Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Weekly Family Unit Study---Birds of a Feather

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Homeschool Legacy and Once-a-Week Unit Studies are the creations of Sharon Gibbons, a 16-year veteran homeschooling mom of two boys who love and serve the Lord. Early in her homeschool journey she realized she needed to add something to their experience that would enrich their learning, make good memories, and build a legacy for her family. What she came up with was using unit studies that interested and involved everyone, including Mom and Dad. The blessings that rose from the solid foundation of those studies were so rich that she decided to share her labors of love with homeschooling families everywhere, saving them the research and as much preparation time as possible, leaving them free to simply learn and enjoy TOGETHER.

Her thoughtful, but simple unit studies provide the basic outline for your four to eight week unit study of a variety of topics (see list below). Ranging in price from $15.95 to $19.95 these printed studies come with an explanation of how a unit study works, a suggested schedule, a list of books and other resources you will use, including a weekly family read aloud, a weekly family devotional selection, craft and project ideas, a movie night title, suggested field trips, "Stump Dad" trivia questions, and as an added bonus, many of them link the work you complete during the unit study to corresponding Boy Scout, Heritage Girl, and 4-H badge/project requirements. Most are intended for children in grades 2-12, though some activities may need adjusting in difficulty to suit the specific needs of your children. The bonus to that "tweakability" is that your entire family can work together on the unit study instead of everyone going in different directions.

The Once-a-Week Studies are flexible in that they not only allow you to choose which activities will suit your family best, but they also list the books they suggest by call number so that if your library does not carry a particular title, you can search in the same area of the library for a compatible substitution. You are also welcome to adjust the suggested schedule in any way you like, spreading out the work over a longer period of time for younger children, or switching around the order of the study (each week has a different focus and is a complete unit on that topic).

From the website:


"By making learning fun and interesting, you will be creating wonderful memories, insuring greater retention of the subject matter, providing a quality educational environment, while also building stronger family relationships."

 "Once-a-Week Unit Studies are flexible enough to enhance your present curriculum, but are also comprehensive enough to choose as your main educational source for history and science."



"...you will not find frivolous activities, but only those which will enhance your unit study experience, and provide a classic, quality education while building warm, family memories."

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Once-a-Week Studies from Homeschool Legacy


We chose the Birds of a Feather study, as my kids are budding naturalists anyway, and we already own quite a few books on birds, so a trip to the library would not be necessary. We received a pdf download copy of the study to review, but if you ordered one, it would be a print copy, which I think would have suited me better.



All geared up to go on a nature hike!


Here is a suggested schedule for incorporating the Once-a-Week Unit Studies into your homeschool plan. Remember, this is only a suggestion. One of the best things about this sort of unit study is that it is flexible and should serve you, not make you a slave to it.

The unit was divided into four weeks, each week covering a different topic. Week One was Bird Basics and Your Backyard Habitat. Week Two was Bird Identification. Week Three covered Ornithology (the inside and outside of a bird). Week Five was the guys' favorite: Birds of Prey.

On the way to see the Canadian Geese that landed on the pond.

Most of the supplies needed for the unit were things we already had handy, like binoculars, a bird identification guide (or internet access), lots of books, and some common household items to construct bird feeders and houses, or to make food for birds. We did have to buy varying kinds of seeds and if you were to choose to do the owl pellet dissection (instead of this cool one on the internet for free), you'd have to order an owl pellet ahead of time.

Here are examples of a few pages from the first unit in
Birds of a Feather:





Titles in the Once-a-Week Unit Studies series: 
"Do you like my hat?"
He got a new one for his birthday.,,and lots of great
bird and bug watching tools, too. I love that my kids
think learning and exploring their world is so much fun
that it's what they want to do for their birthday party.

Hey! That's not a bird...that's Tex.


What I Thought:
  • I liked that each week incorporated a pertinent Bible selection. It is important to put God first and I think it's great when we can seamlessly tie the Bible into things we are studying.
  • The book suggestions were good, and since the author is flexible in saying the titles are just suggestions, that works well for me.
  • I thought the movie and read aloud suggestions were good ones. We loved The Wheel on the School. It is a classic that I had never gotten around to reading to the kids before. Fly Away Home is a favorite movie of ours (caution: there a few colorful words, but the message is excellent).
  • I liked how the studies are meant for all of the family members to work on together. With kids at home ranging in age from 14-3, sometimes it seems they don't all get together too often, even in the same house.
  • The idea that one day a week is set aside for something fun and different appeals to me. We already do that to a certain extent with our "activity of the day" idea to add variety, so adding this in was not difficult for us at all.
  • I liked how the study made an effort to involve dads by including the "Stump Dad" trivia. The kids liked quizzing their dad when he got home on unit study days, and that led to more questions about what they had done that day. I wish he'd been able to participate more, and I think he'd have liked to, but this was a particularly busy time for us.
  • The experiments and activites were clearly explained and tied in well with the content being studied each week. I would have liked to see some reproducible handouts on things like parts of a bird, egg/embryo development, or template for a nature journal, though (or at least, links to where they can be found, or a page on the website that is maintained with current useable links). These kinds of printables are all available on the internet, but finding them requires time, and the idea is that this study is to be saving you time. Yes, your older children will have no problem drawing their own picture of a bird and labeling it (or tracing one), but younger kids may need a bit of help.
  • A few examples of what nature journals might look like when completed would have been nice, too. I know what ours look like, but someone not familiar with the concept would have no idea and again, have to go look up more information on the internet.
  • I think this unit study would be excellent for a co-op setting, or with even just one more family. The more the merrier, I say, and I can see groups of children trooping through the meadow with their explorer stuff on, looking for birds, holding their binoculars upside down and backwards. Seriously, if you do it in a group, each adult could take a portion of the work/teaching and everyone would get to share in the fun. It would be many lively and educational memories for very little effort.
  • Here's a great lapbook idea I found online you might want to use with your younger kids if you purchase this study.

Tramping through the woods with Daddy and the cousins.

If you'd like to read other reviews of the Birds of a Feather unit study or other Weekly Family Unit Studies in the series, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. By clicking on the "Click Here to Read Crew Reviews" button, you will find links to other fine homeschool blogs. Beneath the thumbnail pictures are labels and each will list the unit study that was reviewed.

 

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Blessings,
 
 
Disclaimer: I received a pdf downloadable copy of the Birds of a Feather unit study for the purposes of reviewing the product and offering an honest review on my blog. All opinions you read are my own. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Children in Church or Children's Church?





As a military family, we've tried more than our fair share of churches. We have to choose a new church "home" every time we move to a new location. From small churches with congregations of under a hundred to those that could be classified as mega-churches, you can imagine the varied styles of worship we've seen. Surprisingly though, most of the churches have had one thing in common---the expectation that children would leave the "adult services" and head off to "children's church" at some point during the service. 

I've seen signs posted right next to the sanctuary doorways declaring that we should "try the excellent childcare services" (at the other end of the building) and even been discouraged by ushers when I began to walk in and settle down in a pew with our children ("Ma'am, we're taping. Don't you want to take the kids to the Children's Building? It's a lot of fun.") I am sure they were all trying to be helpful, but when you want to keep your kids with you, for whatever reason, you can start to feel a bit unwanted and distressed at how obvious it is that many churches today just don't know what to do with children, other than send them away.

Like our public school systems, churches have become places of segregation and separation, pulling families apart instead of bringing them closer together and I think that is sad. Jesus wanted the little children to come to him, not be sent out because they might be a little bit fidgety.

As you can probably tell, I did not need Curt and Sandra Lovelace's book Children in Church to convince me that having our children with us in services (for the entire service) is the right thing to do for our family (though I did enjoy reading the book). Hubby and I currently keep all of the children, ages 3-14, with us each Sunday during the entire worship service (unless there is a special circumstance). We were not always of this opinion.

There were years when Hubby was out to sea most of the time that I will admit that I looked forward to those two hours of Sunday School and church as a brief respite from the responsibility of parenting full-time. I felt that the kids were with people who cared for them and wanted to teach them about Jesus, so I enjoyed the quiet and a few moments to myself. I also admit that I felt unqualified to teach my own children about Jesus. At that point, I thought I needed an "expert" to do the job for me instead of realizing that God equips us for whatever He calls us to do.

Then about five years ago, Hubby and I came to the realization that we were being called to have our kids stay with us during church services. The reasons are many; many are similar to some shared in the Lovelaces' book, and they are personal to us. It all came down to a decision that once we moved to Virginia, we knew we wanted to find a church that was accepting of the "families worship together" ideal. What we didn't know was how difficult that would be to find.

I don't know exactly how many churches we tried, but while fairly universally most congregations were complimentary (and astounded) by our children's good behavior during services, they were also mostly uncomfortable with the idea of children being present during the sermon. Some were more concerned with the kids being bored and pointed out how much fun their children's program would be for them, and others were, to be honest, worried that the kids would disrupt their worship experience. In fact, one church we visited sent all the kids out BEFORE even one worship song was played. How's that for separating kids and adults?

We eventually found a nearby fellowship of believers who are all supportive and accepting of our decision to keep our kids with us during services. They are not actively trying to develop a family-integrated model, but they believe every family needs to decide what works best for their family. We appreciate that and hope our example might encourage others to keep their children with them as well (not that we want to put the Children's Church workers out of a job, but I am sure the volunteers wouldn't mind getting to attend services).

A while back, we found a church with an actual family-integrated service, but it is an hour and a half away and impractical to go to regularly. However, we visit from time to time and it is amazing to see all the families, the children, the parents, their neighbors, and their friends of all ages worshiping together, and to see that the idea really does work well when put into practice (and it does take lots of practice and patience).

It's not easy when you start out. Especially when you are going into it with very young children or with older kids who are used to going out for "children's church" and will miss it. When we made the decision to change our perception of kids and church, Tex was about the age where we normally started keeping our kids with us anyway...third grade. Ladybug was little and Cowboy was littler, so I started working with her first, while still dropping off Cowboy at the nursery. Ladybug's an easy goer, so it only took a few services to gain her cooperation, and Tex was already old enough to understand and be attentive with little prompting. Cowboy was a little tougher and it took about six months to get him to adjust. I really had no idea what I was doing as nobody in the church we attended at the time felt the same way we did. I wish I'd had the Lovelace's book to help give me advice in making the transition, but there was nothing like that out at the time that I knew of.

By instinct, I packed activity bags ("church bags") and found that to be a great help. A notepad, some crayons, a favorite book, a quiet toy...those things helped, though sometimes the rattling of the paper and the noises for the toys were distractions of their own (there's a learning curve as you figure out which items work best for your kids).

Then we started listening to one sermon a week during homeschool time and we practiced with the kids there. I would make them sit to listen to Charles Stanley (they still love listening to him today) and I expected the same behavior as I did in church. The benefit of practicing was that I could stop the cd to discipline them and teach them how to respond to what they were hearing, then carry on afterwards.There were a few times I had to take Cowboy out of services to discipline him, but mostly, after the initial work was done, he made the transition and has been good in services ever since. Firefly has been in regular services since the beginning---she's another easy goer. She hardly knows Children's Church exists. Boo, on the other hand, is a handful, and I have taken him out from time to time just to get a break. I am not a legalist...I just think staying together is best. 

We do send the kids out for Children's Church around Christmas and Easter so they can participate in the cantatas and plays that are inevitably practiced for during that time. We like the teachers...it's just that like the book points out: we feel it is our responsibility to be discipling our children, not someone else's. We feel they will learn best by seeing us worship and worshiping alongside us, not by attending classes or services tailored to children in another part of a building. I often tell my kids that they are practicing to be adults some day, so they should try to act like adults (in other words, not emulate toddlers or babies). I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with those services for children, I just find more value to the family-integrated corporate worship experience, and we prefer to choose the best, not just the good, as God calls us to it for our family.

Kids are smart. They pick up more than you think. I feel we sell our kids short if we believe they can't get anything out of a "normal" sermon. I loved the Lovelace's chapter about "Drawing the Word." Each of our children has a notebook (one of the primary composition ones with space for drawing a picture and lines to write on) in their church bag and some weeks we write the sermon topic at the top of the page and ask them to draw a picture of it as they listen. Other weeks we ask them to write a few important words they hear, or to copy a verse, and others we let them draw whatever it is that is on their minds as they listen (not meaning rocket ships or horses, but how the message applies to them). You'd be amazed at the insight in those notebooks.

You'd also be surprised by the conversations in the car after services on the way home. Instead of "Oh, I dunno. David and Goliath?" in response to the question of what they did in church that day, they are contributing to serious discussions about how we are to apply the Word individually and as a family. They are really taking it to heart and making it their own. Isn't that why we take them with us to church in the first place?

I will not be one to judge anyone who has their kids in Children's Church, and I don't think this book is one to judge either. It will share scriptures you may not have thought of in reference to the issue of whether separating families when worshiping is Biblical. It will offer ideas and possibilities if you feel you might want to try keeping your kids with you in church. And it will support you with stories and encouragement as you walk down a narrower road, leading your children toward the blessings God has for you at the end of that harder road.



Sharing a Biblical basis for bringing our children into worship, but more than that – practical help to make it not only survivable, but to help us teach our children to engage in the service and worship the Lord, too.

I recommend the Lovelace's book, Children in Church, for anyone who has ever considered whether they should be sending their kids to Children's Church, and also for anyone who has not even thought about it. Maybe you should. Maybe you clicked on that link and read this review because God wants you to consider the blessings that might be waiting for you if you take this sometimes difficult, sometimes inconvenient, but inevitably rewarding step. I also recommend it for anyone who is already keeping their kids with them in church because the ideas and support within its covers are an easy read, and may provide you with some new ideas or encouragement, for either yourself or someone you may be called to talk to about the topic.

The book is only $12.00, and is worth every penny. I wish I'd had it five years ago when we made the transition. I wouldn't have felt as overwhelmed or lonely on the journey I sometimes had to make alone (Hubby was gone for a year while we were transitioning, which was very difficult for me since church services were my only break each week). It would have been helpful to have had the book from which to glean advice when facing challenges, especially with Cowboy, and it would have been helpful to have had the scriptural foundation all laid out for me so that when I had to answer questions (which I often did), I would have been able to give a better answer for our position than, "We feel called to keep the kids with us." While that's not bad, I'd rather be able to specifically support our choices, and this book will enable you to do so without having to do tons of research on your own (though nothing is wrong with that method, either...but this book is a great jump start).

If you or someone you know might benefit from some friendly, scriptural wisdom concerning children in church, I encourage you to buy a copy of Children in Church and add it to next month's reading list. I think you will be glad you did.

Here's a head's up on what each chapter contains. You can read more about the book on the Children in Church website.


1-Bringing Them In
2-Understanding the Elements
3-Counting the Cost
4-Laying the Foundation
5-Getting Ready
6-Packing the Bag
7-Drawing the Word
8-Preparing a Plan
9-Facing the Challenges
10-Growing as Disciples
Bonus: a final chapter for leaders of the church


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If you'd like to see what others on the Crew had to say about this book, read the basic review at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog, then go to the Linky page. Look for the headings under the individual photos which include the words "Children" or "Church." This will take you to other bloggers who read this book. You will also find links to reviews about other books available from Great Waters Press, the publishers of Real Men.

Blessings,






Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book Children in Church for the purposes of writing this review. All opinions here are my own. I received no other compensation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Power of Pictures

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Once in a while a gem of a resource comes from an unexpected place. You may be familiar with Marshall Publishing's trademark line of "As Seen on TV" videos featuring modes of transportation, such as "LOTS and LOTS of Trains" or "LOTS and LOTS of Jet Planes," but you may not be aware that they also sell an interesting and educational line of historical videos, too.

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The video we received from Marshall Publishing was the one about America in the 1800s. It included five "chapters" plus a bonus track about Alexander Graham Bell. Since we are studying United States history this year, we have been trying to build up our library of resources to support that curriculum and I am glad we were able to add this title to our collection.

From the beginning, the video was intriguing since it plays just like an old film reel. Using old photographs, drawings, and historical reenactments, these informative videos will expose your students (and you!) to many interesting facts and important events of the time period covered. I was introduced to several characters I missed in my public school education, and the situations behind and political impact of familiar events was made clearer to me so that I can more effectively teach about the period when the time comes.

Here is what the company has to say about their product:


"Just like a time machine, we transport you back to discover the people and events that shaped this exciting decade: the Brooklyn Bridge ...Washington Monument ...Statue of Liberty ...Gunfight at the O.K. Corral ...Oklahoma Land Rush ...Johnstown Flood ...Thomas Edison ...Mark Twain ...Baby Doe ...Sitting Bull ...Sarah Bernhardt ...John Philip Sousa ...Buffalo Bill ...Gilbert and Sullivan ...Wyatt Earp...Jesse James and Billy the Kid ....Alexander Graham Bell ....John D. Rockefeller ....Andrew Carnegie ....Samuel Gompers ....Susan B. Anthony ....Lillian Russell ....and many more!
You will learn about fashion, politics, sports heroes, famous inventors, Wall Street financiers, railroad expansion, buffalo extinction, Indian resettlement, Civil Rights, union organization, urbanization, the music of the times, and much, much more!
Through the use of live re-enactments, rare historical photographs and drawings, and award-winning photography you will be amazed, amused, entertained and educated about many little known facts and some life changing events that have become part of the foundation of our society today."




For the purposes of our way of studying (using living books to supplement much of our curriculum, or as the majority of our curriculum), this video is a fantastic way to introduce and interest your children in specific events. The video we previewed mentioned quite a few characters from history that my kids were quite interested in learning more about. We found books on our shelves about Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mark Twain, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and John Phillip Sousa.

The video also introduced many and the firsts that took place during the time period, such as The American Red Cross, Eastman Kodak Cameras, moving pictures, football, baseball, and golf, the phonograph and electric lightbulb. It highlights the importance of the railroads and canals, shows photos and film of the period's architecture and clothing, as well as discussing the period's morals and modesty.

While I did feel that there was a certain bias to some of the information, such as when the narrator somewhat disparagingly spoke of the limitations of the one room schoolhouse and who got to attend them (the information of which may have all been true) instead of pointing out that while the literacy rate of the era may have been low by reason of necessity (children were needed at home to help support family enterprises and opportunities to pursue schooling were often limited), those who obtained schooling did so with an positive attitude that is often lacking today (at least in my opinion), I felt that the information was of very high quality and useful to any family, especially homeschooling ones. I will also say that they also did not edit out any religious reference in the film clips, so there were quite a few in the Alexander Graham Bell segment.

I find that the videos are an excellent way to both introduce these fascinating individuals and to wrap all of these fascinating characters up together in a visual and auditory way. I really enjoyed seeing the films representing the time period, and the narration of events helped tie everything together and made me much more interested in studying an often neglected, but important era (as we tend to focus on single events of particular interest and familiarity to ourselves or our children). Of course, now we have to wait until we reach that time period in our studies to do more than a cursory study of any of these characters, but the kids are getting excited about all the fun we are going to have learning about history this year.

BUT WAIT, there's more! If America in the 1800s isn't for you, there is a whole host of other videos also filmed by expert photographers on other American topics such as the Oregon Train, the Pony Express, Lewis and Clark, Forts, Gettysburg, the Mississippi River, and American Railroads.


Check out:
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There are even more educational titles to supplement your
curriculum at the Marshall Publishing site.


I am sure that we will be saving money in our budget to purchase a few more of these titles as we get closer to each of their topics in our studies. I find that they are a fascinating and useful way to get not only my students, but myself, interested in learning more about history. If you are looking for some way to get your kids excited about a historical period, whether they are auditory or visual learners, or even your kinesthetic learners (as my boys were highly interested in going out and building things, playing baseball, and doing experiments once they watched different segments). The are available now on the Marshall Publishing website for just $19.95 each. That's a great deal for a valuable resource.

In fact, I intend to use the segment on Alexander Graham Bell today as we begin our ASL studies in our new homeschool co-op. It was a fascinating movie clip. I am definitely inspired to learn more...though as we know Thomas Alva Edison said, "Success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration." You may find that this series of films provides the ten percent of inspiration that your students need to apply themselves to perspire in their studies!

Blessings,









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To read more reviews about the video we previewed, America in the 1800s and others by Marshall Publishing, check out more reviews by other members of The Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking on the icon below.


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Disclaimer: I received a copy of the video America in the 1800s for the purposes of completing this review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Speaking of Spanish---Try Speekee


We've recently been having some work done on our house. One of these days soon you can read about it here, but it's been so busy, I haven't had time to blog about it. Anyway, several of the crews who have worked on various parts of the house (windows, siding, roofing) have been Mexican and mostly only spoke Spanish (there was one guy in each crew who could say more than "thank you" and "okay," but not always a lot more). It kind of made the necessity of learning a second language sink in for me, Spanish in particular, especially in this day and age when you often see as much Spanish as there is English.

New siding, new windows, new roof, new rooms
(from old porches)...emocionante (exciting)!

North America has long been lagging behind other countries in their desire to have their children naturally learn other languages. Perhaps it is because in Europe or South America, it is not so far to go geographically and you will find someone speaking another radically different dialect or language. Sometimes when we travel, accents or common terminology change and somewhat impede understanding, but it's not like we travel from Virginia to Iowa and speak a different language.

So how do I raise my children differently, if I was not raised in a dual language household and really have no idea how to go about teaching a foreign language? Well, at this point, we've decided that we need to expose our children to language experiences as much as possible from very early years. My older children use a computer-based, immersion type of program for high school credit and have loved it, but my younger ones just aren't ready for it yet, and besides, I want them to already be comfortable and somewhat familiar with languages long before high school. I honestly do think that by waiting until the upper grades to start language instruction you are making a mistake and handicapping your child's potential with languages, especially as some abilities with speech processing and verbal reproduction develop more easily at a young age.


"Hola. Soy Speekee."

Well, we were recently introduced to a well-made program based on that idea of exposing young children to other languages using a fun, low-pressure, immersion method. That program is called Speekee . This program is produced in the UK, and utilizes a cast of puppets and people who are native speakers.

When I first saw it, I wasn't sure I was going to like it because I am not a huge puppet fan. We don't do Barney or Sesame Street. Personally, they both drive me nuts (but if you love them, I think that's great for you). However, the way they use the puppets in Speekee cleverly engages the kids with the material, without being overly simplistic. Even my eight year-old, whom I thought might be less interested by it as she is almost nine and getting a bit more selective with what she watches (or admits she likes), was singing the catchy tunes and having fun quizzing her siblings about words and phrases learned during the programs. All the Amigos, from three-year old Boo to eight-year old Ladybug liked Speekee a lot and asked to watch it with no prompting from me. They even talked about it in the car on the way to church, their grandparents' house, and running errands.


Speekee uses a mixture of children, adults, puppets, and sock puppets (Cowboy really loved those sock puppets and insisted on making some) in real Spanish locations, featuring songs, animations, and...my favorite part...subtitles. As I said in my review of Zane, which uses subtitles to help children retain content on various subjects in English, I feel that using subtitles when viewing educational material really increase understanding and retention. It helps my kids a lot (and me) to comprehend and remember what is being said when we not only hear, but see the materials. The subtitles in Speekee are available in both Spanish and English, so you can choose to help your children focus on visualizing the words being said in the native tongue, or you can help increase their understanding of the content by focusing on the English subtitles.

There are over 150 minutes of learning in the Speekee program, organized into ten themed lessons. Each lesson focuses on words and phrases that would have to do with a particular location such as a park, zoo, school, house, beach, cafe. or party. They not only go over vocabulary, they show you about life in Spain and about the lives of real Spanish children. That is an excellent learning experience itself.

Your child can have a great time simply watching the episodes and singing along with the catchy tunes, which is mostly what mine did. However, there are free downloadable activity sheets, as well as a completely free additional 40 week curriculum package called "Fast Track" available with a Speekee TV Subscription. "Fast Track" is a weekly lesson plan that comes directly to your email account and will get your child through the ten episodes in one year. It generally recommends four lesson ideas and suggests particular episodes or clips to watch, as well as offering engaging activities, such as crafts and skit ideas, and worksheets. The activities take 15-30 minutes to complete, depending on your child's ability and interest level, and help solidify what was learned in each episode. They also help make the learning experience more fun.

In any case, the necessity for learning a second language (and our choice is Spanish for its useability in both our own country now as well as with missions work...) was solidified this past week when the English/Spanish language barrier caused some difficulties in communication with the best roofing team we've ever seen and also with the nice guys who put in the windows in a flash and installed the new siding on our house. I was certainly motivated to give learning Spanish more of a go, and the kids' interest in watching their new Speekee program was multiplied when they saw it had a practical usefulness.

We also saw the benefits of giving trying out new languages a try when the kids won the work crews' hearts quickly by trying out their new basics such as "Que' tal?" (pardon the incorrect punctuation...I have no idea how to do the upside down question mark that goes in front of a question) which means, "How are you?" We received answers of "Muy bueno," (though in Speekee, the response was "Muy bien," which I assume is because it is Spanish from Spain, not Mexico), "Fantastico," and "Excellente."

Doesn't the house look great?
How do you like the new room up front?
(our old porch)
I can't wait to show you pictures!

All responses were given with a big smile and appreciation for the kids trying to speak their language. The kids also said, "Hola, Soy [Ladybug]." "Y tu?" and were kindly answered by several gentlemen: "Soy Maynar" and "Soy Joseph." Then during the day, we would say, "Gracias" and "Muchas Gracias," because we are very thankful for the work that is being done at our home. The men seemed to appreciate the children's attempts to communicate to them in their native tongue, and thankfully, in the end, Hubby remembered enough of his high school Spanish to get most of the needed instructions across.

To make learning Spanish even more "real," we also love going to our favorite Mexican restaurant and finding a waiter who doesn't mind encouraging the children to try using their language skills. Our favorite restaurant in Florida had a waiter who would make Bubba and Tex speak only in Spanish every time he spoke with them (for ordering, refills, etc.) and it was great fun to watch them try and to attempt to do it ourselves (he would sometimes reward them with a complimentary dessert, too...now that's positive feedback!). He'd also sometimes take time to let us practice having a conversation with him. We always appreciated that. Then we'd grab a Spanish paper on the way out the door for free and pour over it on the way home to see what we could understand.

We have a small (and growing) collection of classic children's picture books in our homeschool resource library written in both Spanish and English, and it is always interesting to read those aloud to the children so they can practice listening to Spanish in the guise of a familiar story. There are also Spanish tracks on several of our favorite movies. Have you ever given watching a movie you like in a foreign language a try? It's a hoot!

Since Daddy grew up in Texas and took Spanish in high school, he enjoys talking with the kids in simple Spanish phrases at night around the dinner table. We have Spanish word place mats and sometimes the kids will take turns asking trying out different words. We have Spanish flash cards and can print up activity sheets from the Speekee site, so the kids' interest level will stay high as they develop familiarity and ability with Spanish. 

There are many ways you can expose your kids to foreign languages. Whichever you choose, I do recommend that you begin early. Kids learn most quickly when they are young and you don't want to waste that precious time when they soak up knowledge like sponges without a lot of effort. Speekee is recommended for ages 2-10, so you can start Spanish early and develop that interest and ear at an early age.

Our kids are looking forward to watching more Speekee TV and are more motivated than ever to learn to speak Spanish, thanks to the cute and engaging program.

Someday we hope to find a native speaker we can interact with regularly someday, but in the meantime, Speekee TV makes a fun substitute, with its cheery songs and valuable learning materials. My kids give Speekee TV a smiling thumbs up (as they watch from across the room on this too hot day with construction going on all around us).


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If you'd like to see what others on the Crew have to say about Speekee TV, and how they used it with their families, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

If you are interested in Speekee TV, but just aren't sure if it is for you, you can try it for two weeks absolutely FREE! That's a great offer...give it a try.

If you decide you love Speekee TV, it is only $7.50 a month or $60.00 for a year. You can cancel your monthly membership at any time.

If you live outside the US, you might be able to buy the program on dvd, which I would prefer, but the dvds are not compatible with our dvd player. I hope the company will consider formatting some of the dvds for US machines so we can purchase this program on dvd someday. I know the kids would love watching it on trips the way they love watching their Signing Time videos, and I never seem to mind hearing their sweet voices singing the catchy tunes of either program, or watching their faces light up as they learn something new or remember something they already learned.

Speekee was definitely a success in our house, and is a gentle way to approach introducing your child to speaking (and understanding) Spanish in the early years.

Have a blessed week,






Disclaimer: I received a two-month subscription for the purposes of completing this review. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Higher "Math Facts" Review Practice...Finally!



 
I have often wondered what to do with my older students when I sit the younger kids down to do their math facts review time. It's a bit difficult for me to come up with algebra "flash cards," even though I understand algebra quite well, and I have as yet never found a set. Well, that "set" is finally here. It is aptly called Math 911. It "saves" parents who want their upper math level students to get regular upper math review practice from having to find endless pages of math review work, or from having to buy a curruiculum that works those math review porblems into the lessons every day, and not always in areas that the student needs (and may find boring). I LOVE it!



The Math 911 tutorial software, by Professor Weissman, generates problems for students to solve in Introductory Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Statistics, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus. The student must get a certain number of problems “correct” to prove mastery and move to the next level. If the student gets a problem wrong because he or she does not understand how to do the problem (or makes a careless error), he may click on a button for step-by-step instructions to see the problem (and others) being solved as many times as necessary until the problem type is understood. Once the student has answered enough problems to generate a "100%" on that problem type, mastery is acheived. Then the student may move to a new topic OR try a more difficult level of the same problem type.


 
Just one warning from a mom of a very techie son: Math 911 is NOT full of bells and whistles and fancy animation supposedly designed to inspire your child into wanting to do more math in the guise of a "fun" game. No, Math 911 is a simple and direct, very effective math practice program geared towards helping your child practice targeted algebra (or whatever other math level program your student chooses) skills and problems with no fancy or distracting graphics or games. The payoff is success in math and higher acheivement.
 
Your child will be able to see a chart that trackes their acheivement...AND once a skill is mastered, every score will be a one hundred percent. That was reward enough for my student (and for me) whenever the program was used. Personally, I found the simplicity refreshing and non-distracting, and I was able to figure out how to use the program with no need for lengthy instructions. It was mostly self-explanatory.
 
I plan to have Tex use Math 911 every time I sit Cowboy, Ladybug, and Firefly down for their simpler math facts review pages (or computer math facts review programs) this year in school. We have used Math 911 over the summer to keep up Tex's competency in Pre-Algebra to prepare him for full on high school Algebra this year. I have noticed his response time improve (and mine as well, since I did some of the work when he was down for the count due to his injury).

If you have ever wished for an algebra equivalent of a math fact drill, you have finally found it. Now go and buy it for the inexpensive price of $49.95. It is worth ever penny spent, and then some. One bonus for Math 911 is that you can try it before you buy it, so go to the site and download a trial version of the Algebra practice section (on the left of the screen)...you can do a simple upgrade later if you decide to buy using the downloadable option.

For a VERY limited time, there is a special back-to-school coupon code on the Math 911 website, taking another $40.00 off the price of a flash drive, so you can have this great tutorial software which makes it only $9.95 plus shipping! WOW!!  If you choose the download option, there is no shipping, but the coupon code is only for the flash drive...I'd personally choose the flash drive since it has the HUGE advantage is that you may use it on any PC computer in your home, or wherever you (or your student) might happen to be. Won't your kids love that? *wink*


To see what other reviewers on the TOS Reviw Crew had to say about this software program, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.



Blessings,


Heather


Disclaimer: I received a download of Math 911 for the purposes of completing this review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading is Fun With the Reading Kingdom

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At our house, computer learning programs are always a big hit. Reading Kingdom was no exception. I will be honest and tell you that a few years ago we tried a free trial of the program and it was too difficult to get past the typing learning portion of the program, so Ladybug and Cowboy weren't keen about it. Well, either Firefly is much more advanced at the same age, or perhaps she is more patient, but Firefly LOVED the program so much that any time I asked her to work on the computer (doing Reading Kingdom and IXL), she'd stick with doing Reading Kingdom for an hour or more, just to make the next level, then the next, and so on. She never felt like it was too difficult or boring...she just plain loved it.



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I know this is not very specific, but there was a lot to like about Reading Kingdom. I liked how there was an introductory evaluation to see where your child needed to be placed within the program. It seemed right on for Firefly's abilities. The work was never too difficult nor was it so simple that she got bored or wanted to quit before completing a section. Her older siblings (Cowboy and Ladybug) helped her through the first few lessons, but after that, she worked quite well on her own. As the teacher, I also liked how the program covers all six skills needed for reading and writing success (see the chart above). 

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Reading Kingdom is not intended to take over as it's own reading program. Instead, it works well with ANY program you may already have. You can use it with something that is very specific in its scope and sequence, or you can use it with something as free flowing as simply reading lots of interesting living books with your children each day. Whatever way you choose to teach reading to your children, Reading Kingdom is sure to add something to you children's education, and will support your teaching efforts. You might like to read about how The Reading Kingdom is different from other reading programs.


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Firefly just loved the program, even though I (and Ladybug and Cowboy) thought it was a bit repetitive. I loved how she'd crack up at the funny animations, and every time she achieved a new certificate/award for her progress, she was so proud. 


The portion of the program that Firefly had access to was trying to teach her that she needs to read from left to right, and to recognize letters. I felt that she progressed in these areas since I saw her looking at actual books after using the program and using her finger to scan the words on the pages from left to right, and she also recognized more letters the she did before using the program. She was seeing how words are made from letters put together using certain rules, and she was prepared to start writing words on the pictures she loves to draw and send to people.


You can sign up for the Reading Kingdom with a free 30 day trial  to see if your kids like the program like Firefly did. After that, subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month (with no monthly minimum), or $199.99 per year (20% off). Additional children in your account get 50% off ($9.99/month or $99.99/year). You can cancel your subscriptions at any timeIf you have more than one child you would like to use Reading Kingdom with, you can contact the company about volume pricing discounts. There are many other products available on their site, including reading books for each level. You can see them at the Reading Kingdom store.


PhotobucketIf you try Reading Kingdom for thirty days and like it, but find out that you cannot afford the program's monthly fee, you may apply for a scholarship. Isn't that amazing? However, to qualify for the scholarship, you must use the program faithfully four days a week and be able to tell them about your child's positive progress using the program. If you apply during the trial period, you will be notified before it is up if you receive a scholarship, so don't let money (or lack of it) prevent you from trying out this excellent program.

If you'd like to read more reviews on this product before trying it out, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more excellent reviews from our team.

Blessings,








Disclaimer: I received a free subscripion to The Reading Kingdom for the purposes of writing this review. All opinions are are based on our own experiences. No other compensation was received.





Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Everyday Messmaking to Everyday Homemaking

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"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give aan account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden..."
Hebrews 13:17 NIV

As God's children, we must model in our relationship to Him the same behaviors we would like our children to display toward us. As parents, we should:
  • Submit to authority without rebellion
  • Apologize if needed.
  • Do everything  without complaining
  • Work on skills and character (theirs and ours)
  • Work ourselves out of a job!
Parents ultimately hope their children will make wise choices from changed hearts and a desire to please God, their parents, and themselves. We want our kids to show stellar character and good judgement in their decisions...Give them opportunities to learn from mistakes when they are young, being sure that the consequences are safe and relatively temporary.

...There are some basic principles that must be understood, a foundation upon which the methods or kideas in the how-to sections of this book must be built. These include:
  • Have realistic and age appropriate expectations
  • Establish rules or standards.
  • Have a working knowledge of family discipline.
  • Tie strings to [your children's] hearts
These wise words from the first chapter of the e-book The Everyday Family Chore System byVicki Bentley will strike a chord in most parents' hearts. What parent doesn't want their child to succeed both in life (as in career and/or calling) and in character (as in the value of a good name)?

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I know I was extremely concenrned with this ideal when I was a young mother of just one child. I only had one sibling, and he was seven years younger than me, and not to brag, but for the most part we were both pretty easy kids to raise. There wasn't a lot of discipline going on in our house. It mostly wasn't necessary, at least as I remember. We had chores and didn't always do them, but after getting in trouble enough times, I learned to do them as soon as I got home so I could spend the rest of my time doing what I wanted...OR I'd time it so that I'd do what I wanted up until about fifteen minutes before the folks were expected home and then I'd rush and unload that dishwasher and carry up that armload of clothes.

Still, I know my mom was frustrated at times that we'd walk by piles of clothes sitting on the steps as if we didn't see that they were ours and that we didn't always get those few things she asked of us done without complaining. So, if my mom, who had to work, doesn't have all the answers, and she is my  best friend and most trusted teacher, then to whom do I go when I want to find out how to get my children to be a bit more responsive and cooperative in a GENUINE way than my brother and I were?

Well, one place you can go is Everyday Homemaking, a site established by Vicki Bentley, a veteran homeschooling mom who writes about homeschooling, homemaking, and home organization and discipline. I was pleased to have a chance to read her book about helping your children learn to be better contributors to your family by teaching them what is expected of them, then holding them accountable for those things. One valuable idea I read was something I've encountered often as a parent, and that is the need to clarify the difference between God's rules (which are unwavering) and our house rules (which can be respectfully appealed when appropriate).

I also appreciated the reminder to just say "yes" whenever possible. It's true sometimes that as moms who are often repeatedly beseiged with requests by small children, we sometimes start saying "no" just for the sake of convenience or out of habit. The truth is though that we can use those moments of requests to teach our children to accept responsibility by putting the achievement of whatever it is they wanted back upon their shoulders. "Yes, you may jump on the trampoline as soon as you pick up the sticks that fell off of the trees after last night's storm." "Yes, you may invite your friends over tomorrow for the Bookmobile if your room is clean and all of your week's school work is done by dinnertime tonight." "Sure, you may play playdoh after you finish your printing and counting papers." "No problem. You may watch Misty of Chincoteague as soon as you go out and brush Honey and Rosie and lead them around the pasture a few times each." The idea is just so good that I can go on and on about it. I know I have used it in the past, but it's something I tend to forget in the momentary urge to say, "NO! No more messy Playdoh out EVER!" It was a good reminder.

The best reminder of all in the book, however, was that children like rules. They prefer if you set the standards and they know what to expect. They also like routines. It provides structure that they need. Be honest with yourself...you benefit from it, too. So I read Vicki's ideas about setting up a chore system and I have to admit that I wasn't thrilled with the idea of me having to be the "slave driver" so to speak.

With my headaches, I am not so good at sticking to a set schedule. I never know when I will wake up with a headache and feel miserable, BUT I promised to give it a try and so I wrote out what the most important tasks to be accomplised were, just as Vicki suggested, and it really didn't amount to a lot. I will be honest and say that I started out simply...with four little ones ages 3-8, there's only so much I can hand out to them to do, or so I thought.

 
It turns out that little guys and gals LOVE to help. My Four Amigos, Ladybug (8), Cowboy (6), Firefly (4), and Boo (3) thought the chore chart we made was fabulous and if I was having a bad morning, they reminded me what had to be done. They even offered to do things I normally did! I was very impressed with them. You will note that my chart is not complex or professional, but using a markerboard did work with my crew. I am sure they'd love the whole shebang one of these days when things slow down, but for now, the markerboard suffices.


 
It is true that just as is explained in the book that you must spend some time training your new helpers about how to do their new jobs (like how to vacuum, how to make a bed properly, how to wipe the dining room table without making a mess of the floor...there are cards to explain jobs to older kids in the book, but I just had to explain things to my younger kids),


but kids are quick learners, and once mine realized that instead of a constant "Hey, it's messy...we need to pick up" coming from me they got a set routine of when things had to be clean and when there was a litle leeway to "get creative," then they completely got on board with the idea of a schedule. Even Tex, eventually, though as my only teenager at home, and my usually biggest helper, he was the least appreciative of the new routine. It sort of cramped his freeflowing style, but he adjusted.

 
It worked so well, that when we had to stop the routine for a few days due to some out of the house commitments, the kids begged to get back to their "jobs" once we had a day completely at home. Sadly, Tex had his accident during our trial of this whole routine technique, and that completely rattled things up (though my mom did mention how extra polite and helpful the kids were when they stayed with her and she continued to work on those things with them for me),


and now we are in the middle of our amazing home makeover so you know there is no routine possible with that, BUT I am completely sold on the idea of the routine and the sharing of the weekly/montly jobs. I printed my job labels and can't wait to get my laminator out to make a chart so once this makeover is through, we can faithfully maintain the wonderful organization and newness of our made-over house...so now we can go from everyday mess making to everyday homemaking.

You can purchase the Everyday Family Chore System for only $19.95. You can also purchase a companion one hour audio cd for an additional $6 about Getting Kids to Help at Home. There is a downloadable version available, but it is only a two dollars cheaper and personally, I'd rather have the print version, but you may prefer the instant download.

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To see what others on the Molly Review Crew had to say about the Everyday Family Chore System, check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog for more reviews about this product and others by the talented and wise Vicki Bentley.

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