Friday, June 29, 2012

Vacation Post #2: Organizing for the Mega Vacation Adventure

When we decided to take a Mega [three week] Vacation, I knew that I would have to get my ducks in a row.  Gone are the days of totally winging-it and flying by the seat of our pants.  We need some direction and order and a guiding plan ~  sure, we can veer off it, but we need to start with a plan.

Let me just say that the more I use Microsoft's OneNote, the more I like it.  I was able to keep track of websites and confirmation numbers, Itineray #1 and its subsequent variations, and even keep track of where we {might} be day-by-day. 

I also created a subfolder in my email program called "VACATION."  Although I had pre-purchased some tickets for our trip, I wanted to keep all the email confirmations handy just in case a piece of paper was lost (thankfully, nothing was lost on the trip).  This was a handy place to also keep a few emails I received with hotel discounts.  Since there were very few times that email was inaccessible, it was a great back up for my paper system.

THE most helpful too I took on the trip to stay organized, however, was this transparent, plastic two pocket folder: 

It has a handy velcro closure so important papers wouldn't fall out.  The purple transparent divider made it easy to spot in my bag or the car {I have three boys, so purple is a great color to have since we have so little of it in our life}.

In it I kept restaurant gift cards we used to quell the hungries, print out copies of our itineraries and confirmation numbers from OneNote, print outs of tickets to the attractions we were going to see, and the Father's Day cards that I needed to mail before Father's Day (but ended up accidently forgetting to do).  Everyone knew that The Purple Folder was important and not to mess with it.  Whenever we arrived anywhere to sleep, it went into the hotel or room with me.  Whenever we left to go see a site, it went with me in the car.  Basically, it lived in the car or the hotel the entire trip, and I did not lose one. single. thing.

A miracle, thanks to God and the inventor of The Purple Folder.

What tools do you use to stay organized for trips and outings with your family?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Vacation Post #1: St. Louis

We  just returned a few days ago from a Super Mega Awesome Vacation.  I'm so grateful to my  husbands employer who granted his request for 3 weeks off!!!

We really needed the 3 weeks in order to accomplish our goal:  a huge driving vacation from New England to the west.  Specifically, we wanted to hit Colorado and New Mexico.  Both places hold precious memories for my husband and I, and we have loads of precious friends we wanted to catch up on!

Even with three weeks, we had to make some hard decisions: 

What do we see between here and there?  

As much as I love exploring every state and historic site, I (as the vacation planner) had to focus on the goal:  Colorado and New Mexico.  That meant that a swing by my hometown was out of the question, as were the Creation Museum, Graceland, Laura Ingalls Wilder homesteads, the world's largest ball of twine in Iowa, and a zillion other worthy sites between here and there.

But a man (and his wife and children) have gotta eat and sleep, too, so we decided to make a purposeful stop for the day in St. Louis to see the arch.  This coincided with Ben's 13th birthday!

Waking up and serenading Ben in some Smalltown on I-70, Illinois:

Ben thought the deodorant we have him for his birthday was a gag gift.  No, dear son, it is a not too subtle hint! (He didn't get just deodorant!)

We drove about an hour from our hotel to St. Louis where we had booked tickets (via the Core of Discovery website) for the tram up to the top of the arch as well as a river boat ride on the Mighty Mississippi. 

Experimenting with my new camera, I put my back on the arch and shot straight up:

We arrived several hours before our reserved tram time, but since it wasn't too busy for a Sunday morning, we asked if we could take an earlier tram.  Thankfully, they said yes!

Ready for the trip (Ben has put his brave face on -- he doesn't like heights):

 After the arch, we decided to head over to the riverfront and eat a quick lunch.  We asked again if we could take an earlier boat tour -- and they said yes!

Boarding the Tom Sawyer:

The River boat ride wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped, and the St. Louis riverfront isn't as beautiful as one might like.  We did enjoy trying to capture the perfect "Stars and Stripes and Arch" picture:

After our boat ride (it was super muggy!) we happily went indoors to the Museum of Westward Expansion.  This museum is under the arch, sharing the same lobby as the arch and gift shop.  You cannot miss the big bear:

Nor the relief mural:

We did not watch any of the movies they show in the two theaters that flank the museum.  One is about the construction of the arch (no men died while it was being built!) and the other was about Lewis and Clark. This is something I had to just breathe deep and agree to......a lesson learned on this trip. (Blogging about lessons I learned soon!)

Unfortunately, we entered the museum displays backwards, veering to our right instead of the left.  I suggest you take a look at this map from the National Park Service's website and steer your children better than I did! 

Because of the way we entered the museum, the whole display seemed a little disjointed (it wasn't until writing this blog post that I figured out our mistake). 

Because we were lost, we wandered around until we saw a park ranger giving a few talks about how the native Plains Indians lived and another about how resourceful the Indians were in their use of a buffalo.

As much as I wanted to walk over to the historic Old Courthouse to hear about it's role in the Dred Scot Decision, I decided to let it slide as we were all feeling toured out.  Instead we hopped back into the car (a few of us napped, but I'm not naming names) and drove to Columbia MO in search of some good barbecue.

And that was leg #1 of our trip!

How We Finished Our School Year: May 2012

The craziness has finally calmed down a bit, and I hope I can get back to recording our homeschool journey!  The month of May started a bit of a frenzy in our house hold.

As I posted here, Ben was in a play with a local homeschool group.  It was a fabulous experience!

I saw SO many positive aspects for participating in this endeavor:
  • Working with a wide range of peers -- from 12 year olds to 18 year old high school seniors
  • A godly, creative environment 
  • An opportunity to try something new and stretch.  Ben cannot wait to participate next year and actually WANTS a speaking role!
  • Stretching in independence
A few weeks later, Luke was baptized!  See that little head bobbing above the plants?  That's my boy!

It was really a precious day to watch him proclaim his love for Jesus and desire to follow him.  And, it was my birthday, so I couldn't imagine a more special gift!

We had some school goals to complete in May.  Our target last day of school was May 31st, and with the extra time that the play and visiting family took from our studies, we did have some catching up to do.

  • Ben completely finished General Science.  Now I need to finish grading his tests.......
  • Ben finished all but the last 10 words from the Spell to Write and Read lists.  He has a few troublesome words that he gets hung up on, but we're going to institute an online spelling program to help reinforce correct spelling of higher level words.  He's also going to use Critical Thinking's Word Roots B1 next year.
  • He is nearly halfway through pre-Algebra.  It is our goal this summer to keep working through it, though we are detouring for a couple weeks to work on a pre-Algebra review product called Mastering Math Essentials.  I'll be posting about it in July so be sure to watch for it.
  • Ben finished his grammar program -- Easy Grammar 6.  I need to decide which of the Easy Grammars to use with him next year.
  • Luke finished Astronomy for science (finally!) and his grammar program, First Language Lessons-3.  I've decided not to use it for 4th grade and move over to Easy Grammar 4 for him.  
  • Luke hasn't finished memorizing his multiplication tables, but we'll work on that this summer.
  • Luke is going to readreadread this summer.  We are still using a program that we reviewed last year, called Read Live.  I need to get started on that with him this week!  He's also excited to read for cash, so one of the local banks offers $10 for 10 books read. 
  • Levi ended the year reading Magic Tree House books.  He's still a little stuck on subtracting with 2s, but we'll work on subtraction more this summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Crew Review: Creation Illustrated Magazine

My children and  I love getting magazines, though I must admit that I do not make as much time to read them as I’d like.  We went on a car trip recently (blog posts to come), and I was happy to take our year's worth of complementary issues of Creation Illustrated magazine with us to review. What a great place to catch up on reading!

Creation Illustrated is a magazine that is published quarterly by the Ish family.  In it’s 19th volume this year, it’s goal is to share the wonders of God’s creation in nature, in scripture, and in living. In fact, the 60+ page magazine divides its content into those three areas to address our needs to glorify God mentally, spiritually and physically.  While each of the sections inevitably points back to scripture, the “…In Nature” section points out the unique ways God has created our world's wonders, its flora and its fauna. On our trip we had an opportunity to see the pronghorn, an animal I had never differentiated in my mind as distinct from an elk or deer. It was great to learn about this animal -- it is one of the fastest land animals  in the world -- and how God created it for the western plain landscape in which it was naturally found.

The "...In Scripture" section had articles about God's creation week handiwork.  It was one of a nine-part series written by different authors.  Two other sections Creation Stewardship and Creation Highlights contained shorter, multi-paragraphed stories to encourage you in careful use and understanding of this world.

The regular feature "Genesis Cuisine" in the "...In Living" section hast multiple recipes of meat-free, vegetarian meals and side dishes. Taking a lead from Genesis 1:29 and 3:18 the section is subtitled with the following verses: "See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for...And you shall eat the herb of the field." Perhaps I'm not wearing my smart hat, but it took me a couple issues to see that the thrust of their recipes were non-meat -- but not necessary organic or unprocessed ingredients (Spumoni Cupcakes had red food coloring!), although using organic ingredients shouldn't be too hard to adjust for these days (if that is your thing).

The "...In Living" section also includes a Youth Photo Contest and a Children's Story.  The photos selected as winners were really lovely (cash prizes are available).  The Children's Story uses animals as a subject matter to teach about creation from a literature perspective. Scripture is quoted liberally throughout the stories;  there is no violence.

A unique feature of the magazine is the Instructional Guide, which provides a handful of comprehension questions for 7 or so stories in the magazine.  You can easily use these to create a discussion with your child (however I found many of the questions asked the responder to provide concrete facts about species, animals or other natural feature topics in the article).

My Thoughts:  I've heard this magazine described as a Christian version of National Geographic, a magazine I grew up around, but haven't perused in well over two decades.  I did not find the content of this magazine to be of the same caliber of writing.  Rather, I found the articles really forced me to slow down and rest -- and think about God's creation.  Maybe because we're on vacation as I'm reading through these and this vacation is GoGoGo, but this magazine is really causing my brain to change gears and rest.

My kids have found the shorter, Creation Highlights interesting, and we talked about them a bit. I'm always amazed at how much my kids learn from read alouds about nature, and the Children' Story selections did not disappoint. They thought the red wing tips on the Cesar waxwing almost look like fingers!

While I would not use the instructional guide for every story, I was pleased to have it to emphasize key ideas and scripture.

My final thought is that -- like National Geographic-- these are the types of timeless periodicals that you would want timer persons for reference I the future.

Creation Illustrated is available for an annual subscription price of $19.95.  You can purchase multi-year subscriptions to save a little more:
  • ·        $37.95 for 2 years
  • ·        $53.95 for 3 years
Canadian subscriptions are available for $5 more per year (for additional postage).

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. The cover snapshots used in this article are from some of the issues I received to review. All opinions are mine.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Crew Review: Mobile Education App's StoryBuilder


For the past few weeks, we've been playing around with Mobile Education Store's iphone/ ipad/ itouch app:  Story Builder.  Kyle Tomson, the creator of this cool little app (available at the itunes store for $5.99).  The phrase "necessity is the mother of  invention" sums up the gensis of Mobile Education's apps.  Kyle's daughter needed some help with higher level language skills.  Not finding apps that could help her, he went to work creating a number of tools to help in areas she needed.

As a former speech-langauge pathologist myself, I love that Kyle consults with SLPs across the country to make sure his apps as accurate. And I really love it when he wrote:  
" My apps have been widely adopted by SLP's and schools around the country despite the fact that I'm not a speech therapist.  As I am not a SLP, I tend to think out of the box and concentrate on finding new and fun ways to teach sometimes confusing language concepts without being hindered by the way it has always been done. The most rewarding thing I hear from users of my apps is that their kids ask to play my apps above others."

How It Works:  The interface for StoryBuilder is very easy to use.  You can type in your student’s name (although you can only have one student at a time).  Below the name, you can adjust the level of difficult:  

  • Level 1 stories ask students to create sentences based on facts for a story – basically answering who, what, where, when questions. Four questions are asked for this level.
  • Level 2 stories ask seven questions of the student.  Students to make inferences about the pictured story (there is one picture per story).  Some of these types of inferences might be “how does the person feel?” “Why are they happy?”  Students even have to infer actions that might occur before or after the pictured event (“What will happen next?”).
  • Level 3 stories allow the student to make up any story they want. The prompt tells you to make a story about the picture and to use complete sentences.
Additional options adjust to amount of support your student receives.  There are colors and auditory cues to help students, but these can be removed for increased independence.  You can make these changes in the middle of a story and they will take effect on the next cue.

The screen below shows the color code reinforcement (in red), question text reinforcement (shows the question at the top of the screen), and the answer introduction reinforcment (the part that says "After the storm ends, the boat...")


After one of my boys hears the question, he presses the green "record" button and speaks his sentence.  We can then listen to his response and re-record, or press buttons to repeat the question prompt.  At the end the "Play Story" button pops up so you can listen to the whole thing.

How we used it: I found this to be a great tool to help Levi with his articulation.  We've been working on his r's for a few months, and his is doing well articulating them in his reading and in many situations in conversation.  But, he hasn't "generalized" the new sound to all the possible occurences in his speech, so I took the opportunity to have him tell me a story, then listen to each of his sentences to judge for himself if he had pronounced the r's correctly.  This was a great self-monitoring tool within the context of  telling a story.  He wasn't totally in love with the target picture but this was his story: 

The men were going to a newspaper.  The car got stuck when a alligator went across the road. The men are trying to get the car out of the hole that the alligator was in. They will call a police officer.
Outside of practicing articulation, I was pretty surprised at how difficult this activity was for Luke.  After getting the sillies out of him, he needed some additional prompting from me to help his ideas "flow" in the story. 

My Thoughts: I think this is a great tool for families who want to work on narrative skills, inference skills and speaking skills whether you child has a language learning difference or not.  Kids gravitate towards all the electronic media we have, and while I try to limit the amount and types of interaction we have, I do try to use it educationally often.  I think this is a great interactive way to engage in technology and learning with your child. 

I'm impressed by the scaffolding and helps that the app provides.  I love all the ways that you can add and subtract these helps.  I do wish you could have more than one student use the app at a time, and I do think that it is important to send the story and audio to your email account if you want a record of your child's efforts.  You will want to make sure you have Apple's QuickTime Player (a free download) to listen to the story (and the photo downloads as a .png file).

I do plan to continue using this app in a couple different ways.  I'd like Levi to keep practicing his articulation and self-correction, and Luke will keep using the app to help with his narrative skills and sentence formation skills.  I also plan to have Luke practice his writing, punctuation and grammar skills by listening to his stories and have him write them out.  I just love tools that help us learning in multiple ways at the same time.

Mobile Education App store offered several other apps to Schoolhouse reviewers.  I encourage you to click over to see what others thought.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.