Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Circle Time (Round up the troops, and get along!)

One of our very own TOS Review Crewmates, Kendra of Preschoolers and Peace offered her e-book Circle Time for our use and review. Now.... don't let the title of the book, OR the fact that her blog name includes Preschoolers make you decide that this isn't for you, because all of your children are older. Circle Time, Together Time, Unit Time, or whatever *you* want to call it (So that your teenagers won't balk at the title) is a useful time for everyone.

The contents of Circle Time cover the following topics:
  • Planning a Circle Time That Works for You ~ This chapter deals with organizing and planning what you want your circle time to look like, and what you want to accomplish during that time. Kendra includes a couple of sample schedules. They could be considered a little sketchy if one requires step-by-step instructions, but are fine for someone who just wants to get an ideal of what to include, and how things might flow.
  • Strategies for a Peaceful Time Together ~ Kendra goes a little more in depth in this section, although I wish there had been some more detail. She gives us a peek at her "memory box" that is used on a daily basis, memory binders, and prayer boxes, but I would have liked a few more specifics, especially regarding the memory box. For instance~ she has listed on Tuesdays Ten Verses Cards, National Geographic Presidents cards, and Psalm 127. I know this is a little superfluous to the scope of the main idea of Circle Time, but I'd like a clearer picture of *how* she uses those~ do they read through the entire set of verses/presidential cards, and the whole Psalm, or do they just work on one verse/card at a time?

    Beyond that, she discusses some ways to keep the littlest learners (or crawlers) happy, or at the very least somewhat occupied, while everyone else is participating.
  • How to Get Your Kids on Board ~ Making "Circle Time" cool (Might involve a name change that doesn't evoke thoughts of pre-schoolers sitting on carpet squares... OR it might involve some "older-kid" driven participation..)
  • Questions From Moms Like You ~ In this section Kendra answers some of the questions that she has received from moms who are exploring the Circle Time idea. Her answers are what she does, with an emphasis on the fact that every family is different, so it's really a matter of finding what works for you and yours.
  • Words of Wisdom From Other Moms Who Do Circle Time ~ Similar to the previous chapter, only this time it is Kendra more or less interviewing a couple of veteran "Circle Time Moms" to glean from their ideas, and to show that can be more than one approach.
  • Resources, Activities, and Ideas  ~ Kendra links to specific Circle Time resources on the web including her blog and her Pinterest board, as well as a Resource Page which links to books and some sites with material that is highly suitable for Circle Time.
  • Printable Planner Sheets ~ A few printable sheets that are intended to help you plan and organize your time.
Going back to the title of my post (Round up the troops, and get along), I have found that having a "Circle Time" is one of those things that really *does* help my troops to "get along" as well as to get our day going, so here is what I have done with Circle Time.

Because it is summer-time, and the kids have had a variety of schedules,  I decided to keep our "Circle Time" fairly light~ We used a couple of inspirational/devotional books for discussion and read-aloud and we had a prayer time. This puts us all on the same page, and really, starting our day with Scripture, stories and prayer really does make a difference in attitudes... I can tell the days that we miss!

Following that I started something I've wanted to do for quite awhile, reading a poem each day (At this point from The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry, which has been sitting around, NOT being read for far too long. Next we read my Middlest's history, as that is accessible to all three of my kids, from 6-16 (and this way I'm helping to fill in some of the blanks that my Eldest might have).

Because our Circle Time tends to be first thing in the morning (usually), I have *not* taken pictures of my kiddos, for which they are grateful. We can typically be found sitting in various locations (Rocking Chair, Love Seat, or floor) of the living room, unless we're outside in the yard on a blanket.

I kind of think of Circle Time as expanding on the whole idea of devotions, and organizing your days in a Unit Study sort of way, even if you aren't really doing a Unit Study. I do have to say that I would not be able to do a long Circle Time (2-ish hours) with everyone, like Kendra does, because I can't take two hours from my high-schoolers day, but we certainly can squeeze in 1/2 hour with her before she goes off on her own, and I can add a little more with Middlest and Youngest before Middlest goes off to do his math and other grade appropriate work.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
If you are interested in hearing what others on the TOS Review Crew had to say please click the banner below. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Homeschool Programming (Teen Coder Java Series)

Given that my Eldest is going to be a Junior in High School, and we are looking to add some elective credits to her transcript, I was pleased to be sent  Homeschool Programming's TeenCoder Java Series for review. We have only done a little bit of computer programming in the past (Which both Middlest and Eldest enjoyed), so I thought this would be a good option. One of the reasons that I was so pleased to check this out is that it includes instruction for those who use MAC computers, not just PC. Oh, and a bonus bit~ this course can be used to study for the AP Computer Science A exam if that is something your student is interested in!

We received a downloadable e-book version of both Java Programming and Android Programming. Both courses are worth 1/2 credit each, so taken together would be a whole year's computer course.

The first couple of chapters in Java Programming introduce computer programming and the Java language. Everything is written in source code (in a text edit file) and then run via the terminal window... if this all sounds like Greek to you (And you *don't* speak Greek....), then you know just how we felt! Not only is Java a language of its own, half of the instructions are "computerese" which is another language that I am not (yet) very fluent in (html I can handle to some degree, but this is another ball game).

Eldest worked hard, trying to slog through the material on her own, and with me sitting next to her, taking it bit-by-bit, but it was more than her done-with-school/ready-for-summer/exhausted-by-June brain could wrap around. Especially when we were having a particularly difficult time getting even just the first little bit of code to work.

After being frustrated for some time, I did contact Homeschool Programming for help. They replied right away, with very cheerful help. We discovered that what we were seeing as a "1" (Numeral) was in fact an "l" (lowercase L). If we were a little more conversant in computerese we might have realized that...
Here's that "Text Edit" file to the right.

After her extreme frustration, I decided that *I* would work through the course ahead of her, and be able to give her help when I have her pick it up this fall.

Thankfully, after the 2nd Chapter, instruction moves from writing source code on your own to using an "integrated development environment" which I *think* is a fancy way of saying that now the student gets to USE a program to help them WRITE a program... ;)

The working environment looks more like this:

I can tell that my code is not perfect because there are some yellow "Warning" icons by every line, but that's better than a red 'x' stop sign, that says it won't work! (BTW, this software "Working environment" is very helpful, with autofill options, and direction as to what exactly is wrong~ my Eldest is going to be much happier working her than with source code in TextEdit!) I think that what I have done is a "clunky" version of what is supposed to be done, and when I go over the manual again, and look at the solutions, I might get a better feel for what I was doing wrong. 

In general, my sense is that either I am way behind the eight-ball when it comes to computerese, or it is just going to take awhile to become comfortable with it, with multiple re-readings of the manual, possibly in small chunks. It seems as though there is a lot of information thrown at the student that I'm sure is useful, but possibly "background" (more like what one would find in a college course?). It does feel just a little bit too advanced for someone who has not been involved with computer languages recently. I am wondering if these courses would be more of a piece-of-cake for those who have gone through the Kid-Coder series beforehand. 

Perhaps there may have been too much superfluous (for the moment) "you'll need this information later" included (?).  Then again, this is my "mom-brain" trying to wrap itself around something totally new~ if your student is already conversant even a little bit in computerese, this will likely not be as difficult for them! (And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you check out some other TOS Reviews at the link at the bottom of the page, there will be some families who have real techie kids who are eating this stuff up!). 

Once I got to the Activity for each section I found it much easier to see what was required. I then went through the text again and was successful in completing the activities, so don't be discouraged~ I think this just isn't the way *I'm* wired, and may not be the way my daughter is wired either, so it's taking a bit more effort. ;) 

So you can see what I'm talking about, and make your own determination regarding the fit for your student, you can check out some samples: 

The Android Programming course follows the Java course, so we obviously haven't made it there just yet. You can check out some samples for this course as well:       

  • Android Programming Table of Contents
  • Android Programming Sample Student Lesson
  • Android Programming Solutions Overview
  • Android Programming Sample Activity Solution 
  • Once one has a handle on the Java Language, and is comfortable in the computer writing environment, the opportunity to create widgets (Among other things) for use in android environments looks like an exciting adventure. 
    While my mamma-brain has been having a hard time digesting this material, the good news is that is *is* helped by the course CD's. Each lesson in each chapter has a 5-10 minute video that may help to explain or reinforce some of the ideas in each lesson. It helps to cut through some of the background material in the coursework, and point out some of the essentials. The videos are in no way a stand-along product, and can only be used as a supplement.

    I am curious to see how this goes this fall, now that I'm beginning to get my bearings in this new language, and can more easily help my daughter if she begins to flounder. 

    Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
    • Company: Homeschool Programming 
    • Product: TeenCoder Java Series
    • Ages: 9th-12th grade
    • Price: 
      • $155 for the complete course as received and described above or $130 for the course materials alone.
      • Individual Semesters $90 (course and video) $75 (course only)
    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.


    Thursday, July 25, 2013

    Christi: The Coupon Coach: Couponing Made Simple (Review)

    This next review is not a "Homeschool Product" review, although it *is* written by a homeschooling mom! Christi Bassford aka Christi the Coupon Coach offered her book Couponing Made Simple as a Molly Review, which is a branch of the TOS Review Crew. Most of us hope to be good stewards of our resources, and Christi's book is a great "kick-starter" for those who are looking to save money on their purchases.

    Christi's book is 10 chapters long and covers the following:

    1. Success Stories ~ This chapter starts off by giving some examples from real shopping trips, with photos of the products, their total list price, and the price paid/amount saved. It's really a way to help on see that couponing CAN make a difference, even if one is not inclined to be an "Extreme Couponer."
    2. A New Way to Shop ~ A short chapter that introduces the concept of couponing today vs couponing years ago~  The stores are a little different, and the resources vary much more widely now than they did before the internet!
    3. The Language of Couponing ~ is what is says~ if you don't know what blinkies, BOGO, OOP, Coupon Kiosk and Stacking are, or what they have to do with saving money, you will by the end of this chapter! :)
    4. Organization System~ Christi shares her coupon organization system in this chapter. While I already have a system set up (File folders for each month, with 4 colored sheets in each folder. Each week's set of coupons from the Sunday paper goes in the folder by date, with each week separated by a colored sheet), Christi's is very useful, especially for those who are able to take advantage of her suggestion to purchase multiple Sunday papers (For the coupon inserts). I don't think that my simple system would work as well if I had that many inserts to deal with.

      In general, this is one of the most useful pieces of information for the person who is just beginning to coupon, as the "Set-up" can seem terribly overwhelming. Having a step-by-step process to follow can help.
    5. Step-by-Step Process ~ Christi has an 8-step process (Sounds scary, but really it isn't!) from getting the coupons to planning the shopping trip to celebrating and sharing.

      The most time-consuming portion of this process (For me, anyway) is researching the upcoming deals and planning my trip(s).

      While Christi doesn't list any online resources in her book, you can find some of her favorites linked on her website. The resources that I use the most are HotCouponWorld (Love their coupon database if I'm looking for something specific) and CouponMom. I use CouponMom to plan most of my shopping trips, except those to our local grocery store (Market Basket) as they don't have their sales listed online. *Note~ you do have to sign up as a member of CouponMom, but they do not spam you, and I've never had any issues with them.
    6. Tips & Tools ~ This fairly lengthy chapter goes over some things that will continue to help you save money. These are tips that it can take quite awhile to glean if you are doing this on your own, and even though I've been a semi-regular couponer for a few years, there were some tips that I hadn't thought about. Her main couponing rules are reinforced in this chapter:
      Rule #1 - Buy on Sale 
      Rule # 2 - Stack Coupons
    7. Couponing Ethics ~ It is unfortunate that this chapter even had to be written, but apparently there is a fair amount of coupon fraud. Everyone might accidentally hand a cashier an expired coupon once or twice, but things like copying coupons, and grabbing "peelies" off products you aren't purchasing really are not the right thing to do. Christi shares an story where she was able to be a great example to her children.
    8. Networking & Communicating ~ This chapter talks about networking amongst couponers, sharing their knowledge, and sharing deals~ just a little more about "why" it can be helpful.
    9. Bonus Section ~ discusses yard sales and thrift stores, which could be new to some folks.
    10. Beyond Couponing ~ Christi shares her heart, and the message about the greatest deal in Heaven or on Earth. :) 

    Much of the material covered in this book is material that I was familiar with, but it was gleaned over many years of using coupons, and visiting various websites. It is really nice to have it all written down in one place! I think this could be a good book to help anyone start couponing and saving money.

    For those who think their eating habits (ie, from scratch, whole foods, etc..) don't coincide with couponing, they might be surprised! There are coupons for cleaning supplies (including sponges), health and beauty supplies, paper products (Doesn't everyone buy trash bags?), and sometimes there are even coupons for milk and 100% juice! It's worth checking out! :) Even living in the northeast where we don't have all the grocery stores with amazing deals that exist down south and in mid-America, I have been able to save a fair amount of money using coupons and drugstore loyalty programs.

    Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
    I hope this review has been helpful to you, as you choose where to spend your money, and contemplate where you can save it!


    Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    Summer Art~ Dragonflies

    Just a quick little post tonight~
    I often run across something I want to do, and bookmark it, or lately, just keep the tab open on my iPad. That way it is fresh in my brain!

    It took me 2 weeks to get to this one, so we weren't able to submit it to Harmony Fine Arts at Home's "Slideshow" for the week of July 9.... but better late than never!

    Youngest and I made pastel chalk dragonflies on a large drawing pad~ plenty of room for us to work side-by-side on the front porch. We followed this "Assignment" found on Barb's site by Tricia at Southern Hodgepodge. I've used a couple of her other projects, and they are very well done. I've not found the funds just yet to purchase her book, but it's on my wishlist. :)

    If you try this project, I'd love to see the results!


    Monday, July 22, 2013

    Instead of 20 Questions, How about 25 Truths?

    Remember the game of 20 questions? The idea was to try to stump your opponent by making them use up 20 questions to try to guess the object of which you were thinking. The answers to the questions were simply "yes," "no," or "maybe." Rather than making everyone DIG for the answer, sometimes it's nice to have your path "Salted" with gems, like the latest item that showed up in my mailbox (courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Review Crew). This time it's a compact little book by Ed Douglas Publications filled with "Life Lessons." The book is  25 Truths: Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us.

    Ed Douglas (a gentleman with an extensive financial and educational/coaching background, he is well respected and highly regarded in his home state of Missouri) distills some timeless wisdom in 25 short chapters.

    Each chapter begins with a concept, its truth is illustrated with a personal example from Ed's life (Often drawing on his coaching experiences, as well as his professional career experiences). Following the illustration(s), there is a summary and then a series of questions.

    It is a commentary on our society to some degree, that such a book is necessary. Many of the truths that he discusses used to be considered common sense, or were at least commonly understood (I'm sure you've heard some of them as cliche's #4 Be Slow To Judge, # 11 Take It One Step At A Time, #15 Never Surrender), but some of them seem to be more of a rarity these days, more's the pity.

    Why I appreciate this book, and consider it a nugget of gold: 
    • It helps me to make sure that my kids hear in an organized fashion, these real-life examples of good character. 
    • I respect the fact that they are based on Christian values, regularly backed up with Scripture.
    • The reasons for WHY those character traits and values are important are discussed. 
    • My children are able to recognize those values and traits in themselves and those they come into contact with in their daily lives.
    I will say that my two older children did start to roll their eyes with the repetition of the 1st question following each illustration: "Do you think this is an important truth? Why or why not" and the last question which was always a variation on "What can you do to incorporate this truth in your life? What will be difficult for you? What steps can you take to overcome those difficulties? How might your life be different, or what might change if you do this?" 

    Those are legitimate questions, but I did begin to vary which ones I used each time. The questions found between those two repetitive "Bookends" of questions were more thought provoking, personal application sorts of questions, and we have had some good (albeit short) discussions.

    We used this book as part of our morning "Together" time. I had to modify the wording in a few of the illustrations due to content that was beyond my 6 year-old's (And sometimes 12 year-old's) maturity level, but even my youngest was able to glean from these truths. It was also amazing how sometimes the truth we were reading about would coincide exactly with our other more age appropriate readings (A "God Thing" for sure!).

    25 Truths started as a list of "inspirational" ideas for the athletes that Ed Douglas had occasion to mentor through his years of coaching. I think it is valuable in that setting, as well as in just about any learning setting~ the values that are incorporated can be applied to sports, school, and life in general. The sooner learned the better the chance for contented and fulfilled lives. Note: this is not meant as a substitute for Scripture, or a relationship with Christ, but more of a practical working out of the themes and values found there.

    Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
    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.


    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Some Golden Summer *Kindle* Nuggets

    I just downloaded a slew of (Currently Free) Kindle ebooks~

    There is something for just about everyone here!




    SUMMER READING FOR MOMS (Bethany House and Tyndale!)







    Hope you find something you enjoy! 

    Disclosure~ These are affiliate links~ The books were free at the time of posting, but please check to make sure that they are still when you click through. Some seem to be free for a very short time, and others are for a little longer. 



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