Thursday, November 15, 2018

Guitar 360 Method (Homeschool Review Crew)

Most of my readers know that Celia is my instrument player. She has seven years' worth of violin lessons and three years of piano, plus she sang in her grade school choir, but I should consider changing her name to Ariel...as in she can play on her violin "But who cares? No big deal! I want MOOOOORE!!" Several years ago, Matthew took guitar lessons but discovered he is not an instrumentalist, so his guitar has sat in the closet, practically mocking Celia. She's tried a few YouTube lessons but really hadn't gotten very far.  The Crew offered us the opportunity to try more formal, cohesive lessons from Guitar 360 Method...folks, I apologize for the fangirl screaming.


Guitar 360 Method is a new guitar learning program from Krisz Simonfalvi. Mr. Simonfalvi is a musician and teacher who had a circuitous path to his career; he began to play guitar, gave it up because it just did not resonate with him, and then circled back as an adult. He notes that there are two ways to learn to play: one is just by picking at the guitar and learning the technical aspects, and the other is through a theory-based trajectory. The problem is that most theory is based on the piano -- which, while a strong music foundation, doesn't necessarily apply practically to other instruments.  Celia will completely agree with this -- while she can play both violin and piano, it's not like you can interchange music. As she says, "I can play piano music on my violin if I play just the treble clef line, but it may not sound the same or as good as on a piano because I can't play bass clef and treble at the same time on the violin. The melody might sound the same going from violin to piano because you can play just the treble clef." While Guitar 360 Method is actually teaching her a third style of instrument-specific theory, but one that has a practical application to playing guitar.



Have you ever listened to a Billy Joel song? An incredibly strong understanding of how music works is how he could turn what is basically scales into a hit song ("The Longest Time") and morph Mozart's "Pathétique Sonata" into "This Night." Why is theory-based instruction important to me, as a parent? Because theory is what really allows a student to understand what she is doing, why she is doing it, and how to properly play with music. An understanding of theory is critical even just to transpose piano to violin or guitar; without it, you cannot manipulate the music and have it sound right.

Practically speaking, I don't expect her to rise to Mr. Joel's level of renown (if she did, that would be fantastic, but let's face it -- there can only be one Billy Joel), but it's clear to me that the foundation of any musical success is a proper understanding of theory.  Here,  Mr. Simonfalvi shines, because his course is geared toward both the casual student who just wants to learn to play the music in front of him or the student who intends to learn to re-arrange or compose their own music.  He says:


I've taught this content from age 9 and up, however, it is designed for students who want to be creative on the guitar - understanding how music works, rather than JUST learning songs.
This makes it perfect for Celia, because it will teach her both the basics of "how to play" - how to hold the guitar, how to strum, where to put her fingers on the guitar's neck - but also WHY she's holding it where she is and when to use a pick vs. her fingers.  She had an "AHA!" moment right at the start.  Mr. Simonfalvi explains why you press the strings near the frets (better control of the strings and clarity of sound and she looked at me with a dropped jaw. THAT was something she never learned from playing around with other videos; she just thought you stuck your fingers on the strings.  Obviously, in six weeks she's learned more than just where to hold the guitar, but, to me, it's the little things like that - that you don't really know unless you're told - that help make this course worth the tuition.


Guitar 360 Method currently offers two courses. The first is a free introductory level course that will take you from "how to hold a guitar properly" to "I can actually play something, and it sounds like a song" in about three weeks. Obviously, there needs to be a consistent effort on the student's part, but after trying that part out, I can say, "Yes, you will."  While Celia has played around the guitar before, she really was trying to apply what she knew from playing pizzicato on the violin to picking at a guitar. You really don't have the same technique - pizzicato uses a plucking motion, and, of course, there are no frets on a violin neck. Starting at the very beginning helped her realize that playing guitar strings isn't the same at all.

The second, tuition-based course is a 13-week "Semester One." It contains the three-week basics course and then expands beyond "My First Chord" into the major, minor, and pentatonic scales, and then into playing Chords in multiple Keys.  Each week has a clearly defined focus, so the student understands what the goal of the lesson is.

The videos for the lessons total about half an hour, so definitely a reasonable length lesson for beginners - long enough to be worth making an appointment with yourself, but short enough to not be a barrage of information. Celia particularly liked that it's not one long half-hour video, but rather each topic is presented in an individual section.


This meant she could quickly go back over a topic without having to fuss with finding the correct minute mark, or she could break it down into smaller ten or fifteen-minute chunks so that she could learn a concept, ruminate on it a bit, play with it, and then add on the next idea.  Mom liked that there are defined practice exercises assigned for each week. This meant she could go back to the prior week's to work on solidifying those concepts but also had specific activities to reinforce new lessons. There are also quizzes on the ideas, making it ideal for students who need grades for transcripts. While hearing Celia advance in playing skill shows me she is absorbing practical knowledge, the quizzes help me see that she understands the theory behind the playing.



Mr. Simonfalvi promises that students will have enough theory and technique to jump into a band and be able to hold their own by the end of the 13 weeks. Keep in mind, he's not promising to turn your student into Mike DelGiudice and have her be playing in Billy Joel's band in those 13 weeks, but you'll have a competent guitar player that's not only ready to play but also able to understand what she is playing.


Guitar Lessons with Krisz Simonfalvi {Guitar 360 Method Reviews}



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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Learning the States and their Capitals

Veritas Press' Self-Paced history is one of our favorite programs, in large part because of their memory song.  The constant re-presentation of it helps Jude remember dates and events in history.  However, we're experimenting with a blended-resource classical program, and this year, Damien is studying Memoria Press' States and Capitals for social studies. To his dismay, it doesn't have an "official" memory song.  However, as he was working on an early assignment, Luke introduced him to the Animaniac's "States and Capitals."


Always my little Showman, Damien decided he was going to learn the song.  The problem was his book divided the states into geographic regions, like any "normal" curriculum.  (Apparently, normal is boring.)




Every day, we'd work with his flashcards, adding another state and capital.  Some were pretty easy - Trenton in New Jersey, our home state. Others...well, good luck figuring out "Des Moines" when you're a phonetic reader!


We'd shuffle them up each day, so he got used to identifying them in different orders, not just the order his book presented them. (After all, when you go to address an envelope, you need to know the abbreviation for Arkansas without having to rattle through sixteen other states first!)  Slowly, he made his way cross-country, from New England to the Pacific states.  Even though the states were studied in geographic order, it seems fitting that the last state to study was our newest state, Hawaii (capital: Honolulu).He still worked on learning the song by heart, but I told him he could not sing it with his flashcards until he had learned all fifty states. Hawaii memorized meant he was ready to sing on his own. 

Mom's job was to put them in song order. Thank goodness for Google - I could find the lyrics written and not have to start/stop a video while I shuffled through all the cards to find the right one to place next.  We recruited Luke to be the cameraman, since I couldn't flip cards AND video at the same time.  (I'm Mom, not a magician.)


Not bad, huh?



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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Picture Book Explorers ~ Paddington (Homeschool Review Crew)

Paddington Bear has long been of my favorite children's literature characters. This adorable bear from Darkest Peru find himself in Paddington Station, London, and is adopted by the Bond Family.  I think what I love so much about him is his childlike qualities: his heart is in the right place, but when tries his hardest to do the right thing, it just turns into a disaster. When Jude studied A Bear Called Paddington a few years ago, I fell in love with him all over again, and couldn't wait for Damien's turn.  I was happy with our old study, but we had an opportunity to review a new program. I was intrigued because Paddington is a classic British lit character, and this Paddington Bear study was written by British curriculum developer Branch Out World. I was really curious to see if there were any different cultural interpretations.

Branch Out World was founded by "a home educating family" that loves books. They designed their literature-based unit studies to be infinitely tailorable.  They are recommended for students aged 5 to 10 years, with the ability to scale the activities to the child's abilities.  This means you can use any of their 20+ studies from the Picture Book Explorers series for multiple age children simultaneously, or work with the book at the child's current level and revisit it as he grows. Branch Out World also produces lapbooks which allow you to study topics from Christmas in Europe to Volcanoes.

First hurdle: Getting the Book


When we first signed up for this, I had intended to read from the set of Paddington books we already owned. However, this study uses a specific printing of the book and refers to particular pages and illustrations.  Using our other book was not going to work. You certainly could check the library, but we struck out at ours. Amazon to the rescue, but it did take the better part of two weeks to get here. As it turns out, and not surprisingly, most buying options for this specific option are from UK sellers.  If you're looking to do this study, you'll want to allow for enough time to acquire the book.

Second hurdle: Navigating the lingo.

Dear friends of ours are native Australians, and when they come to visit, there's always an adjustment period. Watching the kids try to figure things out is always fun.  Sometimes, they figure it out from context, if Auntie Jo says "Grab your jumper!" as she picks up her own sweater, but sometimes there's a bit of "Wait, what are you talking about?" (Jam, jelly, and Jello are always a "Wait, we're not on the same page." discussion.)  Working with this was no different.  The first directions are "Get a library ticket." Here in the states, we'd say "Get a library card."  Fair enough.  You're also going to be dealing with British spellings of words...like colour instead of the Americanized spelling color.  This turned into one of those "That's just how they do it there, let it go," discussions after Damien pointed out it was spelled wrong for the fifteenth time.  Thankfully, kids are reasonably adaptable.

Third time lucky: Working on the study.


Pros: Content-wise, I think it was quite good. It covered and included maps for the areas studied.  I hate Googling randomly for maps because I invariably select the one that doesn't have something we need.  For example, this map included delineations between England, Scotland, and Wales.  Damien easily found a map that showed him specific city locations.  He also was amazed at all the town names he recognized -- Dover, DE is named for English port town, there's a Plymouth, Massachusetts, and "Old" Jersey, not to be confused with our home state of New Jersey.



It also has given us a field trip destination: the closest zoo with spectacled bears is the National Zoo in Washington DC.  We did some research on their website about the Andean bears, and learned the bears that live at the zoo like sweet potatoes and grapes, just like Damien!



Cons: If you're a family who loves lapbooks, this is going to be right up your alley.  There are tons of mini-projects to assemble into a lapbook.  If you're my kid, this is torture because you have less-than-stellar fine motor skills and it means you spend more time obsessing over having to cut stuff out than you do actually completing the program.  I also really dislike when programs make food a big deal activity.  (I don't mind learning about what foods other cultures eat, but it's hard for a kid who can't eat many foods when the directions are "make tarts and marmalade and have a tea party.") I feel like we didn't get as much out of this as we could have.

Overall, I'd rate this program a 3 out of five for our family.  It was a good unit study, but I found it lacking as a literature study - only one of the five days' activities involved studying the book as a literary work.

To read other Crew reviews of Picture Book Explorers ~ Paddington, click the banner below.


Paddington Bear {Branch Out World Reviews}


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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

WriteBonnieRose: Learning About Science (Homeschool Review Crew)

Finding a good Elementary Science program is something that I have always struggled with. Either it's over-simplified and almost a "throwaway" course, or it's written for a wide age range and fits none well.  Jude is finally getting close to grade-leveled middle school science, but since I need something to stress over, my concern is he's going to be under-prepared because he has limited formal science exposure. Since nature abhors a vacuum (there's a science lesson, for you!), I'm hoping to have something different to stress over by the time Damien reaches middle school.  He's been working with the Learning About Science Collection Level 3 (Cursive) from WriteBonnieRose.


WriteBonnieRose is an aggregation of curricula written by Bonnie Rose Hudson.  I've been a fan of hers for some time now.  If you're familiar with the "Build Your Own Bundle" program, she is frequently featured there, which is how I first learned of her writing and history programs. They are generally short and to the point, which is good for younger students.  (I'm not sure I'd call them a "Charlotte Mason" program, but perhaps "CM flavor" -- there is little "twaddle" added.  Let's go with "Enough material to learn, but not so much that you lose a student with ADHD mid-stream.")  The Science collections are leveled one through three; Levels One and Two are print (manuscript) based, while Level Three has both print and cursive options.  Since Damien is already proficient in cursive, we opted for that version.

We received the Complete Collection, which includes seven downloadable PDF unit studies.  (Each unit is also available for individual purchase.) Topics fell under both earth and life science, and across several sub-genres.

  • What's Going on Inside Plants? 
  • Life in the Ocean's Hidden Zones  
  • Kinds of Animals and How They Live
  • Forecasting and Understanding the Weather 
  • Exploring the Earth's Landforms 
  • Energy and Its Many Forms 
  • Discovering Rocks, Minerals, & Crystals
For our review, Damien specifically worked on the plant, ocean, and energy studies.

The studies are about fifteen to twenty pages long, and each took us about two weeks to complete.  As I looked to break them down into assignments, it was a little tricky at first, because there is no visual cue of "stop here for today." The thoughts from one page flow smoothly into the next.


I found I needed to go in and delineate where we needed to stop for the day.  Sometimes, one page was sufficient. For example, the page pictured above right was enough information for Damien for one day.  (The next page began a sub-section of vascular vs. non-vascular plants and their properties.) However, the page above left was actually page three of the section on photosynthesis. One page wasn't enough information for one day -- stopping after page one or two of the section gave him only part of the information, so he was left with an incomplete picture.

This isn't a dealbreaker for the program for me; I include this opinion because if you're a mama reading this and wanting to try it, you'll know to read the study first and figure out what you'll want to cover in a session. If you are only "doing science" once or twice a week, you don't want that many days go by with just half an idea of how photosynthesis works.  I found we were able to divide the lesson into seven sessions (including the review across two days).  He worked three or four days a week, so the entire program took two school weeks.  The same held true for the oceanography unit (nine work days), while the energy unit took three school weeks (twelve work days).   If you're planning across a school year, I would expect the entire Level Three program to take 14-18 weeks at a 4-ish days/week pace, at 2-3 days per week, closer to a full semester.

Black and white graphics accompany most of the concepts. At first, I was kind of unimpressed, and thought "He's going to hate this -- the only way to make a lesson take more than three minutes is by coloring!"  However, Damien really enjoyed this part. It wasn't necessarily the "coloring task" that he liked, but being able to look up and further explore a topic. He particularly liked this with the oceanography unit -- after all, there's only so much excitement that a leave can incite, but a Portugues man-of-war is pretty cool!



My only complaint is there isn't a "blank line" option for any of the studies.  For Damien, tracing is something that becomes more about "staying in the lines" than "writing the word neatly."  I would prefer an open space option, where he could write in the vocabulary words (they're easily identified by bold print in the text) freehand. I think this would help cement ideas better for him (plus allow him to work on his penmanship skills.)



I don't have any personal experience with the lower levels, but in looking at some of the other Crew Reviews for them, they look reasonably appropriate for Damien as well.  While some topics have some overlap (i.e., Level 1 and 3 both have zoology units), there seems to be enough diversity that if I went back to the Level 1 programs, there would be sufficient new information for Damien to do those as well.  I think a slower pace (1-2  lessons per week) might be good for a younger child, but since Damien is in third grade and beginning the "late" elementary phase, I think the three levels combined might make an appropriate full-year program for him.  I'll definitely be checking the Level One and Two reviews carefully (clicking the banner below, of course) to see if the complete Learning About Science program combines to create the science curriculum I'm looking for.

If you're interested in using these for your student, save 50% on the bundled Learning About Science, Levels 1, 2, and 3 with coupon code REVIEWCREW50 through August 15.  This brings the Complete Sets to $6 each! 


Learning About Science collections {WriteBonnieRose Reviews}





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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality (Homeschool Review Crew)

Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality is a book for boys, written by Hal and Melanie Young and published by Great Waters Press.  It is intended for tween and teen boys (ages 12 through 19), and still appropriate for young adults.  We received a print copy, but it is also available as an audiobook.  For our review purposes, a parent was asked to read it before sharing with sons. I am glad I did this because as much as I have liked some of their other books, this one just left me frustrated.


Addressing teens and sex is probably a parenting area where I could grow; I admit to having a "That's your aisle, dear husband," approach.  (And let me add that he's done a fantastic job handling things, man-to-man.) When I first received the book, I had hoped it to be more of an ice-breaker; I could read it, the boys could read it, and it would open avenues of discussion. Having read it, it's more of a "Here, read this, off you go," type of thing.  It's possible that it is because I have a different view that the Youngs on some things, but I felt like it was more "edict of how you should behave," and less "Ok, let me teach you my view so you come to agree with it, rather than just decreeing, 'Thou shalt...thou shalt not..."As I read, I felt that if I gave this to the boys, I'd be spending more time saying, "This is what they say, but this is what your father and I believe..." and sending too many mixed messages.

There are some bits of sage advice, which address things that are novel to this generation.  Sexting, for example, is an activity that seems relatively innocuous but can lead to child pornography charges and becoming labeled a sex offender. I agree that it's not a stellar way to start your adult life.  Yes, it is something that needs to be addressed, and at times, worst-case-scenario does need to be presented, so that kids realize it's a serious issue.  However, their "nothing at all, looking, reading, even thinking about sex" is a bit much. I think to say "Sure, you can think she's pretty, but don't lust after her," is a bit ridiculous. Is it probably wise to not act on it? Sure. (I'd like all of my grandchildren AFTER the weddings, please and thank you.) But the Youngs mention lust shouldn't happen, at all, even if you're talking about the person who is going to become your future spouse.  If there was no lust involved before people get married (I'm discussing sexual attraction, not sexual activity), then the only reason not to marry a relative is science and genetics. Finding another person sexually attractive IS part of discerning "Do I want to marry that person for life?" and a valid relationship trait to assess. A wedding ring isn't going to suddenly make a person sexually attractive. (In my experience, yes, the person becomes more attractive, because of the mental restrictions/stresses it removes and the relationship it affirms, but it's a wedding ring, not beer goggles.) Even as an adult who has been married for nearly 21 years, I can look at a man who is not my husband and objectively consider him handsome - perhaps its objectifying, but a handsome man is like a pretty floral arrangement or a delicious dessert.  Appearance is a qualitative trait, but good appearance doesn't necessarily equal sexually attractive. I think there's a line between "all-consuming lust that you act on when you shouldn't" and "discerning if lust is part of the bigger picture," but this book tries to lump it all together as "sinful and to be avoided." There's too much black and white, and life is shades of gray.

In my opinion, this book also approaches engagement and marriage with more of a "courtship" perspective than a "dating" perspective.  My personal thoughts are more of a middle ground. I don't think dating-for-the-sake-of-dating is wise (it begets its own problems), but a traditional "courtship" where the sole goal is marriage perhaps puts too much pressure on either person.   My personal experience is that yes, dating did lead to a few broken hearts, but I would also like to think that I grew as a person from those relationships.  I learned what I wanted from a partner, what was not negotiable, and, if I'm brutally honest with myself, things I may have said or done that were unkind as well and ways I needed to change to become a better spouse. I would teach my sons (and daughter) to balance respecting others and not having a different date every night with "You don't have to start the first date thinking "Am I going to marry this person?"  Sometimes, the person you don't expect to be "The One" is, and sometimes, the person you think will be just isn't.

I also find myself bristling at the idea of "equal" and "unequal" yoking.  I've seen several instances in my family of what many would consider "unequal," that had little effect on the marriage.  Some were inter-denominational marriages, but Neal's parents began their marriage as an interfaith couple. When they married, his mother was Jewish and his father Roman Catholic.  Talk about unequal! By the time I met Neal, not only had his mother converted and they raised their children as Catholic, but she was what one would consider the active Catholic, not my father-in-law! Both now are strong in their faith and will celebrate their Golden Anniversary this coming spring, so clearly, religion and faith is not something that precluded a strong and happy marriage.  If one partner says "I forbid you to practice your faith," then that's a red flag that this may not be a wise relationship.  But I think the Lord works in His own way, in His own time, and that shouldn't be a dealbreaker if everything else is right.  Who knows what His plans are?

Finally, there was a passage on purity, which included addressing how a boy should view a girl's clothing; a girl in short shorts or a revealing top may be wearing it because she likes it, not "for him." YES! While we do have rules about what we allow our daughter to wear, they are based on our own feeling about appropriateness and modesty.  There are some garments we all find silly; she agrees that if you need a bikini wax to wear a particular pair of shorts, they're too short! I'd like her to realize that regardless of how society may view her, she is more than boobs and a butt, and should dress so as to show how much she values herself.  (Not necessarily her sexuality, just her innate worth as a child of God.)  But then in the next paragraph, it puts it on the guy to say to a girl, "You are too attractive, we need to go elsewhere." Should she want to do what makes him comfortable? If she values him as a person, yes. But this example/phrasing still blames her: "You're tempting me."  I would tell both my sons and daughter that if you cannot control yourself around someone in private, you probably have no business being with him or her in public, either.

This is not a book that I will likely hand to my boys. Could it be used for opening a discussion? Yes, but I think I would do it with Luke (nearly 20), where I would say, "Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Why not? What do you think about this?"  Though it is suggested for this age, it is not a book I'd hand a twelve-year-old. I agree that just waiting until they're fifteen or sixteen to discuss not just the mechanics of sex and reproduction is too late -- it's our job as parents to teach our kids values from the start, but I think it's a bit heavy for a young teen. As much as I really hoped this create a bridge for sharing between my boys and me, I just don't see it as practical for our family.

The Crew has been reading two books from the Youngs: Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality and No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope.  Click the banner below to read the Crew reviews.


If you'd like to read our review of No Longer Little..., click here.  This was a book about parenting children through the tween years which I found I could better identify with.



Love, Honor, and Virtue  AND No Longer Little {Great Waters Press Reviews}



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No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope (Homeschool Review Crew)

No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope is the newest title from Great Waters Press.  I was definitely interested to read this one!

I laugh that when you first have your children, there are tons of books out there that tell you how to handle being pregnant, adjusting to a newborn, and parenting toddlers and even preschoolers.  However, it seems like once you get to elementary school, you're on your own until it's time for The Talk, but don't expect any help transitioning to adulthood.  (I'd have paid just about anything for a "What you need to do when your child becomes a legal adult" book -- I feel like the last two years with Luke have been "Oh yeah, we need to do this," or "Right, he needs to fill out that form..." It's a mad scramble.) Having raised two tweens and being in the thick of it with three more (my baby just turned eight!), it is a time that can be absolute chaos for kids and parents alike.



I think the hardest thing about parenting a "tween" is realizing that it's a huge age range.   "Tweens" are generally between the ages of 8 and 12, but authors Hal and Melanie young extend this to age 14.  I think this makes sense - yes, Celia is 14, but we haven't gotten really into the heavy "teen" stuff yet. I think it's quite logical to use "grade school graduation" as a transition mark.  When you have itty-bitties, your ages are relatively well defined: a baby is under a year, a toddler is one or two, and age 3 starts the preschool years. There is so much change in a short time!  However, the tween changes are more gradual, making this time even more frustrating.  I can guarantee you that while both may fit in that age bracket, Damien and Celia (and even Jude parked splat in the middle at 11) are nothing alike. What may be appropriate for her is not for Damien, and the "line in the sand" is constantly shifting.

I don't remember "tween years" as a big milestone age bracket.  I remember turning twelve, and my pediatrician announcing me "pre-pubescent." I admit to being quite pleased with the diagnosis; that well-child visit culminating in the privilege of being taught how to do his signature magic trick that he used for all little-kid immunizations. (Hey, thirty-odd years ago, a tongue depressor employed for "The Bug Trick" was a technological marvel.)  The Youngs start out by addressing the biggest elephant in the room, puberty, right in Chapter 1.



Most of us think of puberty as a linear type of thing. (And the books out there on that make it seem that way: first this, then that, then something else, and boom! Instant grown-up.) Having been through three rounds of it as a mother, I can tell you that while puberty itself may be, the two or three or five years of hormonal fits and spurts leading up to it are no cakewalk.  The child you kissed goodnight last night is NOT the child that woke up this morning, but hey, he might be back next Tuesday!  (Frankly, I think full-on, all-hormones, all-the-time is a relief, because you KNOW each morning is going to be a disaster.) The authors include this tidbit: "Researchers have found both sexes have hormonal surgest exceeding fifty times the normal, stable levels they have in adulthood." (p 7) With that in mind, no wonder it feels like I've lost mine!  (And God bless my parents.  There were three of us within three years...sure, they got the diaper phase over with fast, but it's no wonder my father's hair was turning white before I finished high school!)

Does it feel like they've lost their minds too? They probably have.  The Youngs address this "space cadet" phase with science -- as the brain matures, it dis- and then re-assembles. (p 31).  Once you realize that you are dealing with a person who truly doesn't know which end is up, and logic just no longer is logical, the easier it is. I think it's easy to get into the rut of, "He doesn't understand, I'll let it go..." which is, in my opinion, a bad parenting idea.  Because eventually, he WILL understand and has to possess the skills to navigate with good behavior skills. I think parenting tweens is like parenting toddlers - you know you're going to have to say "No, hands to ourselves" a thousand times before they learn not to poke everything they see.  With tweens, it's like saying, "This is what we expect, now do it," while feeling the wall listens better.  I think the biggest thing I've learned the hard way (and probably would have realized a kid or two sooner with a book like this) is that just because they're larger people doesn't mean they're more grown-up. Yes, Jude is capable of microwaving his own chicken nuggets, but he still needs reminders to put the ketchup away when he's done eating.  Understanding "his brain just isn't quite online" doesn't get him out of cleaning up after himself, but it does help ME be more patient when I'm saying, "Please put that away!" for the eleventy-billionth time.

I particularly appreciated the balanced approach they brought to media and discernment.  It's easy to say, "I survived all the way to 30 without Facebook!" but the reality is, we don't live in that world any longer.  I remember being tethered to one phone on my parent's kitchen wall to talk to my friends - my dad brought home a phone cord long enough that I could lay on the floor as I chattered away.  Celia now wanders the house, FaceTiming her BFF on her cell phone.  We had three network channels and three local ones on the TV; the cable package we have in order to have the internet tier we need for homeschooling streams close to a thousand. And the internet itself...Neal and I met via Temple University's student intranet. Talking online involved specific pages, commands, and dial-up internet, while now I can use Facebook Messenger to text Neal at the same time I'm writing this review and googling the answer to a random question another kid asks.  The authors note that it's important to prepare kids for the world they live in, not the one we wished had stayed.


That said, kids need to learn to discern the good from the bad, the treasures from the junk.  One line sticks with me: "There's not a straight line from the home video console to a police morgue.  The illustration is simply to point out that our young people will need guidance and supervision to keep them out of dangerous territory." (p104). I appreciate how they broke down "You're not old enough for that," into tangible topics of theme, character, and genre.   No "big kid" wants to hear, "You're too little!"  For me, this gives me ways to balance between concrete absolutes ("The rule is 13 and up, you're 8, so no, you're not getting an Instagram account.") and values ("Do you think what that person did in that movie was a good idea?") when guiding appropriate technological things. This old dog is grateful for a new trick that allows for a logical answer, and not "Because I said so." One other thing I have learned the hard way -- let it be a discussion, not a "Mom thinks," because 1) it keeps communication open and 2) sometimes, kid sees it in a different way and it challenges my thinking.

Included in the topics the Youngs discuss are learning how to meet them where they're at.  For example, by the tween years, kids have enough words that they don't always need their fists, but they don't yet realize that words can hurt as badly.  (And sometimes, there will still be fists involved, because those disassembled brains can't find the words.) And back to puberty, they address emerging sexual issues, pointing out that even if you're a Bible-reading-only family, your kid is going to learn about sex. NOW, even though they seem so little, is the time to start laying down your values - not necessarily shielding them from everything adult in nature (though there are the obvious avoids) but encouraging dialogue and explaining why you believe in a certain view, from general modesty to dating perspective.  The Youngs write from a Biblical-driven worldview, but frankly, any parenting viewpoint can benefit from their in-the-trenches perspective. Regardless of your views, their thoughts on behavior, increasing responsibilities, consumerism, and stewardship are well thought and balanced.

Their advice, Don't freak out, is probably the most overarching principle. Parents talk about the "terrible twos," and "teen angst." Nobody tells you the tween years are coming. It's quite a rude awakening when you hit the middle years and it's not the smooth-ish sailing you expect, but rather the water are more like choppy, outer bands of a hurricane. The early tween years are when you need to start laying in supplies, and the later ones, you learn to board the windows quickly - and evacuate when necessary. I will be honest -- it gets worse when you hit the teen years and all the new drama, but don't give up hope.  I can say with (relative) confidence that eventually, they do start to emerge into calmer seas with re-intact brains and civilized personalities -- or at least, my oldest has now that he's almost 20, and and I'm starting to see breaks in the clouds with the almost 17-year-old.  (Which is good - because teens and tweens will eat you out of house and home, and with a new tween in the house, we need more canned goods.)

I think the Youngs summarize the tween years quite well, right in the introduction:
This same child was prayed over from the womb. We read him the Bible...[he] pretended to be John the Baptist.

Then, at age nine, in traffic, he announced from the back of the van, "I think I'm an athiest."

Nobody told us this was coming.
Nobody tells you the tween years are coming, but with their newest book, No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope,  Hal and Melanie Young help prepare you for the "Lord, please don't let me drive into that ditch," moments.  (And for the record, the car and family survived, as did that young man's faith. That, friends, is grace, hope, and I'm sure a whole lot of repeating "Don't freak out.")

To read other Crew Reviews of this book and their other book, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality for teen boys, click the banner below.

Love, Honor, and Virtue  AND No Longer Little {Great Waters Press Reviews}







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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Math Essentials: Math Refresher for Adults (Homeschool Review Crew)

Math Refresher for Adults is a product that fell into my students' laps.  When Math Essentials offered this product for review, my first thought was "LUKE!" He graduated high school two years ago, had good enough grades and placement scores that he was able to skip several pre-requisites and jump into middle and upper-level math courses for this coming fall.  That said, it's obviously been quite some time since he had any formal math.  Because the advertises itself as "The Perfect Solution" for adults who need to brush up on their math skills, I thought this would be perfect for him to work with so that he had a re-solidified foundation.



Once we got the book in our hands and I was able to flip through it, I realized that while it wouldn't hurt him to work with the book, it was probably a little bit basic for his needs.  It focuses on skills such as:

  • General Math
  • Geometry
  • Problem Solving
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra

While all of these are foundational for his courses, this book got re-assigned to Celia. She started Algebra I, but when she took the readiness test for her usual program, she felt she was shaky on some of the basics.  She knew them, but not as well as she would like. She also is transitioning from private school to homeschool, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to assess her skills. Since that was the more pressing need, she found herself the proud short-term owner of the book.

Not Just For Adults 

Since Celia was just beginning Algebra, we started with General Math.  This book puts you in the "way back" machine, starting with fairly basic computation - two- and three-column adding, with regrouping.  (If you're an adult working on this, you'll probably be calling it "carrying.")



Each lesson starts with four "review" problems.  At the very start, it doesn't seem like "review" - just more of the same.  As you get further into the book though, they pull from prior lessons.  I like how this keeps presenting opportunities to practice skills.  Let's face it, if you're doing a refresher course, it's because you know "one-and-done" re-exposure isn't going to be sufficient.



Celia felt she was ok with basic math; fractions, decimals, and percents were where she felt weak.  Each page has only about fifteen problems (four review, ten on-topic, and one word problem), so while thirty problems a day sounds like a lot, it only took her about thirty minutes each day to work through them.  She began by doing a page each of Fractions and Decimals, followed by Percents and Integers, alternating groupings each day.  She decided that this would give her the opportunity to review several topics quickly, but also allow her to keep looping back, so it was constant repetition rather than a "topic blitz."

While this is a softcover workbook, it functions better as a textbook.  While you could work some of the problems in the white space, you'd need exceptionally small and neat handwriting for some of them.  Author Richard W. Fisher suggests copying problems onto a separate piece of paper -- which actually helps with understanding, because you're working from start to finish -- and then completing the problem.  Rather than a bunch of scrap paper that could easily get lost, we opted for a copybook.  I laughed when I saw the front of Celia's book, indentifying which Celia the book belonged to -- the "classroom experience" is still active in her mind. Last I checked, we only had one Celia in our school!



As I said, this was an excellent way for me to assess her skills.  This problem showed a couple of weaknesses.


Math isn't just about getting the "right answer." You have to get the process right because otherwise, the correct answer is luck, not skill.  Here, her first try didn't align her numbers correctly.  I followed her thought process, but there were two issues -- either she missed squaring off the problem with a decimal place (and therefore a step in her work), or she wasn't lined up correctly. Her second try fixed the place issue -- but then her computation was off because she "brought down" her decimal point, as if she was adding, rather than "counting over," which definitely affected her answer.  She realized what she did wrong, and got both the correct process and answer on the third go.  While it seems like not a big deal when you're "just" multiplying in a single-step problem, this can become an issue as you move into multi-step problems.  Forget algebra, let's just consider finding a discount and then adding sales tax to determine if you can afford a purchase: when you calculate that 7% add-on, you definitely want to make sure you're figuring based on the correct price!

Heading into Algebra, the extra practice with Integers was helpful.  Again, we found that "setting up" was a weak spot.  Celia wanted to jump right to calculation and answers.  Many times, I had to say "COPY first, THEN work."  Or, show how you get from one calculation to the next.  While I can appreciate when I'm adding multiple numbers I tend to just go across the line in my head, when you're learning to add and subtract integers, it is crucial to do one step at a time until the skills have solidified.


We also learned that she tends to rush, leading to "stupid mistakes."  When you get to upper levels of math, you have to take your time and do problems one step at a time. When I asked her how to solve this problem, her answer was to rush across the line, "Order of Operations, negative seven plus three is negative five, plus eight is three...Oh. Wait a minute."  I pointed out that by trying to do it all at once, one mistake meant the entire thing was wrong. By doing it in steps, she had a chance to see where her mistake was and then an opportunity to fix it. Unfortunately, this is a habit that she didn't learn in school, so it's one we need to set up.


Again, it's not that she doesn't know her times tables -- when I said to her, "um...what is six times three?" she answered, "Eighteen!"  Apparently, she just had a total brain fart here.  Or she was rushing.  (Very likely.) Learning this was as important as actually knowing her times table.  As a parent/teacher, it tells me she needs reminders to slow down. 

Celia will likely continue working through the book to the end.  While she is continuing forward with Algebra 1, it won't hurt her skills to keep practicing basics and making sure she is rock-solid in them. 


Quirks of the Book and Program

One thing I did not like was how the program alternated how it indicated multiplication during algebraic sections.  Here, the answer key in the back was a definite help.  We determined that the x in this problem meant "times," not "the variable x."  That makes a big difference in solving. (Even if you do have to go back and slow down on the times table part.


There were several problems written like this, so when she came to one, I made her stop and ask me which way to do it, but just looking up the answer then primes the student to work backward from the answer, rather than seeking the path to get to the answer.

I also wish the answer key had more detail than "just" the final answers.  For example, there are problems labeled as "muti-step," yet the Answer Key only gives the final answer.  The page's Helpful Hints lists "Decide which operations to use and in what order" but there is no way to check if the student has chosen the right plan of attack.  Yes, this book is supposed to be a refresher course, but I think it's really just providing practice, not actual "how to" refreshing.



It would really be helpful for both the teacher and the independent student to be able to see&nbspnot only that it IS wrong, but WHY the answer is wrong. This might make a single book exceptionally voluminous, but perhaps the program could be converted to a two-volume set that includes a student workbook + answer key.

While I agree with Math Essentials that it is helpful for parents who want to help their children but need a refresher, there were sections where I just looked at the problem and said, "Hmmm...how about YOU show me, and then I'll check it."  Yes, I was hoping that seeing how Celia did something might jog my memory.  (Yes, I could sit and watch the videos, but, like many parents trying to juggle multiple kids, I was looking for the most expeditious route possible.)

Also included with the program book is access to Math Essentials web-based video instruction.  An access code is included in the book for advanced Algebra tutorials.  However, there is no direct correlation for this book -- you'll have to sort through topics from the prior volumes.  The book cover advertises itself as "Excellent for English Language Learners" and for returning students, but I think these are is particular populations that may need extra hand-holding. It's not impossible to find the videos, but locating them definitely less "user-friendly" for this book than for other books.  At first, we didn't even realize that the videos correlated, because we were looking for lessons for this book. It is sensible to use the previously produced videos, but it would have been nice to have a landing page for this volume that leads specifically to the correct videos, or even just a statement saying "Math Refresher students: choose the links that refer to the corresponding Refresher book section."  Yes, we were able to figure it out, but no mention of the book at all makes Math Refresher feel like an afterthought.

Not Just for Crash Review!

Now that we've completed our official review period, I am going to also assign Jude to work in the book, too. He's just finishing elementary math and moving into Pre-Algebra, but looking ahead at his regular math program,  I can see some areas where he would benefit from a few extra "basic math" problems each day. His usual program does build upon what the student has already learned in the Elementary program, but it will be a while before he returns to multiplying fractions. Knowing his strengths and weaknesses, I think it would be better for him to do a few problems of that here and there to keep practicing rather than hoping he can pull it from the depths of his brain a few months from now.  Math Refresher will give him opportunities for extra practice without feeling like he's doing a "baby" workbook or a second curriculum.  While I don't think ten or fifteen review problems a day is excessive for high schooler Celia, I probably will opt to have Jude do half a page each day -- odds on Day 1, evens on Day 2, which will both lessen the burden and extend the exposure. As for poor Luke, who had the book literally ripped from his hands...he's been taking short-session business law, economic theory, and English composition summer courses, so math review has been pushed to the side for now.  He plans to start his math courses in the fall without a review, but keep this book handy if he finds there are things he's just not entirely clear on.

75 Crew Families have been brushing up on their math skills. Click the banner below to read their reviews.

Click here to read our review of Math Essentials: No-Nonsense Algebra.



Math Refresher for Adults {Math Essentials}






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