Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Revolutionary Ideas~ A Homeschool Legacy


Revolutionary Ideas~ A Homeschool Legacy ~ That just makes me smile a little bit~ Homeschoolers tend to entertain revolutionary ideas, I think, which is the legacy of many homeschoolers. But I digress, that's not REALLY my topic at hand. ;)

The TOS Review Crew is reviewing a selection of 10 Unit Studies published by Homeschool Legacy. The topics range from natural studies about Weather and Birds to history studies including Knights & Nobles as well as many North American History titles. As you may have guessed from my digression, we received a title based around the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary Ideas: The Story of The American Revolution is a 7 week unit study, appropriate for families with children aged 2nd grade -12th grade. Homeschool Legacy Unit Studies are set up so that you engage in family read-alouds and individual reading throughout the week, and only devote one day to the rest of the study (it *is* advised that that day be devoted entirely to the Unit Study).

The study includes a wide variety of topics. I'll list them along with a few comments to give you an idea of our impressions. * A note to those with High School Students~ completing one of these history Unit Studies can account for .25 or so of a Credit in History, and I'm sure you can add partial credits for other topics as well (I haven't gotten all that figured out just yet).
  • Bible ~ A weekly family devotional that relates to the topic being explored that week. I appreciate the worldview presented, and the scriptures presented that relate to the opinions and actions of the Founding Fathers. For instance, I hadn't really thought about what may have been preached from the pulpits in the time period leading up to the Revolution, but the week 2 devotional talks about the Great Awakening and it's impact on the Revolutionaries.
  • Quality Literature ~ Lists, complete with Dewey Decimal numbers of books for a variety of ages. I would have appreciated a bit more of a breakdown by age, as my children do span quite a wide range. The Dewey Decimal numbers can be handy if you can't locate specific books in your local library~ just go to that section and choose a book or two with the same call numbers.
  • Language, History, and Research ~ often grouped together with historical research turning into a writing or report-type of assignment. We tended to do these more as a family activity and discussion time, rather than a written or oral report time, as my children have enough writing to do with their other studies.
  • Science ~ because this was a history unit study, there was much less science incorporated. I'm sure that the Nature studies have more science included.
  • Geography ~ With map work based on the colonies and the wars (How interesting to realize how different the borders of some of the original colonies look today!)
  • Arts and Crafts ~ A few interesting hands-on activities to liven things up~ (Have you seen this instrument? We learned about the inventor in this unit study)
  • Art Appreciation ~ Particularly of interest to us, as we live near Boston, where John Singleton Copley lived (Now my children know "why" Copley Square and the Copley Hotel, etc... got their names! ).
  • Music Appreciation ~ how very timely that my youngest was learning "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy". Now we know some of the history of that popular tune the Yankees turned from derision into something like an anthem.
My children (Eldest in particular) enjoy history, and so found our discussion time to be particularly interesting.  I will be forthright and let you know that we didn't exactly use this study as written, but then again, that is one of the great things about homeschooling~ we are notorious for tweaking things (Especially when family circumstances, such as illness come into play).

We used each week's theme as the grid on which we based our discussions. The Bible and History were followed diligently, in "discussion" form. Other activities were done on an "As we had time and inclination" basis, or put into our "To-do" list of activities at a more opportune time. For instance, there are instructions for creating and playing the active game of "Quoits" but because we've had a horrible coughing virus in the house for the past 4+ weeks(And vacation and camp prior to that time), that activity will have to wait.

We didn't get to as many of the read-alouds, as my ability to get to the library was somewhat hampered by both time and the aforementioned illness. However, we DID enjoy watching many episodes of Liberty's Kids (Found on YouTube, Netflix no longer streams this series :/  ), and we requested a few of the movies (Our nights are well.... scheduled this year, so we're needing to watch these during the day... poor dad is missing out!). This is really *not* my normal, as reading aloud is a huge favorite around here, but when the troops are sick, allowances must be made.

Now~ Here are my thoughts on these as "once-a-week" unit studies~
I am a little dubious as to how a family could actually incorporate them as strictly once-a-week.
  • Adding daily reading (Both independent and family) to regular studies that are already fairly literature rich might be asking a bit too much, particularly for high school students~ And reading once or twice a day makes this not really once-a-week...
  • The guide recommends one day be set aside for the majority of the activities, or if that isn't possible, adding one activity  to each day's study~ Personally, I felt that the research/writing portion of the activities would want to be approached more in depth (especially if considering high school credit) than just one day would allow, particularly if one has a child with perfectionist tendencies. (That is why we did this more as a family discussion time, without requiring a final draft of any writing piece~ and from my high-schooler's time perspective this made more sense)
  • The guide then goes on to suggest that another day be set aside for only the 3 r's, read-alouds, and field trips/film day/nights. This would make it a twice-a-week study with daily reading the other 3 days. 
  • * The authors DO mention that this could be a core history study for high school, in which case, the work would be done more in-depth and daily versus once-a-week if I understand it correctly.
My basic opinion is that Homeschool Legacy does a good job of creating a skeleton to work from, but that being able to accomplish it mostly in one day would be doing a disservice to the topic being studied if you are considering high school credit. If your students are elementary and possibly middle-school, then this may be more realistic, but that is not entirely where we are at in our homeschool journey at this point.

I call it a skeleton, in part, because although the literary selections are listed by Dewey and/or call number, it is difficult to gauge whether they are early or mid elementary, or middle school, without looking each one up individually~ And for someone who does a lot of requesting books online and spending less time perusing the actual shelves, this was more time-consuming than I was prepared for. The same for most of the movie mentions~ It was unclear what age groups most of those were appropriate for, and hard to tell when looking at our library website.

I think it is clear by this point that I felt this was not quite as "Grab and go" as I had anticipated based on the description, and takes more time that I expected for a once-a-week study. However, I hope that it is also clear that we all enjoyed the discussions provoked by reading the devotional and historical portions of the guide, the addition of "movie time" to our studies, some fun activities to extend the learning, and that it all was time well spent.

I would like to note that those whose children participate in Boy Scouts of America or American Heritage Girls can receive credit/badges for completing this unit study. This doesn't apply in our house, but I thought  you might be interested to know that there are forms included to guide you through that process. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about this and/or the nine other studies that were reviewed. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Blessings~
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Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Cry From Egypt

 If you're like me, you may not have heard of Great Waters Press. However, you may have heard of their chief publishers, Hal and Melanie Young, authors of Raising Real Men. The TOS Crew were given the opportunity to review one advance reader copy of 2 soon-to-be-published books: A Cry From Egypt and Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. Since I only have one young child in church(Almost past that stage...bittersweet), and because my eldest is a bibliophile, and always on the lookout for good Christian literature, I was pleased to review A Cry From Egypt

A Cry From Egypt is the first in a series entitled "The Promised Land," by Hope Auer. Hope is a homeschool graduate who began writing at age 13 when her family was studying Ancient Egypt. The illustrator, Mike Slaton, is also a homeschool graduate. The simple fact that the author/illustrator were contemporaries (Homeschool kids) was enough to provoke my daughter's interest in this book (as well as my own). While Ancient Egypt has never been her favorite topic on its own, my Eldest was looking forward to this glimpse into another time period.
Almost as soon as the package arrived my daughter absconded with the book, to immediately devour it, and emerge some time later exclaiming over how good it was. She is a fan of historical fiction (Among other genres) and was fascinated with this look at the time period of the plagues in Egypt from a young Israelite slave's perspective. In her words "You feel like you are there... you ARE one of the Israelites."  Eldest felt it was interesting to read this well known story through the eyes of one who might have lived it, not just recounted it as history. Hope painted a fantastic word picture of the land of Goshen and its inhabitants in relation to the rest of Egypt during the plagues.
The story follows a Hebrew girl, Jarah, and her family and friends (as well as some of the more prominent historical figures) during the time of the plagues. There is an interesting circumstance in that her father is a practicing Jew, but her mother has turned to the gods of the Egyptians. This rings as a true possibility as Hope points out in notes at the end of the book~ as the Children of Israel so readily fell into worshiping the golden calf in the wilderness. Some of them must have been very familiar with the Egyptian customs and gods. 

The attitudes of the characters presented opportunities to have discussions about our attitudes towards one another. The concept that when a family member (or even a perceived enemy) is being difficult, it is a good idea to ask God's help to respond in a loving, gracious and Christ-like manner, rather than responding in like manner (snippy, irritated tone of voice, or even violence). Heaven knows we can't do it very well on our own, and I appreciated seeing this portrayed so well throughout the story. Sometimes stories help to turn head-knowledge into heart-knowledge (one of the reasons that Jesus was so fond of telling his disciples parables....?? :D).

To Hope Auer, I'd like to say "mission accomplished!" You have written a book that draws the reader in and holds their attention captive. I appreciate the "Research Information" included at the end of the book, which not only details your research but opens up the resources for continuing research by your readers. Well done! We are anxiously awaiting the next installment in the series (Eldest is recommending this book to friends and adding our copy to her personal lending library)! :) 




My only word of caution~ the publishers rate this as intended for readers 8 years old and up. Because of some of the descriptions of the treatment of the slaves, I know that it would have been too much for my children to handle when they were 8. I would suggest 10-12 for a lower age limit if you have sensitive children.


Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about A Cry From Egypt as well reviews for Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Blessings~
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Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Your Family Fit???

Is your family fit? Are YOU fit? Oh, sorry, got a little too personal there~ so please, don't answer me, but DO take a minute to think about the answers to those questions yourself. 


As homeschool families, sometimes it's hard to figure out just how to meet those PE expectations for your children, unless they are enrolled in extra-curricular fitness classes. But those can be budget-breakers, AND schedule-breakers. Oh, and then we have to try to find time to get MOM (or Dad) to the gym too (More money and time that can be hard to come by)! 

I had been thinking for awhile that *I* needed to get some motivation to get moving and get more fit. I was finding clothes that have always fit are getting too snug, which meant that maybe I've been sitting in front of a screen just a little bit too much (never mind that it's active brain time ... usually.... and not mindless couch-potato time).  I was delighted, therefore, to be in the group of families chosen to review Family Time Fitness'  full Fitness 4 Home School Core 1 Curriculum K-8. 

We received pdf downloads with 260 complete lessons for Family Fitness ~  with 25-45 minutes of physical activity mapped out in each lesson. The activities are designed to develop large motor skills, physical fitness and agility in minimal space. The video below will give you a brief overview of the program:
The first lesson we did took place in our living room. We have small rooms, so were relegated to our 9x12 carpet space. We had to take turns (2 at a time), and couldn't be too bouncy or jumpy for fear of knocking things off our bookcases/shelves (OLD house~ rather shaky floors, I guess...). Everyone was ready to continue the following day.

Next day, I discovered I goofed and missed the first lesson, so we just did it the 2nd day. Well! Let me tell you~ we were wondering for the next couple of days if there was a typo in the directions/repetitions. One of the warm-ups (Frog-squats) was to be done 20x with 3 repetitions. Wowzers! Those thigh muscles just weren't ready for that kind of work out! Eldest was walking like a little old lady for the next couple of days, and boy did it hurt to go up and down the stairs. Middlest complained a bit as well, but his muscles were more used to that sort of action, being a skateboarding boy and all (he managed to play baseball without too much trouble).

We did moderated versions of some of the exercises for a little, till our muscles were ready for more of a work-out. *interesting note~ Eldest is a competitive Irish Step Dancer, and uses her legs a LOT, She is NOT a couch potato, so we were surprised by this muscle group that just wasn't all that ready to work out! *second interesting note~ Eldest was also moving rapidly during the frog-squat warm-up the first time~ almost like she was hopping a race, so I wonder if that affected how unhappy her muscles were... I seemed to fare a little better than she did, and I was moving at a regular, steady pace.

On following days my children groaned a little when I mentioned that it was time for Family Time Fitness, but there were generally one or two activities that they found were interesting or challenging. Middlest had a grand time discovering that he could jump a 6 foot "river" from a standstill, and 7 feet with a run. Didn't realize that his legs had so much more spring in them than his older sisters! Pretty fun and exciting! (Kicking myself that I don't have pictures or video, because it was fun!) Much more interested in the "Field" of Track and Field now. :)

Unfortunately, because we had vacation/sleep-away camps during the beginning of the review period, and ended up with some bronchial infections/viruses directly after that have hung on, we haven't been able to be quite as regular with our fitness program as I would like (Kind of hard to do with a chorus of coughs every few minutes of activity.... sigh), but as soon as everyone is breathing well again (When the ragweed is gone, perhaps?) we will be starting right back up again. I am anxious to see the effects of an extended , regular, period of Family Fitness ~ One way I will be able to do that is to fill out an assessment form every 6-8 weeks to track a number of activities from broad-jump to speed and agility (I plan to fill those forms out for myself as well! 


Check out this brain scan~ can you imagine how much better school work might be if the brain is already warmed up and active BEFORE they sit down to do their Math/Language Arts/Science! Pretty amazing to realize that exercise activates your brain, in addition to "thinking" and figuring out puzzles, etc...



What we liked:
  • Variety of activities
  • Working up a sweat (I know... ewww.... but hey, the sense of accomplishment is great!)
  • Instructional videos to help us know if we were doing the exercises correctly
  • One-sheet summaries of each lesson (I worked from my ipad, clicking the links from the regular lesson pages for the instructional videos, and then working directly from the lesson summary~ handy!)
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Adaptability to many spaces
  • Assessment forms to utilize
  • Other downloadable forms/tools~ Meal Planner, Grocery List, Daily Food Diary, Nutrition Log (I'll be honest and say I'm not terribly likely to make too much use of the last two, because they take extra time, but I like knowing they are there if I need them)
What we didn't like
  • Felt the program started off just a little too fast~ super sore muscles the 1st or 2nd day made us think that some of the repetitive motions needed to be worked up to a little more gradually.
  • Not *quite* easily adaptable to every home. Not very convenient with 9x12 floor space, but that's what we've got (small rooms~ 13x13 is average in our house, and we have furniture and bookcases in every room)~ it does work, but it's a little cramped~ can't have everyone moving at once, so it takes longer. However, even with that noted, I'm happy to have this program to work with! 
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Company: Family Time Fitness
Product: Fitness 4 Home School Core 1 Curriculum K-8 (Core 2 will be available in 2013, and you can also find High School Strength Training and Health Modules, Basketball Modules, and Elementary aged workbooks on the Family Time Fitness Homeschool Tab)
Ages: K-8 (ages 4-13)
Price: $57
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.

Blessings~
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Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, September 17, 2012

1880's in America~ how much do you know?

How much do you know about the history of America in the 1880's? Many of the events and personalities are well known, but their time-frame is not as readily evident, in part because they aren't bracketed by any major wars or financial depression. Because wars make "news,"it is possible that the relative peace of the 1880's earned the decade a much smaller place in the typical history book.

Growing up in "Silver Bow County" Montana, near the seat of the Copper Kings, I was fairly well acquainted with some of the highlights of the decade. However, my children do not have the advantage of that locale, and although it may be hard to imagine (;D), there was more to history than "The Wild West" in the 1880's (although the West was the setting for much of the news of the day).



Marshall Publishing has released an educational DVD that gives an overview of the 1880's in a rapidly flowing 60 minute multimedia presentation that incorporates historical photography and drawings, along with more recent photography and videography. The DVD ends with an archival documentary film about the life of Alexander Graham Bell. 

Cons:
  • The narration flowed rather rapidly. The topics occasionally bounced around a little bit, which was a little disconcerting at times.
  • No "index" to identify the content of the "Chapters"
  • Parental warning: mention of vigilante "justice" and some photographs of lynchings (Wish I had known about those, as I do have a 5 year old in the room most of the time).
Pros:
  • Fascinating facts that "Whet the appetite" for more information (We looked up a number of personalities and events on the internet after watching the DVD).
  • Pleasant background and narration ~ not an "Annoying" video to listen to.
  • Some amazing photographs that give a better feel for certain things (for example, although I've read plenty about bustles and corsets, I haven't seen that many photos of women employing them under their clothing... YIKES! Those things were scary ~ Corsets, particularly... and we wonder where Barbie came from???).
  • Interesting overview of an entire decade of history (I had no idea about how Kodak film was originally developed....)
  • A mini-study guide is on the website below the description of the video program. While not exhaustive by any means, it can be used as a framework for some discussions, and I appreciated the "Timeline."
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Other TOS Crew members received the following DVD's for review:







Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about each of these DVDs. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Blessings~
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Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading Kingdom~ (Let's keep going, says the owl)

I reviewed Reading Kingdom about a year and a half ago with Youngest, when he was just three (Click here to read that review, so that you will have the background to my review "update" as well as some of the philosophy behind Reading Kingdom). Now admittedly, 3.5 was a wee bit on the young side, so I was interested to see how he would get on as a 5 year old, who has had more exposure to the alphabet and some reading instruction, as well as more dexterity with the keyboard and mouse.

If you read my previous review, you will see that there were some issues we had in the Sequencing and Letter Land portions, where the timing was very difficult to manage, and created a fairly frustrated boy (and thus frustrated mother).

I am happy to say that most of the *timing issues have been worked out, and there is now a longer period of time allowed for the child to perform the expected task. Additionally, for those children who might need even more time to complete a sequencing or typing task, parents now have the ability to adjust the amount of time allowed. It's a little tricky to find (parents & teachers tab, my account tab, scroll to the bottom of the screen) but rest assured, you can adjust the response time from the default to 25% more on up to 200% more time.

Another revision to the  program in "Letterland" was to allow the parents to choose whether their children would be clicking on the letter on a keyboard on the computer screen, or typing the letters on the actual keyboard. We chose to use the physical keyboard on my laptop, and it worked quite well. I am still very happy with the way they show the keyboard on the screen, and "assist" if there is some trouble finding the correct key on the keyboard.

This time, when we started the program and he took the assessment, he was definitely placed in an appropriate level for his current abilities. The screen on the left is fairly representative of many of the words that were presented to him in the sequencing section. When he started, the letters of the word that he was spelling remained visible to "match" the entire time. There were also a few 4 letter words, which helped to keep him satisfied with the level he was working on. As he progressed, he had to pay attention and REMEMBER the letters, as they disappeared before he was asked to pick them out of the selection of letters below. This relates a little bit to the *timing which I will get to next.

While the timing issues we had before seem to have been worked out, we discovered one more this time around, which had something of a negative impact on Youngest's enjoyment of Reading Kingdom. While he had ample time in which to respond, he had to wait for approximately 10 seconds between tasks. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it was enough time that he often tended to get distracted between words. For example:

Program says "Type these on the keyboard" (A grouping of letters appears)
Youngest types them (Cheering is heard) a slight pause then:
Program says "Type that one again" (A particular letter from the sequence is shown in a word)
Youngest types that letter,  the word is spoken by the program, and we hear applause.
10 second delay before the next grouping of letters shows up.

We had a lot of wiggling around, and playing with fingers on the keyboard and touchpad during that "down-time" while waiting for the next set of tasks to load.
Now it is interesting that Reading Kingdom has this to say about "Readiness": If your child is able
  • to sit and do school like activities for 15 minutes at a time
  • to express ideas in complete sentences
  • to match shapes, and
  • to use a computer mouse and keyboard (with adult assistance if required).
If your child has these abilities, he or she is a good candidate to become an early successful reader.
Generally speaking these do apply to my son, and he does have a great attention span, as long as things are not lagging, which is the feeling I get with Reading Kingdom (however, the mellow pace that caused problems at our house might be just the calming factor needed at someone else's home)

Thankfully, the timing seemed to be less of an issue once we moved out of LetterLand. The pauses in the Reading and Writing lessons didn't feel quite as long, and there was a greater variety of activities for Youngest to try which added to his interest.

So, here's how it's working for us so far~ (playing a game of "That's bad!" "That's Good!" this time around...not wanting to emphasize the bad, but the good definitely follows in each instance )
The Bad: I don't often "Force" my children (Particularly those under the age of 6) to do any seriously structured school work. However, in this case, because it was a review item, and because I *did* want him to apply himself a bit, I did require him to do Reading Kingdom  (perhaps with less regularity than I would an older child, during the school year vs a new 5 year old during the summer...). This led to a few tears once or twice, and "I don't want to do Reading Kingdom today" on a regular basis. The Good: I thought it was interesting that almost invariably AFTER he completed a lesson he would turn to me with either a casual "That wasn't so bad, Mom" or excitement when he reached a particular goal~ so it wasn't as bad as he thought.... over and over and over! (Silly boy!)


The Bad: He hasn't reached the "I want to do more" stage with this program, and I'm not sure he ever will. There aren't many bells and whistles (not always necessary), and the timing issues could still be worked on some more, which might help with the outside distractions. The Good: Nevertheless, it is a steady little program that really doesn't take that much time, but encourages progress.

The Bad(?): I do want to take a second and mention (In case you didn't read my first review) that this is NOT a phonics based program, so if that doesn't jive with your teaching philosophy, then Reading Kingdom may not be a great fit. The Good: On the other hand, if phonics just isn't working with your child, and you don't trust "whole language" then Reading Kingdom may be right up your child's alley!

In spite of my son's love/hate relationship with Reading Kingdom, when this screen showed up he was extremely excited! He completed a passport! Yeah!
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Reading Kingdom
  • Product:Online Subscription for Reading Kingdom Program
  • Ages:4-10
  • Price: Free 30 day trial $19.99/month or $199.99/year (For those with more than one early reader, additional readers are $9.99/month or $99/year)
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Blessings~
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Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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