Homeschool On Purpose

January 21, 2017

Look What the Cat Drug in!

I once heard a story told by my brother in law about a time that a fish fell out of the sky. Literally… fell out of the sky. We chuckled as he shared about how they thanked the Lord for the “manna” and cooked it up for dinner. God is the master provider and while it can be surmised that a bird lost its grip on the fish overhead they still give thanks to the Lord for His provision for dinner that night!

Late Monday night, we were unloading the groceries into the house when we noticed an odd shaped clump of dirt in the middle of the living room floor. We have animals… lots of animals… and I was hesitant to inspect the little pile for fear of what it just might consist of. Holding my breath (in case it was odorous) I cautiously inspected it. I even had to get a bit closer.

Woah! No way! It took a minute to fully register but lo and behold, that was not a clump of dirt but of an owl pellet! I had to withhold my laughter as I exclaimed “look what the cat drug in!”

After a thorough explanation of the humor in being able to give a literal meaning to the expression, I shared the pellet with the children.

The Boy, whom is currently obsessed with owls, was delighted at the realization that an owl pellet being found somewhere nearby indicates that there are owls in our midst.

I carefully wrapped the owl pellet in some tissue and put it away for an opportune time. The time came today when our dear friends came over for an astronomy-turned biology-lesson. Remembering the pellet we gathered all of the children around the kitchen island for a closer inspection. There was a few “ewws” but mostly the kids were simply fascinated!

I was fortunate to have some activity sheets saved for such an occasion that my mother in law used when she taught elementary school. One of these worksheets is a bone identification sheet. Set up with the sheet handy, we proceeded to dissect the pellet.

It’s always a pleasure to watch the personalities unfold before you when faced with unique things… such as non-digested owl vomit.

Bookworm Beauty was a little hesitant and quite expressionate as she pretended to hold back her own vomit, while Sweetness dug right in and dismantled the pellet, peeling back the dirt and fur to unveil the tiny little bones.

We sorted the bones the best we could and came to the conclusion that this pellet housed the remains of a bird.

Life on the prairie provides us with ample opportunity to learn about the world about us. We have been blessed with the ability to study many things and biology has become one of our favorite subjects simple for the opportunity to dissect and closely study nature.

While your cat may never drag in an owl pellet for you to dissect with your children, you can still enjoy a similar experience. There is a company out of Washington where owl pellets can be ordered, along with several educational resources and even a classroom owl pellet kit. I have a feeling we will be ordering pellets and enjoying this activity once again in the near future. Let me know if you anticipate the same… I’d love to hear what you discover in your pellet!

January 12, 2017

I Just Gotta…

It happens to me all of the time. I get a random thought and will talk myself out of doing it. I then ignore the same recurring thought (that’s no longer random) until I find myself doing it.

It never seems to be something simple either… like bake cookies. Nope. Never. If it has to do with baking, it is a desire to bake a homemade angel food cake or try my hand at macaroons.

I got the inkling last year to separate the girls’ bunk beds and make them into two separate loft beds – a task that took almost 9 months to fully complete – but it’s complete.

Bookworm Beauty’s loft bed

Sweetness’s loft bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got the inkling when I wanted to start a lasagna style garden. Yep, built that too.

For the record, not everything I decide to do starts with a random thought… there are many things that I am more purposeful about – like homeschooling – which we take pretty seriously.

My new random thought will however have an impact on our homeschooling and I just can’t shake it. Seriously, I gotta have this.

Are you ready???

I

just

gotta

have

this!

Wait for it…

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http://www.infarrantlycreative.net/large-craft-table/

I just gotta build this table. I can already feel the space. I have already mentally organized  and set up the shelves with the kids’ school items. I almost have to walk around it when I walk through the room because I can see it in there!

I will keep you posted… I have a feeling this one will come to fruition a bit quicker than the loft beds did…

December 28, 2016

In the Spirit of Giving During the Holidays

I had no idea how blessed I was when Handsome entered my life. He brought out the best in me from the moment I met him. He loved and accepted my four daughters – 2 teens, 1 preteen and a toddler; he made sure broken things were fixed in my home (like when he replaced my dryer while we were still dating); he even got down on his knee and serenaded my mother at her work! What was not to love about this man!?

Over the years, more goodness has been revealed. I simply love his heart and how he desires to serve others and be a great provider. Good men are not made by some cosmic happenstance, rather they are built… by good parents… and good parents do not raise just one great child but all are usually pretty great kids. That is definitely true for my in-law family. I am thankful and tremendously blessed with a wonderful mother in law. My father in law is pretty special too but Mom really fills that mother in law void that I had. My two sisters and brother in law are also spectacular people that have accepted me from the very beginning nine years ago.

One of the greatest treasures about this family is their love of people and their desire to reach out and bless others. Although they have done this in many ways, one of my favorites is their Christmas giving spirit! That first Christmas I had with them while Handsome and I were engaged, they invited my girls to participate in their 3rd Annual Christmas Dinner Theater. They had all of their kids, 9 under the age of 9 at the time, put on a simple Christmas production in the living room while serving a spaghetti dinner to friends and family that attended. They took up a donation and blessed a local family in need with the proceeds.

It was simple. It was precious. It taught the children to do something to give to others.

The following year we realized that we had outgrown the humble living room and would need a larger area to serve and perform for the regular attendees so we used Mom’s church. Our numbers grew as a result and we continued to perform an annual Christmas Dinner Theater for seven more years. Every year we chose a different recipient of our proceeds and our humble performances allowed us to bless others with several thousand dollars over those years.

Two years ago, three of the four siblings moved away, each in different directions. We suddenly found the Christmas Dinner Theater a larger feat to accomplish. 2015 we held our 10th Annual and final event. It was magnificent. The attendees shared their sadness over our finality as they had watched the children literally grow up on the stage over the years.

This year, knowing that we would not be hosting the Christmas Dinner Theater, we needed to find another way to give back to others. It was not the performing that brought so much joy to us all (although it was a joy to perform) it was the ability to give to others.

We decided to find another way.

We all met at Mom’s/Grandma’s on Sunday night so that the kiddos (which are not so little anymore) could bake sugar cookies. The following morning we took those cookies and the supplies needed to decorate them to the local nursing home. We gathered together and sang a beautiful lineup of Christmas carols and the kids gathered around the residents and helped them decorate their cookies.

It’s another chapter for us as a family to continue to find ways to bless others during the Christmas season. Although it blesses others, we are the ones left with the greatest blessing. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this family and their desire to teach their children that Christmas is not about ourselves… its about the gift of Jesus… His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection as the greatest gift to us all. Our giving to others could not even begin to compare to His gift but it is a way to share His love for others through us.

How do you give to others during this season? We need ideas of other things we can do for the years to come.

December 28, 2016

Hardworking Kids

https://img.clipartfest.com/0c2d4ca175d2d427edb5a53556a1d6f3_education-family-chore-clipart-family-doing-household-chores-clipart_2000-2000.pngI have heard many debates over the years about kids doing chores. Should they be given chores? Should they not be given chores? Should they be paid? Should they be chores or just expectations?

Having raised kids for almost a quarter century, I have had strong opinions on this very subject and I have not swayed much over the years. I think there should be definite expectations for kids around the house – that are not chores. I think kids should have chores. I also think they should get some sort of compensation based on their age, the chore and the household finances.

I am not one to think that my way is the best way, it is just what works for us.

First off, I believe kids need expectations. When should that start? At about a year. A year!? Yes, a year. If a child is old enough to take a toy or book off of a shelf or out of a basket, then that child is old enough to put it away. If a child can undress herself, then she is old enough to put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. My children had a lot of small expectations when they were very young. I taught them to pull their blankets up to “make the bed” in the morning and after naps. I expected them to bring their dirty dishes to the sink or counter once they were walking. They put their dirty clothes in the hamper and helped me put their clean clothes away. They are capable of many things at that age and still so eager to help.

Once they were a little older, around 2, I began to give them jobs. They could bring the bathroom garbage to the kitchen and dump it into the kitchen garbage can (with minimal help). They were able to feed the dog. They could even change the toilet paper roll.

As they grew, their chores grew. It was not until around age 5 that I actually gave the kids any sort of weekly chore expectations. At first they were simple chores and as they grew they began to take on bigger chores. Any time a new chore was given, it often felt that it was harder for me to give them the chore than it was to just do it myself. I realized that there was a definite learning curve with all of the individual jobs and it was important to endure the 1-2 weeks of teaching and monitoring the job being done before expecting it to be done right. There were many times that I just wanted to do the job myself or have one of the older kids do it, but it was always worth it to hang in there and let the next child learn the task.

When the children were fairly young, I did not give any financial compensation for their hard work. Sometimes I’d give them a candy or even just a high five. At times I would take a minute when we passed by a Dollar Store and talk to the child about how well she has been helping out at home and let her pick out a toy. But I did not actually give money for chores until around 5 years old. This was my magic age and partly because school had started by then and it gave me an opportunity to teach the children how to count coins.

To be fair, there have been many times over the years that our finances were pretty humble. We simply did not have the ability to give the kids several dollars per week for their chores. This was particularly the case when we had three teenage daughters and three kids under the age of 5 at the same time. Because things were so tight, we did not pay the kids for their chores, instead we allowed them the opportunity to earn money for going above and beyond. This made it possible for them to do additional jobs to earn money to go to the movies or something with their friends.

http://www.kars4kids.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/shutterstock_177925643.jpgRegardless of what we were doing at any point in time, I have often found that it all hinges on me. I am the one that needs to decide who is expected to what and then police the expectations. And this is my downfall… I have had almost 25 years of having children and I have had many different ways of managing chores. Some have been effective. Some have been ineffective. Some have been way too confusing. Once again, I am rethinking the chore charts… I think this is the third time this year. What better time to start a new chart than the new year?

I am on the way to creating another chart. This will be a hybrid of our favorite chart to date that I created a few months ago. The only significant change is that I am going to a monthly system instead of weekly. I believe it will make my job policing the chores a little easier.

While on the search for monthly chore chart ideas I came upon this fantastic website – https://www.chorecharts.net –   with several free chore chart templates as well as chore bucks. I’m kind of excited because I have not really thought about doing chore bucks before… hmmmm… now the wheels are really turning.

December 11, 2016

Cash Christmas on a Budget

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or so we sing… yet many people approach Christmas with nothing but stress. I know, I have been there.

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From stressed Christmas…

Everywhere I go I hear people talk about how Christmas does not need to be all about presents and spending money but let’s face the facts… most of us do at least some of that. And more often than not, people would like to be able to do even more than their budget allows. For years, December rolled around and my bank account had nothing more than enough money for a tank of gas. We always made the most of it… making gifts… finding creative ways to spend time together. Those were humble Christmas’s and although filled with wonderful memories, I was always sad that I could not do more.

… to stress-free Christmas!

Then along came Handsome… who swept me and my four daughters off of our feet!

Marrying a wonderful man did not automatically bring better Christmas’s… we still had a tight budget… but he had a plan. I just have to take this opportunity to publicly praise Handsome and  thank him for literally making my Christmas’s stress free so that I can better focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

I am hoping that by sharing this, there just may be someone else that will experience less stressful Christmas’s for years to come.

His plan is simple… yet makes a tremendous difference and enables us to approach Christmas without going into debt. There is always the opportunity to set up a separate savings account, but when times are difficult through the year it is easy to make those funds accessible. Instead, Handsome pays a little bit extra each month on all of our bills throughout the year so that  when December rolls around, there is nothing due. He basically takes all of our on-going basic monthly bills… cell phone, internet, utilities, insurance… and divides their average annual costs by 11 and then begins paying that amount each month.

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Giving to others makes Christmas even better!

It is simple. It is only a little bit more each month but it adds up. It is always fun beginning in March to see the amount due is less than the usage for the month and then watching that grow. When December arrives, there is nothing due… and less bills for the month=less stress!

There does not appear to be a way to apply this plan to revolving accounts or loans such as our car and house payments, so those bills still roll in for the month, but all of the other bills add up quite a bit.

We are able to plan our Christmas to not only bless our children with some gifts under the tree, but also be able to do some special things for families in need around us. Doing something for others is what makes our Christmas even more blessed.

Thank you Handsome!

 

December 11, 2016

The 2016 Great Road Field Trip – Day 1

We had the great idea of having all of the girls sleep over at Melissa’s to make our departure time of 5 a.m. a true possibility. We made sure that the girls were all bathed because we really did not know how long it could be before they got a real bath again. As they settled in and actually fell asleep, Melissa and I were busy assembling breakfast burritos and packing the coolers… at 10 pm!

It was after midnight before we were done in the kitchen and began to seriously assess the plethora of back packs, pillows and sleeping bags, amongst the other necessary items to be packed. Wow… time to go to work… after midnight.

We organized as we loaded the van. Everyone had their own backpack under their seat as well as their pillow in preparation for the hopeful hours of quiet nap times. Our snack box – which literally looked like the honor system vending boxes you see in commercial offices- was purposefully placed up front where it could receive adult monitoring.

and the journey begins…

We were so wound up from the packing and loading, that we seriously considered just leaving when we were loaded… at 3 a.m. I had to convince Melissa that it would be best to get at least 3 hours of sleep before our journey which meant we would be leaving later than planned. Breathe… it’s ok to start this journey off-schedule… this is a vacation field trip…

Bright and early, the girls were cheerfully climbing into the van and settling in. We made our way down to Debra’s place to pick up her and Katrina. Ohhh myyy, there are more bags… I had to laugh at the thought of forgetting that we needed to deliver some left behind belongings to her college son… at the end of the trip! We found room. We settled in. We began pulling out of the driveway. Then we quickly had to turn around… we needed pencils… we are going on a homeschooling field trip and we forgot pencils…?

It is always funny to me that kids are eager to dive into their “to-do” bag immediately upon starting a road trip. All five of the girls were busily working on their Pioneer Field Trip education packets before we were even off of the dirt road.

The sun was rising as our journey finally began. This is going to be fun…. or at least a test of friendships… six days… five girls (7-11)… one infant… three women. We can do this… we can do this.

Our schedule for the day was to leave early enough to drive almost across Kansas and then head north into Beatrice, Nebraska to arrive at the National Homestead Monument. 483 miles… just under 8 hours. We would be there by 3 pm and be able to spend an hour or so at the monument, then head to Grand Island and set up camp late in the evening. This was our longest scheduled day with the most miles planned. We can do it… just focus... the rest of the trip will be a breeze.

Kansas welcomes us!

The breeze came. Shortly after crossing into Kansas, our beautiful sunny sky turned into a wall of darkness. Traveling speeds slowed a bit as the wipers sped up. Toes began tapping as the minutes seemed to pass by like seconds on a wall clock.

Debra was at the wheel during the heavy rainfall when suddenly a large work truck veered right into our lane as if our large 12-passenger van didn’t exist. We were immediately praising the Lord for her quick reflexes as she carefully swerved out of the way. It is unsettling to be faced with the reality of how quickly and easily our lives could be altered. The driver, completely unaware that he put anyone’s life in danger, swerved back into his own lane and continued his texting. Little did we know at the time that this was only the first example of God’s hand during our trip.

With senses heightened, I made the call to the KOA campground that was prepaid to inform them that we would not be making it there tonight as we have spent hours in dusk-like darkness as we traveled through Kansas. Thoughts of the whole Midwest being under a blanket of rain were put to ease as she informed me of the beautiful clear skies there just outside of Grand Island, Nebraska.

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Welcome to Nebraska- the good life!

We debated on a plan B as the miles slowly passed. It was evident that we could make it to the Homestead National Monument before they closed but we would have mere minutes for our visit. This simply was not going to be acceptable as the whole trip was centered on our first stop. We would need to search for a place to stay but unfortunately – we were still in Kansas – and neither of us seemed to have decent cell coverage while we were traveling. If only I could click my heels… there’s no place like home…

We stopped at a McD’s for a bathroom break and free wi-fi and made the decision to attempt a hotel room… hoping we could sneak the kids in…?

Plan B fell into place better than expected. Within a couple of hours we were in Beatrice and quickly settling into a nice-sized hotel room (we didn’t have to sneak the kids in as the clerk felt sorry for the three ladies with all of those girls in tow). We were happily enjoying dinner when we began to pay attention to the eeriness of the hotel that we were staying at. As the sun descended into the horizon the hotel guests residents began to come out… literally. Grills and beer coolers were being rolled out of rooms and the outdoor party began. We began sensing several eerie eyes watching our moves… counting the girls… uhmmmm, I think it’s time we come inside… and pray.

Us mommas exchanged the knowingly-yet unsaid-looks as the happy-go-lucky girls settled in for the night. I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of Children of the Corn flow through my mind. I know… I know… but I’m from Nebraska, I can say that…

As the morning came and the party ceased we loaded up and made our five mile journey to the monument. We eagerly greeted the day with absolutely no clue of what obstacles we may face… and you’ll have to wait for the next posts to hear all about the hand of God and His protection on our trip…

 

November 09, 2016

The 2016 Great Field Trip: Pioneer Style

Staci Photo

Just one of the many Laura Ingalls Wilder books she has enjoyed

Over this last year, Bookworm Beauty discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder. She devoured everything she could get her hands on that centered around Laura. Her mild obsession eventually morphed into a love and appreciation of studying the life and times of the westward expansion.

We tiptoed through our already planned History Studies while she relentlessly pursued studying this particular time period of American History. I relented. I went along with it. And it became contagious.

Then it happened.

I began sharing with Bookworm Beauty (and Sweetness who showed a bit of interest) my experiences of growing up in Nebraska. I shared the field trips to Stuhr Museum, Pioneer Village and The Pony Express. Her eyes widened, if she were a puppy I’d say that she began to drool. It was settled… we were taking a road trip.

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The Westward Expansion

The details swirled in my head as I tried to figure out the logistics. Is this a family trip? What is our route? How long do we plan for? What time of the year?

I began talking it through with a couple of homeschooling girlfriends  (dropping subtle hints along the way) that just maybe this could be a girl’s trip? They took the bait… hook… line… and sinker… Neither of us had any idea of what was in store for us.

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Now… to convince the men…

Surprisingly, when I brought up my ideas with Handsome, there was no push back. None of anything I expected. You see, he is an awesome Dad and he does not enjoy missing a single thing that we do. I was more than surprised that he did not want to participate in this activity (maybe he was celebrating the closure of the Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession…?)

Handsome was incredibly supportive and offered suggestions of places to add to our itinerary. Conferring with the other ladies, I found that they were given the same support.

Then came the planning.

We settled on a 6 day trip. Our plan was to leave Colorado heading East through Kansas, then North up to Beatrice to our first stop at the Homestead National Monument. We would then head to Grand Island, set up camp and make arrangements to visit my ailing mother. The following day would be our biggest day of play; we would head to the State Fair and see Chris Tomlin in concert! On the third day, we planned to visit Stuhr Museum and have a leisurely evening at the campgrounds. Day four would be a really long day. We would need to break down camp early and then be on the road to Kearney to visit the Platte River Rd Archway Monument – which by the way has a fantastic annual rate of $25 for homeschooling families – SCORE! After the Archway we would continue West towards Jailhouse Rock, Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock and then finally head to Guernsey, Wyoming where we would need to set up camp – very late. Our last day would be spent touring a cool fort area in Guernsey, where wagon ruts were still visible.

This was going to be a phenomenal trip! There are 12 children still at home between our 3 families. The decision was made to only take the older girls and an infant. We were making this trek with 3 women, 5 girls ages 7-11, and the baby. We would be prepared to load up a 12 passenger van and hit the road early one morning.

I have the ability of being very detailed and structured. It is not in my nature, normally. But if I have a budget and a task, I’ll work it to death and figure out a way. I am very resourceful and enjoy finding a way to make things fit. Combine those skills with my girlfriends and together we had mad menu making skills. We literally planned each and every meal, snack and drink.

We prepacked accordingly, cleverly deciding that we simply could not do this trip without coffee and did not want to rely on the gas station every morning to meet that need. With that in mind, I pre-made 2 gallons of coffee with creamer and refrigerated them. Keep in mind, it was the end of August – a time when iced coffee is still a refreshing treat. Of course, we could always heat up a cup on the camp stove for the diehard hot coffee drinkers (me).

We precooked the taco salad meat, sausage and bacon (yes, must take bacon) and we pre-cut our veggies that would be a part of our initial meals. We knew that veggies were not going to keep for several days so the first meals were heavy on fresh foods; while the later meals relied on sandwiches, canned chili and similar items.

We did not want to take anything unnecessary, not even ice. I know, that sounds funny… certainly we would need ice. We simply did not want to take anything that would not be used and the idea of dumping out loads of water from the coolers daily (and dealing with wet items) was not appealing. Ice blocks were also out of the question as they would take up useful space and we would not have a way to refreeze them. We decided to fill 8 1-gallon jugs with our 9.5pH alkaline ionized water and froze them ahead of time. These served as our ice blocks and as they would thaw, they would be some of our drinking water – refreshingly cold drinking water! We would also pack an additional 7 gallons of drinking water but it would not be pre-frozen or even cold.

The plans were written in stone. There would be no turning back.

November 09, 2016

Educational Details

It never comes as a surprise to me how valuable the overall details in life are. Our recent review of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning by The Critical Thinking Co.™ is no exception to this fact.

The Boy, our lively 6 and a half-year-old first-grader, struggles with math. He does not struggle with math the way most people envision from that statement but rather he struggles with being able to tell you how he simply just knows the answer to the mathematical equations surrounding him (and oftentimes his older sisters). He sees 242 + 312 and says “556” without blinking an eye. However, when we start working through the problem itself and talk about the place value and such, he is literally a deer in the headlights then shakes his head and says, “I don’t get that and it’s 556.” There is much work to be done with teaching fundamentals and details to kids that seem to just get it naturally.

The mathematical example I gave is simply an example. We deal with the same sort of detail issues with Bookworm Beauty and Language Arts. Again, it really is not much of a surprise… her name is Bookworm Beauty for a reason… and typically avid readers appear to be ahead in the language game. It has been apparent that language comes to her the way math comes to The Boy. As we have worked through her language arts lessons, she typically sails through the lessons, and oftentimes looks up as if to say, “Really??? This is a waste of my time…” Ahhhh, but when we dig a bit deeper we find things are just not quite as they seem. Yes, she understands language and appears to grasp excellent concepts… but she can not always explain the why. Language is rhythmic and oftentimes is nearly poetic. Someone with the gift of language can hear the nuances of such and things just make sense…. they read with inflection and they write with ease… just don’t ask them to identify a prepositional phrase!

When we sat down and completed the first lesson of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning (which is designed for 3-12th graders – and beyond), I wondered if the program was really going to be a necessity to us or would it simply be another supplement to soak up some time. The first lesson focused on the how and why of diagramming sentences and then took students through identifying simple subjects and main verbs. This was easy, to say the least. However, as we moved through the lessons, things got a bit tougher. We have not finished the program, which ends on compound predicate adjectives and nouns, but we will. We got stuck on adverbial prepositional phrases and seemed to spend more time than anticipated there. I have to admit, I had some nightmare flashbacks on the same topics from my school years.

I have found that having the diagramming structure that Sentence Diagramming: Beginning offers gives us a really good framework to work with. Although Bookworm Beauty has done well in sentence writing before, now she has a greater understanding of the structure of sentences and her writing continues to improve overall.

We will definitely be finishing this 68-page workbook and then I plan on purchasing an additional one to use with Sweetness for next year. I am thrilled that they are a mere $12 for a high-quality consumable workbook with easy tear-out pages. This may seem a side note, but I really like the tear out pages because it keeps my children focused on the lesson at hand instead of getting distracted by the upcoming lessons (am I the only one that experiences this?) I will also be looking forward to additional levels of Sentence Diagramming to further challenge Bookworm Beauty. I have not found anything to indicate additional levels or release dates but the nature of the title Sentence Diagramming: Beginning indicates that it is just the beginning. (smile).

Now for the really good stuff… when I visited the website of The Critical Thinking Co.™ I discovered that they are truly an incredible resource! They offer several products to support education from PreK to beyond 12th grade in multiple subjects including: Critical Thinking, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Test Prep, Tests and Technology. Products are available in various formats including book format, eBooks, downloadable software as well as apps. They even have full curriculum programs are available for grades PreK-6th.

I am a happy Momma. You see, I love language and I am happy to see my children learn the details of language, not just how to use it.

 

November 03, 2016

Native American Studies: A Review

 

We have been really enjoying our American History studies this year. I am not sure if it is just a celebration of finally finishing our state studies or that we have truly been getting into the overall history of America. Either way, we have been winding ourselves through20161028_141311 America the Beautiful Part 1, which is a fantastic study of America from 1000 through 1877. Either I do not remember my childhood history studies or we simply did not cover these time periods as thoroughly.

Regardless, the timing is impeccable – which it always seems to be – as we were literally turning the last page on our studies of early Native Americans and about to begin our studies on European settlers when we were selected to review Many Nations a 4-week micro study on Native American nations by Homeschool Legacy.

We have happily set our History book up on a shelf and have been delving deeper into our Native American studies with this micro study. My first thought was how easy it was to access… it came as a PDF attachment through in an email… can it get any easier? I printed it out (I know, digital studies are designed to reduce paper). It took me right around 30 minutes to peruse the study to find out what would be expected of me, and the kiddos, over the next couple of weeks. Although this is designed to be a 4 week micro study, I really wanted to finish it in its entirety before writing my review and because I had taken a break from our normal American History studies, of which we had a schedule for.20161028_164933

At first glance I felt that the study was too simplified. It seemed exceptionally short. It is listed as a Once-A-Week 4 week Micro-Study, so I should not have had such high expectations on its content. Although it was short, we still got a lot out of it. I honestly do not know if we would have found the study as rich had we not been previously studying the same era. It may stand on its own just fine and we 20161102_194943would still have found value, especially at a mere $12.

Homeschool Legacy has so many wonderful unit studies to choose from. These are great for anyone wanting a nice change of pace, a history unit study or just a supplement to what they are already using. After looking through their store, we found a few that we may enjoy as another supplement to our History studies. Early Settlers in America would fit right along with our upcoming units. What I’m really looking forward to though is the Constitution Quest Game. We love board games and what better way is there to reinforce learning about the United States Constitution?

My favorite moment during our review of Many Nations took place on the day that the kids found their tomahawks that they made during the first lesson. Unfortunately, the Make a Tomahawk link in the guide was a dead link, but it inspired us to find another kid friendly instructable on YouTube. The kids had made their tomahawks out of paper and they were surprisingly sturdy. We had been enjoying some of the most amazing Indian summer weather and when the kids finished their school lessons for the day they ran outside to play. I had decided to peak into their play after hearing the screen door close for a fourth time and I found them using the swing set frame for building their Indian longhouses, each carrying their tomahawk. They hunted. They battled. They even took an intruder captive (Daddy). Later they buried their hatchet – a sign of their peace treaty. 

This made me smile.

The kids have learned about Indian life and learning is what matters.

 

October 27, 2016

Digital Interactive Foreign Language Courses: A Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages

This year has been difficult for us to get into a solid rhythm as there have been life changing events for us over the last few months. Fortunately, Bookworm Beauty enjoys self-study and has been keeping herself on task; programs like High School Spanish II by Middlebury Interactive Languages keeps her foreign language studies easy for her as well.

Bookworm Beauty is an average sixth grader. She is fairly consistent at working at her grade level or a little above, with the exception of Spanish. She spent both 2nd and 3rd grade in a Spanish Language Immersion program and went from knowing little more than how to count to 10 in Spanish to being able to fumble herself through simple conversations. Fourth grade was our first year homeschooling and we joined a homeschooling co-op where the kids attended one day a week and offered a high school level Spanish class. She not only loved that class, she excelled and really enjoyed being surrounded by high schoolers.

At the end of her fourth grade year we moved to the prairie and her options for continuing Spanish became minimal. It has been an on-going priority for me to find a quality homeschooling Spanish curriculum that would challenge her to continue to improve her communication ability. Fortunately, as often seems to be the case, the opportunity found us with the Middlebury review.

We were both excited about this review. Before beginning, I contacted Middlebury directly to find out what level would best suit her. I did not tell them that I was selected to review the program, instead I acted like a regular customer researching the product before purchase. This is important to note because it allowed me the opportunity to see how their service is for their customers, not just for their reviewers.

I was thrilled to have a live person answer the phone and spend ample time listening to our specific and unique needs. The customer service representative asked multiple questions to ensure that he understood what I was looking for. He offered me advice regarding placement and then informed me that if we determined that it was not a proper fit for her, we could change her program within the first 30 days. I was really impressed. I felt heard. I felt supported. I had peace of mind. This was an important detail because we have a homeschooling budget and I oftentimes find it difficult to make decisions on a program.

Middlebury Interactive Languages offers courses in German, Spanish, Chinese and French. All languages have classes from Kindergarten through High School (with the exception of German, there is not a K-2 program at this time). They also offer AP High School courses in both French and Spanish. These online digital classes offer 12 months of access to complete the program and range from $119 per semester without teacher support to $538 for 2 semesters with teacher support (depending upon the grade).

menu-screenshotOnce a student has logged in, they enter their online class portal. From the dashboard the student can navigate easily to their Gradebook, Calendar, Notifications and Table of Contents.

The Table of Contents has proven most helpful for Bookworm Beauty as it allows her to easily find where she has left off.

She has found the course both a good fit yet still challenging. Her biggest challenge is the workload and pace of a high school course. She is not on target to complete the semester in it’s normal time frame but still plans to complete it.

The course provides a nicely interactive format. There seems to be a nice balance between both reading and listening to the lessons. There are assignments for each lesson that include things such as multiple choice, written work, and speaking phrases (a microphone is required on the computer).

I am pleased that the system keeps the grades in a nice and easy to view format. You can view the gradebook as a quick progress report type summary, show scores by each unit or show grades for each individual assignments.grade-report

gradebook-without-work

work-showing-gradebook

The grading options are a nice feature for me. Honestly, I know very little Spanish and I can not imagine trying to grade her work or figure out if she is pronouncing things correctly or not. This program takes care of all of those details for me. I only have one thing to worry about and that is ensuring that she logs in and does her lesson for the day. If I want to check in on her work, I simply log in to the gradebook and look over her work. At this time, Bookworm Beauty has a 79% in her Spanish class. I think that is pretty good for an 11 year old sixth grader in a High School level class.

I am absolutely pleased with Middlebury Interactive Languages. I do not know what the future holds for us but I do know that I would like for Bookworm Beauty to complete the full course within our allotted time. I will then consider having her complete the High School Spanish II Fluency and then possibly the High School Spanish III class. I am not sure about AP Spanish Language and Culture, at least not before High School. However, I have two other students to think about. I guess I should be considering the Elementary Spanish I course.