Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review of Doorposts Bible Study - Beauty in the Heart

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I have two confessions to make right off the bat: I had never heard of Doorposts prior to this review, and I grew up not really knowing what a Bible study was. Of course I read the Bible. I certainly delved deeply into the Bible when I got to college. I have a minor in Theology! Now of course, I have found that there is a very wide variety of Bible studies out there - some I wouldn't hesitate to have my daughter do, and some I would definitely shy away from as being way too, well, Protestant. Before I go any further, let me say that Beauty in the Heart does not fall into this category!

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So what would make a Bible study too Protestant for me? One that would encourage Therese to read the Bible and then figure out for herself what it is telling her. One that would have her read a passage and interpret it for herself apart from any authority or tradition. Beauty in the Heart does not do that at all, though. Instead, through a series of nine separate studies, it teaches the user (Therese) primarily to observe themes in Scripture, summarize the content of passages, recognize the importance of repeated words, and study the original Greek and Hebrew words and their meanings (something I became a huge fan of in college when I really became aware of the importance of doing so). Of course, all of these tools are employed in the course of learning what the Bible has to say about understanding what it is to be beautiful in the eyes of God.

These Bible studies are able to be done by girls 10-12 and older completely independently, which I love. When we received ours in the mail, I literally flipped through it (but I'd already looked at the samples online and loved what I'd seen) and handed it to Therese (12). She came to me the next day to tell me she needed our Bible Maps book, but apart from that I didn't hear from her on the subject of Beauty in the Heart until she had completed the first study (six school days later). She told me that the study had taken her about 20 minutes each day (she keeps a log of how long she spends on each subject), and she *really* enjoyed doing it. As I read over her answers, I was very pleased with them! We were both very happy with the information provided about an electronic version of the Bible that could be highlighted in different colors, since neither one of us can bring ourselves to write in a Bible!

Therese started the next study right away, and as it focuses specifically on only two verses (1 Peter 3:3-4), she already has these verses memorized (which, I'll confess, I love). Like the first study, Study 2 has some amazing program and app suggestions embedded in it. I thought I was the guru when it came to knowing all of the great apps out there, but I have learned about several from this Bible study, which is a huge bonus for me!

Unfortunately, one of the websites offered in the second study has very anti-Catholic rhetoric on it - information that is not only hurtful, but flat-out untrue. I mention this fact only because, although we have not yet finished this entire book of Bible studies, we have encountered nothing yet that makes them Catholic-unfriendly. It is a shame, then, that a source recommended might make Catholics shy away.

Therese is now working through Study 3 - "Beauty Trusting God - A Character Study of Sarah." Because we have spent so much time studying the book of Genesis, most recently over the summer, she is moving very quickly. I'm doing this one with her, just because the issue of Hagar is one that I think requires a little discussion.

The Nitty Gritty

Beauty in the Heart - A Study of Godly Beauty for Young Women by Pam Forster, 128 pages (86 days of study, plus 49 more suggested studies - more than a year of Bible study)
Ages 12+
$14.00 or $10.00 ebook
Beauty in the Heart Sample Pages

My Catholic Take

Hmmm. This is hard. Essentially, I do recommend Beauty in the Heart. Especially for the ebook, it's a great price. I guess perhaps I don't look at Bible studies like these as perhaps they were intended? I'm not sure how they are supposed to be taken. When it comes to interpreting the Bible, making connections between the Old Testament and the New, deciding what it means in my life so that I can pass it on to my children, etc., I consider myself tremendously blessed to have 2,000 years of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the Magesterium, to guide me. I look to great Catholic Biblical scholars like Jimmy Akin (who started out life as a Protestant and went to Bible college!) to clarify Scripture. So I would never approach a Bible study (or let my children approach one) with the idea that I was going to learn what the Bible had to *tell* me. Having said that, I have recently been exposed to some great Bible studies that have shown me what is *in* the Bible in a way I have not seen before. Maybe it's because when I read the Bible or hear it at Mass, I am not fully present enough. Maybe it is because the writers of Bible studies are gifted in ways that let them draw your attention to things in a way that really make you aware.

For that reason, I am really enjoying some Bible studies, and in that way, I really like Beauty in the Heart.  A whole bunch of other Crew members also reviewed Beauty in the Heart and its brother product, "Because You are Strong," so be sure to click the banner below to see what they thought!


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of In the Hands of a Child's National Parks Lapbook

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If you homeschool, you have heard of lapbooks, and if you have heard of lapbooks, you know that In the Hands of a Child (hereafter abbreviated as HOAC) is the gold standard in lapbooking. For this reason, Michael (8) and I were both thrilled to have the opportunity to get to review HOAC's lapbook National Parks.

Like all of HOAC's Project Pack style lapbooks, National Parks comes as a download (although it is also available on CD or printed for an additional charge) with both the activities and research guide included. Hence, it really serves as a full curriculum for the duration of the time you are using it. And for the breadth of topics HOAC has available, you absolutely could lapbook your way through a school year using only their Project Packs. When you visit the website (and if you read to the bottom of this review, you will realize that you are GOING to want to visit their website) you will absolutely realize the truth of that statement.

Back to National Parks, though! This Project Pack has 15 total activities and a lesson plan guide suggesting that you spend six days working on it. Given the 16 titles in the "Related Reading" section of the curriculum guide, though, you could conceivably spend a lot longer. Or, like my son, you could work through it in only a couple of days. It really depends on how you approach it (and isn't that the beauty of homeschooling in general and lapbooking in particular?).

The National Parks Project Pack covers 16 national parks, but it also talks about issues related to national parks, like conservation and the junior ranger program. The minibooks (or foldables) are a nice range of styles from a cute flower style, to a pocket, to a simple horizontal fold. There were no folds that were too complex for my son to do on his own (HUGE bonus). As to the activities in the foldables, they ranged from the typical vocabulary words to the less typical (and for Michael much more fun) designing your own National Park Service Patch (to replace the current one). Whether your student is artistic or more of a look it up and write the answer type, this Project Pack has activities to satisfy.

Michael and the National Parks

As I indicated, Michael completed this lapbook in two days. Rather than treating it as a fuller curriculum (which I have done with some HOAC Project Packs, including, most recently, The Great Ice Age - a MONSTER hit in my family), I just went through each foldable with Michael to cover its content. We talked about each national park represented, and spent more time on the ones with which he was less familiar, specifically Isle Royale NP and Denali NP. Because my husband and I have been to more than half of the parks covered in this Project Pack, I was able to show Michael pictures of the parks and talk about their features and wildlife. Because Michael did the Junior Ranger program at Rocky Mountain National Park two years ago, he was able to tell ME all about that section of the Project Pack! All in all, he loved learning about the parks he hasn't learned about, hearing (again) about the parks I have been to, and filling in the minibooks.

However, it must be said that, in Michael's opinion, the whole point of lapbooks is cutting and pasting! Hence, once he sat down to that part of the lapbook, it only took a few hours for him to complete it. I love, love, love that In the Hands of a Child makes its minibooks simple enough for kids to cut out and fold on their own. Honestly, I am not a cut and paste girl. I didn't like it in kindergarten. I don't like it now. With HOAC I don't have to. Michael can do it all on his own. He can follow the diagram included with the Project Pack, put the minibooks in the right place, and be super proud that the finished product is all his. Michael really likes lapbooks, but this one is probably his second favorite ever (behind The Great Ice Age - another In the Hands of a Child winner!).

The Nitty Gritty

The National Parks lapbook is for Grades 4-8, but is easily adaptable up or down depending on which supplementary books you read, how much time you put into it, and where your child is curriculum-wise. I would think even a 2nd grader would love hearing about these national parks, looking at pictures of them, and cutting out some minibooks. How much they could write in them is, of course, up to a parent's discretion.

The lapbook normally retails for $12.00 for the downloadable version (the absolute best way to get lapbooks, in my opinion), HOWEVER, right now HOAC is having an amazing sale! They are offering at least 50% off on all their ebooks through 8/31. I have never seen prices this low on all of their Project Packs. Now is the time to stock up. National Parks is only $5.00. The fun Michael had with this lapbook is worth twice that.

I'm off to go stock up on lapbooks. While I do that, click on the banner below to see many more really great HOAC lapbooks that the Crew got to review. It will help you choose your next one!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review of Family Hope Center's Understanding Brain Development DVD

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Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the DVD Understanding Child Brain Development (available for purchase from IEW), a Family Hope Center Presentation. Recorded from a live presentation by Matthew and Carol Newell, child brain developmentalists, this DVD is about 2 hours long and is packed with information about children with brain dysfunctions and disabilities. There is actually so much information in the DVD that you might be tempted to take notes. Fortunately, you don't have to, as your DVD purchase includes a link to an E-book of all of the slides presented. This is a huge perk, since it frees you to focus on the information presented, knowing that you can go back and focus on any specifics later.

For some in-depth information on An Introduction to Your Child's Brain, be sure to spend some time on the the Family Hope Center's website, as there is a tremendous amount of information there that is something of a preview of what you will learn on the DVD. It by no means takes the place of the DVD, but by reading the information on the website first, you do two things: first, you familiarize yourself with aspects of the brain and which functions it controls. Second, you are able to see if exploring more of what the Newells have to say is of value to you.  What comes through clearly in both the DVD and on the website is that Matthew and Carol Newell have a strong and abiding belief in the ability of the brain to be able to respond to stimulation (properly applied!) and to heal itself. Thus, issues such as ADHD and Autism can be addressed and the brain retrained to make new neural connections.

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The Newells advocate some fairly uncontroversial ideas at the beginning of the DVD. For example, they stress that what you feed your child can impact his brain development. Things like dyed and processed foods can affect your child's brain. For any parent who has tried to eliminate such foods from her child's diet, the positive impact on a child from shunning these foods is almost immediate. The Newells also suggest more outside play and less computer time - something most homeschool moms can readily get behind.

It is in the latter half of the DVD that the Newells really go into more detail about how they and The Family Hope Center believe that the brain can be stimulated through creeping and other methods. Surprisingly, the Newells also believe that putting babies to sleep on their stomachs is preferable to back sleeping. Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending for more than a decade now that babies be put on their backs to sleep in order to minimize the risk of SIDS.

To be fair, The Family Hope Center is obviously far more about alternative therapies than traditional medicine, so anyone watching this DVD will be aware of this mindset. For me, though, while I applaud the Newells' passion for children and healing, I am wary of recommendations that go completely against the AAP. While I am hardly an apologist for traditional medicine, I definitely fall more to that side than to the side of alternative medicine. For example, all of my children were fully vaccinated on schedule.

I found this DVD very interesting. I was initially interested in it because my son has ADHD, OCD, possible CAPD, and who knows what else. I have to say, though, that I don't think that what the Newells offer is something that will help my family. Many families have very different mindsets from mine, though, so if you have a child who could benefit, or if you're just curious, be sure to check out all of the Crew reviews, as many different kinds of Crew families got to view this DVD.

The DVD costs $19.00 and can be ordered from IEW (as noted above), or by calling 610-397-1737.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Reading Kingdom

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For the past few weeks, Michael (8) has been using Reading Kingdom to assess and assist his reading. In order to see if Reading Kingdom is right for someone in your house (it is officially for kids 4-10), check out "Is It Right For Your Child."

What is Reading Kingdom?

Reading Kingdom is endorsed by a slew of education professionals, teachers, parents, and Cindy Crawford. It is designed to take a child from beginning phonics straight through to reading and writing on a third grade level. Created by Dr. Marion Blank, "a world renowned expert on literacy," Reading Kingdom asserts that it is superior to either phonics or a whole language approach to learning to read, as many English words do not adhere to the rules of phonics at all. Learn why Reading Kingdom works here.

Reading Kingdom is emceed by a cute owl with a very soothing voice. She shepherds a child through the program, from the placement test through each level. One great feature of the program is immediate feedback when a child gives a wrong answer and the opportunity to try again. Everything is presented in a very positive way so that a child will never feel dispirited.

Depending on how a child does on the placement test, there are several different activities that he may work through. 

Michael ended up working on Reading/Writing Level 5. Essentially, he read through books and a word was left out after it was pronounced. He then had to type in the missing word.

How We Used Reading Kingdom

Originally, Michael and Mary-Catherine both were going to use Reading Kingdom. The company very generously offered us two subscriptions. After taking the placement test, though, Mary-Catherine ended up in "Letter Land." Essentially, the level requires her to learn to type. For example, in the screenshot below, she was asked to type what she saw on the screen.

Because my laptop keys are not nearly as responsive as the ones on the computer she uses most often, she would often type the wrong thing. Hence, she would get it wrong. She got so frustrated trying to type in the right thing time after time that I finally let her stop using Reading Kingdom and just let Michael continue for the purpose of the review. 

Michael made it through the placement test because we knew in advance how to navigate the keyboard carefully. I truly didn't want typing to cause Michael to end up in the same place as Mary-Catherine. He ended up in a section of Reading Kingdom that required him to listen to a word and then type in what he heard. I can see the value of that exercise, given the prevalence of homographs and homonyms; however, for where Michael is in his reading journey, he did not get anything out of Reading Kingdom (except typing frustration - my kids have not taken typing yet, and I don't think they should have to know how to type in order to learn how to read. That is my own personal prejudice).

The Reading Kingdom Nitty Gritty

Reading Kingdom can be had for a 30-day trial, and this is definitely the best way to see if it is right for your family. I expect that you would be able to determine that fairly quickly. After that, the program costs $19.99 month (with no monthly minimum) or $199.99 a year. Additional children are 50% off and subscriptions can be canceled at any time.

Reading Kingdom is not for our family, as I prefer a phonics-based approach to reading, but I have no doubt that this program is effective for many students, and is probably most effective for reluctant readers. My twins don't fit that bill, however, as they learned to read before the age of 5 and both read above grade level now. I guess my biggest issue with Reading Kingdom is that it is too easy to get bogged down in the technical aspects of the program. For example, if your child takes too long to type a letter, the program counts the answer as wrong. If your child types something wrong, but then realizes it and tries to make a correction, he can't. While you, as a parent, can adjust the response time to give your child more time to answer a question, you can't adjust to shorten the response time. In most cases, this meant that Michael had to wait a long time before the screen advanced between the pages of his book. Ironically, he ended up reading a book while waiting for the screen to advance!

Having said that, though, for kids who love computer-based learning and are having trouble learning to read, you get a whole lot of bang for your buck with this program! Parents get personalized progress reports emailed to them telling them to the letter (ha ha) what their kids learned that week. The program is designed to be hands-off for parents, which can be a huge advantage for parents who want their kids to learn to read, but don't have the time, patience, or technique to teach them. And, like I said, there is something about that owl and her voice! She is a very patient teacher!

More than I do with most reviews, I encourage you to read what others have to say about Reading Kingdom. It is a highly regarded and recommended program and is definitely worth your time if you are in the market for a reading program...so click that banner!

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Review of Notgrass Company's America the Beautiful Curriculum Package

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Over the past six weeks or so, we have fallen in love with Notgrass Company's America the Beautiful Curriculum Package, along with the America the Beautiful Student Workbook and the America the Beautiful Lesson Review. It's no secret that I love American history. History is one of my undergraduate degrees, and my dissertation (for a Political Science Ph.D.) focused on US state legislatures in the first half of the 20th century. However, as I have shared many times, history is hard for me to teach. Why? I want to teach EVERYTHING! I have trouble narrowing it down because it is all so awesome! For the same reason, it is hard for me to pick a curriculum. Each one has something great, but none has everything. Until now.

I have looked at Notgrass Company before, but I had never looked at this curriculum. It is truly awesome. Imagine the joy in my house when all of this arrived in the mail:
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I spent about five minutes looking at this program before getting on the computer and ordering 3 more Timeline books, 3 more Map books, and 2 more Student Workbooks. That is how impressive this curriculum is. I know that I wanted all of my kids to do it, and I wanted all of them to do it from the start. Now our entire package looked like this!
Although this curriculum is for ages 10-14, I have been using it with my 8 year-olds (and, of course, my 10 and 12 year-olds) with no problem at all. It is very comprehensible and engaging. The supporting materials (map, timeline, and workbook) are perfectly fine for 8 year-olds, and my twins would have been devastated not to be included. 

How The Curriculum is Structured

The curriculum consists of several components. The two beautiful hardback textbooks each cover half of American history. The lessons are only a few pages long and contain *tons* of colorful pictures. Each lesson falls into one of these categories:
  • Our American Story
  • God's Wonders
  • An American Landmark
  • An American Biography
  • Daily Life
The textbook also contains family activities (like baking Navajo flatbread). Finally, Notgrass Company has chosen 10 literature selections to accompany the text. The Sign of the Beaver is the first, which makes sense as one is studying Native Americans.

The hardback book "We the People" contains 150 primary source documents that correspond to the textbook lessons. The text tells you when to read a selection from this book.

The map book is amazing. Consisting of 30 maps, students work on the maps all year long. Sometimes, only one thing is added to a map on a particular day. At the end of the year, your students will have an atlas worth keeping. 

The timeline book is interspersed with shrunk down images from Dover coloring books, making the books a great thing for kids to work in when you are reading a chapter aloud. Further, there is a dot at each place on the timeline where an event is to be entered. Even better, the text tells you when an event is to be entered on a the timeline and what is to be entered. I always write this on our whiteboard so my kids can copy it exactly.

How We Used America the Beautiful

American History has been our second subject each day (following Bible Study). My kids absolutely love it. They love the beautiful text. They love the primary source material. They love the map book. They love the Timeline book. They love their workbooks. Did I cover it all?

Therese has decided that it is easier for her to read the material by herself, so she does history at a separate time from us and then completes the activities on her own time (whenever she wants to during her school day). The three youngest and I do American History together. I read the chapter while they color in the Timeline Books (like the map books, those will end up being works of art, too!). Then, I read the primary source selection while they do the relevant map work. Finally, if there is something to be entered in the Timeline Book, enter it. The typical lesson takes us about 40 minutes - the perfect amount of time. 

We are also reading The Sign of the Beaver, the literature selection that goes along with the first part of the text. In order to further mesh our history with our literature, I have incorporated into our curriculum a literature study of The Sign of the Beaver; thus, our history flows seamlessly into our literature. I am loving the synchronicity of our mornings these days!

In Summation

This curriculum is awesome. It is gorgeous. It is comprehensive. It is both easy to teach and easy to understand. In fact, I love this curriculum so much that not only did I buy all of the supplementary materials for the rest of my kids, I also bought Exploring Government, Notgrass Company's High School Government curriculum, for Therese. Prior to now, I just couldn't find a government curriculum I liked (picky Political Science girl here, remember?) She has started it and loves it! I am officially a Notgrass convert. I wholeheartedly encourage you to go to the website and explore all that Notgrass has to offer. These are top-quality products for a very reasonable price. Even Henry couldn't believe the value of these glossy, beautiful textbooks!

Curriculum Package - $99.95
Not in package: 
Crew members reviewed this and some other cool Notgrass Company products, so be sure to click the banner to read more reviews!

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review of Bible Study Guide for All Ages

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For the past six weeks or so, we have been using the Intermediate Student Pages, the Advanced Student Pages, and the Bible Summary Cards from Bible Study Guide for All Ages in our homeschool, and we have been LOVING them. I'll be honest: any time a Bible or religion product comes up for review, I'm a little wary. Some Protestant products are just not very Catholic-adaptable (although, let me be clear - we have never encountered a Crew product that has been remotely Catholic-unfriendly). When I saw something that looked like a Bible study, then, I was doubly wary. A Bible study that Catholics could use that was not written, produced, and directed by Catholics? Apparently, yes! Consider this quote from the website (I did):

We believe that the Bible is the word of God and is our guide for life. We want to help people study and understand the Bible for themselves and learn to apply it to themselves. We do not seek to teach others our opinions about issues of debate. We believe in the one true God who exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that God sent his Son Jesus to earth, born of a virgin, to live and die as the atoning sacrifice for all who would place their trust in him. We believe that he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where he sat down at the right hand of God the Father. We believe that he is present today, through the Holy Spirit, in his church, the body of Christ. We work independently of any church group or denomination. We seek to present the Bible and the Bible alone. 
N.B. I do not make it a practice to quote from vendor websites when I write reviews. In this case, though, I consider it essential, as this piece of information is the first (in fact - the only) one I would want to know if I were myself (a Catholic considering this product) reading this review.

So what is Bible Study Guide for All Ages? The program is comprised of different components for different ages, but, fortunately, my children were all able to use essentially the same parts, that is the student pages and the Bible Book Summary Cards. The best way to understand what the student pages are is to see a sample of them. You can see that student page sample here.

The Intermediate pages, for 3rd and 4th grades, and the Advanced pages, for 5th and 6th grades, are identical in content and very similar in execution. The only difference is that the Advanced pages require a little more thought on the part of the student (that is, fill in the blank, rather than multiple choice, for example). It is 100% possible to do the Bible Study with both levels at the same time, though. Both levels will be doing Genesis 46 on the same day. The first page of the worksheet will be review, while the second page covers the new material.

The Bible Study Guide's plan for the study of the Bible is four years long. Over the course of that time, students will read the whole Bible. Unlike so many Protestant Bible studies I have seen, though,  it does not go through the Bible chronologically! Instead, it teaches the Bible the way I would teach it: as a study in salvation history. By teaching it in this way, students get to the NT almost immediately (and let's be honest - kids really want to talk about Jesus: he's kind of the star of the show), but even better, they get to see the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments. They get to see how the Old Testament prefigures the New and how the New fulfills the Old. It is really the only way that it makes sense to read the Bible in a meaningful way if you want your children to understand the point of the whole thing, and how Jesus and His coming fit into a larger picture that began with a series of covenants a long time before He showed up on the scene (I know, I know, but we really can't get into Trinitarian theology right now!).

After using this Study Guide nearly every day for almost two months, I can honestly say that it is exactly what it purports to be: a completely non-denominational (and that includes Catholics) tool for reading the Bible with your children and helping them retain what they read and make connections from day to day. In fact, just last night, Henry was telling me about a news story in which a couple had just given birth to their 12th son. Michael (8) yelled out, "That was Benjamin!" Suffice it to say that the book of Genesis is very much on his mind! Even though we are still in the part of the Bible that I have read to the kids over and over since they were itty-bitty, it has never *stuck* to this extent before. I give the student pages credit for that.

We do one page a day, and the whole process of reading the Bible, talking about what we read, and completing the page takes about 1/2 an hour. It is part of the beginning of our school day when we are all working together. In fact, when Therese (12) saw the other three kids working on their student pages, she asked me to order a set for her, which I promptly did. While I was on the website, I went ahead and ordered the next sets of 26 lessons for all 4 children. Technically, Therese is outside of the specified grade range, but for the small amount of time the pages take, I like keeping her on the exact same track as the rest of the family.

Because I have already had the opportunity of placing another order with this company, I can tell you that the customer service is second to none. I was waiting anxiously for Therese's pages to arrive because I did not want her to get too far behind the other kids. When I checked the website for my order status, though, it said "in progress" for days. I emailed them in a panic and *immediately* received a very nice email back telling me it was a flaw in their system. They had tracked my package for me and were able to tell me exactly where it was. They were so, so nice. I plan to order again and again. Because the lessons are available in sets of 26 for $5.95 each, the program is affordable. You only have to order a bit at a time. 

The Bible Book Summary Cards are one of the big surprises of the program. They are outstanding. Printed in full-color on very heavy cardstock, each card visually summarizes a book of the Bible.

The back of the card explains what is pictured on the front. The cards are a great way to impress the key points of a particular book of the Bible onto the mind.

You can see a PDF Sample of more of the Bible Book Summary cards on the website. The cards are $24.95 for all 66 books of the Bible. Catholics, of course, will notice the conspicuous absence of what Protestants call the Apocrypha, but what we call the remaining seven canonical books of the Bible. Ordinarily, their absence I would irritate me, but I like this program so much that I am not going to worry about it. For Protestants who have an erroneous understanding of the canonical nature of these seven books (i.e., that Catholics added them after the Reformation), I would encourage you, in charity, to investigate this issue further. These books have been part of the Bible since its original approval by Pope Damasus in the 4th century.

Using this Bible study was the first thing we did every school day, and it will continue in that place of honor (well, after morning prayers). My kids love doing it, and I absolutely love that I have found a way to make sure that my kids are Bible literate. This program does not touch on anything remotely related to doctrine or apologetics. It does not attempt to interpret the Bible in any way. It simply puts forth the story. You can do the study from the KJV or from the Douay-Rheims. I love that. It makes the Bible study its own discrete course, completely unrelated to what we, in our homeschool, call Theology class. 

We will continue to use this entire program. At our current pace, I would expect that it will take us about 2.5 years to finish the whole Bible. There are not words for how much I love that all of my children will have read (heard) the whole Bible by the time the oldest is 14 and the youngest are 11. Huge kudos to this company. I recommend this program to all, Protestants and Catholics alike.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Letting Your Gifted Kids Take the Lead

Ah...letting go. Giving up some control. Maybe this part is easy for some parents, but for me, this one is a doozy. Unfortunately, there are some kinds of kids, and gifted kids are among them, who really do thrive when they are allowed to take the reins of their education. The conundrum, of course, is at what point and to what extent you allow them to do so.

A confession for those who may not know: I have control issues. In fact, I am a control freak. I have learned, though, that rigid control does not work in homeschooling. In fact, avoiding rigid control is one great reason that people decide to homeschool in the first place. As I indicated earlier this week, parents of gifted kids should not lesson plan too far in the future and should avoid boxed curriculum. In both cases, their kids will likely thwart them by working too far ahead or by becoming bored. Even when you follow this advice, though, your kids may not finish a curriculum they start. This can be frustrating for so many reasons! 

For some parents, it becomes a "we finish what we start" thing. For some, it is a case of "we paid for it, you'll use it." For me, both of these things come into play, but even more than that, it is the eternal frustration of "So what on Earth do you want?!" Of course, my kids are, for the most part, too young to know what they want. Fortunately, this seems to be changing a bit for some subjects. At least for this month.

How a family handles this issue is completely individualistic. For budget reasons, some families can't change curriculum midstream, although (and this is another blog post altogether) I would very much encourage such families to investigate free alternatives if they find themselves mired in a curriculum that is causing a big problem with a gifted child. If math has become a big problem, but you're too invested in Saxon to get out of it this year, try using something like Cool Math or Khan Academy. Both are free and provide a nice respite from the norm.

Knowing your child well is the best way to figure out how much control to give up and what kind of curriculum to use. Realizing that some years you may make a ton of progress on paper, while other years it may appear that you are stagnating (but parents of gifted kids know that they are never stagnating - send your kid outside or give him a book; buy him a new robotics set or do whatever you need to to feed his passion. He may not have gotten far through 3rd grade this year, but you've continued to feed the bottomless pit that is his brain's desire to absorb knowledge - don't get hung up on the grade levels and the textbooks!) is so key. It is also one of the hardest things for new homeschoolers of all stripes to accept.

As far as my own children go, it has taken a few years (and has somewhat exhausted me), but I am finally starting to get a handle on them. My 10 year-old son, largely, I think, because of what I suspect is CAPD and what I know is OCD and ADHD, likes workbooks. His lessons are short and predictable. He knows what to expect every day. I have managed to find books that teach him as they teach him. In other words, his spelling book presents the words in a science context, so he's being presented with spelling words, but, to him, he's reading science material. As I mentioned earlier this week, his grammar book is an inductive approach that really works for him. I think I have found his magic formula (he does math online with Thinkwell, because I am not about to try to teach him Algebra. Our relationship would not survive). Honestly, though, Nicky's learning takes place mostly outside of school. He reads, lives with his Legos, and takes apart anything he finds. I don't have any idea what makes his mind work. I only know what testing has told me about his intellect. Those 2e kids are a mystery.

Therese is much more difficult. Honestly, most days I think I could send Therese to college and she would do just fine (she's 12). She reads at a college level. She can analyze literature. She knows more history than just about every adult I know. So she doesn't love math and science. That makes her my child in every way possible. She gets frustrated with curriculum so easily, though! I think she's just bored out of her mind. If she could, she would read all day and do nothing else. Many days I wonder why I don't let her. She would read the right things. She would read The Great Books. She loves The Great Books. She would read Latin. She loves learning Greek. So is it really all that important that she does a lab science? Really? 

These are the questions I deal with, and I know I'm not alone. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Therese will be very successful in college (the right college - we're talking about a small, private, Liberal Arts College), regardless of how we spend the next few years at home, but there are so many things I want to teach her and I am afraid of wasting time. So I tell myself what I tell other homeschooling moms, you can't do it all and you'll drive yourself crazy if you try. I sit down with Therese every few months and check with her to see how she feels about what she is doing. Then, we make adjustements if necessary. Agewise, she is about to start 7th grade, but I have already started her high school transcript, as she has already taken high school level classes. That way, we have plenty of time to make adjustments where necessary and still have a complete transcript when necessary. Gotta check those boxes -- unfortunately!

Thanks for joining me on this blog hop journey! I know I violate all the rules of blog posts (my paragraphs are too long, I don't have pictures), but I have a lot to say on this topic. I hope something I have said has been helpful. Don't miss all of the other wonderful posts - click the banner below. I have spent a lot of time this week reading through them!

 Laus Deo,

Summer Blog Hop

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of Legacy Documentaries' Almanzo Wilder DVD

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Everyone knows about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Everyone has read the Little House books. Even those who have not read the books have seen the TV show. Those of us with Laura's name were secretly delighted as little girls when we first discovered Laura, especially if we happened to have the brown (or, in my case, auburn) hair and had a slightly older blonde sister - who just happened to be perfect (Hi, Analisa!). But what about that other key figure in Laura's life, apart from Mary? Didn't she have a husband? Oh, yeah...

If we're being honest, most of us will admit that in our minds, Dean Butler *is* Almanzo Wilder (Laura's husband), probably even more than Melissa Gilbert is Laura Ingalls. Whether that is because there is just more Laura-belia out there or what, I don't know, but what I do know is that Legacy Documentaries has gone a long way toward correcting this gap with its DVD Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.

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Okay. I'll come clean. When you click on that Legacy Documentaries link, you're going to see a familiar face. I'll wait here, so don't forget to come back. Yes - it's Almanzo. No, it's not! Shame on you (me)! That's Dean Butler! It's hard not to be star struck when realizing that Legacy Documentaries is Dean Butler, but it's such a nice synchronicity that it makes the whole DVD viewing experience more complete. Since Little House, Dean Butler has worked as a producer on several other projects, but I'm really happy that this is the company he chose to form.

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is a WONDERFUL DVD. I don't say that lightly. There were a million ways this DVD could have been boring or repetitive or have shoddy production value. It was none of these things. It was outstanding. Right after I finished watching it, I could have started it over and watched it again immediately. I know that we will watch it over and over as a family.

Based largely on the events described in Farmer Boy, the second book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this DVD uses contemporary pictures of the Wilder farm in upstate New York, along with the original drawings from Farmer Boy and re-enactors (who, most of the time, remain silent) to tell the story of Almanzo's 9th-10th years) to show viewers what life would have been like for Almanzo. The use of the original illustrations, colorized and made mobile (if that makes sense - the illustrations are made to move around the screen as if on a storyboard) recalls the story of Farmer Boy and the Little House books in general, but the narration by Dean Butler and the additional information not in Farmer Boy makes this a complete experience unto itself.

At no point do you feel as if you are watching "Farmer Boy: The Movie." Instead, it is the best of both worlds. The DVD both recalls the book (if you have read it), so that you find yourself smiling in agreement when a food historian talks about Almanzo's apparently unrealistically voracious appetite and offers new insights, as when a Morgan horse expert talks about the historical importance of the breed to the area. In short, my family and I all loved this DVD. If you are old enough to appreciate the Little House books, you are old enough to be captivated by the DVD.

This DVD would make an excellent addition to any library, but definitely belongs in a homeschooler's library. At $21.95 (53 minutes), it is pretty affordable, too. It would also make a terrific gift for a Laura enthusiast. For all that he is not the star of the Little House books, Almanzo is a wonderful character. I'll confess that, as a child, I didn't love Farmer Boy. I read it, but it was not my favorite. I am so glad that I read it to my children last year, and so was able to ensure that they did enjoy it (in other words, I didn't let them skim or skip parts!). As an adult, it is one of my favorite books in the series. Now that I have seen the DVD, I have a whole new appreciation for the book. I can *see* everything! Thanks to an "extra" on the DVD, one is even able to see the town of Malone, NY as it is today!

I love this DVD so much, I'm gushy. To see what other Crew members thought about it (and about one on Laura!), click the banner below.

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Talent Searches for Gifted Kids

The title of this post makes me smile, but it is actually true. There are talent searches to identify gifted kids! Why would you want your child to participate in one? Each talent identification program has different benefits, but the primary reason for participating in any of them is prestige. Simply, it looks great on any kind of application, from scholarship to college entrance. Of course, many of them also boast other benefits that can really help gifted kids, not the least of which is putting them in touch with their peers - something many kids can only dream about. Below are some of the most popular talent searches for gifted kids.

1. The Duke Talent Identification Program is probably the best known talent identification program. Many of us likely remember taking the SAT in 7th grade as part of this program. I know I do! It was a wonderful opportunity to get a look at a test that most of my peers wouldn't experience for many more years. It also started a flood of college mail arriving at my house, which started me dreaming about college at a young age - never a bad thing. In fact, it was as a direct result of the Duke TIP that I first discovered classical education. I received a brochure from St. John's College and knew that I wanted to go to a school like that. I didn't end up at St. John's, but I did end up getting a superior classical (and Catholic!) education. I digress. If you can get your gifted child into one of these programs, do. You never know what spark you might be lighting.
  • 4th-6th Grade: I actually didn't realize that Duke had this program until I went to sign Therese up for the 7th grade program. Now that I know, I can sign Nicky up! Once you qualify (as early as 4th grade), your enrollment continues through 6th grade. To qualify, "students must score in the 95th percentile or higher on a grade-level standardized achievement test, aptitude test, mental-ability test, approved state criterion-referenced test, or 125 or above on an IQ test." Enrollment begins 10/1, so it's not too late for this year! There are too many benefits to list here, so be sure to check the website. The fee is $37.
  • 7th Grade: From the website: "Duke TIP's 7th Grade Talent Search is the largest program of its kind in the nation. Since its inception in 1980, over 2 million students have participated in a Duke TIP Talent Search. The 7th Grade Talent Search identifies academically talented seventh graders based on standardized test scores achieved while attending elementary or middle school. Candidates are invited to take the ACT or the SAT college entrance exam as seventh graders, which allows them greater insight into their academic abilities. 
    • Participants gain valuable benefits and have access to unique resources for gifted students." Enrollment for this one began 8/1, so be sure to sign up soon! Therese already has her SAT testing date (1/25/14 at Langham Creek - anyone in Houston want to come keep her company!?). The fee is $74, but it covers the cost of the SAT and some prep materials, including a practice test. Again, there are many benefits to being a Duke TIP participant, so be sure to read the website. If your SAT score qualifies you, you may be invited to a state or national recognition ceremony. 
2. The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth Talent Search - This talent search is for grades 2-8, although it, too,offers the 7th grader the option to take the SAT or ACT. The Center for Talented Youth is a prestigious program that boasts famous alumni, including the founder of Facebook. This program offers numerous summer programs and online courses for its participants. Like the Duke program, membership has cache, and through the program your child will be able to meet and interact with kids like him/her. If you're not sure which talent search to participate in, you can do what I'm doing: Therese is taking the SAT through Duke and the ACT through CTY. The talent search application fee is $39.00, and you can enroll online now. 

3. Not a talent search, but definitely something you want to pursue if you have a profoundly gifted child, the Davidson Young Scholars Program from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers a multitude of resources for profoundly gifted children. Unless you have had your child take an intelligence test before (like the WISC-IV or the Woodcock-Johnson), you might want to wait for the results of your child's SAT/ACT to apply to this program, as those scores are the easiest way to qualify for the Davidson program. Unlike the two previous talent searches, this program does not accept the results of standardized tests. Instead, students must have scores in the 99.9% in at least one section on the above tests (see this page for full qualifications), or certain sliding-scale scores on the SAT or ACT. If you do what I'm doing and have your child take both tests through both talent searches above, you hedge your bets that she will qualify with at least one test. 

Why Davidson? Honestly, you need to visit this website to see all that is offered for free. There is a real community feel to the organization and if you, like me, sometimes wonder if you are doing right by your gifted child, you will really appreciate the free consulting services available to Davidson families. I wonder when college will be appropriate. I don't want Therese to go early, but I don't want to have taught her everything by the time she gets there. Hello, consultant? What are your thoughts?

I know this post has been dense, and I thank you for sticking with me. These are things that we as homeschooling parents of gifted kids need to know. Fortunately, the process for applying for these programs is easy for homeschoolers. In fact, Duke even has a school code for homeschoolers (something I didn't see when I first started investigating the TIP a few years ago). If you know of other great programs for gifted kids, please do share in the comments!

 Laus Deo,

Summer Blog Hop

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Front-Loading Your Day

Once upon a time, this post was a guest post on another blog, but because it has disappeared from that site and I still get requests for it, here it is by popular request. My children have aged a few years since I wrote it, but everything else has stayed exactly the same:

Have you ever noticed how some women just tend to get more done than others? It’s probably not that they have discovered the secret of making 24 hours stretch to 30 (but if you happen to know that formula, please let me in on it!).  It’s probably not that they are just naturally more capable than the rest of us.  Instead, these women have found a formula that works for them: a means of getting the most usable time out of any day.  While it would be delightful if this same formula worked for all women, that’s probably just wishful thinking.  For the most part, each of us has to find what works for her.  I am willing, however, to share my formula for getting the most time out of a 24 hour day.  It works for me.

While I am not a fan of front-loading washing machines (another article altogether), I am a huge fan of front-loading everything else in my life.  I front-loaded my dissertation in graduate school, writing the most difficult and lengthiest chapters first.  I front-loaded my children (that is, I had them when I was on the younger side, and all together at that: 4 in 40 months!).  I front-load my week: as a freelance writer, I have numerous assignments going at any time, but I always make sure to work hard and long at the beginning of the week to free up time at the end of the week.  Sometimes that time goes to new assignments, but it often turns into free time for me!

Since I am obviously all about front-loading, it should be no surprise that I front-load my days as well.  I firmly believe that one of the main secrets of women who get a lot done in a day is that they get up early in the morning.  Early is, of course, a relative term.  What is early for me (6:00 a.m.) is not early for my husband, who rises at 4:30 every morning.  By getting up an hour and a half before my children do, I am able to have my day ordered and started before having to deal with breakfast and homeschooling.  We all know that the computer represents a huge time suck in our days.  Designating actual computer time in your schedule can alleviate this problem.  Try doing your necessary computer stuff early in the day.  For me, this means drinking my coffee (the first of many, many cups) while reading my email and checking my must-see websites.  Chief among these are Facebook and Ravelry.  Enjoying the early morning with my virtual friends and knitting compadres puts a nice spin on the rest of the day.  I also attend to any work emails that have come in since I put the computer to bed the previous night (which I do early).

By the time I wake up my children, I have had the quiet time I need to gather my thoughts, I have had my computer time, and I know exactly what the day entails.  I also have breakfast ready.  Because I have been awake for a while and have caffeinated my brain, the kids are fed and ready for school in less than half an hour, which is key as I also front-load our school day!

All four of my children (10, 8, and nearly 7 year-old twins) start their school days with math and language arts, the two classes that require the most of them mentally.  All four of them do different math programs in different grades, but if I spend five minutes conferring with my oldest two, I am free to work more rigorously with my twins.  After doing language with the twins, I stop the big kids where they are in their work so we can do group subjects (science, history, etc.).  My oldest daughter is in 8th grade, so she obviously has her own science and history, but she still listens in while the other three are taught, working on handwriting or something else that doesn’t require her full attention.

By 10 a.m. my twins are done with school.  By 11, my 8 year-old son is.   The 10 year-old is working independently enough that she is not done before lunch.  My work with her, however, is.  I know homeschoolers who let their children sleep in, beginning school whenever they wake up.  That obviously works for them, but the more things I knock off my to-do list early in the day, the more relaxed I am as the day progresses.  By the time my husband comes home, the children have been educated, the house has been cleaned (as much as it ever will be, anyway), and dinner has been cooking for hours (oh, my best front-loading tip of all: the crockpot! Befriend her and she will become your new best friend!).  I am not frantically trying to finish things that have been left undone during the day.

I am one of those moms whom people always ask, “How do you do it all? You’re amazing!” No, I’m not.  What I do have, though, is a plan and a method, and I stick to them.  Hopefully, front-loading may work in your life as well.  If not, try another method, and keep trying until you find the one that unlocks more time in your day, too!

Twice Exceptional Kids

If you hang out in homeschool circles at all, you have likely heard the term "twice exceptional" or "2e", but do you know what it means? In its most basic form, 2e refers to gifted children who have some kind of disability. The disability can be a learning disability (and it often is), but it can really be any kind of learning challenge. In fact, I often become frustrated when I see twice exceptionality associated *only* with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. That definition is way too narrow. A 2e child is one whose giftedness is further complicated (I would say "enhanced", but I really want to keep it real here, and parents of 2e kids are nothing if not realistic) by another challenge. I say another challenge because, make no mistake, giftedness is a challenge in and of itself.

There are several common "exceptionalities" in 2e kids:

  • ADHD
  • Aspergers/High-Functioning Autism 
  • APD/CAPD (Auditory Processing) 
  • Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia
  • Sensory Integration Issues
  • ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

Each of these "Alphabet-Soupisms" presents special difficulties for a parent. When the symptoms of one or more of these disorders are conflated with the evidence of giftedness, though, it can be very difficult for parents to begin teasing out what's what. That's one of the things that makes homeschooling a gifted child an extra blessing - it's not a worry that has to consume your day.

Without getting too far off track, we're still not entirely sure what our 2e son has. He was diagnosed with ADHD at 7 by his therapist. At 9, his psychiatrist did in-office testing that said he did not have ADHD. His therapist still begs to differ based on behavioral observation. After an audiology workup, we were referred for a complete CAPD workup. I'm in the paperwork phase of that now. What everyone does agree on is that he has OCD. He does take medication for that, but only because he has intrusive thoughts that don't allow him to sleep at night. How much of this stuff makes schooling him more difficult? I'm not sure. I do know that homeschooling him is a major challenge. I definitely know that traditional school would, for him, be a total disaster.

Resources for Homeschooling 2e Kids

Without a doubt, Hoagies Gifted Education site is the best place to go for any resources on homeschooling gifted kids. Their page on homeschooling 2e kids is no exception. If you have a question about a particular exceptionality, this is the place to go. You can also sign up for the 2e newsletter - it's a great resource.

While Hoagies is the clearinghouse for information on all things gifted, Uniquely Gifted is the repository for information on all things 2e. There are so many great articles on this site that I am frustrated that I can't link them all. If this is a topic that interests you at all, it's a site well worth your time.

Davidson Gifted is a great website about gifted kids in general, and it has a good introductory article on the issue of twice exceptionalism.

So How Do You Homeschool 'em?

Trick question! You homeschool your twice exceptional munchkin just like you homeschool all your other children - in a completely individualistic way! Seriously, these gifted children more than any others require patience and workarounds. Don't expect what you're doing to work right the first time, and don't necessarily expect what worked today to work tomorrow. I know how frustrating that sounds - and  it is.

What really helps me, though, is constantly reminding myself that whatever I am doing at home with my son is SO MUCH BETTER than what he would be doing at school. Because of my son's OCD, I don't always know why he insists on doing things a certain way - and that's okay. Unfortunately, my Type A personality does not mesh very well with his OCD. Combine my gifted with his gifted, and it's pretty much a firestorm around here some days. Again, though, that's okay. Be realistic. On any given day in our homeschool, we do more substantive schoolwork than they do in the public school down the street in a week. How do I know this? Because I'm friends with the moms whose kids go to that school. Because my kids take the same standardized tests. 

Every day you need to remind yourself that your child is not like all the other kids, so you can't expect him to act or learn like all the other kids. You can't treat him like all the other kids. Does that mean you don't have rules, expectations, and consequences? Of course not. But you have to be realistic. Anything else will just have you beating your head against a wall and your 2e child wondering what he is doing wrong and, possibly, beginning to hate school. Why do we homeschool if not to instill a love of school in our kids?

This is one topic near and dear to my heart, and it is one with which I struggle daily. However, my space here is limited. If you have a 2e child, explore some of the links above, feel free to email me, and don't forget to thank God for entrusting your extra-special blessing to you!

Now click that banner to read more great Crew blog posts about all topics related to homeschooling than you could possibly imagine! Then come back here tomorrow morning to find out about all of the neat talent searches and organizations to get your gifted kids involved in!

Laus Deo,

Summer Blog Hop