Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Luke, Class of 2019

Luke never expected to be homeschooled, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise once he got to college.  After a gap year, he registered at our local community college. Because he already had three years' worth of experience with online classes, his advisor signed off on him talking online-only courses right from the beginning. He was happy to be able to spend his time working and studying, not commuting to the other side of the county. 

For his first two semesters, he decided to ease into college life, registering for part-time status.  Once he had his feet under him, he just kept going.  Starting with the Spring 2018 Semester, he plowed through the graduation requirements, even taking summer courses during our busy season to be able to graduate within his goal of "on time" and earning his Associates' Degree within two academic years.

I am very proud to say he did reach his goal and graduated this spring with his AS in Business.

Congratulations, Luke!

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Lincoln and the National Parks Services (Luke's American Adventures)

It's been a few years since Luke guest posted here with this history series.  He graduated from high school and has gone on to college, and is majoring in Business Administration. Much to his dismay, one of his required courses is a public speaking class.  This semester, he has been doing several kinds of speeches on defined topics, but the final one was a "Student Choice" assignment.  He first looked at me like a deer in headlights when the entire world was open to him. I suggested he go with something he knew well...what about an informative speech on Abraham Lincoln?  (Every so often, I have a wise idea.  Job security, I guess.)

He decided to combine his love for Lincoln with the National Park Service, exploring how the NPS preserves both Lincoln's life and his legacy to the nation. He agreed I could share it here.

I have to admit, it's fun to wear my "Mom the Teacher" hat for a few minutes and see what I taught him has stuck with him.  It was really fun to travel to all of the places, so helping him find the right photos was a nice trip together down memory lane.  I hope you'll take the time to explore Lincoln and the National Parks, both with Luke and in person.

It's also really cool to use this identification graphic again.

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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 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 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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