Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Five things I've Learned It's OK to Do When Homeschooling


Ever notice that when you start something, you have plenty of ideas, and feel like you can do anything, and then as time goes on, reality sets in and hits you like a brick wall?  Yeah, that happened here.  Six years in, I don't consider myself an expert at this homeschooling gig, but we've certainly learned a few things.  I've been planning out our next year and reading other blogs, to see how other mamas are organizing their years.  There's always something so simple yet brilliant that I wonder "WHY on earth didn't I think of that."  I'm sharing a list of things that I've learned by watching other homeschooling mamas, or the hard way by making lots of mistakes.  I hope they help you!

It's smart to save re-usable things for the next kid, but it's OK to let them go, too. 

I'm currently going through all the stuff on our shelves.  (It's amazing what we homeschool moms can accumulate, isn't it?)  When I first started homeschooling, I kept so many things after the first kid used it -- I thought I was being smart. I even kept the stuff that didn't work, thinking a different kid would learn differently and maybe it would work.  Or I picked up something for "next year" because it was "too good a deal." What I've learned is you have to know what you're saving.  It's smart to keep things that you love, or that are adaptable for different learning styles.  But you don't have to keep stuff "just in case."

 Even if you're thinking "But I have another kid coming up through," consider if it's a textbook that will have a new edition in that time and be hard to find the workbook for.  Is it something you'll have to move from place to place a hundred times until you're ready for it? If you're not willing to pack it up and move it cross country (even if you don't plan ever on going any farther than your current kitchen!), consider if it can do good for someone else.

Sell it if you can, or loan it out.  Barter or trade with a friend if you can't afford to let it go for nothing.  Hand-me-down curriculum is like hand-me-down clothes -- SOMEBODY will always fit it, even if it's not your kid.  Let it go and bless the universe.  Otherwise, you run out of shelf space even faster.

It's OK to buy curriculum as you go, a little at a time. (Corollary: It's OK if your crystal ball wasn't accurate.) 

 I was recently having a conversation with another homeschool friend about curriculum ideas and said, "Some year, I'm going make up my mind in July and not change it 72 times." Her retort was "Yeah, Damien's senior year." She's probably right.  I envy the mamas who can buy a box of something in August and their kids follow the program!  I've learned the hard way that while sometimes things are a fit right from the start, sometimes a plan could be a total dud OR kiddo will zip through at double-time pace, so it's better for us to buy what we need when we need it, rather than a year's worth of books all at one time.  While I feel like every time I turn around I'm ordering something, it does help spread costs out rather than being a huge "all on one credit card statement" bill.

The caveat is you do need to keep a closer eye on "how much is left in the book" to not have two weeks of nothing to do. You don't have the calendar saying "It's May, you're almost done!"  Last year, I expected for Damien's grammar book to last well into spring, but with a bit of bravado leading to extra pages completed here and there, he finished it much sooner.  Damien wouldn't stop crying because I hadn't ordered the Level 2 grammar book back in September, and I should have known that he'd be done it in February, not after Easter.  Sorry kid, the crystal ball was out of service!

Now when the little boys get new workbooks, I go to the end of the book, count back what I think will take about three weeks to finish, and put a stripe at the top of the page.  Even if I forget it's there, a kid will say "Why is this on the top of my paper?" which serves as a reminder for me to order the next step.  (Matthew is much better at telling me when he's nearly done so I can plan whatever is next.)

It's OK to NOT do all subjects all at one time.  

For high school, this is pretty easy.  Courses tend to have a beginning, middle, and end.  As long as you're doing things in a logical order (Algebra I before Algebra II), there's no rule that says you have to do Algebra and English on the same day.  We've found success working on a "semester block" calendar helps.  Rather than focusing on everything all at once,  doing four classes at a time instead of seven or eight, Matthew can see progress and the lights at the end of the tunnel more frequently.

For the younger boys, we're slowly moving toward this.  We still do core subjects, like math and reading, daily but some subjects benefit from working on at different times.  While Jude and Damien are apt to binge on history and science in their free time, we only do "formal lessons" for them two days a week each.  (I asked them if they'd rather do those "one at a time" and alternate semesters,  and we had puzzlement that then approached mutiny.)  This works because instead of spending only 15 or 20 minutes a day on something, we can spend an hour or two really digging into a subject once or twice a week.

It's OK to re-configure your "school year." 

When we started homeschooling, I knew that taking our time with things was going to be important - one of the reasons we were homeschooling was to be able to work at their paces. We have worked year-round almost from the beginning.  We have found that homeschooling year-round lets us have more time to take breaks when they're convenient for our family, rather than dictated by the calendar.

We've also changed our "year," so that move-up day is in June, not September.  We learned the hard way after planning on a September-to-September schedule, and then Luke realized he wanted to graduate in June of his Senior Year, not after the summer. He had to really hustle to get everything done. We still work through the summer so we can take time off during the cooler months, but we don't feel like we're cramming the spring.

It's OK to not feel like you have to have it all planned out.

I know there are some mamas who have their kindergartener's high school maths mapped out.  I'm glad they're that organized! Me...if I can fill out this week's lesson plan on Monday, we're doing great.  My mom says one of my grandfather's favorite prayers was
For tomorrow, we do not pray;
keep us, Lord, just for today.  
I think on this often.  We may change plans six times in a year if we find something that isn't working or if we try something we think might work better.  (Being part of the Homeschool Review Crew means we get lots of opportunities to try new things.)  I try not to stress over tomorrow too much and just focus on them learning today's lessons. I figure as long as they're learning and progressing today, we must be doing something right. We'll deal with tomorrow when it gets here!

What have you learned "It's OK to do"?

©2012- 2018 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Friday, June 15, 2018

Five Minute Friday: Restore

Five Minute Friday is a blog party where the writer sets a timer for five minutes and starts writing. Timer done? Post done.  This week's theme: Restore.

GO.

If you've been watching this blog, it's no secret that my blogging capacity has dwindled to all but zero in the last months. I've been keeping up with my reviews, but haven't posted anything new since April.  And there wasn't a whole lot posted before that.  I admit it...I was tired.  I was out of ideas. I felt like I was talking to hear myself talk.

Maybe I am.  But I've decided I'm ok with that.

The time off has let me really think about where I want to go with the blog. My go-to sharings stopped because we were so busy doing I didn't have time to record in the moment, and then once I did have time, it seemed too much like "old news" to bother.

The problem is I now have thousands of pictures on my phone, with no stories to go with them.  I have a stack of recipes I've worked out for Celia, but she has to always ask me what they are because they're in my head and not written down.  I was so worried about, "But I don't have a good, Pinterest-worthy picture for the post!"  Honestly, she doesn't care if there is one - she just wants the cake recipe.

I've always wanted my blog to be a chronicle of our adventures. I got so wrapped up in "what you're 'supposed to do' with a blog" that I lost what I wanted to do. With a new homeschooler, we will definitely be having new adventures.  It seems an apropos time to re-boot.

I'm not going to worry about if it's "old news" -- because the memories are still new.   Things might come slowly, but they're coming. I've got a stack of drafts started with notes of things to share. I promise. I'm going to restore this to what I wanted it to be - a way to record what we've done in our homeschool.  Even if it happened a while ago.


STOP.

restore


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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

ARTistic Pursuits: Building a Visual Vocabulary (Homeschool Review Crew)

"Art class" is one of those things that always seems to get back-burnered.  My kids enjoy creating art on their own, but it is something that we never seem to have time for instruction in.  I've had plenty of art history courses, but I am not an "artist," so my instructions generally are "Get your markers and draw something." We have used art curriculum books from ARTistic Pursuits, Inc in the past, and while I found them to be high quality, they were a bit overwhelming, because it was still mom having to take the lead as the teacher when it was time to create art projects.  (I like to think of myself as more of a facilitator; that means sometimes, I'm the best teacher for a subject, but other times it is better for me to find somebody more knowledgeable.)  The company has a new program for early elementary students (K-3), titled ARTistic Pursuits Art Instruction Books with DVD and Blu-Ray. This program divides their K-3 program into six hardcover volumes:

  • Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary 
  • Art of the Ancients 
  • Art of the Middle Ages 
  • Artists that Shaped the Italian Renaissance
  • Art of the Northern Countries, Renaissance to Realism
  • Art of the Impressionists

Each book is intended to be a one-semester study, presented approximately at a rate of one lesson a week.  The set is available as individual volume purchases, or as a complete set.  For our review, we received the first book in the series, Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary




This text and video art instruction contained 18 lessons in total; 12 text-based lessons featured works of master artists, while the remainings six were video-based instruction on using art materials.

The book teaches are the concepts of "what artists do."  It begins with "Artists compose."


This foundational book contains material featured in the larger Early Elementary Volume 1 book.  (You can read our review of that here.)  However, length notwithstanding, it is not precisely the same program. I feel that new book is almost "ARTistic Pursuits Lite." This book uses the same hands-on learning projects but has fewer questions that examine the individual pictures.


 (The current text is on the left, the older book is the spiral bound volume to the right.)  While I appreciate the larger photography, I was surprised to see the lesson to have less opportunity to dig into the picture.

I also was shocked to discover the photo has been mistitled in both books. When we reviewed the program in the past, I took it at face value. This spring, Neal and I experienced an incredible vacation that included a guided, "Highlights of the Dutch Masters" tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  As I flipped to this page, I thought "Wait, I think we saw this!" (When you only have two hours to see as much as you can cram in, paintings and titles, unfortunately, start to meld in your head.)


Eh, not quite.  But it was a house in Delft.  This 1670 painting, entitled View of the Houses in Delft, Known as "The Little Street" is by Johannes Vermeer, a contemporary of Pieter DeHooch.  Homeschoolers love rabbit holes, so as I started down this one, I learned from the UK's National Gallery that the painting pictured below is actually The Courtyard of a House in Delft.


Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The painting featured is actually entitled Courtyard with an Arbour. I began spot-checking all the book's Masters reference works to make sure titles and artists aligned. I didn't find any further discrepancies, but I feel like this is something that should not be wrong.  I know -- it didn't bother me before, and I accepted it at face value.  But now, I can't, and between the lighter study and wrong title really overshadowed everything for me. I felt like I had to check everything before we worked on it.

One of his favorite lessons was about observation - just going outside and looking around, and painting what you see.


Here, he combined what he remembered from the lesson on imagination (our house doesn't quite have this color palette) with a newer lesson on observation, and painted a bird flying over the sunny field in front of our house. (It's convenient that we have an Incredible Hulk willing to act as painting stand, isn't it?)

This book contains mostly Masters paintings, and the activities revolve around drawing and painting. There are sculpture choices, including Boy with Bagpipes and Young Bear, that instigates a discussion of form. Instead of painting, construction paper pieces are layered to create paper forms.



A helpful, detailed materials list is included so that the parent/teacher can procure the supplies at the start of the course, and not have to put off instruction because she doesn't have something on hand.  The program suggests specific brands of materials. While these brands are not mandatory, you should try to purchase similar quality items. If you've ever been tempted to buy the cheaper, no-name crayons instead of Crayolas to save a few cents, you've seen how art supplies are something where you truly "get what you pay for." The items they suggest are not cheap, but they aren't expensive either.  Let's call these supplies what they are -- an investment in your child's education.


ARTistic Pursuits also offers a "complete" supply pack kit for each level if you'd prefer everything in one box.  It is independent of the book order, so you can easily increase or restock your supplies if you wish to use the curriculum with more than one child.

The DVD set was a welcome addition to the program.  Included are a standard DVD disc and a Blue-ray version.  (Matthew tells me that if you don't have an actual Blue-Ray player, Sony Playstations  (PS3 and higher) and North American-purchased Microsoft XBox One video game consoles should be able to play Blue-ray discs. I was unable to check this as we do not have either device.) The DVDs added both vocabulary concepts, as well as demonstrated how to use the art materials in the program.  While I have an arts degree, my background is in performing arts, not visual arts; the scale required for theater set design doesn't lend itself to the same techniques used for small paper and canvas works. One of this volume's favorite mediums is watercolor crayons, so the first lesson of the DVD showed students how to create works with these and pencils.

It began with a study in visualizing what you want to draw/paint and then segues into a discussion of composition, line, and color.  As the video completes the drawing, it shows how to use watercolor crayons to re-create the colors of your composition.


It also teaches painting techniques, starting with "how to have just enough water on your brush," and how to properly use the brush.


The instructors also recognize students in this age bracket may be a bit enthusiastic in their painting, and show how to fix a painting that may get a little flooded.


It concludes with a reminder of how to clean up after you're done and store your paints and brushes.  I honestly think that sometimes it takes outside influence to get a kiddo to clean up properly. Somehow, they accept it as "how it must be done" and not as  "mom nagging again." I definitely appreciated this!

Damien hunted the house and looked for items he could compose to create his own picture.  He chose his favorite fruit, strawberries, arranged in a bright blue bowl.






The second DVD lesson showed color mixing.  For some kids, this will be a reminder (as Damien reminded me, he was in third grade!), but it's a good review of what colors combine to secondary and tertiary colors, but it also shows the technique of how to mix them. As Celia looked over his shoulder, I hear her gasp, "Oh!  THAT'S how it works!"  No, she wasn't shocked that red and yellow made orange, but she had an "aha" moment watching the mechanics of how the on-screen artist blended them.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend the program for middle or high school students- the language and perspective are geared toward the younger student - but if you had older art students, the few minutes on technique in each lesson would be worth sitting in on.


These DVDs are only available with the new book series. I wish they were available as a stand-alone item, especially for those who may already have the older ARTistic Pursuits books and would welcome a video-based supplement.

Overall, this is a good program.  I like that it takes only a few minutes a week for me to sit with Damien and read about/discuss a piece of art, and then it allows him near free-reign over the creative process. This makes it more convenient to fit into our week, and more likely that we will be able to keep up with it.

Crew families have been studying art with the first four books in the series,
  • Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary 
  • Art of the Ancients 
  • Art of the Middle Ages 
  • Artists that Shaped the Italian Renaissance
Click the banner below to read their reviews!

Artistic Pursuits Full Video Lesson Grades K-3 {ARTistic Pursuits Reviews}




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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Memoria Press: Traditional Logic (Homeschool Review Crew)

Memoria Press has become a go-to favorite for us; as time has gone on, I've come to appreciate the Classical approach to education. We have done several reviews with them in the past, as well as purchased many of their curriculum programs.   This time, we had the opportunity to study their Traditional Logic I and II programs. Even though we would only have time to actually study with one program, Memoria Press generously sent us both semesters' curriculum, Traditional Logic I Complete Set and Traditional Logic II Complete Set, to review. Each contains a Textbook, Student Workbook, Quizzes and Tests, Teacher's Key (with answers to both the workbook and the quizzes/tests), and instructional DVDs. The program was written and presented by Martin Cothran.

Mr. Cothran has compiled an impressive curriculum vitae in the classical field. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from the Simon Greenleaf School (Trinity University).  Currently, he is the director of the Classical Latin School Association and editor of Memoria Press' quarterly Classical Teacher magazine.  Mr. Cothran was a Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric Instructor at Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Kentucky (also part of the Memoria Press family of educational opportunities).  Local (Cincinnati Enquirer, Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald Leader)  and National (New York Times, USA Today) outlets have published his writings on current issues, and he has appeared on nearly all major US national television networks.  This program is presented by an educator who is both well-versed and well-respected in his field.


This is a program intended for advanced middle schoolers (grades 7-8) or high school students.  (Memoria Press places it in their 9th-grade curriculum package.) This is meant to be a two-semester program (one high school credit) program.  While it is a language-based program, I don't intend to count it under "language arts" on either child's transcripts and plan to mark it as a humanities elective credit instead. Regardless of which high school year it is completed in, this program will nicely fill that "fourth-year social studies" space.


Matthew recently completed a Logic and Critical Thinking course that I pieced together from various resources, so my original plan was for him to work on the program for the review period, and then pass it on to Celia. Since the Student Workbooks are single-student consumables, I'd purchase a new Logic I workbook, and continue with the unused Logic II books. Much to Matthew's chagrin, I'm changing the rules.  He's now going to complete both semesters' courses, and his sister is getting her own set of student books.

Why?  Well, I could say "Because I'm Mom, that's why," but that wouldn't be a constructive review, would it? After the first few lessons, I have realized that this Logic course is different from what he has already done.

About Traditional, Formal Logic


Those critical thinking courses were based on modern, material logic that taught him to evaluate arguments based on math, science, and truths provable by independent confirmation.  Think of it as making your arguments "fact-checker proof," or being the fact-checker seeking the flaws in another's argument. Traditional Logic is completely different and based on Aristotelian logic. I think the best way to describe the difference is to share this comparison from the article "Zombie Logic" by  Mr. Cothran:

Traditional logic is not a calculus by which we can “solve” for the truth. Modern logic speaks the language of the computer, which was created by men; traditional logic speaks the language of men, who were created by God. While modern logic is how computers think, traditional logic is how human beings think. We are not computational beings and our language is not some kind of mathematical calculus. When we think and speak and write, we do it not as human machines, but as logocentric (language-centered) creatures. 

Aristotelian logic does not seek confirmation from outside truths, but rather uses deductive reasoning to create arguments where there is no choice but for a statement to follow itself to a truthful conclusion. To quote Mr. Cothran again, this time from his article Thinking Logically About Logic"It is not the purpose of formal logic to discover truth. That is the business of everyday observation and, in certain more formal circumstances, empirical science. Logic serves only to lead us from one truth to another."

Formal logic goes back to the foundation, or form, of creating an argument.  It's not "formal" in the sense of "fancy" vs. not, but "form" as defined by construction or appearance.  Traditional Logic I builds to the creation of syllogisms, the concept of "If A is B, and B is C, then A is also C." The course includes the Porphyrian Tree, the four logical statements, how they can be opposites or equivalent, and the seven rules for statement validity. Traditional Logic II builds upon the basic syllogism, introducing complex and oblique syllogisms and hypothetical reasoning.  Here, the student begins to build logical arguments. Early examples are theological and philosophical, but later arguments are more "relevant to current events," touching on political and social themes.

The Traditional Logic program


The program is easy to use.  The program was designed originally to be used in a "cottage school" format, where students met for in-person instruction one day and completed the rest of the work at home.  On the first day of the Traditional Logic class' school week, there would be a teacher presentation.  Here, this presentation, with instruction by Martin Cothran, is provided by a DVD video. Each lecture is about twenty minutes long.


Both sets of videos are professionally recorded.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.  We have had some programs where the videos are just of such poor production quality that it ruins the program; no matter how good the content  The sound is clear and crisp, Mr. Cothran's voice is well modulated, and the in-lecture slides are well-presented.  So far in Traditional Logic I, there has only been one thing that has been difficult for us to understand, and that may have been because we are using a small portable DVD player to watch the lectures.  If you were using a larger screen (a computer monitor or TV), it may not be an issue.

Instead of a split screen, Traditional Logic II makes the slides full screen. It has edited the presentations to alternate between Mr. Cothran visage and the slides. The slides have significantly more written content, so I think this is a wise choice.


The programs also have different visual appearances. The books in the first part of the Traditional Logic program are predominantly blue; the text has a blue cover and the other books and the DVDs labeled with blue font.  The books for latter half of the course have red as their dominant color.  I appreciate this because it makes it easier to tell at a glance which books go together.  The slides as well are different colors; even though the first semester books and second-semester slides are both blue, I don't think these have any bearing on identification.

One thing that was a slight bother was the text and workbook pages referred to in the video were not the same place where the materials were in our books. For example, Chapter 2, Day 3's workbook sections began on page 15, not page 21 as indicated.  It is something I mention because we had a "Wait, where is he saying?" if we tried to open to the page, but Mr. Cothran is very clear about what material he is referring to.  We just stick a pencil or a post-it note at the beginning of the chapter as we start the DVD.


(Based on the copyright dates, the DVDs are from 2003, while the Workbook is a Second Edition, copyright 2016 and the text is a 3rd edition, copyright 2017.  Traditional Logic II has a similar incongruency, with 2005, 2nd Ed/2017, 2nd Ed/2017, respectively.  The videos account for their anticipated longevity in discussions.)

The "bookwork" days are numbered One through Four.  Day One expects the student to quickly skim the entire textbook chapter - four to eight pages, including graphics, and then return to the beginning to carefully read the Introduction section.  Days Two through Five involve going back to read other specific sections of the chapter more carefully, and then answer accompanying questions in the student workbook.  These days take him about the same amount of time.


Daily work in Traditional Logic I is brief yet comprehensive and mastery-based. Traditional Logic II adds on weekly writing assignments.  The program acknowledges this imbalance, and suggests beginning the second program before the end of the first "calendar" semester; if this is impossible, it also suggests sections that can be skipped without losing any overall quality from the course. I think that if time was an issue, one could comfortably do the first semester at two lessons per week without it becoming overly time-consuming and displacing the rest of the day's work.  In the second semester, Case Studies for each chapter and a Weekly Analysis writing assignment are added to the workload.


Celia is new to homeschooling this year, so we're still figuring out what sort of schedule works best for her.  I might consider keeping the same timetable, with the Analysis being assigned on Monday and due on Friday, allowing her to figure out how to spread the work out.  Matthew, however, tends to have a more "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.  Traditional Logic II might be better planned with doing the video plus Day 1's workbook on Monday, Exercises for Days 2 and 3 on Tuesday, Day 4 and the Case Study on Wednesday, and then leaving Thursday and Friday to complete the Weekly Analysis Assignment. It does increase the daily workload, but it gives him clear beginning and ending points for his daily tasks.  As a 9th grader, if she takes longer, I'm not as concerned, but if Matthew wants to finish 12th grade on time, he will have to stick to a firmer schedule.

Once again, Memoria Press has filled a need we didn't think we had.  Critical thinking skills are, sadly, a skill that many lack in today's society.  This is a credit-worth program I would recommend to all homeschooling high schoolers, and I would even suggest that non-homeschoolers consider it as well.   I intend for Celia to do a similar "modern logic" program like Matthew did (instead of repeating his program, I have my eye on Memoria Press' Material Logic: A Course in How to Think,  also written by Martin Cothran) but I think having this traditional, formal program first will help her develop her reasoning skills better.  (I'm not sure if arming a teen girl with better-crafted arguments is a good thing or not, but it will serve her well into adulthood, right?) Despite going "backward" in presentation, I can see where this will still help Matthew craft better arguments going forward; when your truths follow logically, there is less opportunity for gaps for the "other side" to refute.  The first semester sets a foundation, and the second applies this knowledge to practical situations, making this nearly 2400-year-old thought process very contemporary.

Click the links below to read our past reviews of other Memoria Press curricula.  For this round of reviews, in addition to Traditional Logic,  Crew families have been studying Composition and Penmanship with Memoria Press. Click the banner below to read their reviews.

First Start Reading
Second Grade Literature
The Iliad and The Odyssey
Prima Latina


New American Cursive & Traditional Logic {Memoria Press Reviews}



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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Critical Thinking Co.™: Understanding Pre-Algebra (Homeschool Review Crew)

Ok, so I want to know how Jude is ready for middle school math.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table using crayons as manipulatives to get him to be able to add up to ten. Now he's mastered elementary math and is ready to review a book titled Understanding Pre-Algebra? STOP THE CLOCK.


Mama is so not ready for this.

Understanding Pre-Algebra is a full-course worktext style math offering from The Critical Thinking Co.™  This is a standards-based program for students in grades 6 through 8.  However, what makes it different is its organization. Unlike many other programs that just teach how to get the answer, this text stresses critical thinking about the problem's process.  Rather than just learning the steps for how to get from problem to solution, Understanding Pre-Algebra teaches the student to think about the choice of steps and why he's using those strategies.


This "learn why, not just how" is why I like programs from The Critical Thinking Co.™ We've used so many things from their line up.  In the past, we've reviewed their Sentence Diagramming book (I'm very happy to have that still on my shelf for when Celia begins homeschooling later this month!), as well as Pattern Explorer, another math program.  We've even branched out and used several other items: Matthew has worked with their Critical Thinking and US History curricula, and Jude and Damien completed grade-appropriate levels of Mathematical Reasoning this past school year.  This company is a favorite here!


I am not a math person, and I freely admit it.  I survived high school Algebra by the grace of God and the unwavering patience of and tutoring by a dear friend.  He now holds a Ph.D. in math and is a college math professor; clearly, he completely gets math.  For whatever reason, the rules of Algebra just did not click for me.  My last homeschool forays into Algebra were with kids who came with Pre-Algebra "already installed."  Matthew started with Algebra I, while Luke had already completed Algebra I.  Their further higher-level maths have been self-contained, online courses because I've always felt it would be better to have people who specialize in math teach them, the same as if they had gone to a brick-and-mortar high school.  I have been grateful to hold my own through elementary maths with the boys. Teaching a higher math is new territory for me.  I took a deep breath and dove in.

 Chapter 1 focuses on the Family of Numbers...ah, let's just start with a longtime nemesis.  Joy.  (Can't you just feel the radiating enthusiasm?)




I mostly understand Whole numbers when you're talking "How many slices does this cake make?"  I know numbers are a Real pain and think all math is Irrational.  Already, I fear I'm over my head -- how can I explain what I don't understand?

Ah, but here's were "learn why, not just how" makes the difference.  The way number groups are presented is in a logical fashion.  They start with Natural numbers.  They're the ones that come "naturally" to kids...1, 2, 3.  Next come the Whole numbers...the Natural numbers plus the number 0.  Then it adds Integers...which is really just all the numbers you know so far AND their opposite. It made sense to Jude, and it made sense to me. I was getting excited -- I've made it through page 1, and I think I get it.  Yes, I was doing the happy dance in the living room.

Page 2 explains Odds, Evens, and Prime numbers -- all familiar concepts to me.  Jude struggled a little bit, however.  I think it was because his regular math program explained these in a slightly different manner, and he couldn't quite reconcile that they were the "same idea, different words."

I would say that this "Got some, lost some," was prevalent throughout what Jude did. I know this is supposed to be a full curriculum, but the lessons are presented as reading and explaining, not showing how to do.  Jude understood the concept of integers, but the whole "plus and minus" thing right now is a struggle.  The book does include a cute story that he's copied and hung by his desk to help him remember what signs change or carry through:


As a non-mathy person, I really appreciate when it clearly writes out things that you need to know.  (Did my school textbooks do this? I have no idea.)  I think we will be copying this to hang up as well, as a checklist to refer to until the process becomes ingrained.  I wonder if I had thought to copy this order and keep it in front of me (rather than trying to simultaneously memorize and work with it) if later concepts would have come more easily? Chalk one up for second chances.


Comparing this book to the Algebra I text I just got for Celia, I think this book will do a good job of preparing a middle-schooler for Algebra I.  The 15 chapters cover:

  • Family of Numbers
  • Working with Integers, Rational Numbers,
  • Ratio and Proportion, Percents, Probability and Statistics
  • Algebraic Expressions, Equations, Word Problems
  • Inequities
  • Square Roots and Irrational Numbers
  • Geometry: 2 Dimensional, Volume & Surface Area, Transformation & Congruency
  • Graphing: Coordinate Planes
  • Functions


I'm impressed with the content.  I feel that a person who is not naturally mathematically inclined will be able to master the topics and build a strong foundation for higher maths.  However, I don't think we are going to switch and use this for Jude's main math program, for several reasons.

First, this is a text-only book.  It is a lot of reading and trying to comprehend, and Jude is a very auditory or kinesthetic kind of learner.  This is a book that he struggles to do independently -- he often needs me to read things aloud so he can focus on the content, not decoding.  In what we have accomplished, there was only one non-reading based activity - creating integer dice and practicing adding positive and negative integers.



I also think it teaches very quickly.  This book is 367 instructional pages, including an eight-page final exam.  Students need to average a lesson a day to complete the book in a typical 180-instructional day year. However, each lesson has 20 to 30 problems for each lesson.  I think this quantity of problems is a good number to master a concept, but this book is asking him to do as many as 30 problems in a single day.



I think it's too much "all at once" -- he seems to get overwhelmed, and I wind up having to sit with him and refocus him frequently.  I would rather do the lesson plus three 10-problem practice days to allow time for the ideas to sink in, rather than what feels like hour-long cram sessions. However, to keep to the "year-long" schedule, slowing down isn't an option.

If I were going to use this book as my primary teaching option, I would slow it down and take closer to 18 months to complete the course.  I think if you had a younger child, like Jude, who is just entering middle school at an advanced math level, it might be a good way to help him "slow down" his pace by taking the time to build a solid foundation for Algebra, Geometry, etc.  Even if it took Jude two years to complete Pre-Algebra, he'd still start Algebra 1 in 8th grade. If you had an 8th grader who needs to do Pre-Algebra to get to high school maths, I'd be hesitant that it would be too much, too fast and leave him floundering through the levels that build upon these skills.

There also is no cumulative review.  The final exam after Chapter 15 includes questions from Chapter 1, but there is no real opportunity to practice Chapter 1 information once you move on to Chapter 2.  You'd have to make up your own review/enrichment/practice pages.

There is an answer key at the back of the book, which is helpful.  However, it only gives the final answer, not the process. This doesn't help me help him if he's stuck on where he went wrong.  (Dude, we're paddling in the same leaky boat.)


We are going to go back and use Jude's regular math program to teach Pre-Algebra. However, we will continue to use this one for extra practice; since my original plan to have him work on the next level of Math Reasoning, we will just stay with this instead. I think it's good that he is being asked to explain WHY he's choosing to answer in a particular way. Figuring out where a hypothetical student went wrong will hopefully help him be more mindful and avoid them himself. These are something that his usual program doesn't ask him to do, and I think something he would greatly benefit from practicing.


As a person who has learned this stuff before (a VERY long time ago) and still suffers from sweaty palms when it's time to use what I should know, it is an excellent review of concepts and practice. I wouldn't go so far as to say I love algebraic concepts, but I think this book has helped negotiate a truce.

I might even consider their Understanding Algebra I book as enrichment for Celia, who starts this math level soon.  I like the Pre-Algebra book, and The Critical Thinking Co.™ has generously offered to share a coupon with my readers -- FREE SHIPPING plus 15% OFF any order when they use the code TOSCREW18. (It will expire 12/31/2018.)


Crew families have been working with several products from The Critical Thinking Co.™ Click on the banner below to see what others thought of both Pre-Algebra and the other programs!


Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}




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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Home School Navigator (Homeschool Review Crew)


Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum is an elementary-level program with a unique approach to teaching literature and other language topics. Six color-coded levels help elementary students develop literature, grammar, spelling, and writing skills. Jude and Damien have been working on the blue and green levels, respectively, for this review.


The color-coded leveling is a unique identification approach. Most programs delineate levels by grade or by age, which can be a bit of an issue if you have a child who is not on par with his grade or age. Most of Jude's language arts skills have finally caught up to his age; some have even surpassed what is expected of a child finishing fifth grade. However, because he was a later reader and closed the gap quickly, he went from easy-readers to novel series in about 18 months. This means in trying to keep up with what was reading-level appropriate for literature, he missed some of the more basic skills usually learned in the early primary years. Home School Navigator colors begin with red and follow the rainbow to indigo. Conveniently for Jude, the approximately 4th-grade level blue doesn't say it's for kids "younger" than his almost-6th-grade self. Conversely, 2nd grader Damien doesn't get a swelled ego being put "up" into 3rd-grade equivalent green.  I like this system for keeping egos boosted or in check.  When you begin, you have access to all levels so you can place your child where you think he should be, and then work up or down a level if it doesn't seem a good fit. About a month in, you will make a final decision and lock in your choice.

THEY USE PICTURE BOOKS!! I THINK THIS IS BRILLIANT. It's like using Unit Readers, with shorter stories that cluster in a topic but using a stack of "real" books, not a textbook. This is a different approach than most programs, especially for big kids. They are all about chapter books, and reading a chapter a day, etc., and if it's not a book that kiddo likes (or one that it is and he wants to know what happens next) it's TORTURE. Here, the books are shorter, so they can find out the ending in a sitting. And I think the program doesn't leave really good "picture" books to the preschool shelf but shows them as quality for all ages. The titles for the stories are carefully chosen. Each month centers around a theme. I like that each year revisits a variation on the same theme. All levels do Fairy Tales in Month 1, an author study in Month 2, etc.



While some held favorite stories, we've discovered some new loves.  Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (Mo Willems) was deliciously sarcastic and amusing.  Because it's nice and short, it is easy to read and parse on the same day.  Because it is a classic-caliber book, there are enough layers of construction to study that it doesn't feel like "fluff."


 


In the green (approximately 3rd grade) and blue (approximately 4th grade) level programs, there were also interactive notebooks used to study longer novels. (They also are used at the indigo/5th grade level.) These are longer projects, taking about a week or two, in addition to the small-book studies. These reinforce what the student learns in the daily lessons, making him ready to transition to novel-only studies at the middle school level. (I'll explain more about the interactive notebooks below.)

I am a big believer in independent reading. In high school, we had a daily ten-minute "Sustained Silent Reading" block, which was probably my favorite part of the day. (I would have preferred a six-hour SSR, but generally, I'd choose to read over anything else. Knowing I have a deadline is the only thing getting this review written; otherwise, I'd still have my nose in my current book.) One of the tick-boxes for the daily program is 30 minutes of reading a "just right" book. The "just right" method has solved a problem we were having here: Jude's ability is much higher than his comfort zone. Isn't it amazing when mom says "that's too easy," she can't possibly be correct, but when "Not Mom" says so, it's completely legit?


By using their technique, Jude realized that his beloved Magic Tree House series novels were not "just right" books; they were much too easy. We kept moving through books until we found one that was not too comfortable, not too challenging, but just right. His "30 minutes a day" has turned into "I finished my time, but can I keep going for another hour? How about two?" He also discovered that the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was not "too hard" for him, and in the space of a month has mowed through that five-book series as well as five-book The Heroes of Olympus series. (He's already asked me to get him "everything else by that author." Mr. Riordan, please write faster! We're going to run out of books soon!) Damien still prefers to discovered while he still prefers the comfort of easier Geronimo Stilton books when he's reading on his own time, he's found books like Charlotte's Web and the "Little House" series are good, too.


There is also a portfolio maintenance option. Once you complete a day's work, you can take a photo with your computer or phone and upload it to your child's file. If you live in a state where you need to compile and submit a portfolio, this would be very handy. We don't have that requirement here, so I didn't upload things. However, I have friends who do live in a state that does, and I can see where it would be beneficial (especially since the uploaded pictures means you don't have to keep a thousand pieces of paper from September until June).

Do you sense a "but" coming? Unfortunately, there are a few that quickly wore the shine off this program for us. Let's just call them "heads ups."

I liked the idea of the interactive notebooks.  They focus on specific elements of the novel, rather than being a more traditional "all literary topics the author threw in here" project.  I liked this perspective and approach.  However, they are in a lapbook style.  I agree with the company's theory,  because it is something different from the daily work and helps create an entirely separate feeling "project" for the novel study.




However, we have learned the hard way that lap books, while a great hands-on, interactive format for learning, just are not ideal for this homeschool.  The reality of this style meant there was more focus on the cutting and assembling than neatly writing correct answers. I have not included pictures of their assembled books because, frankly, I'm embarrassed to show how many cross-outs and re-writes there have been. I think one of our projects will be to re-copy them, and I'll update with those photos.  (It will be a lesson in "If you don't want to have to re-do something, pay attention and do it right the first time.")

The program price includes the curriculum and interactive notebooks, but NOT the literature books.  (The interactive notebook studies are also available ala carte.) If keeping costs down is an issue for your family, this may be an issue. If you have an excellent local library, then you can likely acquire most of these books from there. (I know some other Crew members had difficulty getting some of the titles from their libraries.) If you're like us and live in a rural area with limited library services, you might need just to purchase them directly. I was able to buy ours from Amazon. Some came directly from Amazon, while others were from third-party secondhand resellers. There were several instances where a "gently used" book was more economical, but there were also quite a few books that were no longer in print. We had to take a chance on some that might not have been so well treated. Luckily, our books were in reasonably good condition.

Because of this, Home School Navigator has begun uploading read-aloud videos. This came in handy for Damien's first book.  However, while I do like read-aloud books, I think it is difficult to do a detailed literature study without a book follow along with or to refer back to.

Word study is built in as well. The basis of the program is a "word wall" where the vocabulary/spelling words are posted and added to mostly daily. We wound up skipping much of this activity because we didn't have a place to create a word wall. Because the boys already do separate spelling and vocabulary studies, I didn't feel they missed anything academically because of the program, but it was a portion we weren't able to utilize fully.

I also felt the grammar presented was more of a review than instructive, so I found myself still assigning the boys their usual grammar. For example, one lesson was called "Banish Boring Verbs" and discussed choosing verbs that were less over-used.


 Grammar is combined with writing, so it is not something specifically focused on daily. However, there was no review of "This is what a verb is and does," and the first time that year a student worked on any formal grammar skill.  I felt there should have been a quick review, and then dive into manipulating into synonyms.  If your child does not have strong grammar skills, I would use this for extra practice, but I would still use a separate, formal grammar program

The program is marketed as a "turn it on and go, no planning required" curriculum. This is mostly true; you can print the lesson plans/worksheets for the week, put them in a binder, and hand them over to a kid. He can then go back to the online program and follow along with the video lessons provided. However, for a program that also markets itself as family-friendly, offering discounts for enrolling multiple students, it is not friendly when it is time to do schoolwork. Only one student could be logged in at a time, so there was a constant jockey for "whose turn is it."

Finally, there are optional poetry studies, which are a nice addition to round out literature studies. However, they are not from a single book or source, and for copyright reasons, are not included with printouts. We were able to google the poems; some were easier to find than others. In order to work with them, Jude copied the poems into his notebook.


I wish that they had chosen poems from a single volume, where it would have been a "Here's the poetry book, turn to page ___!" situation, and not letting a kid loose searching the internet.

Will we continue to use Home School Navigator? Yes and no. I think the core literature study part of the program is well-constructed and worth keeping, and much of the writing as well. Despite disliking other parts of the program, I still really do like this approach. Each language arts component is reasonably independent, so skipping one part does not mean kiddo is losing chunks of interactive study.I think I will either adapt the interactive notebooks to suit our needs or just look for other novel-based studies to substitute and continue with our usual grammar and spelling.

Discover the other levels of Home School Navigator and how the Crew fared with them by clicking the banner below.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}



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