Monday, April 29, 2013

A Plea for the Classics

I've ranted blogged about this before, but it so bears repeating! Kids don't need dumbed down classics! Don't feed them baby food when they are capable of digesting big kid food! Take The Count of Monte Cristo - my kids are.  Sometimes it feels like cheating even to call this book a classic.  Yes, it has what today would be considered elevated vocabulary, but it's nothing you can't deal with (the French names and places will do you in long before the vocab will!).  Either figure it out by context or read with a dictionary (assuming you can't just tell your kids what the words mean yourself).  The themes in this book are things that resonate with all of us, but trust me when I say - kids love them! They can't get enough.  There is a reason that this book is billed as the ultimate revenge story.  It is that, but it is so much more.  If you require that everything you or your kids read has a moral to the story (I don't), you'll find many here.  You can talk this one to death if you want to - but you don't have to! If you want to make it about school, situate it in history and talk about Napolean.  You can justify it academically, believe me.  But, again, you don't have to.  My 8 year-olds don't know a whole lot about Napolean (like, nothing), but they beg me for just one more chapter when we are reading this book.  All of my kids beg me for just one more chapter.

Resist the urge for an abridged version.  You can't abridge this story. It's all important.  Is it long? Yes.  My Kindle informs me that it will take me about 38 hours to read to my kids.  So what? That's just about six weeks.  We're going to be reading something - why not this? And guess what? Monte Cristo is a book you can read over and over again.  It doesn't get old.  In fact, there are scenes that I read over and over again.  It's like The Myth of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.  You don't have to read the whole book to pick up it up in the middle and read one part.  (If you have not read that book, stop reading this post and go read that book. Now.) Read The Grand Inquisitor part many times.  I have become very disillusioned with my undergraduate professor who made me fall in love with political theory and inspired/consigned me to a PhD in Political Science (long, sad story), but I will always love him for introducing me to the Russians.

I have gone far afield.  See what wonderful things happen when you make the classics your friends? Introduce your kids to these friends early.  Don't worry that they won't understand every part.  It doesn't matter.  They'll understand something far more important: these books are not intimidating.  They are not out of reach.  They are friends to be revisited many times with new things to be learned from them each time.  If you are worried about a particular word or scene, edit it as you read.  They will never know! Well, okay, your 10 year-old may not be read for Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but there are plenty that she is ready for. Rediscover some old friends for yourself or, better yet, make some new ones with your kids.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Regina Caeli

To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, if you had a good friend and you ignored his mother, would he not be offended? Do we not then owe veneration to the mother of our very dearest friend?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review of Math Rider

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Math facts are the bane of just about every kid's existence at one point or another.  Whether it is doubles facts in kindergarten or multiplication facts in third grade, at one time or another, all kids have to bite the bullet and do some memorizing.  Back in the day, the only way to do that was either to break out the flash cards or sit down with a parent, neither of which was terribly appealing.  Now, however, there is a great program called Math Rider.

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More than just a math facts memorization program, Math Rider truly is like a game.  (In fact, it is so much like a game that when my son lost his computer game privileges for a week, it took some serious discussion between my husband and me to resolve whether Math Rider counted as school or games!).  Players embark on quests through the Mathlands, solving math facts along the way.  You (the parent) are able to set the quest for different levels of difficulty in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  As your child comes to a fact, it is stated out loud and presented visually (very important in terms of appealing to different types of learners).  If your child gets the answer wrong, the ride temporarily stops as the right answer is given.  The same fact will be presented again two or three facts down the ride.  The game adapts continually to your child's level of learning.  It is not just a series of canned and repeated facts.  

Because Math Rider includes quests for all types of arithmetic facts from addition through division, it is a tool that grows with your children, and from personal experience, I can tell you that they don't tire of it quickly.  Riding Shadow, the horse that takes them through the Mathlands, never seems to get old!

Math Rider and My Munchkins

The day we received Math Rider was not pretty in my house.  There were fights.  There were arguments.  Everyone wanted to do math.  Even my eldest daughter who, at 11, knows all of her facts in all categories, wanted her chance to ride Shadow.  Finally, we were able to settle on an order for using Math Rider and everyone was, if not happy about it, at least satisfied.  I let the kids decide what level to set their quests at.  Nicholas (9) worked on his division facts at the medium level of difficulty and both twins (8) worked on their multiplication facts at the highest level of difficulty. At first the twins were frustrated because they couldn't get the program to recognize their entries when they typed in an answer to a problem, but we quickly figured out that they were not pressing the "enter" key hard enough. Problem solved.  

From the start of the review period to this very day, the twins have used Math Rider at least three times a week for about 15 minutes each day.  Nicholas has used it almost every day for up to 45 minutes a day.  For him, it is not as much about mastering the facts anymore.  It is about seeing how fast he can type them in.  I think he wonders if he can make Shadow trip on a fence or something like that if he types fast enough.  Regardless, I am hardly going to tell him that he can't keep going back over things he knows.  I have noticed that he knows his multiplication facts *cold*.  He knew them pretty well before Math Rider, but he doesn't even think about them now.  The twins have also really improved on their multiplication facts.  They all know that Math Rider is school-ish, but we don't use school time to do it, and it is fun, so it doesn't feel onerous in any way.  It is a completely painless, but 100% effective, way to learn facts.

The Nitty-Gritty

Math Rider is available as an instant download for $47.  The price includes lifetime updates.  You can try the full-featured program free for one week to see if it works for your children.  System requirements can be viewed on Math Rider's webpage. 

Our family loves Math Rider.  I wish I had known about it 3 years ago when my then 5 year-old used to freak out about the simplest addition facts.  I would not have hesitated to buy it.  What a worthwhile investment! To see how other Crew families have used Math Rider, read the other reviews!

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Review of Progeny Press' Beowulf Literature Guide

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I have used Progeny Press study guides before, but Therese never liked them much, probably because I made her do high school study guides when she was 7.  Okay, so sometimes I push a little too hard.  Just because you can read the book doesn't mean you can do the study guide! Also, the study guides I asked her to do required her to write. A lot.  We had not yet discovered Progeny Press' new interactive study guides - all you have to do is type into the PDF on the computer and then save it.  There is no handwriting at all! These study guides were made for the reluctant writer or the gifted kid whose reading ability is way beyond her ability to write for hours on end (which Therese isn't now, but was then).  I was so excited to try the interactive Beowulf Study Guide from  Progeny Press!

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I read Beowulf in both high school and college, but Therese never had, so I wanted her to have the real Beowulf experience.  I wanted her to thrill to Hrothgar and Grendel without my inept interpretations getting in the way.  I was very excited to discover that one of my go-to homeschooling resources, Audible, had Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf read by one of my favorite narrators.  So Therese could have Beowulf read to her by a master and then be guided through its nuances by the experts at Progeny Press.  By the time we received the study guide, we had already listened to the epic poem together for the first time (which is Progeny Press' suggestion - a preliminary read through prior to beginning the study guide).

I could go on forever about the joys of the Heaney translation.  Heaney respects previous translations while making the poem new again.  All I will say is kudos to Progeny Press for this excellent choice.  I would have wept if they had chosen to recommend a prose translation.  If you care about things like translations, the one a person or company chooses to recommend says much about them.  Progeny Press is a company that knows its literature (says the girl with the Great Books minor).

What Does a Progeny Press Study Guide Look Like?

Progeny Press study guides are available as downloads, printed booklets, or CDs.  For Beowulf, a 62 page study guide for grades 10-12, the prices for each of the above, respectively, are $18.99, $18.99, and $21.99.  

The study guide is broken into seven sections (what would ordinarily be chapters, but as this is an epic poem, they are divided by sections of lines), each of which follows the same format:
  • Vocabulary
  • Literary Techniques
  • Comprehension/recall questions
  • Analysis
  • Dig Deeper - Biblical comparisons and analysis
  • Optional Activities

The exercises are preceded by background and biographical information, situating the poem both in history and in the literary tradition. Pre-reading activities are also included, some of which we did before we even received the study guide! We listened to Beowulf in old English and listened to Hanson's The Lament for Beowulf.  Great minds think alike, Progeny Press! An answer key follows the main portion of the study guide.

Our Experience with Progeny Press

11 year-old Therese now loves Progeny Press guides.  I'm so glad that we got the chance to review this one! As I said, we listened to an audio version of Beowulf prior to receiving the study guide.  Once we got the downloadable, interactive PDF and read the background material, Therese began working her way through the study guide.  Because Beowulf is much shorter than an average novel, Therese did not go back and re-listen to each section prior to completing the guide.  Rather, she worked straight through it.  Progeny Press suggests working one page of their guides each day, but that pace is very slow for Therese.  For one thing, there was only one vocabulary word in the guide whose meaning she did not know, meaning that those sections went by very quickly.  It is expected that the average high school student can complete four guides per year, earning 1 Literature credit.  I would expect Therese to be able to complete at least twice that.  She is a very fast reader, though, and has exceptional comprehension and writing skills.

One thing that we did not do with the guide was the Dig Deeper section.  I am definitely not a secular homeschooler, but I do not incorporate Bible work into other subjects.  Our Catholicism permeates our home life and is present in every aspect of our day, but, to me, Bible studies are not relevant to a study of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry.  Instead, were I to bring in religious studies, we would talk about the Catholic saints of this time period and how Catholicism was brought to Anglo-Saxon Briton.  However, for Protestant homeschoolers and others who feel strongly about incorporating Bible studies into the majority of their homeschooling, Progeny Press study guides fit the bill brilliantly.  They are rigorous and scholarly, but still thoroughly Christian.

In Summation:

We love these study guides, and with over 100 from which to choose, it is highly likely that you will find one to suit your family's literature needs.  From elementary through high school, Progeny Press has study guides for many of the most popular works of literature on most curriculum lists.  To read about some of their most popular guides and how the Crew used them, make sure to read the other reviews.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review of Sacagawea e-book from Knowledge Quest

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Knowledge Quest has created so many great products for homeschoolers that it would take a long time to list all of them.  In fact, if I scanned my hard drive, I would probably see most of them.

Sacagawea (Brave Explorers Every Child Should Know) Complete PDF e-book (for kids 10+) is a downloadable pdf that was originally written as four installments, but is now available as one complete e-book for $4.97. The book is different from the typical presentation of the Lewis and Clark/Sacagawea story in how it is told.  Rather than being presented as a narrative in real time, author Karla Atkins has Sacagawea tell the Lewis and Clark story to her son, Pompey.  Previously, any time my children and I have read about Sacagawea, Pompey has been little more than a footnote, albeit a fascinating one.  Here, Pompey becomes one of the main characters - indeed, he becomes the focus of the story.  Like us, he listens, fascinated, to a story that we know well, but not quite from this vantage point.

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The point-of-view from which this story is told is not the only thing unique about it.  Due to its electronic nature, the author has been able to include hundreds of hyperlinks throughout the text.  The number of links make this book complete enough to be an entire unit study.  For instance, some links are merely to pictures (very helpful when your 8 year-old wants to know what Sacagawea's basket would have looked like - this is the child who wants a container for everything!), but many links are to websites with reams of information of their own.  If you've always heard the term "Corps of Discovery" but never wanted to admit that you just weren't sure what it meant, you will know everything after reading this book and using the links.  Alternatively, of course, you can read this book just like a story.  It works perfectly on that level, too.  In this flexibility, Sacagawea bears the hallmark of my number one priority for good homeschool material: adaptability.  You really can take this 100 page e-book and make it your own.  For the price, it's a great deal no matter how you choose to use it.  Whether you have studied Sacagawea before, as we have, or not, reading this book feels like spending time with an old friend.

How We Used Sacagawea

Because we studied this part of American history intensively last year, I did not use this e-book as a unit study, although I don't rule out the possibility of returning to it in the future. Instead, over the course of two days, I read it to all four of my children (11, 9, 8, and 8) as a non-school read aloud (just as pleasure reading).  When we came to something we needed to clarify, we clicked on the link to see the picture, definition, or further explanation.  I am very used to using the Internet to clarify something we are reading, but it was a new and wonderful experience to have the link right there waiting for me! I really think this is the future of all books, particularly academic ones.

What We Thought

Knowledge Quest is responsible for some of the best living books that we have read in the past, so it was no surprise to find that this one ranked right up there with them.  There is so much material in this book that just doesn't seem academic -- but it is! This really is learning the way it should be.  After spending time with this book, your children will be able to see, hear, and feel this time period and the people who inhabited it.                                                                                                        

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review of Supercharged Science

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Supercharged Science's e-Science program is one of those gold standards that homeschoolers simply drool over.  You find it early on when you start homeschooling, balk at the price (more on that later), but find yourself coming back to it over and over again.  If you're smart, you tune into Aurora Lipper's frequent free teleclasses and realize that, for this curriculum, that higher-than-average price just might be well worth it.  Not to reveal the final opinion at the beginning of the review, but not only is the price worth it - it's a bargain.

e-Science is the brainchild of a genius - no, the founder really is.  Aurora Lipper is one of the youngest engineering instructors at Cal Poly State *ever*.  She is also a real life rocket scientist.  Does saying that ever get old? In spite of those credentials (haha), Aurora is the most engaging and entertaining teacher I have ever seen.  I am one of those non-science people.  I don't really like it.  I definitely don't like teaching it.  Aurora changes that for me.  Because of her I don't have to teach it.  Because of her I like it.  She doesn't just make it fun - she makes it comprehensible which, to be honest, is way more important for me.  Would e-Science be e-Science without Aurora Lipper? Maybe - she and her husband, Al, have set up an amazing program that is so thorough and well-organized that it could definitely be successful if they retired tomorrow.  But the program has Aurora's mark all over it.  She comments on all of the students' postings.  Her enthusiasm jumps off every page. She *is* e-Science.  When you buy e-Science, you get to participate in Aurora's love of science for a little while - and that gift is, for you and your children, priceless.

Purely Practical: What is e-Science?

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e-Science is a group of 19 thematic units (plus Unit 0 - an overview unit), with unit 20 (Earth Science - yay!) on the way.  When you subscribe to the website, you immediately gain access to the first 7 units.  You then get access to another 2 units each month.  If, however, you see a unit further down the list that you would really like to have access to, an email to customer service is all it takes to get it unlocked early.

Each unit contains between 60-80 experiments.  The units can be navigated via the sidebar to the right, as seen below.

Each unit starts with a video introducing what will be studied - an overview presented by Aurora herself.  The overview serves to whet the appetite.  At this point, you have a lot of choices.  You can take the traditional approach and do the reading.  You can jump right into the experiments and do them.  You can read through the experiment explanations and watch Aurora do them prior to doing them yourself.  You can do any combination of these things.  The program is 100% customizable, even down to how much time you spend on any one unit.  You can cover the material lightly, choosing only a couple of experiments and eschewing much of the reading, in which case you can spend about a week per unit.  I would not recommend this approach! Why would you spend the money for this amazing curriculum and for Aurora's talent and expertise and then not marinate in all she has to offer? Still, the program's flexibility is one of its attractions.

Doing all of the reading and all of the experiments can easily result in each unit's taking much longer.  For high school, the level our review period focused on, the units can last a month or more.  Each unit culminates in a quiz -- with answers provided! The best way to experience e-Science is to try it, which you can do here.  I'm warning you, though, you're going to love it!

It is true that sometimes the high school level material can be difficult to find, but Aurora is actually working to make it easier for her customers (see the grade levels page under construction), and the fact is that most of the material can easily be used in conjunction with a high school program because it is so in-depth and hands-on.  If you simply search the website for grades 9-12, you'll find tons of material designed just for these grades.  When Aurora has material for high school students, she also includes high school textbook reading as well.  It may take some ingenuity on the part of the parent (but, come on - we homeschool! It's what we do!), but this program can absolutely work as a high school program.  Aurora will help you - customer service is one of her strongest attributes.

Therese and Chemistry

I have had a membership to e-Science before, and it broke my heart when I stopped subscribing.  I have already decided (spoiler alert!) that even when our generous subscription ends, I'll move heaven and Earth to keep my subscription active.  I'm selling my other science books (which I think are great, but they can't make my kids love science, and e-Science can) and letting Aurora make scientists out of my kids.

Because e-Science's high school content is marketed as being appropriate for gifted 5th-8th graders, I was anxious to see how it worked for Therese who, as a 6th grade aged 8th/9th grader, falls neatly into this category! After perusing the site a bit and talking with both Therese and her scientist father (a bio/chem guy),we decided to take the plunge and *do* chemistry.  First up was ordering supplies.

*Important Caveat*: e-Science itself does not have to be expensive.  At the younger grades especially, Aurora emphasizes using things you have around the house.  I also used e-Science with my three younger kids, and we worked through units 1 and 2 only spending a few dollars while doing tons of great experiments (we used ping pong balls, clay, balloons, Popsicle sticks, etc.  We only had to buy a small motor and propeller and a few other things).  

Since we were approaching this as a Chemistry course, though, we knew that there would be a cost to ordering supplies.  For each unit, a shopping list is provided.  For Unit 8 (Chemistry), part of the shopping list looks like this:  

For Grades 9-12:
Advanced Chemistry Kit All experiments in this
unit use chemicals from this kit.
OPTIONAL: Glassware Set If you don’t already
own glassware just for chemistry, we’ve found an
inexpensive set you can use all the way through
college. You’ll need to get denatured alcohol for the
burner. Note – if you’re going to continue onto to
Chemistry Part 2 in Unit 15, don’t get the optional
glassware and instead get the C3000 (see Unit 15
shop list).
Iodine Rainbow
Iodine (non-clear, non-ammonia)
Distilled white vinegar
Hydrogen peroxide (3% solution)
Turning Copper to Silver to Gold
Sodium Hydroxide
Zinc Powder
Table salt (a few tablespoons)
Vinegar (about a cup)
Pennies (minted after 1982)
Metal Tongs (these are not included in the optional
glassware set, so pick up a pair)
Beaker and Burner with Stand (both are included in
the glassware set mentioned above)

The two items in bold (my bolding added) were the big expenditures.  Since we plan to move to Advanced Chemistry (unit 15) when we are done with unit 8, I appreciated Aurora's "heads up" about getting the more expensive set now.  

After ordering, we only had to wait for the big box to arrive!

CHEM C3000 looked awesome.

After doing some background reading (I didn't make her do all of it!), Therese found the experiment that was the 9-12 alternative for the lower grades' first foray into acids and bases.  It's explained in the wonderful manual that came with CHEM C3000 (that's how I think of it - kind of like a robot or something).

First, Therese watched Aurora perform the experiment.

Then, she set about making her own Sodium Hydroxide (with appropriate parental supervision, of course!)

The first time she poured out the contents of the Erlenmeyer flask the paper funnel collapsed and the experiment was not successful.  On take 2, however, she had success! I will confess that it was hugely helpful having a bona fide scientist with us (the pater familias) who could explain everything that was happening, but he was absolutely not necessary (sorry, Honey!).  Aurora explained everything perfectly.

In addition to walking Therese through experiments step-by-step, Aurora has also walked her through setting up a scientific journal.  In fact, Aurora has dedicated an entire section of her website to the importance of the scientific journal.  I so appreciate this, as scientific record keeping is not something with which I can help Therese, but I know how important it is.

What We Think of e-Science

In case it's not obvious, we love this program.  My whole family, including that scientist husband, love it.  Aurora is magnificent.  The content is superb.  The science is fun! The children learn! They beg to do science! (I know people say things like that in reviews all the time, but it is really true.)  I am not going to let this program get away.  There is so much to it that you really need to invest the time in visiting the website and sampling what is there.  You'll fall in love with it.  When considering the price, keep in mind that it is a full science curriculum for your whole family with more hands-on experimentation than you could ever hope to get from any other program.  

So how much is it? For the K-8 portion of the site, the cost is $37/month.  For all content, K-12, the cost is $57/month.  There is never a commitment to stay and there is a 30 day money back guarantee.  Try it for a month and you will never want to leave!  How much is it worth to you to create a science-loving kid? Think scholarship opportunities, a trained and disciplined mind, and an intellectually curious child.  I'm convinced that e-Science can inculcate all of those in willing kids.  Aurora is offering an extra special sample for TOS readers right now, so be sure to check it out!

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Meeting People Where They Are

This is a theme that has been popping up in  my life all the time lately (thanks, Dad!), so I should not have been at all surprised when it popped up again in the Gospel on the Second Sunday of Easter.  Who doesn't love the story of Doubting Thomas? Good ol' Thomas.  First problem: he's not with the other disciples in the locked room.  Second problem: he's an empiricist - maybe a little short on faith.  Who doesn't sympathize with him from time to time? At the elevation of the Host at  every Mass, I touch my hand to my heart and silently say, "My Lord and my God, I believe; help my unbelief." I feel you, Thomas.

What Fr. Troy pointed out on Sunday that made this Gospel new again, though, was Jesus' reaction to Thomas.  Yes, I've read the story before.  I know how Jesus responded to Thomas.  It was very...Jesus-like.  Patient. Loving.  As Fr. Troy pointed out, Jesus did not berate Thomas, saying "What's wrong with you? I died for you, for Heaven's sake.  I rose from the dead.  When I was here, you saw the water I changed into wine.  You saw the loaves and the fishes multiplied.  What more do you need, you ungrateful wretch?" Rather, Fr. Troy said that Jesus met Thomas where he was.  Thomas wanted the physical proof, and so Jesus offered it to him.  What Fr. Troy pointed out (that I loved) is that the Gospel never says that Thomas actually took Jesus up on his offer.

So, meeting people where they are.  It's the new theme of my life.  Of course, the place where this really applies to me is in my home and with my son.  If I ever needed Jesus as a role model, that would be the place and time.  I honestly don't know how to do it.  Abrupt end to a blog post? Yes, but when you've been staring at the page for what seems like forever, what else is there to do? I honestly don't know how to do it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review of A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks

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If you homeschool, lapbooking is one of those things you have likely heard a lot about.  If you have homeschooled for a long time, you have probably tried lapbooking at one time or another.  You may fall into one of the diehard lapbook camps: love 'em or hate 'em.  If you fall into the latter category, you haven't tried the versatile products from A Journey Through Learning.

Through the Crew, we received four lapbooks for review, including Letters, Numbers, and Shapes (ages 3-5), Knights and Castles (grades 2-7), The Earth (grades 1-4), and Astronomy and Space (grades 2-7) .  My children looked at all the lapbooks and, after a heated debate, decided to complete Knights and Castles first (for the official review), to be followed later by Astronomy and Space.

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What is A Journey Through Learning Lapbook?

A lapbook is, essentially, a group of miniature booklets in various shapes and sizes affixed to, typically, file folders that have themselves been folded to create a larger, presentation-style, book.  Clear as mud? A Journey Through Learning has some fabulous video tutorials that you shouldn't miss!
They also have great "how-to" instructions explaining how their lapbooks are different, and why they truly are the easiest to use and the best on the market (and they are not wrong here).

If you have tried lapbooking before and have been frustrated by the myriad papers you have had to print, and then organize, and then cut out, and then fold, and then Google instructions on how to do the fancy fold correctly, and then thrown up your hands in frustration declaring that lapbooking was for crafty moms and that you were repurposing your file folders for, well, filing papers - A Journey Through Learning's lapbooks were made with you in mind.  They are not complicated.  They do not have fancy folds.  The template page (the minibook about which I just spoke) is immediately opposite the study guide page.  Thus, you and your child read about the relevant subject (i.e., How to Become a Knight), and then immediately complete the relevant minibook.  It's right there.  You don't have to hunt for it.  You don't have to look up what a five-star, matchbook, super-duper fan fold is (okay - I made that up - but, seriously, some of those folds in other lapbooks have given me some major headaches!).

The concise precision with which A Journey Through Learning's lapbooks are designed makes them so easy to complete that you will actually complete them! That's a pretty revolutionary concept for someone who has bought a TON of lapbooks and never actually completed one of them! 

Practically speaking, the Knights lapbook my children worked through came to us as a .pdf download of 51 pages, including study guide, templates, suggested further reading, and graphic organizers for the Knights study.  The text is black and white, but the templates have a moderate amount of color - nothing that would stress most home printers, though.

What the Munchkins Thought

First of all, my boys love learning about Knights and Castles.  They love it.  One of my sons loves cutting and gluing.  The other one loves cutting :-)  Neither one has ever really liked lapbooking before.  They have, however, really liked A Journey Through Learning's Binder Builders (my absolute favorite product involving anything remotely like cutting and pasting), so they were quite happy to delve into another A Journey Through Learning Product, even if it meant gluing something to a file folder (those bad associations really linger with some kids - I think maybe I even cried over a difficult fold at one time).

Happily, I think they have been healed.  One thing that I have let go of is the idea that lapbooks have to be works of art.  They don't.  They are a tool for learning - for demonstrating information that was learned.  Some kids show that by taking notes (my eldest daughter).  Some kids prefer to cut, paste, and write shorter bits of information (my youngest son).  A lapbook is a tool - not a reflection of my abilities as a homeschooling mom.  As I have let go of my expectations and my perfectionism, my kids have been able to enjoy this really neat method of documentation.  I can't say that I owe it all to AJTL, but I can say that they have really helped.  Here's why:

  1. They keep it simple.  I need simple.  My perfectionism goes CRAZY with anything that is not simple and that just ruins it for my kids.
  2. Their minibooks are in color, negating my obsession with printing each one in a different color that will complement its file folder (and none of my kids can have the same color combination).  *See #1
  3. There is a ton of information in the study guide, but not a ton of minibooks. That means that you are getting your money's worth in terms of curriculum, but you're not getting bogged down in the minutiae of the sheer work that can come with lapbooking.  It's really the best of both worlds!
So our lapbook started out looking like this:

And ended up looking like this:

I actually intended to use the lapbook as a major part of our history studies as we moved from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, but two things happened: first, we ended up taking more time on the Roman Empire than I planned (it's one of my favorite periods in history!), and second, Michael (8), who ended up being the one who just loved doing the lapbook, didn't want to stop to steep himself in the history.  Instead, he did the lapbook in a couple of days.  He read each page of the study guide and then did the minibook.  He kept running in to me saying, "I love this!" and "This is so much fun!" and "The instructions are great" and "I'm already on my third cutout thing!" and "There is only one thing I don't like about this - my back is hurting" (you can't make this stuff up).  Like I always say, what am I going to do? Tell him to stop? Tell him that we have to read a chapter on one topic before he can move on to another? That's not the way our homeschool rolls - er, learns!

Final Thoughts

All of my kids liked the Knights and Castles lapbook, but Michael LOVED it.  He can't wait to start  Astronomy and Space.  I love A Journey Through Learning for all of the reasons I already stated.  If my reasons aren't enough, the price sure ought to be.  The downloadable lapbook is available for $13.00.  You can view sample pages on the site.  The Crew reviewed all of the lapbooks listed above, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews.

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Review of Computer Science for Kids' Beginning Microsoft Small Basic

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I will confess that my attitude toward computer programming as a homeschool subject has always been, "Why?" Homeschool is for reading the classics, learning Latin, and becoming a great writer.  Computer programming is for...public schoolers.  Deep down, though, I know that learning how to program is not optional in today's world, so I was secretly very happy when I got the opportunity to review Beginning Microsoft Small Basic from Computer Science for Kids.  If I was secretly happy, my 11 year-old daughter was openly thrilled! I never knew her secret penchant for computers.
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What Beginning Microsoft Small Basic Is:

This one-semester curriculum is designed for junior high (10+) and older students and is self-paced and independently done (read: I don't need to be hanging over Therese's shoulder, which is awesome, as I'm off reading the classics and writing!).  Not surprisingly, the computer language taught is...Small Basic! Small Basic is a simplified version of the Basic programming language that many of us probably learned in high school. It's a perfect first programming language for kids to cut their teeth on.  In this course, students learn how to build simple Small Basic applications and then, in the culminating 11th (and last) chapter, they see how Small Basic compares with other programming languages by looking at some common computer games.

Each of the curriculum's 11 chapters (you can view the very detailed Table of Contents on the site) is designed to take between 3-6 hours and focuses on one particular aspect of programming in Small Basic.  For example, Lesson 4, which you can sample for free, introduces program design and input methods.  At this point, students have already learned about Small Basic, how to open, save, and run programs, and how to perform simple arithmetic calculations.  The next (and most exciting!) step is writing a simple program of their own.  As you read through the sample chapter, note how detailed the lesson is and how it assumes no prior knowledge.  This course truly is aimed at beginners, but it doesn't talk down to anyone, meaning that it is also perfect for adults.

How We Used and Liked Beginning Small Basic:

Therese (11) constantly surprises me.  She has loved this curriculum so much that right now we are in negotiations with each other for the second semester (we are getting it - the negotiations are over the physical book vs. the eBook).  In fact, she loved this curriculum so much that she is almost done with it.  It is a one-semester course.  We have had it for about six weeks.  That doesn't mean that it is easy or quick or not a good value for a one-semester course (it is actually an EXCELLENT value); what it means is that with the flexibility of homeschooling, Therese ended up completing a lesson every two days or so.  She didn't want to stop, and somehow, I just couldn't hear myself saying, "No, Therese! You may not continue your computer programming course after dinner! Come watch television with the family!"

Although each lesson is supposed to take 3-6 hours, I would guess that Therese only took 1-1.5 hours per lesson.  She doesn't have previous programming experience, but she is ridiculously bright (I hate saying that because it sounds like I'm bragging, but it makes a huge difference in how fast she goes through coursework).  I'm sure it also helps that she has basically treated this far more like a core course than an elective, meaning that she has been doing it non-stop.  She finishes a lesson and then plays around with what she learned for a little while, and then moves immediately to another lesson. I don't do formal lesson plans for anything for her - she really does set her own pace, and she set a fast one for this course.  In the picture above, we are at Tae Kwon Do.  She didn't want to stop working (even though it was 7 p.m. and I in no way encouraged her), so she just trucked the laptop to her brothers' lessons.  She didn't know I was taking a picture with my phone, which is why she looks so serious.  Programming is serious business!

In essence, Therese (and, hence, I) loved this course.  Computer programming is DEFINITELY one of those courses that would have fallen by the wayside if I had been left to my own devices, and that would have been to the detriment of my children.  I am so grateful that this curriculum exists! It is extremely cost-effective at $59.95 for the downloadable eBook (but only $34.95 until 7/4/13!) which is over 500 pages.  There is a second semester available for the same price, and I am definitely grabbing it while it is on sale.  If your child is in high school and needs a computer course for his transcript, I wouldn't even think twice before buying this one.  If you just haven't really thought about a computer course, but realize now (ahem, I'm talking to you, Laura) that your kids need one, this is the one! Best of all, if you require all of your courses to have a Christian flavor, Computer Science for Kids has you covered! Click the banner below to see other Crew reviews of a course nearly identical to this one, but completely Christian in content (N.B., the course I reviewed is not anti-Christian, but only secular)!

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Beautiful Old Prayer

Infant Jesus
meek and mild.
Look on me,
a little child.

Pity me
and pity mine,
and suffer me
to come to thee.