Thursday, December 7, 2017

December update...

Our original Fall semester plan was to have off from school for a little in October. Neal and I had plans to go to Disneyland for our 20th wedding anniversary. I  took a week hoarded from working through the summer so the boys would have off from school. 


Then Aunt Jo and Uncle Brendan surprised us with a visit.  We had a phenomenal time touring with them during the end of October and the first half of November!  Here are a few pictures from our travels for now -- I'll share more details about what we did on our trip in the coming weeks.



We did sneak a little learning in.  Aunt Jo and Uncle Brendan each became Junior Rangers with us when we visited the National Parks, and Matthew got an aircraft pop quiz at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. 



Once we said goodbye, we had two weeks of daily appointments, with Thanksgiving sandwiched in there.   Now that we are finally back to a somewhat calm schedule where we can get some work accomplished, we're careening into Christmas.  For now, we're working on tying up loose ends. 

In the middle of it all, Matthew tested at Karate and has advanced to a purple belt.  Celia also had her fall concert with the Rowan Youth String Orchestra, where she was the first chair violin.



Luke is nearly done his first semester of college.  There were a few moments of panic trying to meet a deadline (what's college without a couple of almost all-nighters), but he made it to the post office with nearly an hour to spare! He's got a blog post percolating in his head about surviving the first semester; he plans to share that before the Spring semester begins. 


A new Homeschool Review Crew year is starting up, and I did finally decide to re-apply.  I got a "thick" acceptance email a couple of weeks ago, and am looking forward to new products to work with next year.  I decided that I really enjoyed writing, and being part of the Crew gives me that opportunity. I think the hardest part is going to be blogging between reviews -- I'm working on creating a list of things to share about.  Hopefully having prompts and photos already gathered will help with some of the writer's block I've been experiencing. 

I'm looking forward to having some semblance of routine after the New Year begins. It won't at be the very start of January though -- I'm currently training to run a 10K race during the first week of January.  Lucky for me, I've got a few trainers helping me.



Right now, we're playing "Tread water and plan for the next semester."  Tread with us!





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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thin Stix Creativity Pack (Homeschool Review Crew)


When we go on our touring trips, our days are chock full of activity.  We are up early, out the door to wherever we are going, and often come back to the hotel positively exhausted around dinner time.  When we return, there is usually a little bit of time between baths and bedtime where the boys want to do something besides watch shows on TV (assuming we can figure out the unfamiliar channel guide) or videos on their iPads.  This trip, I brought our Kwik Stix Thin Stix Creativity Pack from The Pencil Grip, Inc. in our suitcase.


I loved how easy they were to bring along.  Travelers could certainly transfer them to a zip-top bag so they'd fit into a corner of the suitcase or between items, but we left them in their original packaging because it is very slim and packed flat on top of our packing bags.  (Note: It also packed well at the bottom of the suitcase on our way home.)  When we reviewed Kwik Stix in the past, I was impressed at how quickly they dried and how little mess they made. This was a definite plus for taking them to a hotel.  Yes, crayons and markers are items that are relatively mess-free, but the kids and I liked the novelty of the thin, marker-dimension paint sticks rather than "boring old crayons."

This trip, we're traveling with Aunt Jo and Uncle Brendan from Australia. They came all the way from Canberra to surprise the kids! I knew they were coming, so I had to secretly make plans for us to go away, but it's always fun traveling with Uncle Brendan because he's a big kid at heart.  Damien grabbed the Kwik Stix, a bunch of paper (also easy to pack flat in a pocket of the suitcase), and ran through the connecting doors to show them what we brought.  To his delight, Uncle Brendan sat down, and they started drawing together.



It was just before Halloween, and the guys were trying to "out scare" each other with their drawings. Damien met his match, I think!  The blur is the kangaroo "boxing" with the Ghostbuster.





After a few rounds of "Who can draw the bloodiest creature?" they decided to have a real drawing contest, and Aunt Jo got to be the judge.  I'm sure the folks in the lobby heard Damien's squeals when he was declared the winner.  Poor Uncle Brendan -- even his 3-D creation didn't sway the judge.




This Kwik Stix pack is especially nice because it has a LOT of paint sticks in it. It contains a total of 24 paint markers: 12 classic colors (basics like red, blue, green, etc.), 6 neon, and 6 metallics.  The neon orange and silver metallic tones gussied up Uncle Brendan's portrait of the emu!


The Pencil Grip, Inc. does offer other packages of Kwik Stix -- just the classics (in multiple sizes), neons alone, etc., but I think between the "specialness" of the "big" pack, as well as its packability, it is definitely something that makes for a special car or hotel "vacation activity" treat.

For more ideas on how to use Kwik Stix Thin Stix, click the banner below to read more reviews.

Thin Stix Creativity Pack {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}






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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Kid Niche: Weave Your Word in Me Bible Study (Homeschool Review Crew)

When Luke and Matthew began homeschooling, we continued on with theology studies where they had left off -- both were in upper grades so much of the foundation had been laid by their schools.
For the little boys, it's been a completely different process because of my own admitted struggles -- after our experiences with our Catholic parish and diocese, I'm caught between a few rocks.  My belief in God has remained strong, and despite exploring other denominations, I realize that I'm Catholic by faith to the core.  While I'm still working toward forgiving those who have wronged us, I want to teach my children my faith.  Bible studies have been a thorny issue for us.  Most Bible studies are aligned to the King James Version of the Bible, and the viewpoints presented are slightly different than ours.  Catholic programs seem to be few and far between and finding a good Bible program that fits both our faith and the boys' learning styles has been challenging.  I was intrigued by Weave Your Word in Me - Part 1 from Kid Niche Christian Books, which is designed to be translation-neutral.


"Translation neutral"? What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell, Kid Niche takes the core lessons of the Bible and uses them to guide the user's reading, but refers the reader back to the chapter-and-verse passages in his own Bible, rather than providing the scripture passages printed within the study.  This allows multiple faith denominations to use the same core guide, but approach the Bible from their points of view.  It works with any of the most popular translations: KJV, ESV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, and our preference, the NABRE.  Where there is a difference in where to find things, it will indicate this, so that the student is studying the correct Bible verse for the lesson.


Weave Your Word In Me takes the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (and therefore us) and unravels it in a way that children can learn the "great God-truths Jesus has woven within the Lord's Prayer."  I really like this approach - as a child, I learned my prayers by rote, without really understanding them.  This program combines both learning the lessons of the Bible and learning to have a relationship with God.  It's a very different approach from Jude's past studies, which have been more historical in nature than personal.


The program is geared toward later elementary students (grades 4 to 6), and I think this is an appropriate target age.  I think this study does a good job of helping support the emerging thinking and faith of children in this bracket without becoming "too" anything -- it's not too simple for the almost-teens, but not too deep for the younger end of the age range.  It's a program that I think could be used for students slightly younger and older; a student could start with it at 8 or 9, and then revisit at 12-turning-13, and as their thinking matures, their answers will change.  I notice that Jude is still in a more "literal" phase, while I think Celia would be beginning to find more philosophic/theologic answers.  I liked that while some answers are very literal, and basically "if you find the correct verse, you just need to fill in the blank," there are also places where the student needs to read and then parse the readings to find the correct answer.  It's not a huge leap from "what it says" to "the answer you need," but it's just enough to help encourage "figuring it out from context" rather than a purely literal reading.


On a practical note, I liked that this arrived as a pre-printed, pre-punched packet that just needed to be popped into a binder.  It's also on a heavy-weight paper, which means it holds up to erasing misspellings.  Each of the 36 lessons is only one to four pages; lessons take Jude no more than about fifteen minutes.  Each day is short, but still fully teaches him the core lesson of the day.  There is also an "answer key" provided, so if your child is working independently, the parent can easily check answers.  While Weave Your Word in Me - Part 1 is the first "half" of the program, there is a Part 2 available, as well as a full 80-lesson version.  I think if I were to purchase this myself, I would get the full 80-lesson program.  I think if you had a relaxed approach or another religious study program going on simultaneously, once-a-week might be sufficient, but at our two-to-three-a-week pace, we will finish this in the "first quarter" of our school year.


Jude liked this study and wants to continue past the review period.  Subject aside, it's always a good thing when he says "I don't want to be done."  He enjoyed the seek-and-find aspect of the program - each "question" referred to a different book and/or verse of the Bible.  He was proud of himself when he remembered whether a specific book was Old Testament or New Testament, too.  His prior Bible study courses were more chronological -- beginning with "In the Beginning..." and continuing from there.  I like how this pulls verses from the Old and New Testaments, showing how the lessons God shares through Scripture are timeless - from the beginning of Genesis to the writing of Revelation and right on through until today.

For more reviews about this program, click the banner below.

Weave Your Word in Me {Kid Niche Christian Books Reviews}



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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reading Eggs (Homeschool Review Crew)



When Jude was learning to read, we tried a whole mess of programs, and by the time I heard about Reading Eggs, he finally seemed to have a grasp of things.  Damien flew through learning to read before I could do more than remember it existed.  When this opportunity came up with the Crew, I finally did a little investigating. I discovered that the company's offerings were a series of leveled programs, including one for both emerging and proficient readers, called "Reading Eggspress."  We signed up for their standard two-week trial before I volunteered for the Crew review, to see if it was suitable for my "older" readers.

For our review, we received a six-month subscription to the full program that includes three levels of Reading Eggs plus their MathSeeds program. The complete program spans the entire pre-to-middle school gamut: Reading Eggs Junior is for the preschool set (ages 2-4), Reading Eggs introduces phonics and early reading (ages 3-7), and Reading Eggspress (ages 7-13) helps readers grow their reading and comprehension skills.

Time for a commercial plug: if you sign up using the following link before NOVEMBER 30, 2017, you can receive a FOUR WEEK FREE TRIAL (no credit card required):

READING EGGS FOUR WEEK FREE TRIAL

If you're considering Reading Eggs, I would highly recommend giving it a try for the more extended period.  I think two weeks in, we were still in a honeymoon period...a month in, we felt very differently about the program, especially for Damien.

Each level has a placement test. When we did our early trial, Damien started with the eponymous Reading Eggs program.  Although he has been reading for quite some time, I wanted to make sure he wasn't missing foundation skills.  (Not impossible, because he raced so quickly through learning to read.)  Since Jude was going to work on this the entire six weeks, I didn't push him to move on, thinking he would be a "bonus" kid in this review, and he took the Reading Eggspress placement test when we began our "official" month-long review period.  (Jude took the Reading Eggspress test during our trial, tested into and continued on with it)  The placement test measures literal understanding, inferred understanding, critical thinking, and vocabulary.

However, while Damien has maxed out for Reading Eggs, I think he is in over his head here.  He placed into level 141 - the beginning of the "Year 5" level of the program.  I was shocked -- I expected him to be closer to 3rd-grade level (which is still a year older than his chronological 2nd grade). While he did well with the testing (the only support I gave him was reminding him to slow down, to read all of the answers before choosing one, etc.), he is really struggling with the program. He's been working for about a month, and he's only moved up through eight lessons because he's often repeating passages over several days.  I like that if a student hasn't proved proficiency with a passage that he isn't permitted to just move on, but he's getting frustrated with repeating the same sections over and over.  His scores are also not all that great.  Our family standard of "successful" is 85%.  I think a "B average" is well within my kids' capabilities, and in my experience, knowing 85% of something seems to be the cut-off between a reasonable foundation that periodic review will firm up and one that is closer to the precipice of crumbling.  Damien's scores, even after repeats, are far lower than that 85% threshold.  He tends to start with scores in the 60s, and then slowly build up after several repeats to the 70s. We have far more frustrated tears than we ought to. I think he would do better to move back down closer to a year 3 level, and then build up confidence.


Jude, on the other hand, is doing fairly well, when he pays attention.  Jude has ADHD and takes medication to help support his focus.  Reading Eggs is a program that we have found needs to be done early, while the meds are in full force.  He also often needs someone to sit with him and remind him to slow down, pay attention, follow directions, etc.  When he's ON, he has 100% scores. When he's struggling to hang onto the ability to find details, he bombs.




While his scores are below our "accepted averages" in several areas, I'm comfortable with letting Jude stay at the level he's at and continuing to move forward because his scores fluctuate so widely. When he struggles, he's in the 60s, but when he's focused, he gets 100s on the first go.  While I was hoping that this would be a program he could work on independently, I'm not surprised that he needs extra help staying on task.

There are a few things I wish were different within the program.  First, while I like that each lesson includes a vocabulary section for the passages, the student is expected to choose three words from a list of five.

The dictionary placement, pronunciation, part of speech, roots and derivatives, using the word, etc. are presented, giving a substantial word study.



However, ALL of the words are included in the passage, and in later sections, the student may be left guessing what a word means if he didn't choose that word during the vocab section.  Here, Jude chose quell, reveal, and sorbet, but that left him to have to go look up the other two to continue the next section.



I think three words at one time is a reasonable number to study, so I'd like to see a second vocab section visit so that the student gets exposure to all of the words.  It was hard to fault either boy for incorrectly answering questions that hinged on the extra words -- he didn't know the word because it wasn't one he chose!  Yes, kiddo can go grab a dictionary (and often did), but then that defeats the purpose of a self-contained program.

I also wish that it was easier to win trophies.  It takes 1000 eggs earned in one calendar week.  Doing one numbered lesson a day (10 tasks) during a typical school week gives them only 450 eggs; even adding a lesson on each of Saturday and Sunday would still leave them short.  It takes the boys about 30-45 minutes to do a lesson; doubling up just isn't an option.  While it's not a huge deal to me if they win a trophy or not, they are disappointed that they always seem to fall short.

The last part of our subscription, MathSeeds, is a program for students ages 3 to 9.  We didn't do any work beyond the placement test. It includes some geometry (plane and solid), addition, subtraction, and very early multiplication.  Damien tested into level 131 of 144, but since he is already working at a 3rd-grade level, I skimmed ahead to see what else was being presented.  His normal math program is skills-based, and he is already proficient in adding/subtracting through three and four digit numbers, which is what the program tops out with.  I felt that this wouldn't be worthwhile for him to focus on -- review is never bad, but it just wasn't efficient for us.  Though he's a  just-turned-10, Jude is already working at a 6th grade level, so he didn't even attempt the placement.

I was excited to finally try the Reading Eggs reading program.  However, I'm not sure if we will extend our membership.  I think that there are some tweaks we can try (adjusting levels, looking things up on our own, working together) but it's not what I had hoped it would be.  I was really hoping that it would be a compromise between "I want to play on my computer" and "I don't want you vegging out for hours with YouTube videos."  It's possible that with some adjusting it may turn out to be a success, but at the moment, it's not really filling the space I had hoped it would.

75 families are working with Reading Eggs. Click the banner below to read their reviews.

Reading Eggs



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Five Minute October: Remain

Remain.

I'm drawing a blank. I keep coming back to write this one, and my mind just remains empty.  I don't have anything funny or philosophical to go with the prompt.  I guess I'll remain honest?

The best I can come up with for any deep thought is from St. Paul:

"Faith, hope, and love remain...but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13:13)


Click here to read the entire series:  Five Minute October











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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Five Minute October: Try

Try.

This one is pretty easy.  "Try" was the word I chose for my "Word of the Year" back in January.  My goal was to try new things, or still get started even if I knew finishing was going to be difficult (or not happen at all.)  I can't say that I've tried everything that I've thought "Wow, I'd like to..." because inertia (and fear of looking like an idiot) are hard to overcome, but I have managed one major goal -- I've completed a 5K and am now working on a 10K distance run.

A friend of mine suggested that we celebrate our birthdays by trying as many new things as years old we were turning. They could be as simple as a new ice cream flavor instead of an old favorite,  I have a long way to go until I hit 42 new things, but I have plenty of time.  If nothing else, I've learned that life is not really about making a "bucket list" of things to do "sometime before I die."  It should be about finding experiences to create "I didn't know I wanted to do this, but I'm glad I did" list.



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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Five Minute October: Write

Write.

I'm going to admit I've written this in advance.  I've taken this week off from blogging to celebrate my anniversary, but I wanted to participate, so I'm writing ahead a little.

Writing is something I've always loved. I may have hated the research part of a paper, but writing it was something that I never really minded.  Writing a blog seemed like a good outlet for me.  Sometimes, I find it as hard as those research papers. Do I have a topic to focus on? Do I have something to say? I sometimes feel like I'm just writing for the sake of writing, without a purpose.

I want to make writing a focus again.  Something I'm learning is that I don't have to work "in real time."  I'm hoping to clear out a backlog of stories that need writing down.  I have photos and stories I want to share, but just haven't gotten that far, or figured "They were so long ago, why bother?"

Celia's violin teacher holds a contest each spring - who can practice the most days in a row.  To count as an "official" practice, it needs to be only five minutes, because the hardest part usually is just getting started.  Five minutes a day hasn't seemed so hard - often I find myself writing for fifteen or twenty once I get started.  I know that five minutes that turns into an hour isn't going to happen every day, but I think once this month is over, I'm going to set up a "just five minutes" for every other day and see what happens. Maybe I can clear out some of the backlog that's in my head!


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