I think everyone probably does this, but I look at my life in chunks of time. There was high school, college, Henry before we were married (which dovetails with the first half of college), Henry after we were married, but before we had kids (last half of college and first half of grad school), babies (four in forty months), toddlers, Cardinal Newman (Therese's K and half of 1st grade), early homeschooling, and teenagers. Guess where we are now? Four teenagers is hard. Teenagers with health and emotional issues is harder. I know from experience, because every other stage of my life (with the exception of high school) has taught me, that these years will fly by. All of my kids will probably be out of the house in five years. Five years is nothing. Five years is the number of years that Henry and I were together before we had kids. They went by so fast!
Right now the time is not flying. Right now life is challenging. I will get back to more regular posting on the blog, but for now I don't feel that my posts would be all that fun to read.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
What sets these unit studies apart from many others is their academic quality. I could tell right away when reading through the studies that whoever wrote them knew what she was talking about. There is so much more to these studies than what you could get off Wikipedia. It turns out that Jill Hummer, the author, has taught history and political science at the college level and has a PhD in Government. In other words, she's my soul sister (for those who don't know, my undergrad degrees are in history and political science, and I have a PhD in political science). She wrote the unit studies that I would write for my own children. How often do you get that in a product? Oh, and as a bonus, her husband was a former college debater! Yes, I want to support this family's company!
For reasons I can't necessarily articulate, I have always been fascinated by Veteran's Day. Maybe it's because in the old-time radio shows I listen to, it's still called Armistice Day. Maybe it's because of the poppies and their significance. Whatever the reason, when I saw the array of studies, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be beginning with Labor Day and that I would have her spend some quality time with it. Regardless of which level you use, the unit study has similar lessons: K-6 Lesson 1 - President Woodrow Wilson and Armistice Day, Lesson 2 - President Wilson and Food Czar Hoover at War, Lesson 3 - The Story of Dwight Eisenhower and how we got Veteran's Day. Grades 7-12 have the same first and third lesson titles, with Lesson 2 being Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points. As soon as I saw that K-6 got to study the issue of food in WWI, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be doing (or at least reading) this lesson, too. This lesson is so full of amazing information, and even includes the vintage WWI posters and propaganda that I have used in my own work creating materials for students. I absolutely LOVE the use of primary source materials like these. There is no substitute for them.
We have reviewed MaxScholar before, so I was interested to take another look at its Reading Intervention Programs. There is so much to MaxScholar that it sort of blows one's mind, so let's just look at each section in turn.
MaxReading is next. This is the section where my twins (then 11, now 13) spent the majority of their time last time we reviewed this program.
Through a series of exercises, students are led through a topical reading passage. They learn vocabulary, highlighting important passages, and outlining. There is a writing assignment and optional games.
MaxWords is where Michael (13), this year's tester, chose to spend his time in MaxScholar. There are several components to MaxWords, including CLOVER (a set of syllabication lessons), Spelling Rules, Prefixes and Suffixes, Latin Roots, and Greek Roots.
MaxMusic gives you a choice of dozens of music artists, provides you with one or two song's lyrics, and then has grammar exercises around those lyrics (such as identifying parts of speech). A nice touch is the inclusion of a lesson on how to play the song on the piano at the end!
MaxVocab consists of a dictionary containing the vocabulary words used in the reading exercises and games to help cement the vocabulary words.
MaxPlaces offers reading/highlighting exercises for several interesting locations around the world.
MaxBios is like MaxPlaces, but the readings are centered around people, not geography.
Obviously, there is a *lot* to MaxScholar! Fortunately, the parent dashboard makes it easy to keep up with what each of your students is doing. You can see their activity, their scores, and more.
MaxScholar fits very definitely into the elementary school age range. If you have a child learning to read, or one learning close reading/note taking/outlining skills, you might really enjoy this unique product. Because so many of the bios/musical artists are heavily tied into pop culture, this product is very much for both public school and some homeschooling families. Some homeschooling families may find it hard to find relevance in the choices of subject matter used for the MaxBios and MaxMusic. Because all four of my children are teenagers, they (and I) know the included pop culture, but I can easily see where some homeschooling families who do not partake of popular music or television may struggle with these sections. Also, when all of my children were in the MaxScholar age range, the subjects would not have had much relevance for them.
However, the other sections are appropriate for all audiences! Michael has been enjoying working with roots, and I enjoyed reading about the cities chosen for MaxPlaces (although, after completing, as I tell children, 23rd grade, I confess that I didn't feel the need to highlight!). The nice thing about this program is that you don't have to spend an hour a day using it. It is easy just to log on for 15 minutes to complete one activity. You will have learned something about a song, a person, or a place that you didn't know previously, and you will have practiced a skill that you will likely use for a long time afterward. After using MaxScholar a couple of years ago, Mary-Catherine (13) got the highlighting bug and has been highlighting her readings ever since. Michael was not as keen on the highlighting, but when he saw that MaxScholar offered plenty of roots activities, he engaged happily. For the past few weeks, it has become his habit to log on to MaxScholar just to work with roots. It's a nice compliment to his current English program.
While MaxScholar is not likely something that my family will continue to use, that has everything to do with the fact that my youngest children are 8th graders and that we are not the target audience for this program (given that it is reading *intervention*, so aimed at children with dyslexia and other learning challenges). I would have loved this program, especially the phonics and syllabication sections, when my children were younger. Happily, other Crew families with younger children have been using MaxScholar, too, so if you're at all intrigued, be sure to click the graphic below to read their reviews!
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know what I think of The Critical Thinking Co.™. Mary-Catherine (13) is using their history this semester, and I have used countless other of their books over the past ten years of homeschooling. I can honestly say that we have never used something of theirs that we didn't all love. This time around, we got to review Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary.
With Nicholas (15) entering his sophomore year of high school in the fall, I have begun to think about standardized tests as they relate to him. Whereas Therese (16) has always been my rock solid verbal girl, Nicholas is all about the math. In fact, I am sometimes very surprised by the vocabulary words he doesn't know. Out of my four kids, he is my least avid reader, and that is made evident by the vocabulary that he has not just naturally acquired over the years. If I'm being completely honest, I had always been a little, well, skeptical about vocabulary curriculum. Blessed with readers and possessed of more than a touch of sesquipedalianism myself, I have been of the opinion that vocabulary is something one just absorbs from books and life. One does not seek it out especially for the purpose of studying it. And then there was Nicholas (isn't there always that one kid that breaks you of all your smug pre-conceived notions?). He's so good in math that I stopped being able to help him years ago, but there are holes in his vocabulary - holes I don't want to negatively impact his PSAT score.
Enter one of my new favorite products:
This vocabulary book is just plain fun. For grades 5-12+, it introduces new vocabulary words through cases. Think of them as two-minute mysteries (remember those?). In a couple of paragraphs, a crime scenario is presented along with a list of suspects and descriptions. On the facing page, there are 15 sentences with a vocabulary box. Students read the case and suspect descriptions, solve the crime, and then fill in the blanks with the correct vocabulary word. None of it feels like work. It just feels like fun. The vocabulary words are excellent: abrogate, onus, cogent, foist - so many of my favorites. The answer keys in the back list all of the correct answers along with a synonym for the vocabulary word presented, so students really get two for the price of one when learning words.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Home School Navigator is a program of which I was completely unaware until it was brought to my attention through this review. Unlike any other language arts program we have used before, the indigo level (the highest level of this program offered, equivalent to a fifth grade reading level) is definitely beneath Michael's (13 - 7th grade) reading level, but I was very curious to see what the program offered in terms of reading comprehension and the like.
So what makes this program different? First, the sheer variety of activities in a given month. Each month, regardless of reading level, students are introduced to a new genre of literature, new reading strategies, and new writing styles. Along with that, every month there is grammar, writing, word study (roots, prefixes, etc.), and reading responses. Additionally, at the older levels, for students who enjoy such things, Home School Navigator introduces Interactive Notebooks, a more interesting way to handle reading responses and book reports. Kind of like mini-lap books, these notebooks let students do a little bit of cutting and gluing along with responding, breaking up the monotony of just writing. For tactile learners, this kind of activity is a huge plus.
Additionally, Home School Navigator is incredibly well organized. Once you know your level, everything is laid out for you. One thing I really appreciated is that the creators stress over and over again on their site that while it is possible to do everything in the curriculum as they have laid it out, *you* are the teacher, and you decide what and how much you will do. The curriculum and schedule are suggestions to aid you in your journey. If you want to write the answers on a white board instead of on the worksheet, go for it. I love that approach.
Logging on to your account, you will see a dashboard like this for each week's lessons:
You can select a day to see this menu. Truly, everything is laid out for you. There is a parent video and a student video on Day 1, but on succeeding days, there are fewer assignments (for one thing, no videos).
There are links to YouTube videos for many of the read alouds and you can link to the worksheets that you need for things like the word studies. The first book unit for Indigo level is Louis Sachar's Holes (a HUGE favorite in our house) in month two, and that is when the Interactive Notebook first comes into play (we hadn't gotten there yet by the time of this review, but I did look at the notebook and I know that there are some kids, like Michael's twin sister, who love that form of learning).
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
This program is just the kind of thing that is perfect for littles to "do school." The story books are adorable, with each focusing on a letter or a theme. My favorite was "Scotty Skunk Hears a Scary Sound," probably because I have a thing for alliteration, but another month's story focuses on mommies and babies, while still another addresses the letter M and emotions with "Muffin on the Bench." Workbooks accompany the storybooks and reinforce the learning in the stories. For example, in Scotty Skunk month, the workbook continues the emphasis on the letter "s."
The activities in the workbook are age-appropriate for 3-6 year-olds, including hands-on projects, and I know that my kids would have loved them at those ages! The books are bright and cheerful, and while reading them off the screen is not my preference, it's not like it's a deal breaker, either. And with the advent of physical books on the horizon, if it is a deal breaker for you, all you have to do is wait a few months.
Of course, MESSY is capitalized for a reason; it's an acronym. It stands for:
M - Mixed subjects and activities for integrative learning
E - Engaging activities that challenge minds
S - Simple 1-2-3 steps - read, learn, create
S - Smart designs for creative learning
Y - Yeah - a new way to promote preschool STEM and early brain growth
If all of that sounds exciting to you, be assured that the bright, colorful books and videos will be exciting to your preschooler/kindergartner, too. I promise, it doesn't look like learning. There are memory games, matching games, sorting games, writing, coloring, and tracing, and more. You won't have to go to a bunch of different sites to print off a bunch of different things, and everything will be thematically connected every single month. Again, it's something I really would have enjoyed when my four were little!
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