Monday, April 14, 2014

Considering Homeschooling?

After over a decade in the game, I've had a lot of questions from families considering homeschooling. I thought I'd share that advice online for anyone else thinking about taking that leap. Of course, if you already read my blog, chances are you are already homeschooling. Perhaps this will be something you can share with your friends who are contemplating homeschooling. I will take a few weeks and share an entry per week.

Part 1
This one is short and sweet, but it is the most important thing to think about.

My advice to anyone considering homeschooling is to pray and ask direction first. There are lots of great reasons to homeschool, but God knows the best plans for your family. It's not a decision you want to make based on reason, but on obedience. He'll give you peace with the right decision.

That's it. It's nearly impossible to keep your brain from saying, "Yeah, but!" so I'm going to keep from sharing anything else just yet. Truly, stop thinking about it and just pray about it.  Be quiet. Wait. Listen.

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 
'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
-Jeremiah 29:11

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Hey, Mom! I'll Start Dinner! - a review & giveaway

There are 2 Giveaways at the end of this post! Be sure to check them out!

The idea of kids helping in the kitchen has been in the news lately. It seems parents are wising up to the importance of teaching children to cook. The trend to protect our children against All The Things may finally coming back around to a balanced point of view. The idea of handing a six year old a knife might seem a bit scary, but looks as if the benefits far outweigh the risks. And in this age of busy families, it is a beautiful time for children to enjoy that sense of accomplishment and joy that comes from serving others. Another added benefit is the opportunity to gather around a table together, as a family, to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

My sons are teens and are excellent cooks. My daughters are 8 and 10 years old and I have had a hard time admitting to myself that they are growing up. They are the "babies" and I am realizing more and more that I am not giving them enough age-appropriate tasks. They seem much younger than my boys did at that age. Cooking is something they have wanted to do on their own, but I never quite trusted them with the kitchen all to themselves. Cherilyn Dahlsten provided me with a copy of her new book "Hey Mom, I'll start Dinner" and my girls have amazed me with their culinary talents.

This book is large, though not thick, and easy to read. It is full of colorful pictures and instructions. The book contains 40 recipes, and of those, 24 are gluten free. The recipes are divided between Beginner recipes and Intermediate recipes.

It might not have been the best plan, but I let my girls dive right into the intermediate section. Being new to independently cooking, they took forever and a day to complete preparations. Once they were finished, the wait was well worth it.

So far, they have made Ham and Split Pea Soup, Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwiches, Homemade Tomato Soup, and Meatloaf with Baked Potatoes.

I can't believe I had myself convinced they weren't ready to work solo. They did a fabulous job! The meals were all delicious (though the girls felt the split pea soup was just "okay".) The recipes also helped us realize now much my girls need to work on following instructions and paying attention. Following recipes make for excellent life lessons. They forgot to read all of the instructions once, which required starting over. They forgot to gather all of their ingredients once, which delayed their cooking quite a bit when it was discovered we didn't have all of the ingredients...halfway through the mixing. They do tend to dawdle and get distracted, but they also tend to get hungry, which is motivating them to try to focus better so they can eat sooner.

Meatloaf has long been my family's favorite meal. I had a great recipe that we all loved. This recipe replaced our old favorite. It took our girls an entire hour to work through the preparations that should have taken 10 minutes, but even though we ate a very late lunch that day, it was well worth the wait. We did change one thing. The recipe called for plain tomato sauce to be used as the sole topping, which....ewww. We mixed ketchup and brown sugar instead. Other than that, this is a 5 star recipe. All thumbs up!

After the meatloaf was finished, it made for excellent leftovers! The girls made meatloaf sandwiches for lunch today and they were as big a hit as the meatloaf itself.

This example from our book shows how the recipes are set up. Ingredients and Steps are for the child. Night Before notes are for the parents. There are also notes on how to adapt the Intermediate recipes for Beginners. Each recipe also includes full color pictures of the finished results and suggestions for easy side dishes the children can do on their own. There are also notes from the author's sons, sharing their thoughts and tips for each recipe.

You can check out a sample of the colorful cookbook before buying your own copy. You can also enter my giveaway for a free copy of your own! Here are 2 giveaways. The first is my giveaway for a free copy of this book. The second is a much bigger giveaway for lots of fun things. Feel free to join both!

Giveaway #1

Giveaway #2

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

SuperCharged Science - a review

Supercharged eScience Review
This past year, I've taught physics to my sons and a son's friend, using Supercharged Science. It's been fun, watching them get excited about science. It's also been fun watching them struggle with concepts and to see understanding dawn on their faces. I love my job. 
Coordinating class times with two different families and their schedules had us a bit behind and my subscription to the program was about to run out before we finished. Thankfully, just in time, I was offered the chance to review the e-Science Learning Program so we could finish our class for the year.
This program covers everything, but physics was the class that I especially wanted to focus on this year. This program is largely experiment-based, which is the only right way to learn physics. 
Supercharged eScience Review
There are several ways to use the program:

Student Led
Choose topic that sounds interesting and dive into learning. The experiments are fun and you can quickly get a student hooked on learning this way.
Grade Level
Topics have also been organized by grades, dividing them into the categories most commonly taught to each grade level. These overlap quite a bit with different grades, so this isn't a program you'd want to do 3 years in a row using this method.
Choose the topics that best fit the class you are wanting to teach. This is what we did for our Physics class. There are many physics themed units available and it fit an entire year just perfectly. Chemistry, Biology, Life Science, and Earth Science topics are also available, but you couldn't build an entire year on one of them, only a couple months at best. 
Supercharged Science has a conversion chart that lists many popular science curricula, matching up the book topics with experiments available on the website. If your science book of choice is not on the list, they offer to match up experiments with your book for you.
Supercharged eScience Review
What we loved
  • I loved that my younger girls could sit in and enjoy experiments with us. Different levels of questions are available so that all family members can participate. 
  • It is all hands-on learning. There is some reading and students are encouraged to keep good science journals, but the bulk of learning is done through experiments and follow-up questions about the experiments. There are a LOT of interesting experiments available and my boys gobbled them up.
  • The quick responses. The creators of this program are very quick to answer any questions you send through email.
What we didn't love
  • The repetition. I didn't notice it so much during our first few months, which I covered in my first review of this program. But Oh. My. repeats a LOT. Each topic begins with a small reading portion and a brief video as an introduction to the topic. From there you begin the actual lessons for the topic and they include nearly identical videos and reading material. From there, students begin experiments which also include reading material and a video. Even within the videos, they repeat themselves a LOT. I understand that it might be necessary for early elementary students to hear the repetition, but there was no way for us to just jump in as high school students without hearing everything a dozen times. 
  • The inconsistency. The worksheets and experiments don't always match up. The experiment video might tell students to use 1 foot of string, but when they pull out their data sheets, they are told to use 3 feet of string. We often skipped the experiment videos in order to avoid the mind-numbing repetition, but it was sometimes necessary and often did not match the hand-outs. 
Supercharged eScience ReviewAll in all, it is a fun homeschool science program. If you are using it for physics, you can get a full physics course out of it. Otherwise, it could only be supplemental for middle school and high school students. When I reviewed it the first time, I was looking at it with physics in mind. Now that we are finishing that class and I am considering what I will do with my subscription for the rest of the summer, I can not still say that it is worth every penny. $57 for a supplement, awesome as that supplement might be, is still a lot of money for a homeschooling family's budget. 
There are different pricing options available. I received the access to the program that is priced at $57 per month. If you'd like to try it before you buy it, you can try a Free Sample. Also, Supercharged Science is currently offering my readers a full month's access for only $1.

Here is a post I wrote about a day in the life of our physics class: Scientific Method.
And here is my first review of this program: Supercharged Science 2013.

For other reviews on this program, be sure to click the link below.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Victus Study Skills System - a review

I was lucky as a student. I was a visual learner who soaked in what I saw. I never had to study, and never had to take home school work. I scribbled out my papers during or before class. It was a rough day when I had to write a quick essay during lunch (after I ate, of course.) I wasn't a genius, and I knew that. I knew that most of my friends were smarter than me, but I knew how to do what was necessary to get an A and that's as far as I went. I had no study skills or real understanding of learning. My friends might have worked harder to get their A's, but they knew how to study and they really learned. I could see the difference. Some friends never achieved their A, but I knew they worked very hard for the grades they did earn.

For my sons, I was unable to pass on any knowledge about how to study. I never learned myself and they seem to have the same instinct for figuring out what is necessary without the motivation to do more than that. Because they are both now in high school, I knew it was time to work on this. Victus Study Skills System offered a great solution to our dilemna*. They sent us a student workbook and teacher's edition to help us figure out how to study.

Victus Study Skills ReviewThe program is geared toward 5th to 12 grade students and can be worked through independently if you use the DIY workbook, which costs only $5 more than the regular student workbook. Instead, we worked through it together, with my boys sharing the workbook and doing their work on paper for their college-prep notebooks. To work through it, we sat down together and read through the material, discussing the assignments in the workbook and the premise behind all of it. The entire program can be worked through in only one week, doing it one focused hour per day.

Victus teaches that there are 3 Foundational Cornerstones**:
  1. Where am I now?
  2. Where do I want to be?
  3. How do I get there?
It's basic, but it is very effective. I found myself applying it to my own life. Where am I in my financial planning process? Where am I as a homemaker? Where am I as a teacher? Wife? It's hard NOT to think about it like that now. Of course, there are so many areas that we want to improve, but it is not longer a matter of feeling overwhelmed at the things that we want to change, but a process of identifying what specific things need to change to get us where we want to be.
Victus Study Skills Review
Lesson 1 helps students gauge the reality of the answer to "Where am I now?" by examining their study habits with a checklist.

 Lesson 2 expands on that first cornerstone and helps them figure out their personal learning style. This one was very interesting for discussion, but not we never could determine Ethan's learning style. He rated equally on Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.

Lesson 3 Introduces goal setting, helping the student develop a vision for where they want to be. This begins with figuring out priorities. I really appreciate that the authors encourage students to remember that their faith is of primary importance on that list.

Part of Lesson 3 includes logging the areas where we spend our time, helping them see where their priorities are based on what they do rather than what they say. This was difficult for us because all of us tend to waste a lot of time doing five minute stretches of nonsense distractions. Perhaps if we logged it more carefully, minute by minute, it would have helped us more. Instead, we have 7 hours of education that we know probably included at least an hour of distracting entertainment.

 Lesson 3's goal setting begins with fall goals, the student workbook prompting them in different areas such as academic subjects, hobbies, health, relationships, etc.

Victus Study Skills ReviewAnd then we get to the third cornerstone: HOW do I get there? Victus Study Skills offers practical lessons to help students get where they want to be.

Lesson 4 teaches Time Management
Lesson 5 teaches Organization and Study Environment.
Lesson 6 teaches a method known as PQRST, which helps students to change how they think
Lesson 7 teaches Listening, with practical tips about how to do it rather than just urging them to do it.
Lesson 8 teaches Note Taking, and even introduces using shorthand.
Lesson 9 teaches Test Taking, integrating the skills they learned in previous lessons.
Lesson 10 reviews previous lessons

The books also include an extensive appendix, with many helps such as mnemonic devices, logs, flashcards, and more.

Our experience with it
Okay, I'll be honest: my boys groaned when I told them we were going to do this. But they quickly jumped in and continued conversations long past lesson time. It is an interesting study and it has them focusing on their favorite subject: themselves! It is fun to figure out how and why we do things! I am seeing them work more thoughtfully and I am confident that this is helping them develop skills they will take with them, not only for school, but for life.

The Teacher's Edition is $40 and the Student Workbook is $20. Sometimes it is possible to avoid buying one or the other with some programs, but I would not recommend it in this case. Both books are very important to working through this program successfully. It is possible to purchase a DIY workbook that would exclude the need for a teacher's guide, but would also have the teacher less involved in the process. It is a nice process to be able to share and learn together.

Check out Victus on Facebook.
Victus Study Skills Review
*as a side note, I have to say that I lost an hour of my life in the writing of this review, while researching why spell check would not recognize my spelling of dilemna. Apparently it is a world-wide mystery that no one can explain, but millions of people were taught the improper spelling of the word. The correct spelling does NOT contain a silent "n", but the proper spelling looks all kinds of wrong to me.

** we also lost an hour of our lesson time over the idea of 3 cornerstones. My sons insisted that buildings only have one cornerstone and that this book could therefore not be trusted. We studied free masonry and the dictionary and proceeded with the book. 
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Monday, April 7, 2014

World Travels #4

I'm much slower sharing these than I thought I would be. I'm also much slower in adapting back to regular life than I thought. Part of me has snapped to attention and my perspective on how I want to do things is changing. I'm excited to see what things look like around here, once the dust has settled.

In the meantime, I want to share more Paris photos. These are just a few of the Eiffel Tower pictures. It was a beautiful part of the backdrop during our visit. If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting it at sundown. There is a long line and you'll be there for an hour. But if you time it right, you'll approach it during the golden hour and have fabulous pictures as you walk. By the time you reach the top, it will be dark, the city lights will sparkle, and soon the Eiffel Tower itself will begin to twinkle.

Did you know it sparkles? I had no idea. It lights up at night and every hour, for around 10 minutes, it glitters. Beautiful and exhilarating.

The Eiffel tower in afternoon light, from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

An evening walk toward the tower.

My parents, who made this incredible trip possible.

It was a long line, but it was a beautiful line.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

52 in 52 for March

March was a challenge for us to fit in enough movies to reach our goal. As soon as I returned home from my  week-long trip, my oldest son left for a week-long band trip. On top of that, my husband has been working a lot of overtime and the idea of staying awake for a movie hasn't appealed all that much. Because of that, not all of these movies were actually enjoyed together at the same time, sadly, but we tried!

This one was a mistake for my younger viewers. They didn't seem to mind it, but I minded. Much too intense and dark for little girls. 

Nacho Libre
Boy, was I on a roll for picking inappropriate movies for children, or what?? That said, I am embarrassed to say that we laughed. A lot.

Mirror, Mirror

The scene I've shared here is actually a special clip that runs after the credits. The movie is not a musical, but this bollywood-style dance number at the end was a treat for my bollywood-loving girls. This was a fun fairytale movie with enough laughs to be entertaining to all ages in our family. This time around, the boys did not watch with us, but they have seen it all together in the past. This time around, us girls watched it during a sleepover party.

Escape From Planet Earth

We had never heard of this movie before. I'm not sure how we missed it. It featured the voice talents of Brendan Frasier, William Shatner, and many more. It was goofy and featured your basic boy humor including bathroom jokes and food fights, but it was fun and inspired some good conversation. One brother is not respected because he's a geek. This never seemed to REALLY change, though there was significant improvement. Arrogance in the older brother made a good object lesson. This annoyance is very minor and probably not worth mentioning, but a stay-at-home mom is also disrespected by the "bad guy". In the end, because she is able to kick-rear and save the earth, she is seen as respect-worthy, but I feel the need to insist that the quiet job of loving our children and keeping our homes is quite respect-worthy all on its own. Still, we all really enjoyed this one together.

Chennai Express

This one was borderline on the appropriate scale. Not worse than Nacho Libre. Perhaps better since the objectionable scenes were just fistfights that my girls easily turned their heads from. There was also a scene where the main character smack talks while intoxicated. It was brief and not very bad.

This was a bollywood movie that required reading subtitles. My 8 year old had to have a few scenes explained when they talked too fast. It was a beautiful treat for the eyes and ears. It also made EXCELLENT discussion. The main character is a decent enough guy, but has no idea what it is to love someone. He's immature and self-centered. But he learns in the end. We were able to discuss the foolishness of any girl who might fall for him.

There are our March movies! I would love to hear what your family has been watching! (or advice on what to avoid!)

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spelling You See - a review

Spelling You See Review
Several years ago, I went through a sort of spelling depression. My sons were beginning to turn in essays and reports and their spelling didn't appear to have improved much since 3rd grade. They were in middle school. It wasn't pretty. As homeschool moms are wont to do, part of my identity was wrapped up in their performance. And they weren't performing well.

But I came to learn that only about a third of the population are actually visual learners, meaning that they naturally pick up on the correct way to spell things from reading correctly spelled words. My husband and I were apparently both visual learners because the idea of not spelling well never occurred to us. Our sons, apparently were NOT visual learners and they required some more intense practice with a formal program.

My younger daughters have benefited from the mistakes I made with their brothers. I carefully researched spelling and found that the standard copywork/dictation method which is recommended in classical methods as well as Charlotte Mason methods, can help students learn spelling, penmanship, and grammar all at the same time. Spelling You See is the first spelling program I've seen that so fully implemented the dictation method. Spelling You See was created by Demme Learning, the same company who brought you Math-U-See.

I tried Americana, level D, with my 8 year old and American Spirit, level E, with my 10 year old. There are several different levels, and Spelling You See has placement guidelines to help you determine which level will best suit your child.
Spelling You See Review
According to Demme Learning, all students must move sequentially through 5 developmental stages of learning to spell:

Students develop the concepts of print, such as words being read from left to right. They also go through the motion of pretend writing and then eventually learn to write actual letters.

Students begin to distinguish the individual sounds that make up spoken words. This is the stage where students begin to spell words the way they sound. This stage ends when "they have learned the basic rules of phonics and can actively apply them to both reading and spelling."

Skill Development
In this critical learning stage, students learn to apply the phonics rules to their spelling. According to the publisher, this stage occurs around the end of 1st grade and can last through the 5th grade. This mastery stage requires much repetition.

Word Extension
Students work through complicated changes to words, such as adding suffixes or combining words into new words.

Derivational Constancy
is fun to say. This final stage studies word origin and derivatives. Mature spellers recognize how patterns and meanings are related. This stage occurs around seventh grade.

Spelling You See Review
Now, I do like this program and I am seeing results, but I want to clarify that I disagree with the above philosophy on a few points. The 2nd stage, Phonetic, says that "Instructors welcome [phonetic spelling] as an indication that the student is beginning to understand sound-to-letter correspondence." If a student actually is a visual learner, they "see" the words they misspell and take mental snapshots of such spellings. Charlotte Mason encourages copywork and dictation, side-by-side with a teacher ready to quickly interrupt a student forming a letter or misspelling a word to prevent those mental snapshots from taking root it in the visual brain. Phonetic misspellings are understandable as a milestone of pairing sounds and letters, but hardly encouraged as a method.

The 3rd stage, Skill Development assumes they have learned basic rules of phonics by 1st grade. There are a LOT of phonics rules! The book insists that the basic rules be learned by 1st grade and then de-emphasized thereafter to keep from confusing students. I much prefer focusing on reading well and learning to love reading before 1st grade. I don't see benefit to starting spelling lessons before that time. I have found my students to be very capable of learning phonics rules and accepting the irregular spellings along the way. I think 1st through 3rd grade is a prime age to do this. I also think it is entirely possible to learn word roots along this same time, helping to explain where our irregular spellings came from (silly french.)

Spelling You See Review
All of that said, I still love the program, I just don't know that their philosophy behind it is actually related to why it works.

And here is how it works:

Students spend an entire week on the same portion of reading and writing. They read a non-fiction  story about American history and culture, they identify vowel and consonant "chunking", they use the same passage for timed copywork during the first 3 days of the week, and they use the same passage for timed dictation for the last 2 days of the week.

Chunking is the process of finding letter patterns (vowels or consonants) in the paragraph.  Students use different colors for different kinds of chunkings. We began with chunking basic vowel teams and then consonant teams. On week 5, we began chunking both vowels and consonants (using the different colors) within the same passage.

Does it work?
I don't know.

There are no spelling tests with this method, but my daughters are both spelling very well during their dictation sessions. The real test is how well their spelling carries over into other subjects. I don't really have them writing enough to give a fair comparison. I don't know that I see any grand improvements in spelling, but the publisher says that I probably won't until we've been doing it for a while, and we've only been using it a couple months.

According to the publisher, this method helps a student "develop a visual memory, as the brain is focusing on the way the words actually look in print". They also say that it "takes a long time for spelling to become implanted and automatic." While I really do LOVE this program, I just don't know that my auditory learner is going to glean the same spelling benefits that a more visual learner would. I am not an expert, but I do know that this philosophy contradicts some of the experts that I have read. That said, I think it would be rather easy to incorporate some more formal phonics rules into our discussions as we work through our copywork together.

I realize I've spoken somewhat critically of the philosophy behind the program, but it is one of our favorite subjects of the day. I wanted to be vocal about the visual learning aspect in case someone reads this through and has a student that doesn't respond the same way described in the book. After all of the researching I've done with spelling, what I've come to firmly believe is this: consistency is what teaches spelling. Consistently every day doing it and studying it. 10 minutes a day is plenty to build a good foundation. I know that there are plenty of homeschool mamas out their nodding their heads when I say that it is an easy subject to forget each day. Don't. Don't forget it. That's the best spelling advice I can give, and Spelling You See makes it very easy to remember.

Each day's lessons take roughly 15 minutes to complete. My daughters enjoy it. I enjoy sitting next to them. I get to see their eyebrows twist up and their tongues stick out as they focus really hard on getting the words just right. I have never told them that I was timing them. I did tell them to stop after 10 minutes (usually) but I didn't want to make them feel rushed with the idea of being timed. They didn't get very far in the first few days, but they quickly improved and were able to finish most of their passages on a regular basis.

Spelling You See comes with an Instructor’s Handbook for $14 and a Student workbook for $30. The Instructor's Handbook includes the philosophy behind the program, details on how to work through each week's lessons, descriptions of the various chunking, passages for dictation so that you can read beside your child without them seeing the work to copy, and a color-coded answer key which makes it very easy to grade.

For more reviews and descriptions of other levels, be sure to check out other reviews from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Review Crew, using the link below. They are awesome bunch of gals.

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