Friday, November 29, 2013

The Great Christmas Surprise


I just couldn’t take it anymore.  The secrecy.  The coded phone conversations.  I am just not good at subterfuge!

So, I had had enough.  I needed to come clean.

My parents dropped their early November Saturday activities – including much deserved naps – and went to work to help with The Big Reveal: Christmas 2013. We skyped with Nana and Opa so they could watch the boys as the reveal took place.  What a blessing technology is!

They actually made a video, complete with coded message for the boys to watch to learn their fate: Disney Cruise + 3 days at Disney World.  Merry Christmas to us!



Thanks to Dropbox, Nana and Opa were able to share their Big Reveal video with us. I connected my computer to our TV so the boys could see it nice ‘n big.




Boys are getting read to watch and learn.



A little happiness, here!
After the video was over, we finished our Skype. The final reaction:  Ben is nervous (“I don’t like boats.”) but both Luke and Levi are 100% excite.  I think once Ben gets on the ship and realize how safe it is, he’ll relax and have a good time. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Crossing Over


Recently we were able to celebrate a special event – Luke crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts!

Since Luke became a Webelo, he and I have had the plan to allow him to earn his Arrow of Light award early and cross over into Boy Scouts about 4 months ahead of schedule.  I could sense that Luke, as much as he loved hanging with the boys in his dean, really needed to move up and be challenged by the maturity and wisdom of the senior Boy Scouts in Ben’s troop.

Luke and I worked really hard in his first year of Webelos to achieve 7 activity badges.  He recently finished off four more and was perfectly happy to stop there, cross over and move on.

To help mark such hard work, I searched the internet to determine what sort of memento I could make for him.

I found this stencil of the Arrow of Light symbol {click stencil to be taken to the website}:


and transferred it to a plaque. 

Photo 2


The deerskin laces are for hanging a Cub Scout Career arrow.  This is how I spent a rockin’ Friday night while the boys and Dave watched a movie:

Photo 3



But it was all worth it:



One of the things I really, really loved is how God orchestrated the night.  We met at our church, and Luke was able to cross over in front of The Cross; normally pack meetings are at the local elementary school.  

Dear Luke,

Your dad and I are so proud of your hard work.  You stuck with your plan to achieve the Arrow of Light even when you were tempted to give up. Your perseverance paid off.  Always do your best, sweet boy.  Work hard. Pray often.  God will bless your efforts.

Love, Mom

Friday, November 15, 2013

Star Wars Music Experience

We had an amazing opportunity in October to visit the Portland Symphony Orchestra's Discovery Concert where we enjoyed listening to various scores from the Star Wars movie.
The symphony and conductor did an job of relating orchestral music to children (and their parents) in an accessible way.  How often to we really think about the music score of a movie being an orchestral production?  How often do we really notice the affect the music has on our movie viewing experience? I loved that Death Star Storm troopers, R2D2, C3P0, and even Darth Vader made an appearance at the concert.  I guess they enjoy symphony music as well.

Not only was the concert experience wonderful, but the pre-concert activities were fun for my boys as well.  Two-thirds of my boys are not the most outgoing children on the planet, but they fully enjoyed the opportunity to walk outside of their comfort zones and try out a variety of music instruments at the pre-concert Instrument Petting Zoo {I had never heard of this before either}.

Instruments were dividing into sections, and the children were aloud to handle them, finger them, and blow into them.

{The mouth pieces were cleaned between children.} {Except the oboe reed.  Not sure how many contagions we collected there, but no one got sick in the week after this experience. }
I'm looking forward to taking the boys back in the spring for their Harry Potter Concert.  Way to go, PSO, for hosting such a fantastic event!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Three Steps to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Homeschool

It is SO easy these days to purposefully and accidentally plagiarize others' words.  Back when I was a kid {wow, never thought I'd actually use that phrase!}, I didn't have access to so many resources and certainly did not have the temptation of cut-and-paste from a website to my paper.

Here's my tips for discussing this topic with your students.  I suggest you begin this discussion with your students as soon as they begin to use source material in writing assignments (Luke, a 5th grader, will be having this talk as he is summarizing references for an assignment in his Classical Conversations' IEW writing assignments for the next few weeks).

correctly spelled plagiarism

1.  Define.

Don't assume your student knows what plagiarism is.  Define it, talk about it, find examples of it.

The Purdue University OWL {Online Writing Lab} has a great article by contributors Karl Stolley, Allen Brizee, Joshua M. Paiz about an apparent bind we put students in when we ask them to write -- be unique but quote others to support your point.  Interesting to consider in light of King Solomon's words, "there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  Indeed, sometimes (such as when a deadline is looming) it does appear that nothing different can be said than what has already been said a gazillion times by other high schoolers and scholars about typical read list books. This leads to a temptation to adopt someone else words as your own.

In their article, the authors define plagarism as: ".... the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else's words or ideas." But it's not really that simple. defines ten (yes, TEN) ways people plagiarize in our high tech world.  Honestly, I never realized there were so many different kinds of ways people plagiarize Worth looking at and discussing.

Here's another site:'s Plagarism 101

2.  Practice.

Practice taking notes.  Practice outlining.  Practice paraphrasing.  Practice quoting sources.

Basicially, practice not plagiarizing.

According to Susan Wise Bauer's suggestions, teaching outlining begins in the dialectic stage -- around 5th grade (from her book The Well Trained Mind).  Outlining is a one way of taking notes in a text.  I'm not one to use a LOT of rigid outlining when I am reading and taking notes, but it is a good way to begin with a student.  A simple google search can lead you to a variety of outlining strategies from law schools, colleges and other resources aimed at high school students.

To practice paraphrasing, read a paragraph with your student.  Close the text and ask him/her to retell the main point(s).  I've done this before with my sons as narration exercises (easy to do with young elementary students) where I do the transcribing.  I've done this with older students where we read a section of text paragraph-by-paragraph and take notes on a white board.  Remember, even in paraphrasing you are going to need to cite your source, so always write down where you are taking your paraphrase as well as the page number.

Just like a paraphrase, when you quote a source, you will need to know exactly where you are taking the text from. This is called citing a source. Check either the MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) for the correct format for longer quotations -- this often requires extra indentation to follow the correct style.  By the way, MLA style conventions are usually used in humanties subjects, whereas APA is usually used in the sciences.  Here are some website:

MLA:  Purdue's OWL and Modern Language Association
APA:  American Psychological Association

There are some great sites out there that help you aggregate your online and print material sources to compile bibliographies (for APA style) or Works Cited pages (for MLA) - is one of them, but only MLA style is free. Another is  Once these citation generators gather all the title/ author/ publisher data and place it in order, you can cut and paste into your document.  Oh, to have had this when writing my Masters thesis!

3.  Check.

Google is an amazing tool.  You can type in your students sentences and check to see if they copied their text word-for-word from an online source.  I also plan on showing Ben (and eventually his brothers) that this is a helpful step to keep them honest -- and out of academic trouble. This will not work so well with books and other printed material, but it should work for most online sources. \

Several of the sites I mentioned offer fee-based services to check for plagarism (both intentional and accidental).  Some were subscriptions others were per-paper fees -- perhaps a good idea for a  major project.  But at this point, I'm sticking with free services.


Let me leave you with this story.  When Ben was in late elementary school/ middle school, we were using a writing program (Institute for Excellence in Writing) that required him to read passages and write no more than 3 word notes per sentence.  Next, the outline was used to re-write the story in his own words.  This technique is similar to what Benjamin Franklin describes as a way in which he taught himself to write. Ben has a problem though:  he has a really really good memory for what he reads.  I had to learn to give him time between his note-taking outlines and drafting so that he could forget the exact sentences.  I used this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of plagarism, but I have to admit that I need to carry this on as an ongoing discussion about academic -- and personal -- integrity.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

{Crew Review} If You Were Me books


Carole P. Roman with Away We Go Media ( sent us a set of her cultural studies books for young children (ages 10 and under).  She’s written simple, easy to read books for children to discover some pretty unique places:
If You Were Me and Lived in...Mexico
If You Were Me and Lived in...South Korea
If You Were Me and Lived in...France
If You Were Me and Lived in...Norway - Brand new release {link to book is not working yet … the book is THAT new}

Each of these books are available in paperback ($8.99) and Kindle ($0.99)

These books are all written in a similar manner to explain geography, language, culture and traditions to children. 

Using the premise, “If you were me and lived in ..”each book has a boy-girl pair that take your young child on a whirlwind tour of their country.  In the books you will learn:

  • the location of each country on their continent
  • the capital city and some interesting facts about places to see and/or visit
  • simple words such as common names for children, how to say ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ in the native languages
  • traditional foods for each country
  • common activities and pastimes
  • holidays unique to the country
  • how to say ‘school’

How we used these:  My boys grabbed these books and devoured them over lunch one day.  The are simple to read and quite short.  Although the selected age range is 10 and under, I think they would be best used with children in early elementary school (preK to 2nd grade).  Levi was a little disappointed that the books were so short – he wanted more information and wanted to see pictures of the country’s sites instead of drawings.

One of the things we did, then, to expand on the books was to take field trips to the countries!  No, not in-real-life field trips, but Google Earth field trips.  We spent one afternoon at the Louvre’s plaza and then walked down the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.  It was fun to see how far back we could stand and still see the tip of the tower through the trees.    In this way, I satisfied Levi’s curiosity to see ‘real pictures.’

Recommendations:  I think this is a nice introductory set of books for young children who are interested in learning about other cultures.  You can easily use these books alongside country-specific prayer journal, a study of continents, or even use the information to create your own lapbooks for each country.  Really, the possibilities are endless.

To see how others used these books, please click on the Crew Blog link below.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

My Fall Craft

I don't often have time to invest in lots of crafty things these days.  I haven't digitally scrapbooked in a few years and I stopped learning to knit a while back, too.  I'm mostly too brain dead at the end of the day to have to think.

But one of my first pins a few Halloweens ago was this {click picture to take you to the original post}:

{Midwest Living}

As cute as I thought these were, I did not want to spend my time making something that would not last past this November.

As I ran into a JoAnn's fabric and craft, I saw some faux pumpkins and decided this was the year I'd make something!
                           Sharpies.  This would be my paint.
This is the brand my local JoAnn's carried.

I drew out my design and started coloring it in:

And I have these awesome pumpkins to use for the next few years: