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 complicated...it'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. We've been using some family time to review the Bible Study Guide For All Ages working through the Primary (1st & 2nd grade) level.

Typically, 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

Bible Study Guide For All Ages was created back in the 70s by a mom who couldn’t find a suitable Bible study program she could use with all her children due to their varying ages. Years later, her children developed this into a full program that has been improved into what you see today.  To use this program over four years, you would need to complete two lessons per week year around, or three lessons a week over a school year. There are 416 lessons in all. Because of the varying levels, this program can grow with you and your family over those years. The levels are:

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.

The big "difference" in primary is that no other level has a teacher’s guide; all the information is contained within the student pages. The reason for this is that kids this age are reading, but may not be reading well yet and are largely past the stage of simply coloring. Therefore the teacher guide provides a way for the parent to help as necessary and still act as the teacher. The upper levels have a teacher key available so you can check their answers or if they still need more direct guidance from a parent, but it’s not required in the same way as the teacher guide is for the Primary level.

And having said that, the girls did enjoy these lessons. They 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 book 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 the reading came from, and discussed that book, talking about what else was in there and what category that book would fit into.

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. 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!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Silverdale Press Review - White House Holidays

The girls LOVE history. I think most kids do, especially when we take it out of the "textbook" context (not that my K and 2nd grade daughters are doing much in the way of textbooks) and turn it into a story. Two years ago, when Madison was in kindergarten, she loved learning about the presidents and she had such fun impressing random adults by listing the presidents in order, or throwing in random facts about the less famous terms. This year I hoped Reagan would pick up the baton (with two children both named after presidents, we had a legacy to keep up) but it wasn't the right year for her and we put it to the side. What hooked her back into learning about the presidents was the White House Holidays Unit Studies from Silverdale Press LLC. Now she had some context she really was interested in!

Silverdale Press

The White House Holidays Unit Studies teach the history behind the following American Holidays:
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Labor Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas

The beauty of unit studies is that we can all work on them together. Madison doesn't feel babied and Reagan doesn't feel like she's in over her head, and I'm learning new facts right along with them. This was clearly the case with these particular studies. They were easily adaptable to everyone. These units all include optional hands-on projects mostly intended for the elementary student.  They are simple and don’t require too extra supplies OR too much printing (a pet peeve of mine with printable curriculum or unit studies).

We started with Veteran's Day, because of a discussion that was sparked a few weeks ago by Memorial Day. We started talking about both holidays and what the difference was, and how they started. It seemed perfect. The most intriguing thing about these unit studies is that they are all taught from the perspective of the president who sat in the White House when the holiday was first created.
We moved on to Thanksgiving next, and quite honestly, we're still in the thick of it - only halfway through the four lessons. In our family, unless we have good reason to, work on each unit study over the course of a month, so we can dig in without abandoning the rest of our daily curriculum. Most of the holidays have 3-5 lessons, and you can complete a lesson in a day, so for us, that puts us right where I like to be at 3-5 weeks. I know plenty of families who make unit studies their primary curriculum and could complete one holiday a week - and that's an amazing thing! But that's not how we work, so in three weeks we just finished our Veteran's Day.  We'll keep working through Thanksgiving, which so far, seems to be correcting a lot of misconceptions my kids seemed to have picked up!

Overall, all three of us really enjoyed working on this together, and I think we'll keep up with the rest next year! These are engaging lessons that take things kids can really relate to - holidays! - and tie them in with how they came to be celebrated by a country at large.

Persuasive Writing & Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers & White House Holidays Unit Studies {Silverdale Press LLC Reviews}

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