Monday, February 28, 2011

Project 365 (Week Eight)

I fell into my old habits again this week -- lots of pictures on the out-of-ordinary days, not many on the others. We went to Great Wolf Lodge last week, and I took a ton of pictures. Now that I have a basic (very basic) understanding of the manual settings on my camera, I was able to capture a few pictures that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

I'll share some favorite pictures here and leave the rest for its own post.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Great Wolf Lodge:

Thursday, February 24, recreating Great Wolf Lodge in our dining room

Saturday, February 26, Brennan's Cub Scout Blue Gold Banquet

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 6

The Homeschool Chick

In my life this week...

After last week's fun mini-vacation, we're back to the regular stuff this week. I'm not sure I'm ready for the regular craziness -- Lauren's back in therapy, Addison has youth group activities three nights this week, Brennan has a Cub Scout meeting and a Boy Scout campout, and there's probably a few other things going on.

In our homeschool this week...
Both Addison and Brennan are starting a new writing program. I'm not sure it's the answer I've been hoping for, but I do know that what we were doing wasn't really working for us. Every time I eliminate something that doesn't work, I get closer to finding something helpful, right?

We're also continuing with Latin. Lauren was so funny today because she insisted on watching the video with us. She'll probably pick up the vocabulary as fast as the rest of us.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Brennan's excited about a big campout next weekend, and Addison is excited about the Winter Jam concert. Lauren's excited about getting to see Nana and Papa on Friday. I'm just trying to figure out how to juggle it all.

My favorite thing this week...
We all had such a wonderful time at Great Wolf Lodge. My favorite moments were when we were all riding down one of the big slides together. I could look around our raft and see everyone grinning. I can't believe Lauren already loves the wild rides.

What's working/not working for us...
Last Thursday and Friday, I tried to pick back up with schoolwork, but I didn't have it all planned out. The next time we have a few days off, I'll make sure to have a printed (and filled out) schedule ready for when we get home.

A photo to share...

Friday, February 25, 2011

TOS Review: MathRider

PhotobucketThere are a few academic struggles that nearly all parents of elementary school children face, regardless of whether those children are homeschooled or whether they attend school. Towards the top of the list is the dreaded "math drills." Even when I found a homeschool math curriculum that perfectly fit my children's needs, I still needed to figure out a way to get from understanding a math concept to automatically recalling the answer. Many parents have made (or bought) flash cards to drill their child. Other parents have looked for an electronic option to make drilling more enjoyable and less time consuming.

MathRider is designed to fill this universal need for practicing math facts. It turns boring math drills into an interactive game in which the student strives to complete the quest and rescue the princess. When you answer questions more quickly and more accurately, you move further along in the quest.

At first glance, MathRider looks like a fairly simple game. As the horse gallops along the path, you answer math questions to allow the horse to successfully jump over an obstacle. MathRider shines behind the scenes. All of the questions are analyzed so that future challenge runs are more closely tailored to your child's needs. It takes into account the child's normal typing speed, correct answers, questions that were answered correctly on the second try, etc. Brennan especially liked the way that the program adjusted to his speed. He said that he felt the need to pay attention and answer the questions, but he didn't feel overly stressed trying to rush or pressured to type it as fast as he possibly could.

Perhaps the best way to let you get a feel for the game is to share their promotional video. As a side note, the first time I really noticed the background graphics was when I watched the video. When I played the games, I was so busy paying attention to the math problems that I barely registered the mountains in the background.

The MathRider program download costs $37; it's currently discounted from its regular price of $49.95. You can install it on one computer, and it works for an unlimited number of riders. That makes it an especially good deal if you have younger students needing to practice addition facts and older students needing to practice their times tables.

My kids didn't think MathRider was any better or any worse than any of the other drill options that we've tried. They weren't necessarily motivated by the quest story line or earning the flag that flies on their homescreen. They only drill math facts because I require it. In the end, though, I think they both achieved faster math facts recollection by completing their quests on MathRider. If you'd like to see what other homeschool kids thought, be sure to check out additional reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

I downloaded a trial copy of MathRider 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, February 20, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 5

The Homeschool Chick

In my life this week...
Our week was less busy than usual, and I got so much more accomplished around the house than I usually do. Perhaps I have underestimated the way our days gets disrupted when Lauren has therapy every morning.

In our homeschool this week...
I found a new schedule sheet that I filled out for Brennan, and (knock on wood) I think it's working. We were organized enough to get to more subjects/activities then we ever have before.

We enjoyed starting Latin again this week. Addison has tried two previous Latin programs on her own, but this time we're all working on one together. Even Lauren tries to join in when we're chanting vocabulary.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Tomorrow starts a mini-break for us. We're going to Great Wolf Lodge for a few days of fun. It's become a bit of a spring tradition for our family.

My favorite thing this week...
We had a few days that went so smoothly that I was reminded why I love homeschooling. It was easy to lose the joy of homeschooling when I was worried about who was finishing which assignment, why someone hadn't done any work in a specific subject for a few weeks, etc.

My kids would say that the science experiment on the roof of our house was their favorite thing this week.

What's working/not working for us...
Brennan's assignment schedule is working wonderfully. He seems to work much more diligently when he sees exactly what is expected and knows that he can finish it. I'm considering finding a set of drawers so that I can make it more like a workbox system.

A photo to share...
At the risk of oversharing this picture, I'll show the science experiment snapshot again. Addison dropped a baseball off the roof, and we timed how long it took to hit the ground. She then used her new physics knowledge to calculate the height of the roof.

Project 365 (more or less) -- Week Seven

A picture for each day this week. I'm quite impressed with myself.

Monday, February 14th got its own blog entry, but here's the highlight picture of the day.

Tuesday, February 15th was a great day for playing outside. Look who's back to normal!

Wednesday and Thursday, January 16th and 17th -- apparently Brennan wore the same set of pajamas to school both days.

Friday, February 18th -- Brennan's (slightly belated) Birthday Party

Saturday morning, February 19th -- Even when boys don't get much sleep, they still wake up ready to go. Thank goodness that it was nice outside so they could play. (Notice how they're all color coordinated.)

Sunday, February 20th --  Lauren and Brennan were playing with Brennan's new Beyblades. They let me join them for a while so that we could do a three-way battle, but mine kept losing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

TOS Review: Kid Scoop

Brennan is a fairly good reader, but he's not a very big reader. There's any number of things that he'd rather do than read. Occasionally, we'll find a book or series that really interests him, but on a whole, he doesn't typically choose to pick up a book and read.

One of my latest review products promised to change that. Kid Scoop News has designed their Reluctant Reader Solution program to "get your children or students to read each and every day, and spark their own interest in reading."

Reluctant Reader Solution consists of two parts. The first part is a one-year subscription to Kid Scoop News Online Edition. This online newspaper is roughly 20 pages long and contains a variety of articles, puzzles, experiments, etc. This monthly newsletter is a gorgeous full-color publication for your child to read. Unfortunately many of the pages contain puzzles or activities that cannot be completed on the computer. I printed off several pages for Brennan to complete, but it wasn't nearly the same as seeing it on the screen, especially when I tried to save ink by printing it in black/white.

The second part of the Reluctant Reader Solution is an e-book that contains 365 black-and-white learning pages. The pages are divided into more than 60 topics, all of which would appeal to most elementary school students. The ones I noticed first were fun ones like Bubblegum, Solar Snacks, Big Foot, and Kitchen Creativity. There are also several packets available for animal lovers -- Orcas, Tadpoles, and Gorillas.

Each topic has five to seven corresponding activity pages. As an example, Brennan is working through a packet on Optical Illusions this week. The first two pages have six optical illusion questions with multiple choice answers. For instance, "Which rainbow is longer? M) The one on top. N) The one on bottom. O) They are the same length." The letter of the answer to the question goes into a code word that answers a riddle. The other pages include a word search and an activity to find the ten differences between two cartoon drawings. I believe this unit also had a writing assignment, but I didn't print that page for Brennan. I particularly like the way that the activities change from day to day. Brennan actually has to read the directions and figure them out, instead of just guessing at what needs to go in the blanks.

I'm really quite impressed with both the online newsletter and the learning pages. These learning pages focus on more than just reading the articles; all of the activities help build the skills necessary for reading effectively. I am also very pleased to see the focus on reading across subject areas. Many reading programs tend to focus merely on reading stories. The activities in the Kid Scoop materials cover science topics, charts and graphs, money problems, and much more. I believe that working through this material will help Brennan build his skills in all areas, not just reading. We've already explored a handful of the activity packets, and I plan to keep some already printed to add-in on busy days when I need him to do a little more independent work than usual.

As for sparking Brennan's interest in reading, I'm not sure the program lived up to its advertising. Brennan says he thinks the learning pages are a lot of fun, but he still looks at them as schoolwork. It's more enjoyable than other school assignments, but he's not chomping at the bit and begging me to let him do extra pages or to let him read more on his own.

Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution costs $97, which includes the one year online subscription and the 365 learning pages. Even though I'm just not sure it sparked Brennan's interest in reading, I think the activity sheets are a valuable addition to our regular elementary reading instruction.

If you are interested in improving your child's reading skills, you might want to check out all that Kid Scoop offers on their website -- 30 days of free activity ideas, ebooks, thematic lesson resources, and more. As always, if you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution, be sure to visit The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

I received Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution 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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Super-Mommy Kind of Day

A lot of nights I get ready for bed and mentally think through all of the things that I wished I had done that day. A lot of times I think about our homeschool days and wish I was doing more.

Today was a Super-Mommy Kind of Day. I'm going to celebrate all that we did today and hope that we have more awesome days to come.

Lauren needed to have labs drawn this morning. We were running a little late, but we still got there before the lab tech did. I even had the right color bandaid with me.

When we came home, Brennan had already started on his schoolwork. Apparently the new assignment form encouraged him to get some of it done.

Lauren did some preschool math activity sheets that I had printed out.

Brennan and I read some of his science book together, and then we googled to find out what the earthquake in Haiti registered on the Richter scale.

Lauren worked on Reading Kingdom on the computer for a while. She learned enough typing skills to move on past the letter part, and now she's working on words. She can now type kid and is working on girl.

Brennan worked on the computer for a while, covering various subjects.

Addison and Lauren fixed lunch. Addison made pasta with alfredo sauce, and Lauren cut up fruit (bananas, grapes, and clementines) to make fruit salad.

After lunch, Addison and Brennan helped Lauren with a music lesson online. Imagine that -- a homeschool day that includes extras like music. We also did a lesson of Latin together this afternoon.

During rest time, I snuck outside to enjoy some fresh air and to read my day's Bible assignment. I'm almost caught up.

The weather was so nice outside that I made the kids go outside and enjoy it. Lauren rode her scooter down the street and jumped on the trampoline. Addison and Brennan were playing basketball for a while, and then they started begging to do a science experiment.

What kind of homeschool mom would I be if I didn't let them do science experiments? Yes, I let them climb on top of the roof so that Addison could use her new physics knowledge. She dropped a baseball, and I ended up working the stop watch. She used the time it took the ball to drop to calculate how tall the roof was. She was actually pretty close, especially considering that we were trying to use my iPod to time a drop that only took eight-tenths of a second.

And, of course, the highlight of Tim's day was coming home to a good dinner. I cooked corned beef and cabbage in the crockpot. The cabbage-haters in our family requested lima beans as an additional side. I served it with hot crash potatoes and cheese-garlic biscuits.

For a special Valentine's Day treat, I made one of Tim's favorite desserts -- Red Velvet Cake.

So there you have it... one awesome day. I've definitely earned my "Mrs. Incredible" title tonight.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 4

The Homeschool Chick

In my life this week...
I never finished last week's journal entry, so I guess I should catch up on two weeks. (I'm tempted to just skip over a week, but it all sort of fits together.)

Two weeks ago, Lauren spiked a fever on Wednesday. The peds clinic didn't see anything wrong. I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of a fever without a cause. I talked to her transplant team on Thursday, and they checked her out from top to bottom. All the x-rays, labs, cultures, etc. came back clear, and she hadn't run a fever since Wednesday afternoon.

On Sunday Lauren ran a fever again and that night she was up a lot during the night complaining that her ear hurt. On Monday afternoon, I took her to the peds clinic. The pediatrician saw a raging ear infection. One of the transplant cardiologists and a nurse practitioner came down from their clinic and agreed that it was probably just the ear infection causing her ear ache. She got an antibiotic shot in the office, and we left with a prescription for more antibiotics. Unfortunately, she looked sicker shortly after we got home. She was breathing really fast so I took her back to the ER. After waiting in the ER for most of the night, Lauren was eventually admitted to the CVICU with pneumonia. She perked up after a day or two of IV antibiotics, and on Friday she looked good enough for us to come home.

Needless to say, I'm hoping for a little peace and quiet this week.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Nowhere. Nobody. Seriously. The transplant team basically grounded Lauren for pulling her little pneumonia trick. She's not allowed to go to therapy, to church, or anywhere else for the next two weeks. I'll probably take the big kids to the library one afternoon and just wait in the car with Lauren. Otherwise, we'll all be entertaining ourselves at home.

My favorite thing this week was hearing what a great job Addison and Brennan did helping out around the house while I was at the hospital with Lauren. I'm so proud of them!

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
This morning I realized that Addison is getting dangerously close to high school. I was thinking about ideas for next year and figured out that we need to at least start thinking about high school classes before we finalize our eighth grade plans. Am I ready for this?

A photo to share...
The other day I pulled an old Usborne book off the shelf and threw it in my tote bag as I ran out the door to an appointment. It was 1001 Things to Find on the Farm. Lauren and I had spent many hours hunting and counting our way through the book. I might need some of the others from that series.

Project 365 (Week Six)

Another week when I still haven't managed to get one picture for each day. I may not be perfect, but I'm not giving up yet.

Monday, February 7: Lauren was looking pretty sick that afternoon. I ended up taking her to the ER, and she was admitted with pneumonia. We camped out there until Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 9: Meanwhile, back at the hall of justice... We got approximately four-and-a-half inches of snow at our house. Arkansas doesn't normally get much snow so it doesn't take very much to shut everything down. I was happy to be warm and dry in Lauren's hospital room

Thursday, February 10th: Lauren was feeling much better and started to take advantage of all the benefits of hospital living. One of her favorite things was playing online games (NickJr, Playhouse Disney) using the computer touch-screen.

Friday, February 11th: Cub Scout Wear Your Uniform to School day

Friday, February 11, 2011

TOS Review: Curiosity Files

Recently, I've seen a lot of homeschool moms blogging about homeschool burnout or about how to survive the winter doldrums. I'm not sure we were approaching burnout, but I do know that recently we all enjoyed a short break from our regular school assignments.

Brennan and I worked through The Curiosity Files: Zombie Fire Ants, a new unit study ebook from The Old Schoolhouse. Please don't tell him how much he actually learned that week -- he thinks he got off easy.

That week I saw how Brennan does with reading comprehension and narration. He actually did quite a bit better than I thought he would. I think the high-interest level of the materials made it easier for him to pay attention and pick up new facts. At one point, I had to stop listening to him read so that I could answer a phone call. He continued reading on by himself and then excitedly told me what he had learned. Another reading comprehension activity was disguised as an art project. I'm not sure it was his best effort in terms of art, but he did follow all of the directions correctly.

For math, we explored great real-life applications for the skills he's been learning in his other math programs. For instance, he calculated travel costs, read flight schedules, and even adjusted for time-zone changes. Some of the other math activities dealt with measurements, averages, perimeters, and more.

I was a bit tickled at the way this unit study covered grammar. It was just perfect -- zombie sentences. Those are the ones that wander aimlessly and go on and on. My teachers would have called them run-on sentences, but zombie sentences makes much more sense. I have a feeling Brennan will remember the concept a whole lot better this way.

If I listed every subject we covered using this study, I'd probably end up writing an awful zombie sentence myself. Perhaps I'll just say that Bible study, science experiments, geography, art, copywork, and even snack time were fully covered.

All told, the Zombie Fire Ants study contained 91 pages of activities. We easily divided it up so that it was completed in about a week. There are lots of internet links included, but we were able to complete nearly all of the activities without having to look things up online. It is a big help for me if we can work offline because we often carry schoolwork along with us to doctors' appointments or on long road trips.

These studies were created for 8 to 13 year olds, and I agree that they'd be perfect for upper elementary and middle school students. Some of the activities included both both an elementary option and a junior high/high school option.

I've already purchased a few other Curiosity Files studies to have on hand. They'll be perfect for a week that's packed with outside activities, a week when we're all in need of a short break from the normal routine, or perhaps even a week when the big kids need to work more independently than usual because I'm busy taking care of Lauren. I'm perhaps most interested in the MRSA one, but I have a feeling that Brennan will vote for doing either Cicada-Killing Wasps or Dung Beetles first.

The individual Curiosity Files ebooks are available at The Old Schoolhouse Store and most of them currently retail for $6.95. The best value is the 9 pack bundle that costs $46 for the download or $49 on CD. I've sometimes seen some of these ebooks available at a discount.

Many other homeschool children have been using Curiosity Files studies over the past month. If you'd like to see what their parents thought about it, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog. I can't wait to find out what the other families thought about studying Dung Beetles. Maybe it won't be quite as gross as I fear.

I received a free copy of The Curiosity Files: Zombie Fire Ants ebook to download 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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

TOS Review: VocabAhead

Once again, I've had the chance to review a product that would appeal to both homeschool parents and to parents who send their children to either a public or private school.

There's a part of me that thinks about studying vocabulary for the SATs and thinks that it's still so far away. There's another part of me that thinks more logically and realizes that it really isn't too early for my seventh grader to be studying vocabulary words, including ones that are likely to be on the SATs (or other standardized tests).
For the past month, Addison has been using VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos & MP3s. This paperback book ($12.95, available through covers 300 words that are commonly found on standardized tests. Each entry includes the word, part of speech, definition, a black and white cartoon drawing, a few sentences to illustrate the definition, and a list of synonyms and antonyms. The 300 words are divided into 30 lessons. Each lesson concludes with a matching exercise and ten fill-in-the-blank sentences.

The book is far more, however, than just the words and the review exercises. The real value comes in the downloadable files that can be accessed online after purchasing the book. The MP3 files contain the spoken information: word, definition, and then a few sentences. The video downloads include the spoken information and the corresponding cartoon drawing (in color). The MP3 files and videos can be loaded on a portable device so that you can study anywhere. It appears as if the complete set of videos would take up 500MB of space on your iPod (or other video-capable devise).

Perhaps a sample of a few videos would be appropriate to share:


I really like the audio components because Addison often learns new vocabulary words when she is reading independently. Unfortunately, she doesn't always learn how they are pronounced. I guess this wouldn't be an issue for standardized testing purposes, but it does make for comical conversations at our house sometimes. It also wouldn't be quite as impressive in an interview if she used complex words that were mispronounced. When Brennan begins to study vocabulary at this level, I suspect that he will benefit from both hearing the words and seeing the cartoon picture. He's more of a visual and auditory learner; he doesn't learn as effectively if he is just reading things on his own.

In addition to the printed book, parents may find the VocabAhead website to be quite helpful, especially the Study Room. You can find over 1000 difficult vocabulary words explained using videos. You can also take quizzes or create lists of words to study. I even used the website to choose the videos and create the widget I posted above.

Addison has primarily been working through the word lists in the book so far. I'm interested in VocabAhead's iPod app. This option includes the videos, the cartoons made into flash cards, and quizzes. It will even keep track of which words you've already learned so that you only study the ones you need to practice. I'm seriously considering purchasing the app ($4.99 for 1000 words or only $1.99 for 300) so that she can more easily access the audio and video portions of the program. All too often she'll complete the written exercises without stopping to look up the MP3s on the computer or an iPod.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about their products from VocabAhead, be sure to check out The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. Some of us received the paperback book, and other families have been using their DVD product. I know that the DVD has MP3s and videos for at least 1000 words, all of which can be easily loaded onto a portable device.

I received VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary 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, February 6, 2011

Project 365, More or Less (Week Five)

Another week that's missing a few pictures. Maybe next year I'll hit exactly 365 pictures, then again, how much fun is it to do something perfectly.

Monday, January 31st: Lauren and Brennan built the Lego castles in the living room. Brennan claimed the larger castle and added some Bionicles to defend it.

Wednesday, February 2nd: Lauren spiked another "mystery" fever. She's been doing this off and on for over a month. Really her only symptom that day was the fever making her feel bad. Two doctor's visits and lots of testing later, we're all reasonably satisfied that we shouldn't be worried.

Thursday, February 4th: Dinner time at our house. Lauren was laughing about something (probably a knock-knock joke), and I always find it funny how she covers her mouth when she starts laughing really hard. A minute later I just happened to turn the camera around quickly enough to get a good candid shot of Addison.

Sunday, February 6th: After we cleared up the fever confusion of last week, Lauren came down with a cold this morning. She was coughing too much for church, but she wanted to dress up anyway. She was playing an educational computer game -- you can tell she's really paying attention to what she's supposed to be doing.


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