Monday, August 29, 2016

New School Year, New Chapter

I've always liked the start of a new school seems a better time for resolutions and second chances than January.  I think because no matter how the last year ended, there were new teachers and fresh grade books that didn't care about your past, just your future.  There is no score being kept from last year - no scale reminding you of all the cookies you ate over Christmas.  Even though I'm no longer in school, I'm still learning, and want to try to recapture that feeling of "only what's ahead counts."

Today was almost like our usual homeschool Monday - catching up on what still needs to be completed, and then working on the rest of the week's plans.  This Monday, we added in all of the back-to-school planning.  By tonight, my living room looks like a curriculum company vomited on the floor.  Celia doesn't go back until after Labor Day, but the boys are starting their new year today.  Taking inventory this September, I realized that instead of five kids, I have four big kids and a grown-up.  No more little kids, and  the contents and decor of the house are beginning to reflect that. We're passing board books down to younger cousins, and filling shelves with more young adult titles.  Outgrown Power Wheels are making way for a real car for Luke.  Even the walls are different -- instead of the soothing baby blue I chose for his bedroom,  Damien's bedroom is a bright, loud orange that reflects his favorite color and personality.  Everything seems to be changing.

I've been struggling with what I'm going to blog about this year.  When I started writing, it was to share what Jude was doing as a new homeschooler.  Five years later, not only is he no longer a preschooler, but Damien has started first grade.  There's still plenty of "What we did" to be shared, but let's face it -- how we spent the day finding the subject and verb of a sentence isn't scintillating reading.  I have a list of ideas, but bear with me as I find my feet again.  I got spoiled last year with Luke helping me and sharing some of the work, but now that he's graduated, I don't have a steady stream of recipes and American History posts.  I'm really trying not to get caught up in "Is that idea going to go viral on Pinterest?" or "Can I share it with a blog party and it make sense?"  I did before, and while my blog was growing,  I was just hanging on.   We're at a new chapter in our life, and I hope that I can share what that looks like.  I think it's time to take what I learned in the past and use it going forward,  making this year more about us and what we've done, and less about what I think people want to learn to do or make.

Here's to a new year and learning to embrace the adventures it brings!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Visit to Minnesota

Celia's music teacher, Jeremy, "lives" in our computer.  Actually, he lives in Minnesota.  She's been taking lessons with him via MacPhail Online and Skype for three years now, but they have never actually met in person.  Our path on our summer trip has taken us to a much-anticipated stop in Minneapolis, and today she had a much-anticipated in-person lesson with him.

I'm surprised she didn't explode waiting for him to finish with the student before her.

She said even though it was only an hour that they played together, she learned so much!  The biggest thing was being able to work side-by-side, instead of trying to mirror each other on the screen.  He adjusted some of her posture and holds, and just the small tweaks made a big difference.  They also began work on pieces for her next jury evaluation.

She's already asking when can we come back to Minnesota for another lesson!  Someday - or maybe for a jury recital, depending on scheduling.  In the meantime, they have a standing "date" for Tuesday afternoons at their desks.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Adventures bring friends together...

 This week, the Adventures with Jude Crew descended on Cristi and family from Through the Calm and Through the Storm.  It's been seven years since I got to visit with my friend Cristi in person.  Our biggest kids are now grown-ups, and our little ones aren't babies anymore.  (The last time I saw her, Damien was still "T-minus six months.") I'm so happy I got to visit with her and her family while on our road trip!

It was a little disconcerting seeing what we would have looked like if we had known each other as kids.

They say true friends are the kind where you can spend years apart and pick up as if you saw each other yesterday.  Cristi is totally that friend!  I hope it's less than seven years until we meet again, but in the meantime, we'll have to settle for our usual rapid-fire, six-conversations-at-once texting.  No matter how far apart our houses are, we're only as far apart as where we left our phones!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Star Toaster: Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Our house reviewed Orphs of the Woodlands from Star Toaster a while ago and fell in love with the program.  They loved the story; I loved how it integrated reading, math, science, and other subjects into a learning game.  We've been looking forward to any new editions of the story and were very excited to review their new interactive book, Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree.

This new program is available as an app for Apple iOS devices.  It includes a 122 page (equivalent) chapter book, along with videos and cross-curricular activities. Seventy-five lessons in math, language arts, critical thinking, and art provide ways for players to provide for their orphaned squirrels.

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

As much as we enjoyed the first story, it was computer-based, so it meant the story and activities had to be experienced at home.  With an app, Orphs could go on the road with us.  Celia and I each downloaded it to our phones, and Jude downloaded to his iPad, and we were off and running.
Screen size definitely makes a difference. Celia has a 5C version iPhone, while I have the larger 6S Plus.  She didn't seem to mind the small font, while my eyes appreciated the larger screen on mine.  I will admit, I do prefer mine to hers in general, but even for helping her and reading directions, etc., it was much harder to read with a smaller screen.  Of course, on Jude's iPad was easiest to both read and maneuver, so in the case of the Orphs, size matters.

Last time, it was Matthew and Celia who saved the Orphs.  This round, Celia and Jude read and played.  This was not a good fit for Jude because he tended to race through the activities, and then he was stuck because he couldn't re-try things.  I was hoping he would enjoy this because it was iPad-based, but he wasn't having any of it.  Celia played it several times -- if she deleted the app from her phone and re-installed it, she could begin again.  I asked her to write her thoughts on the app so that I would have her input when writing this; apparently, I could have just let her write the whole review for me.

By Celia:

Orphs of the Woodlands is a really cute, fun, and educational game. I enjoyed how they had Abba and Hattah taking care of the four little orphs with based on what I did.  By reading, watching and listening carefully, I could be able to answer the questions correctly and earn stars to get the items needed to take care of the orphs.  It really tests children's skills of reading, listening, and paying attention. 
There were a few things I would like them [Star Toaster] to change. I would like them to let you go back and read over the information for the questions because not all kids are going to remember things really well, and sometimes I couldn't remember, either.  If you answer wrong, you aren't allowed to retry or even go back, look it over, and try again, and you don't get any stars for your Orphs.  Most things were mostly easy, but I know my brother had a really hard time because he didn't get any second chances on anything.  He finished the tasks, but he didn't do well enough to save his Orphs, and that made him really mad. 
What makes it even more frustrating is once you've completed the tasks, you're still not done.  I've completed everything already available and now have to wait for the next part to come out to finish. It's frustrating to know I've worked this hard, and gotten this far, and I still have the story "unfinished." It was a great game to review, and I can't wait for the next part to come out so I can finish.

Mom again.  I think she summed up what I thought - it was a great app that had strong ideas but weak execution in some aspects.  It won't stop her from asking when the next story comes out, but I think I would let her try it out before giving Jude or Damien a turn.

For more about Star Toaster's Orphs stories, follow them on social media, or click the banner below to read more Crew reviews.


Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Heirloom Audio Productions: Beric the Briton (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Beric the Briton is the fifth audio drama from Heirloom Audio Productions' series, The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty that we have enjoyed.  Each of the productions is an exciting tale that blends a story set long ago but that still has a meaning for today, and this 2-CD set is no exception.  In addition to the audio discs, Heirloom Audio offers a downloadable study guide that can take this from being a simple listening experience to the backbone of a full unit study.

We took our story with us on our summer road trip.  We are driving cross-country, and there are lots of miles to fill.  This story runs about two and a half hours, so it was a great listen on a very long stretch of road between Ohio and Missouri.  Beric the Briton transported us from the farmlands of Indiana to Britannia and Rome just before, during, and after the reign of Emperor Nero.  A combination of creative storytelling, gifted voice actors, and beautifully composed music kept everyone on the edge of their seats (well, as close to the edge of his seat as the seatbelts would allow).   I also have to give a loud shout out to the Foley artists. There were some well-timed and seemingly insignificant sounds -- the creak of a door, distant footsteps, etc. -- that would not necessarily be missed in the larger presentation, but add a layer of dimension that enhances the production and demonstrates Heirloom Audio's commitment to detail and quality.

One thing I enjoy about these stories is they are not just entertainment, but an engaging way for learning about history.  In the past, we've heard about explorer Sir Francis Drake, Scottish heroes Wallace and Bruce, and Alfred the Great.  Although we've learned about a young cavalryman in the American Confederate Army, you'll notice that the stories are rich in British History.  This is undoubtedly because Henty was a British Victorian author, writing for British children.  However, his stories still translate well to American children of today.  Ideals such as courage, standing up in others' defense, and thinking before acting are timeless.

Unlike the other stories, "Henty" (portrayed once again by Brian Blessed; John Rhys-Davies also is a repeat participant) is not directly interacting with our old friends Ned and Gerald, but rather reading aloud a letter he is sending to them as he travels on a ship.  In his message is the tale of Beric the Briton.  Beric is the son of a chieftainess in Brittania, in a time when clans ruled themselves but Rome ruled the world.   Beric, who has been in the keeping of a Roman centurion, attempts to help the clans overthrow the Romans, but he is taken as a prisoner and made to train as a gladiator in Rome itself.  He wins his freedom by saving that centurion's daughter from certain death in the Colosseum, and finds himself Nero's head guard.

Christian underpinnings in Henty's tales are usually easy to see and deftly woven into the story.  Here, I thought the Christianity was rather heavy handed. At first, the story often points out that the Celtic priests and rulers cannot be trusted because they are manipulating for their own gains what the "gods tell them," and Beric sees this incongruity.  There was also a Roman official, who swore "on the altar of Diana" that he would allow Beric's band of men to be kept prisoner, rather than put to the sword.  As Luke and I heard this, we were saying, "Wow, this sounds like Henty's showing that these virtues transcend 'just' Christianity, and show that regardless of religious belief, goodness is in all men."  Even when the ship carrying Beric and his band of soldiers to Rome is shipwrecked, he goes back into the water to save his jailer's child, because it was the right thing to do.  Cue Christianity. The man asks if Beric is a follower of Christus, because his actions put into life the words that he had heard a man named Paulus speak.  Beric eventually learns more about this man named Christus, including the persecution by Nero of those who overtly followed Christian teachings.  I thought this had the potential to be a great conversion story, showing how God works in our lives before we even realize it, but it soon became an "us vs. them" storyline.  I admit that I have not had an opportunity to read Henty's original story (an e-version is part of the digital download), so I can't say if it was the productions' decision or if the original work propelled it.  However, we found that it seemed to bog down the second half of the production, and Christianity became more a part of the plot than part of Beric.

In addition to the audio CDs, we received a digital download containing not only the novel but also a fifty-page study guide that included biographical information about the warring rulers Roman Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea of Brittania and chapter questions that address both the facts from the story and critical thinking about the events.

Overall, we enjoyed listening to this presentation and are looking forward to the next release. For more information on Heirloom Audio Productions' offerings, follow them on social media or click the banner below for more Crew Reviews.

Beric The Briton ~ Facebook
The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty series ~ Facebook

Heirloom Audio Productions
Instagram: @HeirloomAudioOfficial

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 2 - Sea to Shining Sea: Revolution on the Frontier

Day 2's journey took us from just outside Cincinnati, OH to St. Louis Missouri, via Vincennes, IN.  We packed ourselves back up and headed for our main stop for the day, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

At first, Indiana looked pretty busy. Heading west, we went from just outside a one moderately sized metropolitan area (Cincinnati) to another (Indianapolis).  Our "flight path" took us by the Indianapolis Airport area.

With half a dozen planes on one side of the highway and a truck depot on the other, everyone was duly impressed by the FedEx Facility.

As we headed south towards Vincennes, though, things quickly got more rural. Farms and farmstands dotted the landscape at first, and then covered them. This was outside a peach orchard stand that we passed.

Many family farms are in this area.  It's funny how we consider farms at home to be "new-ish" if they're only 3rd or 4th generation-owned, but compared to this one, NJ farms are "establishment."

Vincennes is a cute little town.  Located on the bank of the Wabash River, it was originally a French trading settlement.  It became an American town through the leadership of one determined man, George Rogers Clark.

Does the family name sound familiar? Yes, he's from that Clark family.  George's little brother, William, was the "Clark" in "Lewis and Clark who explored the Louisiana Purchase." The younger Clark  George, however, was a Revolutionary War hero, who led his own expedition and pushed the British out of the western frontier.  The British had gained the holding as part of the peace treaty after the French and Indian war but only sent 300 soldiers to guard the Illinois territory, relying on agreements with Indians to intimidate would-be settlers.  Clark appealed to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry (yes, that Patrick Henry) for a group of men to help get the area under American control. In February 1798, this group of less than 200  braved the bitter cold and a swollen-to-lake-proportions Wabash River to launch a surprise attack on Fort Sackville. Through a combination American alliance with the French, an alliance with many disgruntled native tribes, and some sleight-of-hand, Clark and his "Long Knives" secured the far west for the new nation.   The monument containing this statue and a picture storytelling of the western expansion is along the banks of the Wabash River and on the site of the old Fort.

After Jude and Celia had been sworn in as Junior Rangers, we headed off again.

We crossed the Wabash River into Illinois and the Central Time Zone.

We joked, "Corn, soybeans, cows...and wait, a miles-to-Trenton-sign?  Illinois is really just West New Jersey!"

One kid joked, "Look, they're growing corn oil!"

US 50 is dotted with these out-of-service bridges.  This one was fairly clear to see.  Most of the others have been overgrown with trees and vines.

Only five miles from St. Louis, and we're at a stop. Overturned tractor trailer ahead. Yikes!

Finally crossing over the Mississippi River...welcome to St. Louis, Missouri!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Writing with Sharon Watson (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Sharon Watson is a favorite curriculum writer in our house.  Luke used her curriculum as a high school freshman, and things just clicked for him.  I've often tried to get him to let me use his books with Matthew, but he wasn't letting them out of his sight.  If I didn't know better, you'd think he was a German Shepherd guarding a toddler.  Lucky for Matthew,  there is a new version - The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition is now available from Writing with Sharon Watson.

This is Matthew's second experience with Ms. Watson's curricula (you can read our review of her Illuminating Literature - Luke enjoyed it so much that I purchased a second set of materials for Matthew), so he already was familiar with her easy writing style.  Her writing is written with a teenage audience in mind.  Too often I hear "This is boring!" when it comes to reading an assignment because the author either dumbs things down or writes on a level that flies over a high schooler's head.  All of Sharon Watson's curricula is written in a tone that is engaging to the student.

The second edition isn't terribly different from the first, in terms of content and scope of study.   It includes different styles of essay (persuasive, objective, etc.) as well as other types of writing that are important in both an academic and business atmosphere. In all, there are 21 different styles covered.  If you need to know it, it's in this program.  However, what makes it stand out from the first one is there are explicit daily lessons.  This was a huge help for Matthew.  It created clear expectations on what he was supposed to do in a day, rather than him trying to guess how much was "enough" work, or falling so far behind that he wound up spending all day on a single assignment.

Since I was familiar with the student edition from Luke's use, I focused my learning on the Teacher's Guide. There were some great points that I truly hadn't realized.  Because I enjoy writing, I can easily write a "larger" amount fairly quickly.  As I work with things to review, in my head I'm composing my outline and a very rough idea of what I want to say, so when it's time to write a review it is mainly an issue of me gathering and organizing my thoughts, then putting fingers to keys and typing.  However, the Teacher's Guide for The Power in Your Hands points out that the average student takes an hour to compose a 100-word essay.  This was a bit of an eye-opener to me because I can easily write a 500+ word review in about three hours.  It has helped me temper my expectations for how long it really takes -- and how long I should realistically expect -- Matthew to take with an assignment.

I also appreciated a clear guide to grading.  Often, there is an argument here over whether an assignment is completed "well enough."  One can imagine that often, my idea of "sufficient" and Matthew's don't always match.  In both the Student's and Teacher's guides, there are explicit explanations of what earns a particular grade.   Questions ranging from slightly more subjective "Has the student communicated his ideas clearly and expressed them well?" to extremely concrete "Was the paper handed in on time?" and "Did the student follow the written directions?"  help both of us when it comes time to evaluate his writing. These helped him understand that yes, on time matters, but also content needs to be pertinent and well-presented, and not just following directions of "Write a 3-5 sentence paragraph" that turns out to be three uncoordinated sentences written one after the other in paragraph form.

I'm happy Matthew finally has his very own copy of The Power in Your Hands.  I'm hopeful that with such structured assignments and clear expectations, Matthew's skills at writing will grow and soon enough I'll find myself the former teacher of a pack of book-guarding writers.

For more about Sharon Watson and her reading/writing programs, follow her on social media or click the green banner for more crew reviews.


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.
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