Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Curriculum Review---Molly's Money-Saving Digest---January 2010

Some people say that e-books and e-magazines are the wave of the future. Now I finally understand why.  I saw a lady at Physical Therapy the other day lying on one of the tables reading her Kindle (a digital book reader from Amazon) while they had her hooked up to one of those TENS machines. Her e-book reader was small enough for her to comfortably hold, but large enough for her to read the print easily.

I have a laptop and think it's fun to take it to Barnes and Noble or Panera and work for a few hours, kid-free, but the thought of reading an entire magazine or book off of a small screen has never seemed interesting to me. I am one of those die hard give-it-to-me-in-print types of people. I love my Old Schoolhouse Magazine  issues to death-by-dog-earing. At that moment, however, as I looked at my HEAVY book bag on the floor (it was heavy because who can ever pick out just one book to take? What if I am not in the mood for that book when I need a diversion? Better take five more just to be sure!), I finally got it. I could load ALL of the books I am currently reading onto one book-sized machine that would fit tidily into my purse. Oh my. Now I know what is going on my Christmas wish list. Money for a Kindle.

On to Molly's Money-Saving Digest...I checked and it CAN be loaded onto a Kindle. Imagine that. Being able to "page through" and read any of them any time you are out and about without lugging them all around with you...On the other hand, if you are still currently Kindle-free like me, you can set up a file on your desktop (or where ever) for all of your Digests and refer to them whenever you need to find a recipe or a printable form. One of the nicer features of the Digests is that many of the pages are printables revolving around whatever theme they cover that issue. So, if you have an interest in getting organized, not only does Molly discuss effective ways to get organized, she also provides you with the tools you need to do so, and she lists quite a few links to websites that cover similar issues.
The current price for Molly's Money-Saving Digests is $4.95 at the Old Schoolhouse Store for about fifty pages of articles, recipes, printables, and frugal ideas. This newsletter/digest is published by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, with the symbol of Molly Green being used to represent "every woman." Did you catch that I said "symbol" of Molly Green? Maybe I am the only person who didn't already know this, but I was somewhat disappointed to find out that Molly is not a real person. I had imagined her ponytail bouncing (like mine) as she jumped out of her car to race toward the bargain table at yard sales and flea markets (like me), bargaining down an already pretty good bargain (like me!). However, I was pleased to discover that the adorable watercolor of "Molly" was done by talented artist, Kim Spitznaugle, with the intention of representing the spunkiness and creativity we all have to employ as moms, especially in a strained economy. I can be spunky and creative. Cool! There are, in reality, many contributors who share in the making of the Digests. My favorite in this issue was Marmee Dear of the Homemaker's Mentor in the Back to the Basics column. (Please don't tell me she's not a real person either. Is she? Because her last name is Greene, too. No, don't tell me!!)

Seriously, the pie baking lesson by Marmee Dear was my favorite part of the newsletter. It made me want to go flour up my center island immediately and start the dough a rollin'. I will readily admit that I like cooking quite a lot, so this column's clear instructions, appealing pictures, mouth-watering recipes, and country kitchen advice won me over easily. A few weeks ago, I spent every morning in the pursuit of baking the "perfect" fluffy biscuit. It took about a week of adjusting recipes before I was really pleased with the result, so anything that would shorten that trial and error process would make both me and my kids happy (they had to eat the rejects, "perfect" or not)! I absolutely can't wait to try the "fancy topping with pecans." It sounds divine. I think I will look in the cupboard tonight and see if I have anything that can go in a pie, just so I can try this topping. Yum.

The "Summer Fruit Pie Secret" had me thinking ahead to this season's crop of blackberries and blueberries with much enthusiasm. Just today I noticed that the flowers have come out on those prickly vines you love to hate. We finally decided to rid our own yard of the nuisances, since there are plenty along the side of the country roads out here that nobody picks. Last year I could have picked a bucket of berries every day and there still would have been more. Perhaps a future issue of the Digest will have some useful tips on canning pie fillings. Or maybe one already has.

I am definitely in need of the "In-a-Pinch" pie crust. I made an "egg pie" (quiche to grown-ups) about a month ago and thought it was great, except for the crust. Dry. Blah! I never would have thought of using mayo in a pie crust recipe, but I am willing to try. I am willing to bet it will be a good deal more moist than the one I made. I also enjoyed reading about Marmee's grandmother doing the bulk of the baking once a week on Saturdays. I'd love to get to that point, but not just yet. It sure would help with the rest of the week, though. Maybe, taking that step would help me make the next one happen instead of the other way around, if you know what I mean. That's certainly food for thought...

The forms for budgeting, calendars, and lists look useful as well. We are enrolled in the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace seminar this quarter and these forms are pretty similar to his basic set of budgeting forms, which we have used since week one of the program. I do have my own templates for some of the other forms, such as the daily to-do list and the calendar, but I thought that the Family Clothing Inventory List was something that I would like to print up and use right away. I have all the kids' shirts stacked in piles on the floor of our master bedroom and the PLAN is to pull out the too small stuff and the majority of the long sleeved shirts to give their drawers a more less-cluttered feel. I keep waiting for all the clothes to get washed so that I can see everything at once. I have finally decided that this is a mistake. In a family of eight, the clothes will NEVER all be washed at the same time. Why did I think that somehow I would be able to accomplish this super-woman-like feat?

In any case, in the course of coming to this conclusion I realized that the reason there is so much chaos with my laundry is that there are sometimes (often) too many shirts and pants per child. My habit is to buy shirts as I see them on the 50 cents rack at the local consignment store. Sometimes one of the kids won't grow into an available shirt for a year, but at 50 cents each I am willing to wait. In the meantime, they can use it as a nightshirt! Then we store the shirts by color in large, stackable clear organizer drawers and once a week, one of the kids gets to pick the color for the day. I was expecting extras in the white category, but instead I found I had too many shirts in every category. Oooops. Now I need to weed out the worn out ones (there are shirts in there from my 18 year-old's toddler days...I am all for thrifty, but there is also ridiculous). During the process of folding those many shirts, I noticed that my third youngest is rather lacking in the shorts/skirts department and my fifth youngest needs new shoes. These printable pages would be a great way to keep track of that sort of thing and I could carry them with me when I go to thrift stores and yard sales, instead of passing up good bargains because a child is unavailable for try-on, AND I might save myself some laundry duty time by cutting down on excessive duplication of inventory (ie. clutter).

"Molly's Menu" was one of my favorite parts of the newsletter (did you notice I seem to appreciate food things the most? Hmmm.) Several of the recipes were right up my harried-homemaker-six-o-clock-was-an-hour-ago alley...five ingredients or less, thank you! I shared the newsletter with my second-born, and he wants to try the chocolate chip cake recipe and the vegetable soup recipe on his day to cook next week. Very semi-homemade, yet looks delicious. Being inspired by this menu is one of the reasons that for the last two weeks I have actually done a good job planning (and executing!) a menu. I used to do this all the time, but fell out of the habit when my husband went on crazy shift work for the military. It turns out the kids missed the menu-making and I was presented with a long list of favorite menu-items they wanted me to prepare. I have also done a better job of keeping up with the shopping since making our menus, and the corresponding shopping list based off of Molly's example, so if there is more peace in my home around mealtime these days, I will have to give "her" the credit.

Other features included in the newsletter, but not discussed here, are a Directory of Links to favorite related websites, an article about ways to "Evaluate, Prioritize, and Organize" around your own home, an article about "Feathering Your Nest" frugally (decorating), information and forms needed to teach a lesson on banking to your middle school aged children in the Kids Korner (includes mock blank checks and checkbook ledger), and reader tips in "From My Mailbox." I am of the opinion that if you can find one or two things in a publication that really STICK, then it was well worth its price. I found at least three that I am very enthusiastic about, so this one earns its keep. I'll bet you can find plenty to like about Molly's Money-Saving Digest, too.

As an Old Schoolhouse Magazine subscriber, I have seen ads for Molly's Digests before. The main thing that kept me from ordering one the last time I saw the notice was two-fold. First, there is the fact that I am a print-and-carry sort of gal, and the thought of printing all that information PLUS the cost of the Digest seemed more than I could justify. Now I can see that you glean what information you can from an initial reading, then print only what you'd really use, such as the forms, a recipe, or the children's lesson.

Second was my inability to choose just one Digest out of the half-dozen or so offered at the time (there are now more than a dozen). Several of them looked like something I and my family would find interesting (Gardening, Making Money From Home, Family Vacations, Photo Treasures) and I just couldn't decide, and then not knowing for sure if I could justify the expense (remember, in my mind I was tallying ink and paper, along with the product cost) and before I knew what happened, I talked myself out of doing anything. Now that I have seen one, I am sure I would like them all.

I guess I will have to wait until they do a special and stock up...after I finish saving up for that Kindle to store them all on, of course. =-)

By the way, I checked the Old Schoolhouse Store and found out that there are several options for purchasing Molly's Digests right now. One of them is a cd of all 12 of Molly's Money-Saving Digests from 2009 for $49.95. You'd get all of last year's Digests and you wouldn't have to choose. Sounds good to me!

Visit Molly Green at Econobusters and sign up for the A Minute With Molly e-newsletter, and receive a free Menu Planning E-book.

I did receive this product for free from TOS Magazine for review purposes. However, that did not influence my opinion on this product. What you read here is my honest opinion about how the product was useful and relevant to me.

Posted by Heather Drinkwater at 10:41 AM 0 comments

Curriculum Review---Help Lord, I’m Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler!

Reality Television is big business these days. Every time you turn on the TV, one channel or another is running a reality program. From Survivor on CBS (does anybody believe that is reality anymore than professional wrestling?) to Ace of Cakes on Food Network, there is a reality show to fit all kinds. I am a 19 Kids and Counting kind of person. I find it interesting to see what another homeschooling family does to manage their studies and the demands of a large household. Their family atmosphere is something I aspire to, and though most days I feel that they surely do a better job with 19 than I do with 6, since they seem so NICE, I never feel bad about that. Best of all, I have seen several things in the show (and in their book The Duggars: 20 and Counting, which is great!) that I have implemented and found very useful, such as the "buddy system" and the idea of the family closet. I suppose some people might wonder why I would need to learn these things from a TVshow, but if you consider that I come from a two child family, you can see why "how to live in a large family" is not one of the skills my mom passed on to me. Unfortunately, our church has only one other large family who homeschools, so I don't have an abundance of real-life examples to turn to for advice. Hence, my interest in using the mothers of books and video to inspire me.

Which leads me to today's review of Help, Lord, I'm getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler! published by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. It is a compilation of stories written by homeschoolers about how they navigated the sometimes choppy waters of homeschooling through the high school years. You might think that since your children are years away from high school that this book doesn't apply to you. Instead, consider the fact that sooner or later, God-willing, you WILL get there. You just can't avoid it.

Seriously, it is never too early to start thinking about how you will make it through those challenging times. In fact, earlier is probably better, since making decisions in the middle of a crisis is much more difficult than when they are made ahead of time. The high school years wind up seeming like a looming mountaintop to so many of us because the content is tougher, the demands are higher, and because the END, the GOAL, the NEXT STEP for which you have been preparing all these years is finally in sight. Are you ready?? That is the question all of the parents in this e-book asked themselves, in one form or another, somewhere along their journey. They asked themselves whether they had done enough, whether they were doing the right things, whether they were going the right direction...Does that sound familiar? It did to me.

Since I have homeschooled one son (so far) all the way to graduation, I felt like I saw a lot in this book that resonated with me. I remember asking the same questions the featured families did, and I remember finding many of the same answers along the way. I found myself wishing that this book had been available to me before I entered the high school years with my son because at that time I felt so alone. All of my friends had mostly younger children. The ones who had older children wound up putting their high schoolers back into public or private schools within a year. We thought about it. God had other plans.

Our first major bump in the road was a big one. We struggled painfully through algebra with no sign of a finish line in sight. In retrospect, it was probably too early for him to be taking it, even though he is smart and his father and I had taken algebra at the same age. To make things worse, my son was sure it was because I couldn't teach it well enough for him to understand. On the other hand, I was sure that if he'd just LISTEN and then retain the info for longer than thirty seconds we might get somewhere, and much to my regret, my impatience occassionally showed. So eventually, we tried another curriculum.

Another six months went by using this one and he hated it, too. I was sure he was just trying to get out of finishing it. The truth was, his brain simply wasn't ready for some of it yet. What is it about ex-public schooled parents that makes us think we have to do everything by the book? If only someone had told me to get out of that way of thinking back then...Instead, the only advice I got from friends was "Try Sylvan." That was definitely not in the budget, so we got a tutor. That didn't work either. We tried something else for another several months, doing only the topics he hadn't covered already this time. Finally, he managed to finish the algebra requirement, hating math more every step of the way. Resenting it.

After that, he took a hiatus from school to do a five week long mission trip, then spent another six months doing an apprenticehip in his current field, farriery. Both of those were definitely God things. Then, we moved. Finally, we got back to "doing school," and after evaluating the options with my husband, we took our son off of the college-bound track and gave Consumer Math a try, instead of calculus. Thank goodness for that!! Our son wound up LOVING it and powered through it quickly because it made sense to him and seemed useful. Amazing. And since he owns his own business now, he does use that math all the time. He did NOT need to learn about sines and cosines and theorems. He did need to learn about accounting, how to stay out of debt, and taxes.

If only someone had told me to seek after God's will for each individual child's leanings earlier, and to take only the classes that fit into that child's life plan, we might have beeen spared the difficulties and hard feelings of those two years. Kelly Rotenberry has a similar story in "Help, Lord!". She says, "We just couldn‘t seem to find that one thing that mattered enough to [our daughter]—that one thing that she was passionate about. Well, guess what we learned! A lot of that comes with maturity.That is something I really wish we had known then. It would have made life easier. I wouldn‘t have felt such pressure to push her toward graduation goals." That advice, heard years ago, might have spared us the pushing about math (and other things) while our son tried to discover what he was passionate about. Once he discovered farriery and set his own goals, everything else came naturally.

That is why I so enjoy books such as Help, Lord, I'm Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler!. This world is not perfect and we do not always have a friend nearby who can give us the information we need. We do not always have a local support system we can turn to for Godly advice. But we can always find a book to read. I am not saying that a book replaces prayer or going to God on our knees, but I do feel God can use many ways to show us things that will help us, such as the Duggar's concept of the family closet (everyone's clothes are kept in the same area instead of different dressers in different rooms), which incidentally, helped me reduce my "getting-four-under-six-dressed-in-the-morning" time by a LOT. Wow. If you only knew how much easier my life has been since that one change.

I think this book will be inspirational to almost anyone who plans to homeschool through high school. On that note, may I please say, with conviction, from experience, that unless GOD tells you LOUDLY and FIRMLY that you should put your child back in public education, or even private education (and I concede that there may be instances where this is true), do NOT give into the temptation to throw your hands up and say, "I just can't do it. I can't teach algebra (calculus, physics, Spanish)." If your child needs that particular subject, GOD will provide a way for them to get it. Give it all up to Him and hang in there.

That doesn't mean that some sound anecdotal advice about how to accomplish the things a high schooler needs can't be useful. Indeed, sound advice is infinitely useful. Proverbs 19:20 (NIV) tells us, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise." I believe this collection of real-life stories from thirteen homeschooling moms, one is even a homeschooling graduate turned mom, constitutes wise advice and good instruction. I am listening. Will you?

Help, Lord, I'm Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler! is 116 pages long and contains 13 stories with teaching styles varying from Delight-Directed approaches to more Classical approaches. One writer's son did an extensive apprenticeship like mine. Another's son qualified for early dual-enrollment, graduated from high school with a two-year degree and is now serving as a medic in Iraq. Another had a student with learning disbilities and praises God that their son was able to graduate from an adult home study program, and eventually make an incredibly good income in the field of fiber optics. Had he stayed in public school, he would have quit at age 17 due to problems he was having there. Wow! No two families used the exact same approach to their children's education, and honestly, none of them really used the same thing for every student. That in and of itself should tell you something important. Every homeschooling journey is different; what works for your friend's child may not work for yours.

That thought leads me to the one overarching theme in this e-book that I cannot emphasize enough: Look to the Lord for your answers. Pray over your children as individuals. Listen to your children. Stay active in their lives. Figure out what your student's strengths are and build them up. Plan an individualized course of study for EACH child and help them make their post-high school plans around their particular educational needs and leanings. Don't study something just because someone else told you to, unless it is exactly what your child needs. Be flexible. And definitely feel blessed that you are able, through God's help, to give this gift to your son or daughter because it opens up so many doors. The possibilities are endless.

Homeschooling allowed my oldest son to do two apprenticeships with farrirers, and to have a job training horses and helping run a boarding stable. His other love is landscaping and when he was younger (13-15) he worked as a costumed Junior Interpreter for the Colonial Williamsburg Master Gardener, and put in over two hundred hours working with the Master Gardeners in Florida. When we moved to our current home in Gloucester, VA, he started a landscaping business, earning $15/ hour at age 16. Upon graduation from high school, he completed farrier's school, already has about eighty horses he cares for, and will be able to support himself quite comfortably (completely debt free) within a year, maybe even six months.

Following a traditional path of public high school would have had him stressing about SATs last year, making a school choice based on his scores and our finances (or financing), and potentially squirming at college this year in crowded freshman classes of 100-500 students, mostly racking up debt. He's a one-on-one, outdoorsy kind of guy, and while he may eventually get his degree in history (his plan, not mine), right now he is happy working with his hands, getiting dirty, meeting interesting new people, and working on building a reputation of reliablilty and skill. I am so proud of him. Can you tell?

What I'll bet you can't tell from all that is that our homeschool high school years had many tense and uncertain moments. We went through a lot of trial and error to get here. What I wouldn't have given to have been relieved of some of the mistakes we made by having had some good advice (other than how to write a transcript for college) on a personal level about homeschooling high school...

I could live in the "If only's" and probably get stuck there, but I'd rather move forward and grasp hold of the reality that is today and look toward where we are going. If I can prepare a bit for the next step in the journey, then that would be great. What works best for me is to see the methodology in action (I guess I am a hands-on learner, just like my son), and this e-book lives up to that style.

In fact, I have already picked out one thing from the book I am doing to use when my next child turns fourteen. PeggySue Wells says that in her family, volunteering is part of the curriculum from age 14, until they get a job or graduate. I like that. We place a heavy emphasis on helping others, and our oldest son always helped out a lot, as an Awana volunteer and on multiple mission trips, but it wasn't a FORMAL part of what we chose for our curriculum. I think making it a formal, required part of your child's education is a good idea. Formality encourages consistency and committment, which are both good things.

Anyway, if you are at all like me, and you enjoy the occassional fix of reality programming, why not join me and begin preparing for the path you will follow for your potential (or current) high schooler? Download a copy of the e-book, grab a cup of tea, and prepare to be inspired. This e-book is "reality programming" you can actually use!

I have one more idea. If you have a chance, why don't you invite a few friends and start a discussion group, in person or online? This book would be excellent for that purpose, as each chapter covers a different family and is a self-contained learning experience. I find that one chapter is not too difficult to find time to read, even with a busy schedule. Read alone or with friends, this one will challenge you, and hopefully, spur you on to approach your homeschooling high school years with eagerness and enthusiasm instead of uncertainty and dread. If you do wind up reading this e-book, or have already, please feel free to leave some of your thoughts about it on the blog. Maybe we can get a discussion of sorts going here. I still have five more to graduate (so far!) before I am off the hook...

Here is a link to The Old Schoolhouse Store page for Help Lord, I’m Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler! It retails for $12.45, which seems reasonable since it is 116 pages long, has thirteen chapters, and five pages of the authors' recommended resources. The review at this link gives you more details about the content of the e-book.

You can also preview the product here. This preview includes the Table of Contents, Amanda Bennett's Introduction, and one family's story.

By the way, I wanted to mention that if you wind up enjoying this e-book as much as I did, two of my favorite homeschooling books are Homeschool Open House and Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days by Nancy Lande. These books are very similar in format to Help Lord, I’m Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler! In them, the author/editor collects the stories of homeschoolers from all over the country and shows by anectodal tales (many written by the homeschooling families themselves) how a typical day in their houesholds goes. I've learned so much from those books through the years. How nice it is to see an e-book in a similar style that focuses on the important subject of homeschooling during the high school years.

I am hoping that the editors get a good response from this e-book and start working on one that focues on "homeschooling many young ones in the toddler/prek/k years." Now that's one I could definitely use!

I did receive this product for free from TOS Magazine for review purposes. However, that did not influence my opinion on this product. What you read here is my honest opinion about how the product was useful and relevant to me.
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