Friday, December 27, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 12/27/13

 Jake (8), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Merry Christmas! What a fantastic week it's been. Time with family, amazing food, tons of gifts, many memories, and lots of laughs. We have many reasons to Smile. Tomorrow marks one year since Tyler went into the hospital and had surgery. It's hard to believe an entire has passed since all of his trials began. He is currently 100% healthy . . . and getting into everything, causing trouble. We are truly blessed. 

1. Zac: "Missed me, now ya gotta kiss me!"
Me: "I'll kiss you!"
Zac: "No, Alyssa has to kiss me."
Alyssa: "I'm not going to."
Zac: "Ok, Mommy, you can kiss me. Fishy kiss!"

2. Alyssa, to Tyler: "You're just a big pile of cuteness!"


4. Alyssa picking out the raw spinach in her dinner because she thought it was lettuce. When I told her what it was, she gobbled it up.

5. Alyssa: "I love you more than cake."

6. Zac, the day after our family Christmas party: "Is the white elephant going to come? I don't like the white elephant."

our family, my parents, my brother's family

8. Jake: "This place is blowing up like rotten eggs."

9. Me: "Tyler is something else today."
Zac: "What is he, a monster?"

What made you smile?
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Friday, December 20, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 12/20/13

 Jake (8), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Happy Friday! What a great week it's been. Like I said before, we had two performances of our Christmas musical production and play on Sunday, the kids' Christmas program on Wednesday, a baking marathon with my mom on Thursday, and a bunch of miscellaneous things to fill the gaps. 'Tis the season to be busy? Tyler is 100% healthy again (yea!) so that means that he's been into everything this week. Everything. He gives me many reasons to smile. 

1. Jake, about chocolate-covered pretzels: "These are as good as brains made out of noodles!"

2. Zac: "You know that guy that has 2 arms and 2 legs? Who is he?"

3. Jake, in response to my lamenting their growing up: "Would you like me to make a stop-growing-inator?"


5. Zac, singing: "Hark, the hero angels sing!"

6. The kids always pretend that their super powers are determined by their clothing (pictures, designs, etc). Zac was wearing plain pants and a plain shirt, so he said, "I have pocket power!"

7. Jake: "Hey, how did Tyler get out here? I locked him in my room on purpose."

8. The kids and I were scrolling through Lego stuff when a sea captain minifigure came on the screen. Jake said, "Hey, I had a dream about that guy!" Then he proceeded to tell me about his dream in which all the people were walking, talking, Lego characters, except for him.


10. Alyssa, whining: "Jake said I'm going to be a tattle-taler!"

11. Jake, while making chocolate-covered Oreos: "Hey, can we try coating silly putty in chocolate."
Me: "No."
Jake: "But silly putty's really good. I tried it when I was 2."
Me: "Tell me you're joking."
Jake: "No, it's really good. It tastes like sugary pancakes."

What made you smile?

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 12/13/13

 Jake (8), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Happy Weekend! It's been an interesting week, for sure. All 4 kids have been sick--coughing, sneezing, runny noses, fevers, aches--and I've been kinda iffy myself. The one who had it the worst is Tyler, as always. He's had a rough week, but I think he's coming to the tail-end of the sickness. If you could say a prayer for his healing, I'd appreciate it very much. Thanks! Also, our Christmas musical production at church is today. We had practice all day yesterday, ran Ty to the doctor last night, and had the first performance this morning. We have one more performance tonight, as well. I am so thankful for my mom who has given up the opportunity to sing with the choir and stayed with my little sickies so I could participate. Either she is the best and most selfless mother/grandmother . . . or she just didn't want to fill in my role in the play as the really, really old prophetess, Anna. {wink}

1. Zac: "My legs are burning cold."

2. Jake: "Is there an essential oil to make me left-handed?"

3. Alyssa: "Come on, Ty!"
{Tyler runs other way}
Alyssa & Me: "Hahaha!"
Jake: "What happened?"
Me: "Alyssa told him 'Come on, Ty' and he ran the other way."
Jake: "Oh, like magnets. She's north and he's north. {makes his hands come toward each other and then bounce away} Beeoom!"

4. Spending the day alone with Jake.

5. {BOOM}
Zac, excitedly looking out the windown: "Fireworks! It was a firework!"
Me: "No, I think it was just Tyler dumping out the Legos in the other room."

6. Jake: "I can't wait until Tyler gets up. He's so cute and I miss him."

7. Me, suspiciously: "Tyler, what are you doing?"
Tyler: "Uh uh."

8. Jake, while driving: "Mom, why couldn't you just go straight and then turn left?"
Me: "Because it's called a Michigan left: you have to turn right to turn left."
Jake {???}

9. I walked out of the living room for a couple minutes and was surprised to find that all the kids had left the room by the time I got back. After a few seconds, I heard "Hi!" and saw a happy baby that had been trapped by his siblings. Then I heard the giggles from down the hall.

10. Jake: "Carrots to horses are like Legos to me."

11. Alyssa: "Mommy has a crush on Daddy!"

12. Watching Jake watch himself in the reflection of the oven as he was very dramatically directing the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" which was playing on Pandora.

13. Zac, because the older 2 wouldn't let him play Legos with them in the bedroom: "If you two won't let me play, I'm gonna let Tyler in here!"

14. Me, while driving: "Oh, I forgot to grab Tyler jammies."
Zac: "How do you know you forgot?"
Me: "Because I remember that I forgot."
Jake: "Mom, that doesn't make any sense. You remember that you forgot?"

What made you smile?

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 12/6/13

Jake (8), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

This week included Jake's 8th birthday, his special day alone with me to celebrate, our power going out for a few hours, Tyler dumping water on the laptop, and Leighton fixing the laptop. And a bunch of Smiles.

1. Jake, after I sang a bunch of Christmas songs: "Where are you getting all these songs? On Google?"

2. Zac, while helping create customized Lego mini-figures to represent us: "Mommy, make you a princess! Make you a princess! . . . And make me a gingerbread guy so I can marry you."

3. Jake: "Mom, if you write as good as you cook, you can be another Shakespeare."


5. Zac: "In apples, there's juice . . . And in oranges, there's juice." {long pause} "And in juice, there's juice! Hahahahaha! That's so funny!"

6. Jake, frustrated because of a dispute with Alyssa : "Mom, could you reason with her?"

7. Zac: "I love Tyler."
Me: "I love Tyler, too. And I love you, too."
Zac: "And Alyssa and Jake?"
Me: "Yes, I love them, too."
Zac: "Why? Sometimes they're mean to me."
Me: "Well, I certainly don't like when they're mean."
Zac: "Yea! You're on my team."

8. Jake: "It's easy as pie."
Me: "How do you know it's easy? Have you ever made a pie?"
Jake: "It's a figure of speech, Mom."


10. Jake, after listening to me talk about lemon bread: "Is it like unlemoned bread?" (aka unleavened bread)

11. Zac: "Tyler's so cute that I want to keep him! Hahahaha . . . That was so funny that I still want to laugh!"

12. Zac: "What are you allergic to?"
Papa: "Nothing that I know of."
Zac: "Gramma, what are you allergic to?"
Gramma: "Nothing that I know of."
Zac: "I'm allergic to everything I don't like."

What made you smile?

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 11/29/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

I seem to be making a habit of posting my Smiles late. Leighton was home for four days during the Thanksgiving holiday. We got a bunch of things done around the house, got the Christmas decorations up, and spent as much time together as a family as possible. I didn't want to take the time to work on a blog post, so it was pushed to another day. Well, one day became two, and two became three, and here we are over a week later. Any day is a good day to Smile though, right?

1. Jake: "Wouldn't it be cool if the floor was so clean you could lick it?"

2. Jake, listing his favorites: "Food: pizza à la mode."
Me: "And have you ever had pizza à la mode?"
Jake: "Well, no, but pizza's good and ice cream's good, so I said them as one so I could still say them both."

3. Alyssa: "I could do that in a jippy." 

4. Jake: "Why would anybody think that Santa was real anyway? I mean, who can live, like, 2,000 years?"
Me: "Yeah, and how can they believe that he could pass out presents to every house in the whole world in one night?"
Jake: "Well, technically, it would only be half of the world at a time, because when it's night on one half of the world, it's day on the other."


6. Zac: "What are those?"
Me: "Cobwebs."
Zac, shocked: "Cowwebs?!? How did cows get in our house?"

7. Alyssa, lifting a 3 lb weight: "This will make you stronger, right? I wish it made you smarter."

8. Zac: "Will Tyler always be a baby."
Me: "No, not always."
Zac: "He's going to grow up?"
Me: "Yes, one day."
Zac: "Which day?"


10. Me: "My pretty, green-eyed girl."
Alyssa: "Hmph. I want blue eyes."
Me; "But your green eyes are so pretty."
Alyssa, staring at me: "What color are your eyes?"
Me: "Orange."
Alyssa, shocked: "Really?"
Me: "No, they're blue."

11. Alyssa, helping me with laundry: "What's this?"
Me: "Stain stick."
Alyssa: "Oh, to make sure the stains stay on the clothes?"

What made you smile?

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tasty Tuesday: Apple Pie Tartlets

I think these apple pie tartlets are pretty much perfect--all the goodness of apple pie in a cute, little two-bite form. 

The only problem? 

They're so dangerous! With a whole pie, you have to commit yourself to sitting down and eating a slice, but with these tarlets, you can just grab one as you walk by. I mean, it's just a teeny, tiny, bit of pie. No harm, right? Right. Until you've eaten six. 

They're dangerous, I tell ya.       

I prefer jonamac apples for these. The rich sweet-spicy taste makes the tartlets burst with flavor. And because jonamacs break down while baking, they produce more melting juices that, when combined with the flour, make a nice, gooey appley gel to hold it all together.

And what could be better than that?

These tarlets are a favorite in our house. They take a little bit more time than making a traditional streusel-topped pie, but they are totally worth it.

And remember, since they're small, you can eat more!


Pie Crust 
½ cup shortening 
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup ice cold water

1. Mix shortening, flour, and salt together in a food processor with a dough blade (or in a bowl with a fork or a pastry blender) until very crumbly. Add as much water as needed to hold together and mix until combined. Place the dough in the freezer for 5 minutes.
2. Roll dough gently on a floured pastry mat to about ¼ inch thickness and cut portions using a flower (or 2-inch round) cookie cutter. Gently press dough flowers into the wells of a mini cupcake/tarlet pan. Continue rolling the scraps of dough and cutting flowers until gone. If the dough gets warm and hard to use, place it back in the freezer for 5 minutes.    
Pie Filling
2½ cups apples - peeled, cored and diced
¼ cup white sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together and fill tartlets.

Streusel Topping
¾ flour
⅓ white sugar
½ cinnamon
6 tbsp butter

1. Mix flour, sugar, and cinnamon together. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the pie filling.
2. Bake tartlets at 350° F for 20 minutes, or until the edges of the flower petals are just beginning to brown. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 11/22/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Happy Friday! It's been a busy week for Tyler: pulling the vent off the wall and dropping toys inside, climbing in and out of his exersaucer, throwing shoes in the fish tank, dumping toys all over the floor, climbing across the kitchen table, dumping crayons, throwing toys in the fish tank, throwing toys in the toilet, coloring on toys, spilling water, coloring on bed sheets with lipstick, throwing apples and oranges around the house, splitting a wooden spoon, emptying drawers . . . You get the idea. Dumping. Throwing. Breaking. Yeah, that just about sums it up. I hope your week was just as eventful, but not so much destructive, haha. 

1. Jake, after I kissed him: "I'm never going to wash my forehead."

2. Alyssa: "I know what fart means."
Me: "You do?"
Alyssa: "Yeah, like Papa fart in the army."
(That's when I realized that she was saying fought, but because her Rs often sound like Os, my ear is trained to hear her that way.)

3. Alyssa, giggling because I gave her 3 hugs & kisses and gave the boys only 2.


5. Me, holding up a dress: "Do you want to wear this one?"
Alyssa, concerned: "Are you going to iron it first?"

6. Watching Jake stop and silently pray before eating a piece of chocolate.

7. Jake learning the art of the double negative: "Tyler is un-un-awesome." and "Your cooking is not not good." and "I'm not not going to do that."

8. Zac: "Are aliens real?"
Me: "No."
Zac: "Yeah, but are they outer space real?"

9. Alyssa: "Mom, just so you know, it's not fun being sick."

11. Alyssa: "I know a lot about the vowels. {singing} There's a, e, i, o, uuuuuu."

12. Zac, excitedly: "Mom! That couch cushion {points to the curved part of our sectional couch) has more volume than the other cushions!"

13. Jake: "What if someone didn't let their kids watch that movie?"
Me: "Oh, I'm sure there are people like that. Anyway, not everyone even owns a tv."
Alyssa: "What?!? No tv?"
Jake: "How can people live without a tv?"
Me: "You don't even watch much tv."
Jake: "Yeah, but . . . What if someone didn't have an iPad?!? No one can live without an iPad!"

What made you Smile this week?

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 11/15/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Wow, does it feel good to be caught up! I hope you're enjoying the weekend and finding reasons to smile.

1. Jake: "Is there really such a thing as a shoo fly?" 

2. Zac, who has always struggled with dressing himself, put on his pants backwards, his shirt inside out, and his socks twisted, but he did it, by himself.   

3. Zac, about his train track that splits into 2 separate parts: "Look! It's a two-headed track.


5. Zac, while pretending to be a My Little Pony: "I'm Rainbow Butt!"

6. Zac, showing me papers he brought home from church: "See, Miss Sandy let me bring this home. I didn't stealed it. She let me. Wasn't that nice?"

7. Jake, after Tyler woke up from his nap, hugging him: "I missed you! But you're naughty."

8. Me, filling in birth dates on a survey: "What is Tyler?"
Alyssa: "A trouble baby."


10. Zac: "Mommy, you make the best toast!"

11. Zac: "I love you. Do you have a cheese face?"
Me: "Uh, no."
Zac: "I wish you had a cheese face so I could eat you."

What made you smile this week?

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 11/8/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (4), Tyler (1½)

Happy Friday! I'm still trying to play catch-up, so here's last week's list. The good news is that next week is pretty open (yea!) so I'll have a chance to get this week's posted soon, too. It'll be nice to relax a little before the craziness of the holidays begin. I hope you've had a great week!

1. Zac: "You guys can have some bread if you want to, but I don't want any bread with my butter."  

2. Me, sternly: "Zac, didn't I tell you not to run your toothbrush across the mirror?"
Zac, sincerely: "I didn't. I flinged it."

3. Jake wrote new soot on his birthday list. (new suit)

4. Jake looked out the window and saw the neighborhood kids walking to the school at the end of our street on a cold, wet morning and said,"I just woke up and they're already going to school? And they'll be there until almost dinner time?!? Thank you for homeschooling us!"


6. Alyssa: I'll help you empty the dishwasher."
Jake: "Do you like helping?"
Alyssa: "Yeah. It's what I do."

7. Zac, while putting on his shirt: "It smells kinda dry."

8. Dora, on the television: "Do you have a favorite stuffed animal?"
Alyssa: "Of course I do, a lamb."

9. Me: "What are the states of matter?"
Jake: "Um, I don't know."
Me: "Well, what are the states that water can be in?"
Jake: "Oh! Michigan, Texas, and . . .um, oh! Florida!"

10. Jake, singing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious": "If you say it loud enough, you'll always sound atrocious."

11. Zac: "Sometimes when you get cold, you get moose bumps."

12. Me: "What's your favorite thing for the chocolate fountain?"
Jake: "The chocolate."
Me: "But what's your favorite thing to dip in it?"
Jake: "My fingers."

What made you smile?

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole

It's not too often that I get something to review for myself, but this last review of the year for the Schoolhouse Review Crew is just that, a book for me. At Home in Dogwood Mudhole is a three volume series by Franklin Sanders. 

Nothing That Eats is the first book of the series. It follows Franklin's journey as he leaves the city life and brings his wife, Susan, and their 7 children to life in the country. They start by leaving Memphis, and eventually find their way to Dogwood Mudhole, Tennessee. He gives the history behind the name of the town and gives an analogy to the cross of Christ and grace. That starts the tone of the book as it is filled with stories of faith and love. The title comes from Susan's admonition that they acquire "nothing that eats," but life changes drastically as they gain dogs, chickens, horses, cows, pigs, ducks, and sheep!

The books are comprised of a collection of letters that Franklin wrote over 17 years for the readers of his newsletter, The Moneychanger. He says, "Together monthly letters paint a picture, but only as life does, adding experience, wisdom, and faith along the way. Life happens; later you figure out what it means." This book is filled with short snippets and each portion is independent, which makes it easy to grab and read even when you have only a little time. 

The book reads more like a journal. Franklin is honest and makes you feel like he is speaking directly to you in his letters. He shares their struggles as they adjust to life on a farm, relates anecdotes that happen along the way, and saturates the pages with their testimonies of their faith. He and his family love history and participate in Civil War reenactments. The book speaks often of the Civil War from the Southern perspective. There was a little too much of this portion for my taste. Though I do enjoy learning history, there was a bit much of his opinion of "Northern Aggression." As I said though, he is honest and isn't putting on a show. 

What first drew me to this book was their desire to live-off-the-land. Years ago, I never would have thought I'd want that for myself, but as time has gone on, I realize how much of a dream it's become. My husband and I talk about purchasing a piece of land, instead of our little home in the city. I'd love to plant a large garden and have room for my children to run. And I want chickens! I, who doesn't like any animal that I'd have to touch, want chickens. I want to get farther away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I want the quiet. I want the peace. I want a slower lifestyle. I love the idea of a multi-generational farm. While At Home in Dogwood Mudhole was written during preparations for Y2K (or TEOTWAWKI, The End of The World As We Know It, as Sanders likes to call it), I believe it's still a good idea to be prepared for the unknown.   

Many parts of the book are supposed to be funny, but I just didn't get it, I guess. Maybe it was the lack of fluidity from the short sections, or maybe it was the deep Southern thinking, or maybe it's just me, but I was left confused at times I knew it was supposed to be humorous. It just wasn't my writing style, I suppose.

At Home in Dogwood Mudhole: Nothing That Eats costs $29.95 for the printed version and $16.95 for the kindle. You can also read a sample chapter to get a feel for yourself. Then even offer a money-back-guarantee:   

If you don't laugh, cry, gasp, hug your spouse or jump up and down, we'll refund your money and you can keep the book to use as a door stop.


Not everyone has the same opinion. To get an idea of what other thought about this book, you can click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew. 

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Apologia Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics Review

My kids love science. They thrive on experiments and hands-on projects. They long to understand how and why things work. They enjoy examining and discovering just about everything. My kids naturally are drawn to all things science. While I am pleased that they are science-minded like their daddy, I instinctively lean towards language arts and math. I am always looking to balance my passions with their interests. I was ecstatic to be chosen to review Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics from Apologia.

Apologia Educational Ministries is well-known in the homeschool realm for their science curricula and other biblical worldview products. This Christian company believes "that every educational subject in your home school can and should be taught from a biblical worldview built on the solid foundation of God’s Word and centered on Jesus Christ." It's always best to use products that reinforce your beliefs. We have loved everything we've gotten from Apologia in the past, so I was looking forward to this curriculum, as well. 

Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics ($39) is part of their Young Explorers series for K5-6th grade. This study uses the Charlotte Mason method to give students an introduction to chemistry and physics and teach how God made everything in the universe. Topics such as atoms, molecules, simple chemicals, laws and motion, electrical magnetism, and simple machines are covered. This hard cover glossy book is filled with colorful, eye-catching pictures, most of which are kids in the middle of conducting a fun experiment. Each lesson is broken into small sections that can easily be completed alone or in conjunction with another part of the lesson. The book is written directly to the student, so it's very easy for the parent to read and the child to understand. 

While my little ones (7, 5, 4) thoroughly enjoyed the how and why teaching parts of the text, their absolute favorite was all the experiments. There are dominant blue boxes marked try this! that are sprinkled throughout the book and list all the supplies and directions for completing the experiments. Directly under the box is the explanation. Most of the experiments use things that can be found around the house and can be set up and completed easily.

Along with the textbook, they offer notebooking journals ($24) to further the study and reinforce the information. These spiral-bound, consumable books are filled with fun, supplemental materials. The regular notebooking journal is for upper elementary grades and those efficient at writing. It provides a place for the student to record experiments, display artwork, and take notes. There are mini-books, crossword puzzles, and more fun activities. The junior notebooking journal is for lower elementary grades and those with limited writing skills. It has much fewer writing activities and offers big lines for the student to complete the work. This journal also includes mini-books and more experiments, but swaps the writing puzzles for coloring pages. 

This science curriculum is perfect for our family. There is so much great information given with age-appropriate language. It makes it easy for the little ones to understand and gives them a greater knowledge of God as our Master Designer. There is a sample schedule given in the front of the notebooking journal to do two lessons a week, but I found it works better for us to do shorter lessons more often. My kids rush through the rest of their studies so we can get to our science book. Jake (7) has been working with the regular journal and Alyssa (5) and Zac (4) have been using the junior edition. Each level fits perfectly where they are. Jake has always been my why? child. He truly wants to understand the hows and whys, of everything. So often, I'm not able to give him an answer without looking it up. Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics combines his love of experimenting with his longing for understanding. This will be a book that we enjoy for many years.     


If you'd like to research some more, please click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 11/1/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (3½), Tyler (1½)

Happy Friday! Wow, have things been busy at our house. Zac turned 4 earlier this week, today is Leighton's birthday, and we're having a party tomorrow! Between birthdays and parties, I've made 5 batches of cake/cupcakes in the past week. I'm finishing up the reviewing year with the Crew this week and will get a break for the next month. We have an international dinner at church on Sunday and a missions conference throughout the week. This list should have been posted last week, so I'm a bit behind. This week's list should be up sometime this weekend, too . . . as long as I can find a moment or two!

1. Zac, pointing to an outlet: "Why can't I plug it out?"

2. Jake: "I know what some rich people should do. They should make a huge catapult, fill it with money, and fling it so all the money flies to people who don't have any money."

3. Zac, after I prayed for Tyler to feel better and his ear infection to be healed: "That was a sweet praying."

4. Zac, out of nowhere: "I like broccoli."
Me: "You do?"
Zac: "Yeah, because I have teeth."


6. Alyssa, proudly: "I teached myself."

7. Zac, eating lunch: "Mommy, you are the best chef-er in the whole wide world."

8. Zac: "Toys Arrest -- It's where the police go to arrest the toys." (aka Toys-R-Us)

9. Me, to Zac after he had licked the chocolate batter off the spatula: "Don't wipe it on your clothes. Get a napkin."
Alyssa: "It's ok if I do it though because my shirt is brown."

10. Me, while talking to Leighton about Tyler throwing things in the fish tank: "The kid is something else."
Zac: "The kid is trouble!"

11. Zac, practicing his Bible verse: "Wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the juice. Hey, can I have some juice?"
Me: "It's Jews, and no, you may have some water."
Zac, dejected: "Maybe he should have destroyed all the water instead."

What made you smile this week?
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Thursday, November 7, 2013

IXL Math

My little ones love when they can do school on the computer. It always feels more like a game than work. They've been pleased to have a subscription to review IXL the last few weeks. While the site does offer language arts for 2-4 grades, we used the math section.

IXL is a math review site for Pre-K through algebra. It is broken into sections for each grade level. Each grade is then divided into different skills. Jake (7) practiced using the third grade level, Alyssa (5) reviewed the kindergarten part, and Zac (3) had fun with the pre-k questions.

I sat at the computer with Zac when it was his turn to practice. I read the questions for them and clicked the answers he chose. The program is set up so that the parent does not have to help though. There is a little volume button that the child can press and it will read the question to him. Another thing that is helpful is that you don't have to click directly on the circle to choose an answer, but instead can click in the general vicinity and the answer will be selected. That makes it easier for the child who has a hard time controlling the mouse.

Both Jake and Alyssa completed their sections daily by themselves. Of course, there were some skills they needed my help, but they mostly did it on their own. The site is easy to navigate. The student can see which skills he has completed and which are new. Jake especially liked wandering into higher levels like variable expressions in 7th grade and parabolas in algebra II. 

There are 42 skills for pre-k, 127 skills for kindergarten, and 230 skills for third grade, so the student can practice a long time before ever getting bored or even seeing all the questions. Also, the questions will increase in difficulty as the student improves.

IXL tracks the student's progress. There is a section on the site where the parent can see exactly how the children are preforming, what skills they practiced, and even where their trouble spots are. If gets specific enough that you can see the exact questions they answered incorrectly. You can also get email updates to keep you informed. There's also a way for the student to keep track of his own progress. As he answers questions and advances skills, an award will show on his board. My kids all loved finding the star and clicking on it to see what they "won." They also liked comparing their awards to their siblings' and got excited for each other.

IXL memberships start at $9.95 a month for the math levels (plus $2 each addition child) and $79 a year (plus $20 each additional child.) Benefits include:
  • Comprehensive coverage of K–12 math curriculum. 
  • Interactive language arts exercises for grades 2–4.
  • Unlimited questions in over 2,000 skills.
  • Fun and colorful practice formats.
  • Questions that adapt to your child's ability, increasing in difficulty as they improve.
  • Immediate feedback and question-specific explanations to solidify understanding of each concept.
  • Audio for all pre-K to first-grade math skills.
  • Weekly e-mail updates on your child's progress.
  • Informative, detailed reports pointing out successes and trouble spots.
  • Awards and certificates for you and your children to print out as they reach important milestones.
  • iPad app for mobile math practice.

My kids ask every day if it's time for their computer school. They enjoy doing math and they're their improving at it. I'd say it's working out well.

If you like to see how IXL is working for other families, click over to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If You Were Me

It's always fun to learn about other parts of the world and how the people there live, to learn bits of the language, and the types of food. My kids are fascinated with other cultures. They love looking at maps, globes, and books. The love learning how differently others live. Naturally, we were all excited that Carol P. Roman with Away We Go Media sent us the first four books of her If You Were Me series to review.
Each book is dedicated to a specific country: If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico, If You Were Me and Lived in France, If You Were Me and Lived in South Korea, and If You Were Me and Lived in Norway (brand new title). They are around 25 pages each and are filled with bright, vibrant pictures. They feature a boy and a girl from their respective countries and give us a glimpse of their lives.

The books follow a distinct pattern. My kids enjoyed seeing the countries on the globe in the book, and then finding the countries on both our regular globe at home and the blow-up globe we received with the books.

After seeing the country on the map, you'll learn briefly about the capital city.
Did you know that Oslo, the capital of Norway, has 343 lakes?

Next, you'll learn what you may have been named if you had been born there. Since reading the Norway book, my oldest keeps begging me to rename him Gunnar. 
Can you guess where these names are popular: Clara, Minjoon, Alejandro, Birgitte? 

You'll learn what you'd call your parents in each country.
Do you know where you'd be from if you said Appa and Omma?

Then, you'll find out what kind of money you'd need to purchase things, like at a boulangerie, for instance.
My kiddos enjoyed looking at my pesos. Do you know in which country they are used?

Next, you'll learn some of the best places to visit.
Did you know that Chichen Itza has 365 steps, one for every day of the year?

After all that knowledge, you're sure to be hungry. You can decide which country's food you'd like best.
You could try a vafler topped with krem in Norway or bulgogi and kimchee in South korea.

You'll need to take time to play, too. So you'll learn the most popular sport and what to call a baby doll.
Football is popular in France, but do you know what we call the same sport in America? 

You'll read about a special holiday celebrated in each country.
Have you ever worn hanbok while celebrating Seo-nal?

Finally, you'll learn the word for school in each language.
Can you match the words--skole, escuela, école, haggyo--to the countries?

The last page in each book is filled with the pronunciations of the foreign words used. I found the pronunciations helpful, and my children loved repeating the words after me.

This group of books is such a fun series and is a good introduction to cultures around the world. Each book can be purchased for around $9.00 and is geared for kids preK-8 years. My kids fall into that age range, and they all enjoyed reading these with me. I would often find them flipping through the pages on their own and they would request them frequently. If you're looking for something to broaden your children's view of the world, the If You Were Me series will meet that need.   

You can read more reviews of these books on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

VocabularySpellingCity Review

Jake (7) struggles with spelling. He writes a page summary of his reading every day. And every day, I read over his work and have to decipher what it says. Generally, I can figure it out because most of his misspellings are simply the word spelled out phonetically (ie dun for done, wut for what.) I can ask him various questions, like what says Ī at the end of a short word (y) and when do you use ck (at the end of a short vowel word) to solve some of the issues, but there are so many sight words that just have to be learned by rote. English is a tough language to learn. That's why I was excited to try a premium membership for VocabularySpellingCity.

VocaularySpellingCity is an online teaching tool for K-12. The award-winning, game-based program focuses on vocabulary, spelling, writing, and language arts. It can be accessed through a mobile app for tablet or smart phone or online via computer and interactive whiteboard. 

Though there are many options available with a free account, the Premium Membership includes much more:
  • Vocabulary, writing, spelling, and language arts activities
  • Access to ALL games and interactive Flash Cards
  • Student progress tracking
  • Automated testing and grading
  • Personalized learning with assignments for differentiated instruction
  • Student logins with no commercial ads

To set up our account, I logged in as the Parent and chose spelling lists for each of my kids. There are so many options for lists! Dolch, geography, science, math, compound, etc. -- and multiple subcategories in each, both for topics and grade level. In fact, there are 50,000 words in the data base and 60,000 sentences. You can also create your own word lists if you already have a weekly list from another source or if there are specific words you want your child to learn. After I narrowed down the lists of words, I created accounts for my kids. From there, you can add assignments to each student. 

There are various ways for the child to review the lists. The Teach Me section reads the word, spells it, repeats it, gives a definition, and repeats it again. The Flash Cards part shows the word on the screen and reads it. The Play A Game portion is definitely the favorite. It is filled with many review-style games like word match, hangmouse, word search, letter fall, word-o-rama, word unscramble, word find, and much more. The Vocab Test shows a definition on the screen and four options. The student reads the definition and the choices and clicks on the answer. The Spelling Test has two parts: practice test and test. The actual test can be completed only once.   

My kids enjoyed learning how to spell using this program. Jake (7) liked to memorize all the words from his list, play a couple games, and take the test that same day. Each time, he scored 100%. I tried to explain to him that he was supposed to spend multiple days reviewing the same words to ensure that he truly learned them. He just thought it was cool that he was able to memorize them so quickly. I didn't want to hinder his excitement, so I allowed him to continue knocking lists off quickly. I did quiz him orally over the weeks in order to cement the spellings in his mind. I also made the lists more difficult to challenge him.

Alyssa (5) felt very grown-up learning her spelling words. Each day, she would get a piece of paper and pencil and write down her words. Then, she would work on the review and games. She learned about 1 list a week. She randomly spells words for me now with a big smile on her face.

We also took advantage of creating our own lists. Both children loved being able to tell me which words they wanted to learn. Jake chose things like blood, Bruce (Wayne), and hardware, while Alyssa opted for baby, girl, and love. I also added words to their lists that I knew they struggled with or needed to learn.     

My little ones have enjoyed using this the past few weeks, and their spelling has improved for sure. VocabularySpellingCity costs $29.99 per year for up to 5 students. If you'd like to try it out first, it's easy to sign up for a free account. They also offer an entire page full of videos to help you along with a teaching resources page.  

Also, you can read more reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile 10/25/13

Jake (7½), Alyssa (5½), Zac (3½), Tyler (1½)

Happy Friday! This week we went to the Red Wings game, my grandparents house, and Family Fun Night at church. We read books, made pies, and had lots of smiles.

1. Zac: "I love you, Erika."
Me, surprised: "What?"
Zac, concerned: "Erika. That's your name, remember?"

2. Jake: "If heat rises, how come there's snow on top of mountains?"

3. Me: "Alyssa, please go get some socks."
Alyssa: "But there are no socks in my drawer."
Me: "There are no socks in your drawer? Why not?"
Alyssa: "Because I dumped them all out to see which ones were slippery on the kitchen floor."
Me: "Ok. So where are they now?"
Alyssa: "Behind the couch."
Me: "All your socks are behind the couch?"
Alyssa: "Yes."
Me: "Why did you put them there?"
Alyssa: "I didn't"
Me: "Who did?"
Alyssa: "I don't know."
Me: "Then how do you know that they're there?"
Alyssa: "I saw them there one day."


5. Jake: "What?"
Me: "Nothing. I was just smiling at your daddy."
Jake: "Put that on your things that make you smile."
Alyssa: "It's already on."

6. Leighton, after the kids had gone to sleep: "Why are you out of bed?"
Zac: "I un-tucked myself in."

7. Zac: "Mommy, am I awesome?"
Me: "Yeah, you're awesome."
Zac: "Yeah, but I'm not pretty."

8. Jake asking his great-grandma if she wanted him to take her for a ride down the hill in the wagon.

9. Zac: "The clock the right. Seven comes after six."


11. Listening to Jake read the other kids a chapter book.

12. Jake: "Let's play a game! Let's see who's the sweatiest! Mom, you be the judge."
Me: "And what does the winner get?"
Jake: "They get to make everyone else smell their armpits!"

13. Jake: "I know what beds are for."
Me: "Sleeping?"
Jake: "No."
Me: "Jumping?"
Jake: "No . . . They're for storing all your toys under when you don't want to put them away. "

What made you smile?
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