Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pencil Grip, Inc. {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Pencil Grip, Inc.
Over the past fourteen years of homeschooling, I think I have bought a few dozen different types of pencil grips in the hopes of teaching my kids proper handwriting form. Recently, Lauren has been trying The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Set from The Pencil Grip, Inc. It is a unique step-by-step approach to establishing a correct way to hold a pencil. We also received The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors to try out.

I cringe every time I see Addison write because she wraps her index finger all the way up the pencil. Fortunately, she still manages to write efficiently with an awkward grip and doesn't have trouble with hand fatigue. Her handwriting is actually quite pretty. Brennan and Lauren have similarly awkward pencil grips. I figure that it's too late to teach Brennan new ways (I've tried for years), but I still try to encourage Lauren to use a pencil grip that will put less stress on her fingers and joints.

My biggest concern with Lauren is that she grips the pencil too tightly and hyper-extends some of the joints in her fingers. She also wraps her thumb completely around the pencil, putting even more pressure on the tip of her index finger.

The three pencil grips that we received move a child in a step-by-step fashion from what appears to be the most supportive device to the one with least support. I suggested that Lauren start with The Crossover Grip which is intended for training. It provides a "super hero cape" (the company's words) to reinforce proper finger positioning. As you can see, it does ensure that Lauren doesn't wrap her thumb around the pencil.

Before long, however, she asked to try some of the other, smaller pencil grips. I gave her the other two and let her choose her favorite. She now prefers The Pinch Grip, which is labeled for transition. She likes the way that this grip is less bulky than the first one she tried. At the same time, though, her fingers fit securely in place.

We keep The Pencil Grip Original in her backpack along with The Pinch Grip so that she has another option to pick between. It's a bit more streamlined, but I think she finds it difficult to figure out which way to correctly position her fingers on it.

I'm thrilled that The 3-Step Pencil Grip Training Kit included all three of the pencil grips so that Lauren could try each one out and settle on the one most comfortable for her to use.

Our other fun product from The Pencil Grip was a set of The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors. The blades for these scissors are enclosed in a permanent plastic safety shield so that the sharp blades are completely enclosed. I like the spring action of the scissor handles, but I found it difficult to correctly position the paper to slip it into the area between the guard and the opposite blade. Even with the blade, I think these scissor should still be used with supervision. It would be almost impossible for a child to cut their fingers while using these, but it wouldn't be difficult to slip hair into the scissors for an impromptu hair cut. Since I tend to worry about unintended haircuts and important papers that I don't want destroyed, these aren't a pair of scissors I'd leave in a toddler's reach when I couldn't supervise.

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Set and The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors are both available from Amazon. The Pencil Grip, Inc. also makes Thin Stix and Kwik Stix, quick-drying tempera paint markers which have been a big hit in our house.

Ultra Safe Safety Scissors & Pencil Grip Training Kit {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Brinkman Adventures {Homeschool Crew Review}

Brinkman Adventures

I feel like all I talk about on my blog lately is how we're doing more schoolwork in the car than at home lately. I've found plenty of printable activities for the car -- some from our regular curriculum and some from new sources. Those work great for appointments later in the day, but we often find ourselves on the road very early in the morning. When it's too dark for reading or worksheets, I turn to educational materials that Lauren can listen to.

Our most recent addition to our early morning commutes is Brinkman Adventures. Over the past several years, we've listened to several seasons of this audio drama series, and I was excited to add a digital copy of Brinkman Adventures Season 4 to my iPhone playlist.

Brinkman Adventures

Each season of The Brinkman Adventures includes twelve episodes, each about half an hour long. (Lauren would insist that I say that they just a few seconds short of 26 minutes long.) Lauren enjoys the fact that these are audio dramas with different voice actors for each character, sound effects, and music. She much prefers these dramatizations over an audio book where a story is simply read by a single narrator.

One thing I enjoy about listening to The Brinkman Adventures is that they are all cohesive in terms of telling an ongoing story, but they aren't all exactly the same.

Some episodes focus completely on a true missionary story. For instance, Episode 38 talks with Carl Ralston in Cambodia and tells the story of Nhu, a young girl who was sold into slavery. Lauren was excited to hear in the afterward that Nhu herself did the voices in the drama. I was also able to show her a picture of Carl, his wife Laura, and Nhu on the Brinkman Adventures website.

Other episodes focus more on the fictional Brinkman family. The first episode in Season 4 includes crazy adventures at a missionary family camp, a tornado warning during a late-night hide and seek style game, the birth of a baby, and a scripture verse written on a found balloon. A later episode tells the crazy antics of Ian Brinkman developing a computer-controlled vehicle carrying a paintball gun to help their neighbor Mr. Pennington wage war against the raccoons that ate his favorite Koi fish.

During most of the episodes, it was just Lauren and me listening to the drama. A few times, however, we had most of the family in the car. Brennan and Tim both listened to a few episodes while we were traveling a few weeks ago. Most of the episodes stand alone so it was easy for them to join us in the middle of the season. There are only a few that carry over from one episode to the next, and I don't remember any that span more than two episodes.

One thing I love about these dramas is how they spark family discussions. For instance, an episode told the story of a man who was healed after he turned away from the witch doctors in his area and called upon the name of Jesus. My husband pointed out that God can work in miraculous ways like this, but that the absence of God's healing does not mean that God is not still in control or that God does not love the person who prayed for healing.

Brinkman Adventures audio dramas have certainly been a bright addition to our early morning commutes to doctor's appointments. In past years, we've also listened to Season 2 and Season 3.  Apparently we've never listened to Season 1 and there are now six episodes in Season 5. I sense a lot more missionary learning opportunities during our commutes this winter.

Brinkman Adventures Season 4

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Super Teacher Worksheets {Homeschool Crew Review}

 Super Teacher Worksheets

A few years ago I enjoyed using Super Teacher Worksheets to print out supplemental school materials for Lauren to use on the days we were doing school in the car instead of at home. Once again, we were given the opportunity to use an Individual Membership so that I would have unlimited access to their vast amount of printables.

I know that when I find a new website full of teacher materials, I'm a bit overwhelmed with all that is available. Perhaps the best way to showcase what they offer is to simply show what Lauren has done over the past few weeks.

The worksheets I used most often were the Reading Comprehension pages. They are organized by grade levels from 1st grade through 5th grade and then in a group for Middle School students. In the fifth grade section, there are more than 30 non-fiction articles. Lauren was recently finishing up a study of zoology for science, and I was able to print a handful of worksheets about various animals. I started with Brown Bears and Koala Bears because she's been a bit obsessed with her stuffed bear lately. ("Lauren, maybe you should read about bears so you can tell Berry more about real bears.")

This worksheet package was seven pages long. The initial information was two pages long and then there were three pages for the student to complete. The last two pages were an answer key.

The reading comprehension questions contained a mixture of fact-based and inference-based questions:

In this particular set of worksheets, new vocabulary words were practiced using a matching type-exercise. Lauren did other topics that used multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions to reinforce the meanings of new words in the passage.

 In addition to the wide variety of animal based reading comprehension worksheet packets, I also found an entire page of worksheets about the human body, most of them written for a 3rd through 6th grade audience. They are perfect since Lauren's moved from zoology to anatomy in her regular science curriculum.

As you can tell, I'm primarily using Super Teacher Worksheets to fill my need for both reading comprehension activities and science materials that supplement her regular curriculum. I also used Super Teacher Worksheets to encourage Lauren to learn a bit more about things outside of assigned school topics.

For instance, when hurricanes landed in both Texas and Florida recently, I printed out a packet about hurricanes and added it to her assignments. It was ten pages long and included basic hurricane information, the five categories of hurricanes, how hurricanes are named, safety tips, and more. Lauren's favorite questions was this one which required her to apply facts she learned earlier in the packet. (If you're curious, hurricanes did not have boy names until 1979.)

In the next few weeks, Lauren will begin studying Rocks and Minerals for this year's Science Olympiad competition. I'm excited that I found several new resources for her to use.

The first one is a reading comprehension activity similar to the ones she's done about animals or hurricanes or human body parts. The second one looks to be a lot more fun -- a Rocks and Minerals scavenger hunt. She won't actually be finding rock samples on the hunt, but she will use the clue cards she finds hidden around our house to answer questions on the corresponding worksheet.

Even after finding so many great additions to Lauren's on-the-go school assignments, I feel like I'm still discovering cool new things on Super Teacher Worksheets each time I look -- holiday activities, math crossword puzzles, research project outlines, and even a worksheet generator to create my own worksheets. Their Individual Membership plan ($19.95 per year) allows one person unlimited access to all the printables I've mentioned and hundreds more that I've yet to discover.

Super Teacher Worksheets

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Let's Go Geography {Homeschool Crew Review)

I've already talked about how this school year looks different than I originally envisioned. We're doing a lot more school on-the-go than I had originally planned for. Therefore, I was excited to find Let's Go Geography to add to our curriculum plans for the fall.

Let's Go Geography

Let's Go Geography is homeschool geography curriculum that guides elementary aged students through an exploration of a new country each week. I looked through several lessons before signing up and wrongly assumed that I could print out the materials to pack in the school binder Lauren takes with her on appointment days.

When I really dug into the curriculum, I realized that there is both a print and an online component to the program. For instance, the first unit (the Northeast United States) includes a link to a map to color and label, a link to hear the national anthem, and several links to YouTube videos. Some of the videos offer a visual tour of the area, while others explore a specific topic such as maple syrup production in Vermont. Obviously some of those activities can be printed ahead of time, but some of them need to be done where we have an internet connection (and uninterrupted time to watch videos).

I decided to regroup and plan to do geography on a day when we'd be at home. One of the next units was about Canada. Lauren wasn't particularly interested in learning about another country simply for the sake of learning about a new place. I told her about how Tim works with several members of the Canadian military, and she agreed to dig into the Let's Go Geography materials about Canada. One particularly interesting part of that study was hearing the Canadian national anthem because I told her that it would be sung along with the Star Spangled Banner at Tim's retirement ceremony this week. (Since it's a joint command with both American and Canadian troops, they do both national anthems.)

Unfortunately, Lauren's interest began to wane after doing the map, coloring the flag, and listening to O Canada on a YouTube video. Before I knew it, she had followed a link to suggested videos and was watching a preschool video of "The Duck Song." Lesson learned: make sure to hover close by when I tell Lauren to get on YouTube to do some of her schoolwork.

I then learned a second important lesson about how Lauren learns best. Most of the materials we're using this year have a very distinct start and end point. For instance, "you're finished with math for today when you answer the last problem on this page." Apparently, Lauren likes knowing exactly how much is left to do before she is done. The Let's Go Geography gave her a variety of videos to explore and then an open-ended note booking sheet. Even though the videos weren't long, she complained because she couldn't immediately see how much was left. Similarly, the lack of structure on the note booking page left her asking me "how much do I have to write." I don't think she was trying to get away with doing as little work as possible, she just didn't quite know what to do.

As a parent and teacher, I really appreciate the wealth of information Let's Go Geography provides for each country. Unfortunately, all this information would be better suited for a child that wanted to explore a new country instead of simply finishing the assignment.

Let's Go Geography is set-up for students to study a new country each week. Younger students may want to follow the suggestions for dividing the study amongst five days. Lauren spent both an hour on one day doing the study activities for each country (and opted not to do the art projects). After studying ten new countries, one week is spent on review activities such as labeling a blank map, matching flags with their countries, identifying pictures, etc. Although the program is set-up to go in a specific order, a one-year membership gave us access to all the countries so that we could skip around if we wished.

Even though I cannot use Let's Go Geography for our on-the-go days, I still intend to add it to Lauren's schoolwork when we are at home. One of the American Heritage Girls badges (World Heritage) asks her to study three countries, and these materials will make it easy for her to finish that requirement. She's already finished Canada, maybe we'll do Belize this week.

Let’s Go Geography {Reviews}

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Random Five on Friday

1. I've been working on Octopus for Preemie octopuses whenever I can squeeze in a few moments for crochet. These five friends are on their way to a NICU in New Jersey this weekend.

2. Brennan came home from work a few days ago talking about the new yoga mats they have at the pool. I cannot imagine how difficult this ab workout would be.

3. I think we've spent more time doing schoolwork in the car than at home these past two weeks. One of Lauren's favorite car schooling activities is listening to the audio version of her Sassafras Science book.

4. Lauren has been working on a new stop-motion video with her American Girl dolls lately. I stole these pictures of one of the girls doing gymnastics.

5. The big news of the week is that today was Tim's last official day of work. His retirement ceremony is next Tuesday and then he'll be on leave (and job hunting) until the end of this year.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

First Day Photos

September 1st turned out to be a fun vacation-like day here. Tim had the day off of work, and Lauren argued that she should have the day off of school. We reached a compromise that meant she did some schoolwork before we left home that morning and more work while we were traveling that afternoon.

Our first stop of the day was the radio station. Children's Hospital is having a radiothon in October, and we recorded some of Lauren's story to be shared that day.

Tim, Lauren, and I then headed out of town for a quick weekend trip. We stayed at FE Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's such a beautiful historic base -- wish I had gotten more pictures of some of the buildings there. We saw very few modern buildings, most date back to the early 1900s when it was an Army Post.

Reading time while I fixed dinner:

Berry got put in a very-convenient jail in our TLF.

Meanwhile, Brennan sent me this picture from his afternoon's adventure climbing with a friend.

After dinner, we set off in search of some dessert and then wandered around the base. (We had hoped for non-dairy ice cream at the Commissary but settled for lime popsicles which we took out to the lake to enjoy.)

One of the coolest things about F. E. Warren is the wildlife roaming around the base. This is just one of many groups of pronghorn we saw. We also saw an enormous jack rabbit that bounded away before I could get a picture.

We squeezed in a few games before bedtime and then I tried to get ahead a bit in the physics class I might need to help Brennan with.

It turned out to be quite a fun day, even if Lauren complained about school work. We spent the next day touring a few National Park sites and then headed home. Short trip, but good to get away for a bit.

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Journey Through Learning Lapbook {Homeschool Crew Review}

A Journey Through Learning

I posted a few days ago about how our school year didn't start as I had planned. It's a good thing that my curriculum plans are flexible. I had some tentative plans that aren't going to work right now, but thankfully I also have a new review product that filled in the gaps quite nicely.

A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks has lapbook materials suitable for all sorts of homeschool needs. Families involved in Classical Conversations can find lapbooks to correspond with that work, and families using Apologia science books will find lapbooks to correspond with those textbooks. My favorite products are the Stand-Alone Topical Lapbooks. While there are lots of good options, Lauren has been doing their The Greatest Inventors study to start this school year.

Greatest Inventors Lapbook with Study Guide

When I opened the digital file from A Journey Through Learning, I was immediately relieved to see that it wasn't as complicated as some lapbooks we've done. The lapbook base can be any solid color file folders. We used plain manilla folders, but I'm sure it would be prettier in a color. In fact, it might be cool to coordinate the file folders to represent a particular subject (green for science, blue for literature, etc).

The materials can all be printed on plain white paper. I printed half of the pages on regular printer paper because they contained information for Lauren to read, and I printed all the lapbook components on cardstock to better stand up over time. (It might've been nice to have the information first to print on plain paper and the lapbook pieces separate to print after loading cardstock, but it wasn't a big deal to divide the printing.) The lapbook components have some use of color in the illustrations to make the finished lapbook visually appealing, and thankfully it wasn't so much color that I worried about my printer running out of ink. The booklets go together easily, and I won't have to track down brads or other often-misplaced supplies to put it all together. Basically, we just need file folders, paper, glue, and a stapler to do the whole project.

The best part about this lapbook is that all the information is included. The Greatest Inventors lapbook covers 19 different inventors -- Johannes Gutenberg, Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, George Washington Carver, Alexander Graham Bell, and others. It is organized so that the student can read a short biography of an inventor. Most of these passages are less than a page long, and they appear to be written at a fifth or sixth grade reading level.

After reading the inventor's biography, Lauren completes the lapbook activities which typically ask her to remember (or look back to find) specific facts about the inventor. She can then cut out the lapbook component and glue it into the lapbook. One great feature about this lapbook is that the directions show her where the completed projects will go in the folders. She can glue them into place right away instead of having to wait until the end of our unit study.

With all of the information bound to take it with us and all the pieces able to be glued in place as soon as they are completed, The Greatest Inventors Learning Lapbook with Study Guide is the perfect way for me to squeeze in a bit of science and history on the days when Lauren spends more time doing schoolwork in the car than she does at home.

A Journey Through Learning offers lap books to fit all sorts of homeschooling needs. For us, the Stand-Alone Topical lapbooks are proving their worth as a way to extend learning on not-so-perfect homeschool days. Thank goodness they have plenty of other options for me to choose from when she finishes learning about The Greatest Inventors. My biggest challenge might be deciding whether I should get a history-themed product like Overview of the 20th Century or a science-themed one like Inside My Body. There's also Women Inventors, which would follow nicely with the one Lauren is doing now.

Lapbooks for Classical Conversations, Apologia, Inventors & 20th Century {A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks Reviews}

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