"From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised." Psalm 113:3

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our Massive Winter Wanderings...Part One

You may have noticed that this blog has been a bit silent lately.  There are some good reasons for that, and some not-so-good reasons (namely, I simply cannot figure out a workable game plan for getting anything done lately), but there is one massive reason that I'm going to share over the next week or so.

Our family just returned from a huge, mega, outrageously crazy road trip.

Emphasis on the crazy.

This is the first year in many that we have been tied to a public school schedule, as Turtle is a freshman in our local high school this year.  With her Spring Break coming up, it seems I may have been a bit frantic about making sure we made the most of our time off.  

She got out of school at 1:40 on a Thursday, and we left town at 8:00 am Friday morning.

Just me and the kiddos (Daddy had to work, no way were the dogs either welcome or fitting in the car), and a car completely loaded down with everything on earth we could possibly need for this ten--yes, you read that right--TEN day road trip.


Well, ugh on the driving.  And on the being away from home and hubby for so long.  And on the single parenting.  And definitely on the cold.

But YAY on the company, and the adventures, and the sightseeing, and the visiting, and the hugs and love and just overall wonderfulness that was our crazy road trip!

First things first.  We left our home in Florida (where, may I say, it was over 80 degrees and sunny the ENITRE time we were gone...) and headed to stop number one:  Maryland.  I have a ton of aunts, uncles, and cousins all over the state, so we made this our first overnight stop.

12 hours later, we pulled into my aunt and uncle's driveway, where there was a minuscule amount of snow--SNOW--on the ground (which of course I can not find pictures of now...)  And I had been made all too aware that my children were long overdue for a trip up north when my eight year-old asked, in the car on the way up, "Mom, what do you think happened to all of those trees?  Was there like a fire or something?"

Because they had no leaves.

I had to explain to him that that's what winter looks like.

My apologies now to all of my readers who don't live in Florida.

After a brief romp in the one snow pile the kiddos found, we eagerly went inside, stretched out, and enjoyed not being in the car.

For a little while.  Because after going to bed and waking up nice and early, it was time to get back in it again.  For what I had thought was going to be a nice, easy 5-6 hour drive to Rhode Island.


Like seriously.  Ha.

More like, rainy, low visibility, confusing, exhausting 8 -9 hour drive.

Which somehow took me on a tour of Yankee Stadium that I KNOW wasn't on the original plan.

Notice the beautiful, sun-shiny weather?

Yeah.  Ugh again.

We did finally make it to Newport, Rhode Island, just in time to see the remnants of the St. Patrick's Day parade still wandering through downtown.  Think green dogs, green hats, green beads...

...and green people, who had been enjoying the festivities perhaps a bit too much!

Another lovely question from the back seat:  "Mom, why is that man wearing a tiara?"

Yep.  Seeing all the sights, we were!

BUT...we made it, and headed in to visit our very wonderful, very bestest friends who used to live so very close to us but moved so far away to Rhode Island last October.  We had planned it to be a surprise to their kiddos, so the best part may have been my Bug ringing the doorbell and trying not to pee in his pants while waiting for his buddies to answer the door and be so completely surprised!!

It was a great surprise, and worked out just exactly like we hoped it would, full of bear hugs and laughter and even some screaming, and we settled in for a long overdue visit.

Of which I will post more as soon as I get another chance to sit down at this computer...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Memoria Press...A Review of The Book Of Insects

Have you ever wanted to learn all there is to know about bugs?

How's that for an opener?  For most of us, the answer--at first glance--is no way!  I'm going to ask you to reconsider that answer, and I'm going to suggest a really fun way to learn enough information about those creepy crawlers to fully satisfy your 8 year-old son for weeks and weeks!

Enter Memoria Press, and The Book of Insects.

What Is Memoria Press?

Memoria Press is a family-run company that provides Classical Christian Education for all ages.  If you're anything like me, you've passed through their displays at homeschool conventions several times, being drawn to their large selection over and over again, but maybe shying away because of their large "workbook" feel.

Having gotten my hands on some of their materials, though, I don't think I'll be shying away anymore.  Memoria Press uses three main pillars in their materials:  simplicity, quality, and affordability.  I can appreciate those characteristics as a homeschool Momma, and I'll show you how they are applied in the product we reviewed.

 So What Did We Get?

We received The Book Of Insects set.  That included The Book of Insects text ($14.95), The Book of Insects Teacher Guide ($16.95), The Book of Insects Student Book ($14.95), and The Book of Insects Lesson Plans ($5.00).  You can also purchase the set, which will include the textbook, the Student Book, the Teacher Guide, and the Peterson First Guide: Insects for $48.  (affordability)

The Book of Insects textbook is a 183-page soft-cover book that covers everything from orders of insects to types of dragonflies to how to catch night moths.  It offers the information in a story-type narrative that is easy to read and to listen to, yet full of very specific and scientific detail. (quality)

The Book of Insects Teacher Guide is also soft-cover and 154 pages.  It offers goals for the learner over the course of the study, a model lesson plan, and then serves as the answer key to all of the Student Book activities.  It also contains insect flashcards to copy and place on cardstock and blank quizzes and tests with answer keys to those as well.

The Book of Insects Student Book contains 81 pages, also beginning with the goals and model lesson plan.  There is then a two-page workbook activity for each lesson, that follows a predictable pattern.  Each lesson has the main facts listed at the beginning of the activity, designed to be used for memorization or for review.  There are then several questions from the reading, followed by an "Observation and Sketching" activity.  At the end of the lesson are suggested activities to extend the learning.  There are 32 lessons, including unit and final reviews. (simplicity)

The Book of Insects Lesson Plans is a small, spiral-bound plan that breaks up the 32 lessons into a 34-week course.

How Did We Use The Book of Insects?

We were thrilled to receive The Book of Insects, and dove right in when our package arrived.  Although the suggested age is Grades 4+, I used it with my daughter in sixth grade, as well as my son in 2nd grade.  We started with the textbook reading, with me reading one clearly marked section at a time.  After the reading, we would go over the facts listed in the Student Workbook, working to learn to pronounce them and to memorize them.  We would follow this with a "group effort" to answer the questions.  That part usually took us about 30-45 minutes, and would be our lesson for the day.

The next time we sat down with The Book of Insects, we would again review the facts, and then turn to the Observation and Sketching activity.  This section would either have the student label different parts of an insect or draw their own version of a specific insect.  We would follow this up with some of the suggested activities listed at the end of the lesson:  anything from reciting memory facts, reading additional pages of the textbook, or searching for certain insects outside.  Depending upon the activity we chose, this lesson could take from 20 minutes up to an hour or so.  On some weeks I would follow up with the lesson quiz, on others I wouldn't worry about it.

We typically used The Book of Insects twice a week, completing one lesson a week.

What Did I Think?

I loved this program!  Now, I will admit, insects are not my particular favorite subject to study.  However, I do have an 8 year-old boy, which I think qualifies us as an insect-loving family--or at least an insect-tolerating one.  So we did go into this study looking forward to the subject material (at least one of us, lol!)  But us girls were quickly drawn in as well.

The textbook was a wonderful, easy read, even through some of the difficult material.  It is full of selections from Arabella Buckley and Julia McNair Wright, written in the late 1800s.  And it is beautifully written.  It reads like a quaint story that we were all enchanted by.  However, it doesn't skimp on the scientific names or information or water it down at all.  I was surprised by both how interested my kiddos were in the reading, and then again by how much they retained of the reading and the science afterward.  There are very few photographs or drawings throughout the book, and those that are included are in black and white, but the pictures that the authors draw for us in our minds are so thorough that it doesn't seem to matter.  I typically did all of the reading, but both my son and my daughter could read it as well--although my son is a good reader for his grade.  I would agree with the 4th grade recommendation for independent reading.

Also surprisingly to me, my kiddos didn't balk at completing the workbook--and I focused mainly on using it with my son, who is writing-phobic.  Turns out, both of my children enjoy the challenge of memorizing insect facts (huh!), and once we figured out how we wanted to pronounce the more difficult order names, they worked hard on learning those too.  The space left to write in answers to the questions was usually too small for my boy; however, again he is a new writer, a boy, and in second grade.  Typically, I would simply write his dictated answers in the space provided.  He would do the identification and / or sketching sections himself, and he always really liked to do that.  His favorite activities were the ones that began "go into your yard and find...".  Mine, not so much!

The Teacher Guide was a valuable resource for me in helping to make sure that the kids were retaining the correct information. (Just as a back-up, you understand, as I was of course retaining the correct information myself!  Uh-huh.)  The section of blank quizzes and unit tests wasn't the most popular section for us, but I can definitely see the value in it when this is used with older students and grading is needed or involved.  The Lesson Plans we used the first week, and then we just got into our own rhythm with the program and didn't need to use them again.  It is a pretty self-explanatory, open and go curriculum, so you may not need them in the long run.

Although we used this all together as a family, I can see it being used as an independent learning activity as well, especially for higher elementary grades.  Most kiddos would be able to read the selections and complete the workbook pages independently, and the Teacher Guide is thorough in helping Mom to grade the work.

Would I recommend The Book of Insects to other homeschoolers?  Absolutely!  I liked the price, the ease of use, the wealth of information, and the "fun level".  All of our family enjoyed learning about insects, and no one ever grumbled when it was time to pull these books out.  That hardly ever happens around here!

Will we continue with The Book of Insects?  Another resounding yes.  We can't stop now!  Mrs. Fly and Mr. Cicada are waiting for us!

What Did My Kiddos Think?

"I liked it a lot.  I mostly liked how it told you to tell the difference between insects and arthropods and other things.  I liked the workbook--that was fun!  I liked identifying things in the workbook." Bug (appropriately named), age 8 

"I really liked the story.  It was fun to listen to the stories, and I actually liked learning about bugs!" (Firefly, age 12)

Find Out More About Memoria Press:

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday...S'Mores

A+ Interactive Math...A Review and Giveaway!!

As you may know, if you have been a reader of ours for any length of time, we are not a math-loving family by any means.  We have used many different math approaches and programs over our homeschooling years, but we seem to have one or two that "stick" over time.

A+ TutorSoft Math is one of those programs.

In the past, I have reviewed the 4th grade CD-based program and the 1st grade online program.  Just recently, though, A+ came out with a new program, and we were blessed to get to try it out and review it.

The program we used is called Adaptive Placement Testing with Individualized Lesson Plan.  It is designed for homeschoolers specifically, and works to help us find and correct any of those dreaded "learning gaps" in our kiddos.  Once those gaps are identified (if any), the program puts together an individual lesson plan for the child to learn, review, and practice specific skills that were causing problems, both through their multimedia lessons and through online worksheets.

What Did We Receive?

We received login codes for both of my homeschooled students to take their own individual grade level tests--second grade for my Bug, and fifth grade for my Firefly, who tends to work down in math.   Currently, the cost of the placement testing and individualized plan is $29.99 for one student, $39.99 for two students, and goes up $10 for each additional student.  The program is active for three months.

There is another option to get the Placement Test only, which costs $14.99 for one student, $19.99 for two, and goes up $5 for each student.  Currently, A+ is offering the testing only option for free for all of my readers!

How Did We Use This Program?

We used the program exactly as intended for my Bug.  As soon as we received the login code, I was able to give both of my children their own accounts, and Bug logged in right away.  The first place we started was in the testing.  Bug's second grade level tests covered thirteen different areas:  Number Sense, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Rounding and Estimating, Fractions, Graphs, Time, Money, Measurements, Geometry, and Elementary Algebra.  I let him select which test he wanted to take each time.  For him, many of the testing periods were very short (under ten minutes), and we were able to get his results immediately.  If he passed that section's test right away, I would usually have him do another section.

Firefly's 5th grade test sections included:  Number Sense, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Decimal Numbers, Fractions, The Number Line and Number Comparison, Positive and Negative Numbers, Percentages, Graphs, Measurements, Geometry, Algebra Part 1 (Variables), Algebra Part 2 (the Coordinate Plane), Probability and Statistics, and Word Problems.

The other things that you have access to within the program are reports (progress and summary reports), tutorials on how to start using the program, and the individualized lesson plans.  If you noticed in the picture above, one of the stumbling blocks for Bug was Fractions.  His lesson plan included nine different lessons on fractions.  These lessons are set up just as we were used to from using A+ previously:  with voice instruction, interactive slides, and computer animation all used to teach the concept.  Bug then had the chance to complete problems after the lesson to demonstrate his understanding, as well as chances for extra practice with online worksheets that are automatically graded.  We never spent more than thirty minutes on the program, and often spent much less time, but always felt that we had productive math lessons / exposure.

When I tried to use this program with my Firefly, however, we didn't have quite the excitement level, or the success, that we did with Bug.  Although she expressed interest in trying, after she saw Bug having fun, she didn't make it very far into the first test before breaking down.  Therefore, I wasn't able to use the program to get the information that I was looking for with her; however, that in itself gave me some information.  I think that my choice of 5th grade math was a bit ambitious for her.

What Did I Think?

I loved the idea of the placement testing and then the individualized lesson plans, for both of my children, even though they are both very different, and I'll tell you why.

My Bug is a math kiddo.  He will tell you over and over that he doesn't like math, but he's very quick with it.  I think that many of the different pieces of curriculum that we've been using have been extremely boring to him--we've been doing things he perhaps has already known, and I just haven't picked up on that.  His disinterest became more clear to me when I had him sit down to take the tests.  Just halfway through his 2nd grade year, he had mastered much of the material that A+ was asking for.  And, although the tests were timed, he was moving through them more quickly than he needed to.

We have moved to a more unschooling style of learning, and have been very informal with math over the past few months.  This testing was very helpful and encouraging to me to know that he was doing just fine, and was "on track"--whatever that means to homeschooling mamas!  And when a weakness was identified, it was great to be able to have the lessons for that specific skill right there so we could work through them and then let Bug take the test again.  (Since he's a bit of a perfectionist as well and doesn't like to have "below goal" show up on his reports.)

My Firefly, on the other hand, has a "learning disability" in math--again, whatever that means.  I know it means that she is math-phobic, and I know that we tend to have a lot of tears.  For her, her struggle with the testing enlightened me as well.  Some of the skills that we have been working on for some time haven't been solid in her mind yet.  In this case, again having the tutorials handy is wonderful, as well as having another method of reviewing / teaching the skills she needed to practice.  The only complaint that I had with this situation is that the tests are grade-based, so while she may have been more successful with 4th grade, I could never have put her in front of a computer that said so.  The grade system was helpful for me, but I would suggest maybe using a letter level or another more anonymous leveling system on the child's login.

I was very happy with the reports.  Although I sat with my kiddos when they used the program, I wouldn't have to due to the reporting.  Also, my kids liked watching the progress report above, where the little character would walk down the line to the mastery point.  Though you will notice both of my students expressed complaints about the timing aspect of the mini-tests, neither of them had any difficulty in completing the problems in the given time.  They just don't like time limits!

What Did My Kiddos Think?

"I liked watching my guy walk across the screen and being able to pick which section I wanted to do. I didn't like how it timed you, and some of it was hard.  Some of it was really easy too."  (Bug, age 8)

"It was an interesting experience, because I hadn't done anything like that before.  I liked to see my progress go up and down, but I didn't like the way it timed you.  It was something that I would probably do again."  (Firefly, age 12)

Find Out More About A+ TutorSoft:

Find A+ TutorSoft on Facebook

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Find A+ TutorSoft on Google +

Find A+ TutorSoft on Pinterest

You Tube video explaining how the program works

A Giveaway!!!

A+ is offering my readers a chance to win their Adaptive Placement Testing with Individualized Lesson Plans for up to 10 children!

By entering this giveaway, you understand and agree that your contact information will be shared with the sponsor.

In addition, A+ TutorSoft is offering a great set of FREEBIES for all of my readers:

1-Month Family Math Package Online--Comprehensive math program with access to ALL grade levels (K1-Algebra 1). Option for 1-10 Students. A+ Family Packages are the most flexible, comprehensive program on the market - allowing you to change grade levels as needed. This is excellent for those needing to review previous grade levels or move ahead. A+ interactive Math online is accessible from anywhere with high speed internet access. A+ Math Teaches, Grades, Measures, Reviews and Tracks automatically.

Free Time Software--Use Coupon Code: Time4Aplus. This Time Teaching Software (valued at $21.95) introduces your students to Time. It teaches them about days, weeks, months and year, seconds, minutes and hours, telling time using analog and digital clocks, duration of time, converting units of time, and about finding and adding elapsed time.

And, don't forget the placement testing only option listed above!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What We've Been Up To...Part One

Did you just hear that?

It was a huge exhale of breath that I've evidently been holding in for about four months now--which have happened to probably be the busiest four months I've ever participated in.

Ugh.  I mean...Yay!  Lots of fun stuff going on around here!

But now things are slowing down (like, a little tiny bit and please don't mention it again because if anyone around here gets the idea that there is an ounce of free time they will fill it up immediately), and I'm looking forward to getting back on a bloggy schedule and having some afternoon quiet time in which to fill up said bloggy schedule and that's probably the longest sentence I've written in forever.

Which tells you a little bit about my current state of mind.

Let's catch up, shall we?

Five of Our Biggest Recent Time Drains...In No Particular Order Because That Would Be Way Too Organized:

1.  Club Soccer for Turtle...As in, we had been "officially" in our off season.  Which meant that practice was scaled down to about twice a week.  Until we had to get ready for the tournament the week between Christmas and New Years.  Seriously, people??

Getting ready for the tournament involved many more intense practices, then we were traveling for the tournament, and then we were "off season" again.

Until we had to start getting ready for season games.  Which started the end of January.

2.  Club Soccer for Firefly...Again, with an "off season" that doesn't actually exist.  Her first off season tournament started--ready for this?  Black Friday!!!

Which meant, of course, that we were traveling to get ready for it on Thanksgiving.

Followed by a tournament in mid-January, and one that just ended about twelve hours ago.

Regular season practice starts this week.

I'm laughing hysterically on the inside.

3.  School Soccer Season for Turtle...Because you know, part of being in school is having the opportunity to play for a school team.  It's all about school spirit, memory-making, comaraderie, etc.

And everyday practice.  And games mid-week.  And being in the stands when it's definitely too cold for anyone to be outside except for the certifiably insane.

Which I'm pretty sure I am now--because look at what else we did:

4.  School Soccer Season for Firefly...who doesn't even GO TO SCHOOL!!  I'm blaming this one on the brain cells killed through lack of sleep because of soccer traveling.

See, where we live, homeschoolers have this wonderful opportunity to play school sports, participate in school extracurriculars of all kinds, and be in school clubs.  Because Firefly is the soccer nut that she is, and because of the amazing coaching / learning experience that is available to her at a local private school, we decided to provide the opportunity for her to try out to play there.

Which first involved her taking the admissions test--for hours, computer-based, and with math!!! (the nerve!)  And then involved us paying the sports fee.  And involved me driving her to and from school practice every. single. day.


5.  No Quiet Time...Let me back up here for a minute, so you can see how truly monumental this is.

I am an introvert.  A really big one.  Like I could be perfectly happy left all alone at home with a book, Netflix, and possibly a dog for a very long period of time.

(Well, probably chocolate, too.)

I go on field trips, go to co-ops, go on travel soccer trips, and need quite a bit of decompression time when I get home to start to feel like I don't want to rip my family's heads off when they speak.  Quiet Time has always been a huge blessing for me.  I can be "on" for my kiddos all day, but for one blessed hour (or longer if I can swing it), I hear silence.

I can write.  I can read.  I can sleep.  

I can just be.

And then I'm ready to face the world again.

But you know, with all of the running around, and driving around, and spectating, and keeping us on schedule, and chaos, and talking (so, so much talking), and schooling, and crying, and what on earth is going to be for dinnering, and all of that stuff...

Quiet Time hasn't fit.

Yeah, it's been pretty ugly around here some days.

But we're on the mend.  School Soccer is officially over.  Club Soccer has officially begun again, but we're used to that.  Quiet Time has been penciled in for four--count them--four days this week!

I love my children.  I love my family.  I love my home and my life and my husband and yes, even soccer!  I truly love watching my kiddos play, and watching the wonderful friendships they have with their sweet teammates.  I love working through the life lessons that this sport / their teams / their win-loss records have thrown at them.

I wouldn't change a thing.  But God did.

Part Two will let me tell you the wonderful things He has done for us through this season of busy.

What are your kiddos involved in?  How does their schedule impact your daily life?

How do you get through your busy?


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