Thursday, May 24, 2018

Home School Navigator (Reading/Language Arts Curriculum Review)

We've been checking out the interactive notebooks by Home School Navigator for the past few weeks. They are part of the overall Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum which offers 6 different levels of instruction which are indicated by color, with Red, Orange, and Yellow indicating earlier learning, and Green, Blue and Indigo more advanced. The interactive notebooks are included in the upper levels, and are what my review will focus on, although I will also give an overview of the whole program.

So, what is an interactive notebook? Well, it's a notebook with shapes and flaps that provide a more interesting and interactive way for your child to record their answers to comprehension and discussion questions about a particular chapter book instead of simply filling in blanks or writing on a plain sheet of paper.

Home School Navigator has placed their discussion questions, vocabulary words and comprehension questions into simple graphic formats that are then glued onto a notebook page and filled out. When you become a Home School Navigator subscriber, part of the monthly handouts includes the graphics for the Interactive notebook. You can see below a screenshot of some of the pages we used for the Because of Winn Dixie Interactive Notebook, which is found in the handouts for Month 6 of the Blue Level.

As your child reads through the book, there are items to fill out for every 4-5 chapters.
I recommend printing on colored paper if you have it, as it helps to add interest for most kids. :) Here is what our printed pages looked like before they were put into the notebook.
You don't need anything crazy~ I chose to use a wide rule, spiral bound notebook for my son's work.
A note: Know your children, and even if you think they know what they are doing, check in on them... ;)  Because my son is on the upper end of the age range, I figured he could take ownership of this activity more or less on his own. I handed him the pages, instructed him to cut out each piece and showed him how to glue them down. The pieces are flat with a dotted line where you fold the page up to write the answer beneath. I showed my son that you only glue down the part that is above the dotted line, but he got a little confused a couple of times~ you can see the orange pieces were folded the other way and glued down the wrong way... oops... These pieces are a little different from others we've used before with a similar idea. :) Another thing that wasn't in the instructions, but that I added was to draw around the edge of the shape so that when the flap was lifted he would know his boundaries for writing.

This set of pages shows vocabulary and discussion/comprehension questions with flaps up (kind of) and down.

And here you can see that there are a few pieces included that are informational (middle blue strip), and another that requested an illustration rather than an answer.

If your children are hands-on and enjoy cutting and pasting, this would probably be a hit for them. My son, sadly, is not in that camp. However, this was very good for him to continue practicing his cutting skills, which he generally avoids like the plague (no worries about important papers being turned into snowflakes by HIM! ;), and we had a few discussions that were interesting.
I will say that I do wish that the Master Book List was readily available to the public, as I am very picky about book choices in my home, and want to know up-front what the focus will be. I am sure there are other families with a similar wish. There were definitely chapter books in the upper levels that were not as good a fit for our family, so it was a little difficult for me to find one to use with my son at the appropriate level.  We had a false start with "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" which I thought he would enjoy, but freaked him out instead... (he has a bit of a phobia about robots which translated to the automaton in the story, which I didn't expect), and we ended up with "Because of Winn Dixie" as you could tell.

OK, that being said let me give you a quick glimpse of the rest of the program, even though it wasn't the focus of our particular review (I contemplated switching our focus, but chose not to as many of the books used were books that we had already read/studied/discussed, and that would not have been a good use of our school time~ another reason to make that book list public...),

Each level is broken down into 9 months of work. Each month focuses on a different genre of writing, including:

  • Author Studies (Usually two or three in each year)
  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir
  • Fables/ Tall Tales
  • Folk tales/ Fairy tales
  • Historical Fiction
  • Mythology
  • Nonfiction Texts/Persuasive Texts
  • Poetry
  • Procedural Texts
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Traditional Stories
Here is a look at the basic scope and sequence which can be found on the FAQ page 

You can see that there is a lot more to this program with a focus on many reading and writing skills. The monthly handout download I mentioned above is a good thing to skim through to give you a bit of an idea of what the month will hold.

The next item you will want to download is the weekly guide which shows everything you need for each day, each week as well as a breakdown of the day's activities. *Note: You don't have to do EVERYTHING for every day~ this is a "Buffet" of activities~ pick and choose what will work best for your own situation...

You can print these or just use them from your computer.

The rest of the program is accessed from the student dashboard. Each day has a bunch of buttons, for lack of a better word, that are clicked on in order, with all of the instructions and links required. If you haven't already printed out the month's handouts, they are linked individually here as well.

Almost every section includes a video with your child's guides (Ashley and Beth) showing them what to do, and explaining things along the way. This could be very helpful for the new homeschooling parent.

One other item that may be of interest to some parents is the fact that you can upload your child's work to the website, and they will save it/compile it into an end-of-year portfolio (there are reminders to do just that at the end of the daily teacher's guide).

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool Review Crew and see what others had to say, especially if you are more interested in the actual day-to-day use of the program, because many others focused on that in their reviews. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Kids Email (An email provider review)

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may recall a review in September 2106 for Kids Email. We have once again been provided a one year subscription to Kids Email Safe Email for Kids for review. My Youngest was delighted with the prospect as we do follow internet safety regulations, and will not allow him to have his own email from any of the generic email providers until he reaches their required age (typically 13, I believe).

We also were quite happy that we were offered this review, as it is a good primer for him, and it also allows him to keep in touch with some friends as well as send us emails. It also provides him a way to move some things he's been writing on the ipad (via attachment or even copy/paste) to a computer. He's begun writing stories and a potential chapter book, but he needed a way to get it to a computer, so this was perfect! ;) ).

Some of the features that make Kids Email stand out as a great option for younger children:
There are many settings and features that parents can use to help keep their children safe and still allow them the freedom to communicate with family and friends.

  • Contact Manager~ Add family and friends to a contact list. 
    • Safety Settings 
      • Receive email for contact list only (yes/no)
      • Send email to contact list only (yes/no)
      • Allow child to edit contact list (yes/no)
  • Block Senders~ If there are no contact restrictions in place, you can still block specific senders by blacklisting the emails. 
  • No Ads~ Even if there are no contact restrictions in place, your child will never generic ads generated from Kids Email, because they don't offer advertising on their site. 
  • Spam Filtering ~ Again, if there are no contact restrictions in place, Kids Email filters out spam. 
  • Mail Monitoring ~ exactly what it sounds like 
    • Safety Settings
      • Send parent copy of incoming email (yes/no)
      • Send parent copy of outgoing email (yes/no)
      • Allow images in incoming email (yes/no)
      • Allow links in incoming email (yes/no)
      • Allow attachments (yes/no) 
        • This can be customized to specific attachment types
      • Filter bad words from received email (yes/no)
      • Add Tagline to bottom of message to alert recipients that email was sent by a child (yes/no)
  • Mail Queue ~ intercepts emails that fail safety rules~ notifies parent who can then approve or deny the email
    • Safety Settings
      • Send a notification to sender to let them know their email has been delayed, pending parent approval. 
  • Time Restrictions ~ You can choose to restrict the time of day or day of the week that your child can access their email. 
    • Activity Log shows when your child has logged in, or if they attempt to log in during a restricted time. 
  • Custom Mailbox Folders~ Child can create their own customized email folders~ helping to teach organization skills. 
  • Template Options allow your kids to change the way their email looks, which can be a fun option. There are 36 templates to choose from and there are appropriate templates for all ages, even teens! 

This is my son's current template, with some of the other options available shown
If you child has been begging for thier own email, and you have been hesitant because of all the the junk out there, Kids Email might be something you'd like to look into.

If you have a teen that has problems being responsible you can set them up with a address, so that you can help guide them/monitor them without their worrying about a "kidsemail" address~ because we all know that wouldn't go over too well... ;)

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Kids Email
  • Product: Kids Email Safe Email for Kids
  • Ages: 
  • Price: 
    • 30 day free trial
    • $2.99/month billed annually ($38.95) for up to 6 email accounts
    • $4.95 monthly for up to 4 email accounts
Visit Kids Email on their social media pages; 

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool 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.
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Friday, May 4, 2018

CodeWizardsHQ (Coding Class Review)

My Youngest is somewhat attached to things electronic and likes to spend as much time as possible at the keyboard. As a result, he thinks he may be interested in learning how to code, so he was excited to be given the opportunity to try out a CodeWizardsHQ demo live class with other Review Crew Kids this past week (the class was the first class of the first course).

The basic offerings are 12-week courses, culminating with the opportunity to intern for 6 months with a non-profit partner organization after completing all 4 courses. While not specifically a homeschooling course, CodeWizardsHQ offers special pricing for homeschool groups (or families with more than three children taking the class at the same time).

One of the things that sets this course apart from many other homeschool computer science curriculum I've seen is that it is taught live, by an instructor, real-time via GoToMeeting, not self-paced or via video instructor. Here's a short video that will introduce you to CodeWizardsHQ and explain a little bit about the program.

So how did the class work for us?
Well, it was a little bumpy to begin with, as we were trying to figure out how to go between the "class page" with the instructor in GoToMeeting and the "program page" on the website where youngest was doing his work. Because of our confusion, he got a little behind with the step-by-step directions, but the instructor was very patient with all of the kids in the class (just like in a physical classroom, students needed help at different times). I will mention here that he is also at the earlier end of the age spectrum recommended for this class, as a 5th grader/rising 6th grader, so that played a part in grasping how the process worked, and I'm sure that if we continued to a second class it would have run more smoothly as the bouncing between screens was already ironed out.

The people at CodeWizardsHQ are very prompt in answering questions via email, sometimes even reaching out before anything comes up to make sure that everything is working alright. In the regular class course, the student can get feedback from the instructor during the next class, and the classes are also recorded, so if someone does get a little lost, they would have the opportunity to rewatch the class and find what they missed the first time through.

Here are a few pictures I took as Youngest was getting started in the class:

There is a chat box on the right, with microphone settings (mute when working on the project, and the ability to turn on when the student has a question). This screen is one of the instructor's slides.

Here you can see that my son has a window open on the left which is the webpage where he was doing the work, and a window on the top on the right which is where the instruction was taking place...

In this picture, the page my son was working on was smaller and overlaying the GoToMeeting page with the instructor, which was much larger. 

After the class ended my son was very pleased that he could still work on his comic strip, and decided to redo the entire thing, working for another 45 minutes or so. Here is a picture of his finished little comic strip. He chose the backgrounds, the characters, and added his own words to the text bubbles, all in basic html coding, which you can see to the right... 

All in all he seemed to enjoy the class, and picked up a few things, which is all I can ask from a one-hour class. I do think that it could be helpful to have a bit of a printed manual (pdf download) that covers what will be happening in each class so that the younger kids could have their parents helping out when there is some confusion. It would also be a little more like a traditional classroom with a "textbook" that could be referred back to, particularly for those who might not be as adept at catching things... or for the purposes of reviewing things down the road a bit.

The certification aspect is a very nice bonus, and something worth considering if your child is interested in going down the digital path to their future as it is not a little bit of code here, and a little bit of code there, but a complete course that will be helpful to prepare children for college and career success in the digital world.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 

As might be expected of a digital-based company, CodeWizardsHQ has a definite social media presence:
In addition to regular pages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, there is a specific Facebook page for parents interested in their child learning to code. It includes sharing of resources, ideas, tips and support for teaching programming to kids.

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool 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.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Associations ~ Not Quite so Wordless Wednesday...


I think God was trying to get my attention today. Wise words about those we associate with showed up for me in more than one place today, so I figured I should share...

I thought this photo I took on a walk this week was appropriate to add to Washington's words... 

And then I read this... 

You can read the whole devotional at 

I was curious, so I checked my other devotional options, How interesting that they all apply in some way or another.
Days of Praise speaks of the importance of the unity of believers, which relates to choosing good company, being ", having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." - Philippians 2:2, and their thought for the day brings it around full circle, because when we turn our backs on bad company and feel alone, we are not alone, but in the company of God.

So~ not a wordless Wednesday, but perhaps a good word! 

C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller (Review)

Over the years, beginning with my Eldest and continuing down through my Youngest, we have enjoyed reading biographies, and have especially appreciated collecting books from YWAM Publishing's many series, including the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series, where we read about, well...Christian Heroes of the faith from the past and the present. This spring we were given a few options to choose from for review, and I was happy to see Christian Heroes- C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller, particularly as my Youngest and I are reading aloud the Chronicles of Narnia this year.

The book is set up in a similar fashion to others that we have read, covering the entire life of the person from early childhood to death. * Side Note: I realized that we haven't any of the "now" books in the collection when my Youngest commented that the only thing he didn't like about the series was that the books always end when the person dies... I hadn't thought of that before. Guess I'll have to pick up one of the others like Charles Mulli next time... ☺

Word to the wise, there are "spoilers" in the biography so you might not want to read it until AFTER you have finished reading the Chronicles. Unfortunately, I didn't preread, so I wasn't aware.

Alright then, on to the review.
My son thought it was interesting that C.S. Lewis was nicknamed "Jack" and that stuck with him for the rest of his life, because my father-in-law is named John, but also called "Jack," something I just don't understand. :) He particularly enjoyed reading about his life as he is very interested in the WWII time period, and hearing about regular life during those times. He did feel that the story overall wasn't quite as gripping as say, Milton Hershey's life story which we reviewed last summer. As a result, I would suggest that an older middle-schooler might actually get more out of this study than a later elementary student.

I will say that the Unit Study Guide available for this book is also on a slightly higher level, in part based on the topics covered including love and marriage and divorce, which aren't necessarily topics I would have brought up with the youngest ages this book is suggested for. However, as homeschoolers, we are able to tailor our schooling, and we don't have to ask ALL the questions, so it's all good ~ we can allow some details to go over their heads when appropriate.

A word or two about the contents of the Study Guide.
It includes an introduction for the instructor and then moves into the areas of study.
  • Key Bible Verses ~ 4 verses that can be used for Memorization, Meaning (thinking about how they apply to C.S. Lewis' life) Devotional, or Display (which could tie into art)
  • Display Corner ~ Suggestion that is more useful in a group setting, but some homes are suitable for this sort of motivating idea~ it's fun and adds to the memories if you can do it.
  • Chapter Questions~ Each chapter has 6 questions: one Vocabulary, one Factual,  two Comprehension and two Open-ended. I do appreciate that the guide recommends tailoring the questions to your students level and ability, as mentioned above. I tend to do these orally anyway, so it all works out well for me.☺
  • Student Explorations ~ These include suggestions like Essay Questions, Creative Writing Projects, Hands-On Projects, Audio Visual Projects, and Arts and Crafts Projects. 
  • Community Links ~ Suggestions for activities out in the community that would connect with the book. For instance, because of the British background of C.S. Lewis' life, there is a suggestion to visit a Tea House for High Tea. Fun times, and if we weren't in the midst of Baseball Season and three teams, I'd consider it. ☺There are many other suggestions for ways to interact with people in the community that will add to the details in the book. 
  • Social Studies ~ Includes Places, Terms/Vocabulary, Geographical Characteristics, including mapping locations~ this was one of the activities we chose to do, as well as Conceptual Questions (these move from simpler to more complex). 
  • Related Themes ~ Gives suggestions of possible related themes in the topics of History, Current Events, Literature, Christianity, and even Travel Skills. 
  • Culminating Event~ for families that like to celebrate the end of a Unit Study in a more formal manner, there are ideas for Food, Music, Presentations, Display, Clothing, and Cultural Activities
  • Books and Resources ~ Offers a large list of extra resources about C.S. Lewis, other books, other books in the same series, and related articles and internet sites.

    I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is also an answer key to the first four chapter questions in each chapter (Because the open-ended questions can't be quantified in an answer key).
All in all, we have been very happy with the various historical YWAM biographies, and enjoy adding them to our home library as we have time and funds.
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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