Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Josefina Story Quilt eGuide by Progeny Press Review

So most people who know us know that we do "school lite" in the summer. Both girls are involved in plenty of activities with kids who attend traditional schools, so it's been the best fit for us to follow a traditional school calendar. However, that doesn't mean that school stops for us. We take time at least a few days each week to keep our brains working. Sometimes it's review, sometimes it's trying out new curriculum, sometimes it's working on that topic we just didn't have time for when life got busy in the spring. One of the things Madison loved about her language arts program last year was the in depth literature studies, so we were happy to add Progeny Press guides to our summer studies. We were excited to receive The Josefina Story Quilt - eGuide this time to review.

Progeny Press

Honestly, when I was looking at the site for Progeny Press, particularly the lower elementary studies intended for 1st-3rd graders and the upper elementary studies for 3rd-5th graders, I was thrilled to find many of our favorites there. We could easily put together a quality literature program with some excellent, classic literature. The eGuides are affordable and extensive, providing plenty of material for a full unit. In our guide, we found grammar lessons, comprehension lessons, extension activities, moral lessons, vocabulary, and overall, enough material for weeks of work.

Josefina Story Quilt

Madison was able to easily read the book on her own, and she read it aloud to both Reagan and I. Rather than doing a chapter a day over six days, which would be difficult with our busy summer schedule, we took a rainy day when we were home and did the reading all in one day.

We've recently read a few books about families traveling in covered wagons during the period of Westward Expansion, so the girls enjoyed brainstorming together about what they would pack in their wagon. Having to justify each and every addition made them really think about the care that went into packing and the tough decisions that would be made. And naturally, their favorite activity was making their story quilt. I liked how the guide gave suggestions about which memories to include. We could have used clip art, but drawing felt more meaningful. We'd read a few books that included the meaning behind quilts this year and how they tell the story of a family or a friendship, so this resonated strongly.

Overall, we really enjoyed working through this eGuide together as a family. Reading and talking about the literature together, like a book club, made our work feel less like "school" and more like we could all discuss things together, where insights and opinions were just as valued as knowing the definition of adversary or where the action verbs were strongest. We've taken to listening to audiobooks in the car, and I'm excited to pull the eGuides for those books as well, taking our family storytime to the next level of literature discussion!

New Study Guides for Literature From a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press Reviews}

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Math Refresher for Adults Review

Right now, in this place in our homeschool, I am a competent teacher and guide. I'm not trying to brag. Trust me on this. It's just that my kids are going into first and third grade. Before they came along, I was an elementary school teacher with a master's degree in education. Elementary school is kind of my sweet spot. Either I know it, and I'm the "expert" on the rules of phonics and simple multiplication, or I can be ok with not knowing it, and we find out the answer of which animals hibernate or the intricacies of the settlement rush in the 1880s together. I'm a resource, a guide, and a co-learner.

But I'm also nervous, because the elementary years go quickly, and things get more complicated. When I was in ninth grade, I hit a road bump with geometry. I had sailed through pre-algebra and algebra, but now I just couldn't make sense of theorems and proofs. I met with the teacher after school with tears in my eyes. It is always in the back of my mind that my math savvy third grader will either a) quickly surpass my teaching skills and realize her mother is no longer effective or b) see that I shut down and feel like she can do that too. I often hear homeschool moms talk about being intimidated by teaching math to their children so I was excited to learn about Math Refresher for Adults from Math Essentials.

Math Essentials

What I like most about Math Refresher for Adults is that it is designed to help without intimidating.  These short lessons make it easy to focus on one topic at a time and the detailed Table of Contents makes it easy to find exactly what you would like to work on.  It makes it perfect for moms and dads who are trying to help their children succeed, but have not worked specific types of problems in a few (or more) years and may be a bit fuzzy. For each lesson in the textbook, there is a corresponding video lesson online. This is key. Sometimes, the brief textbook explanation was enough, but sometimes, I read through and thought...uh...can I have that again? The videos were SO helpful, especially when I braved the geometry. The online videos consist of the instructor speaking as the problem is worked on a digital whiteboard.  You do not see the instructor so there are absolutely no distractions.  You simply watch the problems, write them down, and then read and complete the corresponding lesson from the text. 

Math Refresher for Adults

So, here we go. I did a few pages, and my confidence soared throughout the general calculations and problem solving. Arithmetic was always a strength of mine (and Madison appears to be following in those footsteps). But the point of this book was not to stroke my ego, but to let me work through any weaknesses. So I went to tackle probabilities. I'm pretty good at simple probabilities, but once things get more's time to remind myself. 

As I realized that I do have more abilities than I remember, I began to challenge myself. Integers. Square roots. Scientific notation. Ratios and proportions. Coordinates. Linear equations. Geometry. (And yes, I'm feeling a bit like Anne of Green Gables right now.) Things that I'm sure I used to know, but haven't been part of my life for quite some time. And shockingly, challenging myself like this was actually enjoyable, like any other kind of puzzle. I read, I tried, and if I struggled, those videos were there to help.

I decided that I'll pull out this book during some of our math time next year. The girls need to realize that struggling and forgetting is normal, and this will reinforce that learning is a lifetime process.

Math Refresher for Adults {Math Essentials}

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Bible Study for All Ages - Primary Guide Review

The past few weeks we've had a chance to work together through a different sort of curriculum for our homeschool. Normally, we're (almost) entirely secular when it comes to school work. But we've been using some family time to review the Bible Study Guide For All Ages working through the Primary (1st & 2nd grade) level.

Like I hinted at, we separate our religious education from our academic homeschool curriculum. No, it's not that we only take out the Bible on Sundays, but as far as school is concerned, we take a more secular approach. However, we're in the process of switching churches, so our Sunday school attendance has been more sporadic than I like, which makes this timing seeming just perfect to try this out.

Bible Study Guide for All Ages

One of the issues homeschool moms always run into is trying to find certain curricular solutions that work for multiple ages and stages. Years ago, one mom took the issue into her own hands and solved the problem for her family, creating a Bible curriculum that would fit a range of ages. Once they were grown her children developed this into a full program, with tweaks along the way that completed the evolution into what's available now.  To use this program over four years, you would need to complete two lessons per week year around (no weeks off), or three lessons a week over a school year (breaks throughout the calendar year).

If you were planning to work through all 416 lessons in four years, you could begin with a range of children from three to third grade, and end four years later, together, with everyone still working at a grade appropriate level. Because of the varying levels, this program can change with you and your family over those years. Students start as beginners for the preschool years through kindergarten, move to primary in their first and second grade years, up to intermediate in grades three and four, and finish with advanced in grades five and six. You don't NEED to start in preschool, and you don't NEED to finish in sixth grade.

Bible Study Guide for All Ages

I wanted to have both girls working at the same level, and figured the primary level would work well - Reagan going into first and Madison just leaving second. But I forget that since they're two grades apart, this can be tricky. The stories themselves are fine, but I probably should have bumped Madison up to the intermediate level. The pages were just a hair too young for her and she felt a little babied. I forget that she's an old eight. There's really no way she would be happy continuing this level for the full third grade year. Thankfully, I can do that and still keep us working as a family because the lessons will line up.

It's noteworthy that only the primary level has a teacher's guide, and that's the level we used. In beginner, intermediate, and advanced, all the teacher's guide information is in the student pages. The reason is that most first and second graders are in a stage of big growth in literacy. They're reading, they're past coloring, but they aren't "readers" yet either. The other levels have a teacher KEY, for additional guidance and the correct answers.

And having said that, the girls did enjoy these lessons. All the lessons are interactive, with just enough balance of reading, discussion, and paperwork. We received a book of student pages for lessons 1-26 for each girl, as well as a teacher's guide and a set of summary cards for the books of the Bible. When we did the readings for each lesson, we looked at the book of the Bible the reading came from, and discussed that book, talking about what else was in there and what category that book would fit into (historical, prophetical, etc).

Bible Study Guide for All Ages

The timelines and wall maps are included in the student pages, in a smaller format. We don't have a homeschool room (we just don't feel the need to give up a full room), so we don't have any space for posters, and these are sizable and really need some blank walls. Did we miss them? No, not really. What was in the books worked just fine. However, if I were teaching a class, it would be nice. We also did not use the CD of songs. Not necessary, but I'm sure it's a nice addition to the program. Most kids love any lesson that incorporates music.

Bible Study Guide for All Ages

Overall, while I'm not sure this will be a permanent part of our school time, I can see all of us working through the lessons together.

Bible Study Guide For All Ages {Reviews}

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing Review

We've spent the last year working through a language arts curriculum with a strong grammar component. Madison has only just completed second grade, and I was quite impressed by what they were asking and expecting of her, and I've been developing a new respect for the necessity of grammar in the early grades and we're looking at what we'll be starting with third grade at the end of the summer. Today I want to introduce you to Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 from Hake Publishing.

Hake Publishing

We used Saxon math in kindergarten and for half of first grade, so I'm familiar with the way the program is set up to spiral. Following in the traditional format of other Hake and Saxon materials, Grammar and Writing 3 utilizes incremental development combined with frequent review to help students master the material. It isn't something where you'll have a unit on subjects, and then put those away for a while. Once something is introduced, it will build throughout a few lessons, peak as the focus, and then remain very visible for a while, ensuring that mastery is really attained.

Hake Publishing Writing and Grammar

To be quite honest, the first twenty plus lessons felt like review for Madison, given what she did in grammar throughout second grade. She was quite familiar with subjects and predicates, how to attach the modifier or article to nouns and verbs, and how to do a basic diagram. She was familiar with capitalization rules, plurals, and past tense. However, I find that to be true in the beginning of most curriculum, and I don't think skipping to where things become unfamiliar is the way to go. We used these lessons as a way to get acquainted with the style of the curriculum.

As with other products we've used from Saxon, this is a "no frills" workbook. No color, illustration, or cheerful distractions fill the page. It is solid text, start to finish. The vocabulary is rich, and it assumes a solid third grade reading level. There is not a lot of room to write answers. Madison still doesn't have the neatest, smallest, handwriting, and her biggest frustration was getting her answers to fit in the very limited space.

To be quite honest, even though the material wasn't difficult, getting Madison to complete the pages was a bit of a chore, which we struggled with a bit. She's a good worker, and we worked through it together, but it was dry for our taste.

From the teacher perspective, coordinating the various parts of the teacher guide and student book was a bit annoying. You can't deviate from the script in either book, or you'll find yourself missing things you're supposed to copy from the teacher guide, test days (they say every five lessons, but that isn't always the case) and days to go to the writing lesson. Although it's scripted (actually a drawback from me, something I always avoided as a classroom teacher), the teacher needs to be quite involved in keeping things together and prepared.

There are 111 lessons, along with test days. Each lesson is scripted in the teacher's book to take about 45 minutes to complete. In addition to the 111 Lessons, there are also reproducible More Practice Lessons found in the back of the Teacher Guide. Interestingly, the prompt to do one of these sheets is not mentioned in the Teacher Script, but only found in the Consumable Textbook lesson between the Practice and Review Set. There are also 22 test days. Coordinating with the test days are writing lessons with a separate workbook. We worked through a few of these lessons, even though we hadn't always quite reached the point where we'd be directed over there. These lessons work on the fundamentals of good, clean, writing. Creativity is not the focus, quality sentence and paragraph construction is the goal. For Madison, an extremely reluctant writer, this was actually ok. She didn't need to worry her topic wasn't interesting enough, she just needed to follow the rules. She could do that and did it successfully.

It is interesting to note that Madison steadfastly refused to have her picture taken showing any completed work. She did not like the way the pages looked messy when she completed them, she said her handwriting looked too big, and she didn't want people to see. She's normally a pretty open kid when it comes to this stuff, so her reluctance to show when her own writing didn't seem to "fit" with the look of the page is noteworthy.

Is it a good curriculum? Absolutely. It's thorough, it's clear, it's challenging and it will undoubtedly produce students with a great understanding of the construction of language. Is it for us? I have to say it's probably not, at least not with my child at this stage. It didn't inspire her, it felt like a bit of a chore, where if we could get through grammar today, we could spend some time on literature or history or geography or science or anything else. Forty five minutes of our school day spent only on grammar felt like a big chunk of our time, and I know it would be a battle with her personality and make our school day drag on and on. I always feel guilty when there's a great curriculum that just isn't a fit for us, but one of the reasons we homeschool is so we can always find the right fit! For a student who is a good fit with the style, there is no question they will learn plenty with this program!

Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 {Hake Publishing Reviews}

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Decluttering My Life

My sister put her house on the market a few weeks ago. I don't envy her life at all right now. They had their house decluttered and cleaned and polished. Then, they had it staged by someone their realtor recommended. They put nearly everything away. Rather than a pile of mail on their counter, they have a bowl of lemons. No dish drying rack or sponge out, but a beautifully bottled soap on a beautiful decorative tray stands next to the sink. The kitchen table has a bouquet of flowers. The coffee table holds only a candle. From the main living spaces to the bedrooms to the bathrooms to the kids' rooms, everything is minimalist, clean, and ready to present itself.

It's gorgeous and beautiful, and although my sister admitted that it's nice to have things looking so streamlined and polished, it's also an exhausting way to live, and just once, she'd like to leave the baby bottles to dry on a dish rack. Now that they've sold the house, they're relieved to go back to living like normal (even with the packing and prepping for a move).

Although we are NOT planning on moving, there's something very inspiring about getting rid of clutter, especially when I have two kids who seem to LOVE clutter. We've been working on the girls' bedrooms. They can't seem to keep them clean, and quite honestly, I think it's because they just have too much stuff that they don't know what to do with. We purged three full boxes of things they don't need and at least five garbage bags full of trash, and those rooms are still full.

And quite honestly, as much as I'm encouraging the girls to simplify and purge, I'm not setting the best example. I've joked with people about how if a zombie apocalypse happens, my car will be able to keep us alive with what I can keep there, neatly packed in my trunk (well, mostly neatly). When Madison's dance teacher forgets a straw or fork for her dinner, I'm able to provide. I like to be prepared.

Yet, I can take some steps towards, while not becoming, a minimalist. I can streamline the car kit. I can make sure that what we're keeping, and what I keep stocked, is something we actually need and will use, that it's in good shape, and that it has a home, where it fits and we can find it.

I can declutter my phone, my fridge, my DVR watch list, my car, and my bookcases. I can declutter clothes I don't fit into.

I will never be able to go full on Kondo, full on minimalist, or have my house looking ready to sell at all times, but there's something to be said for a push to get the clutter out.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Too Wired

The wires are taking over.

I had a moment of frustration the other night. Both girls have a kindle and a "phone". I have a kindle, a phone, and a fitbit. All of these devices charge in my bedroom overnight. The girls are definitely not allowed to keep anything in their rooms after bedtime, and having everything charge together seems like the right choice. BUT, this means that MY bedside table is full of rectangles with wires dangling about.

That's not mentioning the laptop plugged in on the dining room table (my makeshift office), the iPad that lives in the kitchen, and Adam's collection of personal and work devices, all of which need to be charged.

There are black cords streaming out from behind nightstands and tables and counters everywhere I look. That doesn't even take into account the chargers in the car (all necessary, naturally), or the appliances that actually need to be plugged in, like TVs and toasters.

For all this wireless world, my world seems to be full of wires. And they are ALL OVER.

I don't know how to remedy this. We need to keep things charged. I don't think we're overloaded, we seem to have a normal amount of "devices" and things that need electricity, but yet I don't see the clutter everywhere.

Maybe it's just that I'm trying so hard to declutter, and these wires, knowing they CAN'T be tossed out, and are just mocking me?

Maybe it's that I'm just focusing on the little things so I don't have to focus on anything big?

Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll figure out the solution!
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