"From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised." Psalm 113:3

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Headed on a New Path...


I've done it again.

I spent all of last spring and summer obsessing over exactly WHICH curriculum we were going to use, thumbing through huge colorful catalogs, saving up money, drooling over web pages, and chasing down the UPS man.  And I ordered and received the PERFECT curriculum!  You know, the one that we were all going to love, that was going to end all schooling struggles forever, that was going to make both of my homeschooling children wake up in the morning clamoring for "more school!"

Well, I loved it.  I really, truly did.  And I love it all still.  There is nothing that we were using for eight weeks that made me cringe, cry, or scream.


Let me say that two things happened in our lives at the same time:  1.  Overload of life, and 2. A trip to the library.  And since those two things don't seem to be linked in normal activity, I'll go a bit more into detail...

We have officially entered into a crazy season of our lives.  Hubby is working late two to three nights a week, leaving the majority of the "getting kids where they need to be" trips to me.  And those trips? INSANITY.  Every afternoon, both girls are playing JV soccer for school--two different schools, mind you.  Two nights a week, Firefly heads over to club soccer practice 45 minutes from home.  Two nights a week, Turtle and Bug head to club soccer practice 20 minutes away, and of course, flag football season for Bug happened to overlap soccer by several weeks this year, so that's a practice one night and a game another.  Add in Young Life, tutoring, parent meetings, church sacrament classes for Turtle and Bug, and, occasionally, a haircut or dentist appointment (both of which I have now had to reschedule twice already this month), and you discover what is meant in our home as insanity.  Chaos.  Lots and lots and LOTS of hours in the car.

And, hey, did I mention our new puppy?

And of course, to go with our hours in the car, we need reading material.  So, right before the crazy season started, we took a trip to the library to stock up.  Where I perused the homeschool section--just for fun.  Because I am a homeschool nerd and love to read about it when I'm not doing it.  
Anyway, there was a new book there, which got me all excited, so I borrowed it.  It had some strange title and was a pretty big book, but it was new and it was on homeschooling, so I took it home.
affiliate link here
And now everything is different.

I haven't even read the whole thing yet, but I read enough to become intrigued with the idea of unschooling, or child-led learning.  Enough to spend new hours I didn't have playing around on the Internet, searching "how to unschool a sixth-grader" and "scheduling a day of unschooling" (really?!).  It has truly become my new obsession--but--with every bit of researching, my conviction and excitement has been growing.

What if?

What if my kiddos were given a chance to simply "be" and explore on their own?

What if we didn't spend all morning on a tight schedule--especially since we are spending all afternoon and evening on one right now?

What if I took the time to find the answers to all of the never-ending questions Bug asks all day long, instead of telling him, "we'll look it up later"?

What if my kiddos learned better that way?

What if we gave it a shot?

Last week, on a whim, we just dove in...

Want to read more about our adventures in unschooling?  I'll be writing more about how it's going over the next few weeks.  I'd love to hear about your homeschooling style as well.  Any other unschoolers out there?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thankful on Thursday

Today, I am thankful for the blessing that is homeschooling.  Let me start by saying that I know it is not a choice that all families can, or want to, make, but for us, I think it is one of the best choices that our family has made.

I am thankful for the ability to let my children sleep when they are tired, and not fight with sleepy kids to get them ready to get out the door.  Especially when we have been at a soccer tournament all weekend out of town and got home very, very late.

I am thankful for the time I get to spend with my kiddos.  Even when they are cranky and fighting all day.  My oldest is in public school this year, and we don't get to see her very much.  We all miss her.

I am thankful for the homeschooling community in our town.  For our community Facebook page, and veteran homeschool Mommas who patiently answer questions, and park playgroups practically every day.

I am thankful for the friends my kiddos have made--quality friendships, forged by lots of time spent together at those park playgroups, or "pool school days", or just hanging out time because us Mommas needed a break.

I am thankful for the Bible knowledge that is being imparted to my children.  By me, yes, but also by the "village" they belong to.  Community Bible Studies, friends asking for and giving prayers, living examples of being Christlike that is exhibited around them everyday.  (And, no, unfortunately, I don't mean by me.  I'm working on it...)

I am thankful for the freedom to be able to give my children time.  Time to explore, time to play, time to learn.  Time to themselves, time with each other, time with me, time with Christ.  That also means time to be who they are supposed to be.  Extra time to learn math facts if they need it.  Time to sit at the breakfast table and read for an hour.  Time to make a delivery to the Food Pantry, or to sit with a sick friend, or to make a dinner for another family who is going through rough times.  Time to serve.

This "one year at a time" experiment is in its sixth year, and, truth be told, I'm not in any hurry to end it.  I know one day it won't be the best fit for us.  But for now, today, I am thankful.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday...Moving Day

My sweet, amazing friend and her family moved away today.

I'm going to miss her lots and lots.

And that's all I can say about that right now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Institute for Excellence in Writing Fix It! Grammar...A TOS Crew Review...

We have used and loved many products from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) in our homeschool over the years, and the product we've been reviewing, Fix It! Grammar, is yet another to add to our "used it and loved it" pile!

Although the entire set of Fix It! Grammar has six levels, we received and started with the very first, Fix It! Grammar:  The Nose Tree (Book 1) Teacher's Manual, and Fix It! Grammar:  The Nose Tree (Book 1) Student Book.

What Is Fix It! Grammar?

Fix It! Grammar is grammar done in a way that is new to us.  Instead of the typical lesson and drill session, Fix It! introduces a grammar concept and then gives the student real-life opportunities to practice.

What does that look like?  Well, for example, one week's lesson in The Nose Tree was about articles (a, an, the).  Articles are introduced on Day 1 in a quick lesson, reinforced through a flashcard added to a flashcard collection, and then used throughout the rest of the week's lesson (and following weeks) by having the student find and identify articles in real sentences that work together to tell a story.

Each 4-day week is set up the same way:

--Day 1 introduces the new grammar lesson and encourages the parent to edit the given sentence in order to model the corrections for the child.  There is also a vocabulary word in each sentence that the child is encouraged to write down, look up in a dictionary, and copy the appropriate definition into a notebook.

--Days 2-4 have the child read the given sentence, work on their new vocabulary word, edit the sentence, and rewrite the sentence into their notebook.

Concepts are introduced the same way, with the same weekly format, over 33 weeks, until the entire fairy tale has been told, edited, and rewritten, sentence by sentence, by the student.

Fix It! Grammar Review
What Did We Receive?

We received both the Teacher's Manual ($19.00) and Student Book ($15.00) for Level 1:  The Nose Tree.  IEW suggests this is for Grades 3-12.  Although I used this with my 11 year-old sixth-grader, she has had minimal grammar instruction to this point.  IEW suggests that students beginning with this series should start with Book 1, but there is a placement test on their website.  Based on the placement test and their recommendations, we took their advice.

The Teacher's Manual is a 225-page, spiral bound book that offers lots of information about Fix It! Grammar, their method, their process, and how to begin.  It provides all of the teaching for each week, hints for addressing any issues that may come up, definitions for the vocabulary words, and answer keys for each sentence.  There is also a Scope and Sequence chart in the back, as well as a glossary to help "decode" the parts of speech, punctuation, and other grammar rules and concepts introduced in the text.

The Student Book is also spiral bound, and contains 70 pages of "Learn It" lessons and sentences to edit.  There are several pages of card stock flashcards to cut out, and there is the same glossary in the student book that parents have in the Teacher's Manual.

How Did We Use Fix It! Grammar?

We used this product just as IEW recommends, four days a week.  And we very rarely use a product exactly as it is recommended, so I think it's noteworthy that we did it with this one.  Each day's use took less than fifteen minutes, and it was a quick and easy fifteen minutes.  We followed the routine of read the sentence, work on the vocabulary word, edit the passage, rewrite the sentence.  After we finished on Day Four, we would always go back and re-read the story as it was written "so far".  There is a webinar that explains the process in more detail on the IEW website.

It was quick, it was easy, and the lessons stuck with Firefly.  The one thing I added was a regular review of all of the vocabulary words and semi-regular vocabulary tests, because vocabulary is another thing that Firefly hasn't had much practice with.

What Did I Think?

As you may have already guessed, I love this program!  As a matter of fact, I have already ordered the next book in the series and plan to continue through with all six.

I have dabbled with other grammar programs in the past.  So what is it about Fix It! that has me so excited?

--It's quick.  Really quick.  We can almost always fit the lesson in for the day, or can easily make it up if we miss one.

--It's teacher-friendly.  Everything I need to make the lesson work is included in the Teacher's Manual and Student Book.  I don't need to prep anything ahead of time--it's an open and go curriculum.

--It's working.  As I mentioned before, Firefly has not had a good deal of structured grammar teaching to this point, so we've gone into this program fairly blind.  In four weeks, we've covered nouns, articles, pronouns, homophones, quotation marks, and end punctuation.

And she remembers it.  All of it.

We are practicing it all every day, in that quick, reinforcing lesson.  The repetition is key for my Firefly, and just exactly what she needs.

--It's fun.  Really, it is!  Firefly and I both like the idea that we are learning a story, small piece by small piece.  At the end of the week, when we re-read what we've done, it's very reinforcing to see how much progress we've made in the story.

What Did Firefly Think?

"I thought it was a lot of writing.  But other than that, I liked the way the stories turned out, and I liked reading them and the vocabulary words were interesting.  I would like to keep doing it."  (Firefly, age 11)

**Side note**  It's a sentence per day.  One sentence.  So take the "a lot of writing" with a grain of salt.  Firefly does NOT like to write anything.

Find Out More About IEW and Fix It! Grammar:

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Google +

You Tube

Also, make sure to see what my Crew-Mates thought of their experiences with Fix It! Grammar:
Click to read Crew Reviews

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Field Trip Friday...Helicopter Squadron

We have a very dear, sweet, wonderful family who we love very much, who is getting ready to move away.

Which I'm not going to talk about anymore, because I'm having a hard time holding on to denial, and I really, really, REALLY need to hold on to the denial.

So, anyway, they asked our family and one other to join them this morning for a field trip tour through the helicopter squadron that their great husband / daddy is stationed in before they leave  take their extended vacation.

We had the best time, and learned so very much!

Mr. Rob spent almost two hours with us and was extremely patient as the kiddos (and us Mommas) asked him about a million questions, like, "how much do these planes cost?", "why is the propeller (not its proper name) on the back only on one side?", and, of course, "what happens if you have to go to the bathroom when you are flying the helicopter?"  

(giggle, giggle)

Everyone got a turn to touch, examine, and pseudo-pilot the helicopter, and there were lots of photo ops as the boys, especially, had their fill of climbing, poking, and jumping all over.

After the session in the hangar, we headed inside to learn about the flight suits and vests.  Mr. Rob patiently went through his vest (insert correct technical word here, lol...) and showed us everything that is included in it in event of a crash or stranding situation.  We were all shocked at how heavy it was, and quickly understood why it can get so hot when the pilots fly.

Here Firefly is trying on Mr. Rob's vest, and I'm pretty sure that it doubles her weight.  

Notice the grimace.

Everyone got a turn to try on the helmet.  I think Bug may have a few years of growth needed before it will fit well, huh?

We are so grateful to Mr. Rob for the tour and lessons, and even more grateful for the service he has given to our country.

God Bless our troops, their families, and our country.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thankful on Thursday...on Saturday

It's been a busy, crazy week (like all weeks tend to be), and I've forgotten to take the time to list my blessings.  So, this week, I'm thankful for...

...healthy children who are able to run, laugh, and play soccer (every night of the week)

...sweet, special friends for my children, who love them and love God

...rainy weather that gives us an unexpected Saturday morning at home together

...Friday night pizza and movie nights with my girlies

...a full night's sleep with no crying puppy

What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Student Logbook...A TOS Crew Review...

I have posted in the past about planners that I have found very useful in organizing my homeschool day.  Today, I want to tell you about a product that we've been using in an attempt to help my Firefly (6th grade) organize HER homeschool day...My Student Logbook.

My Student Logbook offers a variety of planner choices for students, second grade and up.  For our family, we received the logbook with the Rainforest cover and dated pages ($15.00).

My Student Logbook Review\
What Is My Student Logbook?

My Student Logbook is an 8.5 x 11 inch spiral-bound notebook.  It has plastic protective covers on the front and back, and the cover comes in one of several different designs.  The first few pages of the logbook help to introduce and explain how to use the logbook and how to set it up, as well as a brief introduction on keeping and creating high school transcripts.  After that, in our dated version (there is also an undated version), there are pages for dates 7/28/14 through 8/2/15.

The Logbook also contains pages for the student to record "All About Me", "Prayers and Goals", "Bible Verses Memorized", "Books Read", "Events, Projects, Field Trips, Presentations, and Activities", "Test Records", and "Year Highlights".

An interesting thing about My Student Logbook is its setup.  I will admit to being thoroughly confused initially, just from reading the directions.  However, there is a handy-dandy little video that worked beautifully for me in figuring out exactly what I was doing.  I am ashamed to admit that the video was a must-have for me!

How Did We Use My Student Logbook?

After struggling a bit with the setup, I quickly sat down to list my daughter's subjects along the left-hand side of the page.  

There was plenty of room for me to list all of our subjects--even the ones we only did once or twice a week.  And there are several subject sheets, so while I didn't need to change mine at all, they can be changed out in order to make a more accurate picture of what subjects you are working on.

Each morning, before we started school, I would highlight the subjects that needed to be completed that day.  As Firefly completed the subject, she would check it off, cross it out (if we didn't get to it), or keep track of the time it took her.

**A side note about the time here.  As soon as we got My Student Logbook, Firefly decided she wanted to make herself a schedule.  I, of course, being the Type-A, obsessive Momma that I am, thought that this was a wonderful idea!  Firefly's first step in this was to determine exactly how long she was working in each subject.  Hence, we timed everything.  Obsessively.  For four weeks.


BUT--today we have followed a schedule for the very first time all year--which was possible and realistic to set up due to knowing "about" how long each subject will take.**

What Did I Think of My Student Logbook?

Again, I am an organizer at heart.  I typically love all things planning!  So I absolutely loved the concept of My Student Logbook, especially as one of my goals for Firefly this year is to become more independent in her schoolwork.  This definitely seemed to help.  I noticed that although I still (after four weeks) had to go through every day and highlight what would be worked on, Firefly could take some ownership and quickly look at her logbook to see what still needed to be completed.

Now, because my Firefly has some special needs, we work hard on checklists and organization at our home.  So, although the logbook could tell her that she still needed to work on History, for example, she still needed to check her more detailed list to tell her exactly what she needed to do that day for History.  I wasn't able to get that detailed with My Student Logbook.

Overall, though, it was a great tool to help her feel more confident and more independent in her school day.  To me, that's worth a small bit of leg work on my end.  I definitely think that most kids could be more independent in keeping their logbook than Firefly was.

What Did Firefly Think of My Student Logbook?

"It was very handy.  I thought that it was very helpful when we tried to do my schedule.  I liked it.  It helped me feel more organized.  I want to keep using it."  (Firefly, age 11)

Find Out More About My Student Logbook:

Find My Student Logbook on Facebook

Take a peek at what my Crewmates thought as well:

Click to read Crew Reviews

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