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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Five on Friday...on Sunday, Because it's Been That Kind of a Summer


I thought today I would give you a quick sneak peek of how we have handled our summer learning this summer--affectionately known around these parts as The. Worst. Summer. Ever.

Except not anymore.  Because we've officially given up complaining in this house under threat of having to pay money to "The Jar".  Which only I have had to do so far.  And that was before the power went out for two hours when it was 100 degrees outside.

But, I digress.

It has been a crazy summer here, to say the least, and if I were a better person (read, less Type A Control Freak Momma), I would have abandoned all summer learning plans in an effort to enjoy the time we had.  Since I'm not that better person, I've tried to cram in learning where we could get it, although really in a less "formal" way.  And hopefully, in a way that has benefited my kiddos.

1.  Reviews...we have not accepted a ton of review products lately due to the craziness of our schedule, but we have done some, and they've been so very wonderful that sometimes we've forgotten that they were "extra summer learning".  Most notably, we've kept up with math drills with Learning Wrap-Ups, and with literature and science unit studies with Moving Beyond the Page.  Since these have fallen outside of our "normal" school-type look, my kiddos have been having a bit more fun with them and a bit less complaining about doing school.

2.  Life Skills...Ah, yes.  It has been the summer of learning life lessons.  We have taken care of elderly family members, tried to pick up the slack at home when Momma is out of town, learned to survive a week at our first sleep-away camp, found out what happens when we go out of our way to be "not helpful" during summer craziness, learned about washing machine floods and homeowner's insurance policy facts, started lemonade stands, served family members who were recovering from surgery, written numerous Thank You notes, and learned how to run our own laundry.  Many of these things I'd already learned, lol, but now most of my kiddos have some level of proficiency with these as well.

3.  Brain Exercises...I've been doing a good bit of reading on brain flexibility and brain balance, in part from good friends passing along information, but also from the Learning Breakthrough book that I reviewed earlier this year.  As a result, Firefly has now done seven weeks of an intensive Brain Training program here at home.  Five days a week, we run through a series of exercises.  I call that "Learning Skills".

4.  Swimming...Both Bug and Firefly spent the summer swimming on a neighborhood swim team.  I loved the cross-training aspect of it, loved watching them get stronger and competing against themselves, and watching their pride as they dropped their times.  I think they just really loved to swim every day.  We're calling this "P. E."

5.  Math.  Kind of...See, my original plan was to continue math throughout the summer, both to keep the material fresh and to "catch up"--mainly for Firefly.  I admit to being a bit of a failure on this point, though.  There are just way too many things to do with our scarce free time that seem to be a bit more fun than math.

Oops.

But, Turtle is finishing up her Algebra 1, and Firefly has completed two lessons (almost), and Bug will sporadically work on his addition facts.

Four out of five ain't bad...

What do you do for summer learning in your homeschool?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Apologia Educational Ministries...A TOS Crew Book Review...


It's not very often that a review comes along that is strictly for Moms--especially us homeschooling Mommas.  But that is exactly the demographic that Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, from Apologia Educational Ministries, was written by, for, and to.


Flourish Book Review

Flourish ($15) is a beautiful soft-cover, 288-page book written by Mary Jo Tate, a homeschooling Momma herself, who was deep in the same trenches that many of us live in, but suddenly found herself single with four children to raise, feed, and teach.  Ms. Tate shares in her story how God provided for her family and showed her how to move forward, and to flourish at home.  She then shares what she learned through that difficult time with us through her words in this book.

Flourish, for me, was a bit different than many homemaking "how to" books that I've devoured in the past.  I feel like there are a bunch of books that tell me to "strike a balance" in my life, or to "stop trying to be Supermom".  However, in this book I've found some actual practical tools and ways to find the balance I've been searching for, and to realistically let go of the Supermom mentality.

Let me tell you a little bit about how that goes.

Ms. Tate uses what she calls the "FREEDOM Toolbox", helping us Mommas learn how to Focus, Reflect, Educate, Eliminate, Discipline, Organize, and Multitask (which may be a bit different than what you are thinking it is), so that we can more effectively streamline our responsibilities and our days.  She encourages us to keep a time log (for a week!) and keep track of where our time actually goes on a daily basis.  She offers us varied ways to keep to a schedule (for us super Type A Mommas) or a routine (for those of us who aren't).  She helps us deal with interruptions, bad attitudes, and even has a chapter entitled "Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days". 

How can you not love honesty like that?

One thing, though, that spoke to me while reading Flourish was Ms. Tate's section on goal-setting.  It really struck me right between the eyes.  I do plenty of goal-setting for my children and in our homeschool.  I don't do so much of it for myself.  Except maybe for the Supermom kind.

This was hard.  It kept me at a bit of a standstill for a while while I did a bit of self-searching to discover what goals I actually do have for myself and my life.  And to Think Big, as Flourish encourages us Mommas to do.  Truth be told, I'm still working on that a bit.  But it's a fun, yet important, thing to think on and work toward.

Another part of the book that was very helpful for me was one of the Appendices.  In it, you find many (all) of the forms that Ms. Tate recommends filling out throughout the book.  There are things like self-evaluations, the aforementioned Time Log, questions to help us find our Big Dream, Yearly Review and Yearly Goals, a monthly calendar, and a weekly plan sample page.  I didn't use the pages in the book (in the interest of full disclosure), due to the smaller size of the page and the larger size of my handwriting, but if you have the same problem, you can also download copies of the form from a website given in the book.  The forms that were most helpful to me were the Time Logs, which I mentioned before.

Doing the Time Log was challenging.  I kept arguing with myself, saying "but this isn't a typical week".  I realized, though, that there are very few "typical weeks" in the life of a "typical" homeschool Momma, and I am no exception to that.  So although my Time Logs were done in a "not typical" week, they are probably pretty accurate for what my weeks are like.

And all I have to say about those logs and that week is "Wow".

I learned a lot about how I spend my time.  And I learned a lot about how I would like to spend my time.  And how I can help myself to "find peace in the space between my ideal and my reality", which is a phrase that Ms. Tate repeats often throughout her book.

I am very excited about this book, and although it was a quick read, for the most part, I have slowly started to go through it again--this time with a highlighter and some sticky notes.  I will be making it an every-year part of my homeschool planning, and I have been incredibly encouraged by it.  There are some pieces of it that are not as applicable to me at this time in my life, although, as Ms. Tate suggested, I read through them anyway to gain a different perspective.  For example, she devotes an entire chapter to single moms, and another to those homeschooling moms who run home businesses.

I encourage you to check out Flourish for yourself, but don't just take my word for it.  Several of my Crewmates reviewed it as well, so make sure to see what they had to say.  Also, you can look through the Table of Contents, or read a sample of the book at the Apologia website, and find more information on Facebook and Twitter.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)...One Year Ago...


One year ago, my kiddos went to a Spanish Camp for a week.  Bug made a fun diorama!  I had forgotten all about it--I'm glad I went back in time a little bit!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Five on Friday...Why The Blog Hasn't Been as Active Lately...

I thought this would be a fun idea, to start a wrap-up of our weeks with a simple list of our favorite five things that we've done, books we've read, places we've gone, etc.

However, this past six weeks our lives have been in a bit of a just-get-through-the-day-without-losing-it mode, and, honestly, this blog has shown it!  I promise that we have about three more weeks of extra-ordinary craziness, and then I will get back to our regularly scheduled chaos.  Of course, as I type this, I realize that that is MY plan, which I'm sure is quite, quite different from God's.  We will see what the ride ahead is going to be like, but here is a list of five things that have defined our summer so far, and what our life is like when you can't see it happening online...

1.  Surgery.  On May 30th, I had hip surgery.  We had anticipated that it was coming, but what we hadn't anticipated was the rough recovery.  Ugh.  The surgery went as well as it could, seeing as how the surgeon was "surprised" when he got in there (which is probably never a good thing...), and I came home as scheduled, but then spent roughly 48 hours violently sick.  And not able to move quickly to do it privately.

You know you have a true friend for life when she cleans out your vomit bowl.

Anyway, six weeks out, I am now off of the crutches, able to go upstairs (which my kiddos were not too thrilled about--they had World War 3 going up there with Army men and Matchbox cars.  Oh, and marbles, for some reason...), and heading out to therapy three times / week.  But I'm so incredibly slow.  To go anywhere.  It's a bit annoying, actually.  Hopefully, though, another six weeks will see huge improvements in my pain and my mobility level, and we are all learning lessons about serving others.  Ahem.

2.  My Daddy.  I know I've mentioned before that my father has early onset Alzheimer's.  His wife is taking a much needed and well-deserved vacation this month, and my brother, sister, and I are working together to cover him at home.  I've been down once already this month and am headed down there again this week.

Yeah, it's not an easy thing.  I have a new appreciation for caregivers and what they go through everyday.  Let's just say that when I'm down there, it's a full-time job, and I'm shocked and saddened to know that his disease has progressed so quickly.

I hate Alzheimer's.

3.  Summer Overscheduling.  Since surgery, recovery, and caregiving weren't going to be enough to keep us all busy, I have successfully kept up my pattern of over-committing us to things.  This summer, my oldest has worked a VBS, is conditioning for high school soccer 3x / week, is doing an injury prevention class with her sister and father 3x / week, and is still trying to finish her Algebra I.

Firefly is soccer-ing as well, and conditioning on her own.  We are doing Brain Training exercises five days / week, she has done VBS, piano lessons, swim team, and is going to sleep-away camp in a few weeks.

Not to be outdone, Bug is also swimming, doing VBS, and we've thrown in a tennis camp for him at the end of the summer.

Can it please be August soon?  I promise I've learned my lesson!

4.  Visitors.  My sister and her children will be joining us this week from New York, and will be visiting until the beginning of August, as she and I take turns care taking either our father or our kiddos.  I am so very thrilled to be spending time with her and with my nieces, and so while I will be picture-taking, I probably won't be blogging much...

5.  Everyday Life.  You know, the playdates, pool time, laundry, school planning, cleaning, and endless meal-making involved in having a family!  Normally, I am on top of it, but with the slow-moving me and the absent-me, these chores (and the fun time, too) have been piling up.  

That's our summer!  I can say that I am honestly looking forward to the lightened schedule (hopefully) that the school year will bring.  I will be back on track with reviews, photos, Firefly updates, curriculum plans, etc. as soon as I can!  In the meantime, I could probably really use some prayers!

How's your summer going?  Did you over schedule?  Or were you smart and you are now enjoying a peaceful season?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page...A TOS Crew Review


As a reviewer for the TOS Crew, I get access to all kinds of wonderful homeschool products that I may not have used otherwise.  One of our favorites from last year, Moving Beyond the Page, gave us the opportunity to use and review their literature-based curriculum packages again this year, and I was thrilled!

Since I had used Moving Beyond the Page with my middle child last time, I chose to pick out units to try with my Bug this time.  He is seven, and just finished first grade.  We chose:


Language Arts Package:  Tornado

and

Science Package:  Amazing Weather

What is Moving Beyond the Page?

Moving Beyond the Page Review


Moving Beyond the Page is a unit study-based curriculum that incorporates literature, hands-on activities, critical thinking skills, and integrated learning into the studies.  They offer full curricula in language arts, science, and social studies for ages 4-14, and many of their packages are available in online or hard copies.  You can purchase the entire curriculum package for an age level, or purchase individual units.  We received two individual units.


What Did We Receive?

We received an online package for Tornado ($20.91).  This included the curriculum guide that was completely online and printable student pages ($12.93), How the Turtle Got Its Shell, a Little Golden Book ($2.99), and Tornado, a softcover seven-chapter book that is the main focus of the unit ($4.99).

We received the hard copy package for Amazing Weather ($36.97).  This included a hard copy of the curriculum guide ($16.99), On The Same Day in March, a softcover book ($6.99), Weather, a DK Eye Wonder book ($10.99), and an individual thermometer ($2.00).  

*Side note:  although our thermometer was safely wrapped, it was broken when we unwrapped it.  A quick call to customer service resulted in a brand new thermometer sent out that day, received within the next two.*

Both of these units were labeled for ages 7-9, and I used the list of prerequisites found on the website to find out which level to pick.  The age 7-9 prerequisites were:

--Able to read and comprehend chapter books on a third or early fourth grade reading level
--Can answer comprehension questions about a chapter in a journal
--Able to write three or four sentences on a topic
--Usually used by children in second or third grade

Bug met these criteria, with the exception of the writing sentences.  I reasoned that his strong reading skills would make it difficult to place him in a lower level, and that we could adapt the curriculum to make up for his writing weakness.

How Did We Use Moving Beyond the Page?

Each unit that we received is designed to be completed over a three-week period, and many of the units included in the program can be used together, as they complement each other very well.  In our case, the language arts unit Tornado, fell right in with the science unit on Amazing Weather.  As a matter of fact, you can find a list of all of the skills that are addressed within these two units.

Moving Beyond the Page recommends the following schedule for ages 7-9:

30 minutes on assigned reading / questions
60 minutes on the Language Arts lesson
60 minutes on the Science or Social Studies lesson
45 minutes on math instruction (not included)
30 minutes on optional extension projects
30 minutes on optional review

We are currently on a more relaxed summer schedule, so we didn't follow those plans exactly.  We did one lesson / day, with Language Arts one day and Science the next.  Typically, we spent between 45 and 60 minutes on each lesson, with reading, questions, writing, or projects.

Let me tell you a little bit about what each of these units looked like with everyday use:

Tornado

Tornado includes nine lessons and a final project.  Four of the lessons are set up to be 2-day lessons, while the others are less time-consuming.  However, we often used more than one day for the one day lessons, taking our time with the activities.  Each lesson begins with Questions to Explore, Facts and Definitions, Skills, Materials Needed, and an Introduction.
  
Next, there are several activities that will tie into the main topic.  For example, the first lesson covers Weather on a Farm, and some of the activities discuss setting (the farm) and have the child either draw a picture and write a short paragraph about what he would enjoy about working on a farm, or complete a Venn Diagram about his life now and what farm life is like.  Another activity in that lesson teaches about Tornado Alley, with a hyperlink to information about it, and asks the child to color in and label the map of the part of the country labeled Tornado Alley.

There are concluding thoughts and even sometimes "life applications" at the end of the lessons, such as taking the child to visit a real farm.  Many other lessons also include reading parts of the story, answering discussion questions--not just recall of the story, but "why do you think" types of questions as well.  Other activities include things like vocabulary word matching, main ideas, predictions, practicing punctuation, and keeping a journal as your child goes through the story.  

There is a final project at the end of the unit, or in this case, three "mini projects" that the child can choose to do.  These are chosen from nine offered activities, and cover many different styles of learning and evaluation:  writing, drawing, dramatizing, singing, etc.  My Bug's picks were all non-writing activities--hence the lack of pictures.  We were too busy watching him perform!

studying the effects of wind (homemade wind, lol!)

Amazing Weather

This unit contained eight lessons, four of which were labeled two day lessons, and a final project.  These lessons covered topics such as: heat and temperature, wind, precipitation, and geography and weather.  This unit was set up much the same as the Tornado unit, in that each lesson has Big Ideas (main concepts taught in the lesson), Facts and Definitions, Skills, Materials Needed, and an Introduction, followed by several activities and / or reading.  Some of the activities in the lessons include things like matching words to their definitions, cutting an apple in half to demonstrate the layers of the atmosphere, keeping a weather log, making a weather vane and a barometer, and graphing rainfall.  The final project is a three-day full weather report, using the weather tools the child creates throughout the unit, and there is a rubric included for grading.

Each day we began our study by looking over the lesson plan for the day.  Usually we would then begin with some reading, and then discussing the questions included in the guide.  After that, we would start the activities.  Each day included at least two activities, and some activities were "leveled" with two different options.  There is also a "Wrapping Up" section after the activities that helped us make sure we grasped the main point of the lesson.  If there was a "Life Application", I would try to see if it was something we could plan to do.  Flying a kite at the park, yes.  Visiting a working farm, not quite so easy.


What Did I Think?

Last year, I was thrilled with the Moving Beyond the Page units that we received and completed.  
This year, I am just as thrilled!  

First of all, I am a big fan of unit studies, and also a big fan of literature-based learning.  My kiddos are big fans of learning that doesn't look like traditional learning, so I think our family is a great fit for this curriculum in general.  Using the story Tornado as a stepping-off point for learning about farms, tornadoes, and even turtles, seemed to make the information real, and worth remembering for my Bug.  And pairing it up with a study on weather really tied everything together.

We did cheat a bit and read Tornado more quickly than we were instructed to, however, because my son just couldn't wait to finish the story!  After we did that, though, we were able to go back through slowly and do a chapter at a time, using the chapters and the lesson guide to move through the story again, immersing ourselves in the book and the learning.  I did feel like there was quite a bit of writing expected from my son (as the prerequisites suggested), but we were able to modify the lessons for him.  Sometimes I would write what he narrated.  Other times I would force the writing issue on him.  Still other times I would have him draw something instead of writing about it.  I never felt that it took away from Bug's learning experience, and of course, he loved the hands-on pieces of the curriculum!  

I do think that, while we both enjoyed the story of Tornado very much, we both enjoyed working in the Science unit more than the Language Arts unit.  Amazing Weather was a blast, and we BOTH learned much more than I would have expected.  It was a full-scale lesson on many weather conditions, why those conditions happen, and how to measure the weather.  This unit did not involve quite as much writing, and seemed to have more hands-on activities that my son could complete and enjoy.  The books that were included with the unit were well-written and a perfect complement to the lessons, and the activities were relevant to what we were learning.

I was impressed with these units, and this curriculum overall.  I like that it used many different styles of teaching, and taught concepts that I wouldn't have thought to teach Bug at this time--but he learned them!  We were always both eager to dive into the lessons, and, for the most part, the activities were easy to complete with items that we had on hand in our home, like tennis balls, small sticks, or glitter.

  There were just a few things that seemed a bit redundant--we were keeping a weather log over a ten day period, but during the same period of time, we ended up doing an experiment that had us tracking temperature four times / day for five days, so we got a lot of practice with the thermometer, but it all was fine and something that Bug enjoyed.

I am a hard copy kind of girl, so it is no surprise that the hard copy was more user-friendly for me.  However, there are benefits to the online copy:  it gives more direct access to online resources (more available in guides for the older ages), and offers IdeaShare, which is an online tool where parents can share ideas and resources related to the lesson.  Also, although you have access for 3 months to the online lessons, you will be able to re-purchase those units for half-price for younger siblings when they are ready.

My one complaint with this curriculum is that it is a bit pricey, especially to use for the entire year.  However, we will continue to supplement with the individual units, because I just enjoy them so much!  If money wasn't an issue, we would use them all the way through!

What Did Bug Think?

"I really liked the Tornado story.  It was exciting and I really liked how the tornado was like the one in Pete's story.  The weather book I learned lots of things that I didn't know.  And I learned how trees, when they lose their bark, they lean one way, and the other side tries to get up, while the one side tries to crouch down, like arrows are coming.  And the other side is like jumping up, like an alligator is snapping at its feet.  I didn't really like the thermometer projects, because it took a while to do all the stuff."  (Bug, age 7)

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My Crewmates reviewed many different units at many different age levels.  Please make sure to take a look at what they thought of Moving Beyond the Page...

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