Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ode to Our Table

Leighton just recently finished building a new dining room table and benches that he designed for us. Our old table had seen better days, but I was thankful for it, for many reasons. I thought I'd write a poem in honor of it. Yes, it's meant to be silly, but this poem tells a story about our lives. It also reminds us to be thankful for what we have, even when it doesn't always match up to what we want.

Ode to Our Table

You came to us so long ago, 
When we had a need.
Your $50 price tag 
Was perfect, we agreed.

Your oblong shape filled the space
With no room to spare.
It was a tight fit and way too big,
But we just didn't care.

Over time our family grew
And then the chairs were filled.
We added one and then two,
And we around you spilled.

Your legs were sturdy, top was strong
As little ones abused you.
Science projects, arts and crafts--
We lovingly used you.

Your finish has been scratched and chipped;
your top splattered with paint.
For all that we've put you through,
You really are a saint.

Our favorite memories took place 
With you by our side.
We've shared our days and discussed our dreams.
We've laughed and we've cried.

But time goes on and people grow.
Now our needs have changed.
Your bulky structure no longer fits.
Please don't think it's strange. 

Oh, Table, we thank you,
For all your years of service.
Another family has need of you.
Please don't be nervous.

We'll always have our memories
And our pictures, too,
To remind us of your faithfulness.
Oh, Table, we thank you.

P.S. That table has already been picked up by an elderly gentleman who refinishes furniture. He's going to fix it up, re-stain it, and bring new life to it. I see that table blessing another family for many years. If it could come alive, oh, what memories it would have.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Math Refresher for Adults

As members of the Homeschool Review Crew, we get many reviews a year. Most of the material is for the kids, naturally, but every now and then I receive something just for me. It is even more rare to get actual curriculum designed for adults. This review from Math Essentials is one such time though.

I loved my math classes in school. I enjoyed solving algebraic equations, finding common denominators, plotting coordinates, and determining area and volume. The problem though is that many times when you don't use something you lose it. I no longer remember all those formulas that once came so easily. Words like sine, tangent, asymptote, extremum, and binomial coefficients are just vague memories of times long ago. I was excited, to say the least, to revive those interests with Math Refresher for Adults.   

Math Essentials was created by Rick Fisher. His passion for math has resulted in not only his teaching for over 31 years but also his developing award-winning materials. His "highly functional, easy-to-use, and easy-to-understand" teaching system works so well that approximately half of his 6th grade students would skip 7th grade math and move directly to an advanced algebra class, year after year. He shares his teaching strategy through books, DVDs, and an online instructional program. His resources have helped countless students worldwide.

A strong foundation in basic math skills is important for many aspects of life. Whether you're budgeting for your home or working in a profession, you're likely to use math throughout the day. Math Refresher for Adults can help you revitalize those skills that have been forgotten or even help you finally get a good grasp of those concepts.

The book covers the following topics:

  • Whole Numbers
  • Fractions
  • Decimals
  • Percents
  • Geometry
  • Integers
  • Charts and Graphs
  • Word Problems
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra

Mr. Fisher, like my own math teachers, believes that neatly copying problems onto a piece of paper helps with both accuracy as well as understanding. There is no room to work the problems in the book, but there is a small section on each page for personal notes. 

The book is filled with various exercises blocked off by type. The format is the same for each lesson: a handful of review exercises, followed by two sample problems, and then the lesson problems (almost always ten, except for review pages).    

Since this book is a refresher and not a typical textbook, there is no teaching instruction in it, save a helpful hint on each page. The actual teaching can be found in video lessons on the site. The lessons are taught as if you were sitting in class watching the teacher work through the problems on an overhead projector. The instruction are clear and concise. The majority of the videos are 3-10 minutes long, so it's easy to fit into any schedule. The videos aren't in order for this specific book, but you can easily find what you need by the titles.  

I may be a bit of a nerd, but I am loving working through this book! I find it almost therapeutic to write the problems and work them out. I was surprised how easily all of it came back as I sat down and flipped through the book. I worked through the order of operations sections first, just because it's fun. I've also tackled integers, word problems, fractions, and linear equations.

And now that I had some fun, I figured it was time to dive into the one section that I dread: percents. I don't know why, but I've just never liked them (unless we're talking 50% sales at the store or something, ha). I figured I'd utilize the videos for this, for sure. The first bit, of course, covers the easy stuff, but I can already tell that the explanations in the video tutorials are going to make those more difficult percentages much easier to understand, too.   

The back of the book contains all of the solutions to the exercises along with a glossary of mathematical terms. There are numerous charts also, such as important symbols, a multiplication table, commonly used prime numbers, squares and square roots, and fraction/decimal equivalents. These resources are great when you need the answer to common things at a glance.

The lessons are short, the instructions are clear, and the topics are vast. If you need to review your math skills for home use, college classes, to advance your career, or even just for fun, Math Refresher for Adults is a wonderful book to have. 

You can connect with Math Essentials on their website and Facebook.

You can read more reviews of this math curriculum on the Hommeschool Review Crew blog.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Bible Study Guide For All Ages

Homeschooling means that we can focus our days on matters that are most important to us. We don't do a lot of structured schooling during the summer months, but this review fits perfectly with those priority learning experiences that we continue all year long.

The kids have their individual studies and interests, but my favorite times are those when we learn together, especially for our Bible lessons. There's just something so special about reading God's Word as a family. Learning those stories that happened so long ago and committing verses to memory in our hearts are things that I want my little ones to remember about our daily Bible times. We've used a handful of resources over the years, but we're currently using the Bible Study Guide For All Ages. And even though the company truly offers guides "for all ages," we're using the Intermediate (3rd & 4th grade) and Beginner (3-K) lessons.

The first Bible Study Guide was published in 1980 when Mary Baker wrote her own curriculum to help both her four children and her church's class learn and understand the Bible. Over the years, the curriculum expanded as it became a family project. Though the guides have developed and improved since that first one decades ago, the core values have not changed. Their goal is to help people of all ages understand the Bible as they apply it to their own lives.

The curriculum spans the entire Bible from the Old Testament to the New. There are 416 lessons that are broken into sets of 26 lessons. The curriculum covers the same material from the little ones on up, so it's simple to use with multiple ages together. Everyone can learn the same lesson at their own level. Also, when a student moves up a grade, he simply continues with the next lesson in the curriculum, but at the higher level.

We've been using the first set of 26 lessons, which cover Joseph, Daniel, and the early life of Jesus. (You can find the full order of study on their website.) I was able to choose which levels I wanted to use with my kids. I could have chosen the appropriate options per their grade levels, but that would have meant I was teaching 4 different levels. Yes, like I said, the curriculum is designed specifically to be compatible all across the board, but there are still differences, and differences mean extra work. Sometimes you just need a little simplicity, especially trying to keep track of a toddler and teach 4 kids who are in summer mode. Ha. All that to say, I chose the Intermediate Level (3rd & 4th grades) for my older kids and the Beginner Level for my kindergartner. Since the guides are flexible enough to use with a broader range of ages, I felt this way would work well for not only my kids, but me, as well.

The student pages guide you through the lessons. The booklets are printed on legal-size paper and are lightly glue-bound for easily tearing out the worksheets. The Beginner lessons follow this format:
  • Learn the Basics -- teaches a simple fact about a person or event from the Bible
  • Sing and Remember -- reiterates memory work, a song, and review questions
  • Get Active -- promotes excitement and introduces the truth taught in the lesson
  • My Bible -- replaces the Get Active portion every 4 lessons and produces familiarity with the Bible
  • Discover the Bible -- teaches the Bible lesson
  • Apply It! -- helps the student apply the lesson to his own life  

The Intermediate Level has a different setup:
  • Remember It? -- reviews important details from previous lessons
  • Memory Workout -- drills general information about the Bible
  • Guess What... -- provides definitions and historical facts that are pertinent to the lesson
  • Discover the Bible -- teaches the Bible lesson
  • Time Line -- helps the student understand the time frame by visually seeing the events in order
  • Maps -- teaches where events take place
  • Get Active -- allows the student to do something fun and challenging while apply the lesson
  • Apply It! -- helps the student apply the lesson to his own life
The front page of the levels vary quite a bit, but the backs are fairly similar. The entire back page is filled with the Discover the Bible section. The various points of the story are divided by boxes and are shown through pictures. The Beginner Level instructs the student to color specific parts, trace portions, circle the correct picture, or draw simple accents. The Intermediate Level also includes those aspects, but incorporates more difficult skills such as filling in missing letters, writing answers, crossing off incorrect answers, connecting matches, and more.

The are teacher keys to accompany each set of lessons. The pages look identical to the student versions, except that the answers are given. The Intermediate Level teacher key (the only level we received) shows the answers in bold black just as though a student filled out the page. Having the key also helps the teacher to guide the lesson easily.

There is an impressive wall map and timeline set that you can purchase, but with the time line over 6 feet long and 2 feet tall along with maps, we opted to use only the smaller versions provided on the student pages. (But how I wish we had the room for them!) However, the Beginner Level includes Time Line Cards that we were able to utilize. Each of the 34 cards shows a picture of a major event or person in the biblical timeline. Under the picture is a question that corresponds with each card and helps to trigger facts that the student has learned.

The Bible Book Summary Cards are another fun aspect of this curriculum. These flash cards teach an important summary of each book of the Bible. The front of the cards shows one or more pictures; the back lists a brief explanation of what is shown. Also on the back side is a list of questions that the teacher can ask to review the highlights. The cards are available in 3 sizes to meet every need. There is one card for each book, so naturally, there are 66 summary cards included.

As a teacher, I have found it very easy to use the Bible Study Guide For All Ages. There's not a lot of prep work, as all the information to lead the lesson is given clearly and is easy to follow. Since we do not have the wall map and timeline set, we simply skip over those portions in the lesson. Also, since we're using this as a family as opposed to a Sunday School class or study group, we have to be a bit flexible with the Get Active sections by either adapting them or skipping them altogether.

Because the Beginner Level and Intermediate Level have different stories in the Apply It! sections, it makes it tricky to balance the two. I have my Beginner sit next to me at the table so I can work through his page with him while the others are filling in things on their pages. We follow the same format on the back Discover the Bible sections, too, because even though the pictures are similar, the students have different expectations. Everything else we do together following the Intermediate Level guide.

The only thing I truly do not like about this curriculum is the actual booklets. The awkwardness of the legal size pages makes it difficult to store. Also, since the booklets are lightly glue-bound for easy tearing, there is no way for the booklet to stay together. My kids enjoy looking through their pages for review, but that is impossible as even the cover tore off by the second lesson. And since the pages are larger, they will not fit into a folder or binder so the kids can keep them. Even my teacher key is falling apart, so it would be very difficult to reuse year after year, either in a homeschool setting or especially in a church.

That issue aside though, we are loving these guides! My kids ask daily if we're doing a Bible lesson. Like I said, for simplicity's sake, I dropped my oldest down a couple levels. He would definitely benefit more from a higher level, because I do think the levels themselves are accurate for the grades.

I personally love that the timeline and map activities are included in every lesson as those things will give the kids a better grasp of the stories. This curriculum really hits all the important aspects. Along with those two things, it includes memory work, application, and details about the books themselves and the individual stories. The Bible Study Guide For All Ages truly is a quality curriculum and a joy to use.  

You can connect with Bible Study Guide for All ages on the following social media sites: 

You can read more reviews of this Bible curriculum on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Things That Make Me Smile 5/11/18

Jake (12), Alyssa (10), Zac (8 1/2), Tyler (6), Nicholas (3)

Happy Friday! Here's our list, but what made you Smile this week? Leave us a comment letting us know! 

1. Alyssa: ". . . and you're shorter."
Nicholas: "I not Shorter; I Nicky!"

2. Nicholas calling his knee his "leg elbow."

3. Nicholas: "'Matoes are my favorites! And cucumbers. And carrots."


5. Nicholas calling pears "parrots."

6. The message Jake left for me during school one day.

7. Nicholas, in the bathtub, pointing to all the cuts and scrapes on his legs from playing outside: "I want you wash these away."

8. Zac, because I mentioned something about the animal: "A liger. It's when a male lion marries a female tiger."

9. Nicholas, yelling at a bird: "Hey, you! Get off the bird feeders! Dat for squirrels!"
Because normally we see this:

10. Nicholas, because he accidentally walked into the running sprinkler and got wet, pouting: "Now I'm sprinkled."

11. Jake, discussing Shakespeare: "I know Romeo and Juliet. Oh, and Hamlet. Is that about a little pig?"

 What made you Smile this week?

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Things That Make Me Smile 5/4/18

Jake (12), Alyssa (10), Zac (8 1/2), Tyler (6), Nicholas (3)

This post is loooong overdue, but the Smiles are still good! This week, we celebrated Zac's half birthday, Jake made batter from scratch and fried corn dogs by himself for Kids Cook Monday, and we went out to dinner with my grandparents. We also spent time with family from Texas and got to love on my cousin's precious baby boy. The rest of the week was filled with reading, science experiments, and lots of Lego.

1. Tyler: "Mom, I can't find it."
Me: "Me neither."
Tyler: "That's because you're not looking for it."

2. Tyler: "I love Mommy more than anything else in the whole wide world! Except God. And Jesus."

3. Nicholas, hugging me: "I love you. You look so sunny."


5. Nicholas calling tweezers "chopsticks" because they're so similar.

6. Nicholas, holding the broom, looking for the dustpan: "I want to sweep. Where is the shovel?"

7. Tyler: "Are you making coffee?"
Me: "No, tea."
Tyler: "Aw, almost lucky guess."

8. Alyssa won her first sewing machine at our church's Mother Daughter Luncheon.

9. Nicholas, about music playing in the house: "Dat too loud for my eyes!"

10. Nicholas and Alyssa were playing with magnets.
Nicholas, pointing to Alyssa's creation: "What is dat?"
Alyssa: "It's called a failure."
Nicholas: "I can't make it."
Alyssa: "You can't make what?"
Nicholas: "The failure."

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hake Publishing Review

I love language arts. I'm one of those people that laugh at grammar jokes and plays on words. I majored in English in college and taught it at the secondary level. I may or may not silently correct people when they speak grammatically incorrect. Yeah, I'm one of those.

It's funny to see what kids pick up on. (Hey, did you noticed I ended that sentence with a preposition? Just because I love the language and all the finer points of it doesn't mean I speak formally all the time, ha.) Because my kids are around me all day, they have naturally learned many grammar rules without having been officially taught. Also, because the majority of our schooling is based on literature, they learn much about sentence structure and grammar rules simply through reading. However, there are some things that I do believe should be specifically taught, whether it's the hows, whys, whens, or whatnot. That's why I was excited to hear that Hake Publishing recently published their Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 curriculum. 

Stephen Hake, the founder of Hake Publishing, began writing for Saxon math in 1984 and is the main author for the 3rd-8th grade textbooks. He believes that students will succeed with a language arts program based on Saxon's style of incremental development and continual review. Their curricula currently covers grades 3-8, but has been used successfully to help students even older.

The homeschool version of each level contains 3 parts:

  • Student Textbook
  • Student Writing Workbook
  • Teacher Guide

The student textbook is a consumable, softcover book that include daily lessons, review sets, and tests. There are 111 lessons that cover capitalization, punctuation, parts or speech, sentence structure, spelling rules, correct word usage, and dictionary skills.  The lessons begin with a grammar meeting which is designed "to strengthen listening skills, to model correct word usage, to practice new vocabulary, and to develop effective speaking and writing habits." After that, the new lesson is introduced along with practice exercises. Finally, the student completes the review set of exercises on his own, receiving help as needed.

The writing workbook contains 21 writing lessons that are to be assigned on test days. The workbook's purpose is to help the student develop good writing by practicing recording his thoughts and ideas on paper. It enhances skills such as brainstorming, active and passive voice, topic sentences, facts and opinions, persuasive writing, and more. 

The teacher guide is a scripted manual for leading the lessons. It includes the grammar meeting question along with the daily vocabulary words. As far as the actual lesson and exercises, it simply states to read it together and work through the examples and practice sections. The actual exercises are not included, so the teacher needs to be looking at a student textbook for those. This book also contains the answer key for the textbook and the writing book along with the masters for the tests and extra practice worksheets and the accompanying answer keys.

My 10-year-old daughter is the one who has been working through this book. Even though she is in 4th grade, I thought this would be a good option for her since this is her first formal introduction to learning grammar and because Saxon (which this is modeled after) is known to have a higher level of teaching. I was pleased to see how well she's doing with this. Many weeks into the curriculum, she still hasn't struggled with any of it. The lessons take maybe 10 minutes to work through.

One thing that is somewhat impractical is the grammar meeting sections. Since the narrative is written for a classroom setting, it is a bit awkward to read as is. As homeschoolers, we are used to adapting curricula to meet our needs, but I would think that something that is marketed as a homeschool version would already be adapted. Also, since the teacher guide does not include the actual exercises, it is not beneficial other than the masters and answer keys, in my opinion.

The curriculum itself is working well in our home. The lessons include review along with new concepts, and they are not too long. I love the addition of the vocabulary and Latin root words as they are vital in understanding definitions and etymology. 

If your child benefits from the teaching style of Saxon math books, he might thrive with the depth and complexity of the Hake/Saxon Grammar and Writing 3 curriculum.

You can read more reviews of this curriculum on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

White House Holidays

Our family enjoys learning together as much as possible, so we're always pleased to review unit studies. This style of learning fits perfectly with our family. While the kids do have their independent studies, I love incorporating family learning daily. Our conversations twist and turn and we end up talking about so much more than what is in the lesson. This part of our day is special to me. 

The curriculum that is currently inspiring those deeper conversations is the White House Holidays Unit Studies. While there are plenty of resources that help homeschoolers learn about holidays in depth, this one, from Silverdale Press LLC, is different. These studies focus on American presidents and the White House during each holiday.

Silverdale Press was founded by Jill and Joshua Hummer in order to provide quality resources for homeschoolers written by experts of the subjects. Along with these holiday studies, the company also offers a presidential election unit study and a persuasive writing and classical rhetoric course.

There are currently 6 individual unit for studying the White House Holidays.

Each study contains several detailed lessons that are designed for grades K-12. The lessons include history about the specific holiday along with information about various presidents. One thing I like about unit studies specifically is that we apply that topic to multiple subjects. Along with history and government, these unit cover things such as literature, poetry, writing, music, art, and baking skills. These creative activities add a hands-on learning aspect that further enriches the study.

Veteran's Day was the first unit we studied. I chose this because my kids are fascinated by battles, wars, and military tactics and this particular study is chock full of historical facts. This one comes with a set of 3 lessons for grades K-6 and a set for grades 7-12. The elementary stories are exciting and shorter and the activities are visual and hands-on, while the secondary narratives are filled with more details and the activities are focused on reading, writing, and thinking skills.

Since my kids are ages 3-12, I chose to use the elementary lessons.
  1. President Woodrow Wilson and the Story of Armistice Day
  2. President Wilson and Food Czar Hoover at War
  3. The Story of Dwight Eisenhower and How We Got Veteran's Day
The activities include a poppy pin craft, "In Flander's Field" copywork, various exercises for food conservation, and many suggestions for honoring veterans both on the holiday and throughout the year.

We have close family members who are veterans, so this was a special study for us. It made history become real as we discussed how they lived during those times and what hardships they faced. I wish I would have looked at the narratives first though instead of assuming we'd need the younger set. The secondary version is definitely much deeper and so fascinating. I read my kids more advanced literature quite often, so these lessons would have been perfect for them. They were enthralled with the small portion I did read to them. I do think the elementary activities were perfect for us though.

My middle child asked to do the Christmas study next. This one has only one set of lessons for all ages, and while there is history woven throughout, it is different than our first unit. This one focuses more on a White House theme and a special feature about how they celebrate Christmas. It has 4 lessons with a total of 24 activities.
  1. Jacqueline Kennedy, The Nutcracker Suite, and the White House Crรจche
  2. Betty Ford, Handmade Folk Art, and the Gingerbread House
  3. Barbara Bush, a Story Book Christmas, and the White House Tree
  4. Michelle Obama, Simple Gifts and Military Families, and Christmas Cards
This study could easily fill the entire month of December with Christmas-themed learning! The activities vary from creating your own nativity scene, writing a poem, making ornaments and decorations, reading speeches, listening to music, painting conifers, designing a Christmas card, baking goodies and more.

My kids especially liked that each lesson included a recipe from a First Lady, though they thought it was a little silly to be drinking hot chocolate when it was 90 degrees outside, ha.

My daughter chose our third study, Valentine's Day, of course. Don't let the title fool you though; while this unit is full of love stories, there is still much history in its pages. The letters themselves are windows to times past.
  1. The Love Letters of John and Abigail Adams
  2. The Love Letters of Ronald and Nancy Reagan
  3. The White House Wedding of John Tyler and Julia Tyler
  4. The White House Wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom Cleveland
  5. Valentine's Day 1962 and Jacqueline Kennedy's Television Tour of the White House
The accompany activities include writing letters, creating valentines, aging paper, reading poems, baking goodies, answering questions, and more. There are suggestions for both elementary and secondary age groups.

My favorite part of this study took place while reading the love letters between John and Abigail Adams. The art of letter writing was much more pronounced and language was very different hundreds of years ago. I read "me thinks" and a giggle fest ensued. The kids thought the phrase was hilarious and repeated it often over the next few days.

These White House Holidays Unit Studies are fun resources to utilize throughout the year. The lessons are written so that you can read them to your students without any prep work. They are interesting and age-appropriate. There are many pictures throughout along with speeches, poems, letters, and links that further enhance your study.

I'm sure we'll study these holidays again along with the other 3 (Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King, Jr.) at the appropriate times of year and truly delve into all that these unit studies have to offer.

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You can read more reviews of these unit studies on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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