Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review of Box of I.D.E.A.S.

While Box of I.D.E.A.S. is a clever name, this product is definitely more than that! Giving "hands-on-history" a whole new meaning, we have had a great time working with our Ideally Dynamic Enrichment Activities for the last month or so.  Given my love of history, I was delighted that we got to review the "Pearl Harbor Box of I.D.E.A.S."pdf version.  So, even though the picture below is of a really cute box with a bunch of paper, we reviewed downloadable pdfs.  I just think the physical box gives a really good idea of how much material you do get with this product.

This Box of I.D.E.A.S. focuses primarily on Pearl Harbor and the Japanese attack, but in so doing it looks at events leading up to the U.S. entry into WWII and other aspects of the U.S. war in the Pacific.  Overall, it provides a great introduction to a U.S.-centered study of the beginning of WWII which can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time.

Each Box comes with at least ten modules and is designed for kids 9-16.  Pearl Harbor included these modules:

Before Becoming a Base
Beginnings of Naval Presence
A Week Before the Attack
Day of Infamy
Day After the Attack
Weeks After the Attack
Six Months After the Attack
A Year After the Attack
Victory Over Japan - VJ-Day
Decades After the Attack

Each module, in turn, begins with a cover sheet, whose job it is to summarize the module's contents and provide printing and cutting instructions for the pdf.  In the case of my favorite module, Day After the Attack, the cover page summarized the module's contents in this way:

Contents of this module
 Introduction, Extensions, Weblinks
 In the News—Activity Instructions
 Facts & Opinions—Portfolio Piece
 10 Newspaper Headlines
 24 Flash Cards
This summary is very typical of each of the modules, which are 10-15 pages long.  For example, each module contains a portfolio piece, such that when the entire Box is complete, the student will have a complete notebook of the subject studied. The reason this module appeals to me so much is that it is history at its purest.  It was my eldest daughter's favorite for the same reason.  When the module contents says "10 newspaper headlines", that's exactly what it means! 10 actual "day after" headlines are reproduced for the student to see.  It is a stark way to learn exactly what Pearl Harbor meant to this country.

The Day of Infamy module is wonderful, too.  It is an in-depth look at the timing of December 7, 1941 with both a final and an in-progress copy of Roosevelt's famous speech.  We went one step further when doing this module and listened to Roosevelt's actual speech.  It is fascinating to compare the political rhetoric of yesterday with that of today.  That actually became one of the rabbit trails we followed at school the day we did this module.

History is my favorite subject.  I read history books constantly.  I have a degree in history.  My 11 year-old (with whom I did this Box) loves it just as much.  Thus, we finished this whole Box in two weeks.  We had no problem completing one module per day, and sometimes completed two.  I need to stress that I don't think that means that the Boxes are a bad buy.  For one thing, I don't take activity instructions too seriously.  In the Day of Infamy module, there are 40 "Longest Morning" timeline cards that have pictures, times, and events that are relevant to that morning.  There are also activity directions for a game to play to collect the cards.  Games like that aren't really our style.  Therese just cut out the cards and made matchbook minibooks out of them to put in her notebook.  They are really great cards, but we didn't use them in the way the creator intended.

Further, I have no problem doing history for 3-4 hours a day.  I live in the great and free state of Texas and have no homeschool regulations at all.  As long as my kids stay above grade level in math and grammar, I have no problem ending up spending a week on a WWII study.  We essentially did that the first week we were doing Box of I.D.E.A.S.  In fact, my daughter (whose normal fascination and area of expertise is Tudor England) so fell in love with this study that she wanted to continue studying WWII.  I told her that she couldn't understand WWII outside the context of WWI so, thanks to this Box, we have now started an epic study of WWI!

I really like Box of I.D.E.A.S.  I think that the physical version of the Box would be a lot of fun.  It would be neat to be able to page through all of the modules to see the activities and portfolio pieces.  However, given that the physical product costs $79.00 (with $4.00 for extra copies of modules), while the pdf download version is only $49.00, I could never justify the price difference.

Box of I.D.E.A.S. is a neat product.  For hands-on learners who like to go in-depth on a topic area, they are wonderful.  With topics as wide ranging as salt, quilting, and eleven (!), with many more planned (I have to get cemeteries!), there are I.D.E.A.S. for all families.  Crew families got to try out several of these topics, so if you're not sold on Pearl Harbor, make sure to read the Crew reviews to find a Box that is right for your family.

Disclaimer: I received this series of pdf files free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.

Review of Music Together

There are some homeschool moms who fit music seamlessly into their curriculum.  I am not one of them.  Things that I think of as particularly "public schooly" (art, music, PE) don't seem to be much of a priority for me.  Fortunately, I live in a state that doesn't require them.  It is precisely these "subjects" of course that little kids like the most, so it was wonderful to get a review product that compelled me to include music in our school day!
As part of the Review Crew, we received Music Together's Family Favorites Songbook for Teachers and  Family Favorites CD.  Far more than just cute kid songs (although the CD is certainly that, as you'll find out if you listen to the samples on the site), Music Together is "an internationally recognized early childhood music program for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarterners, first and second graders, and the adults who love them."  

In use since 1987, Music Together is developmentally appropriate and research based.  Suggested for 5,6, and 7 year-old children or children with special needs, Music Together begins with the premise that all children are inherently musical.  Music is taught through games, songs, and activities.  Although Music Together programs are available in all types of childcare settings, it works perfectly in a homeschool setting.  How do I know? My seven year-old twins loved it! 

What is immediately obvious from the moment you open this program is that it is completely professional.  I have used plenty of homeschool-mom produced programs (and I am *not* knocking those - I *love* those), but this program is not one of them.  It is heavily coil bound and the pages are thick and glossy.  This book will stand up to all of your kids.  At just over 100 full color pages, the book is composed of 3 parts.  The first part explains the Music Together philosophy and approach.

The second part contains the 19 songs that are on the accompanying CD (accompanying if you bought it!).  The song is introduced by its composer, with notes as to how and when it was written.  Suggested activities are explained (imagine a setting something like a library story hour if you need help imagining what these activities might look like).  The key, starting pitch, and meter of the song are given.  Finally, a list of the instruments used in the recording is provided.  After this introduction, the actual written music and lyrics for the song are shown, followed by several pages of activities divided by age-appropriateness.

The last part of the book has reference material including a glossary and guitar reference chart.

I have four kids, but the only ones who were really interested in participating in Music Together were my two youngest, which was perfect, as they fit the target age ideally.  We incorporated music into school once a week while the big kids were doing math.  We decided to go in order of the songs on the CD, which made the first one we used "The Hello Song." We probably should have skipped it, as it is likely the one song on the CD that is *definitely* too young for most 7 year-olds.  Still, we listened to it, sang it, and even played it on the piano (I don't play, but that much I can fake).  They liked "Biddy Biddy" much better, as it is a sounds song! We broke out the egg shakers and sang to the song with Jamaican roots.  We took the book's suggestion and made up our own sounds, too.  

We completed three more weeks worth of songs, and I have to say that my twins really had fun.  They got to hear some fun songs they had never heard before, play with rhythm instruments I had bought but never used, and attempt to sing in parts.  We spent about 20 minutes per lesson.  

Although I really think this is a great program, it confirms one thing: I am not a music-teaching kind of girl.  If I had had this program when my kids were younger, I definitely think we would have worked through the whole thing.  I would have had four preschooler/early schoolers, and it would have made sense.  I just think that my twins are at the upper ages of its use right now, and it doesn't quite fit in to our classically oriented school. However, I really like Music Together.  I like it so much that I am going to give it to my almost 3 year-old niece.  Her mother (my sister) is a children's librarian, and this seems perfect for her to use at home with her daughter.  That actually raises another really good point about Music Together: it is great just for home use -not just for homeschool use.  If there are any small children in your life who love music, love to dance, and love rhythm instruments, they would probably love this program.

The songbook/CD combo set that I received is priced at $39.95 (a $5 savings over buying the two products separately).  Additionally, by entering the coupon code "Schoolhouse" at checkout, you can save an additional $2! If you've been wondering how to make music part of your homeschool curriculum, you don't have to wonder any longer.  My kids really enjoyed Music Together.  To see how other Crew families liked it, be sure to read the Crew blog!

Disclaimer: I received this product free as part of my participation in the Review Crew in exchange for my honest opinion.  I received no other compensation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Character Education

There are things that moms don't like to admit, and I've always vowed that I will be a real mom, so I'm here to admit one of them: I don't like what I see in my eldest daughter's character right now.  Don't get me wrong: she is a very good child.  She is kind and compassionate and honest.  She is hardworking and someone I'm very proud of.  Outside of our house.  That's the kicker.  She is the perfect child outside of our home.  Inside it? Not so much.  I'd love to fall back on the "It's good that she's so comfortable that she can be herself at home" adage, but that's not the herself I want her to be! I want my children to treat the most important people in their lives as if they were the most important people in their lives!

My husband doesn't treat anyone better than he treats me.  I don't treat anyone better than I treat him.  I know it's hard with siblings...I have five of them.  I remember loathing my sister with everything I had in me.

Who could loathe that face (she's on the left)? Now I really hate the way we were as teens especially.  I don't want that for my daughters.  I don't want them to be in their 30s before they have what I have with my sister.  It helps that they're not in school, but it's not enough! Enter PACE.  I bought this book a couple of years ago (because when did I ever see a piece of curriculum I liked that I didn't buy?), and I am working it in now.  It is easy to use, but focused strongly on character.  It uses resources we already have (yay Book of Virtues! Yay Bill Bennett! Did you know he was Catholic?).  No excuses.

PACE focuses on one virtue or character trait at a time and there's no order that you necessarily have to follow. I think I'm going to begin with charity. We need some good old fashioned charity around here...I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Language Study in Our School

Wow.  I totally realized something today.  I started to write a blog post about where our school year is taking us (because it is taking us in directions that I never could have predicted), but when I began just with languages, something became immediately clear: we really love Classical Academic Press.  Now, I know I have a blog failing, and that is tending only to blog reviews.  That's not because I don't blog or write anywhere else.  I am the editor of the sons channel at BellaOnline, and I blog there weekly (as well as, futilely, try to get people to talk in the forum on sons that I moderate).  I also write in excess of 30 copyblogging articles per week, plus I create educational material for edHelper on a monthly basis.

Now, having said all that, writing reviews is my favorite writing "job." It's the only one I don't consider a job (and, no, it's not my only volunteer position; I actually never count it among my volunteer writing jobs at all.). Still, given that the people who read this blog are the readers I care about most (please don't tell the owner of Bella!), I need to write more here.  Plus, it really helps me keep straight what I'm doing at school! /justification

In any case, languages.  Modern languages = eh.  Ancient languages = Euge! Still, because we live in SE Texas, and because my husband's parents are from Cuba, Spanish definitely has a place in our home, too.  Here, we start with Latin, though.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about our Cardinal Newman experience. I can't revisit that now. Suffice it to say that that was the first time I heard about teaching little kids Latin.  I have to thank JA for that. So Therese has had Latin in some form or fashion since K.  We have moved through a few programs, but she has really thrived on Classical Academic Press (which I never would have tried without the Crew!).  I think she should be in Latin Alive! However, she feels more comfortable in Latin for Children B.  I have chosen not to fight this, as long as she continues to love Latin.

I've done something I kind of said I would never do (ahem!), and I've pulled Nicky off of Latin for a few months o wait for the twins to catch up.  He has been doing Memoria Press.  He was at First Form Latin and loving it (the structure of Latin *really* works for him), but when we reviewed CAP and received the DVDS, I realized how good the chanting would be with students who would do it (Therese, alas, would not. She wouldn't sing with Dora when she was little either).  The 3 younger kids will chant together, and that will really improve their Latin experience, so N with restart Latin with the twins in a couple of months when they finish Song School Latin.  I'm not convinced they are actually learning anything beyond rudimentary vocab with SSL, but they love it.  

What has really surprised me is how much Therese loves Greek.  She will spend hours at a time working on Greek, and I am thrilled with CAP's program.  She spent a year working with the alphabet with another program, but then we switched over (I'm actually wondering if I have an academic crush on Dr. Perrin) to CAP.  I'll confess that my curriculum ADD has kicked in and both T and I have looked at this program.  Proof that I have a problem, because I really do love CAP.  In fact, we'll round out our language study by adding Spanish for Children.  I didn't want to until they had added Primer B, which I see they have.  Therese will be delighted.  I will be wondering how we'll have time to do anything but language. up: what we're doing for religion this year.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review of Marshall Publishing's The History of America in the 1880s

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history.  One of my undergraduate degrees is in history, and it is the one subject in school I could teach all day long (and not get much fussing from my kids!).  I was really excited, then, to receive this DVD, America in the 1880s, to review.  Marshall Publishing has tons of great DVDs for kids, and I'm sure they're all amazing, but I'm a huge fan of this one. In fact, if Marshall had one for every decade of American history, I would likely buy them all.   

What's so great about this DVD? It's not high definition.  It's not full of fancy special effects.  It's not narrated by Morgan Freeman (Seriously.  Is anything not narrated by Morgan Freeman these days?). What it is is chock full of images of life in America in the penultimate decade of the 19th century.  My kids have read the Little House books.  Now they have seen images of what life was like in other parts of the country at the same time.  The difference between the rural and sparsely settled West and the teeming East is starkly apparent.  The majesty of the railroads is on full display.

The neatest part of watching my kids watch this DVD was seeing their realization that they already knew so much of what was on the DVD.  The narrow gauge railroads of the mountains? They've ridden on one! The majesty of Pike's Peak? They've ridden on the cog railway! The silver miners and the story of Baby Doe Tabor? They've toured a silver mine and know the story of Baby Doe! Was all of that the 1880s? At the same time as Laura Ingalls? Watching those connections get made is one of the joys of homeschooling.

When the DVD turned to parts of the country with which my children were less familiar, like New York and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, they were even more rapt.  They seized on names they knew (the narrator mentioned James Garfield, and my 7year-old said, "President James A. Garfield?"), and asked when we would study things like women's suffrage.  In this way, the DVD was both a recap of things they had studied and a preview of goodness yet to come.

My whole family loved this DVD.  The male narrator has a pleasant voice. He sounds like someone you would expect to narrate a school film, if that makes sense. The DVD is filled with both black and white stills of the era and colored modern films that are relevant (images of buffalo herds, for example).  This is a DVD that celebrates a very important, but little studied era in American history.  Names you have heard but probably not associated specifically with the 1880s populate the DVD (Sarah Bernhardt, Mark Twain, John Philip Sousa, Lillian Russell).  Events you studied in school as isolated are placed in context (the Johnstown Flood, the gunfight at the OK Corral).  For only being an hour long, the DVD is quite an education.

America in the 1880s normally costs $24.95, but is on sale right now for $19.95.  Even better, with coupon code TOS27 you can get free shipping, saving $6.95.  For most homeschooling families, $19.95 is a lot of money, but I honestly think this DVD is worth it.  Recommended for 4th grade through adult (although really appropriate for anyone), Marshall has a study guide on its website which can act as a jumping off point for any number of school ideas from geography to unit studies.  I have many new ideas that would use the DVD as a starting point, and my kids are now really excited about this decade!

As I said, Marshall has many other great DVDs, and the Crew got a peek at a bunch of them, so be sure to check out the Crew blog to see even more great Marshall products.


Disclaimer: I received Marshall Publishing's America in the 1880s free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation, apart from a very pleasant hour and the happy prospect of another viewing soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review of Math 911

Through the Review Crew, I received Math911 to try with my eldest daughter.  Although it took a little getting used to, I have become amazed at everything one receives with this really cool program!  Professor Weissman has been teaching math longer than I've been alive (for 50 years!).  That's an indication of a guy who likes math, and I've found that the best math teachers are the ones who like math.  That's why I'm not such a good math teacher! Professor Weissman's proof is in the pudding, though: his kids are math teachers, too.

Math911 may not look like math programs with which you are familiar.  It has a pretty bare bones feel to it. It does not have a games-like interface.  Professor Weissman is not interested in capturing your math student's fancy; rather, he is interested in seeing your Introductory Algebra through Pre-Calculus student achieve math mastery.  Missed problems are not marked "wrong." Instead, more problems are generated until your student can demonstrate that he understands the concept in question.

There is no textbook that accompanies Math911, but because each answer is explained step-by-step, it could be used as a complete curriculum, depending on how your student learns.  Although I used Math911 Introductory Algebra with my 11 year-old daughter (and she liked it), I am really looking forward to using it with my son: he will LOVE it.  Why? He is the kind of (gifted) kid who doesn't want his time wasted.  He wants to get it, get it done, and get on with his life.  He wants to prove that he knows a concept and then not spend any extra time on it.  Professor Weissman's program is *ideal* for this kind of student.  Also, because the problem is given first (with the step-by-step, very detailed solution only provided on request), if your child can demonstrate that he understands the problem (and there are those math-gifted kids that seem to get things intuitively), then he can move on without getting bored or bogged down.

However, and this is how we actually did use Math911 for my daughter, the solutions that Professor Weissman provides are so thorough that I never would have been able to predict that one *could* create such solutions.  An example: for positive and negative integers, the problem was given 5-2.  How could step-by-step instructions be given for such an easy problem? Prof. Weissman turns this problem into a word problem dealing with gaining 5 and then losing two pounds.  This is just an example, but it goes to show that if Prof. Weissman is this thorough for such an easy problem, you can only imagine how thorough he is for a harder one!  

Although I foresee using this as a complete curriculum for my son next year, we used it as a supplementary curriculum for my daughter (and will continue to do so). Because you can choose to work on any topic within any math level (Intro Algebra through Pre-Cal), you really can practice mastery of the topics giving you the most trouble in math.  It's like having a math tutor!

Not only is Math911 an amazingly complete curriculum, the customer service and the price are amazing.  Several Crew members had questions which Prof. Weissman answered immediately and thoroughly (and patiently!).  Further, you don't have to pay anything to see if you like Math911.  Instead, visit the site to download a full working version of Introductory Algebra - it's like a Pre-Algebra/Algebra I (depending on what curriculum you've been using) course free!  

For $49.95, you can upgrade to the full version, which includes full technical support, lifetime updates, and access to all of the additional courses (through Pre-Calculus) for all family members, even Mom and Dad!It's really an amazing deal.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more amazing I realize it is.  

Nota Bene: I will be perfectly candid and tell you that I find this website confusing.  There are two things I know for sure, though.  The price of $49.95 will get you access to all of the math programs: Intro Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics, and the technical support is first class.  Hence, if you are unsure about how to purchase, please email Professor Weissman!You won't regret this purchase.  This is one program I would buy again and again.

Disclaimer: I received Math 911 free in exchange for my oh-so-honest review.  I received no other compensation, apart from help teaching my kids math -- and *that* I desperately need!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Everyday Homemaking's The Everyday Family Chore System

The Everyday Family Chore System from Everyday Homemaking is a 91 page eBook that is simply chock full of great information.  Although author Vicki Bentley emphasizes that this is not a child training/discipline book, there are many wonderful parenting ideas contained within it.

The book is divided up as follows:
  • Part One: Laying a Foundation
  • Part Two: Implementing the Plan
  • Part Three: The Actual Chore System
  • Suggested Resources
Unlike some chore system books that immediately jump into the specifics of allocating and enforcing chores, this book begins by explaining that child training is the first step to successful home management.  This lesson is one that I know intuitively (and that my husband reminds me of frequently), but it is so easy to forget that it actually takes planning and work.  Doing the groundwork of training children will make home management easier.  In fact, if you have children and don't train them properly, you can pretty much kiss home management goodbye.  I should know.  I feel like I am running to catch up!  

I love how the author handles this first section.  Her four basic principles for training children make so much sense and resonate with me deeply.  They acknowledge a parent's need to discipline while keeping at the forefront the entire point of discipline and behavior correction.  After reading Part One, I was ready to do anything she said to get my children to do chores!

The meat of Part Two is a group of checklists for what children of various ages ought to be able to do in order to provide parents with realistic ideas of what chores are reasonable for each of their children.  The author also shows what a sample chore chart might look like in her house.  She urges parents to consider the different learning styles of their children and to adapt a chore system to play to their strengths.

Part Two also contains "how-tos" of cleaning: when is something considered clean, what does a clean room look like, in what order should things be cleaned, etc.  About halfway through the book, Part Two ends with a review of everything that has been said thus far.

Part Three is the actual system itself.  Comprised of chore cards to print on cardstock (and I laminated ours) and to use in any of the various ways described in Part Two, Part Three offers both printed and blank cards.  Permission is granted to print them for only one family.

I have used a bunch of different chore systems, usually only for a week or so.  The fact is that I have "system ADD." I find a system, I love it, we use it, I get bored with it.  (It goes hand in hand with my curriculum ADD.)  That has not happened with this system, and I think the reason is that the author provides so many different ideas for how to implement the system.  So far, we have been using a job jar approach, which is one that I grew up with.  I put all of the jobs for the day in a jar and the kids each draw one.  In order to make sure that one kid doesn't get all of the most hated jobs, I put the jobs in in groups: first go in the one round of disliked jobs all by themselves.  The rest follow after each kid gets one disliked job.  

Just this week I began instituting a zone cleaning system (first described by Flylady, but described in this particular context by the author of this book).  I am excited to see how that goes, and the kids are excited to keep cleaning because I am changing things up a little bit! There are still plenty of ideas listed in this book that I haven't used yet, and I plan to use them all (glad I laminated those cards)!

I have to admit that I don't like cleaning.  I'm not good at it.  There is always something else I would rather be doing.  I don't want my children to grow up that way, though.  That's the primary reason I am so grateful for this system.  It has given me realistic ideas of what chores each of my kids can do and ideas of how to get and keep them on track.  This is one system I will keep using!

You can see samples of The Everyday Family Chore System, and I encourage you to do so because you can see the nifty chore cards I have fallen in love with.  The ebook is available for $17.99, and the coil-bound book is $19.99.  Be sure to read the other awesome reviews of The Everyday Homemaking products at the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received this eBook free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation.