Wednesday, May 29, 2013

{Crew Review} See The Light Art Projects


One thing that constantly bothers me about the home education program that I’ve designed for the boys is that I’m not good on implementing art programs.  I can drool over them, buy them, gather supplies….but when it comes to setting aside the time for art – well, I just stink at that.

Thankfully, God is in control of my homeschool, and I was surely blessed to be chosen to review one of See the Light’s new art project DVDs, God's Runaway ($14.99).

This DVD includes over 250 minutes of art instruction and appreciation in which the boys completed three art projects, each demonstrated by a different artist.  I really appreciated that different artists were included on the DVD – it added variety and diversity to the projects. (I really like it when competent male and female teacher can mentor my boys.  I think it is important for boys to have teachers from both genders.)

Ideal for ages 6 and up (I have no trouble at all agreeing with See The Light’s age recommendation), the projects involves something really fun and different in art programs – a black light!  When you are done with this, I guarantee that your children will be sitting in the darkest room or closet in your home for at least a half hour marveling at their artwork’s unique colors and shading because of the special fluorescent crayons, pencils and chalks used in the projects.

What’s Included:  I mentioned that God’s Runaway DVD project included more than 250 minutes of art instruction – well, it is 268 minutes to be exact.  The three projects include

  1. Lettering.  I thought this was really creative – the kids drew fish shapes and practiced lettering within the water blast of the fish.DSCN2257 - Copy
  2. Chalk Pastel scene.  I really appreciate that the boys had the opportunity to work with more than just crayons, colored pencils and markers.  DSCN2290
  3. Mixed Media.  The boys used a Sharpie marker, paints and fluorescent colored pencils to create a really unique take away message from the Jonah story.


How We Used This:  Really, using this See the Light project DVD couldn’t have been any easier than inserting the DVD and letting the boys follow along. I was able to find all the necessary art supplies at our local Michael’s except the fluorescent chalks – those I need to order through Amazon.  Prices, however, through See The Light are really reasonable and comparable to prices that I found for our necessary materials.


Here are some of the special art supplies we needed for this project

Theoretically, you could use this project pack weekly over the course of a month and have a three art lessons and an art appreciation lesson as well via the the bonus features found on the DVD:

  • -Watch as the original contemporary music performed by “Breathing Room” recording artists Jan Roper and Kevin Dukes while watching Gloria Kohlmann draw her remarkable art expression of this story.
  • Watch and Hear The Plan of Salvation, clearly and creatively presented as you have never seen it. (7 minutes)
  • Hear See The Light chalk artist Gloria Kohlmann’s commentary as you watch a story scene being created.

My recommendations & thoughts:  My boys absolutely loved this product and have already asked for more art lessons from See The Light.  I loved knowing that the boys were in good hands.  Another great benefit of this program?  I’ve seen LOTS more art pop up around the house since we completed the DVD:


It really has been a hugely inspirational product, and we’re so blessed to have used it.

Please check out other See The Light art projects packs – some of which are Bible stories, while others practice techniques of the great artists of our time:

Bible themes: God's Special Surprise (6+), Shipwrecked (6+) Dreams of Joseph (10+)
Art Themes: Cartooning (5+), Tiffany Window (10+), Repeated Sweets (10+), Paper Jungle (10+), Pointillism Fruit (10+), Poppy Collage (10+)

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


Thursday, May 23, 2013

{Molly Review} Paperless Home Organization


 photo tn_zpsd0054245.jpg

Still searching for the holy grail of organization systems, I was intrigued to try Mystie Winckler’s Paperless Home Organization ($3.99 for a 75-page PDF or Kindle download) from Simplified Pantry. photo book_cover_zpsea3c0ac1.jpg

This system helps you get information under control.  In using the system, you’ll let the computer perform tasks that you don’t have to. And, it will always be at your fingertips thanks to laptops, smart phones, tablets and such.

To get the best benefit out of the system, Mystie recommends using Gmail, Google Calendar, Evernote and Remember the Milk (if you are unfamiliar with this cool app, you can go to their iPhone Help Video for an overview).  If you aren’t familiar with Evernote, it is a program (free!) that you can use across multiple devices that can sync information you’ve collected and categorized.  Remember the Milk (also free) is a tool to help you get all your To Dos done.

Here’s how these four pieces work:

Gmail, obviously, is your email program.  You will set up filters for most of your incoming emails.  That way, you won’t end up with 2,000 or more emails sitting in your inbox.  When you get e-statements from utilities and credit cards, they will automatically be sent to their proper folders.  Homeschool emails get sent to their respective folders.  When you check your email, just look for the bolded folders, plus your inbox for those few emails that might not have a category.

Next Google Calendar is an easy to use calendar that can be many calendars all in one.  You can even create events on your google calendar from an email (I LOVE this feature!):


Remember the Milk (RTM) is a useful To Do program that can sync between your Google Calendar (it is added as a sidebar app to your calendar page) and any other devices you own. You can create To Do categories and assign tasks to certain days.  Here’s what my list looks like for this week:

Lastly, Evernote is a program that will replace your home binder (if you are so organized that you have one of these).  Think of it as a collection of digital spiral notebooks that you categorize your information in.  Do you volunteer at church?  You’ll want a church notebook.  Teach a co-op class?  Add a notebook (or two) for that.  I try to keep track of the kids’ clothing sizes (not an easy feat over the last few months’ growing spurts), so I keep a notebook for “Kids’ Stats and Info.”   With Evernote comes a free email address so that you can send emails directly to Evernote to process into a notebook, if necessary.

You can download a sample of Paperless Home Organization here.

How This Worked For Me:  Even though I am still no where near utilizing Mystie’s system the way she designed it (trying to develop new habits is HARD), just reading her very clear, step-by-step system for utilizing the four free apps (mentioned above) has really helped me to organize the chaos that I am currently ensnared in.  I’ve been a Gmail user for about 5 years, but I still learned cools tips to make sorting information much easier.  And, let’s face it, if you don’t maintain the organizational system you have, then it becomes unorganized all over again.

So, I decided to start using Mystie’s system at page one.  I reorganized my email folders and filters (I love filters – they automatically send your emails to specific folders).  I’ve also been using Google calendar religiously for several years.  We each have a calendar (including the kids), and depending on the activities, we might have a “school” calendar for the boys and me.  We’ve had “soccer” calendars in the past as well.  My dream is to have a “dinner” calendar someday!

I’ve really got the Remember the Milk system down – I have been wanting some sort of To Do system that would work better than the notebook paper that always gets lost.  The list making apps that came with my iPhone or that is attached to Google Calendar just are helpful enough when I want to prioritize tasks or change them.

I have to admit that the Evernote component is much harder for me to wrap my brain around.  I’ve toyed with OneNote for the past 3 or so years and have used it to organize curriculum purchases and trips.  Unfortunately, the OneNote version I have (2007) does not integrate with my online services, so for now, I’m on a very step learning curve still with Evernote.

I’m also very intrigued by Mystie' s meal planning programs:

 photo sp_sidebar_lg_zps684e1145.gif  photo sp_gfdf_sidebar_lg_zpsbf28c2f7.gif
Simplified Dinners
$12.99 for a PDF download
Simplified Dinners Gluten Free/Dairy Free
$12.99 for a PDF download

Although I haven’t used them yet (I hope to start getting into it over the summer), the idea is pretty simple:  keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with basics that you can then mix and match to create healthy meals.  I encourage you to click over to the Crew blog to read reviews from members who implemented her meal system. 
My recommendations & thoughts: If you are done buying pretty notebooks and dividers and papers to create The Perfectly Pretty and Useful Home Organization Notebook and you just want to use a system that will always be at your fingertips and will always be up-to-date, I encourage you to invest a few dollars into Mystie’s Paperless Home Organization system.  She does such a fantastic job walking you step-by-step through the set up of each program and the whole system seems to make sense to me.  I love the idea of not having to schlep around a big binder or another notebook, but instead I can use any portable device I want to access the information I need. 
To help get a jump start on your commitment to tame the clutter beast this summer (or to revamp your menus), Mystie is offering a limited time coupon:  30% off when enter TOS2013 at checkout through June 3rd. (I know, that is just a couple days!)

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of the posting of this entry.

Something New at The Old Schoolhouse

Our fearless Review Crew leader, Kate @  Under the Sky, let our team know about a new online, downloadable library of homeschooling resources that The Old Schoolhouse is making available for every homeschooler for a one-time fee of $25.

Included are over 175 resources in all subject areas of school as well as topics that will help you organize yourself:

Art and Crafts
Organization (with several planners)
Nature Study
Special Needs
And many more!

Now, I have to admit that I've not had the priviledge of using or looking at the contents, however, some of the great authors and publishers included in this library are KnowledgeQuest, YWAM, Amy Puetz, WriteShop and In the Hands of a Child.  There's also a collection of audio books!

Click over to to see what else is included.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Surprises I Found For Next Year


As I was cleaning out our shelves of materials, culling through items we no longer use, I found some gems that I have picked up here and there and have always meant to use.  I’m actually going to pin this post to my own Pinterest board to help me remember!

Both Stories from Africa and Parables for Kids are just plain good read alouds that Luke hasn’t heard since he was a toddler and I doubt Levi has every heard.  I have tons of missionary stories that I want to invest time in during next year.

Rummy Roots will be a great add-on for all the Latin we will all be learning in Classical Conversations next year.

I have several of Kay Arthur’s Children’s Inductive Bible Studies that I want to use next year with Luke and Levi.  I have really been convicted that we need to get back to some systematic Bible Studies next year.

I picked up the Child-size Masterpiece set five years ago with the best of intentions.  I’ll use it this fall and then sell it to purchase the next sets.

We have just completed an art review, and I’m determined to use another product I purchased last year, but didn’t get around to this year:

I’m sure there will be some additional add ins, but is sure is nice to think that we have so much already in our library that will bless us all next year!

Do you have items you’ve been meaning to use for the past year or two?  Make a commitment to break them out and use them in 2012-14!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mini School Room Re-Do

One of my idiosyncrasies is that I like to move furniture around.  Kind of a lot.  Dave might roll his eyes, but I think it is better to move furniture around than move from house to house every six to twelve months.

I was so happy and grateful to find a convertible futon couch in a plum-y color this past July.  It's already been in two different parts of the school room.  (See?  I told you I have issues.)

But this past week, I was feeling quite restless.  Our homeschool support group is prepping for our used book sale in June, and I wanted to start culling through our resources to find the things I wanted to sell (over $300 worth so far).  But, as I was culling through books, I realized it would be a good time to move furniture.  So, one broken bookshelf and one replacement bookshelf later, here's Our Schoolroom v. 6.0:

View from the door:

Dave build these bookshelf cubbies to fit around the baseboard heating.  I love being able to categorize books in each cubbies (I labeled how I organize some of the cubbies. Others will be re-filled once I finish purchasing items for the fall):


Here's one location the couch can be in. I have wanted to have two bookshelves on this wall since about 6 months after we moved in, but I just never had the umpf to make it happen. Until last week:


The books on the far shelf in the corner are organized by TOG year.  It has Year 1 and Year 2 books on it, plus fun fiction for the boys to enjoy on the two bottom shelves. 

The left-sided bookshelf has more free-reading plus the boys’ shelves.  Ben has the top shelf in this picture (below), Luke the middle and Levi the bottom.  I bought a random piece of laminate shelving at Lowes and cut it to support the shelves and hold the boys’ books and binders upright.  Each boy also has his own color of binder – Ben is red, Luke is green and Levi is orange:


Now I've moved the file cabinet and printer off to the side.  I think I'll like it here!


That bookshelf next to the printer houses Year 3 and Year 4 books + science books.  Someday this summer I’ll probably take all the books of most of the shelves so that I can keep all the TOG books closer. 

I'm going to take the white board off the wall and attach it to the closet door, which is back on after a 4 or 5 year absence.  When the kids were little, having the closet door was a pain, because they were always opening and closing the door to get toys and blocks.  Not such a big issue anymore.

I love how I was able to reorganize a couple shelves to hold science supplies and fit everything in better and still have room to grow:


Finally, I repurposed some wall pockets for new turn in slots.  I love the letter stickers I found at JoAnn’s, too.  I might try to find a corresponding piece of scrapbooking paper to cover the clear plastic of the pocket and lend more uniformity to the wall:


There you go!  I'm determined to get some cheap horizontal blinds this year for more privacy (we do use this room as a guest room when company comes).  Oh, and I do not like the light  that hands from the chain in the middle of the room.  I'm going to have to figure out how to wire the room for overhead lighting this summer as well.

Who am I kiddin'. OK, really, DAVE is going to have to figure it out!

Monday, May 13, 2013

{Crew Review} Spanish For You!


Spanish seems to be the language of the year for us!  I’ve been wanting to teach the kids Spanish for years, but could never make a decision about what to use.  With Levi’s recent introduction to Spanish being so successful, I thought Luke should have a shot at it, too, and I jumped up and down and begged “pretty please” at the chance to review Spanish for You!’s  multi-grade product Estaciones (Seasons).

This is really a different twist on teaching Spanish, and should be a really nice alternative for families with a wide age span of children (written for grades 3 through 8 but Levi could have definitely participated more than he did) and/or those who are interested in teaching Spanish in a co-op environment with multi-aged students.  Instead of beginning where most language classes start (Hola!), this course takes a themed approach at teaching vocabulary, grammar and reading/writing. 

For this review, I received the grade 3-8 package ($64.95). Included in my set:

  • A soft cover book (click here to see samples)– this book has the grammar and vocabulary that your students will be learning for each weekly lesson.  For each lesson, you’ll see the main vocabulary content written in Spanish with English translations and a drawn picture (simple, child-like drawings which are pleasant) to help visually cue your students.

spanish textbook 1

  • 3 sets of PDF  lesson guides.  The course is a multi-grade program.  Still, grades are split up into three pairs:  3rd and 4th graders can learn the entire course in 30 weeks.  Grades 5 and 6 are paired together as are 7th and 8th.  Each of these two grade level pairs can finish the course in 24 weeks.


  • a PDF file of worksheets.  These are  divided into folders by grade level sets.
  • two mp3 audio files:  the author reads the entire soft-cover book and there is a native Mexican Spanish speaker who reads it as well.  
  • PDF files to make flashcards for practice and games.  Vocabulary words are simply illustrated by the author’s daughter, Amanda! (Cute, child-friendly drawings).

If you’d rather not purchase the entire grade 3-8 lesson plans, you can purchase the smaller grade ranges: each two grade range (3rd/4th, 5th/6th, and 7th/8th) is $39.95.

How We Used This:  The soft-backed book has five lessons in it, and you’ll complete this in either 24 or 30 weeks (again, depending on grade levels you are teaching). Here’s the Table of Contents:

ToC Spanish

The soft-back textbook is a resource for you, and serves as the base for what your student will learn.   At the 3rd/4th grade level, Luke spends 5 weeks studying the first lección (lesson) with a review week before starting the next lección.  Grades 5/6 spend three weeks on the first lección with two review weeks.

Lesson Titles are: (1) The Calendar and Weather (2) Fall and School (3) Winter (4) Spring and (5) Summer.  Also in the book is pronunciation guides and common words, phrases and commands.

Each lección has several parts:  a vocabulary section, verb section, and grammar section.  All the vocabulary and verbs have something to do with the theme, and the grammar, of course, extends beyond the theme to help students learn the basics of Spanish.  In this unit, grammar concepts covered are:

asking questions
personal pronouns
using adverbs such as always and never
describing with colors
tener phrases

Once you print our the grade specific lesson plans you need, you’ll want to find the worksheets and vocabulary flashcards that correspond to the weeks you are using.  For this review period, I printed out the first four weeks of lesson plans + worksheets + flashcards.  This is what my pile of papers looked like for only one grade level:

I am drawn to visually appealing curriculum – meaning, I like boxes and lines and graphics that help me visually organize and orient myself to salient information.  {Yes, I’m sure I have issues.}  So, I will admit that I found the lesson plans to be a little overwhelming for me.  Outside of some bold print, I found I needed to bring out a highlighter to draw attention to the worksheets I needed to print out;  I also found that I got lost (in a visual sort of way) with the daily lesson plans.  The information just didn’t stand out for me, but this is me.

Once I got over the text-heavy lesson plans, Luke and I had a lot of fun learning Spanish together!  It was very refreshing to start Spanish beyond the very basics of language learning.  It was refreshing to have Luke learn about telling the weather in Spanish and charting it with pictures and sentences:

DSCN2279 - Copy

It was nice to hear him say something other than “Hola. ¿Como estas?"

One of the first things he learned was the days of the weeks, months of the year, and various sorts of weather.  He really did very well with the new information, even if we did not have specific lessons on each and every phrase or word – like knowing the literal translation for words such as “hay” or “hace.”  I am thinking that by learning phrases this way, he is getting a better glimpse of an immersion experience in Spanish than by learning all the grammatical rules.  In this way, it is a   more natural language learning experience than a typical middle or high school Spanish course.

Photo 1Luke made a whole bunch of flashcards – and even got industrious and created two sets so he and Levi could play Go Fish and Memory Match (I don’t think you ever grow out of playing those two games – at least I hope my boys never do!).  Although Luke had his own ideas about games he wanted to play to help him learn his vocabulary words, the lesson plans and soft cover text offer many suggestions for using games to help with learning.  Other unique ways of practicing new language skills included:

  • playing Símon Dice (Simon Says)
  • Making posters and writing in Spanish
  • Copy work in Spanish
  • Drawing pictures of Spanish phrases

One of the components of the program we haven’t really used is the audio versions.  Since I tend to not use my laptop for this subject (I printed out all the materials I needed), I do not often have the mp3 recording handy – I really should put them on my phone or the iPad so that Luke can listen to native Spanish to develop an ear for pronunciation.  I do think having the audio is a great resource –-especially if you don’t feel confident with your pronunciation.

My recommendations & thoughts: Luke and I have really enjoyed using this product!  He is loving Spanish, and asks to do it – especially once he figured out he could play games with his flashcards!  If you have a student who seems to have a knack for languages (as Levi seems to), it would be easy to have a slightly younger student tag along (he’s a first grader with advanced reading abilities).   As a teacher, I enjoy that we are learning the basics of Spanish from a different starting point that is engaging and encourages conversations (especially with the constantly changing New England spring weather).

Click to read more reviews about the Estaciones as well as Fiestas themed Spanish for You! materials at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

I am a mean mommy. Sometimes I make my kids play games during the day instead of watching TV or playing Wii.

Monday, May 6, 2013

{Crew Review} Papa’s Pearls

I’ve always been interested in stories of people’s lives in the early and mid 1900s.  I loved hearing about my grandparents’ tales about USO dances where young love started or about my great-nana’s immigrant Italian- pigeon English.

Feeling a bit nostalgic for tales, I looked forward to digging into my review copy of Diane Flynn Keith’s Papa's Pearls ($14.97+ shipping through Homefires for a signed copy).  Ms. Keith wrote this book based on her and her siblings memories of the wisdom her father – hardworking Carol Joseph Flynn – passed onto his children with memorable phrases:

When you fall down – get back up, brush yourself off, and try again.

You know I love you, right?

Tell yourself you like it.

You gotta roll with the punches.

Everyone deserves a second chance

Ms. Keith is a leader in the homeschooling movement and an expert in alternative education.  She speaks often at conferences about alternative education and has written much.  She’s also writing a blog connected to the book which (among other things) stresses the importance of fathers and family.   Here’s a picture of her Papa:


How We Used This:  The boys were always eager to listen to a Pearl whether it was morning, noon or night.  The book has just 17 chapters, each of which was 4 or so pages – certainly not long and the book was easy to incorporate as a lunch time read aloud or even a bedtime story. Usually, Luke and Levi engaged in some quiet play while I read.  I mostly just used it as a read aloud with the boys, and sometimes we’d discuss it further and I’d draw connections between the story and the Bible’s wisdom.  I think children of all ages can benefit from the life lessons in this book, but especially those ages 8 and up (to adult!).

I will admit that this book has made me cry a little bit.  Yes, I am a sap when it comes to family stories. I am blessed to have grown up with one set of grandparents who lived about 10 minutes from us.  My paternal grandparents moved to my hometown when I was in high school.   Reading the chapters in which Ms. Keith and her family recall how Papa cherished and nurtured his family relationships made me long for the days I had with my grand parents.  I was richly blessed to be surrounded by generations who loved me unconditionally. 

Since we’ve learned about the Depression, World War II and the rebuilding of the US after the war, I found the stories fascinating and I think they could really add a personal element to 20th Century studies.  This book will definitely find a spot on our Tapestry of Grace Year 4 (Modern History) shelf for our next run-through.

Although the book is not filled with Bible references and verses, I found the book to generally support our Christian values -- hard work, honesty, perseverance, unconditional love, paying attention, thrift. Indeed, it seems as Papa aged, he came to express his faith in God more.

There were a couple stories I chose not to read to the boys – one in which Papa fibs (we are working on the trait of honesty with several of the boys in this house who shall remain nameless).  But of course, these are just opportunities to discuss honestly, white lies, and “big” lies.   The book might give you opportunities to discuss God’s role in our lives; for example, are people just  “lucky” or is God’s hand more present in our lives than we can even imagine?  Is there such thing as destiny? 

I’m glad to have added this book to our library, and I know we’ll continue to use it to teach positive character traits and discernment as my boys age.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mentor Moment: Chores and Getting It All Done

This past school year I've had the privilege to mentor a new to homeschooling mom.  She had it on her heart to homeschool her kids, but was just waiting for dad to get on board.  After a hard year last year, this 2012-13 was their first year at home, and from what she's said, it has been a HUGE blessing -- challenging, but a blessing nonetheless.

We hadn't been able to meet face-to-face until just recently, but about half way through the school year, this blessed mom emailed me with a question:

"I'm wondering how to strike the balance between housework and homeschooling?  ...Originally I thought "I'll have SO much more time to get things done because we'll be going out a lot less during the day".  I quickly threw that notion out of my head because I realized how time-consuming homeschooling is.  I kept telling me husband (in August/September), "I'll figure this out" - there must be a way to have food, cook it daily, keep the house cleaned, the laundry done AND homeschool!!!  But, here it is mid-January and although I have gotten better at the whole feeding the family dinner each night thing - my house has taken a definite turn for the worse in terms of the cleanliness of it."

I totally understood where my new friend was coming from-- and I'm still there, in the trenches of homeschooling/homemaking.  She and I each have three kids, so I get how hard it is to keep it all together.  

Here were some suggestions I made to her:

  • Try FlyLady.  I don't use the system anymore (I was tired of all the emails) but I still use some principles now and again. 
  • Teach kids to help out.   Kids can learn to do a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.  Even though things are not done to my "standards," at least sinks and toilets are getting wiped down, dusting is getting done (three times a week!), and laundry is moving through the pipeline.
Photo: wayne's eye view/ Creative Commons
  • Speaking of laundry:  Ben, Luke and Levi have each been doing their laundry for at least 5 years.  I still have to help sometimes (like moving it along from washing to drying machines), but it is a system that we have that works.  Each kid gets a day to do their laundry.  I wash all sheets/ towels and my husband's and my clothes.  This has saved me a ton of time.
  • I used to care about how things got put in drawers, but -- in the interest of survival -- if it is in a drawer, I consider that an accomplishment.  
  • We have a rotating chore chart that we started last year.  It has worked well and everyone is gaining experience at a variety of chores.  The kids' pretty much clean the bathrooms.  They vacuum upstairs and downstairs once a week, and I try to get the downstairs a second time during the week.
  • To survive, I had to adjust my standards;  the jobs aren't done exactly right, but I know in the long run their wives will like me -- and if they are single in their own apartments and they are messy, I can honestly say that I taught them what they needed to do and they are choosing to ignore their mama's brilliant instruction!
I know some will disagree with me, but I think it is worth the teaching time I've put in so that they understand what it takes to maintain a house.  I'm also hoping that as they become more and more responsible for keeping the house clean, they will keep the house cleaner so they'll have less work to do.

What advice do you have for my new homeschooling friend?  What works in your home?  Have your 'clean home' standards changed since homeschooling?