Tuesday, April 29, 2014


So is it eavesdropping if you're just sitting there and people are making no attempt to conceal their conversation from you? Because I'm sitting here at dance, and while no one is talking *to* me (ha! Big surprise! ;-) ), they are talking around me. The subject? A school dance. For middle schoolers. I remember back to my 8th grade dance. I went with friends. I had fun. I did dance with boys, but I didn't go with a boy. I actually don't remember anyone going with a "date." Everyone went with groups of friends.

Apparently, though, at this particular 8th grade dance in our school district, boys are going to such outlandish lengths to ask girls to this dance that there will be nothing left for prom. I'm guessing they are going to have to rent airplanes with signs attached to get prom dates. This makes me so sad! At 13 or 14 you're going to have this amazing moment that, to be honest, I don't even think you should have at 17 or 18? What is there left to look forward to? It's already hard for kids not to be jaded when they have all this technology and instant gratification. Shouldn't these grand gestures be saved for, oh - I don't know - marriage proposals? Do people still do that? Get married? Propose?

Personally, I'm not much for grand gestures. I was very happy with the way I was asked to prom by my high school boyfriend (Requiescat in Pace, MDH) and I was thrilled with my sweet and romantic marriage proposal. However, if grand gestures are the stuff of the life of an 8th grade girl, there's nothing left for a 23 or 24 year old woman. Am I wrong? What do y'all think?

Review of The Brinkman Adventures

Brinkman Adventures Review
I'll admit that my kids got MP3 players early in life. I mean *really* early. To this day, though, there is no music on those players. They exist for the sole purpose of providing my kids with easy access to audiobooks and Old Time Radio (yep - that's capitalized; if you're an OTR fan, you wouldn't have it any other way!). So when the opportunity arose for us to review The Brinkman Adventures, a series of radio adventure dramas based on the lives of real missionaries, I jumped on it.

This was a series already in progress, so my kids got to begin with The Brinkman Adventures Season 2: Episodes 13-24. In these stories, the Brinkman kids interact with missionaries (whose stories are, like I said, based on true stories). Any time you throw kids into a story, you know there is going to be plenty of comic relief, and there is. I think that comic relief is what keeps these stories from being in any way preachy. They truly are stories. Jesus is there. A message is there. They don't come across as existing solely for the sake of delivering that message, though. 

These stories are contained on four CDs and come in at five hours. They are considered as being for the whole family, but I disagree about that. The very first thing my kids heard when they tuned into the first episode we received was kids talking about their mom's miscarriages and where the babies were buried. My kids were horrified and told me they didn't want to listen to anything so sad. I know there are families where miscarriages are discussed freely and perhaps this topic would not be such a big deal, but my kids (my 9 year-old twins particularly) were very upset and didn't want to continue the series until I told them to give it another chance. My twice-exceptional 10 year-old son Nicholas' comment was, "I don't even understand what they're talking about." Hence, I would say that the shows are appropriate for older children and adults, and then for younger children as parents determine.

There are 12 episodes on the CDs, each lasting about 26 minutes. The production quality is excellent. It sounds like the action is right in your own living room. The music accompanying the CDs is also excellent. Don't worry about joining the adventures in progress because you are caught up right at the beginning. The suggested donation for these CDs is $25 ($17 for the MP3 version). 

My Kids' Reaction

As I indicated, my kids did not have quite the reaction to these that I anticipated. I attribute this to two main things: first, they are used to Old Time Radio - hence, the superior production value of these CDs just didn't sound like what they are used to listening to on their MP3 players. It was very jarring to them, and I think they had a lot of trouble getting over it. Second, the way the first episode started off really did bother them, much more than I ever would have guessed. I don't know exactly why, and I don't really want to probe it. The three (9, 9, and 12) who understood it just kept saying it was too sad, and the one who couldn't seem to process it (ADHD, OCD, Tourette's Syndrome, and asynchronous giftedness - don't get me started) missed the whole point (and I wasn't about to start trying to explain miscarriage in detail to my 10 year-old if he's been blessed enough not to have to deal with it).

Having said that, there are some very exciting and relevant episodes in this set! In our history, we just talked about the appearance of Islam on the world scene and how devastating it was to Christianity. For that reason, my kids were most interested in the episode in which the missionaries were in a Muslim country. That is so relevant both to what the kids are doing in history *and* to what they hear us talking about on a nearly daily basis.

Overall, there is a lot to recommend these stories, and I suspect that most families would really like them. To read about some of the many Crew families that got to listen to them, click on the banner below. 

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review of CTCMath

CTC Math Review
I have discovered something about math: it is my least favorite thing to teach my kids, but it is my very favorite thing to review. With every new math program we get to review, I always get a shiver of anticipation thinking, "Will this be it?! Will this be the magic bullet that will make math fun for some of my kids or the one that will turn the light on in the attic for one of them?" Well, I don't want to tell the end of this story before you hear the beginning, but CTCMath's online math tutoring program, for which we have been reviewing the 12 Month Family Plan, is so truly wonderful that we had not had it two weeks (maybe not even one, actually) before I had extended my subscription for another 18 months. I couldn't (and can't) imagine being without it.

There is a lot to CTCMath's online components, but the actual program itself is wonderfully simple in its execution, so let's dive in! 

What is CTCMath?

 CTCMath is an Australian company designed to be used either as a supplement to another math program, or even as a program unto itself. For the past six weeks, though, all of my children have been using it as a standalone program. Comprised of over 1,400 tutorials (the graphic is a tiny bit out of date), each lasting 4-9 minutes, CTCMath serves multiple purposes. Students can review concepts they are having trouble with, practice concepts currently being learned, or learn new concepts.

After watching a short explanation of the concept being taught (narrated in a charming Australian accent), students are given practice problems to demonstrate their mastery of the concept. As the parent, you have the ability to set the level at which their performance will be considered passing (so you might set the level at 70%, 80%, etc.). Your students receive awards based on their performance on the questions at the end of each topic. Awards are at given at several different levels from Bronze to Platinum. The baseline at which awards are granted is set at the passing level at which you as the parent assign, which is nice because it allows you to motivate those of your kids who need those awards, while setting the standard higher for your kids who don't really care about the awards structure. In other words, setting a low passing grade of 70% allows a student to start accruing awards sooner than setting a higher passing grade of 90% or 95% (as it happens, my kids are all unmotivated by such things - we don't really emphasize doing school for rewards, but I know there are a lot of kids out there who really love working toward awards and such).

After working on a few concepts, your student's report will look something like this:

They see this (forgive me for showing reports for different students!):

Of course, as a parent you want to see how all of your children are doing at a glance. CTCMath has that covered, too. Parents and each students have individual logins. Thus, when you login as a parent, you see a summary of all of your children's activity at a glance:

In one minute, you can see when each child last logged in (which is great for me, as each child does CTCMath on his/her Kindle Fire - yes, that's right! You DON'T need a Flash browser for this. That makes CTCMath my all-time favorite program ever since each child can do it at the same time, making math go so much faster for us!), how many lessons he/she has completed, and their overall efficiency rating. With one click, you can get a more detailed report:

Even better, each week I get a report emailed to me from CTCMath. It details the progress of each one of my children over the course of the week, and it contains every piece of information that I could want.

Obviously, CTCMath places a high priority on keeping you as a parent informed about your child's progress while still being committed to making this program one that kids can do independently. I call that a huge win-win. Add to that amazing customer service (I had a question and it was answered immediately and very courteously) and large family-friendly pricing, and this math program truly is a one-in-a-million find.

How We Are Using CTCMath

I have already alluded to how we are using this great program. Every day at math time, my three youngest kids log in to CTCMath on their Kindle Fires. Thanks to some genius at CTCMath, my kids are able to do so in spite of the Fire not having Flash. I love, love, love that feature. Therese does her CTCMath on our desktop. Each kid is working on a different level. Nicholas (10) is doing Elementary Geometry, Michael (9) is doing 4th grade, Mary-Catherine (9) is doing 3rd grade, and Therese (12) is doing both Algebra and Geometry. Oh, and Henry (45) is reviewing Calculus. Each child follows the same format. They watch a certain number of lessons. I generally like them to do math for 30 minutes a day, but Therese has done CTCMath for up to 4 hours in one day so far (I'm not kidding). One page printable summaries of the lessons are available, which is really nice at the higher levels of math as they can be printed off and put in Therese's binder for reference later on (since Algebra is so cumulative). I check on what the kids have done, but I also rely on my parent dashboard to keep close tabs on their work. Like I already said, I have renewed my subscription to CTCMath for another 18 months, meaning that I have it through late 2016! 

The Details

CTCMath is for K-12. If you are homeschooling a kid, they have your level! Even better, they have special sale (as of the publication of this post) pricing for homeschoolers! For $118.80, you can have access to all of CTCMath's levels for 2 or more students. That's an unreal deal for this program (again, I have already taken advantage of it just in case it goes away at some point!).

Mine is just one opinion about CTCMath - to read others, click the banner below.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review of Philosophy Adventure

Home School Adventure Co.

Philosophy is one of my loves. I am three hours short of having a degree in it from a Catholic university (no one does philosophy like a Thomist - seriously). Ever since I started homeschooling I have looked forward to being able to teach my kids philosophy. I consider it my reward for having to deal with things like phonics and addition. Now is when we get to finally learn the fun stuff! Having said that, I recently realized that I am faced with my perennial problem: I tend to want to teach everything. The conundrum is that my 12 year-old, although highly gifted, is not ready or willing to learn everything. And so I need some outside help. Fortunately, Home School Adventure Co. has provided this help most ably in the form of Philosophy Adventure. Even better, Philosophy Adventure seems designed especially for debaters! Color Therese happy!

Philosophy Adventure

Philosophy Adventure is for kids 6th-12th grades, but younger kids could use it with a lot of parental supervision/intervention. 

Philosophy Adventure
So the goal of Philosophy Adventure is not so much to teach Philosophy (although it does that admirably and well), but to teach thinking, writing, and speaking skills through the philosophical ideas of the Pre-Socratics. How does it do this? 

The best way to get an idea of what Philosophy Adventure does is to take a look at the sample lesson, which includes the Table of Contents. Each step of the writing process is taught in sequence, from deciding what to write about to learning the seven-step process, to guarding against contradictions, learning peer reviews, revising, and editing. As students learn the writing process, they learn about eight different philosophers, their schools of thought, and a correct Biblical worldview. Best of all from our perspective, each chapter also includes a public speaking exercise making this course an ideal accompaniment to Therese's debate and public speaking curriculum.

In fact, it's no accident that Philosophy Adventure dovetails so well with debate. Both a speech and debate coach and an NCFCA nationals-level competitor have blurbs in the forward to the book. It is only when you can learn to organize your thoughts well that you can learn both to speak and to write well. And no one could organize their thoughts like the Greeks. No one. If the Romans could conquer the world because they first conquered Latin, the Greeks cornered the market on Art because they understood the art of eloquence. They knew how to speak to people, whether it was through poetry, satire, or sculpture. NCFCA (National Christian Forensics and Communications Association) is teaching my daughter that art. Philosophy Adventure has given her the nuts and bolts behind it. It is the academic underpinning of the art of communication. 

What is Philosophy Adventure Composed Of?

Each chapter of Philosophy Adventure has seven distinct parts:

  • The Philosopher's Story - the biographical component all about the philosopher's life
  • Think, Write, Speak - relevant articles and assignments
  • Geography - to help locate the philosopher locationally
  • School of Thought - a discussion of the philosopher's, well, school of thought (the school with which he is associated)
  • Contrast - comprised of the philosopher's writings (source material) and biblical worldview
The most important thing to know about Philosophy Adventure, apart from its structure and the fact that it is extremely high quality material is that it is simply stunning. I really encourage you to look at the sample chapter because when you do, you'll see pages with full-color text like this one:

The book is, quite simply, a visual treat.

Reading the book is one part of the program. The second part is the Student Workbook. I feel that the workbook is key to the curriculum. It is comprised of several parts. The first two pages of a lesson are essentially recall and short answer questions based on the lesson reading. The third page is a mapping/geography exercise based on the chapter philosopher's location. Finally is the chapter's writing exercise. There is plenty of guidance and help for the writing exercise, but it is definitely meaty and thought-provoking. It is the biggest part of the student workbook.

Finally, Philosophy Adventure's secret weapon for moms is the Teacher Resources download containing a myriad of teacher helps: timeline, vocabulary, maps, quizzes, answers, and more. I have not delved into this resource much thus far simply because I am already having so much trouble limiting myself with how much I want to cover with Therese! Still, it's a wonderful accompaniment to the course. It makes it far less intimidating than it might otherwise be.

Therese (12) and Philosophy Adventure

Philosophy is not new to Therese. Because of my background and the way that I teach my kids, I have imbued our homeschooling with philosophy since Day One. Whenever I can reference St. Thomas Aquinas (and then, of necessity, Albertus Magnus) I do. Referencing St. Thomas requires referencing Aristotle. Referencing Aristotle requires referencing Plato. And so it goes. How much of this has sunk into my other kids' heads I don't know yet, but Therese is different. She understands a bunch. However, we have never had occasion to delve into the Pre-Socratics before, so all of this material was essentially new to her! 

Originally I tried to read this material to Therese and my other three kids (9, 9, and 10). I gave up that idea quickly for two reasons: I didn't want to kill my kids enjoyment of the subject before they ever got to know it (and as accessible as I feel it is, because of his behavioral problems and ADHD, Nicholas (10) was having no part of it and my twins are still a bit too young) and I just can't stop myself from digressing. I knew that if I continued to do that, Therese would never finish a chapter! So I turned her loose. After that, she did quite well!

Following the suggested schedule in the program 

Therese had no problem working her way through the first two chapters of Philosophy Adventure. Her favorite part was *definitely* the Speak assignment section of Day 4. On Day 5 after she finished her assignment and took her quiz she would meet with me to discuss the week's work. At that point, we would talk about all aspects of the week from the philosopher to the geography to the writing assignment. She would review her speaking assignment for me on Fridays as well. 

Costs and Credits and Final Thoughts...Oh, My!

Philosophy Adventure is a wonderful product. It allows you to incorporate several different disciplines into one cohesive course. Even more importantly, it allows you to begin teaching philosophy to your children at an early age, enabling them to begin synthesizing the most important questions of life (Who am I? Why am I here?) with their own Biblical worldview. These questions are as old as time - even older than Christianity - and it is important to see that people have been wrestling with them even before most people were aware of the One True God. Why? Because God himself plants that seed in everyone's heart. Everyone secretly seeks him even when they are not consciously aware of his existence. Philosophy Adventure is the best program I have seen for kids this age to introduce this concept. Add to that all of the other things it gives kids - writing, speech, geography, and logic skills - and it becomes wonderfully comprehensive. In fact, as the graphic below shows, it can translate into some decent high school credit:

At what cost does such a program come, though? It's actually quite inexpensive! I reviewed the all-digital version of Philosophy Adventure, which is available for $39.95. You can also buy other permutations of the products with various components being in digital and physical forms, depending on your preferences. For everything you're getting, the price is incredible. Would it be nice to have it in a full-color physical book? Yes! It's gorgeous. For the price, though, I would definitely recommend the downloadable version if that's what you can afford. It's gorgeous on the computer or a tablet, too.

Therese has been enjoying this course and I have been enjoying something forcing me to slow down and allow her to learn at her pace. The fact that it dovetails perfectly with speech and debate is such a huge bonus. Philosophy Adventure is one of those really great finds that I think everyone can benefit from, especially if it is likely that they won't be continuing on with some form of philosophy later on in college.
To sweeten the deal, the creator of this great program is offering Crew blog readers 10% off any of her great products with this code!
Home School Adventure Co.

This course is a huge find for us. To see how other Crew members used it, be sure to click the banner below.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Friend or Foe?

Pic from FitBit.Com

My new companion. He'll never leave my side. I'm not sure how I feel about that level of commitment. He's going to find out that I don't sleep very well most nights. He's going to have to be told that some days I don't eat much at all and some days I eat, like, 5 caramels in a row (oops - that was just now). I always complain that I don't have any friends (you're grandfathered in, JT). Now I have a stalker. We'll see how our relationship progresses.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Grail Mascara

Let me preface this post by saying that I know my blog has a dual identity, but I think that's okay. I actually think it is a really good thing for homeschooling overall. I am passionate about homeschooling, but I think that it still has kind of a negative image in terms of homeschooling moms. I have to admit that I do know denim jumper wearing homeschooling moms who wear no makeup and who don't seem to care a whit about their appearance...but I would bet anything that those moms exist in the public school system, too. I just think that that stereotype still exists for homeschoolers, even though I know far more homeschooling moms who are far more stylish and fashion forward than I will ever be (because no matter where my kids ended up in school, I would still wear the uniform of jeans and some kind of shirt and Converse - it's what I've worn since high school). Thus, the fact that I gush about makeup on my homeschooling blog can only do good things for the image that non-homeschoolers have about homeschoolers (since my Pinterest pics bring non-homeschoolers to my homeschooling blog). Wanna see how many times I can use some variant of the word "homeschoolers" in this post? Yeah - me neither.

So, did I have a point? Oh yes! Mascara. I was blessed with good lashes. However, good lashes are not enough. I want GREAT lashes. Most mascaras can't deliver them. This is one of those cases where I have found a mascara that I think is worth paying for. When I can get a great price on it. I have that great price for you. Tarte's Lights, Camera, Lashes! is an amazing mascara. I look like I'm wearing false eyelashes when I wear it -- and I wear it every day. It makes me happy. It builds perfectly evenly and never gets stiff or sticky, and it washes off easily with my Cerave cleanser (great for dry skin, by the way). It retails for $19 a tube, though, and *that's* not happening.

pic from Tarte Cosmetics

Henry gave me my first two tubes for Christmas with an awesome Tarte set from QVC, and QVC has the best price I've found since. You can currently get 3 tubes for $32 plus s/h. Basically when all is said and done (tax, etc.), it ends up costing around $40. Expensive for mascara? Yes. Expensive for *this* mascara? No. If you've ever loved Lancome's mascara, you'll be saying Lancome who? after you try Tarte. I've never been a fan of the new plastic bristle drugstore trend that's happening all over the place. I'm old school. Fortunately, so is Tarte. Don't need three tubes (so, wait...not everyone likes for their eyes to enter the room before they do?) - buy with a friend. You might even thank me.

I feel compelled at this point to offer a small apology (in the classical sense - I'm not sorry for anything): it's not shallow to like makeup. It's not shallow to care about your physical appearance. For me, it's the cheapest therapy going. It's an instant lift. I remember all the way back to high school when it was everything I could do to go to bed at night knowing that I would have to get up in the morning and go back to school. So many times, the thing that got me to bed was knowing that I had a new lipstick to wear or a favorite lipstick to put on or a new eye shadow quad. It was the little things. And it just so happens that this mascara is really expensive, but makeup doesn't have to be. Wet-n-Wild has some of the best and some of the cheapest makeup around. Their eye shadow trios cost $1.99, are often on sale, and are some of the butteriest and most blendable shadows going. They also dupe many of Mac's colors, if that's your thing (which, if you're not a habitual makeup wearer, it's probably not!). It doesn't make you less authentic as a woman if you put on some lipstick. I don't do it for anyone else (well, apart from my husband - I actually do do it for him: he deserves to have a nice-looking wife. He married a hottie and two decades shouldn't completely diminish that). I do it for me because I like the way it makes me look and because I think it's fun! Well...that, and any reason to shop and collect...

So if my makeup posts annoy you, please continue to come around for my reviews and discussion of homeschool products because my shopping and collecting (ahem - hoarding) tendencies definitely extend to homeschooling, too...and, as with everything, you know I have an opinion!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review of Supercharged Science

Supercharged eScience Review
Supercharged Science is one of those programs that homeschoolers dream about. In fact, they drool over it. Or maybe that's just me...Created and run by Aurora Lipper, a bona fide rocket scientist and my vote for "teacher most likely to make kids who hate science love science," Aurora's e-Science Learning Program renders moot all other homeschool science options. Yeah - it's that good. And Aurora herself tells homeschool parents specifically why Supercharged Science is a great option for homeschoolers in her letter to parents comparing e-Science with other homeschool science programs.

I'm going to start by saying that I was lucky/fortunate/blessed enough to be able to review this program last year. You can read my first review of the e-Science Premium Membership here. Last year, Therese focused on Chemistry when we reviewed e-Science. This year, we thought it only fair to focus on Biology! More on that later, though! First, the all-important question for the uninitiated: what is e-Science?

Supercharged Science's e-Science Online Learning Program

Aurora Lipper has put together a science program that defies explanation. She describes it as a completely hands-on science program for homeschoolers that is completely kid friendly. Even better, Aurora has designed e-Science so that kids can learn a TON about science without ever reading a word in a textbook. If that idea makes you quake, though, because you think kids *need* to read the wheres and whyfors of the science in addition to doing hands-on experiments - fear not! Aurora has you covered there, too. There is plenty of reading to do in conjunction with all of her awesome experiments. It really is up to you how you use her program. Suffice it to say, though, that there is enough in this science curriculum to last your entire family for years. Yep - years.

At first, you might be overwhelmed just diving into e-Science, even though Aurora advocates this approach. For advice on how to get the most out of the program, you can't do better than letting Aurora tell you what to do:

Even better, there is a feature on the site that I'm pretty sure wasn't there last year (a couple of my fellow Crew mates seem to agree with me) - a short, graphic intense user guide. If you can't figure out what to do just by noodling around the site (and trust me - you will eventually figure out what to do - it's pretty intuitive and you really can't go wrong!), or you're one of  those homeschooling families that likes to go into things with a plan in place, be sure to start with the user guide.

Another awesome feature that was not on the site last year is a grade level map! By clicking on the grade level, you will be taken to an appropriate list of topics (many of the topics overlap).

If you prefer the topical approach, rather than the grade level, then this menu is for you:

Each of Aurora's units follows a similar format, as outlined in the aforementioned user guide. There is an introductory video, some background reading and discussion of the topic, and a slew of amazing experiments. How much of which you choose to do is a completely individual decision.

Therese (12) and Supercharged Science

Like last year, I was most interested in the high school offerings of Supercharged Science. In the past, we have spent lots of time on the elementary topics and my kids have had a blast doing tons of the experiments (plasma grape, anyone?). On this go-round with Supercharged Science, that didn't change. We studied Unit 16 - Living Organisms. Some of what the kids did (like classifying objects) was a little repetitive, but that's fine. I reminded them that if they were in public school, they would be doing a chapter on living organisms in science every single year. Plus, they really do love Aurora's enthusiasm, so they didn't mind. Also, I wanted them to work on this unit in order to lead up to the capstone project in our study: the Cow Eye Dissection.

Last year when Therese was focusing on Chemistry (and I need to emphasize that we didn't even scratch the surface of what e-Science has to offer for high school Chemistry!), I found lots of high school specific Chemistry resources. This year, I wasn't as successful in finding high school specific Biology resources, HOWEVER, the beauty of e-Science is that you can make of it what you wish. Further, Aurora emphasizes that she is adding more high school resources all the time. I have no problem recommending this as a high school curriculum.

Because the kids were all studying Biology, and because Therese needed to do a dissection (a high school Biology mainstay, after all), we decided to do Aurora's Cow Eye Dissection:

I am not shy about admitting that I don't like dissections, never have, never will. However, I happen to be blessed enough to be married to this guy:

Henry has a degree in Biology and was a Biology TA in college for a million years (okay not that long). He has led countless students through dissections of more specimens than I want to think about. The point is, he knows his way around a scalpel! So he set up a table outside and gave Therese an eyeball and took one for himself. Everyone else gathered around...

Following Aurora's precise directions, Therese began to dissect her eyeball -- er, the cow's eyeball. We were all amazed to see the various features revealed and to have Henry point out to us the similarities between the cow's eye and our own, especially when we got to the lens and he told us that people can now get new lenses in their own eyes!

The kids (especially Therese) started out very hesitant about doing this dissection, but they ended up quite enthusiastic! Therese went from not wanting to touch the eyeball to doing what you see above in the video. I know that part of that is because Henry is a very patient teacher, but part of it is because Aurora is so enthusiastic about science. Unlike most of the experiments on e-Science, there is no video of Aurora doing this one - just step-by-step written directions. However, there are hundreds upon hundreds of other videos featuring Aurora and her enthusiasm is just contagious!

The Bottom Line

So it really all comes down to cost, right? e-Science is not cheap. For the K-8 version (with access to all units, granted 1 or 2 at a time, but with *a lot* of flexibility inherent in that statement), the cost is $37/mo. For the K-12 plan, the cost is $57/mo.

If you have a high schooler, it really is worth it to have the extra levels. Aurora includes links to outside reading, advanced lab worksheets that correlate with the younger students' labs (great if you're trying to streamline science in your house!), and some very sophisticated higher-level work (particle physics, anyone?). I honestly believe that you cannot get a better value overall anywhere. If there is anyway you can fit it into your budget, I don't think you'll regret it.

The key with e-Science is - and I say this with all sincerity - you cannot allow yourself to get overwhelmed. You don't have to do it perfectly. You don't have to do units in order. You don't have to finish a whole unit before moving on to another. Will it yield the best benefit if you do? Probably. Will your kids suffer if you don't? Not at all. They will gain a love of science even if you jump around every day. They will begin to make connections that will surprise the heck out of you. I am (well, I'd like to say peripatetic, but I should call a spade a spade) completely ADHD when it comes to school and curriculum (thanks be to God for the Crew and our amazing vendors!!!), and e-Science works for us for that reason. I am actually so afraid of being without it that I have bought a bunch (six, I think) of Aurora's DVDs. I want my kids to love science; I am just really bad about sticking with a curriculum. With e-Science, I don't have to. That is the ultimate beauty of it. And when Aurora teaches my kids something, they remember it. 

Fortunately, Aurora knows that her program is so good that it has to be tried to be believed (I really hope y'all know me well enough to know that I don't do "reviewer-speak." If I tell you something is awesome - I really think is awesome. If I tell you I have paid for it out of my own pocket, I have paid for it out of my own pocket. I subscribed to e-Science on my own for more than a year before getting it through the Crew.). To that end, she has offered this awesome deal for Crew-blog readers. You can try e-Science (the full program!) for just $1! You have nothing to lose. 

I am not the only Crew member raving about e-Science. To see lots of other reviews and lots of other experiments conducted, click the banner below!

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Review of Victus Study Skills

Victus Study Skills Review
One thing that public school students get in spades that homeschool students usually don't is lessons in study skills. In fact, when I was a freshman in high school, I had a semester long class in study skills! To be honest, it was more about sharing feelings, it seemed to me, than learning study skills, but that's beside the point. Learning how to study is crucial for homeschool kids because (brace yourself for this shock) -- they won't be homeschooled forever! At some point, most of these munchkins will head off to college and they might need some study skills that they won't have needed while they were studying at home. How much a child needs a formal class in study skills certainly depends on the child and on his/her learning style, but Victus Study Skill System offers an effective product that can benefit many different kinds of children, ages 5th - 12th grades.

The Student Workbook and Teacher Edition, the two integral components of the program, were created by professional educators, and who better to know the most about how students study? We as parents know a lot about how *our* students study - or do we? I actually find myself wondering frequently if my daughter is using her time effectively in the ways that she chooses to read, take notes, and memorize material. I know what works for me. She claims to know what works for her. I remember in school, though (in that 9th grade class!) learning many different ways of note taking. It turns out that I developed my own, but it was a hybrid of ways that I had been taught in school. At 12, my gifted daughter does mostly 10th grade work, but she has that 12 year-old attitude. What does that mean? She doesn't really want to listen to much of what I have to tell her. And that is why a program like this one is ideal for her. It stands in for CATO (the acronym of the name for my 9th grade teacher - yes, we were allowed to call her that!). Add to that the fact that it has a Latin name (Victus - 4th declension, genetive, meaning "way of living"), and I think we may just have a winner!

Victus Study Skills Review
Victus Study Skills Review

Victus Study Skill System is comprised of two parts - a Student Workbook ($20) and a Teacher Workbook ($40). The course is meant to be taught in five one-hour sessions. There are ten total lessons, and the Teacher Workbook prepares the instructor for how to introduce and teach the material to the student. Hence, it has about 15 more pages than the student workbook. Of course, it also contains all of the answers!
The Victus Study Skills System has four objectives: 
  1. To help students understand that there are specific steps and strategies in learning and study.
  2. To build specific skills and provide specific tools students can use throughout life.
  3. To help students develop attitudes that increase their abilities to use this system in their everyday life.
  4. To help students understand more fully their own role in their success.

Further, there are three Foundational Cornerstones:

  1. Where Am I Now?
  2. Where Do I Want to Be?
  3. How Do I Get There?

It is through these foundational cornerstones that the course is taught. In each cornerstone, students are led through a series of exercises asking them to consider their habits, goals, schedules, note and test taking strategies, etc. By the end of the course (which takes less than 6 hours to complete), a student should have a better idea of the study strategies that will work for her. Additionally, she will have learned *a lot* about organization and study skills.

Therese (12) and Victus Study Skills System

Therese is one of those kids who, much like myself, does not like to use school time on subjects that are not purely academic. She does not consider studying study skills to be academic; hence, I told her that this was more of an extracurricular activity, so she completed the course in the afteroons and evenings one week. Prior to her doing the course, I read the Teacher Edition so that I would know what she would be learning and so that I would be able to see when and where she might need help. I didn't think that she would need any guidance, and I was right. I had her bring her book to me each day after she completed two lessons so that I could check her work and we could talk about what she had done. Doing two lessons took Therese about an hour, which is right in line with what Victus suggests.

By the end of the course, Therese was reluctant to admit that she had really learned anything, but *I* beg to differ. By looking at her work in the workbook, I can definitely attest to the fact that she has picked up some new skills, especially in the area of note taking. Further, because the workbook required her to write out her schedule, she was able to see exactly where and how she spends her time, enabling her to see how to better allocate her study time and how to plan for interruptions and disturbances. These were things that she had never considered before, and they were things that I had never really thought to teach her explicitly before. That is the benefit of a course like this for homeschoolers -- or for anyone! There are so many things that we as adults just naturally do - ways that we compensate for the things that we know life will throw at us. Our kids don't necessarily have these skills yet, though. A course like this can begin to teach them this specialized skill set. So, even though Therese doesn't even realize what she has gained from this course, I do, and I know that she will be referring to her workbook in the months and years to come.

The Final Word

Victus Study Skills is a good program. It highlights some areas that most homeschoolers probably don't cover in their standards curricula and that most parents probably don't cover explicitly with their kids. It does have a pretty steep price tag, though, so whether or not you budget for it depends a lot on how much you think your child is in need of study skills help. Knowing it is available as an option, though, is definitely helpful as you head into planning season!

A bunch of Crew families reviewed Victus Study Skills, so click on the banner below to see what they had to say!

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Obsession Isn't Pretty

Everyone knows that Nicky has OCD. It's no secret in my family that there are other Norrises with OCD. Since I don't tend to advertise much of what goes on in my head, it is probably less well known that I have huge problems with obsessive tendencies. I thought of a perfect example to illustrate that point because I am going through it right now. It is so trivial - so completely and totally pointless, first world problem, fixable, and irrelevant that it's ridiculous. But that's the point. When someone has this problem, none of that matters. My dad tells me that I just have to discipline myself not to think about such things. I know he's right, and that's a major reason I don't want to advertise my weaknesses like this. Obsessing is a self-indulgence and I should just choose not to do it. The funny thing is that when someone else has this issue, I recognize that it is (for the most part - I am kind of unyielding sometimes, I have to be honest) a genuine brain malfunction and I don't judge. I don't tolerate it in myself, though. I don't cut myself any slack. In fact, I tend to obsess over how incredibly weak I am. There's a victim loop in here somewhere.

I digress. The issue is foundation. Mac foundation. I was in Macy's yesterday. I was originally going to buy Kat Von D's Lock-It Tattoo Foundation at Sephora with my 15% off coupon.

I mean, this stuff covered the freckles on my hand! It's awesome and you use only a tiny bit. However, Sephora was out of all of the lighter colors. Of course. Hence, my trek to Macy's. Now, I love Mac lipstick. I'm all over Mac dupes for colors. I love drugstore makeup. There is something about Mac's formula, though. You can dupe some of the colors, but you can't (as far as I can tell) dupe the formula of the Satin or the Amplified. The Cremesheens aren't that unique for me. And you *can't* dupe that lovely smell! In any case, I have never been officially "colored" by a Mac MUA. Since I did want a new foundation (another part of that obsession - I came for foundation, I was leaving with foundation), I decided today was a good day. Plus, Henry had put some money in his wallet from our Christmas stash for just this purpose. 

I was assisted by a very lovely woman who made me take off my makeup (of course I knew I'd have to, but to have my very bad rosacea breakout exposed in public - sigh. Besides, my makeup looked awesome yesterday. Seriously.) and then proceeded to start me at an NW20 in Studio Sculpt. Ah, no. I looked like Data from Star Trek. I kid you not. She switched to Pro Longwear (with yellow Prep and Prime CC first - did a great job covering the red, so I bought it. It takes far less of that than it does of my regular concealer.) in NW20. It made me look kind of...dead. Then she blew my mind when she told me that I am not NW. She told me I am NC - NC15, to be exact. She got the opinion of another MUA (side note: I really hate having to explain to my kids that yes, that man doing that woman's makeup *is* a man, despite his gorgeous makeup and super-long lashes and beautiful figure. Sigh.) who confirmed that it was a great match. Now I have read a ton on the whole NC and NW thing (like it's better to think of NC as *not cool* and NW as *not warm* rather than thinking of NW as for pink undertones and NC as for golden undertones, because, child, I am telling you that I am pink, pink, pink). As I think about it, it makes sense that I would use a more golden foundation to neutralize my pink ol' face...still. I am not convinced. I compared my new NC15 Pro Longwear to all of my other foundations and it is soooo much darker. I'll have to do my makeup today and see what I think.

So, my mini-Mac haul looks like this (pics from Mac's website):

That lovely lipstick would be Brick-O-La, the prettiest Amplified Berry shade. Soooo springy...

So what does this very shallow makeup post have to do with anything? Simply this: wondering if that silly foundation shade is the right one for me kept me awake last night. How stupid is that? Do you know how easy that is to fix? If I don't like it, I can drive my little self on back to Macy's, hand it to the ladies (er, ladies and...man?) at Mac and say, "Wrong color for me, I'd like my money back." My money would be back in my hot little hands before I could say Boo. That's how they roll at Mac. The thing is, when you have this...thing (obsessive personality whatever-it-is), IT DOESN'T MATTER! Reason flies out the door. It doesn't matter that it is STUPID and it is JUST MAKEUP and IT CAN BE FIXED! (please forgive me - I'm yelling at myself, not you). 

So, a rare glimpse into my shallow mind. Know what I'm thinking now? I have just spent an hour on this blog post when I have *real* work to do. Not only is my house a mess, but I have two reviews to write and edHelper work to do (have I told you about my boss? The way I describe him is that he's awesome: he's all winky smileys in his emails...until he's not.), and now I have wasted a good hour. Plus I'm on a Treximet hangover (but thank the good God my headache is gone). So, I'll be castigating myself over the lost hour for the rest of the day. That might take my mind off the foundation, but the thing is - I'm really good at thinking about many things at one time...

Sometimes I wear myself out. Okay, I wear myself out all the time. I would say please don't judge me - but, actually, feel free. I judge me. If, however, you have an obsessive person in your life, try not to judge them too harshly. I promise you - they hate the way they are. They want to change, and odds are decent that they try VERY hard to do so, especially when other people are watching. They are wearing themselves out. Be kind to your obsessive.