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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Doubts of a New Unschooler

So, if you've been following along for any length of time, you may know that we made the decision to start unschooling a few weeks ago.  And, you can find the success of our first week of unschooling on the blog as well.  Truly, we had an amazing first week, y'all!

Even a pretty great second week.

And then.

I. Got. In. The. Way.

I guess I couldn't stop myself!  Two weeks of sitting on my hands, biting my tongue turned out to be my limit.  My check-off-the-box, make-a-list alter ego came bursting out with a vengeance.

Don't get me wrong.  It started off pretty slowly.  You know, Bug HAD just had a birthday.  There WERE Thank You notes that needed to be written.  And, truthfully, I DID have all of these neat unit studies and lap books just sitting there on the shelves, mocking me.

And Bug hadn't voluntarily done anything that could even vaguely be considered math in ten days.

And that put me over the edge.  So I just made a few notes, with just a couple of "basics" written down that I probably wanted us to get to throughout the course of the day.


Those few basics took us all morning.  And there was complaining.  And bad attitudes.  And way less freedom and fun.

And I had forgotten the whole reason / concept / purpose behind this unschool nonsense--which was to re-instill a love of learning.  To give my children freedom to learn about things THEY were interested in.  To take the pressure off of ourselves and trust in God and in the process.

Luckily, I have a couple of really wise ladies who patiently listen to me vent, and who then point me in the right direction--which usually includes me closely looking at myself and what I want.

It's not about me.  It's time for me to get out of my own way and find His way.

"Thus saith the Lord; 'Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.' "  (Jeremiah 17:5)

Today is a new day.  This week I let go again and trusted and followed.  This was a great week.

(But the math thing is going to be the death of me...)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday...Our Veteran's Day Parade...

Out of The Box Games...A TOS Crew review...

We are a family that loves our board games!  There are a few of us who have a bit more of a competitive streak than others, ahem, so there is always someone eager to play a good game.

So, it was a great pleasure to get the opportunity to review an item from Out of the Box Games--Snake Oil.  

Out of the Box Games Review
Out of the Box Games has been around since 1998, and they believe in creating games that are easy to learn, quick and enjoyable to play, and cause players to have exciting interaction with one another. We actually had never played an Out of the Box Game before, so this was our first experience with this company.

Snake Oil ($19.99) is listed as for ages 10-adult, and can be played with 3-10 players.  Opening the box for the first time, you will find four large wrapped decks of cards, one smaller wrapped deck of cards, and the instructions.  The larger decks are the purple Word Cards, and each card has one word on it.  The words are innocent enough to start, "pillow", "garbage", "monkey".  It's the combinations of the words that you later make that start all of the trouble!  The smaller decks are the Customer Cards, and each card has a "profession" written on either side of it.  The professions are things like "caveman", "super hero", or "alien".

When the game begins, each player gets dealt six word cards, and one of the players chooses a Customer Card.  That player is now the customer for the round.  Each of the other players then have to select two word cards from their hands that they can combine to create an object to sell to the Customer.  The player with the most creative, most successful, or, in our case, funniest sales pitch / item wins the Customer Card.  Play moves along so the next player in line can become the Customer. Once each player has been the Customer once, the game is over and the player with the most Customer Cards wins!

We had a blast with this game! I played it regularly with my 11 year-old, but also my newly 8 year-old.  Even though he was "technically" under the age limit, he played just as well as the rest of us.  Being able to read, I think, would be the biggest skill you would need in order to play successfully.  For the three of us, playing with each of us having one turn to be the Customer, the game was over pretty quickly.  Most often, we set different limits, such as having three turns each.  When we would do that, the game usually lasted about fifteen minutes or so.  (Occasionally, fits of giggles would extend the length of the rounds...)

This is the best picture I got that wasn't too blurry, when we were in a giggle fit.  It was the word "diaper".

All in all, I wouldn't say this is the most educational game we've ever played, but it was definitely a lot of fun!  The kiddos had fun coming up with new inventions (which is harder than you would think), and pitching them to me and to each other.  They were practicing their vocabulary, and their quick-thinking, problem solving skills.  Bug, especially, wanted to play over and over again!  

The instruction card also gives several variations on the original game, including classroom play.  We tried one or two, but mainly stuck to the game the way we started using it.  There are a few word cards that we have taken out as we've gone along--just not quite things we want to use in a family game--words like "bra" or "murder".  The game is still completely play-able without those few cards.  This one's going to be a hit for a very long time, I think!

What Did My Kiddos Think?

"It was fun!  I loved it and it was fun and it had very funny parts.  And sometimes I even came up with very funny inventions, like the Baby Diaper!"  (Bug, age 8)

"I liked it.  It was a creative idea for a game, and I thought that it could really help you when you wanted to do something fun.  I would really like to keep playing it!"  (Firefly, age 11)

Find Out More About Out of the Box Games:

You can find a video demonstration of how to play Snake Oil on the website.

Find Out of the Box Games on Facebook or Twitter.

Also, my Crew Mates reviewed Snake Oil and Snake Oil Party Potion.  Make sure to see what they thought:

Click to read Crew Reviews

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Monday, November 10, 2014

IXL...A TOS Crew Review...

We recently had the opportunity to review IXL Math and IXL Language Arts from IXL in our homeschool.  IXL is one of those programs that I've heard about for years, but have never truly understood what it really was or what to do with it.  If you are like me, I hope that this review gives you a great feel for the program!

So What Exactly IS IXL?

IXL is a learning computer website that helps kiddos practice their skills in math and in language arts.  It is not a teaching website--the "teaching" happens when a child answers a question incorrectly and instruction is given.  IXL offers unlimited questions on over 4,000 math and language arts skills, covering Pre-K through PreCalculus in math, and second through eight grade in language arts.

What Did We Receive?

We received a membership to IXL's online program for one year for two students.  My kiddos both had access to the math and the language arts sections.  In addition, I had a parent login which gave me access to everything my kiddos had, as well as the report sections.  There is also an IXL app available for iPad, Android, and Kindle, but we did all of our work on our desktop.

How Did We Use IXL?

When we received our login for IXL, it was very simple for me to set up an account for myself, Bug (2nd grade), and Firefly (6th grade).  Once we had those set up, we went to work.

Bug and I used this program together for the most part, although he would have been able to navigate the site on his own, and did just that at times.  At first, I would "assign" a section for him to work on, based on what we had been covering in our regular schoolwork.  This worked beautifully as there are so very many skills--it was easy to find just the right section for him to practice.  As the review period went on, however, our entire homeschool style began to change.  As a result, we began to use IXL in a freer manner, allowing Bug to select what he wanted to work on when.

Since he is in Second Grade, he was able to use both the math and language arts sections, although he preferred the math overall.  The language arts was a bit heavier on grammar and parts of speech than we have covered on our own, so it was more difficult for him, but the math was just the right speed.

Firefly also used both the math and the language arts sections of IXL.  Although she is in Sixth Grade, we worked at the Fifth Grade level.  Even some of that material was a bit difficult for her, so it was nice to be able to navigate within grade levels.  Her preference, of course, was for the language arts, and it was a struggle to get her to practice in the math.

Each time we sat down to work, we planned for about a fifteen minute session, which was usually enough for my second-grader to complete two or more sections.  Firefly, however, had usually just enough time to complete one.

What Did I Think of IXL?

First of all, I really like the IDEA of IXL.  It is very streamlined, easy to find what skills you are looking for, and easy to use.  In looking for a specific skill, you can hover over the section and a sample question will pop up, which helped me tremendously!

Also, I never went to look for a skill to practice that wasn't there.  There is an absolutely massive selection of skills to practice, both in language arts and in math.  The skills are correlated to state standards, which means Common Core.  However, that in itself was not a problem for me, and we didn't find any discrepancies in how the math was practiced vs. how I have taught it.

The screens were very easy to navigate.  Once the skill is selected, the screen looks like it does above.  Once the child answers the question (which is printed, but in the earlier grades it can be read aloud.  We did not use this feature.), the SmartScore goes up.  Once it reaches 100, the skill is mastered.  

**Warning**(if you have perfectionist kiddos like mine).  The SmartScore goes up more quickly at the beginning of the session than it does when you get closer to the end.  As a matter of fact, the last ten-ish questions are worth one point each, while the first ones are worth nine or ten points.  This would continually frustrate my kiddos, who watched that score like hawks.

Once the student completes the section, there is quite often a prize.  In our experience, the language arts prizes were "medals", but the math prizes were different "objects" the kids got to uncover.

The kids had a lot of fun uncovering the prizes, and more than once were motivated to do "just one more" in order to meet the goal.  There are also certificates that get emailed to the parent account for certain benchmarks:  for example, answering 100 language arts questions, or 250 questions overall.

Now, the parent report section of IXL was amazing.  There is so much information there that it can be a bit overwhelming!  And, overall, since I sat with my kiddos when they used the program, there was much of it that was unnecessary for me.  However, if this was used as a supplemental program for when Mommas were working with other siblings, the report piece would be so very helpful!  It tracks time spent online, time spent in each section, problems answered, level of mastery, skills practiced, improvement, and on and on and on.  There is also a brief weekly report that is emailed to the parent to go over time spent, progress made, etc.

So again, the idea of IXL--wonderful!  In our reality, I was frustrated with it in our homeschool.  Neither of my children enjoyed much of their time online, although they were drawn to the prizes enough to get on without much of an argument--on most days.  This didn't surprise me much with Firefly.  I definitely think the questions were more difficult than what she is used to, and when we got to questions that were more appropriate for her, she could see that they were "Fifth Grade", which was discouraging for her.  For Bug, though, who loves to work online, I was surprised.  I think that maybe the repetitive aspect of the questions, while wonderful for practicing a skill, may just have been a little too much for his attention span.

While IXL didn't work well for us, I do think that we are probably in the minority.  It's just an amazing way for moms to have their students drill and practice what they've learned, keep track of what they are doing, and let the students earn prizes and certificates.  And being able to move around to all of the grade levels was very helpful for us--although might have been more helpful if the grades weren't so clearly marked.

What Did My Kiddos Think?

"I did not like it so much.  It sort of stressed me out because it was timing me and usually when I'm getting timed I get frustrated.  I didn't really like either the math or the language arts.  But I did like the language arts a little bit better than the math.  I liked the certificates."  (Bug, age 8)

"It was fun to win the prizes.  Some of it was really hard, and I liked the language arts better than the math.  I really did like winning the prizes though.  It was a good review of some of the stuff I've already learned.  I would want to keep doing it some days, but not all the time."  (Firefly, age 11)

Find Out More About IXL:

Family memberships cost $9.95 / month, or $79 / year for one subject, or $15.95 / month and $129 / year for both math and language arts.  Each additional child is $2 / month or $20 for the year.  This gives you access to all grade levels and all skill levels.

Find IXL on Facebook


Google +

Also, make sure to see what my fellow Crew-Mates thought about their time with IXL...

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, November 7, 2014

Five on Friday...Our First Week of Unschooling...

We are just a few weeks into our "unschooling" journey, but we are definitely still trying to get our feet wet.  And I know that I am just a bit too Type A to dive in full-force to something so unstructured.  So far, I've set some "boundaries".  They look like this:

--No electronics until after lunch

--Bible Study done every day

That's it.  My goal here was boredom.  I figured being bored would drive my kiddos to want to do something new, or something that "looked" educational to me.  With those rules in place, and me spending an inordinate amount of time sitting on my hands and biting my tongue, here are five of the most exciting things my kiddos did / created / learned about (initiated by themselves) this week:

1.  Block Play--My little guy quickly found a book about tangrams and a box of them that I had "accidentally" left out.  Tangram building led (of course) to a massive Lego build that led to fortress building with tangrams, Legos, and blocks that then (of course) just HAD to be shot down Angry Birds-style.  With our very own slingshot.  Over and over and over again.

2.  Light Patrol--After a quick errand to pay our electric bill, and a brief discussion about how high it was and ways we could help Daddy by making it lower, the kiddos came home and created the "Light Patrol", complete with posters, badges, and a velcro-attachable whose-turn-is-it chart.  Every time we leave the house now, our Light Patrol takes some extra time to go through the house and turn off lights, ceiling fans, and the like.  We'll see how that works soon!

3.  Reading--Lots and lots and lots of reading.  My kiddos devoured every library book we had and were begging for more.  They loved the free time to read.  And it made Momma happy, too!

4.  Dog Biology--Bear with me, here.  I know the picture is extremely blurry.  Our sweet doggy, turns out, tore his ACL in an accident last week.  Bug traveled with me to the Specialty Vet where we learned what they recommend we do for Max.  As soon as said Specialty Vet realized we were homeschoolers, the dry erase markers came out and he was in full lecture mode!  I think Bug may have a better understanding of the proposed surgery than I do.  (Of course, I may have zoned out a bit when I learned the proposed cost!)

5.  Living History--We had the opportunity to go to a Benjamin Franklin impersonation.  Being the American History nerd that I am, I had a wonderful time!  I think the kiddos may have been less than thrilled, but they were both able to grasp some understanding of the time period, the history, and the character.  AND I didn't worry about what curriculum we weren't going to be able to do that day!

I'm liking this unschool-type stuff.  We'll see how it goes from here...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

If He Had Not Come...A TOS Crew Book Review

I love Christmas!  Simply love it!  Love the preparations, love the family time, and love, love, love the reason for Christmas in the first place--our Savior's birth.  And one of our favorite family traditions in the weeks before Christmas is reading a favorite Christmas story each day.

Let me introduce you to a new favorite, which will be added to our December rotation year after year:

If He Had Not Come, a rewrite of Nan F. Weeks' original story, by David Nicholson, and illustrated by Charles Jaskiewicz.

David Nicholson is a retired teacher, who first heard Nan F. Weeks' version of this story as an adult.  He was so captivated by the story that he began to read it to his daughters each Christmas, and has since re-written it to share it with the rest of us.

If He Had Not Come is a beautiful, hardcover book with full-page color illustrations throughout the story.  It is aimed at ages six and up, but I think the story would appeal to all ages.  It is the story of a young boy, Bobby, who goes to sleep on Christmas Eve pondering the words his father read in the Bible before bedtime, "if I had not come."

Waking up, Bobby then quickly discovers what the world would have been like if Jesus did not come as he explores what his city has become.  There is no Christmas, grim, angry adults, no churches, no orphan's homes, no hospitals, no homeless shelters, no kindness or joy.

Luckily, Bobby finds that this city is only a city of his dreams, and wakes up to church bells on Christmas Morning.  Now, Bobby is newly thankful for Christmas, Jesus, and God's gift of salvation--and so were we, when we read the story.

The book also includes question and answer activities aimed at families and Sunday School teachers following the story.  They are meant to be discussion starters and can be turned into activities to complete together.  There is also a page labeled "Going Deeper", which seems to be aimed at an older audience, but really contains some thought-provoking questions about why Jesus came to earth and what it would mean for us spiritually if He hadn't come.  The book ends with the Gospel Message, reminding us that Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins.

What Did I Think?

I am a book snob, AND I love Christmas, so this review was perfectly suited for me!  The book itself is beautiful, and the illustrations are warm and gentle.  It was a perfect book to curl up with together when we finally had a *bit* of cold weather.  And the story itself?  Magical.  Delightful.  I always try to keep "the reason for the season" first and foremost with my kiddos when Christmas is coming.  But I've never approached it from the angle of "what if?"  What if Jesus had never come to save us?  What would things be like?  This story was a look at what our lives would be like, and it definitely made us all think.  We had some interesting discussions even before we got to the questions at the end of the book.

This will definitely be added into our Christmas reading every year!

What Did My Kids Think?

"I liked the book.  It showed me a lot about how it would be if Jesus had not come."  --Bug, age 8

"It was a very fun story to read, and I think it's a great book for us to read at Christmastime.  It was really cool to learn about what it would have been like if Jesus was not born.  I really liked it!"  --Firefly, age 11

Find Out More About If He Had Not Come:

This book is available in Hardcover for $18.95.

You can find David Nicholson on Facebook, and you can read what my Crew-Mates thought about the book as well.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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