get a whole lot of use except in running specific programs and the kids don't really get online with it.

If they did, I would want to have something that would help to protect them.  Action Alert is one intriguing option.  The graphic below talks about the eight tools it provides:

I do love the mix of tools provided, and you can make adjustments so you have different rules for each user.  You can block websites, for instance, or you can set it to send an email or text alert when questionable activities occur. 

The best part of Action Alert is that much of the protection is available for free!  Free Parental control software for Windows computers, how great is that?  There is also a Maximum Protection version that you can upgrade to at any point for $29.99.

Why our Apple computer child safety system has worked so well is that my kids always know that we are a part of their "computer life" and that while we don't go overboard in watching everything they do, at any point we CAN pop in and check things out.

Action Alert provides that same ability -- we could come in and check things out at any point, and we can know what is going on with their "computer life."

Now, because we are a Mac household, and because we have had some tech issues with our PCs, and because the PCs really aren't used in a way that concerns us right now, we decided that installing a safety program right now was not a good idea.  If, however, we ever get back to being more PC-dependent, this is something we will look into.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about Action Alert, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive access to the full version of Action Alert for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Explore the Grand Canyon with Noah Justice

Okay, so I'm starting this review off by confessing something.

When I saw this new series of 30-minute, creation-based DVDs, I was pretty excited.  Until I saw that the first one in the series was about The Grand Canyon.  The second one, on Yellowstone and Grand Teton, sounded intriguing.  But the Grand Canyon?  Ugh.  I've read or see so much about the Grand Canyon already and I just couldn't get excited.

I requested both, though, because I knew my kids would be interested.  When my package arrived, it contained only The Grand Canyon.  I was disappointed.  And my oldest rolled his eyes.  He didn't say it, but his body language spoke volumes:  "Really?  You expect us to watch something else about the Grand Canyon?"

The cover -- where Noah Justice looks cut-out and pasted in -- didn't inspire either of us, despite  the publisher's blurb, which commented on how Kyle Justice (Noah's dad) "has produced video which has appeared on networks including National Geographic, ESPN, and the Outdoor Channel."

I determined I wanted to get this review over with, so we popped in the DVD.  Thankfully, the bad attitudes were limited to my eldest and myself.  He buried his nose in a book, intending to pretty much ignore the DVD.  I kept my computer open so I could at least check Facebook statuses.

As we watched however, Connor ended up setting down his book, and I closed my computer.

This video is simply fabulous.  Noah presents all kinds of information, much of which I've heard before, in an engaging style.  The film footage is phenomenal.  And things are explained in a way that is easily comprehended -- or at least it was by everyone age 7 and up in my household (Trina, the 6 year old, enjoyed it but didn't quite grasp some of the content).

I learned things in this DVD.  And I really did not expect that.  Here's a promo clip, that doesn't really do the video justice (pun was not intended, really):

I also received a study guide that turns this into something we can watch again and again, looking at different aspects each time.  The study guide is 34 jam-packed pages of vocabulary, additional information, discussion questions, and bonus activities that lead you deeper into the various topics.

This series is wonderful.

According to the website, there will be 13 DVDs in the series.  In addition to the ones I mentioned above, there is one out on Meteor Crater and Petrified Forest, and titles on Yosemite & Zion National Parks, Mt. St. Helens, and John Day Fossil Beds will be released in the fall.

Check it out.  There is even a group at Creation Conversations dedicated to this series.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

D is for Death and Taxes

Photobucket"Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. "

~Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

Okay, this post is mostly me venting about taxes.  But since I suffered a miscarriage on April 15, 1996, those two words are even more closely related in my mind.  Income taxes could drive me to drink, which would be another "D" word, I suppose.

So here is another quote, linking these subjects:

It's income tax time again, Americans:  time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta. 

~Dave Barry



Why do I do this to myself?

Most of our tax stuff is pretty straightforward.  Copy a bunch of numbers off of silly forms.  But some of it isn't as easy.  Like tracking what I made for mystery shopping, or <groan> tracking what we actually paid (per the IRS) for employee stock purchases in 2010.

Every.  Single. Year.  Every year.  I swear I'm going to actually take the 30 seconds necessary to track this garbage.  So that NEXT YEAR, I'll be able to easily file my return and hopefully quickly get a refund.  You know, in January.  Or at least early February.

My 2011 tracking went through March.  <sigh>  (Which is an improvement.  My 2010 tracking had only gone through February, and in 2009, I never started it until I needed it for filing.)

At least I have three months worth I don't have to do today.  That counts for something.  I guess.

I don't even know where to find the stock information though.  BUT... I did get my 2011 purchases all recorded, so I won't have to look for that next year.


So, bloggy break is over.  Time to get back to getting my tax records together.

Go check out others in this D Week for Blogging Through the Alphabet, where people are blogging about topics that are far more fun -- like Daisies, Dads, and Decorate.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Progeny Press: The Screwtape Letters

I love having the opportunity to try some different approaches to studying literature.  I have heard of Progeny Press, but until they became a vendor for the TOS Homeschool Crew, I hadn't really taken a close look. 

Progeny Press provides study guides for all ages:
  • Lower Elementary (K-3) includes seventeen titles, such as Frog and Toad Together and The Minstrel in the Tower
  • Upper Elementary (grades 3-5) includes seventeen titles, such as The Cricket in Times Square and a number of Laura Ingalls Wilder titles
  • Middle School (grades 5-8) is where the selection increases dramatically, with 36 titles.  Some that jumped out at me were titles from the Chronicles of Narnia series and Wrinkle in Time.  Crew members reviewed The Bronze Bow, Across Five Aprils and The Cay.
  • High School (grades 9-12) includes 37 titles.  So many of these jumped out at me, including a number of titles by Shakespeare, Tolkien and Lewis. Crew members reviewed Pride and Prejudice, Julius Caesar and The Screwtape Letters.
Connor was really excited about the idea of using the Study Guide for The Screwtape Letters, so we did.  Right off the bat, I would caution that there are some mature themes in this book -- and in this guide.  This is not a study I would undertake with anyone younger than high school.

As an email attachment, this study costs $18.99.  What you get is an email with three separate pdf documents:
  1. A Read Me file that tells you a bit about how to use the study guide and recommends things like making a back-up copy.
  2. The Interactive Study Guide, which you can print for the student to use, or you can save a copy for each student and let them fill in the answers in the text boxes and multiple choice buttons.  This interactive part does not work on an iPad (or at least it didn't for us), but is so nice on the laptop.
  3. An Answer Key, with both the answers to the easy multiple choice types of questions, and a paragraph or two for the short answer essay questions.
We are really enjoying this guide.  Progeny Press recommends that the student read the entire work, and then start working through the various sections of the book.

That didn't seem like a great approach for us, so we went through the reading for an individual section, and then Connor worked on the questions.  Some, he did orally in discussions with me, and some he wrote up.

The book is broken up into sections, with questions in the guide to go with each.  The questions include vocabulary, various short answer questions, a "Dig Deeper" section that requires a bit more thought, and an optional activities section that includes research papers, art projects, essays, etc.

Some literature analysis types of questions do come up in this study, but there wasn't a whole lot of it.  We were wondering if that had to do with this not being your typical literature type of book.

Overall, we really are enjoying this.  Progeny Press recommends you spend about 8 weeks per guide, using four in a year.  Our conclusion is that we wouldn't want to do Progeny Press study guides exclusively, but spending one quarter each year doing one guide would give us a different take on lit.  We've already decided that we'll be doing The Hobbit in the fall.  That would have a built-in deadline, December 14.  Give or take.  If Connor doesn't finish up the guide, he won't attend the movie. 

We are also planning to do these at least at the middle school level, with William and Thomas doing something together next year. 

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about various Progeny Press guides, click the banner here:


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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bountiful Baskets, March 17

I've missed Bountiful Baskets so much!  And this week -- finally -- I was able to go back.  I got two baskets and a tortilla pack.  Oh, we've missed the tortillas.

Here is a picture of one of the baskets:

Here is what was in both baskets, combined:
  • two 5 lb bags of potatoes
  • two 1 lb bags of carrots
  • 2 heads of cabbage
  • 2 heads of some leaf type of lettuce
  • 3 heads of savoy (two green-purple and one white-purple)
  • 13 tomatoes
  • 4 English cucumbers
  • 2 bunches of scallions? leeks?
  • 17 bananas
  • 20 apples
  • 18 oranges
  • 2 canary melons  (the kids decided they are dragon eggs)
Oh, wow.  Just wow.  So what are we going to do all of this?  I'm not entirely sure.  Most of this is stuff we'll just use.  The fruit, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes...

The cucumbers will get sliced and dunked in ranch dip.  Then we've got salads, and maybe some stir-fry.

I'm so thrilled to have all this produce available again!

And this isn't a great photo, but here is a close-up of two of the salad savoy -- very different looking!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Art of Argument

A couple of years ago, we were looking for something to do for Logic for my nearly 8th grader.  Classical Academic Press was one company we looked into.  Connor had done some things with informal fallacies already, and we were wanting to move on to formal logic.

We purchased Discovery of Deduction, and we really loved it.  But it was hard to be consistent about doing it with just one student.  This was something we wanted to be able to discuss more, so we started to let it slide and eventually stopped doing it entirely.

Last fall, heading into 9th grade, we determined that logic absolutely had to happen.  We discussed starting over with something to address informal logic again, but this time involving William, who was starting 7th grade.  When I found out the TOS Homeschool Crew would have the chance to review logic from Classical Academic Press, we decided to wait until 2nd semester to tackle anything.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to review Art of Argument starting in February.  Everyone on the Crew received the student and teacher books, and the first DVD in the new DVD Set.

We dug right in and started doing Logic a couple days a week.  The program consists of reading (included in both the student and teacher books) and some questions for each section.  There is a DVD segment for the introduction and also for each fallacy.  There are also chapter and unit tests.

Since Connor is doing this for high school credit, I am having him complete the tests in addition to the regular assignments.  William is not doing the tests, but the three of us (and Thomas, 5th grade, too) are participating in discussions about the material.

We are simply loving this study.  One aspect of the book is that Socrates has a continuing dialogue with a couple of college students.  The kids enjoy those, though I'm not sure I'd be quite as comfortable with the issues brought up there if my oldest child was in roughly the 7th grade range.

Initially, we were not terribly impressed with the DVD.  The intro section covered the same material as is in the book, and it was good.  The rest of the DVD series includes discussion between a few teens and a couple of logic teachers, with each section covering one of the fallacies.  The first fallacy (ad hominem abusive) went on and on and on.  My kids love anything that involves DVD lessons, but they begged to not have to watch anymore.

Because we were reviewing this, I told them we would have to watch more.  I'm glad we did, because the discussions certainly got better.  I'm not sure if it is because the participants were more comfortable with each other, if they were more comfortable with the camera, or if they talked more about things before they started filming.  Whatever the reason, the discussions were far better as we went further.

I asked the kids if they wanted me to purchase the DVD Set.  Connor feels that he doesn't really need it, though it is now interesting to watch.  He thought that William would get more out of the course if we had the DVD, and they both felt that the DVD made it so that it was easier for Thomas to be involved a bit too.

Our logic plans?  We will continue on to the next book in the series, The Argument Builder.  And we will start Discovery of Deduction over again.  I think with both of the older boys able to participate, this will work well.

Art of Argument is available as a set for $88.95, or you can purchase individual components separately.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about Classical Academic Press and their logic programs, click the banner here:

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: Gabby's Stick-to-it Day

A few months back, Trina received the book Gabby, God's Little Angel by Sheila Walsh.  She adored it.  I reviewed it on Amazon, and there I confessed that "while I get a little nervous with stories relating to angels, this really was a sweet, fun story and is not something I have any hang-ups about."

The illustrations were phenomenal, and the story was enjoyable.  So when the opportunity came up to review another Gabby book, I had to go for it.  Gabby's Stick-to-It Day: A Story About Never Giving Up was even better than the first one.

I was delighted when the book showed up a couple days before Trina's sixth birthday.  I should have been getting photos -- when she opened the package containing this book she squealed, hugged it, and sort of danced around the room.  She was just a bit excited about this present.

From the Publisher:
Gabby is a little guardian angel with a big job to do! Watching over Sophie is hard work, but Gabby knows that God wants her to stick to it.

Gabby, God’s Little Angel, flies to the rescue as Sophie attempts to help others but has a little trouble sticking with things. Sophie tries to be helpful by washing the family dog for her mom, but she gives up when she’s the one who ends up all wet. She then tries to be kind by reading to her little brother, but he has plans of his own, which include a splash of cereal right in Sophie’s face! When Sophie is ready to quit once again, it’s up to Gabby to encourage her to keep trying and to teach her what the Bible says about perseverance: “We must not become tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NCV)
What I love about this book is that Sheila Walsh takes a pretty common kid experience (quitting something when it gets too hard) and she gives me language I can use when Trina is having trouble 'sticking to it' in her life too.  And not just Trina, either, as a couple of her big brothers manage to slip into the room to listen to the story too.  It is a little too "girly" looking for them to readily admit that they are interested in the story, but I think at ages 4-6, they would have done great with it directly.

I'd love to see a book that features one of the other little angels, like Raoul, with his earthly charge.  Something that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

This isn't a book that would be easy for an early reader, as it has fairly complex vocabulary.  It does, however, make a delightful story for reading aloud.

We will watch for more Gabby stories.

Gabby's back ... and she's brought a Kindle Fire Giveaway with her!

Meet Gabby for yourself here. || Read what people are saying here.

Enter today - Sheila and her publisher, Thomas Nelson, have put together a prize package worth over $200!

One lucky winner will receive:
  • A brand new KINDLE Fire with Wi-Fi
  • Gabby, God’s Little Angel 
  • Gabby's Stick-to-It-Day
But wait! There’s more …

The winner will be announced on the Gabby Landing page on 4/2/12. In the meantime, enter to win the Kindle Fire then head over to the Tommy Nelson site and download the Gabby coloring sheets, watch Sheila's Gabby video, sign up for news about upcoming Gabby and Thomas Nelson products, and much more.

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: Eyes of Justice

Have you ever sat at the DMV and wished that they wouldn't call your number so soon?


I would have laughed at that absurd idea a week ago.  But there I was, reading Eyes of Justice by Lis Wiehl, and wishing that they could just take a bit longer so I wouldn't have to stop reading.

This book is A Triple Threat Novel.  Actually, it is the fourth in a series.  I had no idea it was part of a series or else I may not have asked to review it.  However, this book does stand alone, as it wasn't until I had finished the book that I even realized there were others.

From the publisher:
The Triple Threat Club has solved intense murder mysteries before…but this time it’s personal.
Cassidy, Allison, and Nicole fight for justice every day—Cassidy as a crime reporter, Nicole as an FBI agent, and Allison as a federal prosecutor. Together they’re a Triple Threat to be reckoned with.
But when a ruthless murderer kills one of their number—and the authorities seem intent on keeping them out of the investigation of the crime—their desire for justice goes into overdrive. They find an unexpected ally in a quirky private investigator named Ophelia whose methods confound the wise.
Yet just when it seems police have the killer in custody and justice is within sight, he somehow strikes again. Not knowing whom to trust, the team engage in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the killer. Nothing can be taken at face value…and nothing will ever be the same.
A riveting Triple Threat mystery that will leave readers shocked and satisfied.
If it wasn't obvious from what I said at the top of this post, I loved the book.  The characters seemed real, and there were just so many fabulous little touches too.  This isn't a spoiler, but later in the book a character is introduced who really doesn't have much at all to do with the story.  She's in Arizona, I believe, and she bought something on eBay that turns out to be a critical piece of evidence.  I loved the realism in the scene.

As soon as I figured out this book was part of a series, I put the first one on hold at the library.  I worry a bit that I may have ruined some of the earlier books by reading this later one, but I'm sure I will enjoy the first three as much as I enjoyed this.

Oh, and I only was able to read four chapters at the DMV.  They did call my number, and the next 72 hours were jam-packed.  I picked Eyes of Justice back up on Sunday and read the rest of the book in one sitting.

Fabulous book.  If you like crime drama, or stories about women friends, I would recommend checking into this series.

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

World of Science

A while back, I reviewed a fabulous book called World of Animals.  I really thought I'd be posting my review of World of Science within a couple days.  Oh, that just did not happen.

I had thought about combining those two reviews into one, because there were so many things these books have in common.  So I'm going to just lift some of my previous words and only slightly edit them:
During my kids' preschool through early elementary years, we used a lot of Usborne and DK books in our science studies especially.  One thing that sometimes made me a little crazy was the constant beating over our heads with evolution and millions of years.  We used these books, however, because of the amazing photographs/illustrations and the basically good information about the various critters topics.  And there really weren't any good options.
Until now.
World of Science has probably become my favorite science resource.

Which means I'm putting this book review up for the TOS Homeschool Blog Cruise, as this week's topic is:  What’s your favorite Science resource?

You can click the button to the left to go see what science resources my Crewmates love (the post will go up on Tuesday!)

Let me give you the blurb from the publisher:
The World of Science explores God’s creation all around us, from the furthest star in the Universe to the smallest atom under our feet. Through six accessible sections, children will gain an understanding of the importance of science in our ever-changing world. This book brings a fresh and engaging approach to all aspects of the subject, while a final section of practical activities and experiments makes the application of science fun and enjoyable.
  • Over 800 illustrations and photographs
  • Includes over 60 science experiments
  • Ideal for home reference and school project work
Now why, of all the hundreds of science resources I own did I choose this as my favorite?

If I had to limit myself to one single resource for roughly PreK-8th grade science, I think I could make this 250 page book do it.  Paired with World of Animals, I know I could cover pre-high school science.  Not that this is a stand-alone curriculum.  But I could use this as a spine, and then go looking for biographies of various scientists or books about some of the individual concepts.

This title covers so much:
  • Matter and Chemicals (basic chemistry)
  • Energy, Motion and Machines (basic physics)
  • Electricity and Magnetism (more physics)
  • Light and Sound (even more physics)
  • Earth and Life (basic earth science with a bit of biology)
  • Space and Time (astronomy, physics)
  • Science experiments (which covers biology, chemistry, physics and earth science)
What I love about this book is that while it doesn't beat us over the heads with talk about billions of years, it also doesn't include a lot of religious talk.  I can't begin to tell you how much I like that.  It seems like almost everything is on one extreme or another... God isn't involved, or there is a Bible verse in every paragraph.  I find myself editing on the fly with both approaches.

This book is different.  While the introduction talks about God's created universe, and while I never doubt the point of view that God created everything, there also isn't minute discussion about God creating gravity, for example.

The other thing I love is that the book is simply packed with information.  Beautiful photos, illustrations, diagrams, and descriptive text.  You can download a sample here.  Or check out my not-so-fabulous photos.

Great diagrams of how things work
I love that this book addresses issues that many Christian publications tend to avoid.
The experiment pages define terms, list out supplies needed, and give clear photos of the process.

This book is practically perfect.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: When Work and Family Collide

I've had the chance to read When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley.  This is a short book, 133 pages plus the discussion guide, and very easy to read.  But I found myself pausing after each chapter or two to digest the examples and the point Stanley was making.

Here's what the publisher had to say about this book:
Is Your Occupation Also Your Preoccupation?

Let’s face it.  With all the demands of the workplace and all the details of a family it’s only a matter of time before one bumps into the other.  And many of us end up cheating our families when the commitments of both collide.  In this practical book, Andy Stanley will help you...

• establish priorities and boundaries to protect what you value most.
• learn the difference between saying your family is your priority and actually making them your priority.
• discover tested strategies for easing tensions at home and at work.

Watch as this powerful book transforms your life from time-crunching craziness to life-changing success.

Includes a four-week discussion guide

Previously released as Choosing to Cheat
One thing I dearly loved about this book was that Stanley's examples covered a wide variety of "work" situations:  men, women, professionals, the self-employed, pastors, stay-at-home moms, and people with time-consuming hobbies.  It was convicting.  This applies to ME, not just workaholics employed outside of the home. 

A big message boiled down to integrity, that second bullet point in the publisher's description.  Is my family my priority in reality?  Or am I expecting them to judge me based on my intentions?  Don't we all do that?  I expect other people to judge me by my thoughts and motives and intentions.  I judge others by what they actually do.

That was the point I had to stop and think a fair amount, because Stanley uses such vivid examples and word pictures to convey the points he is making.  Points about expecting our families to step in and pick up the slack, or about a lack of communication about what really matters when it comes to actually showing them that they are important.

Obviously, Stanley isn't advocating that we stop doing our jobs and stop providing for our families.  But "cheating" at work doesn't mean that we don't do a good job.  It means that need to be intentional about our decisions regarding when to go above and beyond at work, and when to say no.

This is a book I really think everyone ought to read.  It is practical.  It acknowledges that the choices are not always easy or clear-cut.

Below you can read an excerpt.  But really... go get the book.

When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley (Chapter 1 Excerpt)

I believe this so strongly that I am going to give one away.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

C is for Curriculum Fair

I'm doing my best to not get this done this week!  Participating in a meme to blog through the alphabet, even when I already have the perfect timely topic, hasn't proved to be as easy as I hoped.

I was planning to do an entry for each of my kids, which would start this week with "C is for Connor."  But then during "C Week" I was able to attend a Curriculum Fair.  And since I want to blog about it, well, it just seemed natural.

So C is for Curriculum Fair.

Every spring and summer, I end up totally jealous of all the people who live out east where there are so many options for homeschool conferences, conventions, and other such things.  State homeschool groups that put on an event worth attending, not to mention the "for-profit" groups putting on massive conferences.

It isn't fair.  My state homeschool group, well... this isn't a vent post.  Suffice it to say that I simply cannot support them financially.  And they don't have a "homeschool convention" anymore regardless.  It is something dorky like a "Family Vision Conference." 

But I did have the chance this year to get to the Spring Curriculum Fair put on by Home Instruction Ministries.  It was lovely.

I drove up yesterday morning, went in, and wandered through the vendor area, which was larger than I had expected.  A lot of it was local stuff that doesn't pertain to me.  But there were bigger vendors there as well.  On Friday, I spent time at the Sonlight booth, so now I can say that Karla Cook of Ramblin' Roads is now more than just a virtual friend.  I also spent money at the Institute for Excellence in Writing booth (the only place I spent money yesterday thankyouverymuch) where I purchased the Speech Boot Camp (all three big boys will be using that this summer) and Elegant Essay (which Connor will be using, probably in August).  I talked with Brenda at Artistic Pursuits, and although I didn't end up purchasing the high school program, I think we will be doing that for next January.

And I attended a workshop on Homeschooling high school.  It was excellent.  There was discussion on organizing records, and a bit on figuring out what classes to have the kids take, how to count credits, and some basic transcript advice.  One thing I've never picked up anywhere else was the fact that some schools really want to see Algebra I specifically on the transcript.  If you have a child like one of mine who would end up with way too many math credits if you start counting them with Algebra I, their recommendation was to list it as a course taken in 8th grade (or, <ahem> 6th/7th in Connor's case) and give 0 credit. 

I can do that.

What was the most fun, probably, was hearing the questions that some of the other moms (I think it was all moms yesterday) were asking.  With such a small conference, there were only around 15 of us in the session.  Easy to ask questions that way.  I also talked a bit with a couple of the moms after the session ended.  It was a bit weird to be seen as "experienced" though.  I don't feel experienced, which would be why I was in the workshop.

I spent the night at a hotel in Fort Collins, which was lovely and peaceful.  I was going to go out to eat, but I ended up ordering in a pizza from Beaujo's instead.  I haven't had Beaujo's Pizza in forever.

This morning, I headed back to the curriculum fair and checked out the used book sale.  I picked up some Math U See manipulatives (yay!) and back at the vendor hall, I finally had the chance to sit down and talk to the Math U See rep.  Thanks to three different amazing friends, I own (or have borrowed) a bunch of Math U See, and I am finally coming to grips with the fact that this program is perfect for William, and probably exactly what I need for some of the others. 

A couple other vendors I learned about:
  • A PE curriculum vendor, Faithful Workouts.  They have a workout DVD, but also an actual PE curriculum which focuses on faith, fitness and fuel.  
  • Abiding Truth Ministries carries some really interesting looking Bible study materials.  Including a book on Biblical Archaeology.  Stuff like that always catches my attention.
I attended two workshops today.

The first was put on by a couple people from the Loveland Barnes & Noble, and it was about using e-readers in your homeschool.  That was fun.  We had the chance to play a bit with the various Nooks, and, ummm, I want a Nook Tablet.  Especially when they told me that it can do webpages that use Flash.  And when they mentioned being able to put in a card that would let you turn in into an android-like device.

The second workshop was about homeschooling your dyslexic child.  She mostly talked about things I knew already, but it was still great to sit in there.  I wish I had attended a session like this three or four years ago.

We received a hand-out about the signs of dyslexia.  We talked about a few of them specifically.  We talked about common myths (seeing things backwards, the idea that dyslexia is uncommon, etc.)  We talked about research into dyslexia.  One thing I did NOT know is that "they" have identified the dyslexia gene... and she was saying that it is a dominant gene.  That, I confess, confuses me.

The speaker has a profoundly dyslexic brother and a severely dyslexic daughter, but she isn't dyslexic.  So, if there is a dominant gene, I understand that she wouldn't have it but her brother would.  But then how did her daughter get it?  And yes, that question is personal... I suspect my brothers are/were at least mildly dyslexic.  I don't think I am.  But clearly I have one child severely dyslexic, and at least two who are at least mildly dyslexic.

Anyway, the session talked about Orton-Gillingham methods and how research backs that being incredibly effective.  Which (as I feared) got me back into feeling guilty that I'm not actually DOING a true O-G program with William right now.  <sigh>

The greatest part of the session, though, was just being in a room, hearing some of the comments about dyslexia's challenges, struggles and blessings, and looking around and seeing all these other parents (there were dads there today!) nodding in agreement.

I didn't know how badly I needed to remember I'm not alone.  I mean, I know that there are so many other parents out there.  But it has been a long time since I've really felt that they are.

Check out the other posts at Ben and Me this week, where you can learn that C is for chocolate, cursive, calluses, and much much more...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review and Giveaway: The Woodcarver

We've been having a bit of a media fast for the month of March, which has been amazing.

But the deal was we would still take the time to watch any DVDs that I had the opportunity to review.  We also still watch a couple of things for school, but really, the television has stayed mostly off.

It's been a great March so far.  And it makes it so that we all pay a bit more attention when we do turn the thing on.

Watching The Woodcarver was a solid reason for breaking this media fast.

About the Movie:
Matthew Stevenson is a troubled kid from a broken home. When he vandalizes the local church to get back at his parents, Matthew has to repair the damage to the church to avoid criminal charges. While working at the church, he meets Ernest (John Ratzenberger), an accomplished wood carver who created the intricate woodwork decoration that Matthew destroyed. Ernest has become something of a hermit, but reluctantly comes out of reclusion to help repair the church. Now Ernest and Matthew must work together to preserve the church's beautiful antiquity, and along the way, they also manage to restore their faith in God and in life.
We really enjoyed the movie.  John Ratzenberger is always great, and he was believable as a widowed woodcarver.  The interaction between Ernest and Matthew was great, and for me it was a fabulous reminder of the importance of mentors and role models for my teen boys.  

The Woodcarver will be available on March 13... but you can win one here! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it  on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

B is for Boy Scouts

I'm doing my best to not get this done this week!  Participating in a meme to blog through the alphabet, even when I already have the perfect timely topic,  hasn't proved to be as easy as I hoped.

B didn't take long for me.  You see, on Saturday, Thomas became a Boy Scout.  That means I know am a mom of three Boy Scouts, plus a Cub Scout.  And on Monday, we all actually attended our Scout meetings for the first time in a long time.  And today, I was making arrangements for a merit badge get-together.  It's been a pretty heavy Boy Scout week.

Let me talk a bit about what each of my scouts is up to lately.  I wish I had been together enough to get photos of them in uniform, but maybe I'll add those in later.  I'm going to start with my newest Boy Scout, work my way up, and then talk about the Cub Scout too.

Thomas has been a Boy Scout, well, officially since Monday, as that is when the paperwork was turned in.  He is my first one to earn all the ranks in Cub Scouting (Connor started at Webelos, William at Wolf) and he is currently rank-less.  I'm sure he'll be earning the first rank -- Scout -- fairly soon.  The Scout rank isn't really something that makes me excited about all the great stuff the boys are learning.

But that is just a "joining" rank, with Tenderfoot being a much bigger deal.  For Tenderfoot, Thomas will be learning some things about staying safe, exercising for a month, learning some simple first aid, etc.  He also has to camp, and help prepare a meal on that campout. 

Almost everything he has to do is great preparation for just acting like a responsible young man.  I love that.  What is really fun is that I look at the requirements (like helping to cook a meal) and I know he can do it.  When Connor was working on Tenderfoot, I had to get him into the kitchen for a few days before that first camping trip and teach him how to crack an egg.  I have come a long way.

William is a First Class Scout.  He pretty much just needs to do some merit badge work to advance to Star, plus stuff like a Scoutmaster conference and a board of review.  I think he is working on Environmental Science (all kinds of fun experiments!) and Camping, and then he ought to be able to advance.

Other stuff he had to do included service projects, and being active in leadership.  Service projects have been amazing.  He's participated in so many great ones.  He's spent a couple of weekends doing trail maintenance,  he has collected personal care items for a battered women's shelter, he has done all kinds of landscaping, and built picnic tables... and that is just the scout-specific ones.  I love the variety of service projects that my boys have been able to do.

Connor is my Life Scout, and he is kinda sorta working towards Eagle.  His current push is to finish up the Eagle-required merit badges.  He has four to go, and he has done at least something towards them all.
  • Personal Management -- he needs to do some things to plan out a schedule and to-do lists (that seems to be a huge struggle), and he also has to do things like learn about loans and credit cards and common stock.  This is a great merit badge. 
  • Personal Fitness -- in addition to learning about Fitness, they (all three Boy Scouts will be working on this one together) need to do some fitness tests, design and carry out a 12-week fitness program, and do more fitness tests.  That "carry out" part seems to be the hang-up on this merit badge.
  • Hiking -- if Connor does go on one of the summer events for the older scouts this summer, he'll be hiking 50 miles... over the course of a few days.  This will cap off this merit badge.  Altogether, he has to do five 10-mile hikes and a 20-mile one.  I think the 50 miler is going to cover two of the 10-milers and the 20-miler.  Which means I won't have to do the 20 mile one.  I love that.
  • Citizenship in the Community -- this requires doing some research about a community service organization in our area and putting together a presentation about our community too, and a few other things.  This is the badge that seems to intimidate him most.

My Cub Scout, Richard, is currently a Wolf.  He has not earned his Wolf badge yet, since we've been gone so much.  I have to confess, the Wolf year is just not my favorite.  There just seem to be a lot of requirements that don't fit into our regular life.  We'll get there, I know it.  But this is the one year of Cub Scouts that seems to take the most planning on my part.  There are some great activities in there though, like working with tools and learning about the flag.  I am very much looking forward to him becoming a Bear though.  That is my favorite year.

Obviously, Scouting is something that is pretty important in my family.  I've blogged before about how amazing I think Scouts has been for my boys. 

To see what other people thought about when blogging about B, go check the most recent Blogging through the Alphabet post... books (I thought about that), boys (definitely considered that too), blogging (duh, that would have been fun), broken, and (not) broken...

What a fun week!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blog Cruise: Yes, we test

Blog Cruise time again.  I really want to be participating in these, but somehow it always sneaks past me.  Yes, I've said that before and I'm saying it again... You can read what I have to say... and come back tomorrow to see what other TOS Homeschool Crew members wrote by clicking on the button...

The question:  Do you administer standardized testing in your homeschool? Why or why not?

I think I'm going to be the oddball here, as it seems most homeschoolers are fairly anti-standardized testing.

A good friend posted a statement on her blog cruise post Testing is (ridiculous? valuable? worthless? important?) for Homeschoolers... something about asking 10 different homeschoolers about standardized testing and you'll get 15 opinions.  She nailed that one.  Hey, I might actually be able to hold 15 opinions on this topic all by myself.
  • On the one hand, at least with older kids, I do see the value in learning to take standardized tests.  This isn't a skill that is solely a part of group education.  Many jobs have tests of some sort (the CPA exam, to name one I had to take; or the various tests my husband had to do to get his Commercial Driver's License).  Many jobs also include some sort of testing, especially now when training doesn't have to take place in a central location.  Training sessions can be recorded, made available via download or a website... and the company wants some means of checking to be sure you actually watched it.  A basic test pretty much covers that.  I've had to do tests to verify that I have watched the training sessions for Boy Scouts too.  
  • On the other hand, I resent being required to send test results in to meet state requirements (there are other options in Colorado, but that isn't the topic of this post!)  The schools aren't doing such a fabulous job themselves, and I react to the idea of them having any sort of oversight.
  • But then, doing the standardized tests does give me some useful information.  Not much, mind you.  But some.  It was a big red flag for me that my oldest really was having an issue with spelling.  I knew it on some level, but the standardized test turned that vague feeling into certainty.
  • Fortunately, I live in a state that doesn't require testing until 3rd grade.  I think standardized tests for reasonably normal K-2 students are absolutely worthless.  (Now, doing testing for extremely gifted younger kids, that I think has some value.)
  • Reality is that most colleges are going to require something like an SAT or ACT, and these standardized tests are a low-stake way to get used to the testing process.
  • But it irks me that I can't submit those SAT or ACT scores instead of one of the other tests.  Why can't I actually get test results that help me (and my child)?
  • And, of course, there are all the issues of "teaching to the test" which is something I don't do. 

The bottom line for me and my family, though, is that standardized tests are one way of meeting our state requirements, and it is the option we choose. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: K5 Learning

In the past few weeks, we have had the chance to work with K5 Learning, an online program that includes math, reading and spelling for kids in kindergarten to fifth grade.  I had all four of my younger children (K-7th grade, but the 7th grader is below grade level in reading) take the assessment tests and had high hopes for this program being a great few-week thing for my family.

The results were a bit mixed.  First, I was very confused by the assessment tests and how those were used to place the kids.  I should have taken better notes on that, but I know the reading test was having all four kids identify vocabulary words such as 'misuse' and 'archaeologist' -- which they all got right (vocabulary is so NOT an issue I'm concerned about for any of my children).  But after correctly answering all the vocabulary questions (I watched the assessments, and helped them with things like figuring out they needed to double click for the answer to be recorded), Richard was presented with vocabulary lessons featuring words like nap, melt, climb and seed.  Seriously?  Why did the assessment only have multisyllabic, advanced vocabulary, but then he is forced to "learn" what a rag is?

Apparently, since I called him a 2nd grader, the furthest the assessment would place him was early 3rd grade.  Then why test him on concepts like finding the length of a side of a congruent triangle?  I don't understand that, I confess.

As a parent, you do get a cute little report about how your child did:

Once we got into the lessons, I was a bit more impressed, aside from the fact that I couldn't exempt him from doing the silly vocabulary lessons, that is.  Logging in, he is greeted by a screen that lets him choose where to go:

He almost always chooses to go to the Math Facts section.  But I want to start this review with some of the actual lessons.  This morning, in the reading lesson, he was working on sight words.  Sight words are defined by K5 as words that appear frequently in the English language and should therefore be worked with so that the child can easily read them by sight.  As long as I thought about them as high-frequency words (I define sight words as ones that cannot be read using phonics rules the child has learned thus far), these exercises made a lot of sense to me.  First, the student is introduced to the words (screen shot is after Richard found the word 'door' in the sentence):

And after a set of words has been introduced, they get to play a game where they are rapidly identifying the words.  I love that concept.  The only problem we had with that was that if he was doing the work on my Mac, he would have to double-click everything, which he found very frustrating when he was supposed to be working quickly.  It also meant that he would occasionally get a wrong answer because the word would have moved between the first and second click.  The solution is easy -- unless I am trying to get screen shots to write a review, I just make him do K5 on the PC.

At the end of each little section, a screen appears to give him the chance to quit or move on:

One little quibble I have is that there is nothing to indicate whether or not he has completed an entire lesson (which would mean moving on to something entirely different) or if he will be moving on to do further work in the lesson he has been working on.  Thomas was frustrated by this.  He kept expecting the program to actually tell him he had completed the entire lesson.

As the parent, I can log on to view reports to find out what he has been up to.  Near as I can tell, however, I can't find anything to detail what he is doing in segments where he hasn't actually completed the entire lesson.  Not a big deal if I am sitting right there watching what he is doing, but as I don't tend to do that, it is good to know.  It keeps me from getting after him for not completing anything!

As you can see here, there is nothing telling me about the sections he did today, just the lesson he had completed previously.

While I am on the parent screen, I can also do a few other things.  I can use that to do a one-click log in as any of my kids.  I can check to get a rough idea as to what topics are covered when.  I can assign additional lessons which supplement what K5 is already assigning.  I can print worksheets for the child to use offline.

My kids' favorite part of the program is the math facts area.  They go in, answer 10 math questions at a time.  Richard has been working on addition.  Here is Richard's screen as he is finishes up a post-test:

And this handy-dandy chart shows how he is doing:

And the main screen of this section shows his specific progress:

You can see from this report that the program did not make him drill the sections he already had mastered (as measured by the pre-test), and clearly his scores improved dramatically.

Overall, what did we think?  I think the lessons are fairly solid for a child who is progressing at a reasonably even pace.  I wish I had a bit more ability to control what lessons my child will have to do, particularly in areas like vocabulary.  My kids frequently have to define words they use everyday to adults they encounter... so, as one of them told me,  "It is a colossal waste of time to expend energy on 'learning' definitions of words such as 'lost.'  I abhor this, Mom."  (Do you think he was trying to make a point?)

Even with that, this is something I would consider.  It is nice to have something the kids can do with no (or virtually no) interaction from me, and many of the lessons do have educational value.  What stops me is the price.  At $25 per month for the first child and $15 per month for additional children (annual subscriptions are available too), this is more than we can spend right now.  Which is too bad.  I wouldn't mind being able to continue it.

Should you consider it?  Well, there are multiple sample lessons available at each grade level.   I'd urge you to check out other reviews by clicking the Crew banner below (most of my Crew Mates seemed to really enjoy this program) and try it yourself with a free 2-week trial, and it does not require a credit card.


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive an extended free trial of K5 for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.