Monday, January 31, 2011

TOS Review: Times Alive

Some parts of math need to be explained and understood. I have found plenty of hands-on ways to explain some math concepts. I taught my kids what multiplication was by using blocks or cheerios or other manipulatives. We worked out word problems so that they could understand why you multiply 3x4 if each child in our family has four cookies.

At some point, however, the fun part of multiplication took a backseat to the drudgery. To move on from simple one-digit multiplication, children really need to be able to just remember the basic facts. Math basically became memorization focused for a few weeks (or longer) -- lots of flashcards, math drills, and practice pages, not much problem solving or fun.

City Creek Press has found a way to make the memorization job both more fun and more effective. Their Times Alive computer program uses several approaches to learning a new multiplication fact. Visual learners will learn from the memorable graphics, and auditory learners will learn from the catchy songs. The stories and songs use funny number shaped objects/creatures to illustrate a funny scene that leads to the answer. For instance, two sixes walk across the desert and start searching for water. They are very thirsty sixes (36). I know it's a corny joke, but it does help you remember the equation. That's why this program works -- it helps you remember.

Times Alive starts with the easy multiplication facts (multiplication times 0 and 1). Afterwards it moves on to the facts that are a bit harder to remember. Each fact is covered in a lesson with a story and then a corresponding song. At the end of the story and again after the song, the student is prompted to enter the correct numbers in the multiplication equation. After every few facts, there is a review section with about 10 problems to answer.

This program is ideal for students that are just learning their multiplication facts -- either homeschoolers or ones in school. Both of my older students already know their multiplication facts well. Brennan worked through the Times Alive program, but it was mostly an enjoyable review for him. I'm not sure it improved his speed; the program seems to be designed more for initial learning than for the continued practice needed for a child to have quick recall of the facts

Interestingly, Lauren (just turned five) has listened to Brennan working with the program, and she's started singing some of the songs. One of her favorites is a cheer that goes, "1, 2, 3, 4! I like math, let's do some more!" She can even tell you that three times four is twelve. I found a video of that song to share as a sample of the program.

If you'd like to see more samples, City Creek Press has several on their youtube channel here.

The Times Alive software is available for either download ($44.95, available for Mac or Windows systems) or on CD ($48.95). They also offer a book ($19.95), workbooks, activity sheets, and cue cards. Similar products are available for addition, but there isn't a comparable software program for addition facts.

I'd highly recommend this program for children that are trying to master their times tables. I'm going to make sure I have it when Lauren reaches that point several years from now.

I downloaded the Times Alive Software for free as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 2

The Homeschool Chick

In my life this week...
I just realized that this question asked about "my" life, not everything else that's going on. This week, I've continued to stay on track with my Bible readings (B90), and I've also enjoyed reading Jodi Picoult's book House Rules. I added in a few extra runs this week, and I'll finish the month of January with 37.5 miles toward my goal of 365.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Brennan's having a birthday party with his friends this Friday night... a sleepover party. He's invited eleven boys, all are about 10 years old. If I don't post next weekend, send out a search party (or send money for bail).

My favorite thing this week was our sneak peek of Spring. We had several absolutely gorgeous afternoons spent outside playing basketball, roller skating, jumping on the trampoline, and even washing my van.

What's working or not working for us...
Brennan and I are really loving the Zombie Fire Ants study that we started this week. I just purchased some of the other Curiosity Files studies. It's a nice fun break that we both needed.

Addison still isn't enjoying her Eastern Hemisphere Explorer. Actually, not enjoying is a big understatement. I think I need to figure out what can be done to salvage the rest of the year.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
I've been noticing lately that I'm a lot less worried about keeping up or finishing such-and-such. I'm more concerned about continued progress, especially progress and practice in the areas my children need most. For instance, I haven't given up on history, but I realize that perhaps my most important goal this year isn't to make sure I finish covering American History before summer.

A photo to share...

Project 365 (Week Four)

This week, I'm having trouble narrowing my photo selections down to just one per day. I hope you enjoy my 365 and then some.

Monday, January 24th: Brennan practicing basketball in the driveway

Tuesday, January 25th: a posed shot of me using The Holman Bible Dictionary for Kids to help me understand the Bible 90 Days readings. I'm still caught up.

Wednesday, January 26th: I couldn't get my favorite picture of the day to scan so I just took a quick snapshot. It's a printout from the echo Lauren had at her cardiology check-up. Doesn't her new strong heart look great?

Thursday, January 27th: a warm afternoon in Arkansas

Friday, January 28th: another gorgeous day. I might be the mean homeschool mom that doesn't dismiss class for snow, but I do believe in Spring Breaks, especially if we get a surprise spring day in January.

Saturday, January 28th: warm enough to give my van a long-overdue bath

Sunday, January 29th: another day for a basketball game. Tim was practicing his slam dunk, but I didn't quite catch it with the camera.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TOS Review: Ten Marks


As a family trying out products with The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, we've had the opportunity to explore several new math programs this year. Sometimes we continue on with our regularly scheduled math curriculum, but this time we used TenMarks as our entire curriculum. The only thing I added in was a bit of math facts review using either Math Facts Now! (reviewed earlier this month) or Math Kingdom (review coming next month).

TenMarks is an online math program that can be used to teach new concepts or to review areas where your child needs more practice. They offer complete programs for grades 3-10, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry. A subscription costs $10 per month (for one child), with discounts offered for six or twelve month subscriptions.

Each week my children are assigned four worksheets that are due the following week. (Note: the number of worksheets is parent controlled.) The worksheets are always 10 problems long. The student can choose to watch a video lesson prior to working the problems on the worksheet or to just move right into the assignment. Brennan often just jumped in without watching the instruction. When (or if) he realized that he didn't know what he was doing, he could later decide to watch the instructions. As Addison encountered harder concepts, she started watching the video instructions before doing the problems.

There are three hints available for each assigned problem. We found that the hints at Brennan's level (4th grade) were sometimes so helpful that they gave away the answer. Addison has been working on geometry concepts lately, specifically how to find perimeters, areas, volumes, surfaces areas, etc. She recently admitted that she used the hints to make up for the fact that she didn't know how to graph the triangle the problem wanted her to use. When she asked for enough hints, it just told her the base and height so she didn't have to understand how to do the graphing. As she continues through the TenMarks program, she'll have an opportunity to study the graphing skills by themselves. Also, if she had been using this program in earlier grades, she probably would have already covered the basics of these skills.

Brennan gives this program a thumb's up. He likes doing his math work on the computer, and he was thrilled to see that each worksheet only contained 10 problems. He sometimes chose to play the games, and he was excited to unlock new one after completing a certain number of worksheets. He really likes the idea of setting up a parent reward, even though we didn't use that feature. He thinks he should be able to earn an iPod touch if he finishes 200 worksheets. 

From a parent perspective, I think the program worked fairly well. I have a few reservations, especially in our situation. I normally spend a lot of Brennan's math time trying to make sure that he writes down the problems instead of just working it out in his head. The worksheets have multiple choice options which makes it even easier for him to work things out in his head and guess at the correct choice. Also, I'm accustomed to working through a concept until he reaches mastery. I thought the TenMarks program moved a bit too quickly through some concepts that were new for him. Perhaps he will retain the concept well-enough, but it's still a bit too soon to see.

Addison found some of the worksheets to be very easy and others to be very challenging. She was especially frustrated on the day that she spent more than an hour watching videos and then calculating the surface area or volume of complex 3-dimensional objects. This was a new concept to her, and I was proud of the way she stretched her math abilities to be able to finish the work. On the other hand, I share her frustration when suddenly a math assignment takes three or four times as long as it did the week before. She is also accustomed to working through a concept until she reaches mastery level. She doesn't mind an occasional review problem, but she was a bit annoyed when one of her worksheets this week was about perimeters and areas of 2-dimensional objects. She grumbled that obviously she had proved she knew how to calculate the area of a circle because it's pretty hard to figure the volume of a cone without it.

As I said earlier, we used TenMarks as our complete curriculum. It is also suitable to use as a supplement to another math curriculum. Parents can rearrange the topics to choose specific ones that the students needs more practice with or a topic that hasn't yet been covered in the primary curriculum. At any time, a student can log into the practice section and choose a topic. It is set up in the same manner as the worksheets -- 10 questions, hints, and video instruction. The practice area gives step-by-step explanations for how to solve the problem.

Many other homeschool children have been using TenMarks over the past month. If you'd like to see what their parents thought about it, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

Two of my children received six month subscriptions to TenMarks as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TOS Review: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids

A week or so after Christmas, I opened up a pile of mail and found some exciting new review products. One of them was an absolutely gorgeous book of Bible facts.

Lifeway Christian Stores generously sent some of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew members the new Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids (hardback, $14.99).

Perhaps the thing that stood out to me the most about this book was its visual appeal. Most of the dictionary entries are accompanied by a color illustration. Some of them are photographs of real artifacts, some of them are color drawings, and some are reconstruction diagrams that show how cities may have looked in Bible times.

My favorite part is the maps they included. As you can see, I borrowed the book when I was doing my Bible reading through the book of Joshua. The map helped me to visualize the written descriptions of where the 12 tribes settled in Cannan. I have a feeling that I'll be looking for this book again when I reach the New Testament. I know that the map of the Roman Empire will help me follow along when I read about Paul's missionary journeys.

PhotobucketMy children agreed that this book is very visually appealing. It's a book that begs to be opened and thumbed through. It does, however, seem that it's more oriented to just making discoveries than it is to finding the answer to a specific question. For instance, while I was writing this review, I stumbled across a really interesting diagram showing the way that the 12 tribes of Israel camped while wandering in the desert. It's listed under "camp/encampment." I probably wouldn't have even thought to look up "camp," but I do appreciate getting to see the picture.

Overall, I found the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary to be fairly non-denominational. I did find an entry or two that might raise questions, depending on your denominational background.

You can find more opinions about the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids on The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

Lifeway Christian Stores sent me a copy of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids for free as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the book and how it worked for my homeschool family.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 1

Today I stumbled across a fun new idea that a few of my blogger friends were participating in. So many homeschool moms are so busy doing things that the little things about homeschool aren't ever recorded. I'm know that I'm guilty of only remembering the big things (and not even remembering all of the big things). The Homeschool Chick posted a series of simple questions that can be used to journal the everyday (and not so everyday) homeschool happenings.

In our homeschool this week...
We have a few new review products to try. Of note, Lauren is starting a computerized reading program. Right now, she's still working on the lessons to help familiarize her with the keyboard. Addison started an online computer science class on Tuesday and enjoyed getting to compete with other homeschool students to see what they had learned.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Lauren has a cardiology check-up on Thursday. What a blessing it is that these visits are now three months apart!

My favorite thing this week was...
When Tim was home from work last Monday, he joined me on my afternoon run. It challenged me to pick up my pace a bit. I think the average pace was almost a minute faster than I usually run. We remembered the last time that we ran together was probably about 6 or 7 years ago. I whined a lot more back then.

What's working or not working for us...
Addison has been trying a new online math program. This week's assignments proved to be quite a challenge. She pressed on and I was quite impressed with her mathematical skill as she tackled the problems that were harder than usual. A few years ago, I struggled with the decision to switch math programs. I think I made the right decision; it definitely gave her the strong math understanding that she needs now and later in her studies.

Homeschool questions or thoughts I have...
Now that Lauren is officially 5, I've been thinking about Kindergarten materials. I even pulled out some of our beginning reading materials that were tucked away in the attic. I'm not in a hurry to start things, but I'm thinking.

A photo to share...
I probably won't share a photo every week, but I have an extra that didn't get included in yesterday's 365 post.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Project 365 (Week Three)

I know the whole idea of Project 365 is to take a picture every day. I also knew that remembering to take pictures would be a challenge for me. At least once this week, I was tempted to take a picture of one of the kids after they had fallen asleep because I hadn't though to take a picture earlier in the day. Instead, I'll forgive myself for missing a few days this week, and I'll share a few extra shots. Maybe next week I'll have a picture for every day. Then again... maybe not.

Monday, January 17th -- Chicken Florentine for dinner; Brennan's reaction to finding a tiny spoonful of spinach sauce on the side of his plate

Tuesday, January 18th -- What a somewhat typical morning of homeschooling looks like in our house -- Brennan in his pj's, Addison on the computer, and Lauren with her dolls.

Wednesday, January 19th -- Brennan after quiet rest time. I asked, "What?" but he only explained that it was face paint left from Halloween.

Friday, January 21st -- Breakfast of Champions: Oatmeal w/ butter and brown sugar, Grits, Bacon, and a few sips of juice

Friday afternoon -- the Irish Creme cookies Addison baked while I was gone for a while

Sunday, January 23rd -- Movie time with Daddy

Friday, January 21, 2011

TOS Review: Speekee

Speekee logo

One of the really fun things about being on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew is getting to try out things that I never would have tried on my own.

Recently, my children and I received a two month trial subscription to Speekee -- a series of online videos that teach Spanish by immersion.

There are 10 videos in all, each one combining puppets, Spanish children, and catchy songs. The videos are captioned in both Spanish and English. Reading skills are definitely not required, though, and I suspect that a child would learn just as quickly if they watched without the captioning. The vocabulary is absorbed by hearing the Spanish phrases and associating them with the pictures. For instance, one episode shows the children visiting a zoo. While they look at the animals, they name them and discuss whether the animal is big or small. Younger children might need more practice to pick up all the animal names, but should be able to understand "grande" and "pequeño" at the end of the episode. Older children might even be able to name all the animals.


Initially, I wasn't sure about the idea of just learning by immersion. It seems to be working, though. One night at dinner, Lauren was repeating some of the words and songs she had learned. One of them was, "Soy Lupi." We started talking about how I would say, "Soy Mommy," and how her brother would say, "Soy Brennan." It took her a bit of help to reach the conclusion that she would say, "Soy Lauren." After that, she caught on and realized that Granny would say, "Soy Granny," and Nana would say, "Soy Nana." We all thought it would be funny to hear, "Soy Oma." I walked into the other room and overheard when she said, "God would say, 'Soy God,' right?" The big kids and I ended up discussing the scene in Exodus where God says, "I AM." We decided maybe God would simply say, "SOY."

All of the episodes include catchy songs to help teach the vocabulary. I cannot count how many times I've caught myself singing, "Habla Español, Habla Español" or "Adiós, mi amigo, adiós."

The program is recommended for ages 2-10. Brennan (age 10) seemed to think it was a bit babyish. I'm not sure if it was the Speekee character, the sock puppets, or the songs that he didn't like. It did seem like it would appeal most to preschoolers or early elementary school children. Lauren just turned 5 and is in what I'd consider the ideal age range. She doesn't really like watching it though. I'm not sure if she dislikes the speekee program or if she's just not accustomed to watching things on the computer. Most of the other activities she has done on the computer have been more interactive. Even though she could learn a lot from watching the Speekee videos, I'm not sure I'll continue to fight with her about watching them.

A subscription to Speekee costs $7.50 per month, but there is a free two week trial available. Maybe you should let your own children watch an episode or two and decide for themselves if the shows are something that they would watch. You can also read other reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew Blog.

I received a two month subscription to watch Speekee videos for free as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TOS Review: Maestro Classics

I don't necessarily remember hearing much classical music when I was in school. I know I was obviously introduced to some in my dance classes, especially Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, but I can't specifically remember anything else. When Addison first started homeschooling, we had several classical music CDs that she listened to at bedtime.

PhotobucketI was excited when I found out that I would receive the Peter and the Wolf CD from Maestro Classics to review. I remember hearing Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf a long time ago, and I love the way it introduces the orchestra to children.

Even though a few unnamed children groaned when I told them that I was picking it as the next CD on our road trip, they all enjoyed it. Actually, Addison and Brennan enjoyed it the first time we listened to it. Lauren was so tired that she fell asleep before she heard much. It turned out that she's become the biggest Peter and the Wolf fan of all. She has listened to it multiple times on her own, asked me to play it at bedtime, and even carried it out to the van so that we can listen to it on our way to therapy.

The best part about the Maestro Classics CDs is that they aren't just music. The classical music is accompanied by a narrator telling the story. We were all paying attention to the story and trying to guess what was happening when the music played. Even Lauren has started being able to hear excerpts from the CD and figure out which animal (instrument) she hears. 

From an educational standpoint, this CD is fabulous. It is far more than just the orchestral arrangement with an excellent narrator. Other tracks on the CD give information about the composer, teach how to listen to music, and more. Not only did my children learn what each instrument sounds like, they were also introduced to the concept of musical themes being repeated throughout the piece.

If I can combine something I want my children to hear (classical music) with something they want to listen to (a good story), then I have found a product worth its weight in gold.

All of the CDs from Maestro Classics cost $16.98. They also have a few gift sets that combine the music CD with a book. If you go to the Maestro Classics website, you can see that their current special is 3 CDs for $45. I have my eyes on Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Casey at Bat, Swan Lake, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The difficult part might be figuring out how to narrow it down to just three.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about their Peter and the Wolf CDs, be sure to check out The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

I received a free Peter and the Wolf CD as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

365 miles -- What am I thinking?!?

Last fall, I noticed one of my friends (a fellow KFA volunteer) mention the Couch to 5K program on facebook. A few weeks later my diabetic educator told me that I really should think about some sort of regular exercise program to help keep my risk of heart disease down.

I downloaded the C25K app to my iPod and bought a pair of running shoes. On September 18th, I did my first workout -- 60 seconds of jogging alternating with 90 seconds of walking. I kept plugging along with the program, and on my birthday (November 11th), I ran my first 5K. It wasn't an official race, but I ran the whole distance.

I never thought I'd be a runner. I also never really understood the mental health benefits of exercise. Now, I'm a firm believer in taking the time to go run so that I'm better prepared mentally to deal with the stress of my life.

This year, I've challenged myself to run 365 miles. That's roughly equal to running 3 miles either two or three times a week. As of today, I've run 16 miles -- I'm right on target. I'm learning that it's quite a commitment. It's far too easy to say, "It's too cold," or "I'm too busy," or "The planets aren't properly aligned." If I pass up a few days of running now though, I know I'm going to regret it later in the year when I'm trying to play catch-up in order to get enough miles in this year. Besides, several of my friends have put a friendly wager on the table -- if I don't run 365 miles, I'll owe KFA an extra $10 donation. (Not to mention the teasing I'll have to endure.)

Project 365 (Week Two)

More smiles and memories:

Monday, January 10th -- Snow Day. In Arkansas, it doesn't take much snow for everything to shut down. After shoveling out from under Snowmageddon in DC last year, I was happy to see only about 2 inches.

Tuesday, January 11th -- Dental visits for four of us. We're lucky to have found someone good here in Jacksonville.

Wednesday, January 12th -- Brennan found that it was "super cool" to jump on the trampoline while it had snow on it, and he convinced Lauren to try also.

Thursday, January 13th -- I enlisted Tim's help for making the fondant decorations for Lauren's birthday cake.

Friday, January 14th (early morning) -- Lauren's fifth birthday. She was listening to music on Addison's old mp3 player, and I heard her singing along to "Blessed Be Your Name."

January 14th (extra picture) -- hockey match

Saturday, January 15th -- Lauren's Birthday Party. After telling me last month that she wanted a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cake, she changed her mind and requested a Turner cake. Turner is one of the two screwdrivers on Handy Manny; he's joined on her cake by Phillipe (the other screwdriver) and Dusty (the saw).

Sunday, January 16th -- Lauren and Baby wore matching dresses to church. Thanks Oma!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blessed Be Your Name!

Five years ago last night I was lying in a hospital bed trying really hard not to have a baby. Five years ago this morning, the neonatologist looked grim when she saw the sonogram pictures.

Five years ago, God started showing us that He still works miracles.

Thank you God for Lauren and for all the lessons you've taught us these past five years.

January 14, 2006 -- National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD
(actually I think this picture was taken the next day, but I still don't like the first day pictures)

2007 -- Home (Vienna, VA)

2008 -- Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington DC

2009 -- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, waiting for a heart transplant

2010 -- Home (Vienna, VA)

Later tonight or tomorrow I'll post a picture of our big girl turning five. What a miracle! 

If you haven't yet heard Lauren's story, you can watch the Defining Moments video I posted a few years ago. I am serious when I say to grab some kleenex before you watch.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Craft Resolution

Like almost any crafter, I have a lot of enthusiasm when I start a project. Sadly that enthusiasm all to often fades before the project is finished. At this point, my mother would feel compelled to remind me of a certain latch hook project I started in elementary school

For the past few years, I've made a New Year's Resolution to "finish more, start less." I think I did pretty well at keeping with that goal last year.

I've probably overlooked a few projects, but here is the majority of what I completed last year:

the "No Guts, No Glory" sweater

a baby blanket that will be sent back to our previous church for their giveaways
one of many baby hats that I made this fall
a doll sweater for a friend

socks are always easy to carry in my bag to doctors' appointments

And now, the "in progress" projects:

the back half of a sweater vest for my mom

a barely started baby blanket

just turned the heels; I love the cable pattern

I think I did well with my "finish more" challenge. This year, I'm going to try to limit myself to only four in-progress projects. My four limit allows me to have one pair of sock in progress, one baby blanket to work on at home, a baby hat if I need one at the last minute, and something else. One of my first projects to start in 2011 will be a child-sized sweater to match the one I made for her doll.


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