Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Preschoolers and Peace by Kendra Fletcher

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew,  I was asked to review Preschoolers and Peace: Homeschooling older kids with success while loving the little ones at your feet by Kendra Fletcher.

My first introduction to Preschoolers and Peace was last year when I reviewed another book by Kendra Fletcher, Circle Time. I found many useful ideas in that book, and when I was asked to review Preschoolers and Peace: Homeschooling older kids with success while loving the little ones at your feet I agreed.

Kendra Fletcher is a homeschooling mom of eight children ranging in age from 6 to 21. She started her website, Preschoolers and Peace, after giving a workshop on homeschooling with babies and toddlers, and it has grown over time. Readers of her site kept suggesting that she compile the ideas of the site into an e-book and so Preschoolers and Peace: Homeschooling older kids with success while loving the little ones at your feet is the result.  This ebook is about homeschooling school age children while also caring for your babies and/or toddlers.

The book starts with the absolute, most important, key to all homeschooling, and all parenting. . . prayer! What a great reminder, no matter what age our children are! And not only does she remind us to pray, she gives some ideas on how to make it a priority while raising little ones.

Next, the book gives practical advice on scheduling, including, the VERY important advice to make sure the schedule is working for you, not the other way around, and a reminder to toss the schedule when it's not working for you. Perhaps the most valuable part is an oh-so-valuable list of practical suggestions of ways to keep little ones busy while schooling bigger ones. While I don't agree with everything, there are lots of ideas and suggestions here to choose from.

I loved the suggestions Kendra gives for how to actually fit Preschool in, and the hands-on, real-life suggestions she gives for using these years to teach our little ones along with our older children.

There's also a whole section on preschool boys. I have to admit, as the mom of 3 girls, I only skimmed this section, but who better than a homeschool mom of five boys to give advice on preschooling boys?

The rest of the book focuses on what it's like to parent little ones, including chores for preschoolers, how to cope when you're pregnant, and the "necessities" like meal planning.

I would have LOVED to have a book like this to give me guidance a few years ago!  My youngest, Little Bit, is 6 years younger than my twins, so much of the first years of "really" homeschooling the twins was done with the added challenge of adding a new baby, who quickly turned into a mobile, very busy, toddler to our family. That picture on the left was a pretty common sight for awhile there, but it worked for us.

If you have preschool age children and homeschool, or are considering homeschooling, I'd recommend this book. And at only $2.99 for the ebook, you really can't go wrong!

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Weekly Wrap-up for the Week of Sept 21

Whew! Having fun can be exhausting!

Sunday morning we got up early, packed the car, said our goodbyes, to friends, and the beach, and headed toward home. After a week of perfect weather, it was raining Sunday, made for not so fun loading and driving, but I'm soo thankful it rained then, and not earlier.

We drove as far as my parents' house on Sunday, enjoyed an evening visiting them, complete with homemade peach crisp at my brother's house. Monday we visited my grandma, then headed on home.

Tuesday, Lexie and Ashlyn spent the day helping a friend from church declutter her attic. She said they worked hard all day carrying stuff down the 2 flights of stairs. They seemed to have fun doing it.

My parents also came up on Tuesday to spend a few more days on "projects" around here, so Tuesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon was focused on those projects. Little Bit was thrilled to have Mama all to herself during music lessons Thursday morning and I have to admit, it was nice to be able to just read a book during the big girls' lessons instead of helping Little Bit stay quietly occupied :)

Before our beach trip, Rodney had promised Little Bit a "date" to Chuck E Cheese when we got home. Thursday was the first night that worked in his schedule, and worked well since Mama & Papa had gone home that afternoon. Little Bit invited her sisters to come with her to win her tickets, and they obliged. Rodney said the big girls did a great job of adding to Little Bit's enjoyment of the evening, and she came home with a whole bag of junky little toys that she was super excited about LOL.

And so, finally, it was Friday and we could start catching our breath abit . . . before more busyness this week.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Fix It! Grammar

Ashlyn has been very interested in writing and grammar lately, so when Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) asked us to review one of the books in their newly redesigned Fix It! Grammar series, she was happy to oblige.  After taking the placement test, we decided on Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2].  By a happy coincidence this fits in perfectly with our history studies of the Middle Ages this year.

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) generously sent us both the Robin Hood Teacher Manual ($19) and the Robin Hood Student Book ($15).

You can watch this webinar for a thorough explaination of Fix It! Grammar. Rather than being grade-specific, the entire Fix It! series is designed for grades 3 and up. It is suggested that the child take the placement test and start with the book that is right for them.

The Teacher Manual is the key product to purchase. It comes with information on how to download a .pdf version of the student book for use within your immediate family at no extra charge. If you prefer, you can also purchase a spiral bound Student Book. The teacher's manual is non-consumable, the student book is a workbook, so if you are using it, you will need one per student. The copyright on the Student book does allow for photocopying for multiple students within your immediate family, though it seems easier to print the .pdf than to photocopy each page.

If you plan to print the .pdf student book, you will need a 3-ring binder, with dividers, for each student. If you use the spiral bound student book, you will still need a notebook of some sort, we chose a composition book, for vocabulary words and copying the sentences.

The course consists of 33 weeks, with 4 days per week. This is a simple, straight-forward curriculum, you can easily see how it works from the placement test as well as the samples on the IEW website. Each day looks at one sentence from the story, the child adds punctuation, capitalization, etc, and marks the parts of speech in the workbook. Each day also includes one or two vocabulary words. The child looks them up in the dictionary and copies the vocabulary words and definitions into the vocabulary section of their notebook. Finally, either each day or at the end of the week, the child copies the corrected sentence(s) into their notebook, so that, by the end of this course, the child will have written the complete story in their notebook.

When we received the books, I was very happy with how simple, but comprehensive the start up information is in the teachers manual. In just a few minutes, I knew what we needed to do, and how to do it. On an on-going basis, there is really no teacher prep required, which is definitely a plus in my book! The course is designed for the parent/teacher to instruct the child daily, and check their work. However, because Ashlyn is very self-motivated, we found that it worked best for her to take both the student book and the teachers guide, and work through it on her own, checking her work as she goes.

I love this approach! When I was a kid, I used to sit in church and "edit" the announcements in the weekly bulletin. The man who printed the bulletin was most definitely not an English major, and that was in the days before spell-check. It kept me well entertained for a good part of the sermon. So I understand the "fun" of checking someone else's work. This has been a wonderful way to help Ashlyn recognize proper punctuation, capitalization and grammar. And she's enjoying it as well. She's also focusing on using her best handwriting when copying the sentences, so that, when the course is done, she'll have a beautifully handwritten copy of the story of Robin Hood. Because of needing to have a notebook for the vocabulary and copywork (shhhh .  . .don't tell Ashlyn she's doing copywork, she's always "hated" it, hee hee), if I were purchasing this curriculum, I would purchase the teacher manual and print out the student books so that all of my student's work could be together in one notebook.

When I asked Ashlyn what she thought of the product, she said she likes it. She enjoys editing, so it's right up her alley.

I appreciate that this program builds on itself, instead of being grade specific. In the past, because we believe in delayed academics in some areas, we've found it challenging to find products that taught the early levels in a way that wasn't too "babyish" for my children. Also, because it is not in any way marked as being for specific grades, there's no feeling of being "behind" or "ahead" based on what level a child is at, or how quickly they move through it. This is definitely a grammar program I will recommend to those looking for something that teaches grammar simply, practically, and in a way that isn't burdensome to the child or parent/teacher!

I'm thrilled to have the .pdf version of the student book that I can use with Lexie and, in several years, Lina as well.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weekly Wrap Up - Beach Edition

As you may have gathered by my Wordless Wednesday post, we've been at the beach this week! Friends invited us to join them for a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the girls and I have had a blast (unfortunately, Rodney couldn't take the time off work after being gone so long with his surgery earlier this year).

We left first thing Sunday morning and headed down. It's the first long trip I've taken alone with the kids, and honestly, the last trip we took, the big girls did a lot more fighting and bickering and less helping than they used to, so I was apprehensive, but it went really well. I'd gotten a few little toys for Little Bit, as well as some "treat" snacks (like organic fruit snacks) for everyone and some library books about the beach, so we figured out that, not counting any time for stops, she could have one of each, each hour, which spread out to be SOMETHING every 20 minutes. That made the time fly. We made the 7-8 hr trip with only 2 stops (one for bathroom, one for gas and bathroom), so not too shabby! The highlight of the trip down for all of us was crossing the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel at Virginia Beach! Such a cool, LONG bridge over the ocean!

Once we got to the beach house and got unloaded, all the kids congregated around the foosball table. The girls had never played before, but they soon learned.

I was really nervous the last few days before the trip, because the weather report was NOT looking good. Rain predicted most of the week, ick! But we were sooo blessed! The ONLY rain was on Saturday and, at least where we were, it was only a few sprinkles. The kids had so much fun on the beach!

Little Bit liked building sand castles!

 The big girls were introduced to boogie boarding and jumping the waves! That was their activity of choice whenever the sea was calm enough!

 As the tide started coming in, Little Bit was perfectly content to just lay on her belly and let the waves wash over her. I had to keep telling her to move closer to shore.

 All the kids decided to build a "fort" and see if it could withstand the tide. This one didn't, though ones they built later in the week did.

 In addition to the foosball, there was also a pool table. Another new skill for the big girls, though I don't remember ever seeing Ashlyn playing.

More Boogie Boarding!

 When the riptide warnings were out, there was always the pool to play in.

And when the pool water plus sea breezes got too cold, the hot tub was a great place to chatter at each other while they warmed back up.

One day we went down to a pier to do some sea fishing. Another first for the girls!

Every so often pelicans would fly over, I was fascinated! I also saw them floating on the waves, but couldn't get a decent picture of it.

 Little Bit wasn't overly impressed with spending a whole day mostly watching the big kids fish, but I got some cute pictures of her :)
 She decided the goggles were more useful covering her nose, so she wouldn't have to smell the fish.

 I love that the sun accentuated the freckles on her nose! Such an imp!

 Ashlyn's catch

The kids had cut up some fish to use as bait, but the sea gulls were trying to steal the extras so Little Bit did her part by being the bait guard!

Miss Monica did let Little Bit hold her fishing pole for awhile, but Little Bit wasn't patient enough to hold it long enough to actually catch anything.

Lexie's catch

Lexie wasn't at all squeamish about getting in there and cutting up the fish, in this picture she was cutting up the "scraps" to throw to the sea gulls after Miss Monica filleted the fish, shudder!

A couple of evenings the entertainment was "crabbing" on the bay side of the island. None of us eat crabs, but the kids thought it was fun to catch them, just to look at them and then let them go. 

Even Little Bit could hold the string and wait for a crab to go in after the bait, though the older kids had to bring the traps up.

Lexie was the crab whisperer (I teased her that it's because she's so "crabby"), she caught several crabs, and when just using bait tied to a string another night, even had an aligator gar on the line a couple times, though it, of course let go before she could pull it up. She also had no qualms about holding the crabs she caught :)

This is just a bonus picture. She was in the background of a different picture, not sure what she was doing, but it made me smile to see her braids flying :)

Ashlyn was happy to hold the crab too.

Another bonus picture of Little Bit just because she's so darn cute!

While the big kids were "crabbing" Little Bit noticed this tree and wanted to go "limbo" under it :) 

And that was pretty much our week. Fishing, swimming, playing in the sand. When the kids were in the house the played fooseball, pool, and monopoly. 

Saturday was our only rain day and for the girls, and their friend, M, it became Junior Ranger day. We had all planned to go do the Wright Brother's Junior Ranger the same day we fished off the pier, but spent too long fishing and ran out of time. So we just stopped by the park and got the books for them to work on at the beach house.  Saturday morning the finished up all of the Junior Ranger stuff the could do off-site and then we headed to the Wright Brother's Memorial. M's brother, N, opted to go with another group, so it was just the 4 kids and me. 

We attended a ranger program that explained how the Wright Brothers' plane worked, and how similar the basics are to modern planes (amazing!), and then we hiked out to the memorial where it, inconveniently, started to rain. As we hurried back through the rain, Little Bit declared that "God must be sneezing" which cracked us all up. We spent some more time in the visitor center and then the kids all got their Junior Ranger badges.

After lunch, we decided to head on down the road another half hour or so, and also visit Raleigh Fort on Roanoke Island. The website had only mentioned a web ranger, so we weren't sure if there would be a junior ranger to earn on-site, but the kids figured it would be fun to explore regardless, and Lexie and Ashlyn are "purists" and only want Junior Rangers for places they've been, so even if they had to earn the badge online, they wanted to be able to say they'd been there. Once we got there, there WAS a junior ranger book to do on site, and a rather involved one for the big kids, a large crossword puzzle AND a page-long "fill in the blanks" activity, both of which had them scouring the visitor center pretty thoroughly. I had to smile, earlier in the week I'd noticed, and the kids had also noticed, that Lexie and M are extroverts and Ashlyn and N are introverts. So, true to form, Lexie and M happily worked together on their junior ranger books the entire time, while Ashlyn did her book in a different order to make sure she was doing hers on her own. Little Bit quickly finished her (much less involved, naturally, since she's 5 and they're 11) requirements and she and I watched the squirrels and she played on my phone, and scouted out the whole visitor center for buttons to push. Once we were done, they were all sworn in as Junior Rangers for the second time that day, and then we hiked out to the earthworks before heading back.

We got back just in time to eat supper and the kids all played for a little bit longer, until sundown, when it was time for everyone to start working to pack up and sort out who's stuff is whose.  By the time I tucked them in, we were as packed as we could be, and the car was partially loaded, ready to eat breakfast, finish loading the car, and head out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: My Student Logbook

A few years ago, if you'd told me we "needed" a Student Logbook from My Student Logbook, I probably would have rolled my eyes and told you that they didn't fit our homeschooling style. But things change . . .

Much to my annoyance, the state we live in has extensive rules about what homeschoolers have to report to the local school district. When the girls were younger, while I still found it annoying, I at least knew everything they were doing, because we worked together on everything. The last year or so, we've discovered a new challenge. More and more of Lexie and Ashlyn's schoolwork is independent. Because we don't do "grades" they check their own work, as needed, and ask me when they have questions about things, but I have no reason, except for the state's regulations, to know specifically what subjects they do each and every day. I honestly don't CARE if, one day Ashlyn spends a big chunk of time on math and doesn't get around to handwriting, and then another day, the opposite happens. I'm perfectly content to check in every so often and see how they're progressing, which normally I can tell just by listening to their chatter :) But for whatever reason the state wants to know exactly which books we use which days, sigh . . .

After trying a variety of approaches I had settled on a small white board with each of their independent work written on it. They checked off what they did each day, and at the end of the week, I recorded it in my spreadsheet along with the non-independent work that I keep track of.

When My Student Logbook came up as a review product, and I started looking at it, I realized that it would accomplish EXACTLY what our white board was accomplishing, but also keep a permanent record of it! PERFECT! I showed the website to both girls and asked about it. For some reason, Lexie didn't want to change, she likes the white board, but Ashlyn loved the idea of having her own book to record her work in, so she perused the large selection of cover designs and chose her favorite (Butterflies and Roses). I chose to get the undated logbook so that we could customize it as needed, since we school year-round.

My Student Logbook is available for $15 and is suitable for 2nd grade and up. Personally, I feel that the value in this product is in recording independent work, which for us, doesn't start until more like 5th grade, but each homeschool family is different in that regard. As long as your child can read and write enough to know what's on the checklist, this can be a great tool.

The My Student Logbook website has great videos explaining how the logbook is set up. In the front of the book are pages to write the list of subjects/tasks that you want your child to do. Then you can cut that list out, tape it onto the back of the first (or next) logbook page, and fold over. Then the list of tasks gets re-used from week to week until you need to change your child's task, when you get another task list and start over. I LOVE that! The back part of the book, after all the logbook pages, includes some "about me" type pages, which I left option for Ashlyn to fill out as much or as little as she'd like. If she does fill it out, it will make it a nice "memory" of what was important to her at this age. That section also includes pages for recording test scores, which doesn't apply to us, and books read, which we're recording in the regular logbook pages, so I would guess at some point Ashlyn will just pull those pages out and get rid of them. One final note, I love that the back cover of these books are a nice heavy vinyl material, it makes it so much sturdier and easier to write on when you're not at a table or desk.

As I mentioned earlier we opted for the undated version. We school year round and our reporting for the state "starts over" on July 1, so the dated options don't work with our schedule. I was also glad to find that the book's copyright gives permission to photocopy additional copies of the task list if needed. Especially with all the reviewing we do, the specific list of independent tasks do change pretty often.

Another way that I wasn't sure about was how to handle the fact that I need to know specific book titles, for our state reporting. So, one of our "assignments" is that I ask each girl to read at least one chapter in a book of her choice each day, but I need to know which book she's reading from. That was an issue we'd never fully addressed with our white board system, but with this, there's a handy "notes" section that hides under the to do list flap. I simply added a note on the task list, instructing her to write the title(s) for that week on the notes section. Then when I go to record the week's work in my spreadsheet, I can lift the flap and easily see what books she used each week. You can see in the picture on the left, that she's writing in the chapter book, or books she reads (if she reads multiple books in a given week, she comes up with different tic marks to indicate which book she read each day, she came up with that idea all on her own!), and also which Life of Fred book (currently Kidneys) she's working on.

I have to admit, I wasn't sure what I'd think of this one when I first glanced at the website, but after watching the videos to get a better feel for exactly how it was laid out, I knew it would be a great fit for us! Ashlyn is loving having a "pretty" book to record her work in, and I love having the permanent record. I'd really like to get Lexie switched over to using a Student Logbook also, but for some reason she's resistant to the idea and it's a battle I'm not willing to fight when she's willing to continue using the white board method.

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