Monday, June 27, 2016 {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

One of the things I've learned from being on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew is how Lauren learns most effectively. Generally speaking, she does well with short, interactive lessons and lots of review.

Thankfully, I've found a company that produces excellent quality online materials that match her leaning style -- Veritas Press. For the past two years, she's worked through their Self-Paced American History courses and now has a fabulous grasp of U.S. History. Recently, we've been exploring their Bible materials with a one-year family subscription to Our subscription allows us to access three different Bible courses -- Genesis to Joshua, Judges to Kings, or The Gospels.

Old and New Testament Online Self-Paced Bible Veritas Review

Lauren chose to start at the beginning and work through the thirty-two lessons in the Genesis to Joshua course. Each lesson has four separate parts so it will take her quite a while to get through this material. The first three parts of a lesson teach new material and the fourth part is a short quiz covering all the material studied up to that point. The instructional days take roughly half an hour to complete, but the quiz day is much shorter.

The primary method of instruction is short video clips (no more than 3-4 minutes long) with Asher, Abigail, a cat named Teb, and a pesky fly named Tizzy. Lauren says she likes Teb because he's funny.

During these short video clips, Asher and Abigail introduce facts from the Bible and talk about them briefly. The material they introduce is reinforced by additional activities that the student completes.

I particularly like the way that these lessons include both facts from the scripture and the scripture itself. It's not just hearing Bible stories; it's studying scripture.

Throughout the lessons, the narrators will go back and give the student opportunities to show what they've learned through interactive questions or games. Sometimes they review material from earlier in that particular lesson and sometimes they review material from lessons studied earlier in the course.

Switching presentation styles throughout the lesson helps keep Lauren's attention. Her mind would wander off if she needed to watch lengthy videos, but the ones on VeritasBible are all short and to-the-point. The interactive questions also keep her focused on the material. She has retained so much knowledge from these lessons because of the way that she is constantly reviewing what she's learned. For instance, she doesn't have a chance to forget what happened on the days of creation because she's asked to use that knowledge frequently, even now that she's moved on to other lessons in the course.

Lauren's favorite part of the Veritas Press courses is the catchy songs used to help the students remember the chronological facts that they are studying. This song covers all the people and events from creation to Joshua's last words -- Cain and Abel, Noah, Abram, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, the Tabernacle, Battle of Jericho, and many more. Some of the events in the song are paired with dates or scripture references so that those details can be remembered, too.

I know from past experience with the Veritas Press History courses that singing this song over and over through the course will firmly cement the information in all of our minds. (My oldest daughter and I can still sing some of the early American History facts from the song we heard while Lauren did that course two years ago.)

A family subscription to allows multiple students to work through the materials at their own pace. At any time, they can jump around between the three courses (Genesis to Joshua, Judges to Kings, or the Gospels). They do, however, have to work through each course in chronological order. Unlike the Self-Paced courses we've used from Veritas Press before, the courses do not track grades for the student. The student has the option to print the quiz results if needed for record keeping purposes.

We've been big fans of Veritas Press since Lauren used one of their Self-Paced History programs in third grade (see our earlier review). They balance solid facts with a fun learning style and then include enough review that she retains what she learns. It's a perfect combination! is another great program with all the things I love about their Self-Paced classes and the flexibility to have multiple students in a family studying different parts of the Bible.

VeritasBible offers a 14 day free trial (no credit card required) if you'd like to try the program yourself!

Old and New Testament Online Self-Paced Bible Veritas Review

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©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Random Five on Saturday, June 25th

The past few weeks have finally started to seem like summer around here.

I've stopped worrying about having to squeeze in school work around all of Lauren's appointments. (She has had even more than usual lately because we're catching up on some things.) I still throw a book or two in my bag whenever we head out the door, but it's not as stressful as it was a few weeks ago when I was trying to squeeze in "just a bit more" academic work to finish up our year.

Here's a random look at our past week:

1. Lauren and I were surprised to see a large gathering of Star Wars characters in the lobby of Children's Hospital Thursday afternoon. She noticed that they all had on the official stickers showing that they had been screened for overseas travel and Ebola symptoms. Does space travel count as being out of the country?

2. The boys found a cell-phone signal early one morning and sent us a selfie from their hike at Philmont Scout Ranch. Looks like they're having fun!

3. I finally replaced my basil that got destroyed in a hail storm last month. I don't usually have luck growing much, but I can usually keep basil growing through the summer.

4. After last weekend's adventure climbing up (and back down) Mt. Princeton, I've had quite a bit of soreness, especially in one thigh. It wasn't bad enough to make me schedule a doctor's appointment for myself, but I haven't risked running in a week. I'm starting to get stir crazy.

5. I've been working on two knitting and crochet projects, and both of them are going more slowly than I'd like. I try to remind myself that slow progress is still progress.

Lately, I've found a wonderful place to spend cool summer evenings. I think I'll head there now:

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Ongoing Cristi vs. Diabetes Challenge

It's rare that I accept two major challenges that pit me against my diabetes so close together. Last month, I conquered The Incline and declared the score as Cristi 3, Diabetes 0.

Today's battle played out on a mountain -- Mount Princeton, elevation 14,196 feet. A friend of mine formed a team to do the climb as part of the Alzheimer's Association The Longest Day challenge. It was my first attempt to climb a 14er.

And the winner (once again): ME!!!!

The view from the top was amazing!

It was a really tough climb, especially for someone like me who was new to mountain climbing in Colorado. We spent roughly six and a half hours climbing to the top and back down, and most of the time we were bouldering (climbing up and around rocks the best way we could figure out).

Stay tuned for more Cristi vs. Diabetes challenges in the future. There are plenty more adventures to be had and I'm not about to let diabetes to stand in my way.

©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Forbrain for Improved Reading Comprehension {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review

I've mentioned several times lately that we've been focused on improving Lauren's reading comprehension skills. In addition to trying new curriculum, we've been using a bone conduction headset from Forbrain -- Sound For Life Ltd.

Forbrain works in two ways. First, the microphone piece picks up the sound and filters it to enhance specific frequencies found in human speech. Secondly, the sound is transmitted through bone conduction, not typical headphones or ear buds. According to the Forbrain, using the headset for fifteen to twenty minutes per day for six weeks can produce lasting improvement in attention, concentration, memory, speech articulation, and more.

The Forbrain headset is lightweight and was easily positioned on Lauren's head so that the sound was transmitted through bone conduction. (The parts of the headset that looks like large ear buds actually sits in front of the ears.) At times Lauren got a bit frustrated with the microphone part. Depending on the way that it is turned it has a tendency to twist downward instead of staying in the same place. I could usually fiddle with it so that it would stay in place, but Lauren wasn't always successful in getting it adjusted by herself.

I tried the Forbrain myself and was fairly impressed. I did pay more attention to the materials when I was reading it aloud using the Forbrain. That's actually saying quite a bit because I frequently read stories aloud to Lauren without really paying attention to what's going on, especially if it's a book that I've read before.

I found quite a few ways to incorporate this new tool into Lauren's school days. One of her favorite ways to use it is for her poetry memorization practice. She listens to herself read a new poem several times and then tries to recite it without looking at the text.

Since her poetry selections change every few days, I was never able to do a direct comparison between memorizing a poem with the Forbrain and memorizing one without. She prefers using the Forbrain, even though she never could explain why. I suspect that clearly hearing the words as she reads them provides extra sensory input that helps her memorize the poem more quickly than she would otherwise.

The other way we've used Forbrain is during her reading time. Many of our days lately have included long car rides to get to various appointments. When we left home, I'd grab a book for her and our Forbrain (in its protective carrying case).

As I drove, I would have her read a chapter (or two) using the Forbrain. The first time she did this, I was amazed at the details she could recall from the book. Typically, I would get vague answers about what happened in the story, sometimes answers so vague that I wasn't sure she had understood enough about the plot to move on to the next chapter. She was reading a book about an April Fool's Day fairy one day while we were driving, and she started telling me all sorts of details about the chapter. She told me what three things the fairy had lost, why they were important, and then told me the first two April Fool's tricks that the main characters had attempted in that chapter. I was amazed. Obviously, I cannot prove that using the Forbrain for reading was the only factor that helped her remember so many details, but I have seen similar results on other days when she read using the Forbrain.

According to Forbrain, lasting results can be seen after consistent use for six to ten weeks. At this point, I can see benefits while she is using the headset, but not necessarily at other times. With a busy season of doctors appointments, a short hospitalization, and some various fun activities, we have not been consistent with using the headset daily. For now, we'll continue to use it for some reading activities. I suspect we'll be able to be more consistent with daily use in the fall and may be able to see even more benefits.

Forbrain costs $359 and comes with a money-back guarantee. It's suitable for all ages, with program recommendations for children under five years old all the way up to adults.

Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review

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©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

On Her Way -- The End of an Era

Tonight was Addison's last chorale concert for this spring. What started with a church musical and some private voice lessons in Virginia led to the Celebration Singers of Central Arkansas, three wonderful years with the Tucson Girls Chorus, and now the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale.

As part of the graduation concert, each senior was allowed to perform a solo. Instead of singing, Addison picked a song and did the sign language interpretation to go along with it.

It was perhaps the perfect song to wrap up her year in Colorado -- On My Way by Phil Collins.
"Tell everybody that I'm on my way
And I just can't wait to be there.
With blue skies ahead
And nothing but good times to share.
Tell everybody that I'm on my way
And I just can't wait to be home.
With the sun beating down,
Yes, I'm on my way
And nothing but good times to show."
In the middle, she spoke a few words of thanks to the chorale who welcomed her with open arms this year. Perhaps she speaks for our whole family who has been welcomed so much in Colorado.

"I want to thank Chorale for welcoming me so graciously this year. You have been so kind and friendly and welcoming--more than I could ask for and more than I deserve. Thank you. But when I leave a place, I don't want to look back and grieve what I'm leaving behind. I want to look ahead to the next steps in my journey. And now I'm on my way to the rest of my life, and I just can't wait to see what's planned for me."

As for Addison, this is by no means her last concert. Next year I'll just be traveling a bit (okay, a lot) farther to see her perform.

©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MaxScholar {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I've mentioned before that one of my homeschool focuses for Lauren lately has been improving her reading comprehension skills. She's quite proficient at phonics and being able to sound out words, but she struggles with understanding the text, remembering details, and drawing conclusions. MaxScholar offers online reading instruction and intervention programs suitable for preschoolers through high schoolers, and I was eager to see how the comprehension component of the MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs would help Lauren.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

MaxScholar offers activities in seven different categories of reading instruction when you purchase a MaxGuru license. Since Lauren is already working at grade level in terms of phonics, we skipped over the MaxPhonics and MaxWords categories.

MaxReading approaches reading comprehension in a way that we've never tried before. It is based on the Lindamood-Bell© process which teaches the student to use highlighting, summarizing, and outlining to help with comprehension and retention. (Note: MaxScholar is not affiliated with or endorsed by Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes; they just use a similar method.)

All of the reading comprehension programs I've used simply have the student read a passage and then answer questions. The easiest way to show how MaxReading works is to step through a complete activity.

When Lauren first sees a passage, she has the opportunity to make sure she understands all the vocabulary words. If she clicks on a gray highlighted word, she gets a pop-up screen that will pronounce the word, give a definition, and use it in a sentence.

For the next activity, Lauren uses the online highlighters to mark the topic (in blue), the main idea (in green), and important details (in yellow).

After reading and highlighting the passage, she can compare it to the answers. In this case, she picked most of the same details as the program suggests.

The next step is to take the information from the passage and organize it into an outline.

Lauren then gets a choice of three questions to answer for her writing assignment. One option is always to write a summary of the passage (including a main idea, three important details, and a concluding sentence). The open-ended option for our example passage asked, "What are some similarities and differences between Abraham Lincoln's childhood and your own?" The final option was to write about conclusions that could be drawn from the text.

After reading, highlighting, outlining, and writing, the MaxReading program moves on to the questions. By this time, Lauren is quite familiar with the material and is able to answer most of the questions correctly. If there's something that she's unsure of, she has the option to refer back to the text to refresh her memory.

Lauren does quite well on the comprehension questions after going through the MaxReading activities. The process of highlighting the main idea and important details helps her slow down and pay attention to the text.

From a teacher standpoint, there are several places where I wish this program offered a bit more support to the student. For instance, Lauren compares the words she highlighted with the ones the program chose, but she was never explicitly taught how to find the important details in a passage. Similarly, the outlining and writing exercises aren't explained, just assigned. Lauren tries to complete the activities, but I don't stress over them (and usually don't go into the teacher area to see what she has written). I just consider it to be extra exposure to the materials.

After Lauren finished working through a MaxReading passage each day, I told her to explore some of the other areas available with our MaxGuru license. She deemed the MaxWords and MaxVocab areas to be too similar to the reading activities she had already done. In other words, they are too academic to pick for her free-choice activity. In the future, I'll alternate assignments so that she works in those areas on days when she does not complete a MaxReading passage.

MaxBios and MaxPlaces both offer the student opportunities to apply their emerging reading skills by providing passages, an opportunity to practice highlighting, and then a series of comprehension questions. MaxPlaces has passages about various cities throughout the world, and MaxBios has passages about famous people. I especially noticed the way that the biographies were chosen to appeal to a wide variety of children. There is a heavy emphasis on musicians and sports stars, but I also found plenty of other famous people that many children would recognize (Martin Luther King, Jr, Albert Einstein, Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey, Helen Keller, Mark Zuckerberg, and more). Again, these areas might be better done on a day when I haven't already assigned a passage in MaxReading.

Lauren chose to spend most of her free time on MaxScholar using the MaxMusic area. Instead of reading a passage about the artist, she read and completed short activities using song lyrics. This area also has a repeat after me game using a keyboard and the notes from the song. She was thrilled to see a song that she recognized from chorale and used the piano game to teach herself how to play "Let it Be." (Learning the notes/music isn't the point of this part of the program, but she enjoyed using the game to teach herself to play the melody to familiar songs.)

All of the components of the MaxScholar program combine to give solid practice in reading comprehension using a variety of high-interest stories and effective strategies to help them remember what they read. It is now a big part of our plan to help Lauren strengthen her reading comprehension skills.

A one-year license for one student to use MaxGuru (including MaxReading and six other programs) normally costs $330 and is currently on sale for $279 year.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

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©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Five More May/June Adventures

This week's random five is a continuation of last week's Five May Adventures post.

Tim's parents came for the Memorial Day weekend and brought friends with them from Arkansas. We did our best to find some Colorado adventures to entertain them.

1. Paint Mines (more pictures on Tim's blog): About a year ago, we had plans to meet a homeschooling friend at Paint Mines while we were here house hunting. Unfortunately, our playdate got rained out and it's taken our family a year to find the time to go exploring out there.

2. Graduation Sunday at Church with a celebration banquet for the families afterward

3. Garden of the Gods

4. Bent's Old Fort (again, there's lots of additional information on Tim's blog)

5. Thunderbirds: Every year the Thunderbirds do a flyover at the end of the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony and then perform some of their amazing aerial maneuvers. Some of the family went to see their practice show on Tuesday, and some of us went for the actual graduation on Thursday.

(Special photo credits go to Tim for his awesome pictures earlier this week. I forgot the camera and therefore only have a few blurry iPhone pictures to prove I went on graduation day.)

6. While our company was in town, we also went to Lauren's favorite museum in Colorado -- the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. For some reason, we didn't take many pictures other than this one in the gift shop. I'll call it a bonus for this week.

The only adventures in store for me this weekend include lots of Children's Chorale rehearsals and their big Heroes & Villains on Broadway performance on Sunday. Next week I might just have five pictures of Lauren and Addison to share.

©2009-2016 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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