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Beyond the Book Report - a review

Analytical Grammar Review

Writing was my favorite class in high school, and I'm always amazed that my boys don't embrace it wholeheartedly. They know the mechanics, but it doesn't flow freely. Their mathy brains were in need of a more systematic, less artistic approach to writing. Our latest attempt to get their writing juices flowing came from Analytical Grammar, who sent us Beyond the Book Report, seasons 1, 2, and 3. 

Each season is intended to be worked on over the course of one year. Ideally, it is meant to be worked through from 6th grade through 8th. If you have older students, it can be worked through in two years for 8th and 9th grade. My sons are in 9th and 10th grade, which is older than the intended audience. I, as their teacher, needed help in teaching them about essays and research papers. This program teaches me as much as it teaches them. It is not too immature for them. In fact, I wonder if it might not be too challenging for some middle school students.

Season One includes three sections:
  1. The Basic Book Report
  2. The Pamphlet Book Report
  3. The News Article Book Report
Season Two includes two sections:
  1. Poetry Book Report
  2. Drama Book Report
Season Three includes three sections:
  1. Essay
  2. Oral Book Report
  3. Research Paper

The lessons are DVD-driven, with each video lasting about 7-20 minutes. The lesson schedule works well paced at 3 lessons per week. 

We went straight to the third season because this is where we are weakest, but I checked out the first two seasons to share with you. I look forward to using them with my daughters in just a couple years. 

Season One
This teaches more than just writing about what you read for a book report. As the title of the program suggests, it goes beyond the book report. This begins by helping students to recognize what they are reading. It teaches the elements of stories and helps them summarize what they see. Over the course of a year, students learn to share that summary in three different forms: the basic report, a pamphlet, and as a news article. 

Season Two
This season is divided into two semesters. In the first section, students learn to analyze poetry. They study different forms of poetry, the elements of poetry, and how to write their own poetry. In the second section, students study drama. They learn the elements of dramatic plays and study A Midsummer Night's Dream with lecture support. I always thought of it as a comedy, so this was interesting to see.

Season Three
This is where we stopped and studied. It contains three sections that are essential for high school success: Essays, Oral Presentations, and Research Papers. This section teachers students the structure of expository writing. It is assumed that students will have already mastered the mechanics of writing with proper grammar.

Analytical Grammar ReviewThe essay portion covers personal, literary, and SAT essays. Season 3 begins with a video for the teacher, guiding me through the process of teaching the Literary Essay, beginning with Edgar Allen Poe's Tell Tale Heart. The video includes several clips  of the author teaching the same essay to a homeschool group. It was very helpful and enlightening, guiding me through the different stages I should teach over the course of 3 weeks. This video is 36 minutes long. Students also watch a video, which introduces the concept of a literary essay and is 17 minutes long.

After watching these videos, we moved on to the writing. By day 14 (5 weeks into the season if you are using the 3-lessons per week schedule,) students will have written three literary essays.  It is recommended that students continue to write one essay per month after this. The next 7 "days" teach the Personal Essay. These are teaching days, though there days in between teaching sessions for students to complete assignments. Two essays should be completed during this time. The SAT section includes 6 teaching days, giving a total of 26 teaching days which divide up into a nice, year-long writing course.

Things we liked:

  • I like that it really walks us through the process. The systematic approach took a lot of pressure off of my boys and helped them to feel more comfortable writing. 
  • I like that it is organized well. Everything is laid out for me to pull open and go. I know exactly what I'm doing each day. 
  • I like many of the supplements provided. The short stories are included in my notebook, as are samples of literary essays to model. Suggestions for evaluating students' work are also provided.
  • All of the handouts we could want are included in the DVDs. There are plenty of printouts to guide students and teachers through the year.

Things we didn't like:
  • The DVDs did not play in our DVD-player, but had to be watched on the computer screen. Pausing and rewinding are sometimes awkward on the computer, but it worked. 
  • As I said, the teacher's video for our first session in season 3 was 36  minutes long. This taught me everything I needed for 3 weeks. I nodded along in agreement, happy to understand the process for each day's lesson, right up to the end. At that point, I realized that I had already grown fuzzy on what to do on day 1. I had day 7 firmly in my head, but that didn't help me much. Of course, by the time we got to day 7, I no longer had it in my head either. I would much prefer these sections be broken down to teach me as needed. The book did not help me much here. Day Three said, "[J]ust do the same activity you saw Robin Finley do with her students, and you'll end up with your three proofs in the proper order." That required watching the video again at that point.
  • The lessons are geared toward a more formal, group setting. They are perfect for homeschool groups, but not as familiar to one-on-one homeschool families. It still worked great, but the rubrics and point systems were a bit superfluous. 
Each season costs $24.95 or you can purchase all three at once for $69.95. An entire year's writing program for multiple students for under $25 is a fabulous deal. 

All in all, I like the program. We will continue to use it and I will hold on to it to introduce to my girls in just a few, short years. Analytical Grammar has several other products available. Beyond the Book Report and several others were reviewed by the Crew. Be sure to check them out by clicking the link below.

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The topic of marriage has been a prevalent theme for me this year. It has come up about a thousand times from dozens of different angles. I've watched marriages fail and I've watched marriages begin. I've seen marriages struggle and come out stronger than ever for it. In my own marriage, I've seen us learn more about this dance of marriage, somehow surprised to see that there is always more to learn.

Though married for nearly two decades, this God-designed institution is still such a mystery to me. It's obviously important. It obviously has great benefit. It also offers room for great tragedy. My marriage has brought me deep bliss and grievous heartache.

While I've always loved him and considered him my best friend, my marriage was basically a minefield of daisies for many years. It was anyone's guess how the day would go. Often, we'd go beautiful months without an argument, but sometimes it was a matter of only hours. We nearly always walked around suspicious of the other's sincere affection.

Several years ago, we went to a marriage conference that inspired much discussion. It was not fun, but it was very healing to get some of that stuff brought out into the light and we were determined to work through it. "Work through" is code for "argued". We argued our way through it over the next couple days and it was wonderful.

We got down to the heart of the matter which was this: both of us did not fully trust that the other truly loved. We tried to believe it and assume the best, but each time he would say something hurtful, I thought to myself, "See? I knew he didn't mean it. He felt the exact same way. When it came down to it, we had nothing to go on other than the other person's word for it, but we decided together to just take the leap and believe each other. Assume that all decisions and interactions come from someone who loves me.

Once we had that foundation set, we were able to move forward to a more mature, more fulfilling marriage. Television has taught us that the does-he-or-doesn't-he element is an exciting part of romance. It may be, but it is neither exciting nor romantic in a marriage.

For anyone seeking to "work through" the impediments and move on to a satisfying marriage, I highly, highly recommend these four books, in this order:

  1. Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? 
  2. Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti 
  3. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts 
  4. Mountaintop of Marriage: A Vision Retreat Guidebook (Every Great Marriage)
The last one is something Chris and I read every year. It is short and simple and is perfect for a weekend getaway project. We take our tax return each spring to get away together for a couple days and we bring our red notebook to work through. It has the answers to the questions we've asked each other for four years now. We get to see how far we've come and how far we have to go. It helps us align our goals and our hearts. 

It's certainly not a perfect marriage, but it's pretty stinking good. We had a tiff last week that surprised us both. We hadn't argued, not really, in over a year. But then this odd squabble came up and pushed us apart for several days. They were a miserable few days, inspired completely by spiritual warfare, I have no doubt. Nothing works when you're out of sync with your spouse. 

After 3 days of being polite, but distant, we finally sat down and talked and cried and hugged. And all was right with the world. Cue "birds singing". 

If you're out of sync, I pray your hearts are softened. Please take that painful step and work through your stuff. Sometimes it's fixed in an afternoon, sometimes it is simply the first step to years of a healing process. Sometimes, it's never fixed or reciprocated, but requires you always being the one loving generously and obeying God. Always, it is worth the risk. It's worth the investment. Honor your covenant. Go fix your stuff. 


photo credit: IronRodArt - Royce Bair ("Star Shooter") via photopin cc
Sometimes I run and I run and I feel all on top of it, but then suddenly I freeze up. Yesterday, I had blog posts outlined for the upcoming two weeks and had the kids on a schedule. Today, I'm on the couch, missing deadlines left and right. I don't seem to have much warning for when the sudden stupidity hits me. I was on a running track and then I look up to see the track still running, with me sitting beside it.

Though I'm sure there are plenty of people living happy, balanced lives, I have noticed a trend in myself and my friends that seems to swing from one extreme to the other: Lazy or Busy.

Most of my adult life, I've watched my friends go, do, and achieve and I feel like a lump. I like to sit and do nothing. I long for things to slow down so I can do NOTHING. I have felt guilty for the lack of initiative.

Many friends have told me that they can't enjoy sitting down to watch a movie because they feel restless. They feel guilty taking a nap because they might be setting a poor example of work ethic. But what if the running is actually a bad example of busy-ness?

Don't get me wrong, I am aware of my own sin. Look up the word "lazy" in your Bible concordance and you'll find no verses praising it. But what if there is a whole world in between lazy and busy and the people living it are feeling guilty for thinking they are one extreme or the other?

Our society praises those who go, go, go to the point that everyone not feeling rushed...feels lazy. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 tells us to live quietly, mind our own business, and work with our hands. We should certainly be productive. But we were created with the capacity to enjoy much pleasure and I am certain God means for us to utilize it.

Tell me, which do you think glorifies God more: to reach our goal and then breathe it in or to reach our goal and jump into the next one? Is the joy of the Lord our strength or do we brag (by complaining) about our busy lives? Do we lean on Him or do we depend on ourselves to get the job done?

Again, I'm not feeling better than anyone else just because my sin is different than someone else's.  I fight laziness while they fight busy-ness. I do, however, think that there are plenty of people in the middle who are NOT sinning but who think they are lazy because they are comparing themselves to something that God never intended for us to be.

While beating myself up this past week for my slug-like desires, I asked my son if there was anything he would like to see different in our life as a family. His answer was about me personally. He said that he wants me to slow down and stop. We're running too much. I'm always doing and buzzing and it's stressing him out. 

It shocked me because I honestly thought he would say the exact OPPOSITE. I thought he might have some insight into my poor time management skills, such as where I could be more useful and busy. Now, he doesn't know my heart, and I assure you, it's lazy. But his perspective stunned me and got my wheels to turning. 

There's a happy, balanced approach to the many things that need done and the many moments that need savoured. Choosing to breathe and do nothing, alone and with family are excellent choices that do not mean you're lazy. It brings glory to God when you enjoy His gifts, when you rest in Him, when you stop and listen. 

If you're a lazy sort, like me, I urge you to set goals and lean on God to meet them. If you're a busy sort, I urge you to rest. Just Breathe.

*The posters I've shared in today's article all link to some posts that explore this same topic.


Writeshop Junior - a review

My 10 year old's dream is to write and illustrate children's books. She has scratched out many characters, story ideas, and even a few completed story gems. I'm biased, of course, but I really do think they are gems. Realizing how much she loves the art of storytelling, I knew she would love to take a class with WriteShop. They sent us the WriteShop Junior: Book D Teacher's Guide, the Junior Activity Pack with Fold-N-Go Grammar Book D, and the Junior Time Saver Pack, Book D and she has loved it.
WriteShop Review

I intended to work through it one-on-one with her, but it includes some games and activities that work well with a buddy, so her little sister joined in. They weren't required games and it could easily be taught with just one student, but everything is more fun with friends, right?

The WriteShop sets are colorful and fun. Even if you opt for the downloadable files, they recommend you print them on colorful paper. The fonts are large and friendly and easy to read. It's just an enjoyable lesson for us to pull out each day.
WriteShop Review
They definitely require some prep-work, but the Teacher's Guide walks you through each activity, step-by-step. I find it much easier to pull out the night before to prep for the next day. There's too much for the girls to sit and wait while I figure out what I'm doing. I thought at first that I would print for the week and prep it all ahead of time, but by the time we get halfway through the week, I forget what I'm doing. Instead, I prep for the next day's lesson as the girls wrap up the current day's lesson. 
Each lesson consists of 8 Activity Sets. There are 10 lessons, which means there are 80 Activity Sets. These can be divided up however you like. The Teacher's Guide offers some excellent suggestions for organizing the material for a full school year or a semester. They also have suggestions for scheduling children that are studying different level books at the same time. 
Here are the 8 activity sets, listed below. It's a long list, but I recommend reading it if you are considering a writing curriculum. The list shows the systematic approach the publisher takes toward teaching writing, while incorporating an understanding of the child's need for involvement and encouragement.
Activity Set 1 
Reading Log - track reading and measure progress
Activity Set 2 
Pre-Writing Activity - Introduces new writing concepts to the child
Model and Teach - demonstrates writing techniques to the child
Activity Set 3 
Skill Builders - introduce and practice new writing skills
Journal Writing - practice writing skills independently
Activity Set 4 
Brainstorming - generate lists of topic idea, determine things to write about chosen topics, organize ideas before writing.
Activity Set 5 
The Writing Project - create a story, poem, or short report using new skills
Smaller Steps and Flying Higher - relaxed writing project for younger writers and challenging projects for accelerated learners.
Activity Set 6 
Editing and Revising - gain skill and confidence in proofreading and self-editing
Activity Set 7 
Publishing the Project - publish the project in a crafty way so the child can take pride in her work and share her writing with others.
Activity Set 8 
Evaluating Your Child's Work - track progress from lesson to lesson
Want to Do More? - Apply creative writing skills to other subjects
WriteShop Review
Each of the 10 lessons includes a Fold-N-Go file folder book that you make head of time. Each lesson also includes time for your students to log the books they are reading. Several different reading log options are given to suit all level of readers. 

The Model and Teach time includes mom sitting and discussing how things are done. The book tells me exactly what I need to say and do. The material encourages good conversation, not just "yes" or "no" from the student. It also offers helpful tidbits. For example, when teaching about writing a letter and the including a "salutation", the following is included:

The word "salutation" may be new to your child. 
Consider interchanging the term "salutation" 
with "greeting." "Salutation" and "salute" come 
from the same Latin root word, salus. Explain that 
a salute is a military greeting of respect. Kinesthetic 
learners may enjoy practicing a salute.

WriteShop Review
For our lesson on letter writing we played a mix and match game, wrote letters to imaginary events, brainstormed an imaginary event and practiced what we would include in its invitation, and wrote actual invitation letters to a birthday party (good timing!) The Fold-and-Go booklet was a great reference and we did some extra practice with punctuation. 
We did a unique "edit" of their work by having the girls highlight specific things they did well, such as spelling a difficult word correctly, beginning a sentence with a capital letter, and using correct punctuation. It was an interesting approach I'd not heard of before.
Letters were sent off with scrapbook embellishments and I began an evaluation chart to track their strengths and weaknesses. We also did the extra assignments with the letter writing chapter:
1. Calculate the party supplies needed for the event and how much it will cost.
2. Create a card on the computer for the event. This one was mostly me, typing what they wrote. 
They will learn quite a few fabulous skills with Book D:
Lesson 1: Letter of Invitation
Learn the different elements of a letter and how to construct an appealing invitation. This one focuses on punctuation.
Lesson 2: Humor
Learn the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Learn to include humor in fiction writing. Learn to narrow the topic. This one focuses on proofreading marks for editing.
Lesson 3: Adventure
Learn how to write an adventure story, including the setting details. This one focuses on using Nouns.
Lesson 4: Science Fiction
Learn how to write a science fiction story. Develop the middle of a story to make it more interesting. Learn about plot. This one focuses on pronouns.
Lesson 5: Mystery
Learn to write a mystery. Identify mystery vocabulary. This one focuses on verbs.
Lesson 6: Haiku (my oldest daughter's personal favorite)
Learn to write a haiku. Review syllables. Practice choosing strong words over weak words. This one focuses on adjectives. 
Lesson 7: Folktales
Learn to write folktales in their own words. Practice developing voice when writing by showing emotion. This one focuses on adverbs.
Lesson 8: Historical Fiction
Learn to write historical fiction. reviews difference between fiction and nonfiction. Continues developing a strong voice when writing. This one focuses on prepositions.
Lesson 9: Personal Narrative
Learn to write a personal narrative, incorporating emotions and sensory detail. Practice varying sentence length. Improve self-editing skills. This one focuses on capitalization (which is a hard word not to capitalize.)
Lesson 10: Expository Writing
Learn about expository writing. Practice organizing ideas before writing. This one focuses on references, such as dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, and the internet for research.
WriteShop Review
It covers everything a budding author needs to begin the journey. It does require cutting and taping, assembling of pages beforehand. I am a huge fan of open-and-go lessons, but I must say that this is so worth it. It really is. It only takes 5-10 minutes of prep time before my daughters have something fun that they really enjoy learning with. Yes, sometimes it feels silly. I could spout out the information and they would grasp it. But they love learning; they love writing. It takes very little effort on my part to make this favorite class an extra-special treat. 
The only thing I don't love about the book is the use of quotes from other parents. On nearly every page of the Teacher's Guide there is a quote from a parent saying how much they love different aspects of the program. I've bought it; I don't need convincing! Why put that there? Is it in case I start thinking about backing out? "Well, Jen in NV says it's a keeper, so maybe I should continue..." It's a small thing, really, and it doesn't deserve the level of irritation I have toward it.  
You can view samples of the different levels to see what it's like and to see what best fits your students.
The set I received costs $45.95. There is an e-book version available for $35.50. The print copy happily allows photocopying the material for single-family use. The ebook version will cost you the $10 you save in printing costs, but it will be available to print again for younger siblings. 
There are several different WriteShop Products available. It's a company I highly recommend for adding fun to your learning. Check out some of their other product reviews by clicking the box below:
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K is for Know

Heavy, not like a burden, but like a comforting blanket, the words "Be still and KNOW" have been on my heart.

When chaos reigns around me, when I can do nothing to help those hurting around me, when evil seems to be winning, that quiet voice says, "Be still and know."

Know what?

Know that it's all going to be okay? Know that I'll get what I want? That it will turn out exactly the way I want it to?


I'm to #1: be still (shut up and stop trying to solve it all) and #2: know that He is God.

He is God. He is the Almighty Creator of the universe. He is my Deliverer, my Strength. He is the air I breathe, the foundation I stand upon, the reason for everything. He is Sovereign. He is the Answer.

That's all that really matters. Situations WILL resolve. Life WILL continue. Hurts WILL heal. It might go the way I like; it might not. Through it all, He is God. I live to bring glory to Him, not to live comfortably. It is enough just to Know.

Scripture Lullabies has a CD that my girls used to listen to every night before falling asleep. This song was our favorite and it is like water to my soul.

BBP #6 - Your pictures

With thousands of things to read online, people don't tend to linger over unattractive pages. Your blog looks clean and welcoming, so they settle in to read. Pictures are a great way for your readers to get to know you. They are also a great way for them to hear about you in the first place. Pictures share well on pinterest and facebook and can draw readers in to visit.

First things first, ADD PICTURES! It doesn't really matter if you don't have a picture to go with the story you want to tell. Share a completely unrelated photo from your week. Share an opensource image that does relate to what you're writing. Or something completely random. Just get a picture in there. Pinterest is a huge driving force for blog traffic and if there is no image, there is no pinning your post.

As said before, store your images on a hosting site, such as Photobucket, and link up from there. Pictures that are uploaded from your computer or from Picasa can be lost if your files are ever rearranged on your computer (pictures stored in online picasa albums are fine).

Next, make it big. No, really, make it really big. In fact, crop it down so that the background disappears and you are focused tightly on an image. Then choose the "X-Large" setting when you upload it.

Blogger has a cheesy shadow that isn't terribly attractive. Removing the blogger shadow is easy with this tutorial by B.You.

Consider whether or not to add a frame. If your image has a solid background, such as pure white or black without interruption, it does not need a frame. If it is busy, with lots of activity at the edges, it needs a frame. These are incredibly easy to do with picmonkey. The hardest part is waiting for the file to save. Downloading finished pictures from picmonkey and then uploading the pictures back to photobucket are the most lengthy part of blogging for me. All said, it's maybe 3 minutes, but it's a long three minutes. That said, I always forget to add a frame. Most of my pictures probably need one. I'm lazy.

Adding a handy Pin-it button to your images is easy to do. Here is a tutorial by Kevin & Amanda to walk you through it.

We Lived Happily Ever After has a great post describing how to make your pictures pin-worthy and what that means for your traffic.

When it comes to taking pictures in the first place, there are a million tutorials on Pinterest. Start a board and start practicing. Think of it as a photography class. Enjoy learning a new skill. And it REALLY IS possible to get a good picture out of a point-and-shoot. #1 tip for getting good pictures from a point and shoot: Turn Off Your Flash. No flash. Keep a steady hand, have plenty of light, and don't use your flash. Also, rather than zooming way in to get a close up, you need to stand Close Up.

In the meantime, start saving for a DSLR. If you have a Sam's Club handy, the Cannon Rebels go on sale for $600-800 every February. They come in kits with two lenses and a camera bag.

A great way to edit pictures is through Picasa, which is a free download and has great picture editing tools. It is probably worth a post all on its own though, so I'll leave you with these assignments.

Assignment #1 
Get a picture into every post. Make it BIG.

Assignment #2 
Remove the Blogger Shadow

Assignment #3 
Add a Pin-It button

Assignment #4 
Work on your photography skills, picture sizing, and always upload your posts to pinterest!

Assignment #5
Share how you're doing. Leave a comment and show off your progress!

Moving Beyond the Page - a review

My girls have discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books. Sarah Grace read the first book earlier this year and fell in love with it. Recently, we had the opportunity to pair up with Moving Beyond the Page to do a unit study on it. They sent us two sets: the Language Arts Package - Little House in the Big Woods and the Social Studies Package - Westward Expansion.

Moving Beyond the Page Review

For the Little House in the Big Woods package ($19.92), we received an online guide and the book. We were happy to have another copy of the book so that both girls could enjoy it at the same time. The online guide can be purchased separately for $12.93 and the book for $6.99. This set is intended for 8-10 year old students.

This goes beyond your basic reading comprehension questions. The study includes grammar, spelling, writing, and more. The guide is online and organized by day. The package includes printables to go with each lesson, as well as many external links to study even more.

I appreciated some of the little details, such as a link to a picture of a "Brindle", so my girls could have an accurate picture of what Laura's dog, Jack, might have looked like.

Each day's lesson involved reading from the book, comprehension questions, and various discussions and activities. Lesson One introduces the book and the first activity involves introducing the author. Here is an excerpt from that activity:

If you are using the full-year package, you received a "Mark-It Timeline of History." On your timeline, record the birth of Laura Ingalls (Wilder) in 1867. Explain to your child when she lived and show him where she lived on the U.S. map (Wisconsin). Tell him about her family members (an older sister Mary and a younger sister Carrie) and how she wrote these books so that children would know more about pioneer life. Let your child look at the cover and point out clues which indicate that the book took place many years ago.
Note: To make this introduction even more interesting for your child, dress up as a pioneer woman and pretend to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Introduce yourself and tell about your family and your life as a pioneer.

While I did not dress up like Laura, we did enjoy the activities. Many of them are discussion-based and I enjoyed the conversations that stemmed from them. I love that we didn't just use "Setting" as a vocabulary word in a worksheet, but we talked about different settings, we looked up the settings for Little House in the Big Woods in an atlas, we studied Wisconsin and compared it to our state. The lessons felt real. The girls grasped the content and owned what they learned.

There are 11 lessons in the study, plus a Final Project that is scheduled to take 2 days. Activity pages are included in each lesson, through links to PDF files. There are ideas for field trips and plenty of other things to explore. We skipped a lot, but we still did a lot. The program is jam-packed with fun learning.

The social studies set we received was unrelated to the language arts package. It fit in well with our history lessons and the spirit of the Little House stories.

For the Westward Expansion set ($52.88), we received:
*Westward Expansion Guide (physical book, can be individually purchased for $16.99)
*Going West! Journey on a Wagon Train to Settle a Frontier Town (purchase separately for $12.95)
*How we Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark (purchase separately for $7.95)
*Oregon Trail, 5th edition software game (purchase separately for $14.99)

This Westward Expansion package is intended for students ages 9-11 and is appropriate for students in 4th and 5th grade.

The Westward Expansion Guide is very similar to the online guide we received with the other package. All of the material is printed and spiral-bound. There are 6 lessons in the guide, which are scheduled to last 10 days. Each lesson tells you up front how long it takes to finish. These are jam-packed full of activities though, and could easily take twice that time if you were fitting it in with other lessons.

The lessons tell you what material you'll need to have on hand, the points you'll be driving home, and words and names that will be taught in the lesson. There are several activities listed with each lesson and the printables you will need are included in the book, just after each lesson description. I loved having the physical guide I could sit in my lap for lessons, but the downside to the hand-outs being included in the physical book is that you cannot photocopy them without written permission from the company.

The activities include mapwork, timelines, and such. There is a lot of writing involved in many of the activities. Mine love that, but not everyone does, which is why I mentioned it. The questions contained in the guide are challenging. I love that! It is not a time-filler; it's a real thinking-gig. All in all, I would say the age range it provides is accurate. My 8 year old would not have been able to handle this package on her own. Alongside her 10 year old sister and with lots of mom-involvement, it was fun, but it could be overwhelming otherwise.

Going West! is a great book that both of my girls looked forward to reading each day. The Westward Expansion Guide lines out which pages you are to read each day. In addition to the activities in the Guide, Going West also includes some activities that support the reading material. For instance, when they read about boats traveling westward, the book explains how boats travel up hills through the use of canal locks. A two-page spread walks them through building their own Canal Lock with half gallon juice cartons. They use 3 cartons to build lock chambers and sluice gates. The reading and the activities are fun and they help the students really get to know the people, the land, and the life of the pioneers.

How We Crossed the West is a fun book to read and includes fabulous illustrations. My girls enjoyed reading it to themselves several times.

My girls, who don't really play on the computer much, have loved the Oregon Trail game. I'm surprised by how much they've enjoyed sitting down to play it. They get to invent their character and travel west with a wagon train. They follow a journal story of children traveling west to be with their father, who set out before them. This was worth the whole package for us.

We have used Moving Beyond the Page in the past and we really like it. It includes some great hands-on activities and plenty of variety. I had forgotten, however, how much I do NOT like online guides. I'd rather have it printed in front of me. I had also forgotten how inefficient it is cost-wise. With an online guide, you lose the material when your subscription date ends. If you get side-tracked mid-study, you have to re-subscribe if you want to finish the program. If you want to do the same study a year later with younger siblings, you have to purchase the material again. I really enjoy this material, but I think that online guides (at full-price) are just not for us.

You can follow this link to view some samples of how the program works. You can explore reviews of a huge variety of the Moving Beyond the Page units by clicking the box below.

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Crew Disclaimer

J is for Jellybeans

Several years ago, I read a brief excerpt from the book Parenting the Heart of Your Child. This short article left an impression on me that I have never forgotten. Each time the phrase, "Did you have fun?" begins to enter my mouth, I think about the wise words in this article and I check myself.

It has impacted not only the way I talk to my children, but also the way that I think about life in general. I urge you to read it. Go read it and then pop back over here to finish this post.

Recently, my family accompanied our church youth group to a mission trip in Bayou le Batre. It's a poor community, consisting mostly of shrimpers who have been run out of business by commercial shrimp boats. It also hosts a FEMA-built community for families displaced by Katrina. We encountered mobile homes that looked like a slight breeze could knock them over; windows were knocked out and they couldn't possibly be occupied. As we drove by, I saw clothes hanging on lines that were attached to the homes and I realized that yes, indeed, people were attempting to live in these rusty boxes.

Upon returning, I had several people ask me with a smile, "So, did you have fun?"

Well, no.

But fun isn't why we went, so that's a good thing.

All of the reasons we did go? We achieved them and more.

Don't worry; I didn't answer like that. I knew what they meant and I just smiled back and told them it was a good trip that meant a lot to me. Where there was interest, I shared my story of what God did that week.

It stretched me. It hurt like growing pains tend to hurt. It humbled me. It left an ache. It left a joy. It left a sorrow. It left a peace.

It wasn't fun.

But it was exactly what God had planned.

Ben and Me

BBP #5 Social Media Icons

Last week, you worked on a sidebar button. I ran off with a church trip and haven't actually tackled that one yet, myself. It's one of those things that is still waiting for the muse to strike. How did you do? Do you have a beautiful button to share with me?

Some other sidebar buttons that you might want to work on are your social media icons. I used to think those little boxes in the sidebars were to encourage people to share your posts. I used to think the tooth fairy was a cheapskate, too. In fact, the social media boxes often found on blogs are to encourage readers to connect with you and follow you through various social media platforms. Also, the tooth fairy was probably doing the best she could at the time. It was the '80s, afterall.

When someone visits your blog and likes your content, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find you again. I have Google Friend Connect and Networked Blogs in my sidebar because it is required for some of my review gigs. Vendors want to see some numbers so they know that someone will be reading your reviews of their product. The truth is that, while it is easy to sign up to follow a blog, few people actually read posts through those two platforms. They keep up with blogs by seeing pictures on pinterest, tweets on twitter, and posts on facebook. The most effective "follow" is through email. Share these links with readers and make it easy by using buttons at the top of your sidebar!

First things first, you need images. Each of those boxes you see in other blogs are actually individual pictures that are also links. You need a separate picture for each platform. Here's the sad part: you need to use the trademark image for these links. No cutesie versions. Yes, you've seen other gorgeous blogs use color-coordinated versions that are super-pretty. But it's not legal. Stay legal. Use the real thing.

Get those images here:

After downloading the official badge, upload these images to photobucket.

And now, the dreaded word: code. 

Go to your blogger dashboard and click on Layout. Click on the nice little box that says "Add a Gadget". Scroll down and choose HTML/JavaScript. You can give it a title if you'd like, something like "connect with me". Or leave it blank.

For each badge you want to share, copy and paste the following code, replacing the red letters with your own html addresses:

<a href="http://the address you're linking to goes" style="margin-left: .25em; margin-right: .25em; target="_blank"><img border="2" src+"http://the photobucket direct link to your image goes here.png" width="35" height="35"/></a>

You'll paste as many copies as you want badges, all into the same HTML/JavaScript box. They will automatically line up side by side unless you type in a <br> between them or unless there is not enough space to fit them all.

See the little line in there that says style="margin-left: .25em; margin-right: .25em; ? That is just to give you a bit of padding between the badges. Some of the logo owners require open space around the image of a certain width. You can play with that padding to suit your sidebar. Make it bigger or delete it completely if you like. I made the left margin of my first badge = 0 and the right margin of my last badge = 0, just to give a bit of extra room. 

Also, see where it says width="35" height="35" ? That is again, completely optional. I didn't want mine to be too distracting, but I didn't want anyone missing it either. I think 35 is a nice number. I wouldn't go under 30 and I wouldn't go over 50. Play with it until you get your badges to fit and look nice.

You may notice that I don't have all of the logos that I shared with you when we discussed image links. I just don't use instagram or google+ very much at all. Since it would basically be embarassing to share at this point, I left them off.

For a link to email you, to match the gmail logo, you'll do one small thing different than the other badges. Where the first link is supposed to link to a website address, you will instead enter the following:

<a href=""mailto://your-email-address-here"" style="margin-left: .25em; margin-right: .25em; target="_blank"><img border="2" src+"http://the photobucket direct link to your image goes here.png" width="35" height="35"/></a>

And where it says your-email-address-here? That's where you put your email address. Easy-peasy!

Check your sidebar and determine whether or not readers can easily follow you through other social platforms. Give them some easy links.

If you are not currently using other social platforms, GET TO IT! 

Take a glance at your blog and catch up:
  • Is your header readable? Attractive?
  • Do you have a blog button that is crisp and readable? Shareable?
  • Are your sidebar links working? Delete broken links!
  • Is your sidebar organized or could it use some headings?
Is the text within your post body easily read? 
  • Plenty large font? 
  • Dark font on light background? 
  • Plenty of width so that followers can read more than 4 words per line before it is squished down to the next line?
Link up and share your progress - any progress - below!