Friday, July 25, 2014

Apologia's "Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms" TOS Review Crew

Confession: I often wish there were more hours in the day, and sometimes I wish that someone would come and help me figure out how to reinvent my life (my physical space AND my schedule) so that I wouldn't feel like I am fighting a battle against entropy (is that a common feeling amongst homeschool moms, or even moms in general? I suspect possibly so). This is one reason why I was intrigued by a new offering for homeschool moms from Apologia Educational Ministries, the new book by Mary Jo Tate, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms

Mary Jo has penned a book filled with exercises and examples intended to help stop the juggling of too many balls (Because will inevitably fall), and instead assist in finding balance, with the tools to fine-tune that balance when something pushes(or pulls) away from that equilibrium. Mary Jo is also transparent and down-to-earth, sharing many of her been there and done that stories. I always appreciate seeing the real side of an author, as I find it inspirational when dealing with similar matters in my own life. 

Flourish is written to both a broad and a narrow audience~ It is a useful book for any homeschool mom, but especially one who is struggling with a sense of inadequacy, the feeling that they are facing an overwhelming task, or dealing with general chaos. It is also written particularly towards those moms who not only school at home, but are working, or hoping to start working a home business alongside their schooling, and a final even more pinpointed category, suggestions to support the single/work-at-home/homeschooling/mom. 

The first chapter is a bit of an introduction to the book, and then Mary Jo jumps right in with great ideas on prioritizing your life. She starts with a few categories, and then gives a plan that begins with the big "Life Time Goals" and then narrows down to the focused weekly and daily plans, offering many tools to help get the job done. 
Chapters in the book: 
  1. An Invitation to Flourish
  2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time
  3. The FREEDOM Toolbox
  4. Where Did My Time Go?
  5. Aim High: Setting Goals
  6. What Do I Do Next?: Seven Essential Planning Tools
  7. We Interrupt This Program
  8. It's Time for an Attitude Adjustment
  9. Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days
  10. Training Your Children
  11. Making Memories
  12. Managing Your Home
  13. All of Life is Learning
  14. Solo-Act: Flourishing as a Single Mom
  15. Home Business
  16. Moving Ahead
I feel this book could useful for any homeschooling mom. Even if a specific situation doesn't currently apply to us, chances are it might at some point in the future, and in the meantime, if we have the tools, the resources and the information, we can be a help and a support to our friends when they may not be feeling very balanced or that they are flourishing
One of my favorite things in this sort of support/encouragement book is when there are inspirational tidbits scattered throughout, and Mary Jo has come up with quite a number of motivating quotes. The following isn't from one of her quote boxes, but something Mary Jo says in her book that sums up the basic intent of Flourish

This book is not primarily about what boxes to put things in, 
but figuring out what things to put into boxes. 

As I have read through the book, I have gained more perspective on things that I can do to change the way my home and homeschool look and work, so that they can flourish and thrive, along with some step-by-step directions to get there.

Visit Flourish #flourishathome and Mary Jo Tate on Facebook  and Twitter

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Homeschool Piano ~ piano lessons at home! (TOS Review Crew)

It has long been a regret of mine that I have not taught any of my children to play piano. I play the piano (classically trained), and my husband plays by ear, and none of our children have really played to this point in time. Of course, a major part of that regret is the fact that we don't own a piano, and our keyboard hasn't always been available. However, when the opportunity came up to review Homeschool Piano Complete Set of Books lifetime access to Homeschool Piano with the TOS Review Crew, I determined that we would make sure our keyboard was accessible. So... it's on the dining room table~ it's been on the back porch during the day... it's portable (kind of...).

Homeschool Piano is the brainchild of Willie Myette, a graduate of my husband's alma mater, Berklee College of Music in Boston. His style of teaching is very different from the way I learned, as it is very jazzy, with a heavy emphasis on improvisation. In the past, when I have brought up the idea of piano lessons, my eldest has been generally resistant, but this time around she thought it might be worth a try. Hurrah!

The lessons are split into a "Core" Beginner book, and Books 1-3. Each book contains 6 Units with 7 Lessons in each. They cover the 6 topics in the circular graphic to the right, with an additional Bonus lesson.  Some of the Lessons include tests, to ensure that the student comprehends the material, and there are accompanying worksheets and sheet music in pdf files that are to be downloaded and printed. *Economic note: I actually printed the manuals up 4 to a page for each unit, and then cut and stapled them together by Unit. I did print the songs and a few of the other sheets out full size so they could be more easily read while playing.

Homeschool Piano lessons are largely video based, with the lessons available via tablet, computer, and presumably mobile phone, if you have a smart phone (which we do not). It's a very unique set-up, with a video of Willie in the lower left corner, and the top 2/3rds of the screen are split into two lengths. The Top portion is a "Virtual Keyboard." The notes are highlighted in red as they are being played and are identified by name. The lower portion is video taken from above the keyboard, showing Willie's hands actually playing the notes, as you can see in the graphic below. I find it a little amusing that my daughter's first reaction to the video set-up was very dubious (She thought it was odd...), but after going through some of the core lessons and 2 units of book 1, she has determined that she enjoys the lessons, and is challenged to complete them. Her take now, after going through a few units, is that Willie knows how to make the lessons fun, while helping his students play successfully right away.

Eldest's favorite part of the lessons is learning the new rhythms (which coordinates with her interest in dance), and learning the improvisational licks that are taught in each Unit. It is very gratifying to be able to play something that sounds a little more complex than the first songs I remember learning to play. This can be important when the student is starting out at an older age.

Keeping in mind that my daughter has not played piano before starting this program (other than a little bit of picking out melodies on her own, 1-finger style and using her very own "number system"), here she is playing the 2nd full song in book one (We're both happy with her headway in a relatively short period of time)

Now some improvisations based on the notes learned so far. (And no, our set-up isn't optimal as far as "sitting at a piano" is concerned, but it is working for us at this point in time) 

The Lessons and Songs that are learned build on one another (for example, the base line in the improv is heard as part of a song later on, which helps to increase the success of the piano student).  
Sadly, my youngest student is being very "seven" and thinks he doesn't currently like music (ha! I know better~ he's singing all the time...). However, in my opinion, music isn't something that should be pushed... he will come around, I'm sure, as his sister continues to progress, and starts playing even more fun and funky music, and Homeschool Piano will be waiting for us when he's ready. 
Middlest~ will be joining his sister in learning piano this fall. Having *not* taught the older two until this point, I'm interested to see how he does, *and* how music affects other areas in his schooling. 

If you would like to get a taste of Homeschool Piano Lessons before purchasing, you can check out 6 free lessons covering Technique, Rhythm, Reading Music, Song, Improvisation, and Bonus. 
I am very impressed with the thorough but engaging manner in which Willie teaches. Having been classically trained, and having been thrown into some more contemporary situations, I am also picking up a few tips and pointers, so maybe one of these days I'll be able to more closely rival my "play-by-ear" husband who also has that Berklee music theory training. Sad to say, I don't think I'll ever be great at "grabbing the keys," which is a much more useful technique in a jazz situation than in my usual Church Musician or Classical environment, but it's fun to play around with a style that is a little looser.
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Homeschool Piano
  • Product: Homeschool Piano Complete Set of Books 
  • Ages: All Ages
  • Price Options: 
    • Success Package (One payment of $299) Unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students. 
    •  Payment Plan (Payments of $99.97 per month for three months):  Unlimited life-time access to HomeSchoolPiano along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students. 
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Saturday, July 19, 2014

K is for Kindness and L is for Loyalty (Charlotte Mason Inspiration #17 & # 18)

Once again, I've fallen behind on my Charlotte Mason Inspiration posts, my apologies!
~Without further ado~

K is for Kindness (and Kittens)

L is for Loyalty


Thursday, July 10, 2014

50 Summer Boredom Busters from Educents

I just received a note from Educents alerting me to the fact that they have pulled together an awesome list of 50 Summertime Boredom Busters for you and your children. I took a quick peek, and it looks like there are some really fun activities!

They also have a Free Educents Explorers Guide and Checklist to help you accomplish more fun this summer!
Check it out~


Moving Beyond the Page ("Tornado" and Amazing Weather)

This early summer I received a great set of packages from Moving Beyond the Page. Readers of my blog may recall a review I wrote for Moving Beyond the Page last July using materials with my middle-schooler (Tuck Everlasting and Matter). This time the material was geared towards my youngest, who *just* turned 7 (so on the lowest end of the age range for these titles):  Language Arts Package: Online ~ Tornado and Science Package~ Amazing Weather.

Both online and printed packages contain all the physical books required to complete the lessons, and the science package included an individual boiling point thermometer. The main difference is in how the manuals/worksheets are accessed.

Depending on your family's circumstances, you may be more interested in one version over the other...

The "online" version: 

  • has teacher's notes and pdf files that are accessed online. This "Subscription" portion of the curriculum is available for 3 months from the first time it is activated. 
  • incurs no shipping charges (Particularly useful for those overseas and in AK, HI).
  • allows multiple copies of the pdf worksheets to be printed for use within the family.
Here is a screenshot of the Table of Contents for our Online Literature Unit that I took partway through our study~ you can see that it keeps track of the lessons that have been finished as well as telling you how many days each one should take, and quick links to all of the pdfs. 

A neat feature of the online version is "Idea Share" which is linked to from the individual lesson pages~ This is a space for educators to add web links, craft ideas, etc to specific lessons... a nice collaboration option. This is also where you'll find discussion questions and links to the pdfs that are specific to the lesson if you haven't already downloaded them from the Table of Contents page. 

Youngest did some story-journaling as part of the literature lessons, as well as filling out worksheets that helped him write a paragraph. Below is a portion of his "Hamburger Organizer" and the first page of his story narration (journaling): 

The "printed" version: 

  • costs around $4 more, plus shipping
  • you receive a hard copy of the teacher's notes and student worksheets, bound in the same book.
  • no deadline for use.
  • no reproduction of worksheets allowed, even within the family.
Here is a look at a portion of the teacher's pages from the printed version (Science Unit): 
And a completed page from the workbook: 
Here is one of his experiments from the weather unit... making a weathervane (note: now he wants to make a dog weathervane out of wood... sounds like we need a scroll saw ;)  ): 

More thoughts about these units from Moving Beyond the Page:

For a "young" seven, who isn't really into writing, there is a LOT of writing to be done~ I had him do some himself, and narrate some to me, so that I wouldn't tax him too much, and keep this a fun project, as seen in the photos with his journal and paragraph organizer. The topics are introduced well, and are easy to follow and implement. 

I like both the online and the printed versions for different features~ 
  • The ability to print up more than one copy of a worksheet from the online version is sometimes a good thing, particularly if your child wants to "do-over" because something was "messed up." 
  • I like the "Clean" feel of the online version, and the automatic "Check-off" when we finish a lesson. 
The materials that accompany the teacher guides and worksheets are very high quality~ great books and hands-on equipment. The story kept my son engaged, and willing to do the correlating activities when we were finished reading each chapter.

Full disclosure and a note about Amazing Weather~ a good portion of the daily activities includes monitoring the weather at various point in the day, and for many days in a row. For most families, this would be a snap, but we are a little less structured around here (particularly in the summer), so checking temps at 8am just wasn't happening... ;) Just thought I should let you know, in case you have a hard time with "Every day" things like that too. ;) 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Medieval Fiction and Fantasy, Labor Strikes, Race Riots, Dysptopia~ High school reads~ the world at your fingertips

Our library has decided to sponsor an interesting summer reading program for the teens this year (previous years have been rather blase' for the teens~ log your reading, earn $ for a local charity~ nice, but not terribly interactive).  This time they have a "board" to fill out~ for each square they complete they get a candy bar (hmmm... I'm not so sure about that one, but THEY are motivated...;) ), and a raffle ticket for some "literary" gift baskets, passes to local attractions, and gift cards. That's pretty enterprising for the library this year, and I'm impressed!

Filling out a "Board" of books was like going on a treasure hunt to find titles that would fit each genre... FUN (but time consuming... hopefully this will save someone else a little bit of time if they want to do something similar)!

So... on with the books~ I'm going to list their categories and the books that we have chosen (so far) for each one. I'll be scouring the other lists posted in this carnival to help fill these in, and if you have any suggestions, PLEASE leave me a comment! :)



  • Graphic Novel:  Laika Most Graphic Novels aren't our style~ they tend to deal with topics that are... well... graphic...  but  this looks like it should be good.
  • Listen to an Audio Book: Tricky for us, since my kids are very picky audio listeners... but Brotherly Love: Christy Series by Catherine Marshall seems like a good pick
  • Summer Reading List (My choice, since we homeschool! Don't have to stick to the local high school list): Lorna Doone; a Romance of Exmoor  looks like a good "classic" that I'd never heard of... :) 

  • a Classic: Shakespeare Comedies (starting with Twelfth Night ) ~ need I say more? ;) 
  • Book turned into a Movie: Catching Fire ~ For those who have avoided the Hunger Games books, I would like to say that they really are very good dystopian literature. I didn't care for the fact that the story itself was turned into "entertainment" by being made into movies, but that doesn't diminish the value of the story (and/or cautionary tale for our times). 
  • Historical Fiction: My two choices listed here are listed on Amazon as being middle school reads, but our library has them listed on their teen page, and they are certainly good choices for light summer reading for a high school student:  Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Medieval) and/or Bread and Roses, Too (tells of the historic textile mill strike of 1912 in Lawrence, MA ~ we particularly like this one because it is "local"). 

  • Book written the year you were born: Snow In August (Also an Alex Award Winner)~ not one we've read yet, but it looks interesting~ set in 1947, backdrop of a Rabbi and a young boy in Brooklyn, whose lives were changed by WWII ~ a book about relationships, baseball, possibly a little Jewish Mysticism, race riots. Hopefully it's a good one! ~ UPDATE: Foul language right off the bat, so this book went into the "do not read" list... (Sigh~ we don't use foul language, I wish it wasn't so prevalent in fiction these days...) We went with Ella Enchanted (Trophy Newbery) instead, even though it isn't really a high school read~ it's a fun light story.  
  • Fantasy: The Unwanteds ~ not amazing literature by any means, but a good younger high school read that blends dystopia with a hint of Harry Potter(I didn't read this one, but from my daughter's description, the magical premise of this book wouldn't bother me the same way the HP books did).
  • Book with a male lead: from an upcoming review, A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr~ Excellent medieval fantasy~ first book in a series of three.
I hope you enjoyed this list, and maybe it will lead you to some gems~ I forgot until I was almost done making this list that there is a nifty tool listed on my Free Homeschool Resources Page that helps with finding books that aren't "twaddle" ~ a Simply Charlotte Mason Bookfinder! Check it out


Homeschool for Free



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