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ARTistic Pursuits - a review

ARTistic Pursuits has long been my family's favorite art curriculum publisher. Our most recent favorite AP find is the book intended for grades Elementary 4-5, Book 2: Color and Composition.

There is a big difference between opening a new book and knowing you'll love it and hoping you'll love it. We always know we'll enjoy the lessons from an ARTistic Pursuits book, and this one didn't fail us.

My girls are in 3rd and 4th grade, but both kept up easily, though it is intended for grades 4-5. It wasn't dumbed down or anything, in fact, I think my high school students would have enjoyed it just as much. Since it seems much of my attention is usually spent on the older students though, I thought this would make a nice class for the girls and I to spend some special time together. It was a special time, but little of it was together. I read the lessons to them and then they were off and running, eager to observe the outdoors, examine pieces of art, and to create their own works completely independently, thank you very much but I can do it by myself. Well, allrighty then! And they did.

Their first landscape watercolor pencil drawings (paintings?) Don't get me started about the hole punches in Honor's picture.

Though the theme of this book is color and composition, it isn't a basic book of "red and yellow make orange". We have only finished the first 2 Units so far, but already we have discussed pigment, wet and dry mediums, and color mixing & placement.

We have learned how to use watercolor pencils, how to do hard and soft edges, and most of all, we've learned how to observe.

This book contains 16 Units. Each unit contains 4 lessons. These are intended to take about an hour per lesson, two lessons per week.

The first lesson of each unit builds students' art vocabulary. Students study the meaning behind phrases such as intermediate colors, composition, color value, and much more.

The second lesson of each unit introduces art appreciation and art history. Whatever element of art is introduced in the lesson is also taught by observing the masters and observing the elements in their artwork.

The third lesson of each unit teaches technique. Students learn how to properly use art tools to create original works of art. There are assignments every day that result in original art from the student, not just on third lesson days. These are just very specific technique assignments.

The fourth lesson of each unit incorporates all they've learned in the unit, giving opportunity to apply those lessons using various formats.

They were to imagine themselves super-tiny and looking close at something from outside. Honor chose a dandelion and Gracie chose a lilac bunch.

Various supplies are needed to complete this book, and all of them are good things to have on hand for day to day spurts of creativity anyway:
  • Watercolor pencil set of 12
  • Colored pencil set of 12
  • #8 watercolor brush (round)
  • watercolor paper pad
  • sketch pad for drawing
  • vinyl eraser
  • metal handheld pencil sharper
ARTistic Pursuits Elementary 4-5 book two costs $47.95 and comes with 92 pages, making up 68 lessons, and includes 218 great illustrations. They have many more books for many more levels of art instruction, including newly released books on Sculpting! You can read reviews on many of those books by following the link below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

How to Homeschool Part 2

The next step in homeschooling is to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state. Laws vary widely, and you need to know what the requirements for your area. The state I live in is very homeschool friendly and I am completely free to teach whatever and however I feel is best for my children. If your state puts more restrictions on you than you are comfortable with, this decision to homeschool might also require a decision to move to another state.

You can search for your state's laws or you can check out This is the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, an organization that helps protect the rights of homeschooling families. Homeschooling in my state is very simple, but other states aren't so lucky and this a great organization that provides lawyers to families in need of it defense. It is a very trustworthy organization. They even share helpful homeschooling advice. There are lots of helpful things on the site, so poke around a bit.

If you are removing a student from public school, some states require that you submit a letter to the school informing them that you plan to homeschool your student. Some do not. I strongly feel it is important to always submit the letter, regardless of what is required. If you decide to homeschool over the summer, and your student will not be returning to public school the following fall, I especially feel it is important to inform them. The school will automatically enroll your child unless they hear otherwise from you. The teacher is required to take roll until you are eventually contacted for truancy. Some people are fearful of contacting schools because they don't want to be on the school's "radar", but to leave the school with an enrolled student and no knowledge that he shouldn't be enrolled is much more likely to leave a foul impression with them than a polite letter letting them know that their services are no longer needed.

In my state, I pay school taxes and have access to school related assistance, such as speech therapy, hearing tests, and guidance from the counselor. Nearly all of the administration is extremely homeschool friendly and I am glad that I've maintained a positive relationship with them. In fact, when some local families have notified them that they were going to homeschool, the school has even recommended they contact me for advice. I share that to say this: don't burn bridges. We should, most definitely, be wise as serpents. That does not mean that we should be rude as serpents.

The Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers has an excellent sample letter of intent to homeschool which you can copy of it fits your state's requirements. It shares much more than my state requires (nothing) and I would not recommend providing more information than is necessary.

CTC Math - a review

I've shared before my thoughts on not pushing math in the early years. My boys survived our stressful years of pushing them during their first few years of schooling. They did well through it all, even if tears were a common math time occurrence. I noticed though that, through all of that pushing and working ahead, they evened out with their "slower" peers by the end of 3rd grade. Thankfully, they weren't scarred and math is now their favorite subject.

From this, I learned to slow down with my girls. We studied and practiced math, but in a much more relaxed manner. My girls had much better pictures of why things worked than their brothers did during the early years. They've done great, but stalled out when it came to multiplication. Again, they perfectly understand the why of multiplication, but they are not accustomed to drill and we've made slow progress without the multiplication tables fully memorized. I relaxed a bit too much, it seems. We've worked hard this past year to catch back up, but I was still stressing and worrying about them being behind thanks to my lapse in discipline. I was very grateful for the opportunity to review CTC Math and their 12 Month Family Plan. It has greatly helped MY confidence level, not to mention that of my girls!

Take This Cup - a review

Take This Cup

By Bodie and Brock Thoene
Published by Zondervan

This is the 2nd installment in the Jerusalem Chronicles book. I didn't realize that fact until I was halfway through it and just happened to catch the note. It is easily a stand-alone novel. And thankfully, it isn't a novel that leaves you in suspense for a year while you wait for the next book in the series to come out.

I have loved every Thoene book I've ever read. They are incredible storytellers who invest a lot of time and talent into researching and incorporating history into their novels. 

This book shares the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, and tells it through the eyes of a child named Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was raised under a priest who studied the stars. According to the story, he joined the wise men who followed the Christmas star and saw the Saviour after His birth. There were many references to constellations in unique positions, telling the Gospel story in the night sky. This was fascinating to me, knowing that the Thoene's heavily research such things before sharing them and especially considering the week that I was reading the book: the week of Passover and the recent Blood Moon! 

There were a couple of moments that did make me uncomfortable. Twice the book referred to verses of the Bible that we all know and said that they were misunderstood because the Aramaic words sound so similar. For instance, the verse comparing rich men entering heaven with a camel fitting through the eye of a needle is quoted as being rope in the eye of a needle. They explain that camel and rope sound very similar in the original language and that many people just misunderstood what Jesus really said. This certainly makes a lot of sense, but questioning the accuracy of scripture isn't a little thing. 

This was the first Thoene book I've read that included some fanciful imagery. If it had been anyone else, I might have found it a bit silly. There was a large deer, alive since the garden of Eden who interacted with Nehemiah and sort of spoke to him. Nehemiah also met Joseph (of rainbow coat fame) through visions and flew with Nehemiah at one point. These fanciful moments were reminiscent of Narnia, but the rest of the novel didn't follow that pattern, so it felt a bit awkward. Still, it was an engaging novel and gave a beautiful perspective on the Easter story.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Spring is in the air!

That's Pinteresting
This past winter was long and dreary. I'm not generally affected by the weather, but this year was the closest I've come to getting the winter blues. It was just so....grey. Bleak. Dreary. 

Suddenly spring is upon us and signs of life are everywhere! Every time I go to the grocery store, I can't resist buying flowers. My budget warns me I shouldn't, but how can I resist? Did you know you can buy flowers at Aldi's?? $5 hydrangeas, $3 hyacinths, and $3 tulips! 

Much as we are all itching to be outdoors, spring also means SCHOOL. There is a renewed energy to our work, as we see how much we slowed down since Christmas. Summer is just around the bend and we'd like to do less school than usual during the summer months. What classes can we hurry up and finish so that we can be done with them through the summer?

Though we are motivated to have less schoolwork, we can't resist adding in new classes that require us to be outside. I have always been terrible at incorporating nature studies, and every spring I try again. This year, I have my friend Beth from Acorn Hill Academy holding my hand and walking me through the process. Nature studies come a little more instinctive to Beth, but knowing that I need a checklist and clear instructions, she gave me some ideas for creating some simple nature journals to start us out. 

Be sure to check out Beth's ideas for nature studies and feel free to use my journal pages. I'd love to hear which ones are a hit with your family, so be sure to come back and leave me a message.

I created two journals for you, and each contains several different font options. Scroll down through the pages to find the font style that suits you best.
Illustrated Nature Journal
Observation Page

Homeschool Adventure Co - a review

One of the many things I love about homeschooling is the opportunity to pursue unique interests and incorporate classes that aren't available through our local public school. Home School Adventure Co. recently gave us the chance to review Philosophy Adventure, a class that incorporates critical thinking, writing, and Biblical worldview lessons all in one deep class. With my boys both in the rhetoric stage of learning, this was a great opportunity to pursue those interests!

Philosophy Adventure is available as physical books, on CDROM, or as a digital download. We used the $39.95 downloadable PDFs. The course includes 3 files:
    Home School Adventure Co.
  • Teacher Resources
  • Student Workbook
  • Pre-Socratic Reader
These are PDF files which can be printed or uploaded to your device of choice. We printed the Workbook, uploaded the Teacher Resources to kindle via email, and uploaded the Reader to Google Drive so that we could all access it and read along together.

Teacher Resources
This includes flashcards, timelines, maps, and answer keys

Student Workbook
This is a massive workbook. I like to pinch pennies where possible, but I can certainly see the benefit to purchasing the print version of this workbook. The beautiful part of this is that, when finished, students have created their own book on philosophy.

The files for the workbook include the option to type in them and print your work. One son opted to print his and bind it, the other opted to type his lessons and bind it when finished. Of course, mapwork still needs to be finished by hand. Here is a sample of their work:

There are two parts to the workbook: Notebooking Pages and a Journal. The Notebooking Pages include comprehension questions, philosopher profile pages, geography work, and creative freewriting. The Journal section prompts some seriously deep thinking. The first lesson asks the BIG questions:

Good Ol' James.

James has to be about the hardest book of the Bible to read, don't you think? It stomps the toes like no other. Still, it is probably my favorite. I think that's because I really love a good challenge. James certainly challenges me on so many levels.

Challenging and Real. Relevant to my common, everyday life.

For instance, my sons have been bickering lately. And by lately, I mean forever. They are best friends and worst enemies and it's a miracle I don't have grey hair yet. It's been especially difficult lately, which made the timing of last week's study in James just perfect.

I started the morning with my general grumbling prayers of exasperation for my sons and then hit James chapter 3. My thoughts were still clouded with the stress of their relationship but verse 13 penetrated its way into my brain:

My house definitely wasn't feeling peace and my boys certainly weren't sowing peace. And a big part of their strife was that each felt quite justified in their wisdom. Meekness was not the word to describe their "wisdom" though. A brief discussion and a reading of this verse was eye opening for all of us. Hearing that kind of wisdom described as "demonic" was eye opening as well.

But that discussion came later. First, I had to read on to chapter 4. 

What indeed? Talk about God hearing my heart cry! 

They weren't murdering, but they were having their moments of hate, though neither would admit things were quite that bad on their part. The other still felt hated and our Saviour was pretty clear about His feelings on hating a brother. Still, where did those strong feelings come from? Desiring and not having? What did that mean?

I honestly wasn't sure what it meant, but I sat down and talked with the boys and had them think about it and get back to me. They each came back later to discuss and it was incredible.

One felt that his deep, unmet desire was a need to be in control. He greatly feared a lack of control of situations. He viewed life as a chess board and considered his interactions as strategies.
(It's life! I'm winning!)

We've been chatting about how this revealed a lack of Lordship in his life. It revealed his need to control things and an unwillingness to let God control things. It was a total paradigm shift for him to STOP seeing life as a chess game. He has spent the last week (a fabulous week of revival in our church and hearts) learning to give his life more fully to Christ.

The arguments were certainly not one-sided, but both boys benefited from the discussions and not being challenged to play chess on a regular basis might be just the change we're needing.

We're not all patched up just yet, but it has been exciting to see God's hand at work. As always. 

Tailor Made Whiteboards - a review and GIVEAWAY!

While my goal is to keep things blissfully simple, my life is often a chaotic mess. As kids get older and schedules get busier, the chaotic hum becomes the soundtrack of our life. The few working organizational tools we have become beacons to guide us through the adventure. My dayplanner, chore chart, and our wall calendar have weathered some fun, crazy times.

Until this year.

This year, we couldn't find the perfect wall calendar to fit our perfect frame. We usually start shopping in November because we are ridiculously picky about our calendar. It's silly, really. But November and December came and went without the perfect calendar showing up. At that point, we were happy to have an imperfect calendar as long as it fit in our frame, but even those were gone. January was interesting, without a calendar on the wall to see us through. I even lost my day planner for a week there and things got really hairy.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!)

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.