Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crew Review: Excellence in Literature

Over the past month, I've had the opportunity to review Everyday Education's English 1: Introduction to Literature curriculum.  This curriculum (available as either an e-book download for $27 or a printed book for $29+shipping) is designed for 8th graders through 12th graders.   

The author, Janice Campbell, suggests that students already have the basic mechanics of writing down before starting. As an additional prerequisite, she encourages your student to already understand the basics of literary analysis and essay writing;  if not, she refers to her favorite prerequisite resources.

The course has nine units, each meant to take approximately one month to work through.  There is also an optional honors track, which adds eight additional works of literature into the program as well as a final paper for additional credit. For the honors program, you child reads the additional work, then writes one 6-10 page research paper about the author's life and influence.

The first unit is short stories (You can Google these works and find them online):
• Sarah Orne Jewett: A White Heron
• Edgar Allen Poe: The Purloined Letter (This one is not scary, if you're concerned about that.)
• Guy de Maupassant: The Diamond Necklace
• O. Henry: The Ransom of Red Chief
• Eudora Welty: A Worn Path
• James Thurber: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The remaining 8 units include Jane Eyre, Pygmalion, The Tempest, and Animal Farm among other equally as important works of western literature. You can visit Janice's blog to learn how she chose the highlights works.

What do you get with your purchase?  
Well, since I have the e-book, I have a  132-page document (I printed out a portion of it to use with my 7th grader) that is written to my student.  This is meant to be a course that your high schooler could walk himself through.  There is a suggested schedule to complete the work within a school year - but it will not tell your student how many pages to read each day (I have this in italics not because it is a bad thing, but it is a distinctive that you should consider when you choose high school level material).  Your student is going to have to manage his time to complete the novel and context readings (which for many works includes an extensive collection of interviews, videos, photos, and written resources -- not all are required).   Although you can download copies of nearly all the works used in the course for free (!!), it is recommended that you have hard copies of the books.

Here's something important to consider if you have a student who benefits from audiobook:  I love that auditory learners are not left out of this very linguistically-based program.  Audio books are discussed as appropriate add-ons for those who would benefit from their use.

The course includes grading rubrics for instructors to use to assign grades to their sudents. The grading rubrics are general guides -- not specific to each piece of literature.  There are separate rubrics for those who use the IEW style of writing and those that do not.

What are the goals and outcomes expected from this course?
• Introduce students to great literature from the western literary tradition.
• Teach students to read with discernment. (She has written a whole chapter in the guide on how to read a book)
• Train independent, self-motivated learners.
• Provide tools that students can use to strengthen their writing skills. (Models are provided of the different types of papers your child will complete.  If you are familiar with IEW's writing program, you will be pleased for an opportunity for your student to use their skills within this course)
• Introduce students to sources for high-quality online and offline research.
• Prepare students for college classes by expecting carefullyresearched, well-thought-out material to be presented

How does this high school literature program work?   
I couldn't find any samples of the literature program at the website, so it would be hard for me to even consider this program without more detailed information. (I will note, however, that the blog posts/ articles that are available at the website are great supplements and tools for teachers and students to understand writing and literature studies) So, I've decided to outline the basics from unit 2 (Around the World in 80 Days) so you can get an idea of whether or not this would work for your student.
Weeks 1 and 2: The first two weeks of a unit is spent reading the book as well as reading/ viewing the context resources.  You are encouraged to actively read -- underline important parts, favorite lines, etc. Also, your student will write an author profile (this course does a great job of providing models of each type of writing that is required, so that you know what you are aiming for) as well as an approach paper (I had never heard of this before, so I did a bit of online research and found this example here:
Week 3: Draft a 500-word essay based on a question given in the guide. (Watching the movie is an additional option, too!)
Week 4: Refine your draft, finish and proof it. The student is to use the rubric as a guide for completion.
How this course worked for us
Um, well, it didn't work for us.  But that is okay, because I have a 7th grader!  We went ahead and started at the short story unit (unit 1), and worked through some of the material verbally. Up to this point, my son (who has excellent reading comprehension) has been reading books just for the sake of reading. He doesn't read and then think about the elements of what he has read.  It quickly became apparent that we need to brush up on our literary analysis skills, and we plan to use a pre-requisite product that Janice recommends:  Teaching the Classics.  Although my son didn't write the approach paper, we did discuss the components of it.  I can see the value of the approach paper, especially in helping a student to think  about the author's work.  Writing out essay questions within this approach paper is certainly a great way to teach a student to think deep and wide!

What I think
I want readers of this blog to trust that I will tell it like it is. 
1.  I think this could be a great college-prep course for a motivated student.
2.  In my opinion, you will want to make sure your student is ready for this course.  Heed Janice's recommendations about prerequisite skills and abilities.  Teach essay writing, teach mechanics, teach how to read literature and how to begin to analyze it.
3.  I would not be comfortable teaching this course without having some background in the stories that are used, especially grading my students essays for content and accuracy.  You might want to get the Sparknotes or Cliffs Notes for these books -- or spend the summer reading them yourself.   

Please head over to The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew to read how this resource worked for others -- especially those with high school students!

FCC statement:  I was given a free copy of this course material in exchange for my honest opinion about this resource -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.  No other compensation was received.

Review: Raising Real Men

Very early in our love story, I told Dave I wanted boys.  Three to be exact. I don't know why.  I probably thought they would be fun and a lot less of a headache than girls.  How hard could they be?

But, wow, they sure are a different breed. I don't mean that in a "bashing" way. It is the truth.  God made them different than me, and I need to celebrate that difference instead of getting frustrated by it.

 This boy loves dirt.
I was excited, then, to be able to review Raising Real Men ($12.75; audiobook available for $20), the 2011 Book of the Year from the Christian Small Publishers Association.  This parent resource is sold at Timberdoodle.

I've read several other books about raising boys, and found this particular book to be the most enjoyable.  Its style is conversational, peppered with lots of stories from Hal and Melanie Young's posse of boys (six boys, two girls).  The chapters are not too long, so it was easy to read in between our studies, cooking and laundry.

The first section of the book is a chapter-by-chapter discussion of male virtues. You know those virtues -- The ones that mommies usually say, "careful!" and "watch out!" when boys are acting them out.  Reading this section helps to remind myself of my purpose in raising these God-given boys. Do I want brave, hard-working, resilient young men who leave my home?  It was a good reminder for me to check my attitude before I open my mouth to warn them about their next adventure or challenge.

The second section of the book is designed to help parents capture the essence of boyhood and celebrate it in the various roles and responsibilities boys find themselves.

The book helped me have a light bulb moment for our homeschool. We use our whole house for teaching.  Sometimes were at the dining room table, sometimes at the breakfast counter, often on the couch.  I just revamped our school room in August -- and will revamp it again after reading this book.  The boys only use the school table for dumping books on it -- or maybe opening up two or three books when they are working on an art project or report.  Why fill a room with a big table, when where they really learn is standing or laying on the floor?  And for that matter, why not try a bean bag chair?  They love creating forts and fortresses before settling down for reading or math or history.  Why fight their natural proclivities? I want my boys to learn and love God's world.  We can accomplish both these goals without sitting at a table or desk.

First day of school picture.  "Boys, stand
nice and smile." What do I get? A rifle. You can
take the boy away from the gun, but you
cannot take the gun away from the boy

Although the authors do homeschool their families, this book really does help parents to encourage boys in a healthy and robust manner, no matter where they are schooled.

{Um, and if you don't have boys, but have daughters who will someday marry a former boy, I really, really encourage you moms to pick up at least one book about boys or men sometime before dating begins.  Society, TV, and popular culture have so emasculated men that it is important to understand how different God designed men to be.}

I encourage you to stop over at Timberdoodle and see their other parenting helps.  They also have some amazing outdoor activities and fun stuff for boys (think Christmas!).

You can catch some other reviews for this resource at the Because Mom Said! blog.

As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free copy of Raising Real Men in exchange for a frank and unbiased review. Click here for a copy of their free homeschooling catalog.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crew Review: Lots and Lots of Fire Truck Songs DVD and Book set

Firetrucks, firefighters and siren noises have been part of my life for the last 12 years as each boy has passed through the fireman phase. My baby (who is now  ican'tbelieveitSIX!) has likely passed through the phase the quickest since he has older brothers who had additional interests.

But -- have no fear -- even when my baby is six-going-on-twelve, plopping in a DVD about fire trucks, firemen, and fire safety enchants and enthralls him as much as it should.

Marshall Publishing sent me their Lots and Lots of Fire Trucks and Firefighters book and  Safety Song DVD ($29.95 internet pricing - enter code TOSF1 for $10 off) for review as part of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.  From their website:
Marshall Publishing and Promotions, Inc. is a multi-faceted media publishing organization. [Their] goal is to provide lots and lots of media fun for everyone through award-winning DVDs, books, CDs, CD-roms, and broadcast and internet programming that will amaze, amuse, entertain, and educate. We are an Illinois Corporation having been in business since 2007. 
I also received a copy of their DVD on George Washington Carver from their educational historical line of DVD products. (I plan on reviewing this with my 12-year-old when we get to Carver in our history studies.)

We were originally told the firetruck book and safety song DVD were for grades 4-8, but I had all three boys watch the DVD to gauge their reactions.  Both Levi and Luke could have watched the DVD multiple times without complaining.  The songs, which teach fire safety tips like stop, drop and roll and calling 911, are catchy and appeal to their ages and stages (kindergarten and 3rd). However, it was all my 12 year old could do to sit there through the songs and video.  I thought he'd be interested in how they make firetrucks (a segment on the DVD), but he prefers narrated video segments which can go into much more detail.

The book has large, captivating pictures that are good to excellent in photo clarity.  There is also a LOT of detailed information about the fires, fires safety and the careers of firefighting professionals (and the equipment they use) in the book.

I think that the range for this set is greater than 4th - 8th grades.  The DVD is a great tool for teaching fire safety to young students -- my guess is preschool up through the mid-elementary ages.  The book has such great pictures of trucks and equipment that younger students will love it because of the photos and will grow into it as they become readers interested in all sorts of facts about the fires, firefighters and equipment.  My 7th grader has picked up the book a few times to read.  I can guarantee you he'll pull out a couple of these facts in the next couple years in a trivia game of some sort and beat me!

If you'd like to hear what other reviewers thought of this product, you can read more at the Review Crew website.  You can also read what homeschool moms thought of the George Washington Carver DVD as well!

Thanks to Marshall Publishing or supplying me with free copies of the items mentioned in his review.  In exchange I have offered my honest opinion about the products.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My First Digital Scrapbook Page!

Last week I won a free copy of MyMemories Suite 2.0 digital scrapbooking software from Sara at Embracing Destiny.  Yea, me!  Thank you Sara!

I have a corner of my closet devoted to all my paper scrapbooking supplies that I don't use anymore -- mostly because I haven't scrapbooked in over two years, and it is a daunting task to even get organized to restart!

So, I figured I would give digital scrapbooking a try and for about $20 to purchase some digital pages and embellishments and fun, pretty stuff, I've completed 3 pages so far this weekend. 

Here is my first page:

The first three pages have been quite a learning experience - trying to figure out where the software puts your downloadable purchases, how to manipulate, shadow, and create word art, layer pictures and embellishments.  It was fun, but a very different set of mental skills right now because I have to be so intentional about how I'm doing all this as well as paying attention to the creative aspect.  I know it will get easier and I won't have to be so cerebral about the process of digital scrapbooking.

The best part so far?   No mess to clean up and organizers to haul back up to my closet!

PS- They have a dandelion themed set on sale for only a few dollars.  I'm thinking I might try to make a new blog header soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crew Review: Wits and Wagers Family

It can be hard to find a game that can entertain a 6, 9, and 12 year old -- and still be mentally stimulating for adults, all at the same time. After a few weeks of playing Wits and Wagers Family, we think  NorthStar Games has a hit!

This isn't your typical trivia game and that's a good thing. It's trivia with some guessing and strategy.

In this game, a player reads a question.  All the questions ask for numerical answers ("How many colors are there in Fruit Loops?") and then each player writes down a number.  When everyone is done, the dry-eraseable tablets are turned over and put in order.  Then you get to play with these cute little Meeples -- a Mama and a Baby Meeple.  Each person decides which two answers are most likely correct --place your Mama Meeple on the correct answer and you'll get 2 points while a correct answer from your Baby Meeple gives you 1 answer.

The strategy comes in when you have little brothers than constantly copy your Meeple placement.  Big Brother Ben *might* need to re-consider his Meeple placement to throw them off track a bit. Or even throw the brothers off track by *not* putting the correct answer down. Hint, hint, Ben.

What's great about this trivia game is that you really do not have to know the answer.  We all laughed and giggled when Levi's answer was closest to being correct.  It's also great in a math-y (less-than/ greater-than) sort of way because you "win" a round by selecting an answer that doesn't go over the true answers.

We've really enjoyed this game, and I was tickled pink when I woke up from a little afternoon nap and heard the boys playing it all by themselves.  *sniff*   Sweet memories.

I was very happy to see that the game used mini dry-erase markers and boards for score keeping and answering.  I need more pads of paper in this house like a hole in the head.

You can purchase the game online at as well as from local retailers The North Star website has a store locator -- type in your zip code and up pops push-pin store locator icon.  A quick search of other online retailers showed that it was available at Target and Toys R Us.  The game retails for $19.99.

They also have a game called Say Anything that some Crew members reviewed.  You can see what others said about Wits and Wagers Family by clicking the link below:


Friday, October 14, 2011

Crew Review:


I've said previously that I can do a decent job juggling two of my responsibilities as a homeschool wife and mother:  homeschooling and eating healthy meals or homeschooling and keeping up with laundry, but not all three in the same week.    

Take your pick, I been known to say (almost sincerely). Do you want clean undies or dinner this week?

Since trying, we've been eating healthy and having clean laundry!

The inspiration behind E-mealz is just so commonplace in my circle of friends (homeschoolers or not) that anyone of us could have written it ourselves: we want to prepare healthy food with minimal time planning and preparing so that we can enjoy these fleeting moments with our kids. 

Just so you know where I'm coming from:  a few Febrarys ago, I scoured my recipe boxes and cookbooks and found dinner meal that at least 80% of the family would eat.  I made sure I was using meats that were regularly on sale (boneless, skinless chicken breast goes on sale about every 4-5 weeks here) so that no week would break our grocery budget.  I created a three week menu rotation so that planning and purchasing was simple and straightforward:  look at the day, see what we're supposed to eat, and cook it. This system worked wonderfully for 3 or so months until summer, when it was too hot to turn on the stove. I tried to come up with a modified, summer-friendly menu plan, but it took too much work -- and I'd rather be outside with the kids!

Come fall, the menu plan worked well enough again, but I was getting a little bored of the options I'd given us.  Three weeks wasn't enough variety anymore. That fall was busy.  I just didn't have the energy or time to invest a few hours into finding new, exciting dinner ideas.  Instead, I went extreme and abandoned all planning whatsoever!

I have been winging it ever since.  But it hasn't been smooth and it isn't pretty.  Let's just say, the kids have stared at the computer monitor one too many times waiting to see the progress bar announce that our pizza is out for delivery:

All this is to say that E-mealz has been a huge blessings these past few weeks.

OK, so how does it work? After signing up and logging in, (the service is $15 for 3 months of recipes) you pick from one of the site's 28 meal plans:

(This is just the selections from the Family plans.  There are also plans for 1-2 people.).

Second, you download your menu plan for the week. Menus are rolled out on different days of the work week - I get my Low Carb meal plans each Wednesday. Last week's is always available, so when you first sign up, you'll have two full weeks (14 days) worth of dinner ideas right off the bat.  You'll be able to print out a menu plan that looks like this sample and the third page is your shopping list. (PS- don't forget to set up a folder on your computer to save the menus!)

When I first get my shopping list, I decided which meals I'd try and which I wouldn't (all the meals we've tried have been delicious and easy to prepare).  Next, I went through my pantry and freezer to cross off items I had on hand.

Then I went shopping -- with a plan!  It feels awesome to have a plan again! (And I loved that the shopping list was categorized, making it much harder to forget items.)

Because we are having the usual "crazy fall," my shopping for one week of e-mealz is lasting for 9-10 days.  But when we aren't running around crazy-like, we are eating a well-balanced dinner with yummy flavor.  We even tried some new things that we decided we liked!  My kids liked the Turkey Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo.

Did you hear that, universe:  they liked gumbo!

You can see from the meal plan selections that some are meant to correspond to specific grocery stores to help save $$  by following specific store sales cycles.  Unfortunately, none of these stores are in the New England area, so I chose to get the Wal-Mart menu to try.  Using this, the shopping list said I'd be purchasing about $90 worth of food for 7 dinners.  That's $12 per dinner -- a LOT cheaper than a delivery pizza every night. Some of my shopping lists have been as low at $79 -- bring the cost per dinner for a family of 4-6 to $11.30 per dinner.

They have options for gluten-free, low carb, portion control (probably helpful for Weight Watcher lovers), low fat and vegetarian.  During your subscription period (3 months), you can switch your plan once.

Here's a few pictures of some meals we've had:

Salmon with honey dijon glaze and acorn squash

This was a delicious Greek steak wrap with cucumber sauce, peppers and onions.
I love the side dishes we've been having with E-Mealz.  Here was a garbanzo bean salad.  Everybody ate it and Luke even *liked*it!

The recipes are very forgiving and flexible.  Don't have the exact cut of meat?  Use what you can find or have already.  Forgot the fresh cilantro? I've found that subbing dried spices has not ruined the recipes at all.

  • We don't get bored by eating the same thing week in and week out
  • Well balanced meals
  • Most meals leave enough leftovers for lunch for my husband the next day!
  • Recipes have been easily adaptable to meat our specific tastes and food on hand (I added some yellow squash to the Italian Skillet Chicken because I had it and needed to use it up!)
  • The side dishes (every day's menu has a main and side dish), have been so yummy and such a wonderful change for us.  If and when I make a great meal, I usually forget to be inspired with a side dish.  I have yet to be disappointed with one of these! 
  • Since we started this at the end of August and are now in fall, I've noticed seasonal meals and vegetable -- lots of grilling in August and September (with tomatoes and cukes!) and more soups and stews (so far) in fall.
  • Endorsed by Dave Ramsey.
  • No store-specific plan for the New England area
  • You can only switch plans once per subscription period-- so choose wisely! (but they do have adequate samples available from all the plans, so you are not choosing blindly)
  • Does not come with a personal chef (just kidding on that one)!
  • Total cost per meal might still be a little pricey for those on a super strict food budget.  But, I read an interesting blog post on their website about how the plan fits in with budgeting.
This has honestly made my life so. much. easier. 

I cannot over emphasize this fact:  Having a plan for dinner for the week really make home schooling better. E-mealz is such a blessing in this house and home! And this is from someone who has never thought it worthwhile to pay a  subscription fee (small or not) for menu planning -- but I've seen the light!

One other quick thing before I finish:  I do not have any food allergies in this house to worry about, so E-Mealz is really easy for us.  But I know there are several TOS reviewers that must cook around significant food allergies, so I really want to encourage you to head over to the Crew Review and read some other reviewers who need to follow specific diets for health reasons.

    Thanks to E-mealz for a free 3-month subscription to their service for my honest opinion about their product. This was a delicious review!

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Craziness = Fall (The first 7 weeks of school)

    I had really wanted to be better this year about documenting our homeschooling journey.  This is my last year in Kindergarten (*sniff*) and my first year in 7th grade (WOW!).  Lots of changes all around to document for our family's memory book.

    But, fall is just crazy here!  Ben runs cross country, Luke has football and Levi is playing soccer.  We have Boys Scouts and Cub Scouts.  My husband is starting a side business.  I need to sneak out weekly to by groceries (my "alone" time).  Thanks to (review coming soon), we've had a few more family sit-down dinners than last fall, but it is still wacky a majority of the evenings.  And, since Ben is playing a public school sport, afternoons are quite full as well.

    By the time the day is done, I'm often brain-dead.   And that, friends, is why I have not been better about writing updates on school

    But anyway, from what I remember about our first 7 weeks of school:

    • I'm really thankful Ben is taking a writing class.  He just wrote his first essay:  why Peanuts is the best cartoon of all time.  The teacher (and her dog, Penny) incorporates lots of great vocabulary, usage, and brainstorming techniques.  She's way more fun that I would be at this point in the year.
    • Levi's reading is coming along, and he is a lover of math.  Some days I have to tell him, "No more math today!" but he doesn't listen. "Mom, I have to write my numbers up to 100 again!"  Love him.
    • Luke is hot-and-cold with reading. I'm still working with him to figure out what exactly is making reading hard for him. We're doing some Dianne Craft exercises (I found 3 of her DVDs at the used curriculum sale for $1 each!), and it brings me back to my days as a speech pathologist.  I always liked the diagnostic part of my job, I just never thought I'd have to use it with one of my own children.
    • I wish it felll within my moral code (and budget) to offer Luke $10 if he read a book from cover-to-cover.   He's working through the Karyn Henly's Day-by-Day Bible (the New Testament) and is reading aloud a portion of it to me.  I need to be happy with that right now.  Oh, and he has discovered Captain Underpants books.  Ick.  I was good at keeping this series away from Ben when he was younger, but not so much for Luke.  At this point, I'm just happy he picked up a book! I want him to get interested in reading Magic Tree House books, but he is balking right now.  I will have to pull out the Pizzza Hut reader coupons, I think, and offer those up for a reward.
    • I love General Science with Dr. Wile.  Right now, I'm using the tests to underscore the importance of studying.  Ben is having to use the study guide (as well as flash cards) to review information.  I also am making him take notes.  I'd love to be a bit more hands-on with him for this process, and I hope we'll get there.
    • Math is the easiest thing this yearThat is a huge blessing for me.
    • I'm being more intentional to do narrations with Luke.  We're using Writing With Ease, which has fictional narrations, but I'm also incorporating it into history and science.  I'm not being a drill sargeant with WWE, however, so when we have been successful with a history narration, I forgo the WWE one. We started in WWE level 1, but I plan to move him up to the 2nd level
    • Ben's subjects this year are much more intense.  With writing class, science and history/ literature (he's sort of doing two literature courses right now because we're reviewing a program), he has a lot of work! To balance this out, I've decided that for spelling, if Ben can take dictation and mark his words with no errors and explain to me the spelling rules that we're using (with decent accuracy), then I'm not going to give him a spelling test at the end of the week.  However, he is still responsible for correctly spelling the words.  During the week, I am still making him complete some of the reinforcements, especially ones that have to do with derivations, analogies, adding prefixes/ suffixes etc..  This is freeing us up to spend more time on history, writing and literature.  Its amazing how content  has become the big player for him this year; but not just that, it's learning how to learn all this content that is the big task.
    My camera shutter hasn't been snapping as much as in the past, but here are some pictures: 
     We're doing the science activities in Exploring Creation with Astronomy this year.  Nothin' like lava flow! This kid is so happy when we are doing science-y things.

     This is Levi's purposeful busy work -- a MCP Plaid phonics workbook.  He takes it in the car or does it when we're not reviewing a reading computer game. (We're reviewing one now, so the workbook isn't getting used as much.)

    I made a customized assignment notebook for my future Air Force pilot.  The back has tons of scripture to encourage a pre-teen.
     The inside is pretty basic, but this is what he wanted.  He is doing nearly all of his own scheduling of assignments;  I wrote sequences for some of his subjects (like Grammar), but he is responsible for fitting it in during the week.

    Levi has been a drawing monster these past few weeks.  He drew a mail truck and VW Beetle-like car this week for his birthday thank you notes.  He drew a whole street scene today.  Picassa isn't cooperating and rotating my pictures correctly, so I'll have to post those another time.

      Monday, October 10, 2011

      Crew Review: Visual Latin

      Hi, my name is Alane and we {deep sign} are Latin drop outs.

      We've run our course through three Latin programs so far in Ben's educational career.  By 5th grade, the academic luster had worn off of the idea of studying Latin (Improve Your Brain power! Raise your SAT scores!) and it had become just plain drudgery.  So, we stopped, and I was content and happy in that decision.

      Then last spring I began hearing about this program called "Visual Latin.Yea, yea, yea, I think to myself, Another Latin program to drop out of.  (sorry, but my stream of consciousness sentences do end with prepositions sometimes.)

      But just for kicks and to torture my drop-outta-Latin soul even more, I decided to watch an online demo of the program.

      It wasn't even boring. And this was not just my opinion, but also the opinion of my 12-year-old.  He asked to do it.

      Good job, Dwayne.

      Fast forward to this fall when I'm blessed with the opportunity to review this program. I'm most impressed.  I could even want to include Latin in our homeschool again!

      From the beginning I noticed several distinctives which set Visual Latin apart from other programs we've used:

      1. The teacher is a guy!!  This is a big deal in our house.  I have three boys and they are surrounded by women (moms) who teach them.  Their exposure to male teachers is zilch, so this is a huge selling point for me.
      2. It's funny and quirky and....normal.  Dwayne makes mistakes and misspeaks. He make you smile and chuckle a little -- about Latin and learning and languages and humanity.
      3. It is bite-sized.  The DVD lessons  -- three for each lesson -- are short (6-8 minutes or so) and there is the corresponding one-page worksheet that goes with it. The worksheet is clutter free and makes sense, teaching 1 concept at a time.
      4. This program is laid out with homeschoolers in mind. I don't have to adapt it and try to mold it into a homeschool subject for 1 or 2 students.  
      5. You can purchase it as a physical DVD product, or download-able product, which you can watch on multiple computers, iphone, ipad or ipod.  Your Latin lesson is portable!
      Another thing which is unique about this program is that Dwayne works on getting kids to think in Latin from the beginning.  Instead of having kids memorize a weekly lesson of 10 words and then having them complete several workbook-styled vocabulary tasks, Dwayne uses easy translations of Bible stories to begin to have the children think in Latin in the context of the story.  By focusing on just a few vocabulary words and trying your had at translation and reading, my 12 year old was actually getting the gist of the language -- which is exactly what would happen in a real life, modern language immersion situation. 
      A year's worth of Latin 1-- 30 lessons -- will consist of three DVD sets.  Each set is $30 -- or you can purchase the whole set for $80.  The program is also sold as a download-able product for $25 for each of the three modules. Visit The Compass Store for more details. Latin 2 has the first set of 10 lessons completed, with more coming this school year.

      Visual Latin is appropriate for all age ranges, so it makes it a great investment for late elementary, middle and high school.  You will want to speed up the pacing of VL for a high school student to get a full year's credit for the course. This web page will also answer questions on how to create a high school Latin course using Visual Latin.

      If you are interested in trying out Visual Latin, I highly recommend downloading their first 6 videos for free.  This will include 4 intro segments, which really does a nice job of explain why we study Latin and underscores the importance of Latin in our own language.  The final two freebies are actually the first two lessons on the first DVD.

      If you'd like to hear what others said about Visual Latin, visit the Crew Review blog with link-ups to other blogs to read.

      Thanks to Visual Latin for a copy of their DVD lessons 1-10. In exchange for a free copy, I have written an honest review of our experiences using this product -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

      Thursday, October 6, 2011

      I"m on a Math U See High.....

      I know  the title of this post sounds weird.  But, that is me. Weird.

      For 6 years, Ben used a fabulous math program.  I chose it because it consistently produced the highest math scores for its home country in global assessments of mathematics education.  Following the if-it's-good-for-them-it's-good-for-me philosophy, I bought the whole kit and kabooddle. When we got to portions of the program that just didn't fit with Ben's learning needs and styles, I ignored my gut and pushed through.  Ugh.  It wasn't pretty.

      I contemplating switching SO many times, but I was petrified with fear that I'd make a wrong choice and ruin his future as a STEM prodigy (I'm being facetious).   The scope and sequence of  our program was different enough that I didn't want to switch for fear of having to back up very, very far to catch up to his grade level peers.  And (transparency here) my pride was in the way:  my kid is smart, and he should be able to learn with this program!!!

      OK, he did learn -- a lot -- and has some great mathematical problem solving skills.  But our math history is not pretty and is filled with tears and frustration for both of us.  It shouldn't have been so tortuous.

      As we neared 6th grade, I was really ready to switch -- but since this program is only an elementary program, I figured we'd push through. I could see the light at the end of the 6th grade tunnel. I decided we would stick it out until he was ready for pre-algebra which is when I knew I would have to find another curriculum anyway.

      Fast forward to this August.  Our school year was to start in just a week or so, and I had no pre-algebra program for Ben.  I couldn't decided between Math U See and another fantastic program.  I asked Dave and Ben to watch the sample lessons for both and they choose Math U See.

       [insert angelic choirs singing 'Halleluah']

      A month into the program, and math is no longer a struggle.  There is enough practice (and an online drill page generator for more if we need it) and systematic review (which Ben really needed all through elementary school).
      While researching middle school math programs, many people complain that MUS is too easy.  Here's my response to that complaint: 
      MUS is a mastery-based program;  if a lesson is 'too easy,' than I have my son take the lesson test and pass out of it -- then we move on.  I've decided that 'mastery' in this house is at least an 85% or better on a test (depending on the concept being taught; I can foresee that certain foundational concepts might require a minimum score of 90% to be considered mastery)
      This means that we could scoot through this level of MUS quickly or linger through it until Ben is solid.  Whatever it takes, people, we'll do it.

      I've got Luke in the last third of Beta and Levi is at the beginning of Alpha.  They are both learning tons and it is painless.  Luke is working through the concept of regrouping with subtraction, and I'm so pleased that it has been very effortless up to this point.  This means that my Lukie has learned regrouping without tears. Priceless.

      I'm not naive enough to think all math concepts to come will be easy to the boys (multiplication facts are right around the corner for Luke), but I am confident that the step-by-step approach that we are following with MUS is going to bless our entire family.

      P.S. -  Ben doesn't hate math anymore.  He may not like it, but he doesn't hate it. *smile*

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011

      Birthday Boy

      My baby is having his birthday this week.  He has got the whole "count down" thing mastered.

      This boy grows so fast, because he's trying to catch up to his 12-year-old brother.

      I decided to create a slide show of pictures since birth.  The baby and toddler stage went so fast.
      Sorry:  it is long.  110 pictures long. Give me a digital break: he's my first child to have all his photos taken with a digital camera!

      Oh, and I didn't put order he chronologically. Honestly, it's a slideshow only a mother could love. And a grandmother.

      Sunday, October 2, 2011

      Schooling with a Plan

      The TOS Blog Cruise is a Blog Carnival through TOS Crew Member blogs. Each week, a new homeschool topic is addressed. Participants are encouraged to express themselves however the question leads them; everyone has a different style and personality when it comes to homeschooling, and that’s what makes this so much fun.  

      Every May, I write out a report about the school year that is drawing to a close.  I don't have to do this for anyone buy myself;  it just helps me process our school year and I typically answer the questions-that-are-always-in-my-head, such as:

      • What worked this year?
      • What didn't work, but should have?  Why didn't it work?
      • How well did I do as an educator? What should I do better?
      • What new struggles and/or gifts did my children show this year?
      • How well are we abiding by our mission?
      I also always write out goals for the following 12 months.  These are a mixture of year-long and short-term goals.  Sometimes the items on the list look more like a to-do list for me to prepare to teach my kids, but usually they help me direct the resources (time and books) to complete an educational goal or skill for the child.

      For this year, I wrote out goals for Ben and Luke;  Levi didn't have a written end-of-year summary for his preK year, so his goals are just floating around in my head.

      ~Levi (kindergarten)~

      1. Read.  I'm using the I See Sam books I reviewed last year and The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.  I also have the MCP Red Plaid phonics workbook that I use for purposeful busywork.
      2. Cursive First. Levi is reviewing the letters he learned last year, but by the end of the year, he'll know his alphabet and be spelling words using cursive!
      3. Math. Addition/ Subtraction math facts.
      4. Bible verse memorization
      5. History, Literature and Science.  He's listening in on astronomy, our history of the 1800s, and  the literature books that Luke is using this year.  He's learning geography that the older boys are as well. He's doing arts and crafts, too.

      ~Luke (3rd grade)~

      1.       Continue to focus on phonics, spelling and reading skills.
      • Restest with SWR diagnostic monthly
      • Us SL reader lists for appropriate reading material
      • Progress through WISE lists at 30-40 spelling words/ week
      2.       Get back to doing science experiments weekly; Continue with Apologia’s Astronomy
      3.       Be consistent with copywork for cursive practice and modeling sentences
      4.       Have Luke write daily (copywork, dictation, journal, assignments)
      5.       Introduce music lessons (he’ll take guitar lessons with Indra Edmonds in the fall)
      6.       Bible verse memorization (especially with song) and some sort of Bible study with me.
      7.       Use a lapbook for summarizing with history
      8.       Investigate a Jr. Lego Team

      ~Ben (7th grade)~

      1.    Begin to discuss literature and literary analysis using TOG’s resources and Teaching the Classics.
      2. Continue with more systematic instruction in note-taking, graphic organizers, and outlining in history and science
      3. Develop writing skills in expository and creative assignments, using IEW’s stylistic techniques as a guide for completion of a variety of writing assignments from both IEW and TOG.  Use Remedia Outlining for systematic practice.
      4. Complete quarterly projects, based on a history or science or other topic.
      5. Teach test-taking study skills.  Work toward completing history quizzes and at least 1 unit test in history.
      6. Continue to provide opportunities for Ben to expand his knowledge in areas of interest:  computer programming, computer animation.
      7. Participate in music lessons (drums)
      8. Find service opportunities outside of Scouts for Ben.
      9.  Pray about the next step in mentoring Ben spiritually after completing our 6th grade study.
      10.  Ben will take more responsibility for maintaining his portfolio of schoolwork in a systematic way.

      Do write annual goals for your kids?  How to you keep track of progress?