Tuesday, June 12, 2018

ARTistic pursuits Review

One of my first pieces ever picked up for syndication was called "I'm Not a Crafty Mom, and that's OK". That was four years ago, and in those four years, I'm finding that I'm still not a terribly crafty (or artistic) mom, but I somehow produced kids with a great desire for visual art and plenty of crafts. We've tried a few art programs in our homeschool, but none have really stuck so far. We don't use the computer often, so online lessons aren't a long term solution we'll stick with, and if it requires a lot of prep from me, it's probably not happening for long before I flame out. The girls have both taken artsy classes in our co-op and I send them to both day long and week long art camps at a local studio, and I will buy plenty of supplies at craft stores, but I can admit that this is not the art education they deserve. After a few weeks of doing this review, both girls beg to do art lessons with the Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary, part of the ARTistic Pursuits Art Instruction Books with DVD and Blu-Ray from ARTistic Pursuits Inc.

 ARTistic Pursuits

The series is for kindergarten to grade 3, and we chose the first volume since it seems like the best place to start if you've never done anything like this before. Volume 1 is called Art for Children, Building a Visual Vocabulary, and it features 18 lessons, including 6 video lessons. There are currently six volumes, with two more on the way. Each is intended to span one semester and the complete set will be sufficient for four years of early elementary art instruction at the pace of one lesson per week. Personally, as someone with a two kids two grades apart, I liked that I could very easily use this with both girls at once, without feeling like I was going over my kindergartner's head or talking down to my second grader. They can both do the lessons on their own level.

 ARTistic Pursuits

First of all, I love that there is not only a list of materials for the entire book start to finish (so much better than at the beginning of each lesson, causing last minute homeschool moms to panic during breakfast), but there is a picture of these supplies. I cannot tell you how helpful it is to see that. Watercolor crayons totally threw me at first, so it was nice to have a recommended brand. I gathered supplies for each girl and created an "art class box" that we used ONLY for art lessons, so we didn't find ourselves searching for oil pastels or watercolor paper, only to discover that they had been used up. Honestly, I love curriculum that really gets parents prepared to start right and be successful.  You can actually order the starter pack straight from the website to ensure you have exactly what you need. Since we already owned some supplies, and I'm pretty good with coupons and discounts and comparing prices, I was able to get two complete sets on my own for less, but if you aren't close to a craft store, it a nice option. In fact, you can bundle each book with a supply kit, ensuring that you are ready to go right from the start.

Each lesson in the hardcover textbook includes:
  • a blurb about the lesson and setup for the parent
  • a short portion to read aloud to introduce the concept (such as “artists observe”)
  • a full color piece of art that is relevant to the current lesson, with a little about its history along with some questions to ask the kids to get them thinking
  • directions for what the child is to draw or create for that lesson
  • sample and instructional images to help the child along
As the parent, I was guiding them along, using the prep notes and book, but I found that I was most useful to them when I did the lessons with them. We liked using the DVD together and experimenting with new things like blending watercolor crayons.

Madison's favorite toy - her dollhouse.

Now, I know I said I kept the supplies contained for art time only, and I did hold to that. But one of the biggest lesson was observing and drawing the world around them, using the techniques in the lessons. So I got them both sketchbooks. With our every day crayons/colored pencils/markers/gel pens/pencils/whatever was handy they did both draw quite a bit and put their observational skills to use in the sketch books. Reagan is still in the stage where she gets frustrated when things don't look quite right, but Madison filled an entire book in two weeks.

Overall, I am planning to go through the rest of the book in our new school year, trying to keep the pace with one new lesson a week. I'm not sure if we'll do the rest of the volumes in order, but we'll keep things going!

Artistic Pursuits Full Video Lesson Grades K-3 {ARTistic Pursuits Reviews}

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

New American Cursive Review

Ah, handwriting. Neither of my kids have the gift for good handwriting, and it takes effort and deliberation to go from big and sloppy to the neatly formed letters that I feel they need. Madison is a still reluctant when we do copywork in print, but she loves cursive. Something about it makes her feel adult, fancy, and it logically makes sense to her. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of cursive material intended for younger students - it all seems to assume that most kids start cursive at the end of 3rd grade at the earliest. It made sense that we review New American Cursive I from Memoria Press.

Memoria Press

New American Cursive 1 is designed with the first grader in mind. This would mean Madison is actually a little old for this, but since she's still a beginner when it comes to cursive, she started here happily. Unnecessary strokes are eliminated - the alphabet has 26 fewere strokes than most cursive methods. Letter forms are simplified, but retain the classic form. The slant is slighter - it's not vertical, which is tiring and slows down writing - but it makes it easier for righties AND lefties. The slant used is a nice balance.

The program itself was created to be simple, clear, and effective. The focus is on accuracy and legibility. The included teaching guide suggests lessons that should take twenty minutes a day for practice in the book.

New American Cursive 1

New American Cursive 1 features the character, Mr. Meerkat, As the book’s guide, he makes learning tasks fun; step by step, he shows the way to draw each letter and encourages creativity. There are clear arrow directions for letter creation, and plenty of shaded letters to trace for practice. Madison loved Mr. Meerkat, and loved the chance to color him in, and draw along with some of the pages. She loved that language too - helping the letters hold hands, climbing and sliding, even ending with a smile! I will say that Madison, at the end of second grade, but still seven, did love this, but the language is definitely for younger students. An older beginner might not love it quite as much and need something else to get them started. I'll probably start Reagan on this next year as well, along with her print copywork, and it would be right at her level as a first grader.

New American Cursive

Memoria Press has several more books in the New American Cursive series.  There is New American Cursive 2 (Famous Americans), New American Cursive 2 (Scripture), New American Cursive 3 (Scripture & Lessons on Manners), New American Cursive 3 (Famous Quotes & Lessons on Manners). They also have StartWrite software, for using the NAC alphabet to make customized sheets for spelling words, name practice, and other extensions. I will definitely be getting this once we finish the book, since I think that the best way to practice handwriting is to write things you need to learn! Honestly, I'm having a hard time holding myself off from grabbing this right away, and I wish I'd gotten a chance to check this out along with the book! I need this software in our homeschool.

New American Cursive & Traditional Logic {Memoria Press Reviews}

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Home School Navigator Review

I really like all-in-one, literature based language arts curriculum. Our current curriculum, which we do really like, has everything but the phonics and spelling. I like the idea of everything together, ready to go. For the past few weeks, we have been using the Orange and Green Levels of Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum from Home School Navigator.

Home School Navigator

The levels follow the rainbow color scheme through six levels, K-5. Madison is finishing up second grade now. Since I would rather start a program at the beginning, rather than the last month, I put her in Green, which is third grade. I did the same for Reagan as she wraps up kindergarten, giving her a taste of first grade with Orange.

Home School Navigator

Each level includes a 36 week course with:

· Daily Reading, Writing, and Word Study Lesson Plan (including flex days for your busy schedule!)
· 60 Instructional Videos
· Word Study Program (including word wall headings, cards, and games)
· Activities That Encourage Multiple Learning Styles
· Monthly Skills Checklist
· Portfolio Maintenance
· Monthly Goal Sheet/Portfolio Check-In
· Downloadable Review Games
· Interactive Notebooks

The programs are year long subscriptions. The great part is that you can change levels if necessary. If I don't think something is a great fit, I move the level easily. The program is MORE than thorough. I was blown away by the amount of material this program provides.

We are typically not an online learning sort of family. I use apps and games for extension, and I do like videos, but I did a lot of printing. The printing isn't necessary, but we're paper/pencil schoolers, and the program accommodated that. I need a hard copy of lesson plans so I chose to print out the weekly guide to get us started. On the level homepage you have a list of tabs; these tabs are the Master Book List for the level, the monthly handouts and the weekly lessons. The lessons are listed in month, week and day format like this Level Orange [1.1.1] – this means month one, week one, day one. This makes it very nicely organized and quick to find the lesson you need for the day.

The girls really liked the videos, and I liked that I could watch them in advance while prepping, then use that video time to work with my other child.

Like other literature based language arts programs, an issue is always getting the books for each week. I really liked how you had the FULL book list available to prepare. This site also links you to spots you can buy, but I like to check out the library first, and if I have enough advance notice, I can request inter-library loans.

Each day there is a list of activities for your child to complete, some are in video format and the others are paper/pencil. After your child completes the lesson for the day, you can choose to upload your child’s work and compile notes. I prefer to keep everything with paper,  so I am just keeping all the hard copies in a binder designed for this program divided by the monthly guide. Then you check the box that states your child has successfully completed the lesson for the day (I am terrible at remembering this, thankfully you can go in and do a few at once). This records their progress so if you somehow forget where you are in the program you can find out by the seeing which lessons have been completed. We don't have to report or share portfolios in our state, so this is just for my records, but if you were required to turn in records, I would think this would make it incredibly easy.

We've really been working on writing with Madison, and I think that the writer's notebook finally helped the writing piece sink in. She liked the set up and began to understand more the "purpose" of writing and keeping a notebook. Reagan has been eyeing Madison's word sorts all year, and was very happy to get to do a few of her own!

Overall, I really do like this program. The few cons I have are very specific to my own tastes in how we school:
1. If you're a print person, you'll find yourself printing a lot and plenty in color, which adds up quick. For a program I'm paying for, I do like to have the print outs there.
2. Your child WILL be getting on the computer to do lessons at least several times a week.
3.  Not every book is a favorite, but they all do serve a purpose.

Overall, I highly recommend it. The interface was clean and easy, the lessons are high quality, complete, and well planned, and I was able to manage two kids with almost no confusion!

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Messy Learning for Preschoolers and Kindergartners - PandaParents Review

Reagan is just finishing up her kindergarten year with me at home, and as usual, it's so humbling to look back and see the amount of growth the kids make during these early years. She's well on her way to becoming a real reader, she's amazing me with math, and she's loving learning about the world. But as exciting a time as having an early learner is, it can be terrifying too. What if I do it wrong? What if I mess up this foundation and they struggle FOREVER? It really helps to have a guiding system. PandaParents have created an immersive learning series called MESSYLEARNING FOR PRESCHOOLERS AND KINDERGARTNERS. Don't worry - MESSY isn't really messy. It stands for:
  • Mixed subjects & activities for integrative learning
  • Engaging activities that challenge minds
  • Simple 1-2-3 steps: READ, LEARN, CREATE
  • Smart designs for creative learning
  • Yeah, a new way to learn!


We received digital access to the program, since it's so new that the physical books aren't ready yet. We had access to the videos on Vimeo, each of the eBooks on PDF PowerPoint, and the workbooks to go with each, also on PDF PowerPoint. Instead of learning just one subject at a time and mastering one level, or stepping stone, at a time, like many other preschool online programs or videos do, M.E.S.S.Y. Learning combines subjects and focuses on building brain networks with creative designs. The program is definitely for child and adult to do together. We would read the book (online), then watch the video, and talk about it.

Panda Parents Kindy Curriculum

Reagan is definitely on the older edge of the target audience, but as she finishes up her kindergarten year, she'll still enjoy programs like these. We printed out the workbooks. They are colorful and engaging, which is wonderful. I really wish we'd had the physical copies to use. Not only would it have saved me on printer ink (you really need the color!) but they'll have stickers to place. The workbooks should take about a month to complete, working at a pace of 2-3 days a week. This would be very doable, even for a young preschooler. Reagan was able to fly through them, but since she turned six in February, that's not surprising.

We covered all three books (about three months worth of work) pretty quickly, but for a young preschooler, one book would fit very comfortably into one month and be "enough" school.

The first book, A Jolly Jingling Journey, was two holiday stories where they highlight the letter J. I like that the book was not written in preschool language so there was plenty of vocabulary. The second book was called Mommy’s Baby. It was really cute and compares several different things, working on matching and comparing (big/small). Reagan loved this one because there was so much information on animal babies. Her science this year has focused on animals, so she was excited to see the babies! The third book we read was Scotty Skunk Hears a Scary Sound. Reagan loves the Scaredy Squirrel books, so she really liked this one too. This book focused on seasons and different places, as well as the letter S.

Panda Parents Kindy Curriculum

This would be a really fun program for a true preschooler. It builds a good foundation and starts formal learning off in a really fun way. It's not a "learn to read" program, and it wouldn't be enough for kindergarten, but it's fun for the littlest learners. I wish it had been around when I started homeschooling both girls. I also wish we'd gotten the print version, so we could really see the workbooks. Still, it's obviously a great and well designed layout.

This innovative and exciting learning package for preschool through Kindergarten is available as a monthly subscription. You will receive print books, eBooks, workbooks, art supplies, and video read-to-me books all for the great price of $9.95/month. Right now, you want to pre-order to lock in the price. The estimated shipping date for the print books is November 20, 2018, and the online content will be available December 1, 2018.

Messylearning For Preschoolers and Kindergartners {PandaParents Reviews}

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Best Mother's Day Surprise

I like Mother's Day.

In 2011, on my first "official" Mother's Day, when I was a mother with a child who'd been born, I tried too hard. I wanted a happy day for me, I wanted a day for my mom and I didn't want to leave out my mother-in-law either. Plus, Madison had three living GREAT-grandmothers, and I had this idea of gathering ALL the moms together in our home. Madison had a really rough bout right before this, and it was important to me that it be an amazing day.

It was not. Adam did his best, and we had a great morning, but there is nothing amazing about hosting two sets of parents, three aging widows, and two siblings, when you have a baby who is still dealing with some pretty major issues. Not to mention that other issues decided to blow up THAT day, DURING the event, and pretty much soured the entire thing.

So in 2012, when I was a mom of two, I changed my tune. I would celebrate the moms in MY life on Saturday. But Sunday was for ME. Being a mom was HARD, I was full time at home with two under two, completely buried in the life of a new stay at home mom of newborn and toddler, and I wanted my one day. Starting that year, we had breakfast together, and I took the rest of the day OFF and AWAY. I love my family deeply and truly, but I wanted ONE DAY. Just one.

Ever since then, Adam has been amazing. He gets it. We do breakfast, and I head out for some alone time, and then he brings the girls to his mom's. While they're gone, I might steal back home for some quiet time in the house. Later, we have dinner together, which I neither cook, nor clean up. It's a perfect day.

This year, Adam broke from tradition. He didn't want to bring the girls to his mom. He wanted to bring her here, to our house. He SWORE to me it would not change my day at all. I still could go out. I would not have to plan, prepare, serve, or clean up the meal. I would not have to clean the house.

I was still skeptical. I didn't buy the idea that I wouldn't have to clean before (I knew the dining room would have to be dealt with, and that's my room to handle). And although I would be participating as a guest, I would still have to be in "we have company" mode, not "I'm hanging out in my yoga pants" mode. And sure, he'd cook and do the initial clean up. But I knew I'd be dealing with the aftermath Monday morning. I was cranky. I felt pretty selfish feeling cranky, but I was cranky. I like my in-laws, but I was also spending all day Saturday with MY family. Where was my ONE DAY?

It went fine. I was still a little resentful, but Adam kept his word, and aside from cleaning the dining room before and putting the china away on Monday, he handled it. I did have to be social. Yet there was a silver lining.

My father in law brought over the car brochures and the potential specs for my new car, including the kind of details that dealers know. My brand new, first model year, PLEASE hurry up and get here car was becoming REAL.

Best. Mother's. Day. Surprise. EVER.

I'll take it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Kids Email Review

The girls are no strangers to mobile technology, but anything that connects them to the greater world of the internet makes me nervous. They're definitely still young for social media, but even email can be tricky. I set Madison up with an email not too long ago for a variety of reasons (emailing her grandmother, connecting to her educational sites), but to be honest, I was too nervous to let her use it. Although I set it up as a sub account of mine, and with plenty of filtering, and I have total access, I was still horrified at the amount of spam that gets through. But I also didn't want them to not know how to communicate, or to have to rely on my account, or go only through iMessage with family. This offer to review a year's subscription really came at the perfect time. My girls now have their own Kids Email!  Both of them have been sending and receiving emails with a one-year subscription to Kids Email Safe Email for Kids

Kids Email

What I love about this is that it's the perfect bridge to electronic communication. It's a real email address. You can email people on other platforms, you can receive email from other platforms, and everything about it functions like true email. Your child sets up their account with their own name (I let my girls have free reign, which is how we have one dance driven name and one My Little Pony driven name) and password. However, the parent is still in control. There are options for every stage. A parent can say that email can only be sent to people in the contact list, received from people in the contact list, and the parent can even get a copy of all sent and received email in their own inbox.

Kids Email

Right now, I have the girls set up where they can only email people on their contact list and receive from people on their contact list, but I opted NOT to have copies sent to me. They are only emailing people I know, and I'm ok with that. If an email comes in from someone not on their list, I get a notification, and I can accept or reject it. I do have access to the account as a whole, so I can do periodic spot checks, same as I do with their messaging groups (they each have a group set up with their dance teams, and all the moms know about it and read through the chains periodically). The best thing about this is that we can adjust as necessary. It's teaching how to use technology with training wheels.

It's incredibly specific. You can restrict all attachments, allow all attachments, or go into detail (allow word, PDF, restrict pictures. Allow pictures, but no links). You can really fine tune the details. You can restrict access to certain times of day as well (we haven't done this, because we have control over the devices).

One other feature that we have not used yet, but that I think will be beneficial over the next few years as the children get older is the option to change the email from kidsemail.org to ‘kmail’ and use an interface designed for older children/teens. This is a way to start that transition with older children to a "regular" email, but still monitor and guide their usage as needed without making them feel like they are using a "baby" email.

Since we're primarily mobile users, I wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be web based only, and it's not. The app is incredibly easy. We all have it on our phones, and so far, that's what we've been using.

I can see all the accounts from my app.

The girls can email each other and get creative. All the emojis work, they can draw, and they can practice their typing.

All in all, I like this email program. We aren't using everything, but it's great to know that they've really thought of everything a parent might want. It's not free, but a year of access is $2.99/month for up to six accounts, and that's a small price when you consider all the monitoring and headaches that go on with a free web based email.

Safe Email for Kids {Kids Email Reviews}

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