Saturday, September 24, 2016

You've Got Me from Sara Lovell (A Review)

I've been a mom for over eighteen years, which means I've listened to thousands of hours of kids' music.  There are many tunes I wish I could delete from my memory, but there are some songs from as far back as Luke's infancy that I find myself seeking out digital downloads of (now that time and technology have rendered the cassette tape from the player once attached to his crib obsolete). You've Got Me from independent recording artist Sara Lovell, available in both CD and digital download formats, has the potential to be one of those albums that you're still humming long after your child has grown up.

When Luke was born, I swore we were not going to be one of those families whose child took over the radio and everything you heard was "The Wheels on the Bus." I think music appreciation needs to be cultivated just like that of literature: always provide quality works that are approachable but challenging, and while "Itsy Bitsy Spider" has its place, it shouldn't be the pinnacle of what a child hears. We played everything from Bing Crosby to the Beatles to Billy Joel -- mainly what we liked is what he heard.   When he was four or so, Luke received a copy of a Wiggles CD from Australian relatives. He fell in love with the group (and so did we) because the songs were kid-friendly themes and lyrics but with grown-up musical arrangements. As the years have gone on, we've carefully curated our collection, adding artists such as Laurie Berkner and Trout Fishing in America, who also specialize in kid-friendly songs that won't make Mom and Dad want to duct tape their ears shut. You've Got Me may be a brand new release, but its combination of youthful topics and adult melody and rhythms launches it into the realm of these classic artists.

I love how You've Got Me mixes different genres of music. The first track, "We Get Up in the Morning," is an acapella gospel rhythm that starts your toes tapping right away. "Dance Like There's Music Music In Your Pants", track five, is a classic samba beat that I dare you to resist dancing and shimmying with. (Is it terrible to admit I put this one on repeat for a 20-minute car ride...and I was the only person in the car?) The set list follows the natural balance of a day, interspersing upbeat melodies with gentler arrangements, allowing for a natural flow that becomes neither frantic nor stagnant. Lovell's songs, filled with smoky 1920s jazz, lilting calypso, and bluegrass-style harmonieseasily flow from one to the next. "Off to Bed We Go" has a classic Fred and Ginger foxtrot feel, and the disc ends with "Night Night Golden Sun," where a classical-style piano and strings ensemble gently smooth the end of the day.

Though the titles and lyrics are kid-friendly, they are not insipid.  Sara puts words to the world of imagination where children live, but without cutesy wording.  Track two, "Furry Alligator Puppy," is a silly song recounting the "night before's" dream, but uses grown-up phrasing, such as "It was something really strange, a really crazy adventure," and ideas like "I was flying like I was swimming."   Fanciful themes such as the play world of a beloved stuffed rabbit and a sock puppet monster party are explored, and balanced with  gentle yet brief reminders of what is off limits ("Don't play the piano with your nose...") or expected ("Give it lots of exercise, give it lots of love and your body will be happy..."). I also appreciate how Sara enunciates the words clearly -- it's frustrating when you sing along to a record and later find out the artist isn't singing the "right" words, isn't it?

Because of its balance, it would be a perfect baby shower or new baby gift -- it won't wear out its welcome before Baby is big enough to dance along. Its rhythm will bring out the natural musicality that younger children have, making them dance along almost involuntarily. Slightly older Damien has taken to belting out lines between math problems, and even Celia and Matthew were caught grooving along in the backseat as we drove home from karate. (A flustered Celia said, "What?? She's saying "¡Bailamos en la calle!" and that's what I'm doing!") I think this is going to be one of my favorite albums, no matter how old they grow!

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Random 5 on Friday Sept. 23

1. I am going to get organized if it's the last thing I do.  If you've seen my house lately, it could very well be.  The first thing I did was attempt to get the school room back under control.  We had two old chairs that were beyond my repair skills, so the big boys and I hauled them out.  The boys decided the chairs needed one last sit-in on our "redneck back porch."

2.  For the past two weeks, I've been working on decluttering.  One bag or box a day is my goal until I've purged all the excess.  I've sent some outgrown things to my nephews, and Neal took several bags to the donation box this week.  The good news is I've made progress on closets and dressers, clearing out things that don't fit very well or are unwearably old (you know, the shirts that are faded and misshapen but you keep them anyway). The bad news is one more round and I'll be naked.

3. I finally remembered to call the piano tuner.  He raised the pitch and assessed the major work, and has to come back to fine tune it and fix the one broken key.  It sounds so much better already.

4.  I've started trying a new (to me) organizing system called a bullet journal.  I've been in search of the "perfect" planner for a long time, but I haven't found one.  Maybe making my own will be the ticket!  It's only been a week, but I've gotten more accomplished than ever.  That's probably because I've remembered to do things because I'm writing them down in one spot.  I'm also enjoying the creative aspect of it -- yesterday, I tried drawing a mandala while I waited for Jude to finish his math test.

5.   Jude asked me today when are we putting our fall decorations out.  Hopefully, that will happen this weekend, and not only will we be really ready for fall, but another corner will be cleaned out and tidied up!

Have a great week!

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hello Yellow Pencil Sharpener (A Review)

You know you've become a teacher when you get excited over a new pencil sharpener! I think it doesn't matter whether you're a homeschool teacher or a brick-and-mortar teacher, when you have early elementary students you "live and die" by the strength of your pencil sharpener. Jude prefers a very fine point for writing, and since Jude likes his pencil tips sharp, so does little brother Damien. It's not uncommon for Jude or Damien to resharpen pencils ten or twelve times in a day, so we need a pencil sharpener that is going to hold up to heavy use. We do have a heavy duty electric sharpener, but its proximity to our work table is limited by the length of its cord. I was excited to receive a Hello Yellow Pencil Sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies to review because it's slim and no-cord design meant we could have a sharpener attached to the table!

When I first opened the box, the color immediately brought a smile.  It's a glossy, bright sunshine-and-school-buses yellow that reminds you of back-to-school days.   When I began to assemble  sharpener, I saw how the clamp that attached it to the table had a wide, rubberized bottom. If you're attaching this to a wood table, this is a great feature because you don't want to mess up your table with a metal clamp! I was frustrated, though, at how it didn't seem to want to attach straight on. At first, I tried securing the sharpener over the table cover that we keep on the table, but it didn't want to hold. I thought maybe the extra layers of fabric just were too much, but then I tried it without the table cover, and it still didn't secure properly. I tried it on our full-size kitchen table, and it still didn't want to clamp down easily.

Even when the attachment was put on straight, the sharpener had cantilevered just enough that it wasn't straight or securely fastened. It held if you were actually sharpening the pencil and had two hands on the machine, but between uses, a distracted elbow often bumped it off the table, or gravity took over...and in the process we had shavings all over the floor.

I liked that the sharpener was self-feeding when there was a pencil in there. However, if it got opened by inquisitive fingers, it was harder to retract.  Celia wanted to offer her opinion:

Once we got it organized to where we could sharpen pencils, it worked quite well. It made quick work of sharpening and created fine-tipped "Number 2" pencils.

We also tried it on colored pencils. Unlike regular pencils, they have a waxy core that can sometimes challenge sharpener blades. The also are sometimes a bit more slender.  It usually took several tries to sharpen a colored pencil, and while it did a good job on the point, the pencil often slipped, and the guide chewed up the rest of the pencil.

Ultimately, the clamp just was too wobbly to make this our go-to pencil sharpener. I think older students might have the dexterity to hold, support, and crank at the same time, but for first grader Damien, it requires too much coordination. He does independent work while I work with Jude, but relying on this sharpener forces him to interrupt me to ask for help. Jude also found it awkward and often would still sneak off to the electric sharpener because it was faster. I got tired of vacuuming up spilled shavings when it got bumped to the floor; I think a more out-of-the-way spot would be more secure between uses but that doesn't help fill the need we had of "you don't need to leave your seat."  Since it doesn't need to be plugged in, it will go in our "when we do schoolwork in another room" basket and get plenty of use, but it's not going to work as I had hoped to replace our fast but across the room sharpener.

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bake Sale Worthy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites

Don't you just love when your child says, "It's ok, you can do whatever's easiest!" when they really mean "I know it's a zillion steps, but do you think maybe you could pull off your latest kitchen wizardry, but in a bakery sized batch?"  Celia's class is sponsoring a bake sale, and in the past I've stuck a ten dollar bill in an envelope and called it good.  I figured there was no point to making treats she couldn't eat, and the class actually made out better.  This year, she wasn't going for it, and asked if I could make cookies -- enough for two dozen helpings to sell.  I told her I would if she helped make them, but in exchange she had to convince Neal to go get more bananas (since Damien at the last one this morning before I could rescue it). Fair trade, right?  Since she got Daddy to take her to the produce market,  I got to grind oats into flour, and we baked after dinner.

My original plan was to make oatmeal Marranitos, because they were a fairly easy cookie with minimal ingredients but a nice "wow" factor for a bake sale.  Ultimately, we didn't make them because the dough wasn't stiff enough to roll out.  I grabbed a bag of chocolate chunks from the cabinet, and boom! Oatmeal chocolate chip cookes.

Go ahead, applaud my genius.  Hey, with an almost-teen girl, anything chocolate makes me the hero!

My next big purchase is going to be something that is more efficient for grinding oatmeal into flour.  I've been using my blender, and it works, but it takes a lot of small batches.  For the moment, I'll have to be content with my measuring cups that have not just the standard cups but also a bonus 3/4 cup scoop.  It made measuring out the brown sugar easy -- only two scoops to pack instead of three or four.  If you're in the market for new measuring cups, I highly recommend these.

Back to the cookies -- these really impressed me.  They came out with a soft, pillowy texture - more like a cereal bar than a chocolate chip cookie - and held together well.  For all the sugar, they're not overly sweet -- one recipe makes 5 dozen two-bite cookies, so it's not much sugar per cookie, but the ratio of brown sugar and baking soda work together nicely for creating a cake-like cookie.  I've also recently discovered barrel-aged rum makes a really nice replacement for vanilla extract.  The aging gives it some bright toffee and vanilla flavors without adding extra ingredients to the extract (vanilla isn't something we've gotten the green light to trial with her yet, and it's not something I'm pushing because it would be a really hard trial to get sufficient volume into her.)   You can substitute vanilla if you prefer, but it did at a little bit of caramel undertone that was unexpected but added interest.  I have a feeling these aren't going to be bake-sale-day only cookies!

Baked Oatmeal Bites

Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies

1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (solid)
1 banana (mashed)
1 can (12.2 oz) evaporated coconut milk (unsweetened)
1 1/2 tsp aged rum (or vanilla extract)
24 oz gluten-free rolled oats ground into oat flour (approx 7 1/2 cups flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 10-oz bag chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or no-stick aluminum foil.

Cream together the sugar and coconut oil.  Add the banana, milk, and coconut oil and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, and xanthan gum.  With the mixer TURNED OFF, add them to the work bowl.  SLOWLY turn on the mixer and stir on low until thoroughly combined.   Remove beaters.

Add chocolate chips to the bowl, and stir to distribute them.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffy and set with golden edges.

Store them in an air-tight container.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}

I can hardly count how many times I've gone looking for programs for the boys, and felt like I spent more time Googling than actually checking things out. Christian HomeSchool Hub aims to take that "seek and find" feeling out of preparing your child's lessons with the CHSH Download Club program. aggregates over 50,000 downloadable curriculum items for preschool through high school, making it easier for the homeschooling parent to plan their child's program.  CHSH offers both annual and lifetime plan memberships (our family received an annual membership) that help you find hundreds of program ideas at one website.

Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}

The major reason why we homeschool is to be able to meet each boy where he is, rather than trying to mold him into a student that has to make a program just work already.  Because of how arranges its content, I can choose to mix a middle elementary Bible course with early elementary reading for Jude, or match three social studies programs to create an American History powerhouse of government, history, and geography for Matthew.

One of the nice organizational features of the program is it does not have a single way of presenting the downloads. Developer Lynda Ackert has arranged the offerings by subject, grade level, calendar use (holidays, etc.), and presentation.  This makes it very easy to search for specific topics.  I know a particular set of boys who will enjoy this poem for copywork!

One of the features I found myself going back to was the area containing downloadable versions of many literature books. These are titles that are older and in the public domain, but they're still excellent resources, especially the children's story, and poetry anthologies.   I've downloaded these because I could download the entire file and then print individual poems and stories on an ad hoc basis.

Something I did appreciate is many of the offerings do have a "free preview" option. I would highly recommend using this feature before purchasing a membership.  To use the site fully and be able to download entire files, you'll need to create a paid account, but you'll be able to see if a particular item fills a need for you.  I get annoyed when I download something and find it's not at all what I expected it to be and isn't useful, and then have to go through my hard drive to locate it to delete it.  Being able to preview items meant if it was a good fit, I could go ahead and download it, but if it wasn't going to work, the file wasn't taking up space on my computer.

 I decided to take a look at the high school offerings.  It seems that there are millions of curriculum options for elementary students, but the pickings are much slimmer for high schoolers, so I was excited to see an entire section just for high schoolers that included a  broad range of disciplines, including science, history, and literature programs.  However, I was disappointed to find that they weren't suitable for Matthew.  Many of them simply were digitized textbooks -- to use them would have made the bulk of the program a "read the book, answer the question" type scenario.

I'm sure for some kids, this would be okay, but for Matthew, the idea of reading a 700-page science book or almost 300-page text about the US Government with no visual supplementation would not work for him.   Adding in YouTube or other videos would have sent me back to hours of Googling and screening.  I think that this could be a valuable high school resource if you have a combination of a flexible learner, limited budget, and a lot of time to personalize the program.  For us, since Matthew learns best with less reading-intensive programs and I don't have time to cross-reference video resources, it's not a great fit.

Ultimately, I was left with this same feeling throughout the site.  On one hand, there was a lot of stuff literally at my fingertips, and fairly well organized.  However, to use much of it, it would take either a lot of paper and ink to print files or just a lot of tweaking to make it right "for us." I found myself frustrated at finding so many things that looked good in a master list but fell short once explored in detail.  I think if I'm going to spend my time searching and organizing, it will be to find something that is not as labor-intensive for me to prepare.

For more information, follow the Christian HomeSchool Hub on social media, or click the banner below to read other Crew reviews.

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Christian HomeSchool Hub {Download Club}

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Our 4th Grade Curriculum Plans: 2016-2017

It's hard to believe that Jude is in the 4th grade! This is his 5th year homeschooling, and I think we might finally be starting to get a handle on things. We actually began our 4th-grade year back in June - we've decided to work "year-round" so that we can take extra time for the holidays, or even "just because we want a day off to have fun." I'm also really excited because this is the first year he's begun the year reading at an appropriate grade level!  While he has a lot of foundational gaps that need filling, by the end of last year he was finally getting the confidence to begin working independently! While there's still a lot of things we will need to do together, it's good for him to be able to do things a little on his own and not be constantly looking for affirmation that he's right.  This year, one of the biggest skills we are working on is being able to commit to an answer, and not assuming he's wrong if I don't immediately affirm it as correct.  

One area we are probably going to go very lightly in is Social Studies and Science.  In our state, 4th graders usually do one semester of each - a total of about 65 hours each.  After earning 34 National Park Junior Ranger badges this summer, he's learned enough history and science for me to comfortably say, "We can focus on other areas and just have fun with those."  I think for Science we'll do some hands-on experiments, and for Social Studies we'll do on map/geography skills for a "formal" program.  He's currently working his way through the Magic Tree House series and has the "Who am I?" series on deck, so I think that will be enough for that.  I also plan to sneak in a few more Junior Ranger programs!

His planner is shaping up like this:

Bible Study:

Veritas Bible 
Judges through Kings - we began this around this past Easter, so we only have a few lessons left
The Gospels

Grapevine Studies
Christmas and Easter units


Math U See
Delta -  we're partly through it so this will probably last until Christmas or so.
Epsilon - Winter/Spring 2017

Language Arts 

Spelling You See Americana 

Alice in Wonderland 
The Brothers Grimm
Peter Pan
Winnie the Pooh

After trying a several different companies' literature studies, I've settled on Veritas Press for the bulk of our study guides.   Jude decided on these books since he knew most of the story basics already.  At first, I thought maybe it would be better to choose completely new books, but then I decided that choosing familiar stories might be a good idea.  This way, he can work on expanding his reading skills and vocabulary rather than also struggling with keeping a plot straight.  This list should keep us occupied until Christmas or so, and then we'll figure out from there. 

Penmanship -

George Washington's Rules of Civility
Legendary Quotes of Benjamin Franklin
Jude is not a fan of copy work.  If he never had to do it again, that would be fine by him.  However, he doesn't have a whole lot of writing practice in his day, so I think it's important for him to have a particular program for penmanship.  He wasn't excited to begin with until I explained that this particular book is the same one that a young George Washington copied from as a boy.  Suddenly, if it was good enough for his hero George, it was good enough for him.  Whatever works, right?   We'll also discuss "What do you think this mean?" For example, the rule "Affect not to speak louder than ordinary," translates in modern English to "Inside voices, please."   Since that won't take us all year to copy, we'll continue on to the wise sayings of his other favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin.


Growing with Grammar - we're beginning with Level I, but doing several pages each day with the intention to skip over what he doesn't need a lot of work with, and slow down where he's not already able to just say "Oh, that's what that is called."  Before now, we've focused on reading rather than grammar. It didn't seem to make sense to focus on "What word in this sentence is a noun?" when he couldn't tell you what the word was to start with!


180 Days of Writing - Grade 4
Eventually, we're going to use IEW's SWI program, once I get through learning how to use it.

Daily Projects 

These will generally be a week's worth of worksheets in a single day - we've found that it's a better use of our time to do all of the questions on a single day, rather than trying to do only one or two each day.  We'll rotate them so that there's always something "new" to look forward to.
  • Evan-Moor Geography - Grade 4 
  • Shell Education 180 Days of Language - beginning with mid-grade 2 and moving up as warranted)
  • Shell Education Understanding Elections - Grades 3-5
  • A lapbooking/notebooking project 1-2 days each week 

Music  - Jude enjoyed this review from a few years ago, but we took a break because reaching the keys was difficult for him.  Now that his hands are a little bigger and he can reach across properly, he is ready to try again.

We'll also have some review things as well.  We may substitute things in during review periods, depending on the subject, or they may pre-empt the lapbooking projects, depending on the topic.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

New School Year, New Chapter

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

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

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

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

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