Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Timberdoodle Review: Beginning Geography K-2nd

This is my first curriculum resource review for  Timberdoodle -- a wonderful company that we've used to purchase unique supplements and resources for the boys.  When I was asked to review this Evan-Moor Beginning Geography book, I jumped at the chance, because Evan-Moor resources are some of the best workbook-type resource I've tried.

The basics.  This reproducible workbook is available from Timberdoodle for $10.75. You can make copies of any of the pages for your immediate family.

You'll find three units in this book, which is listed for grades K-2nd:  mapping skills; landforms and bodies of water;  continents and oceans.  A forth section, called Animals of the World, is more of a set of early elementary reference maps that you can use to supplement any study of the continents.  Each page has a succinct definition at the top of the page and clear directions for children to follow.  My 2nd grader who has average reading abilities, hasn't had difficulty reading the directions or sentences in the book, which means older students (and younger ones with advanced reading ability) can complete the activities with some independence.

Each section/ unit is fairly self contained, with its own table of contents and overall directions.  There are three assessments for each of the three units.  The assessment themselves have a similar format as many of the paper task:  matching, fill ins (often with a word bank), and some sentence completion. The book is extremely easy to use -- copy, sit down with a pile of your favorite colored writing/ drawing implement and go!

The book itself. The Map Skills section advances kids from understanding what a map is ("A map is a drawing of a place from above.  A map shows where things are.") to investigating map symbols, distances and gridlines.  It uses a variety of make-believe maps in the beginning (a child's room, a pretend city),but does advance to realistic maps of the United States. I love that it explains map scale to children in this age range!  This section is mostly worksheets with  cut-and-paste activities.

The Landforms and Bodies of Water section is one that has lots of engaging ways to teach about basic landforms.  First, there is this cool poster:

One of the two maps included in this book.  We added sticky notes to label the landforms and bodies of water.

Concepts introduced include: hills and mountains; islands and volcanoes; deserts and plains; canyons and valleys; and oceans, lakes and rivers.  (phew!)  Each of these sets has three activities -- matching pictures and learning facts (including vocabulary) about the features.  Again, the book uses imaginary examples of some places (a hill or mountain), but incorporates actual features found in the North America -- Lake Superior, St. Lawrence River, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite Valley.

There are two additional project activities in this section:  a landforms and bodies of water mini-book and a matching puzzle activity center. My 5-year-old son really, really loved putting together the puzzle activity.  After coloring the puzzle pieces, we taped them to an unused file folder (plus another, cut in half) and created a reusable file folder activity that he can work on independently.  We taped a small envelope to the back to store the matching half of the pieces.  

One of the things I discovered in this unit is that it is wise – for my boys – to vary the activities.  Luke got a little burned out of learning about the landforms, since it was a lot of reading, coloring and cutting activities.  I had tried to vary the activities (a little of maps, a little of landforms), but I have to admit that Levi’s enthusiasm for *any* of these pages captured my attention and I ran with it, to Luke's disadvantage.

Continents and Oceans:  Luke and I completed my own make-shift continents and oceans unit in kindergarten/ first grade, so he didn't want to review this information with me again, even using this book.  But, I cannot *wait* to use this book to walk Levi through this material (although as youngest, he probably already knows half of it from listening to his brothers).  He will really like meshing the animal map pages with the continent pages.  The material is flexible enough to be added to just about any type of curriculum – literature-based geography, classical rotations, and science. The second map that come with this book is a drawing or the world. 

In most of the continent maps, topographical symbol are introduced to the kids – mountains, savanna, desert, for example. However, it isn’t as much topographical information as I’d like my kids to have (there is no additional information for North America and the desert regions are not noted on Asia).  Then again, at least it is something and we can always add more.

Levi *loved* these activities!
Overall, I love this product (as I do with most Evan-Moor products) and highly recommend it.  Levi is a young kindergartner, so I think this product can definitely be used with an advanced preKer through 1st or 2nd grade.  I wish my 2nd grader (who is an older 2nd grader, but about on-par academically with 2nd graders)more interest in it than Luke, but I think that is my own fault – I wasn’t sure where Luke was with his mapping skills, and I probably bored him too early on.  But, with a multi-grade level resource like this, my problem is easily corrected: I can just advance to his level and we can go from there – no need to spend more money!  

Here's a link to Timberdoodles unique and thorough geography section (we have a few of these products and **heart** them), where you'll find a variety of ways to spark your child' interest in geography.

Thank you to Timberdoodle for sending me a free copy of this resource in exchange for my honest opinion and ideas about this product.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Model Solar System

Luke wanted to pause our Sonlight Science 2 and study astronomy, and I was OK with that, so we've picked up Apologia's elementary text and are working (slowly) through it. A new addition to the program since using it with Ben way back when he was a first grader is the student notebook -- well worth the money for the convenience to have all the pages printed out. This means no excuses from me!  The extra pages with copywork, puzzles and mini-books is way more than I would've pulled together for him at this stage in my life.

We'll also combine this with free trips to the local university's observatory.  That should be a treat!

I'm looking forward to this re-launching this space adventure with my two littles.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review Crew: Big IQ Kids

Big IQ Kids is on our family's "Big Hit" list this year. Both the 8-year-old and 11-year-old give the program a thumbs up.

The program.  Big IQ Kids provides daily, online, customized  lessons for spelling, vocabulary, math and basic U.S. geography.  All four subjects are provided on a "free" basis or via a paid "premium" program.  You can view charts which highlight the differences between these two options from links at their How Big IQ Kids Works page.  The biggest differences between these two formats is access to games in the reward arcade, email progress reports, advertisement-free screens, built-in review and automatic advancement.

You can purchase Big IQ Kids several ways.  You can purchase only one module (spelling, for example) up to all four.  And, you can purchase on a monthly or yearly basis.  If you are interested in purchasing the programs, you'll want to study this page to determine what will meet your needs.

There are also a number of free-only games:  telling time (analog and digital), measurement, and vowels.

Spelling and Vocabulary:  Although these are two separate programs, they operate similarly.  Running on a 5-day schedule, your child is introduced to their list on Day 1 and complete 3 days of activities and/or quizzes to build familiarity with the words and their spelling or meaning. There are tests for the final day.

Math: With this program, you can determine which operations your child will work on and how many digits (single digit facts, multiple digit problems, etc.).  When you enter your email address correctly (*smirk* -- Ben didn't so I have not received any progress updates on his performance), you'll get updates on progress and mastery.  The program automatically adjusts to your child's performance!

Geography:  In this module, your child will work on locating the 50 states on a map, knowing state capitals, spelling the state names, and learning their postal abbreviations.  There is also the opportunity to learn fun facts about each state (although this information is not tested).

Our experience.  Both boys loved his program.  Luke (8 years old) has tried several computer-based programs this year, and it is fair to say that this is his favorite.  I've primarily used the math and geography programs with him, and he's done well with the math program.  Currently, his program is set up to work on single-digit addition and subtraction problems, as well as two-digit addition or subtraction with regrouping.  I've only recently decided to use the spelling section to supplement the activities for our Spell to Write and Read word lists.  In the mornings, we'll complete our SWR dictation and spelling enrichments, and in the afternoon Luke will work through a spelling activity for additional practice.

Ben has used all four programs at different points during our review period.  I *never* have to ask if he's done his math fact review -- which is won.der.ful.

As the mom, I must admit that checking student progress is not easy.  If I don't receive progress reports, then I need to sign into each child's account to see how they've been performing.  Then, I have to click to each of the four subjects to see my sons' progress.  It's too bad that I cannot log onto one page and view my son's progress (this has been a complaint of mine with several online programs we've used this year).

The only other thing that is less than stellar is the computer-generated voice.  This usually is not a huge deal, but there are some words that are pronounced with moderated stress/ intonation patterns that might not match up to your own spoken dialect and therefore might confuse your child.

I do appreciate that I can set the games to be a reward that can be used immediately or delayed until the weekend.  Originally, I had set the games to be used on the weekend, but our weekends were so crazy the kids could never redeem their tokens.  The past few weeks, I changed the setting so that they could redeem them right away -- and now I wish there was a time limit I could set!

I think homeschoolers who use a spelling program might really like Big Spelling Time, as you can create any number customized spelling lists.  It is really easy to add in words (they have a huge database which generates a sentence for your spelling word!).  You can customize the vocabulary module as well.  I just discovered that they have a SAT word list for use on the vocabulary program -- which is what I've just switched for Ben.

Click on over to TOS's Review Crew to see what others say.

FCC note: I received free subscriptions from Big IQ Kids in exchange for my honest opinion about their program. Thank you Big IQ Kids!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Because I Haven't Posted Cute Pictures of My Kids in a While

 Christmas Morning. Look how cool Ben looks....

 Ice cream for dinner. Shhh.  Don't tell.

 Museum of Science

 Blue and Gold Banquet.  Luke gets his Wolf.

 Levi on Skis!

 Helping Daddy paint.

 Best Buddies.

 Levi aces his name in cursive.
 Ben trying out the colonial trade of candlering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review Crew: Artistic Pursuits

As one of our last reviews for the year, we were blessed to receive the 4th- 6th grade The Elements of Art and Composition of Artistic Pursuits art curriculum.  I used this curriculum with my oldest, Ben, for a month or so, and am thoroughly impressed!

But let me back up.

The Company.  Artistic Pursuits is a well-known curriculum resources for art history/appreciation/instruction -- yes, it does a lot!  The company believes that art instruction involves four parts:  the elements of art, composition, art history and media exposure (pencil, chalk, oils, sculpture, etc.).

They structure lessons in several parts, according to the age range:
"...The K-3 program covers the elements of art and compositional ideas suited to the age within the context of art history. Techniques are shown as new materials are introduced. In this way even the youngest students experience a complete study of art. Grades 4-12 get a complete, in-depth study of the elements of art and composition based on a variety of applications. Each application offers a different way of thinking about the topic, helping to expand awareness of the visual world."
You can find additional information about the way the programs are structured here; FAQs; and the author.

The product.  In book 1 of the 4th-6th grade curriculum, student gain understanding of the following elements of art (one element per unit)
  1. Space
  2. Line and Shape
  3. Texture
  4. Value
  5. Form
  6. Form using Value
  7. Local Value
  8. Contrast
  9. The Shapes of Natural Forms
  10. Edges
Composition elements the children learn about are found in units 11-16:  Balance, Rhythm, Overlap, Depth, Proportion of the Face, and Movement.

Price for this book is $42.95. They have a full line of art curriculum for ages ranging from 3-year-olds to high school. 

This art course is designed to be an independent study for the student.  An introduction for parents is provided in the "Getting Started" section of the comb-bound book.  This book is designed to be completed in 1 full school year when two classes per week are assigned.  The author, Brenda Ellis, suggests setting aside 1 hour of uninterrupted time for art lessons, noting that as the year progresses, more time will likely be needed -- and desired -- to finish the project.

Each of the 16 units has 4 lessons, so your child would ideally spend 2 weeks on each unit.  The lessons follow this structure:

  • Lesson 1 - explanation of the artistic element being discussed.  "Try It" sections in this lesson encourage the child to begin to experiment with the element.  (Each of the assignments for the child for all the lessons are typed in blue -- making it easy for child and parent to identify the assignment for each lesson).
  • Lesson 2 - art appreciation section.  A nicely re-printed copy of a famous work of art is used to illustrated the element.  Mrs. Ellis also selects out portions of the piece, and uses arrows and text to explain the photo - fantastic information! Additional information about the artist is provided as is some contextual and historical information. 
  • Lesson 3 - This is the "How To" of each unit.  
  • Lesson 4 - This is the "Final Project" of the unit.  Up to this point, you child has completed 3 art assignments in which they've explored the element (be that value, space, balance, etc).  In this lesson, the child is given a larger project.  I love that each of these final projects provides a clear, easy to find and read materials list for the assignment, and a "Student Gallery" photo for inspiration.
Our Experience.  I love Artistic Pursuits' comprehensive inclusion of art history and technique into an easy-to-follow art lesson.  This meets my needs as a mom (with NO artistic background after the 5th grade) to provide something comprehensive to my kids.  I love that it can be an independent study for older students. I love that the materials needed for the courses are clearly listed in the beginning of each book; in fact, the company has links to two different art supply companies that sell a package of supplies you'll need for each course. 

I do think, however, this curriculum appeals to a certain type of child.  My oldest is more of the how-do-I-draw-it child.  He suffers from the "if I cannot draw it well, I just won't draw it at all" affliction, and prefers art books which give specific instruction into drawing.   Having him use this curriculum -- focusing more elements and technique -- was frustrating for him.  He found the pages to be too heavy with text and reading, when he really just wanted to learn to draw. Mind you, this is my child who loves to read -- go figure!

I suspect that given a sequence of art lessons that focus on the "how to" first, followed by this course, his art would really, really take off.  I also suspect that I should not have given this to him to do as an independent study -- he might have gotten more out of it if we'd read it together.

To read what others thought of this product, please visit TOS's Crew Review page here.

    FCC note:  Thank you to Artistic Pursuits for the opportunity to review this product.  In exchange for a copy of this product, I agreed to provide my own opinions of this program -- good and bad.  No other compensation was received.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Kid Zones = Clean Rooms

    First off this is not an original idea. I got if from a Currclick freebie from years ago: Steps to Successful Kid Chores by Wendy Young.

    A few weekends ago, the boys' rooms were messes.  My plan had been to help the boys clean up for a little bit, then go on with our day.  But it turned into s.i.x. h.o.u.r.s. of frustration (that is putting it mildly).  Their rooms got cleaned, but it wasn't pretty.

    The boys learned from this experience, however:  Never let this happen again!

    To that end, we have a new system in place.  It has been working for about 3 weeks with more success than not.

    The boys' rooms (L and L share a room) are divided into five zones:  closet, dresser/chests, bookshelf, toy drawers and under the bed.  Each weekday, they are responsible for that zone's cleanliness.  Daily, they are responsible for keeping their clothes put away (in their laundry basket or in their drawers), their beds made, and their floor picked up.

    My genius idea revolved around the definition of "clean."  In a Clinton-esque fashion, "clean" meant something different depending on who was using the word. Being The Mom, my definition undoubtedly outweighs any other attempt at defining the word.

    Even though the boys' knew that my definition rules the house, they still had a hard time achieving my definition. (Lest you think I'm a slave driver, I'm really not.  They can keep their prized possessions on their dresser, desk, etc;  it just can't be in a pile and has to lay there neatly.) 

    I took advantage of our all-day Saturday cleaning and -- once everything was done and passed inspection -- I took pictures of each zone in the rooms.  I got the pictures developed, laminated and whole punched them, and they now hang nicely on the kitchen chalkboard.  We now have a documented standard they must try to achieve.  Often, one of the boys (who will remain nameless) will reply affirmatively that he has cleaned his zone.  I'll calmly walk over to the photos, find the picture, and say, "does it look like this?"  Sometimes I'll get a "yea" and sometimes, his little feet will scurry up to "check."

    I must say, I'm much calmer about their rooms with this system.  It isn't perfect and we still have some days when we don't get to that zone because of appointments or field trips or whatever, but I believe it has helped the boys to attack their room in manageable chunks.  And, they have accountability and a way to self-check. 

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011


    1. Ben spent Monday at a program called Enterprise City. After using an 8 week curriculum, a group of 40-50 kids gather for a day of running a city. There are businesses, a judge, a mayor, a bank....shops, etc. They spent six hours being professions at the City.  Our post-City exchange:
    Ben's first comments after coming home from a full day of "work" at Enterprise City: "I have a headache.......I just want to watch TV........" Yes, I gave him the whole, "So, how was your day?" treatment. Ben looked at me, rolled his eyes, and turned back to the TV. Yes, I believe something was learned about The Real World today. :)
    2.  On February 11, Ben called me a genius.  I plan to use this against him here-and-there for the next decade or so.  I don't care that it was in the context of hiccup cures.  He said it, and I will use it against him.

    3.  Levi is going through a literal phase:
    Me: Levi, pick up your room.
    Levi:  I can't Mom, it's too heavy

    Me (trying to get the boys working instead of putsying around):  Come on, Levi, let's go.
    Levi:  Mom, we can't go anywhere, I don't have my clothes on yet.
    4.  Not to be left out, Luke is on a reading jag -- yippee!