Learning Through the Stars: A Review

Like most people, my children are enamored with the zillions of stars they see in the sky at night. We literally cheered when we were notified that we would have the opportunity to review the Book of Astronomy Set by Memoria Press. We could hardly wait for the package to arrive and while we waited, we began watching the night sky and talking about the stars in wonder of what we were going to learn.

We received two books, The Book of Astronomy: Constellations and the Solar System Student Book and the Teacher Guide and without any hesitation we dove right into the books when we got them. I usually take the time to really look things over prior to starting any lessons with the kids, but patience was nowhere to be found.

The books are divided into four units. The first three provide a thorough introduction of the constellations, the reasons for the various star groupings and names, magnitudes, and the zodiacs.. The fourth unit covers the solar system and outlines each of the planets, the moons and comets. Lastly, the appendix includes definitions of terms associated with constellations and solar systems, as well as a pronunciation guide. We found the pronunciation guide to be particularly helpful as there are many terms that are simply undecipherable.

We started in the beginning and completed the initial lessons in Unit 1: Constellations, Motions of the Earth, Names of the stars, and Star Magnitudes. We then decided to start in Unit 3 with the Spring constellations. We felt it made sense to study the stars that are present in the sky at this time of the year. Although this review was primarily for Bookworm Beauty (10), Sweetness and The Boy were right alongside of us the whole time. The kids particularly enjoyed learning the names of the only two major constellations that they were already familiar with: Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (commonly thought of as the Little Dipper).

workThere is very little laid out as far as lesson planning or verbiage for instruction. This was a bit different for us at first, but we ended up really appreciating it as it gave us the ability to work through things the way we desired to. After reading about the particular constellation being studied and the mythological story behind it, the students have the opportunity to basically connect the dots (stars) that are in the Student Book. They also write a brief summary, in their own words, of the mythological story and identify the magnitudes of the stars included.

Memoria Press also offers the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. This book is a great addition to the Book of Astronomy Set. We did not have the book during our review period but have sense purchased a copy and will be using it as we move forward through the curriculum.

As a side note, we are preparing to begin working on the solar system in the science program we are using for the school year. We are really excited that The Book of Astronomy: Constellations and the Solar System includes a fantastic overview and multiple worksheets to coincide with those studies.

I would definitely recommend this product. It is a great opportunity to teach the names of many of the constellations and to have an introduction to the stories behind the naming of them, However, it is also a great segway into teaching our children how to use the stars for mapping and as a guide. They may never have the opportunity (or need) to use the stars as a guide but they will be learning about many people in years past that did complete expeditions solely led by the night sky.

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Learning Life Skills Through Poetic Prose: a Review

The most entertaining  product we have been able to review up to this point is by far Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization by Institute for Excellence in Writing. I can safely say that up until this point in our homeschooling endeavor, nothing can match this product for the joy and laughter it has brought forth… and it was educational too!

To be honest, my first reaction towards this product (before looking into it) was not one of interest. I looked at a couple of the poems that were part of the product and did not want to dedicate time towards having the children commit silly nonsensical poems to memory. I have to admit, that was an ignorant assumption.

The  Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization package is a mere $65 and includes a 200-page spiral-bound teacher’s manual, 6 CD’s well protected in a high-quality leather CD case, and FREE downloads. Student eBooks are included in the FREE downloads as well as 7 audio MP3 files. Student books can be ordered for $19 if someone feels the need but having them FREE electronically allows every child in your homeschool to have their own workbook – or even an additional one at a later time! Institute for Excellence in Writing has made this product so affordable that budget should not keep most families from being able to add a high-quality poetry program to their school.

What turned this product from one of little interest… to an okay I’ll check it out… to a WOW! I am so thankful to have this program… is what was so eloquently stated in the 15-page introduction. I strongly encourage anyone utilizing Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization to take the time to read the introduction section. To summarize, this program is focused on providing tools for developing effective communication which requires a vast vocabulary database of sophisticated language patterns. Unfortunately, in our culture today, the largest sources of linguistic input comes from various media sources. We simply can not rely on those sources to be the primary educators of language! To go further, memorization develops the brain neurologically in ways that no other element of education can.

Although memorization of any kind promotes neuronal connections, poetry is the best content for children to memorize. First of all, poetry is fun and children have a much greater desire to complete work that is fun. It is also easier to learn. However, the most important reason for memorizing poetry is because it provides a vast pool of vocabulary and grammatical patterns that develops fluency.

I can not say for certain that in our mere weeks of committing poetry to memory that my children have increased their vocabulary. However, I can say that I have witnessed first hand that they are far more aware of prose and fluency and they are also more likely to engage in conversation with a bit more flair.

There are five levels, each including 20 pieces to be memorized. The levels are progressively harder. Level one begins with simple and short poems. The program culminates with level five that includes famous speeches such as Socrates’ Apology by Plato, Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty and Mother Teresa’s Anyway.

For the most part, we followed the program as outlined, tailoring it a bit to suit our schedule. We have a an hour drive into town that we do on a weekly basis. This has become our primary time of engaging in the learning of new poetry. Typically we learn 3-5 poems during our drive, using the CD. We then review them daily, along with previously learned poetry, as set forth in the program.

I was amazed at how quickly the children learned these poems! Sweetness and Bookworm Beauty followed the program as outlined and recited each poem until committed to memory. The Boy (5), however did not want to recite a single one. Since I was usually driving while learning the poetry I just decided that I was not going to force him to complete this work at that time. Days later, while completing our daily review, The Boy announced that he wanted to try. We were on the ninth poem at the time and he recited all of them almost flawlessly!

Being that the children were able to memorize the poems quickly, I asked them to really spend time focusing on the delivery of them. I told them to think of it like learning a new song. Songs are not only about lyrics but about the presentation of the lyrics. To just state the lyrics in a general fashion removes every element of the song itself. With the poetry, the focus is on the linguistic dance that takes place and the delivery of the poetic prose.

I truly believe that as we progress through this program, the children will have great confidence in being able to communicate effectively. Such confidence will enable them to try out for plays, give presentations, interview well and even articulate their thoughts and opinions. This is not about poetry, this is about life skills.

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Art Days

We decided to do some things differently in our homeschool when we were given the opportunity to review Sculpture Technique Model by ARTistic Pursuits Inc. We were so excited about this product that we simply could not keep it a secret… which means my closest homeschooling friends (and anyone else that would listen) heard all about the program that we were waiting for!

By the time the text book arrived, we had managed to accrue a gathering of our closest homeschooling friends and made arrangements to make Wednesdays our Art Days. Combined we have 16 kids, but only had 9 (ages 5-15) participating in our art classes. Our typical schedule includes meeting together for lunch, completing one of the art lessons in the Sculpture Technique Model text, complete the associated art project and then follow it up with enjoying some time together. It is certainly no surprise why Wednesdays have become our all-time favorite day of the week, not just because of getting to spend great time together in fellowship, but mostly because we are all loving the art curriculum!

the lesson
the lesson

Sculpture Technique Model covers three areas of study that lend themselves to three-dimensional design: sculpture, ceramics and fiber using putty, clay and wool. Although it is geared primarily for students in upper elementary through high school, four of our students are 5-8 years old and were fully able to grasp the concepts and create their own projects. We typically broke the groups up into two, allowing the older children to help the younger children and then allowing the older children to complete their own. Although the older children helped the younger, it was not because they were incapable of completing the projects themselves but because the projects we completed were a bit messy and having two extra hands to hold the sculptures made life a little bit easier.

sculpture

As parents, we have been truly amazed with the creativity of our children. The first three art lessons call for a product that none of us (with the exception of the contractor husband of one of the ladies) were even familiar with, Durham’s Rock Hard Putty. I believe that the children had a unique eagerness about the project simply because it was unlike anything they had ever done before!

sculptors showing off their masterpieces
sculptors showing off their masterpieces
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sculpture expressing movement

Sculpture Technique Model offers a total of 12 unique lessons, introducing students to the fundamentals of sculpture and teaching mass, scale and surface concepts. Although you can certainly complete activities in any order it is recommended that you stick with one medium and work through the projects associated with it. This builds a student’s experience level with the medium and also allows him to gain confidence in using it. For example, the first week that we used the Durham’s Rock Hard Putty, we found the product a bit difficult to work with. It was messier than we expected and it dried too quickly. Although the students were a bit frustrated, it was still fun and their sculptures were nothing short of creative. However, we learned from that experience and the following weeks went quite a bit smoother. After completing all three lessons using the putty, the students have expressed a desire to do the first lesson again. Confidence furthers creativity for sure!

Although I was given the Sculpture Technique Model text for the purposes of this review, we also had the Sculpture Technique Construct text which introduces form, planes, motion, and volume through projects including: papermaking, papier-mâché, cardboard and wire. We completed two of the projects from this text as well in our Art Days.sculpture2

In summary, our Art Days have been a lot of creative fun! One of the greatest benefits of this program is that the purpose of these texts have extended beyond creativity and projects. I have been able to witness an overall understanding of artistic terms that are typically not learned until later grades. While driving through the Colorado plains (where we live) with the mountain range in view, The Boy (5) had an aha moment… he piped up with, “Mom! All of the land around us is a plane and the mountains are a form.” These are the moments as a homeschooling mother that I cherish, knowing that my children are able to take what they have learned and apply it to other areas of their life… and the best part is that they had fun learning those terms!

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Music Appreciation: Review

We have been enjoying the many sounds of spring that have surrounded us this year. As always, we have been enjoying the sounds of nature during springtime: but the real enjoyment has been with every aspect of our review of Zeezok Publishing LLC‘s Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades. 

This was a particularly exciting review for us to receive. Our extended family is filled with musical talent! We have exceptional concert-level pianists, a conductor, vocalists and many who can easily play multiple instruments. Having this talent surround us raised the bar on our expectations for this curriculum. With that said, there is no need to wait for the end of the review to find that I am beyond pleased to report that Zeezok Publishing exceeded those expectations!

The Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades provide a thorough music appreciation study with an introduction to music theory, meeting the national academic requirements for music appreciation for k-6th grades. Seven classical composers from 1685-1828 are covered, including: Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Beethoven, Paganini, Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Handel and Franz Schubert. This is a complete curriculum that includes an individual biography book on each composer outlining their key life events and providing sample music pieces; five music discs for students to listen to the music pieces included in the books; a CD with all of the components necessary to complete a lapbook on each composer; and a beautiful full-color Music Appreciation  student activity book filled with facts, map activities, character qualities, and more. Each of these curriculum components are necessary to receive full benefit of the program.

The entire collection retails for $207.62 and is discounted on Zeezok Publishing LLC‘s website for $169.99. Additional student activity books can also be purchased separately for $29.99 each.

Included within the student activity book is a four-week weekly lesson outline for each composer offering a total of 28 weeks of music appreciation instruction and activities. Although the text presents the composers in chronological order, it appears as though a student could easily review the composers in any order that they desired.

For this review, we studied Sebastian Bach. We read the biography aloud together and listened to the music pieces that were presented throughout it. Our music appreciation time became a highlight during our days and it was a wonderful experience to see my children soak up the information about Bach and to share with others what they had learned.

Although the curriculum outlined the lessons for a four-week study, we took much longer and extended our studies over several weeks. The program provides a wonderful foundational study, that inspired us wanting to dig deeper and deeper. We found ourselves searching through our CD collection for more music composed by Bach and spent hours over the weeks listening to different pieces. Bookworm Beauty, who is a beginner pianist, seemed to practice much more on the keyboard than she has in months past, trying to successfully master one of the pieces provided in the biography, a Minuet.

Zeezok Publishing LLC is currently working on a second book that will cover seven additional composers; Chopin, Schuman, Wagner, Foster, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and MacDowell. This book is geared for grades 5-8 and is expected to be completed next spring. It will also include additional activities available via an app.

Our three children, 5, 7 and 10 have each developed a new taste for classical music! We are anxious to begin studying our next composer, Handel. We are equally excited about the second book that will be available next year and fully anticipate adding it to our homeschool library.

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We Love Science

Bottom line, we love science! In our family, we marvel at the wonder of God’s creation all of the time. It is not a rare moment to hear one of the children exclaim, “WOW! Look at the sky God painted for us tonight!” We seek to appreciate all of the life around us in the plants, the animals, the sky, and even each other.

We have had some incredible moments of life appreciation these last several months. It all started with the surprise bunny litter. We have truly enjoyed watching the bunnies grow over the last several weeks. Although fun, nothing can top the witnessing of the chicken life cycle!

Stormy, our beautiful silver cochin began getting really broody a few month ago. I did my best to keep her out of the nesting boxes, trying to break her broodiness. Then I decided to just let her go for it, we have a rooster after all… She began collecting eggs, letting her clutch build up. We marked the eggs with dates on them so that we would be able to monitor them.

After 10 days we began to candle them. We’d take half of her clutch to the closet and carefully shine a bright flashlight onto the egg so that we could see what’s happening inside. It was amazing to be able to see the intricate blood network inside the egg and the small mass that we assumed was the chicken fetus.

Another 10 days later we were prepping to witness the first signs of hatching eggs. On day 21, I went outside to check on the eggs and when I moved Stormy aside from her nest, there was an adorable freshly hatched chick! The kids came running and we all oohed and ahhed at the sight.

There was another egg with the same date and I thought, in my ignorance that it will surely hatch any minute. So I carefully picked it up and took it indoors and placed it on a heating pad so that we could witness the hatching. Shortly after, we noticed a pip (first crack)  in the shell and could hear chirping from inside the egg! It was amazing to hear and we were so excited! Less exciting was learning that it could still be another 18 or more hours before it hatched. We all went to bed and I kept the heating pad next to my bedside so I could monitor it throughout the night. The next morning the noises were gone. Deciding to let nature take care of itself, I put the egg back under Stormy. At the end of the day, there was no chick. Not the next day either. Realizing that the chick was dead, I decided to peel back the shell. Sure enough, there was no life… but it was a beautiful sight to see how the chick is delicately curled up to fit inside of the shell. I’m certain that my handling the egg and trying to maintain the heat with the inconsistent heating pad killed the chick. Lesson learned.

Three more chicks hatched over the following days. It’s a pleasure to go check on Stormy and see a little head pop up through her feathers or to see  her scratching the ground a few feet away and the little chicks mimicking her every move. Buying day old chicks are fun, but nothing tops this experience!

A few eggs in Stormy’s clutch came late and we didn’t mark them with dates. We had no real way of knowing what to expect without candling them again. I took them into the closet and checked each one. We found that two were not fertilized at all and could clearly see liquid rolling through the egg. We knew better than to attempt anything with those eggs as I understand the smell will knock us over if one broke. Those were placed aside to get buried outside. One other looked strange inside. There was more than one mass inside but there was also the “red line of death” across the inside which indicates that the chick had died. The others all had clear signs of life and were going to be returned to Stormy.

When I stood up to leave the closet, the questionable one rolled off of my lap and fell to the floor! It had broken completely open and there were two fetus’s! Both were deceased but what a fascinating sight! One was less developed than the other, which commonly happens with twin eggs. The other was twice it’s size and slightly feathered.

We would not have intentionally sacrificed a chick at different developmental stages just to see what they look like at that stage but as a result of our circumstances, we were able to see them first hand. It was truly fascinating to be able to look them over and witness the different life stages.

We are enjoying the opportunity to celebrate life on our little farm. What a privilege for our children to have the ability to see God’s handiwork up close.