Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It's All Greek to Me

Madison loves the idea of learning new languages, and one of my favorite perks of homeschooling is that we can experiment with learning languages together. I was offered a chance to review koine Greek with Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! - Level 2 Set from Greek 'n' Stuff and I knew she'd have fun with it. Summer is the perfect time to experiment!

Greek 'n' Stuff

Greek, like Russian, Arabic, and many of the Asian languages, can be incredibly intimidating to me because of the alphabet. And, I'm not going to lie, this was a "I really don't know what I'm doing, so let's dive in and try this together" situation. Typically, I can take some sort of authority in what I'm teaching, even if I had to learn or re-learn it myself the night before, but this was really me jumping in and showing Madison that adults are not always the experts, and I would be learning right along with her as a true beginner. When the workbook pages look like this, even my eyes get a little bit wider.

Hey, Andrew!Teach Me Some Greek!

Hey, Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! teaches koiné  or "common" Greek. This is not spoken in Greece today, but was the language spoken and written during the time of Christ and used for the New Testament of the Bible. Although I'm definitely a fan of being able to read and understand ancient languages (we've dabbled in Latin for this very reason), I wasn't sure that I wanted this to encompass our language program. Madison's pull to learn languages is to speak, and engage speakers of those languages. Nevertheless, there's obviously value in this, so we dove in.

Level 2, which was the level recommended for a young beginner (and her mom!), introduces the alphabet and in later lessons moves on to simple words. Each lesson has about six pages of workbook pages to complete which can be spread out over the week. Each lesson takes a week to complete and there are thirty lessons in level 2, so theoretically the program would take one academic year, give or take. There are flash cards included in the back of the workbook that are to be used daily to learn the letters and words. The pronunciation CD includes the reader and pronunciations for level one and level two. Each level is built from the previous level.

Greek 'n' Stuff

Looking at the pages, we were intimidated. Hearing and repeating the Greek was ok, but reading and writing, especially the conjugated verbs, was tough. But we persevered. 

Greek 'n' Stuff

I did all the writing, as Madison's handwriting is still not 100% clear in her first language. The pronunciation is there, but still, I was exceedingly thankful that our program came with a pronunciation CD. We made great use of that.

Are we ready to commit to an entire school year's worth of curriculum? We're not sure yet. We may go back to a fully aural language curriculum, since Madison is still young, or a language using the alphabet she's familiar with. She enjoyed trying to pronounce the words along with the CD, but she wasn't fully on board with the reading/writing component of the flashcards and workbook. We will probably keep this for a few years and revisit when both girls are older - the great thing is that this program works with multiple ages of beginners.

Others had very interesting experiences with ages and abilities, and I was fascinated to read how every family made this program their own!

Teach Me Some Greek {Greek 'n' Stuff Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gathering Around our Twenty First Century Radio

I have made no secret about my love of audiobooks, and recently, I have new five and seven year old converts who are now just as obsessed. When I was given the option to review an "audio production" about the French Revolution, I assumed it would be similar, and since my seven year old just finished a French History unit, it seemed like a good fit. So we've been listening to the newest radio drama from Heirloom Audio Productions called In the Reign of Terror!

In the Reign of Terror

First of all - wow. I've always said that the voice actor is critical to the success of an audiobook. If the voice isn't interesting or a good fit, it can ruin a good story. And there are some amazing voiceover readers out there. But this isn't one or two readers telling a story, as I assumed. This is a full on audio production, with actors that are so talented that you truly believe you are "seeing" this drama unfold. It is captivating. For me, it helped me understand how a family could gather around a radio, completely enthralled in the story.

Heirloom Audio Productions

In the Reign of Terror is the story of the French Revolution full of rich detail. The story begins in Arlington National Cemetary with a man named Harry visiting the grave of a relative.  As he does so, he muses on the French Revolution and compares it to the American Revolution.  Another character, Mr. George, chimes in and offers to tell a story to explain how different they truly were.  And with that, we are in the story.

The story begins with a British boy by the name of Harry who is headed to France to live under the care of an aristocratic family who is looking for a friend and tutor for their son.  As Harry becomes a like a member of their family, the French Revolution takes hold and the aristocracy of France is put under intense persecution.  Money and belongings are seized.  People are sentenced to death for seemingly vague reasons.  It is a frenzy.  Harry vows to protect the children of the family who has “adopted” him with his own life and he does just that, through good fortune, getting into Robespierre's office as a secretary and manipulating situations to save those who are not guilty of anything except their class.

I loved the perspective given in this story.  Instead of focusing on the events from the peasant’s view point, as most stories about the French Revolution do, here instead we focus on how things happened from the aristocracies' point of view. Harry is an admirer of those who fought for freedom in the American Revolution, but soon realizes the French revolutionaries — as noble as their dreams for fair treatment for all citizens regardless of class is — are on the warpath and sentence aristocratic men, women, and children to death without fair trials. Guilty convictions based solely on their class, they defy the very ideal that started the revolution.

I was completely wrapped up in the story, as was my seven year old (the five year old wandered in and out). I was bothered by much of the situations, but neither of my girls were. I've addressed this concept before - my girls can listen to stories, but watching the movie adaption scares them (Roald Dahl books, Harry Potter, etc). I've read articles that suggest that because books cause the reader to create their own images, their brains, working with the description and the only experiences they have to draw from, are able to handle it on their own, while a movie image, "forced" on them, can be terrifying. At any rate, it was true in this case. I was more bothered than they were.

Heirloom Audio Productions

Heirloom Audio has introduced something new called Live the Adventure Club, and we were able to explore it!  This is a complete online community with a lot of great resources.  It is from within this website that you can download a study guide of materials to help you and your family get the most out of this audio drama There are great lists of questions to help you discuss each chapter of the audio adventure with your children. Some of these questions are called “listening well” questions to help you gauge how much of the fast action your family is following and remembering.  The other questions are “Thinking Further” questions and these dive into historical events and encouraging the family to apply common themes from the story to one’s own life. This is not just a simple list of comprehension questions. It adds so much richness and turns an audiobook into a full unit study. There is so much "bonus", that I can't imagine not having it.

Overall, I am not exaggerating when I call this a masterpiece. It's taken active listening to an entirely new level in our house!

In the Reign of Terror {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, July 28, 2017

Keeping My Head in the Game

Ugh. I swear I'm losing my mind.

Either I'm getting old, or I'm just overwhelmed, or I'm tired, or I'm under nourished (or under caffeinated). But things that I used to be totally on top are now slipping through the cracks.

I'm definitely tired, and I'm definitely cranky. I don't know where all my energy went. In the winter, I blamed the weather. Now it's summer, and I'm blaming...the weather?

Because maybe it IS summer. Something about the humidity gives me headaches, and that definitely doesn't help my mind. Pressure? Maybe. It's very frustrating, and feels like crazy first world problems, to be sitting around the pool, whining that my head hurts. The issue I get with these particular headaches, is that, while they are definitely weather related, if I don't catch and treat them right away, they get worse and worse until the only thing that works is a big dose of Excedrin and a few hours of sleep.

Fortunately, in an effort to avoid drugging myself up and rendering myself completely useless, I've found a few things that work. Crazy amounts of hydration (water doesn't seem to cut it as well as Gatorade), inhaling peppermint oil, and - don't judge me - pickle brine.

Now, as the only family member who really likes pickles (Adam will tolerate them and eat them when they're alongside a burger, but doesn't actively seek them out), it's become a joke about that weird jar of yellow-ish brine that Mommy won't let anyone throw away. They make all kinds of faces at me. But I swear, it's helping. I've read a few things online about it being suggested to runners as a way to replace depleted electrolytes, and a few who just tried it hoping for an overall improvement in health. After all, I was a big adopter of apple cider vinegar as a health aid, so this is actually (to me) a tastier improvement. If I can grab some pickle juice and gatorade when the pressure first builds, I can usually have a decent day.

But the memory...some of that is just that my brain is trying to keep too much in it at once. I'm balancing my schedule, both girls' schedules, a homeschooling curriculum, plan, and rapidly growing to-do list, a house and all that requires, shopping lists, to do lists, gifts to buy, things to remember, and it's not going well. I haven't had any major catastrophes yet, but I've had plenty of moments where I've gotten a late notice on a bill (whoops), forgotten to schedule an appointment (usually my own) or have left the store, multiple return trips and all, without the thing I needed, and wandering around parking lots, looking for my car.

So beyond the headache piece, I think a lot of this is just overloaded mind and the consequences of all that. So instead of just crossing my fingers and hoping it gets better, I need to treat it like the headaches and find something that works.

Make a plan to find my car, and be proactive about that.

Keep a all encompassing book to write things in. (a homeschool friend of mine turned me on to this. It's not a planner, it's not fancy. It's a spiral bound journal that is an ever evolving list. I'll go into more detail another day.)

And, you know, more pickle brine. I swear, it works.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Finding Our Kindergarten Reading Feet

When I started homeschooling Madison in kindergarten, we began with a first grade reading curriculum since she was already reading on her own. While that was great, it means that I didn't have a reading curriculum to pull out for my NEW kindergartener, and I am lucky that I get to review one! We were lucky enough to try the Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook (36-week Curriculum) *and* R.E.A.D. Review Pack (28 Early Readers that Correspond with R.E.A.D. Notebook) from The Crafty Classroom. My five year old new kindergarten homeschooler got to be the guinea pig for this one, and she was excited!

Crafty Classroom

The Crafty Classroom is a website full of homeschool resources and printables that are produced by homeschooling mother of 4 kids, Valerie Mcclintick. These are designed to make homeschooling easier. The Crafty Classroom produces high quality homeschooling curriculum and educational resources. Since being introduced to this site over the course of this review, I have purchased and downloaded many pieces to use with both girls, and I think I'll be frequenting the site often in our elementary school years.

The Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook is a 4 day per week over 36 week curriculum that gives you everything needed to teach your child to read. R.E.A.D. is an acronym meaning: Ready, Eager, Able & Determined to READ! It comes as a downloadable and printable PDF eBook that has 785 pages filled with hands-on activities. This covers phonics, digraphs, blends, sight words, grammar, and writing. There are 30 word families, 64 sight words, and 24 blends & digraphs.

READ Curriculum Notebook

The R.E.A.D. Review Pack is a 92 page downloadable and printable PDF eBook that has 28 Early Readers which correspond with the Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook. This can also be used as a stand-alone product, if you are not wanting a full curriculum and just want something for review or extra practice. These cover 30 plus Word Families and 70 sight words. These are great to build fluency and reinforce concepts. These early readers progressively build onto the learning as they go. These had fun graphics and an easy to read font. The little phonics readers are super cute. Since they are put together in pages of threes they are also simple to assemble. Just stack the three pages of each book in order of printing (first on top, last on bottom) and cut out the books pages along the dotted lines. Put the first stack on top of the next pages cut out and so on until all pages are in correct order (they are numbered just in case you get them mixed up), then staple together There are 4 books per a five week period. I printed the first 4 books to use with the curriculum notebook and weeks 1-5.

Review Pack READ

This is a complete reading curriculum for a kindergartener. As someone who has a master's in teaching reading, I can say that I would recommend this to anyone. It's engaging, it's thorough, and it's organized very well. For my kindergartener, who knows her letters and sounds but is nowhere close to reading on her own, it was perfect. It didn't feel like a "baby" curriculum to her, where she traces letters over and over, but it also didn't overwhelm her by expecting too much.

Crafty Classroom

We, generally speaking, school four days a week, so this layout worked well. It's expected that you will use it four days a week and complete the curriculum in about nine months - perfect for a traditional school year.

The only drawback is a big one. The downloaded file is huge. Huge. And nearly eight hundred pages for just the R.E.A.D. curriculum is a lot of printing. I generally print in black and white, but some of these pages really do need color. I would absolutely recommend not printing it all at once unless you have a really heavy duty printer and ample ink.

So can you outsource the printing if you don't want to wear your printer out? I looked at it a couple of ways:

Printing at the library: Our library prints for .10/black and white page and .50/color. Printing the full curriculum in black and white would be about $80 - reasonable for a complete, year long reading curriculum, but still a big financial hit. I printed the first seventy pages in black and white for $7.00 and added my own color with markers to get the effect. Using this as a yearly curriculum, printing a week or two at a time would be reasonable.

Printing at an office store: I priced a few different options at Staples, since that's the most convenient. At first I was excited to find that I could print the entire curriculum - with binding - in black and white for between $50-60. However, the PDF includes pages in both portrait and landscape, and for some reason, Staples didn't recognize this. It wanted to print everything in portrait, or everything in landscape, and pages were getting cut off. I couldn't get it to recognize the difference and adjust online. I'm sure that I could go in and troubleshoot with a printing tech, but  it was a big drawback.

Drawback of double sided printing/binding would be all the cutting and pasting.

I could NOT figure this part out. Not worth the frustration.
Ultimately, I chose to print two weeks at a time. I selected the pages that I thought needed color, and printed them at home with color ink. I printed the other pages at the library in black and white.

Despite this printing drawback, I loved this curriculum. This was one of those reviews that was dangerous, because I spent ages on the site, choosing more and more to download and purchase for both my kids.

New readers are so exciting!

I love to hear what other have to say!

Crafty Classroom {Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Getting Our Hands Messy

Writing reviews of art material is great for me, because I really don't consider myself all that confident in my own artistic abilities. My girls love art and are heading to an art camp in a few weeks, so I considered it a good warm up to work with a new product I was sent.  It is called Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit from ACTÍVA Products.  In addition to the Sculpting Kit, ACTÍVA Products also sent us their ACTÍVA Products’ Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS ebook.

ACTÍVA Products

Not going to mince words - I was intimidated by this product. It doesn't look easy, and it does look messy. Had I not been writing about it, I fear I would have boxed it back up and put it away "for when the girls are older".... which never seems to happen. I'm not proud of my knee jerk reaction to this kind of material, and I'm working on it, but if you're art and mess phobic like me, you might have the same reaction, so I want you to be prepared. Push through and give it a try. It's worth it.

Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit

This box can be thought of as a good "sampler pack". It isn't large, but there is enough to give it a fair try. There are plenty of quantities available.

The directions included in the box weren't great. The type was small and smudgy. However, I wasn’t concerned though because I also had the ebook they sent me as a PDF.  It is bright and colorful with clear directions.  Very easy to read, and great visuals. It includes twelve different projects, and my girls dove right into the beads, made with the Rigid wrap. To use the Rigid wrap you just cut it into strips appropriate for the size of the project, dip it in water, and apply to whatever template you are using. You can shape and smooth before you let it dry.

Madison, who is seven, read the directions with me, and then she was off and running. She can measure, she can cut, and she has a great memory. Reagan is only five, and her measuring and cutting are what is expected of a five year old, so I did some scaffolding - I measured and cut, she wrapped and shaped. It was very easy, and they had a lot of fun. The Rigid wrap dried within a day - and the only tricky part is to keep the beads rotated at first so they don't flatten or stick. Once they dried, we could paint them and start stringing!

Note: when you wrap around a straw, don't wrap around the bendy part of a bendy straw. We couldn't slide it off. Of course, my daughter swears she likes it better that way, so we just cut the straw and made it work, but lesson learned.

The box also contains CelluClay. We played with the CelluClay, but didn't complete a project. I had a hard time finding directions on how to turn the white powder into clay - there were no directions included, which may have just been in my box. I did find them on the website.

We did love the Rigid Wrap, and would definitely try more projects. The CelluClay had a new texture, and I think with more experience, the girls would enjoy it more.

I love hearing about how others used this stuff - so many kids had so much fun!

Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit {ACTÍVA Products Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Perfect Car is Out There

Sponsored post.

It's out there. I know it's out there, and I'm going to figure it out.

We're seriously on the hunt for a new car. My car still runs, but it's starting to show its age (as am I, I suppose). The body has seen better days, there are little things starting to go, and the kids have sort of taken over and messed with everything. Just like me.

The last time we purchased a car was in 2008. We didn't have kids yet. We weren't trying to have kids yet, and honestly, we weren't even sure if we were going to have kids yet, so "family friendly" wasn't a huge factor in our decision making. We weren't entirely short sighted, and we did choose a small SUV, reasoning that we could use the space no matter what, but we weren't thinking about which car worked well with carseats, or provided the most stroller space in the trunk, or had an interior that could easily be wiped clean of spit up.

Now, I know what my current car doesn't have, and I know what I want my new car to have. I want an easy to clean interior. I want ample cabin space, so we don't need to worry about balancing the leg space of the passenger in the front with the car seat integrity of the seat behind. I want a backseat wide enough to accommodate booster seats without covering up the seatbelts. I want a car big enough where carpooling is an option, even if kids are still in booster seats. I want a trunk big enough to hold our giant competition dance bag, while still having room for at least something else back there. I want a car that can handle New England weather, a car that can handle lots of carpool wear and tear, and a car that won't require another income to fill with gas or maintain.

I mean, I'm a mom. I basically live in my car, so I want to love it. I think every mom does.

For most moms who have two or more kids, and/or want to carpool (and yes, you want to carpool. The minor inconvenience of an occasional underage passenger is far made up for by the benefit of not having to participate in every single drop off and pick up), the choice is an SUV or a minivan. And when I say SUV, I'm not referring to the small, five seater we chose the last time we car shopped. Seven seats are crucial, especially when most of the passengers I'm transporting need a backseat space.

SUV or minivan?

That's a slick mom mobile...

...and so is this.

Brand loyalty or branch out?

I go back and forth. Back and forth. I make lists. I research. I obsess. I ask everyone I meet what they think, and shamelessly peek into friends' cars. I have friends who adore their minivans. I have friends who are passionate about their SUVs. I have people tell me they will never stray from their perfect brand. I have people tell me that it's all about the right fit.

And I obsess, and obsess and obsess some more.

The perfect site for me is You can obsess as much as your heart desires. You can compare everything, look at cars side by side, check out pricing, mileage, deals, features - everything. You can read reviews, compare specs, and get some honest, real time feedback about what's out there.

When I'm ready to actually visit the dealership this time, I'm ready to go like a smart mom. I'm bringing the car seats, the giant competition bag, and everything else that needs a test.

That perfect fit is out there. And might just help me find it, without losing my sanity along the way.
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