Monday, July 28, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up - July 28


We had a busy week! On Sunday, my uncle called, he was visiting my grandma and, having heard that she enjoyed coming up to visit us the previous week, he asked if he could bring her up while he was visiting as well. So Uncle David and Grandma came to visit on Monday. It was nice to see them, and Grandma seemed to, again, enjoy the change of scenery :)

Now that Rodney's back to work, he's been making up for lost time, by visiting various clients. When he got home Monday evening, he asked if the big girls could go with him on Wednesday. He was going back to the same place he'd been on Monday and the treasurer he was working with had had her toddler with her. He figured Lexie and Ashlyn would have fun playing with a toddler, and it would be easier for him to finish his work if the treasurer he was working with had fewer distractions. A win-win!

Little Bit was less than thrilled to hear the plans, but we succeeded in "selling her" on the idea of a day alone with Mommy. A few weeks ago, she got a coupon for a free ice cream at Chik-fil-a from the library reading program, so we figured this would be a good day to use that coupon. Also, as she starts to do more school along with us, we realized that, while she LOVES her hello kitty backpack, if she's going to use a backpack for her school stuff, like her sisters do, she needed a slightly large one, so that her clipboard and other 9x11 things would fit. So, around lunchtime, she and I headed out. My plan was that we'd go to Chik-fil-a for a light lunch AND ice cream, then to Target to look at backpacks (and get a few other things I needed). But when we pulled into the parking lot there was no parking and I could tell through the windows that the restaurant was PACKED! (I discovered later they were having a fund raiser of some sort). So I suggested to Little Bit that we go somewhere else for lunch and then come for ice cream later. She agreed and I headed to Panera, because it's close by. She was SOO excited to get to go to a restaurant with a "buzzer" (the little blinky lights thing they give you to know when your order is ready). She also happily picked a table for 2, because we never get to sit at those! She chattered away at me all during lunch, and all through Target, where she picked out  a nice purple backpack that will hopefully last her several years and THEN we went back to Chik-fil-a (after a warning that if it was still too crowded we'd have to go another time). Thankfully, it wasn't crowded so she got her ice cream, on a cone, with SPRINKLES! And AGAIN got to choose a table for TWO people (because we're a family of 2 today), and chattered away at me all through the ice cream.  There was an older couple sitting near us when we sat down and I noticed that the man was enjoying watching Little Bit's animated chatter and messy enjoyment of her ice cream. As he was leaving he came over and gave her a coupon for ANOTHER free ice cream cone! She's thrilled . . .  I'm back to my original conundrum of, buy ice cream for the other kids or find a time to take just Little Bit LOL.

So that was our day of just us two!  The big girls said they had fun playing with the toddler who never sat still, hee hee. And even got a little school work done when the toddler wasn't there :)

Those were the highlights from this week. And this week's random picture. Moccasin, the cat was in the chair and Little Bit climbed up beside him. When he didn't jump down and run away, she HAD to have her picture taken :)


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Trail by Ed Underwood

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The Trial by Ed Underwood tells the story of a young couple seeking God's will on a life decision, but disagreeing about how to discover His will. Their friends suggest they spend a few days hiking in the mountains with Sam a pastor, mountain man who could help them learn to discern God's will.  Over the course of their hiking trip, Sam teaches them 8 principles and helps them see how their approach to finding God's will was flawed. Meanwhile they helped Sam in ways he wasn't expecting.

While this isn't a very long book, it spoke to me in a big way! I especially saw myself in accountant, Matt's desire to analyze things and be sure that they "make sense" . . .and know what's coming next. Sam's 8 principles are short and to the point, backed by scripture, and very powerful. I was torn, this book is written in a way that it would work extremely well to read one chapter, and then ponder the principle presented in that chapter, and focus on adopting that principle before moving on to the next one. However, I also wanted to know what was going to happen next to the characters and, what the next principle, Sam would teach would be. So in the end, I read this book through quickly, in just a couple days (in my pre-kid days I'd have easily read it in one sitting, but uninterrupted reading time is much harder to find these days). Now that I've read the whole book, I am going to take some time during my morning devotion time to really dig into each of the principles and work toward incorporating them into my life.

This short, easy to read book, can have a big impact!

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this ebook from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in compliance with the FTC requirements.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up July 20


We keep getting closer and closer to "normal" around here. After getting the ok from his cardiologist, Rodney started back to work this week. He's theoretically easing back into things, and did work part days this past week, this coming week, he seems to have some busier days planned, so pray he doesn't overdo it. I'm thrilled to see him so much "back to normal" though! Praise God!!!!

On Tuesday, my aunt and uncle brought my grandma over for an afternoon. They were visiting her, in Maryland, and decided to bring her up here for a day. She seemed to enjoy it, and it's always awesome to spend time with family. (and somehow I didn't think to take any pictures, sigh . . . ).

One afternoon when the girls were bored they decided that Daddy needed purple hair (I don't remember why). So they got out the chalk pastels and started working on it.

And the finished product . . . more than the "purple highlights" I actually got a picture of him smiling!!!!


Another random moment from this week. We were snuggling on the sofa when the kids noticed. Lexie took the opportunity to snuggle too, and Little Bit said "awwww, how cute!" and grabbed the iPad and started snapping pictures, there were many outtakes, but this one didn't turn out too bad:



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up July 13


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It's kind of hard to believe that Rodney's surgery was 2 months ago! In some ways, it feels like it's been FOREVER . . . in other ways it doesn't seem possible that it's been 2 months already . . . I am soo thankful that Rodney is, for the most part "back to normal", and a "better than before" normal!

For the last few years, his heart problems have kept him from being able to breath when lying flat in bed for any length of time, so he's been sleeping in a recliner. Now that his heart valve has been repaired, he can lay flat again YAY!!!

He's stopped taking most of his pain meds, only taking one at bedtime and if he anticipates extra pain (such as when he went for an echocardiogram this week).

During our "travels" last week, he did quite abit of the driving, and this week has started driving by himself again, going to his medical appointments and such. The girls are very thankful to not have to be dragged along, and have their routines disrupted by those appointments, and I think he's happy to have abit more "freedom".  He's also started working again, the bits that he can do over the phone, from home.

Rodney and the girls had planned to go out after the 4th, and buy some fireworks on clearance to set off here at home a few days late, but by the time they had a chance to go hunting, there were none to be found. We had some sparklers and snakes leftover from some previous year, so they contented themselves with that. Little Bit wasn't at all sure about the sparklers at first, but by the second night we did them, she had decided she was brave enough to try them, and LOVED them :)

One evening our neighbors brought over a luna moth they had "hatched". They found a caterpillar a week or 2 ago, and when they realized it was a luna moth caterpillar they kept it in their butterfly "house" until it made a chrysalis. It emerged this week, so they brought it over for the girls to see before they let it go.

Another day, when Little Bit was picking berries, the neighbors walked by on their way to the bridge. They'd discovered that if they caught little bugs and took them to the bridge they could throw them down into the water and the minnows would eat them. So they invited us to go along. Little Bit discovered that the minnows also like red clover (if you tear the blossom up into the little individual pieces) so she had fun feed the minnows those too.

Otherwise we had a quiet week. Working on the habit of "orderliness" has sparked an interest in general decluttering, so we've been working on sorting through some of the boxes of toys stored in the attic behind the girls' room. Little Bit's having fun finding "treasures" but we're also managing to throw out some of the junk that her sisters thought were treasures 2 years ago, and sorting through things in general.

I'm being spoiled with how little "teaching" I have to do right now. We're still using What On Earth Can I Do? for Bible and Lexie is happy to read the lessons to Little Bit and Ashlyn at least half the time, which means I just get to listen (and write blog posts, and lesson plan) while she reads. The big girls are still LOVING, and flying through, Veritas Press Self-Paced History, so that's a subject they can do completely independently. Little Bit is enjoying the stories in the Burgess Bird Book for Children. I discovered the audiobook is available on librivox, so I let it "read" to us while she colors a coloring page of one of that chapter's birds. We also usually look up the bird(s) online to see pictures of them, and hear what they sound like.

The one subject that IS teacher intensive is WriteShop with Ashlyn, but with so much else being independent, I can't really complain. AND last week we received another grammar-related curriculum to review, Grammar of Poetry, so some days she does that, which is a video course.  I was thinking that, since Grammar of Poetry is designed to be used 3 days a week, she could do that 3 days a week, and WriteShop the other 3, so we did that this past week, but after talking about it, she'd rather focus on one, then the other, so she's going to finish up her current lesson of WriteShop the first part of this week, and then, do Grammar of Poetry every day until it's done (there are only 30 lessons (a lesson = 1 day) so doing it 5ish days a week, it shouldn't take long), then go back to WriteShop, so that means that for the next month or so, her Grammar will be pretty independent as well!

I've been using all my "free time" to do lesson planning for this fall. We'll be wrapping up Bible soon, and diving back into Bible Road Trip, so I've been planning that out for the first few weeks. And, with the girls moving so quickly through history, we'll be ready for Story of the World Volume 2, the Middle Ages in another couple months, so I've been working on pulling together additional "living books", and videos and hands-on projects to go along with it.

The girls were excited to get to music lessons this past week and find that their teacher had some new books for them to try out. She's having them borrow hers for a week or two to make sure she knows what level they need before I order them, but she feels she's found a series that will be a better fit for Ashlyn, now that she's ready to focus more on reading. And Lexie is very excited to have a book with actual SONGS to use to practice reading, instead of the book of rhythms that she'd been using. Getting to read and play a "real" son from the Laura Ingalls Wilder book has sparked her interest in being able to read songs she knows, so the timing was great for this!

So we've been staying out of trouble!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: Laying Down the Rails


One of the curriculum websites that I browse regularly is Simply Charlotte Mason. While we pull ideas from many different homeschooling methods, Charlotte Mason style homeschooling is one that I draw heavily from, and Simply Charlotte Mason is a wonderful resource! In addition to selling many products that are on my wish list, there is a wealth of information in their articles and free downloads as well.

This spring, I attended a homeschool convention, and one of my favorite seminars was one entitled Laying Down the Rails by Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason.  After listening to this inspiring seminar, I desperately wanted to get her books Laying down the Rails and Laying Down the Rails for Children. The physical books were on sale at the convention, and I looked at them, but because these are books that I know I'll use over several YEARS and reference often, I decided that, the ebooks would be a better choice for me. That way I can have them with me, on my laptop, when I travel. So I contacted Simply Charlotte Mason and asked for the opportunity to review these ebooks!

I received the books the day of my husband's surgery, and had plenty of time, while sitting around the hospital that first week, to look them over, however, it wasn't until a couple weeks later, once we were all back home, that I could introduce the ideas to my children.

If you haven't heard of Charlotte Mason, I'd recommend reading about who Charlotte Mason is and what the Charlotte Mason Method of homeschooling entails.

One thing that Charlotte Mason advocated was instilling good habits in children (and ourselves), to help make our days go more smoothly. Laying Down the Rails explains what Charlotte Mason recommended about how to build good habits. It gives practical ideas, with quotes from Charlotte Mason and additional explanations as needed, for step-by-step implementation of new habits in your home. Laying Down the Rails proceeds to list over 50 specific habits that Charlotte Mason recommended, with quotes from her about why each habit is important, and tips for implementing it.

While Laying Down the Rails alone is an awesome resource, to make this practical, at least for me, it is essential to pair it with the 2 book set Laying Down the Rails for Children. These books take those same habits listed in Laying Down the Rails, and provide the parent with a "worksheet" to brainstorm ideas for teaching that habit, followed by several specific, short "lessons" to help you in teaching these habits to your children. There are suggested activities, as well as short stories and poems, all organized to reinforce and further teach about the habit while it is your focus.

One thing that Sonya emphasized in her seminar, and also in her books, is the importance of choosing ONE behavior that you want to see changed, and focus on building a good habit around that ONE behavior until it has become automatic. Since Orderliness is something that is a challenge, not only for my children, but for myself as well, I thought that would be a good one to focus on this summer when we'd all be home most of the time.

So I sat down with my 3 girls and we talked about WHY orderliness is important and some specific changes that we needed to make with regard to keeping their room clean. The first step was to get their room straightened up and organized. Part of that was deciding which toys and projects are things they are currently using, and find places for those things. Things that aren't currently being used, can be stored in the attic. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing Little Bit, age 5, was to pack away many of her toys. Instead of keeping out ALL her dolls and doll clothes, she chose a couple favorite dolls and, with Ashlyn's help, chose out the doll clothes and accessories that will work best with those dolls. The rest we packed away, with the assurance that, in a couple months, if she wants, she can trade the dolls out and have some others out instead.

Meanwhile, Lexie got busy organizing things in their sewing corner, that has been a disaster ever since I "stole" their table to use when we had lots of company for their birthdays, somehow with the table gone, things just got dumped in that corner and it was a MESS. But I was proud of how diligently Lexie worked to get things cleaned up and sorted out. And she's excited to get the table set back up so that they can start sewing again.

Once we had things semi-under control (it took more than a day to get to be such a mess and it took us several sessions to get it back under control, we started working on KEEPING it that way.

As a part of our morning Bible time, I read the related poems and stories and we talked about the further suggestions. It helped the girls to realize there IS a reason to keep their room orderly, besides the fact that it makes Mommy grumpy when they don't. And slowly but surely we are getting things under control.

The sewing corner!
I have to admit, I haven't been as consistent about this as I would have liked, but we're still making progress. More important than the cleaner bedroom, and picking up their random clutter downstairs each evening, I LOVE that this book will continue to help us (all of us, not just the kids) build LOTS of good habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives! Some of the habits that are on my list to work on over the next several months include:
Diligence
Respect for Others
Meditation
Personal Initiative
Sweet Even Temper


On the other hand, I had to giggle at the idea of teaching my kids the habit of "Imagining", I *might* need to teach them to STOP imagining sometimes . . . I think the dishes would get done alot faster if all 3 girls weren't busy spinning some elaborate story while they "work", but . . . they're having fun, so perhaps we'll just work on working WHILE imagining, hee hee .  . .

I think all parents struggle to know how to instill good habits in their children, and these books are an amazing resource to help with that! I encourage you to check them out!

In closing, I had to share this.  As a part of cleaning and organizing the girls' room, I had Little Bit help me go through a big basket of mismatched socks and help me match them up. Then I left her to put hers in her drawer while I moved on to other things. Awhile later, she came to find me, all proud that not only had she put her socks away, but she had, with some help from Lexie, organized her socks/underwear/pajama drawer. When she saw me taking a picture of the sewing corner, she begged me to take a picture of her drawer too, so . . .


Laying Down the Rails is available for $24.95 for a physical book or $16.95 for an ebook.
Laying Down the Rails for Children is available for $45.95 for a physical book or $39.95 for an ebook. They are also available bundled, for additional savings.

Both products have samples available on their product pages, check them out!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday!


Schoolhouse Review Crew: WriteShop


One of the things Ashlyn has been really interested in learning this year, is more about grammar, writing, and language arts in general. So when we got the opportunity to review one of WriteShop's products, she begged to be allowed to do it. While Lexie could use the knowledge, she has no interest, and I decided not to push it at this point (I suspect that, at some point, the fact that Ashlyn is better than her, will prompt her to build these skills). After looking over the recommended grade levels, placement help and samples on the WriteShop website, I finally settled on the WriteShop Junior: Book D Set (ebooks).

We received the Teacher's Guide ($35.50), Activity Pack ($35.50), and Time-Saver Pack ($11.50). I opted for the ebooks, since we would be receiving it right after my husband's surgery and I couldn't predict whether we'd be at home or at my parents' house. WriteShop Junior is a creative writing curriculum for grades K-6 that is advertised as being a fun option for a writing-phobic child. It includes games and activities in each lesson, and along with writing, it teaches grammar and self-editing. 
Level D is for 3rd & 4th graders and focuses on teaching punctuation and grammar along with planning and organizing your writing. The each of the 10 lessons focuses on a specific type of writing such as writing a letter of invitation, science fiction, and haiku. 

I received these ebooks while my husband was still in the hospital after surgery, and the girls were staying with my parents, a couple hours away. Sitting around the hospital for days, gave me time to read over the Teacher's Guide and get a feel for how to use this curriculum. The Teacher's Guide gives several different options for how to schedule the lessons, taking into account that homeschoolers sometimes do 4 day school weeks or other alternative schedules. I chose a schedule that I thought would work well for Ashlyn and me, and went over the included supply lists to decide what we needed to get. It recommends having a way to keep everything together, so I decided to get a file box with hanging files. It also has a small compartment on top where Ashlyn keeps pens, and other editing supplies. She LOVES it!

The part that I knew would appeal the most to Ashlyn was the Fold-n-Go Grammar folders, and I was right! The first day of each lesson focuses on one aspect of punctuation and grammar. After reading over the information and having the child do a short "worksheet" at the bottom of each page, these pages are compiled into a folder that the child can refer back to as needed throughout the unit, and for other writing assignments as well. Each Fold-n-Go assignment also includes a bookmark (pictured in side the folder) with a summary of the information learned.  Because grammar is an area where Ashlyn realizes she needs help, and is anxious to learn, she loves getting this well-laid-out, easy to reference information. I think if I turned her loose with the curriculum, she'd go through and do all the fold-n-go's immediately, she doesn't like learning things in small increments!

The next part of each lesson introduces that lesson's writing genre, with examples, discussions and games. As I suspected, from looking at the samples on the website, many of the games/activities were abit . . . juvenile for Ashlyn, so in some cases we just discussed the things the game would have taught. Ashlyn is 11, and in most areas is doing roughly 6th grade level work, however because of Level D's focus on basic grammar and punctuation in writing, I felt that was our best option in this case. Since this level is targeted at 3rd and 4th graders, I can see where the suggested games would be a fun, interactive way to teach these concepts to younger students. Some of them have been fun, and helpful, for Ashlyn as well. For example, while learning about adventure stories, we made the pictured cards and had fun making up silly stories by spinning the pencil to choose the story's location(s) and then taking turns drawing random problem, and character cards to tell our story. When we finished this activity, I suggested she file the cards, and spinner in her file box and pull them out if she ever needs some help deciding details of her stories.

Day 3 or 4 of the lesson is journaling.  This allows the child to try her hand at writing the genre without worrying about spelling, grammar, etc. The worksheet pack includes a journal prompt for each lesson, but Ashlyn has chosen to use the blank journal pages (also provided) and come up with her own ideas. Technically journaling should only take a few minutes, but one thing Ashlyn has NOT learned, is how to write something SHORT. Her journal entries are typically several pages long and sometimes takes a couple day to complete. Because she is enjoying it, I've been curbing my propensity to want to STAY ON SCHEDULE and trying to let her take as long as she wants/needs . . . 

After the journaling, it's time for brainstorming the "real" writing project for that lesson. A brainstorming page is included.

Next comes the "sloppy copy". I LOVE using this term, instead of "first draft", and it really helps my perfectionist to remember that she's "allowed" to make mistakes on this copy.

Once the sloppy copy is completed, it's time for proofreading. The recommended proof reading process begins with having the child find, and highlight, some things they did WELL! Then they get busy and use the proof reading marks they've learned, and the grammar and punctuation they're learning with the folders, to self-edit their writing. Only after the child has edited her own work, does the teacher go through and do any additional editing that's needed (so far I've had to do very little editing!).

Now it's time for the final draft. The curriculum allows for the child to just neatly make corrections on their sloppy copy OR re-write a final copy and add decorative details. Needless to say, my artist insists on making her final draft a work of art, as evidenced by her letter of invitation (to a tea party). She even managed to coordinate it with the colored stickers on that week's grammar folder!  There is one final day in each lesson that makes additional suggestions for follow-up activities. We pick and choose whether or not to do those based on time constraints, and Ashlyn's interest.
Ashlyn is LOVING this curriculum. She begs to do it, and, when she's not taking extra days because she's writing 10 times as much as she's required, she wants to know why we can't go ahead and do more than one day at a time. 

I have mixed feelings. Ashlyn's obviously happy with it, but she's a very motivated learner. I personally don't think the "fun" aspects would be sufficient to entice my reluctant writer (Lexie) to do this curriculum willingly (even if she were in the recommended age range, and certainly not now). HOWEVER, it should be noted that we are an eclectic, unschoolish family. If a child had been using a typical "school" writing program, this would be a more fun alternative. Also, as an eclectic, unschoolish family, I generally come alongside my children and we learn together. This curriculum is much more "teacher/student" oriented, which doesn't fit my teaching style (that said, it makes it easy, providing specific scripts for the teacher to read, which is helpful if you're not used to "teaching" per se). As I mentioned above, many of the activities/games weren't a good fit for Ashlyn, so I waited to see if she wanted to do them and, if so, she helped me do the prep work, however the curriculum recommends that the teacher/parent do this prep work before class. It involves lots of cutting and pasting and putting together printables that, it seemed to me, took as long, or longer to put together than the child would use them. It seemed more the type of thing that would work well in a classroom, where the teacher could make the "props" once and use them repeatedly. The Time-Saver Pack helped some with this, but not alot. I think the physical book (rather than ebook) version would be helpful, but if I were purchasing this curriculum, I wouldn't bother purchasing the ebook Time-Saver Pack. The teacher's guide gives easy-to-follow instructions for making your own "props" that are similar to those in the Time-Saver Pack, and often won't take much longer than printing out and "building" the printables. For the rest of the curriculum, you can save abit of money by buying the ebooks, and you'll save significantly, if you plan to use the curriculum with multiple children in the same family (the ebooks are licensed to print multiple copies for use withing a single family), however, if you plan to only use the workbook for one child anyway, having it all pre-printed would probably be worth the slightly higher price. For the Teacher's Guide, I'd let personal preference be your determining factor. It's non-consumable, and the price difference isn't enough that I'd think it would be worth printing the ebook rather than buying the physical book, so it just depends on whether you'd rather look at the Teacher's Guide on your computer, or in a "real" book. Because of all of our travelling, and because I tend to do my lesson planning in bits and pieces wherever I happen to be in the house, I like having it on my computer, where I can't misplace it. Others would, no doubt, prefer to have an actual book they can open and bookmark, and make notes in, and keep with the rest of their school stuff. 

Overall, if you're looking for a curriculum that's more fun than a "typical" schoolish writing curriculum, but still has a more structured feel, this would be a good bet. I also  really like the Grammar folders, I see us continuing to use them, and me encouraging her to refer back to them, long after we've completed the curriculum. They're just a great, easy-to-use reference of basic grammar and punctuation.

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