Saturday, May 28, 2011

Through the Wind...

I don't think our family is exactly what you'd call normal. Ten days in the hospital for pneumonia probably only counts as a "windy day" for us, not a storm.

I had poor internet access while I was with Lauren in the hospital, and instead of a long narrative of the story I could just give a blog collection of Facebook status updates that I could've posted.

* Love that the peds clinic has weekend appointments -- Lauren's still not perking up with the oral antibiotics.

* Peds clinic apparently can't do chest X-rays on the weekends -- off to the ER.

* Benefit to being transferred from peds clinic: no several hour long wait to get to a room in the ER.

* Pneumonia not improving; starting IV antibiotics and settling in for a couple days.

* Lauren's knitting while we wait for a room. One of the ER techs sat with her while I ran to the car and taught her how to make rag rugs. I guess that'll be my new project to learn.

* Weird to be in a regular room w/ no heart monitor, etc. Too many nights on the cardiac floor.

* Lauren was thrilled when her Bible class teacher came to visit and brought a balloon attached a stuffed elephant. The elephant's name is "Phillip Johnny Bob." The butterfly's name is "I Don't Know."

* I miss wifi. 

* Lunch from the street vendor sounds good right about now. Addison claims that the one outside of Penn Hospital is one of her favorite restaurants in the whole world. She might be right.

* Oxygen -- a lot of oxygen. 8 liters at 80%. She still says she feels good... cough, cough, cough.

* Sleeping on a couch-bed is loads better than the fold-out chair beds.

* GI scope scheduled for this week is officially cancelled. We'll reschedule for a month or two from now.

* Probably viral pneumonia and we just have to wait for it to run its course.

* Figured out the secret to the oxygen and the nebulizer. As long as it's turned off when she puts it on her face, she doesn't freak out.

* Yay for the dragon mask; I think albuterol through the nebulizer is helping.

* I'm not sure I can stand the sight of more fish sticks. Maybe she'll pick something different off the menu.

* Steroids... Hmm...

* I used to wonder if I'd appreciate my bed or my shower most after a hospital stay. These days I miss my running shoes.

* Steroids... Yay! Maybe she can wean off the oxygen sooner rather than later.

*Anniversary outing w/ my hubby. Lauren's spent many a family birthday in the hospital, now she's messing with anniversaries too.

* French toast sticks smell delicious. Guess what I'm craving now.

* Hoping she can last off the oxygen long enough to take a shower.

* Rejoicing over a shower and the rest of the day without the oxygen.

Good as new -- God Is Good All The Time And All The Time God Is Good!

Friday, May 27, 2011

TOS Review: Read for the Heart

PhotobucketMy final review for this year's The Old Schoolhouse crew was a special treat -- a book for me. It's a wonderful book that I can't recommend highly enough!

As much as I love reading homeschool catalogs, I often skip right past the parent sections of most of them. By the time I finish tallying up the rest of my order, I don't choose anything for myself.

I had never noticed that Apologia offered books aimed at homeschooling parents, and I now know that I've been missing at least one real gem. I absolutely loved Sarah Clarkson's book Read for the Heart, and I can already tell that it's going to make a difference for our homeschool family. I believe it's also a "must read" for families that choose not to homeschool.

Sarah Clarkson is a homeschool graduate with a gift for writing and a love of books. When she talks about her family, I never got the "better than thou" impression that I sometimes get when reading about other  homeschoolers. She tells about a real family, reading aloud amidst real schedules and with real challenges. At the end of the book I'm left thinking, "I can do this."

Sarah Clarkson uses rich description to show us how her life has been changed by the books that her parents shared with her when she was growing up. She goes on to share the research about reading aloud, to explain why you should read certain types of books, and to describe what makes a good book. After reading all of her information, I realize that reading aloud to my children is worthy of more than just the leftover time at the end of our days or something to squeeze in once all the math problems are calculated and all the Latin verbs are conjugated.

The biggest portion of this book is devoted to lists of the books that have her highest recommendation. This is much more than just a list of books. She suggests an appropriate age range for each book, gives a short summary, and warns parents about any subject matter that may not be appropriate.

Of course, any list of book suggestions is only as good as the books it recommends. I now have a great deal of respect for Sarah Clarkson's opinion, and I trust that the books she names are ones worth searching out for my family. I looked through the lists and found several of our favorites. Addison also agrees that the books she recognized in the lists were some of the best ones that she's read.

In addition to lots of recommendations for longer chapter books, Sarah Clarkson gives parents a lengthy list of treasured picture books to share with their younger children. I scribbled down a list of these books and snuck away to the library by myself one morning. I came home with an overflowing tote bag of books that I hoped Lauren would enjoy. All of them were big hits. In fact, she's asked to hear some of the books over and over again. It's such a treat to enjoy a beautiful picture book with Lauren instead of merely suffering through another lesser quality book that she would pick on her own in the library.

The real test came when I put her recommendations to the test and asked for Addison and Brennan's opinions. If you've been following along with my entries to Debra's Reading Aloud challenge, you can find some of the books we've recently enjoyed. I was surprised to see that both Addison and Brennan enjoyed Rascal by Sterling North. I had feared that they'd get bogged down listening to the rich descriptions. We've now moved on to My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George -- another winner in our house.

I can't wait to see what other treasures we uncover as we continue to choose books based on Sarah Clarkson's recommendations!

Read from the Heart is available through Apologia for just $17. They offer a few other books to encourage homeschool parents, and I can guarantee that I'll be looking more closely at them to see what other gems I've been missing. You can find these books on their website here. If you'd like to read what other homeschool parents thought about Read for the Heart, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.

I received a free copy of Read for the Heart 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.

Friday, May 20, 2011

TOS Review: Wordy Qwerty


Earlier this year, The Old Schoolhouse Crew reviewed Read, Write & Type, a beginning reading program produced by Talking Fingers. The beginning program teaches phonics rules so that a student can type any word that they can say. (If you are interested, the crew reviews are located here.)

Talking Fingers also has a program for older students -- Wordy Qwerty. Wordy Qwerty picks up where Read, Write & Type leaves off. It teaches spelling rules and English language patterns so that students can learn to spell words correctly. These lessons are designed for 2nd through 4th graders, roughly 7 to 10 years old. I used this program with Brennan (10 years old).

Wordy Qwerty consists of 20 lessons, each of which contains variations of the same 6 activities. Two of the activities introduce a new spelling rule, one offers practice with word families, one asks the student to quickly identify words that don't necessarily follow spelling rules, one gives the student a sentence to type, and the last one is a fill-in-the-blank story.


We found all of the activities to be both colorful and fun. Brennan sometimes complained that they took a few minutes to load, but he (like his mother) is known for being an impatient internet user.

I noticed that the program allows a student to move through the levels without demonstrating mastery of a concept. Also, some of the game activities do not necessarily have a penalty for submitting the wrong answer; it merely tells the student how to answer correctly. After a while, Brennan just started to coast through the activities without giving it his full attention. I found this to be particularly evident in the story reading activity. Brennan could correctly choose the correct word to fill the blank in the sentence by only reading that particular sentence. After watching him read 4-6 pages of text, I asked him what the story was about. He had no clue; he was merely picking words that made sense and wasn't even reading the sentences that didn't require a response.

We did find one part of the program that I really liked. I really liked the way that the program would give an entire line of dictation and ask Brennan to type it. I've often used dictation as part of our composition lessons, but I've always done it with paper and pencil. His handwriting skills have sometimes limited the  length and complexity of the sentences that I've chosen for that dictation. It was an "a-ha" sort of moment when I saw him typing dictation sentences on the computer for Wordy Qwerty.

As online subscription to Wordy Qwerty costs $25 for one user and $40 for two users. (The complete price list, including options for more users, is available here.) Wordy Qwerty is also available on CD for $35.

As always, many other homeschool families have been using Wordy Qwerty over the past few months. Their reviews can be found on The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

I received a free student license for Wordy Qwerty 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, May 18, 2011

TOS Review: Mad Dog Math


Over the course of this year, we've been able to try several different math programs, many of them with the specific goal of getting a child to practice their basic math facts. I've reached the conclusion that all of them will help a child get faster at these facts, assuming of course that your child actually uses the program.

Our latest drill program, Mad Dog Math, has a few features that make it a better fit for our family than some of the other ones that I've tried. Perhaps if I outline the things that Brennan and I liked about the program, you'll be able to tell whether your children would like it too.

The basic program interface is quite simple. There are twenty problems on the screen at a time. You can adjust the difficulty level, the fact families that are covered, and the time allowed. The goal is to finish all of the drills in 2 minutes a piece. After earning the 2 minute club sticker, you can continue working to get a 1 minute sticker and even a 30 second one.

Mad Dog Math

The first thing I like is the way Mad Dog Math waits until all 20 problems are answered before checking them. This gives student the ability to backspace and correct errors. I've found that many drill software programs check the problem immediately and do not allow the student to self-correct if the wrong key gets accidentally pushed.

Brennan does much better with a program that lets him finish before a complete set before telling him which ones he got incorrect. He would sometimes miss a few problems early in a session and get too frustrated to continue when using programs that give immediate feedback. With Mad Dog Math, he is more willing to continue working through to the end of the assigned problems.

Mad Dog Math allows a student to practice either with or without the timer. Obviously, you have to use the timer to earn a club sticker, but I like the option to enter answers without the pressure to do it at a certain speed. This option would be a great way to introduce math drills to a student when they are first learning their math facts.

Finally, I like the way you can see all 20 problems at one time and see how many problems you have left to complete. Often, I've worked with other math drills and wondered how many more problems were going to be thrown at me before I'd get to take a break.

The final Challenge level is a wonderful feature of this program. It drills a mixed set of problems covering all four operations. It also has a special Kennel Trouble section that challenges the student to do two operations at a time to fill out a chart, for instance add the two numbers and then multiply by 5. It certainly made me think a little harder when I tried to finish in less than 90 seconds. This level of math drill takes a fairly simple program and adds enough challenge to interest older students -- ones that still need practice but are easily bored with seeing the same simple problems they've done before.

The Mad Dog Math program costs $19.99 for a one-year license, $29.99 for a two-year license, and $39.99 for a license that does not expire. You can use the program with as many children (or adults) as you wish. Unfortunately it is only available for use on Windows based computers at this time.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about using Mad Dog Math with their children, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

I received a two month trial version of Mad Dog Math 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, May 16, 2011

TOS Review: WonderMaps

Wondermaps Logo

When I started homeschooling, I chose a curriculum, opened the materials to the first page, and followed the directions pretty much as they were written. Over the years, I've branched out a lot. In the process, I became more flexible in some ways and more demanding in others. I no longer restrict myself to one set way of teaching a subject, and I feel a bit more freedom to do it my own way. On the other hand, I now want to do it my way, exactly as I envision it.

A new program from Bright Ideas Press allows me to do geography "my way." When we're studying a particular period in history, I sometimes have a map already prepared for me in our materials or sometimes I can find what I'm looking for with a quick internet search. Other times, though, I find something that will work, but it isn't quite right.

If WonderMaps was just a collection of maps, it would be quite impressive -- US maps, world maps, historical maps, and even biblical maps. It's much, much more than just a collection, though. The WonderMaps program allows you to customize each one of the maps by adding or subtracting elements until you tweak it to fit your own needs. In other words, I can do it "my way."

Perhaps it's best if I show you an example. In the map of the Aztec empire below, I can remove the rivers or add in a modern overlay. I could remove the line marking the route Cortez took and then ask my students to draw it in themselves. I can even remove the title of the map and ask which civilization is shown in green.


As I look through the extensive collection maps, I can see countless ideas for how these maps will work for my homeschool needs:

* I can print the map of the Civil War and leave off the color coding so that the student has to identify which ones are Union states and which ones are Confederates.

* The modern map of the European Union can have the countries still selected (colored in), but I can leave off the country names for the student to fill in.

* I can use the regional maps of the US States as a teaching tool for students on all different levels. Brennan could fill in the names of the states and their capitals. I can leave the largest cities in each state marked on the maps and challenge Addison to fill in the names of each. I can print the same map in color with just the states labeled when I start to teach Lauren the names and locations of all the states.

* I can print four different maps to show Paul's Missionary Journeys -- one for each journey and one that shows them all at the same time.

WonderMaps currently sells for $49.95 (available as either a CD or to download). If you are interested in purchasing it, you may want to look in the newest issue of The Old Schoolhouse magazine for the coupon code I noticed a few days ago. As always, you can visit the Crew blog here to find other parents talking about how this product worked (or didn't work) for them.

I received a free WonderMaps collection 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, May 11, 2011

TOS Review: GoTrybe


As my year with The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew draws to an end, I find myself looking back over all of the wonderful products my family has been blessed with. Not only have we tried products to teach every major subject, and I can't think of many optional subjects that we haven't also covered. Recently, Addison has been trying a web-based program that could help bring PE into your living room.

GoTrybe is "the online health and fitness community where kids and teens can get active and learn about being healthy for life." The online program is divided into several different sections. As Addison worked through the activities, she earned points that could be spent customizing her character, change the clothes, etc.

Some of the areas involved reading a short passage and then answering a very basic comprehension question. Addison thought they were random and trivial. I should point out that she's coming from a background of homecooked meals and a relatively fit family. What she considers basic knowledge that's too easy for her, may not be so basic for the general public. She's also not a big fan of learning things by just hearing random facts; she'd prefer work through complete materials in a logical fashion.

Perhaps the best part of the GoTrybe program is the workouts themselves. There are at least 10 different preplanned workouts to choose from, with styles ranging from jazz to hip-hop and kick boxing.  These videos are all roughly 20 minutes long.

The really cool part of the workouts is the ability to design your own custom workout. The student can choose a warm up segment, up to three cardio segments of varying lengths, a strength segment, and then a flexibility segment (to cool down). We were very impressed with the various offerings. For instance, we counted more than 60 different options for the cardio portion of the workout, including kick boxing, several types of dance moves, and some sports-specific drills. You could change up the workout each day so that it never gets boring.


Sadly, Addison was not impressed with the GoTrybe program, mostly because she prefers to go run than to stay home doing aerobics. She might think differently if she were trying the program in either the winter (too cold to go outside) or in the summer (too hot to safely exercise during most of the day).

If you'd like to read what other homeschool families thought about GoTrybe, please visit The Old Schoolhouse blog here.  A one year membership on GoTrybe costs $19.95, and they offer a free trial option so that you don't have to commit to a whole year before you find out if you like the program.

I received a free membership to GoTrybe 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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge -- May 5th

I didn't check in with Debra's Reading Aloud Challenge last week, so I'll try to do an update that covers the high point for the past two weeks.

With Addison and Brennan, I finished reading Farmer Boy, and we started Rascal by Sterling North. There's not nearly as much action in this book as I would've expected. Oddly, my kids are still enjoying it. I feared that they would have been turned off by the lengthy descriptions and rich language. Instead, they are perhaps enjoying the readings and benefitting from this exposure to a quality book. We have two or three chapters left in this book, and then we'll start The Incredible Journey.

I've been searching for quality books to read to Lauren as well. Last week, I snuck away to the library by myself, armed with a list of suggestions from Sarah Clarkson's book Read for the Heart and the New York City Public Library's list of 100 Picture Books Every Child Should Know. I filled my large tote bag to overflowing, and I hardly made a dent in those lists. I guess it's not as hard to find good books as I thought; I just have to find some time at the library when I can look for good books instead of merely trying to limit what Lauren puts in the bag.

Some of the picture book hits this week include: Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tommie dePaola, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow both by Virginia Lee Burton, Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich, and Does God Know How to Tie Shoes? by Nancy White Carlstrom.

Lauren's still been listening to Junie B. Jones on audiobook a lot, but she also listened to a Ramona audiobook (not sure which one) during rest time yesterday. Today we picked up the audiobook for Little House in the Big Woods. Perhaps I'll put that one in the car. It's been several years since the big kids listened to that series, and I definitely wouldn't mind listening to it again.

Lately I've also taken a bit more time than usual to read my own books. I believe in the importance of children seeing adults reading, but all too often I don't make the time (or choose to read stuff online instead of a good book). This past week I read Save Me by Lisa Scottoline. I enjoyed her original series with the all-female law firm in Philly, but I think I love her latest two books even more. Yesterday and today, I read Richard Paul Evans The Walk. I think the second part will be out soon -- not soon enough, though. I found a couple of books for me at the library, but I might pick something off of the kids' bookshelves to read next instead. There are a lot of books that I should've read in school, but somehow never did. I think I'm missing out on some read treasures.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TOS Review: Yesterday's Classics

Yesterday's Classics specializes in children's books written during what some authors have dubbed "The Golden Age of Children's Literature," roughly 1880-1920. They currently offer 225 children's books that have been reprinted in high-quality paperbacks. Perhaps more exciting is the fact that they offer these books in digital form as well. The digital files can be read on your home computer or loaded onto a portable e-reader (Nook, Kindle, or other brands).

I have to start by saying that I'm very impressed with the quality of these books -- both the books themselves and the digital files. I've sometimes loaded digital books onto my nook and found that I can't easily read them. These books are properly formatted so that I can change the size of the font without disturbing the line and page breaks. They also include clickable links from the table of contents and full chapter listings so that I can easily jump to the section of the book that I want.

You can see a complete listing of the titles here. As you look through them, you'll find lots of books that would be ideal for using a literature-based approach to history. There are many stories about ancient Rome, Greece, Medieval Times, and early American History. I'm particularly draw to titles such as 50 Famous People or Four Great Americans. These are the types of stories that I could use to supplement our regular history curriculum or ones that I could just use to give us a little something meaningful to discuss when we're stuck somewhere with too much time on our hands.Obviously, though, since all of the Yesterday's Classics books were originally published prior to 1920, there aren't any materials for 20th Century history.

In addition to the history materials, I found several books that would be suitable for reading aloud to a younger child. Some of the ones that jumped out at me include: Poems Every Child Should Know, Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book, Burgess Animal Book for Children, and a collection of early readers.

Each of the digital books is available to purchase separately; prices range from $1.99 to $6.99. I didn't do an official count, but it looks like the majority of them are only $1.99 or $2.99. An even better deal is Yesterday's Classics Ebook Package. All 225 digital books are bundled together and affordably priced. Normally, this collection costs $149.95 (already a huge savings over buying them individually), but they are offering an even bigger discount until May 31st. You can either go to Yesterday's Classics website or click on the offer below to take advantage of the special deal -- only $99.95 for the entire collection.


So what do I think? Do I think every homeschool parent should rush out and buy the complete collection? I don't know. For our family, it might not be money well spent. We aren't really in need of more books in our house. Even though many of these classics would be good additions to our history study, we don't always even read the books that are already scheduled in our curriculum. In terms of pleasure reading, my children tend to prefer picking out their own selections at the library than reading something that I suggest. My big fear is that these wonderful books would be easily forgotten after having them on my Nook for a while. I've know that I've forgotten about some of the other digital products that I've purchased over the past few years. It's a great deal, but only if we use it.

On the other hand, the books are wonderful. Addison is currently reading Just So Stories for a school assignment and really loves it. I love having the option to pull my Nook out of my purse and read something worthwhile to my kids when we get stuck somewhere longer than I expected. Lauren could listen to Fairy Tales and poetry. The big kids could read short stories about famous people in history, Greek Myths, and more. I do think very highly of these books, and it is a fabulous deal for parents that will use them with their children.

If you'd like to read what other homeschool families thought about Yesterday's Classics, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.

I received a free digital copy of Yesterday's Classics complete book collection 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, May 2, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal -- Week 15

The Homeschool Chick

In my life this week...
I missed posting an update last week, and I was tempted not to post this week. It's been such a busy few weeks, and it's hard to summarize it all.

Last week started off with scary weather Monday night. We're about 20 minutes south of Vilonia, which was nearly destroyed by a tornado. A little later that evening, another tornado destroyed part of the high school that's about a 1/2 mile from our house. That same one continued on through the base. (It's 1.1 miles from our driveway to the back gate.) Lots of homes and several planes were damaged. We were out there the next day and saw cars still overturned in the Commissary parking lot, a kid's Power Wheel's Jeep that had been lifted quite a distance from the housing area, a hangar that's now missing a roof, trees uprooted, power lines down, and more. After seeing all the damage that happened with the small tornado here, I can only imagine how the total destruction from the tornados in Alabama looks close up.

This week is starting off awfully wet. The rain just keeps coming. We were partway to church yesterday morning when we had to find an alternate route because of flooding. Many roads are flooded, many other areas look to be in danger of flooding soon, and the major highway from our town into Little Rock is closed.

In our homeschool this week...
We're really pushing towards the end of the year. Addison handed me her completed grammar workbook about a week or so ago, saying that she just kept working so that it would be finished. Now we just need to keep pressing on in the rest of our subjects.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Our calendar for this week has mostly just the normal-ish stuff -- therapy appointments, baseball games, etc. Perhaps we can settle back into some sort of routine.

My favorite thing this week...
I went to the library by myself this week and picked out a huge tote bag of good picture books for Lauren. Usually, she's picks out books so quickly that I only have a few seconds to grab one of my own choosing. I've been telling her at least once a day that we need to read one of the ones out of Mommy's tote bag, and we're both enjoying reading good books together.

What's working/not working for us...
Lauren's therapy appointments are driving me crazy. She used to have therapy 5 mornings a week at roughly the same every morning. Due to some therapists moving recently, they changed around her schedule. She has one morning free now, and the times change for all the other days -- some are at 10 (before lunch), some are at 12 (after lunch), and others are in-between. I just can't get our days to fall into any sort of rhythm when we're always coming and going at different times. I've requested that her appointments have more consistency when they start the new summer schedule in a few weeks.

Homeschool thoughts/questions I have...
 I've narrowed down most of my plans for next year, and now I'm wondering how detailed I want to make a schedule next year. Since I'm combining/rearranging several different things, I won't have my preprinted schedule with 180 days worth of work neatly arranged for me to check off. Do I want one, though? I usually end up changing stuff anyway, getting behind in some areas, etc. I know that the kids need weekly schedules to follow each week, but I don't know if I need a year-long path of daily assignments written out for me to refer to when making those weekly checklists.

A photo, video, or quote to share...
I'll share just two of the pictures from the recent Leadership Training for Christ competition weekend. It  will get its own post later (with tons and tons more pictures).


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