Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Monday, January 31, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

I. Am. Tired. I think I need a vacation from this past week. Today is the first day that my youngest feels good enough to be up and around for more than 10 minutes. We spent much of the last 5 days in the house, and I'm going a little stir crazy.
I really can't complain though. This is the first knock down, drag out, cold that our family has had this winter, which is absolutely amazing. So, I figured that this week we would get back on track with our schedule, and dive into a fun new math enrichment, a fun new unit study,, hasn't started that way. Why? I'll tell you.
Here in the chicago area, we are about to be hit hard by a big snowstorm tomorrow. The kind that, if what the forecasters say is true, will break all the records, delight us with blizzard conditions, and, ultimately leave us with 12-24 inches of snow. Eww.
That wouldn't affect our schedule if I had been able to get our grocery shopping and various errands done over the weekend. Unfortunately, that just didn't happen, and I am faced with scurrying around today, making sure we have all we need in case of several days confined in the house. That includes purchasing a new snowblower, as we do not have one. Normally not a big deal, I don't mind shoveling most of the time, but I don't think we can handle shoveling 20 inches of snow :(
Which brings me to my cranky and, yes stressed outlook today. How will we get all of our work done?! Happily, the answer is already upon me. Oh, the beauty of homeschooling! We've already been in school more days than the public school system, are ahead in several subjects, and have taken one, I think, sick day so far. And, while in all likelihood tomorrow, and maybe the next day, will be cancelled for those students, we'll be able to keep going.
Okay, the stress is leaving me even as I type this. I love the flexibility this lifestyle affords us. Just another perk of schooling this way. Hey, thanks for listening, this is way cheaper than therapy ;)
So, whatever challenges you face this week, and I know we all have those issues that are huge in our worlds, take a breath, take a break, and go enjoy those blessings that you've been given!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

TOS Blog Walk - Week of January 24

Thought everyone would enjoy reading some posts from fellow TOS bloggers. Hope you take some time during this upcoming week and check out what they have to say. Also, feel free to leave a comment, we love to hear from you!

1.) Clark Clan Craziness
2.) Doxazo Prep Academy
3.) My Elastic Life
4.) Fun in the Sun
5.) A Teaching Heart
6.) Mindful Ramblings
7.) Simple Thoughts
8.) Joy in Our
9.) Crazy Homeschool Mama
10.) Walking Home

Shake it Up!

Burnout. Ever been there? If you're a homeschooling parent, then I bet you have. I know that it's true of me. This year, it actually hit earlier than I would have expected. Our school year began at the end of August, and by October, I was exhausted and so ready for the holidays, which meant some time off.

So many of those days consisted of me just surviving the day, and I couldn't wait for the end of the week. How was it, I often wondered, that, although I was home all day, that often it was all I could do to get our lessons finished, do a bit of housework, and get the kids to dance lessons, bible studies, and Awana.

Well, the closer that we came to the holiday season, the more desperate I felt. Something had to change, and fast. I took some time to evaluate our week, the workload, and our extracurricular activities. It really didn't take long to pinpoint the main source of my stress.

I had been in charge of childcare for a weekly bible study at our church, which included preparing a bible lesson, snacks, music, etc.. I am also a cubbie leader for our Awana program.

As I took a close look at my week, I saw how it was simply too much. I frequently cut short our school lessons in order to get the work done for those other committments. Most days seemed to be a race, and I was wondering what it was all for.

After much praying, tears, and counsel from my husband and friends, I knew what I had to do. It was time to cut out some of the extra stuff. And you know what? As soon as I did, what a difference!

This was the school day as it should be. So much more relaxing, we're now taking the extra time we need or want to, when necessary. I realized that you can have too much of a good thing, and that just because you have a gift in a particular area, doesn't mean that you should do it. First priority needs to be your family!

So, that has helped out a great deal, but there are still those periods during the year that seem to bring on the blahs. Typically for me, that happens come January, when the festivities have passed, and the long cold days of winter loom ahead. This January though, it hasn't hit me so much, in part I think, because of a word I received from a bible study on CD.

The speaker was admonishing us not to wish away our days- I can't wait 'til the kids get to this milestone, if we can just get to summer, can't wait wait until the kids are older and we're past this problem, etc.. It made me realize that we can forget to embrace the moment, and yes, sometimes that's really difficult, but, good or bad, this too shall pass.

All that to say that this winter, I've been trying to enjoy the season more. The sledding, the hot cocoa, the beauty of a single snowflake, warm fuzzy blankets. Occasionally, I still find myself in the doldrums, and then we try to shake things up a little.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've decorated and planted spring flowers in pots, added some new materials to our school day, and have tried out some new recipes and cooking projects. Last week, we took a little field trip to a couple of pet stores that we haven't been to. It was a small thing that surprisingly, gave us a needed boost in our moods.

In all of this, I'm trying to be mindful that these days with my children are fleeting. As someone has said, the days are long, but the years are short. So, I want to do my best to live each day to the fullest with an eye on eternity.

I hope this leaves you encouraged and perhaps a little lighter in your spirit. Our task is often challenging, but remember, you are not alone!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Humble Thanks!

Goodness! The shock! The Wonder! My utter disbelief and thanks to fellow homeschool blogger Catherine at Our Village is a Little Different, who so graciously has nominated me for this awesome award ;) I am so new to this, and I have learned that there are some rules that come with this honor.

First of all, thank the bestower, as it were, of this award. Second of all, share 7 things about yourself. Third, nominate 15 newly discovered bloggers, and finally, contact them and let them know!

So, here we go...

1.) One of the funniest people in the world happens to be my daughter. I can't believe someone so small can have such a sense of humor!

2.) I am hopelessly addicted to chocolate.

3.) Up until a year ago, I was as close to being computer illiterate as they come. What? Me start a blog? Are you nuts? But now I've already outgrown my computer, and I've learned an amazing amount of computer info.

4.) I am still blown away at the technology that allows me to instantly communicate with friends all the way in Scotland, The United Kingdom... amazing.

5.)I am NOT a morning person. My youngest is. Enough said.

6.) I want to like camping. Really, I do. But I hate it.

7.) I love to laugh!

And now, for the best part of this post, the following are blogs that I'm enjoying, and you should check out and follow:

1.) Happily Homeschooling


3.) Sunshine to Flowers

4.) House Upon The Rock

5.) The LaFrance Family Five

6.) Clothesline Musings

7.) Gold, Silver, Precious Stones...

8.) Our Homeschool Journey

9.)Ever After...My Way

10.) Reed, Party of 6

11.) Created For Home

12.) One Big, Healthy Family

13.) Four Little Penguins

14.) Mrs. D's Homestead

15.) Cobwebs and Kisses

Maestro Classics - Peter and the Wolf

It was about two years ago that I happened to be at a homeschool conference here in the Chicago area. As I strolled up and down the aisles, browsing at all of the latest and greatest for home educators, I happened upon a vendor passing out cute little bookmarks with the Maestro Classics theme illustrated on each one. Hmm, what's this all about?, I wondered.

Well, Maestro Classics are a delightful collection of stories set to different pieces of classical music. Created by Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon, also known as the Magic Maestro, they were, and are, designed to entertain and educate children and adults, ages four and on up.

I had the opportunity to review their CD Peter and the Wolf this past month, and I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I was to receive this. I was pretty sure that my whole family would be just as thrilled, and even they exceeded my expectations.

Let me take some time now and tell you what you'll find when you try out a Maestro Classics story in music.

I already mentioned that I've been enjoying Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev.

With the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the beautiful music, and creator Stephen Simon conducting, narrator Yadu- otherwise known as Dr. Konrad Czynski, tells the story of a young boy who, with the help of a few animal friends, captures a hungry wolf.

The CD begins with a little introduction to the story. Each character is represented by a specific musical instrument, and Yadu provides that information. For example, the bird in the story is represented by the flute, the duck by the oboe, the cat by the clarinet, Peter's grandfather is the bassoon, the wolf by three french horns, and Peter by all of the strings.

As the music plays, Yadu narrates the story, and the instruments do a marvelous job in bringing the tale to life with great drama and emotion.

I have always enjoyed listening to audio stories, of course, back in my day, they were on those old fashioned record players ;).

The joy of them was that it was my own imagination that brought them to life, rather than silly characters and flashy costumes. Here, it is the instruments, that so magically transport the listener into the forest with Peter, and each instrument truly makes us see each particular animal in our mind's eye. I'm thinking of a specific part in the beginning where the narrator asks, Can't you hear the cats velvety paws in the clarinet? Yes! Yes I can!

Yadu does a fine job as he tells the story. He has a very nice way about him, relaxed and expressive. I'm sure you'll agree that some stories told for children are not so appealing for grown ups, but that's not the case here.

If the story was all there was to this CD, it would still be enjoyable, but there's even more to enjoy.

Immediately following the story, there is a biography of the composer, in this case, Sergei Prokofiev-hard to spell, and even harder to say! I really liked hearing of his background.

Following the biography, is a wonderful musical piece called A Russian Peter by Trio Voronezh, and then a bit more education about the story and the composer by Stephen Simon.

As the CD makes its way to the end, Bonnie Ward Simon "invites" the listener to what is called Grandfather's Party, another festive piece of music to enjoy.

That's what you'll find on the CD, but there's even a little more enclosed. A little booklet within includes a few puzzles, dot to dot activities, as well as pictures and information about some of the more uncommon instruments that are heard in this piece. Did you know that the Balalaika is a triangular guitar like instrument that can weigh up to 95 pounds? Or, that the Bayan is an accordion without the keyboard, and is also russian slang for an old joke about a mother-in-law?

You'll find that and more in this little book.

The Simon's have discovered a great way to educate young and old in classical music. Their love for what they do is contagious. I couldn't get enough of this product.

Well, how did my children like it? Love, love, loved it! We have listened to Peter and the Wolf nearly every day since we received it. I didn't know what to expect, but my 6 year old's imagination was immediately captured with the music for the wolf, which, again, was represented by the three french horns. Her eyes just danced with delight, and she described the hunter's music part as 'sneaky music'. Each time they listened, they became more engaged, and they now act out the piece with their own dance and choreography. Wonderful stuff.

Maestro Classics have several more titles available for purchase, and I can tell you that we will be adding them to our personal library. In fact, today I ordered Juanita the Spanish Lobster for my oldest child. She's been asking me if I will please, please order more, and you know what? I am sold! So, yes sweetie, I sure will.

Maestro Classics

Ages- 4 and up


Price: $16.98 for individual CD's - check their website for various titles. Also, right now they have a great sale going on- $45.00 for 3 CD's

** I received a free copy of Peter and the Wolf by Maestro Classics, and in exchange agreed to provide my honest opinion of it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Traditional Approach

Happy New Year everyone! I hope and pray that this year will find you growing more and more in God's grace. I know that I sure need an abundance of that!

Alright then, this week's blog topic is the homeschooling calendar year. How would you describe your family's school year? I'm really just a newbie to this whole process, having only 2 years of homeschooling under my belt. Even so, I find myself frequently adjusting and tweaking here and there, our curriculum, our schedule, our general focus.

I suppose that is probably true of most, or at least many other families as well. It's one of the greatest aspects of this privilege of homeschooling, I think.

For the most part though, I would say that our family tends to follow a traditional school year calendar. We've settled on that for a few reasons. Number one, it works the best with all of our extracurricular activities. When Awana, and dance lessons, and bible studies, and everything else is not in session due to the holidays and other days off, then we feel the full benefits of that break. It just helps us to really take a rest from all of it for that time.

Reason number two- our children have many friends who attend the public schools, and it's nice to have coordinating schedules that allow for a variety of playdates and activities.

Number three- I am one of those people who needs routine and structure. I like feeling that I'm on the same basic schedule as the general public.

It's also helpful for us in planning those summer vacations and reunions with relatives. I like knowing that I won't be needing to bring along the lessons, or shift things around. This summer, for example, our niece will be spending about a week with us (she lives in another state). The timing of the end of the school year- both for her and for us- is perfect.

Having said all of that however, I will be changing the schedule just a bit for next year- God willing. I would like to begin school in early August as opposed to after labor day. I hope to do this and then take a more extended break over Christmas.

But, that is the wonderful thing about homeschooling. We can arrange our days and the school year to suit the needs of our family.

So, whatever your style, I pray that 2011 is the best year ever for you and your family. Enjoy it all, because it goes by so fast!

Easy Classical- Early Modern Times

This month I was given the download of a history schedule for Early Modern Times by Easy Classical to review. In exchange, I agreed to provide my honest opinion of it.

Early Modern times has been designed to be implemented using the classical approach to homeschooling. In fact, within the first pages of this schedule is the recommendation to first read the book "The Well Trained Mind:a Guide to Classical Education at Home", by Susan Wise Bauer.

Now, just to clarify, I'm reviewing the schedule itself, not the resources within. This should provide you with a general idea of how to use it in your homeschool.

Alright then, let's talk about how this resource is set up. The lessons are divided into 36 weeks, and fall under one of five categories; 1.) Explorers 2.) Colonies 3.) Colonial America 4.) Independence, and 5.) Revolution.

New topics are usually introduced on Mondays, and include writing assignments that take 1-3 days, depending on your child's abilities. There are also several copywork assignments per week that go along with the current topic. Geography activities provide, what else? geographical information that also relate to the theme.

How about a glimpse into week one? We'll learn about America before she got her name. We'll read out the Story of the World volume 2, and the Story of the Thirteen Colonies. If it works for our schedule, we'll do the optional reading from The History of the U.S. The First Americans. Then we'll tackle the writing assignment- Writing with Early Modern History-Lesson 1. We'll finish up with songs from the West Indies as we study geography, and then answer a few comprehension questions, including "Why did Christopher Columbus call the people who lived in the new land Indians?", and "What did the new land look like?". The assignments are all set up for you for each day, so all you need to do is complete them and check them off the list.

Included are also lists of books, curriculum, writing resources and more, of the classical approach. Of course, you are free to substitute those books that you like. Isn't that the beauty of homeschooling?

Weekly shopping lists allow you to stay organized for the upcoming weeks.

At the end of each week's topic are comprehension questions, so you may check each student's understanding of the material.

You'll find that, depending on your specific goals or needs, there may be more activities than you feel that you can work through. That's okay! You pick and choose what you need to make this work for your family. It's all meant as a suggested guide after all.

Easy Classical is geared to children aged approximately K-6, but you can adjust it here and there to meet your child's educational needs. For example, at the end of the schedule are step by step drawings to be completed by your child, but if it's too much, use it as a coloring page instead.

You can purchase the notebook version of Easy Classical - Early Modern Times for $35.95 or the digital version for $29.95. Feel free to check them out at their website and view sample pages and other products. Happy homeschooling!

Easy Classical-Early Modern Times History Schedule

Ages- K-6

Price:$35.95- notebook version $29.95 digital version

Easy Classical

P.O. Box 1965

Greenfield, N.C. 27835

Friday, January 7, 2011

See-N-Read - Reading Tools

How much time do you spend thinking about all of the ins and outs of the reading process? Well, if you're anything like me, the answer to that is not a whole lot. But apparently, there is quite a bit involved, with each part of the brain contributing to it all.

Perhaps you, or your child, or someone else in your life has struggled in this area. Maybe a learning disability has made it a challenge in your homeschool, and reading purely for enjoyment? Forget about that.

Then again, maybe you've never noticed any particular problem with your reading, or that of your child's. But you have noticed struggles as it relates to the fluency of their reading. Do you notice any skipped words? Or maybe they substitute words where they shouldn't. Do they constantly lose their place while reading, and/or become easily distracted?

Well, so what? It's all part of the whole process right? They'll grow out of it, you might say.

Hold on now. According to various research from reading specialists, all of the above issues could very well lead to problems in a student's comprehension, because they lose the focus of whatever it is that they are reading.

Enter See-N-Read, a simple little reading tool designed to help readers of all ages to do three things- see, focus, and remember.

See- the reader will be able to track and increase fluency.

Focus- the reader is able to focus on one sentence at a time.

Remember- the reader is able to retain what has been read, because they don't have to fight distractions.

How does it work? Just lay this flexible little gray "film" (which has a matte gray finish and a little window so one sentence or group of words may be seen at a time) on the page that is being read. As you read, just move the See-N-Read tool down the page as you read. That's it. Amazing that such a simple design can have such a positive impact on a student's reading.

In fact, when I first opened up the See-N-Read package, I wouldn't say that I was skeptical, but I wasn't necessarily impressed either. What on earth could a little plastic sheet do? Then I read the very impressive amount of research that was included with my See-N-Read tool. Wow. The creators have spent years planning and developing this resource. From the contribution of each part of the brain, to the left to right eye movement that we implement in reading, to its compatibility with any reading program, they have covered all of the bases. It 's even been used in both special needs and gifted students' classrooms with success. Why, they haven't missed a detail, even selecting the gray matte finish on the film because it is the least distracting color for the eye. They also use materials that are lead free, bpA free, and phthalate free.

All great stuff. Now, how did it work out with my family? I tried it out with my oldest daughter first. Now, she has been a good reader so far, with no big problems. I have noticed though, that she loses her place easily, and sometimes substitutes words in certain places. So, I found it funny when one of the first thing she mentioned was "You know, mom, this really helps me keep my place in the book". And it did reduce the distractions for her too. She prefers to keep the book up when she reads, which made it a little tricky as I had to hold it for her, but since we all read together anyway, and it didn't bother her at all, no big deal there. My youngest daughter took a little bit longer to get the hang of it, as moving it down the page actually distracted her, but she got over that quickly and was able to work with it. In fact, the first time that I sat down to read without it, she said, "Hey mom, where's that little plastic thing? I need to use it." Enough said.

As for myself, previously, I never felt that I needed any tool to facilitate my reading, but I found the See-N-Read tool very helpful in my own reading. I never realized how everything on the page distracted me until I had this little guy filter it all out for me. Boy, did the words jump out at me. I also like that there are a couple of different tool styles. One has a clear window backing for simply laying over the sentence being read. There is another one that has the window cut out to make underlining and highlighting an easy task. I'm telling you, they thought of it all.

And actually, that brings me to one more application of the See-N-Read reading tool. The creators also have an eSee-N-Read, and no, that isn't a typo. It's a version designed to be used on your computer, and it is really cool! I didn't know this, but those wonderful researchers show that people read 30% slower on screen than on paper. Once I began thinking about this, I realized that I often print out information rather than read it on my PC because I just don't usually like reading off of the computer screen. So, after downloading the "e" version, I was amazed at the difference. Seriously, I had no idea what I was missing until I was able to see what I was reading with such clarity. It also allows you to open up several eSee-N-Read tools at a time as necessary.

Have I convinced you to try this product out yet? Don't wait another minute. I'm certain that you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results. Now, get over to their website and order your See-N-Read!

**I received a free See-N-Read reading tool package, including the "e" version, and in return, agreed to provide my honest review of the product.

See-N-Read Reading Tools


2533 Sutton Lane

Aurora, Il 60502

Ages- K and up

Prices vary according to reading tool size and amount per package. Single See-N-Read tools start at $2.99 Check the website for more information.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Math Facts Now

Math is not my favorite subject. It never has been. Because of this, I strive to enhance my daughter's math program as much as I can. This means that I love to add a variety of games, colorful counters, flashcards, and anything else to keep the mood light. I guess I just want to make it as palatable as I can for them. You might say that I overcompensate, and that would be an accurate conclusion. So, when the opportunity to review a new math software called Math Facts Now, I believe my first response was "YES!!"

Now, my oldest daughter has had a little bit of trouble memorizing her addition and subtraction's facts. but she does enjoy math, so she was more than happy to try out this program. We downloaded the software with anticipation. What fun would we find waiting for us in Math Facts Now? Cute colorful characters? Fun, flashy games? Catchy little jingles? Nope. None of those things. What we discovered was in fact a very simple format that allows the user to customize the lessons to meet the individual needs of each student. Let me tell you how it works.

Once you download Math Facts Now, you get to the main page where you add your students. For each child, you decide what you want to practice- addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Then, you choose the number of math problems, and how much time you want to allow your child to solve each one. Then, ready, set, go and work out those problems. Should the student make a mistake, Math Facts Now displays the correct answer, and then the student types in the complete problem and answer 2 or 3 times- you decide how many. I also need to mention that Math Facts Now allows you to go back and edit your existing lessons, if you want to change how long a time period to solve the problems, what kind of math facts to present, etc.. And create as many lessons as you like!
The program keeps track of each lesson and charts your child's progress in reports that may be viewed and/or printed. And let me tell you, the reports are very detailed! If you're satisfied with a basic description - how many problems were aswered correctly, for example, you can stop there. But, if you want more information, just doubleclick on a particular lesson, and you see that child 1 was working on addition, up to 10, took 6 seconds on average to answer each question, and got 5 problems wrong. Those little flashcards won't do that kind of work for you will they?

So simple, but really, so effective. I've tried other programs, and enjoyed their features, but I really do like Math Facts Now a lot. And most importantly, IT WORKS! My daughters have shown a good deal of improvement in just a month's time. And...they love to practice math with this software.

A few last details...

Math Facts Now is available as a download for $15.95 or as a CD for $15.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. I think that once you try it you'll feel the same way that our family does - a great product at a great price!

** In exchange for the download version of Math Facts Now, I agreed to provide my honest review of it, with no additional compensation.**

Math Facts Now
Ages- K - 6
Download - $15.95

CD - $15.95 plus $3.95 S&H

2871 Shenandoah Shores Road

Front Royal,VA 22630

Hey, don't forget to check out our homepage at the TOS Crew. There are so many great homeschool resources to check out !