Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Looking Back

One thing that I think about all the time is how much better I could have done at homeschooling my kids when they were little. I very much let my own predilections dictate what we would do and how. I often make the distinction between homeschoolers and people who homeschool. We fall into the latter category. I think most people who know my kids in real life would vouch for the fact that they don't come off as homeschooled. They dress normally (whatever the heck that is - in my house I guess it's tank tops, skinny jeans, and shorts that I consider too short). They are very aware of pop culture trends and fads. My daughters wear makeup. All of my kids are perfectly capable of "socializing" (ugh) and making friends (now, whether they choose to or not is another story altogether). As for me, I'm a mom who homeschools, not a homeschool mom. To wit, I have never owned a denim skirt. Yes, my hair is long, but it also sees a hairdresser every six weeks like clockwork. I wear oodles of makeup. I listen to Eminem and metal.

This sounds like a digression, but it's really not. You know that image you have of homeschoolers who go on awesome field trips, who make an art project out of *anything*, and who do very cool "learny" things all day? Yeah, that's not us. Now, until very recently I did read aloud to my younger three kids *a lot*, but I have also read aloud to my husband ever since I met him, so I don't consider that particularly homeschooly - that's just what we do in my family. My kids use a fair number of textbooks (I know - the shame!). They do worksheets. They work on the computer a ton. Lots of very unhomeschooly things (but you know what? You can't even really say that anymore - there are so many homeschoolers out there! And they are doing so many different things! My kids are actually not normal among the homeschoolers we know because we don't do any kind of co-op. I refuse to hand over control of their coursework to anyone else. If I'm going to do this thing, then *I'm* going to do this thing.)

Now that did turn into a digression. My point initially was that as I look back, and especially as I read the blogs of homeschooling moms with younger kids, I realize that I could have done things a lot better when my kids were younger. They could have had more fun along the way. I could have broken out of my comfort zone. I could have let up on the academics a little to embrace the fun a bit more. Maybe my kids needed that. I'm quite sure they would have enjoyed getting out a bit more (INTROVERT PROBLEMS!).

Here's the thing, though. You don't get to go back. If there is one thing I realize more and more the older I get (and I am *old*, y'all), it's that the person you are now is not the person you were then (I know - deep). Of course I would do things differently now. I've been doing this for almost ten years. I know so much more now. I am slightly handicapped (although I really tend to think of it more as being empowered) by the fact that I don't/won't ask for help or advice the vast majority of the time. When I started homeschooling, I just did it. I put together my own curriculum (many parts different for each of my four children - true both then and now) and went for it.

Also (does anyone else feel this way?), looking back really is a form of self-indulgence, isn't it? If I let myself, I can look back endlessly at my life and berate myself for many of my choices. Thankfully, I don't regret any of my major life choices: college, husband, etc. I go back and forth on grad school. In many ways it seems like a huge waste of 7.5 years, but in the end I came out with a degree that, for better or for worse, no one can ever take away. That and $4.00 will buy me a cup of coffee.

I guess what I'm trying to say is twofold: first, to echo my kids' shooting coach - your most important shot is the one you are taking right now. The shot you already took is gone. It's only important to the extent that you can figure out what you can do to improve on it. But when it's done, it's done. Same with life's choices and events. They're done. The decisions have been made. You can't go back. Focus on the now. The most important day is today. Also, it will be fine. No matter how you homeschooled, regardless of the curriculum you chose, the art projects you did or didn't do, the field trips you did or didn't take, it will be fine. Your kids will have learned. It will be fine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - A Little Yankee Candle Haul

It's little in two ways...little candles and not too many of them! I love taking pictures of my desk, so here's the latest one! The candles won't be living here forever (well, a couple at a time will). This size is PERFECT for my bedroom - just the right amount of throw. I started burning the large Yankee candles when I was in college. I would spend the weekends at my now in-laws beautiful (quiet!) house. My sister-in-law would come home and walk up the stairs saying, "I know Laura's up here studying because I smell her candle!" Nothing has changed. I flirted with B&BW candles for awhile (I still have a dozen or more and I love them), but nothing is better than Yankee. These were on sale buy one, get two free when I bought them last week.

Right now I have Kitchen Spice (large) burning in my living room and Honey Clementine (small) burning in my bedroom.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review of The Typing Coach

The Typing Coach
Learning to type is a skill that everyone needs, perhaps now more than ever.  The Typing Coach offers one option for learning to type with The Typing Coach Online Typing Course.  This course is designed to be used over the course of a ten-week period at the pace of one lesson per week. That's very manageable! 
The Typing Coach

There are three components to this program - audio, visual, and typing (written). With each lesson, you listen to an audio clip of David Kimball (the eponymous typing coach) explaining the particular typing concept being taught (each row, shift keys, number keys, etc.). At different times there are videos (like the "commercial break" below - others include course explanations and insights), and then you execute the typing concept yourself using a third-party application like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Unlike other typing programs we have used, most of the typing itself is not done inside of The Typing Coach (with the exception of tests).

My primary tester was Mary-Catherine (12). 

With the exception of her older sister, Mary-Catherine is my most proficient typist. She has taken other typing programs before, but she knew her skills were getting rusty because she doesn't type very much. She has been asking me to get a typing program for her for awhile now, so she was happy when we had the opportunity to review this one! Mary-Catherine started off this review very gung-ho, but she soon ran into issues with The Typing Coach. There were things about this program that she didn't really like. Perhaps because she is so visual, listening to the audio instruction confused more than it helped her. Also, having to repeatedly type the alphabet frustrated her. She became so frustrated with the program that I didn't have her do the tests in the practice and testing center, as they require covering the monitor so you can't see what you're typing (which goes counter to what Mary-Catherine has learned in previous typing programs). That would have frustrated her to no end. Obviously, this program did not work for us - by which I mean that it was not our cup of tea - NOT that it did not serve its intended goal.  

Because, actually, it did kind of serve its unique goal for us. It got Mary-Catherine typing again. It refreshed her on things like the home row keys. Please remember as you read this that Mary-Catherine already knew how to type: she has already had a keyboarding course. *This* course is intended to teach students who don't know how to type that skill. It is not intended as a refresher. You can chalk up our "miss" to user error. David Kimball says that he has a 100% success rate with The Typing Coach. He also offers a "try before you buy," and the course is only $17/year. You really have nothing to lose by giving it a try. Also, as always, you don't have to take my word for it! Click the banner below to see what 99 other Review Crew members had to say about The Typing Coach!

The Typing Coach Online Typing Course {The Typing Coach Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review of Only Passionate Curiosity

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Today's review is a little different. Only Passionate Curiosity's Homeschool Rescue is actually owned by a former Crew member! When you purchase her program, you have actually purchased your very own homeschool mentor - at least that's what it feels like. When I was working through Heather's course, I felt like I finally knew what many of the women I have talked to about homeschooling over the years must have felt like. See, I have always been the one people come to for homeschooling advice, reassurance, and help, but I have never had *that person* to go to myself. For the most part, I haven't felt like I needed her. I'll confess, though, it was very nice to hear Heather telling me things that I know intuitively, but that it is very, very good to hear said out loud now and then.

I feel like I'm getting ahead of myself, though. What exactly is Homeschool Rescue?

Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue
Homeschool Rescue is comprised of videos, transcripts, audio downloads, homework and workbooks, and other resources and links. The videos have a total run time of about five and a half hours. The great thing about the course, though, is that it caters to so many different kinds of people. I find that I just don't have a lot of patience to sit down and watch these kinds of videos, but I was really hungry for the information contained in them, so I went through and devoured the transcripts before going back and actually watching the videos. I'm the kind of person who wants all of the information NOW. Plus, I read fast. I love that the transcripts are included.
Only Passionate Curiosity Homeschool Rescue

Each lesson proceeds according to the same pattern. First you watch the video (you can also take notes during it - Heather provides some great notepaper).

At any point during this process, you can also reference the transcript:

After you've watched the video, there is at least one, and usually more, homework assignment (to protect Heather's intellectual property, I didn't actually include the homework - just the header for this section):

Finally, if you like having things scheduled out for you, you're covered! Heather provides a full 60-day schedule!

Perhaps the most important question is what kinds of things you'll be covering in this course for mom. Basically, anything that concerns you as a homeschooling mom is what you'll be covering! Scheduling, curriculum, time management, and, perhaps most importantly, taking care of yourself. If you have ever wondered if you're a good homeschooling mom -- or even a good *mom* -- this course might be one that you would benefit from.

The way the course works is on a rolling enrollment basis. Because Heather wants to make sure that she can give adequate personal attention to all of her clients, she limits enrollment to the course at any given time. Thus, she only opens up enrollment a few times a year so that she can be completely present to all of her clients, especially since access to her private Facebook group is included in the cost ($97 for lifetime access to the videos and the Facebook group, plus bonuses, or $137 for all of that plus three one-on-one coaching sessions with Heather).

What I Thought

I think there is a real need for courses like this. Too many homeschool moms (or prospective homeschool moms) I talk to seem completely overwhelmed. Sometimes they are drowning in a cup of water, and sometimes they have real issues in their homeschools. Heather addresses both issues. She is compassionate and informed and makes you feel like she is on your side. Even her personal consultation price is extremely reasonable. You would pay more than that for one or two sessions with many personal trainers, therapists, or doctors, but as an expert in her field, Heather is offering you her services at a highly discounted rate. I'm at a different stage in my homeschool career (we are in our ninth year), so I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing, but Heather addresses many of the questions I had at the start (but didn't want to ask anyone! I hate asking people questions, let alone for help! Is anyone else like that?). Well, with this course, you can keep your vulnerability to yourself while still getting the encouragement and advice you need.

Mine is only one opinion. 99 other Homeschool Review Crew members test drove Homeschool Rescue, so click on the banner below to see what they had to say!

Homeschool Rescue {Only Passionate Curiosity Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Wordy Wednesday

You know what's awkward? Having a blog and not being able to write everything that's on your heart because people who read your blog may not be in possession of all of the information you're in possession of. That is all I'll say about that. Sigh.

We spent the morning at my Dad's house. I love my Dad so much. He honestly takes such good care of my kids and me. I count on him so much. I try not to think about what will happen when he's gone. I know that at 42 I'm very lucky to still have both of my parents and my's so hard to contemplate a future that doesn't contain them. I am incredibly blessed to have in-laws that I consider as a second set of parents, but I sometimes feel that (apart from my husband, obviously) no one will ever understand my like my father. No one will ever be able to challenge me on my beliefs in the same way. When I was a kid I always thought that some day I would be prepared to lose my parents. Now I know better.

Listening to:


Review of Focus on the Family

Focus On The Family

Focus on the Family does many things, but their ministry can probably best be summed up by the word media. One aspect of this media is their Adventures in Odyssey program. New from Focus on the Family is Captain Absolutely, a graphic novel based on a character from that much loved program! Subtitled Defending Truth, Justice, and Lots More Truuuth!, this fun comic book-style paperback features Josiah King, who, after being trapped in a library and a room full of Bibles and radioactive fumes, is transformed into the superhero Captain Absolutely. 

 Captain Absolutely

My 12 year-old son Michael is a comic book aficionado, so when this book arrived in the mail, I immediately handed it to him to read, which he did in about half an hour. Here's what he had to say about the book: "Captain Absolutely is about a young man who is at the library when there is a big explosion and he is trapped in a room of Bibles and (unbeknownst to him) toxic fumes filter into the room. The explosion also affected his friend, but you don't find that out until later when you find out that his arch-nemesis is his friend Darren. Throughout the book he fights crime and defeats small time villains until he meets a girl named Hana who has superpowers as well. There are Bible phrases throughout the book. I like the character bios at the back of the book and the art style is really nice as well. The story itself is not bad, but it's a little annoying how there is absolutely no violence (and that's not the word I really want - I guess I mean action  -- comic book style). The action is what makes a comic book in my opinion. Technically this is a comic book and not a graphic novel, since a graphic novel must be over 124 pages long and this book is 105 pages, including the character bios. It's only 97 pages without them."

(Michael again emphasized that the book was okay - that it wasn't bad. He referenced friends of ours who he says would absolutely love this book, even though it's not really his cup of tea.)

What it comes down to for us, then, is that this is a comic book style book that, for Michael, doesn't have the hallmark of a true comic book - that cool comic action. However, for kids whose parents don't want them to partake of any kind of violence, even cartoony or comic book style violence, this book could be just what the doctor ordered. And, I'll be very honest, when I told Michael that we could give this book to our friends when the review was over, he said he didn't really want to because he loves the art style of the drawings so much. It seems, then, that there is something for everyone to love in this comic book.

Ours is just one opinion! The Homeschool Review Crew offers you 69 others! Be sure to click on the banner below to read all of them!

Captain Absolutely {Focus On The Family Review}

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of Institute for Excellence in Writing's High School Essay Intensive

Institute for Excellence in Writing
One of the most amazing privileges I have had as a seven-year member of the Homeschool Review Crew has been reviewing curriculum from Institute for Excellence in Writing. This time around, Therese and Nicholas got to take a look at High School Essay Intensive, which is a DVD course comprised of five DVDs totaling six-and-a-half hours, student handouts, and Portable Walls for the Essayist. Let's look at each component in turn.
Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive
The discs are broken into four parts and are as follows: General Strategies for Essay Writing: Length and Structure, General Strategies for Essay Writing: Invention and Style, Understanding and Preparing for the New ACT Essay, Understanding and Preparing for the Redesigned SAT, and Strategies for the Personal Essay. The DVDs feature a writing seminar taught by Andrew Pudewa. Like the rest of the courses I have from IEW, he is teaching the course to actual high school students. It really is the next best thing to being in one of his classes.

The student handouts may be copied for use within an immediate family only. They contain both writing assignments and outline-type notes of the DVD lectures for the students to fill in as they watch the lectures. Filing in the notes this way has a twofold purpose: first, doing so provides students with a complete set of notes at the completion of the course. Second, when students write down the things they hear in this manner, they are more likely to remember what they learned.

The third component of the program is the Portable Walls for the Essayist. If you're familiar at all with IEW, then you know what portable walls are. If not, portable walls are like the individual dividers that we used to have in public school to keep wandering eyes off of each other's work. They are like foldable "cheat sheets" of helpful information that you can use to remind you of key aspects of this program. This set of portable walls focuses on essay models, reminding writers of the various types of essays, word lists, and the important aspects of introductory and concluding paragraphs.

How We Used It

I'll disclaim right off the bat that Therese never really got along with IEW. I think the reason is twofold: she was already a very competent writer when I first brought IEW into the house and, for whatever reason, Mr. Pudewa's teaching style does not resonate with her (fun fact: Therese debated one of Mr. Pudewa's sons at her first ever debate tournament when she was 12!). However, I have three other children who run for the TV when they hear Mr. Pudewa's voice (because I have put an IEW DVD on) and who think he is the cat's meow. Proof that not all homeschooled kids are created equal and that there is a teacher and a program for every child. 

In this case, though, because the writing portion of standardized tests is so important, I definitely wanted Therese to take a look at this course. After she did the initial exercise, though, picking one of two argumentative essay prompts and writing on it for 20 minutes, and I read the essay and found it to be of impeccable quality, I changed my mind. The fact is that Therese is just a stellar writer. Her high school curriculum focuses on writing critical essays. She writes speeches to perform. Debate has honed her critical thinking and it is reflected in her writing more and more each year. She is beyond this course. Fortunately -- I have another teenager!

Nicholas, 13, is a rising freshman. He has good instincts when it comes to writing, but does not write well under pressure and has not had to write on a standardized test yet (unlike Therese, who took the SAT for the Duke Talent Identification Program when she was in 7th grade). He is the perfect candidate for this program. When asked to complete the same argumentative essay assignment, he wasn't able to write a complete essay in the 20 minute time period. He just can't organize his thoughts that quickly. During the course of the review period, then, he has worked through the first part of the DVD series - General Strategies for Essay Writing: Length and Structure, which has been tremendously helpful in aiding him in understanding what an essay actually looks like. Frankly, it couldn't have come at a better time in his educational career since he is about to start high school. While he is not crazy about the program, he's not crazy about writing in general, and he can definitely see the improvement in his writing. Plus, he likes Mr. Pudewa, so that's a big plus!

If you have a high schooler who needs help with essay writing in general, or with timed essay writing in particular, I really recommend this course. 59 other Crew members also got to review this program, so be sure to click the banner below to see what they had to say about it.

High School Essay Intensive {Institute for Excellence in Writing Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Wordless Wednesday - Courage

I almost wrote another post about Therese, but if it bores everyone else half as much as it bores me...well, I just decided to borrow something my Uncle Len posted on FB the other day. It sums everything up as well as anything else. Keep being courageous! Remember, we are not of this world and we are not for this world.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review of Algebra for Breakfast

Algebra for Breakfast

I have reviewed many math programs in the last seven years, but I'll confess that Algebra for Breakfast takes the prize for best name. This math enrichment program is unlike anything I have ever used before, so, for once, Michael and Mary-Catherine (both 12) got to do something that the other kids didn't get to do! They are in 6th grade, so we reviewed the level for grades 5/6.

The brainchild of Bob Hazen, a math teacher with a Master's Degree in Mathematics Education, Algebra for Breakfast is the online version of the Hazens'  Summer Algebra Institute, developed after Bob spent years working with young children teaching them how to do algebra. You can read about Bob's entire teaching journey here

Algebra for Breakfast

Algebra for Breakfast is different from other online math programs. There are two levels available, 3rd-4th grades and 5th-6th grades. The program requires a set of math manipulatives (which are included in the Full Membership Pack) and math dice. The lessons total 50 in number and are unlocked over a period of 90 days (you have access to all of the lessons after 60 days). The reasoning behind the gradual unlocking of lessons is that children learn best online in segments, rather than immersion-style. This finding is especially true when the online program is supplemental, rather than primary. The lessons are delivered as short video clips of the Mr. Hazen teaching actual children in a classroom setting, followed by a worksheet (which you print from the Internet inside of the lesson). Because the lessons themselves are so short and Mr. Hazen's approach is so unique, this program is the perfect supplement for the student is math averse or even math phobic. Best of all, some of the videos have pre-instruction content (in the form of separate videos) for the parent, meaning that you really don't have to have any math knowledge at all to take advantage of this program. Mr. Hazen literally does everything for you.

I'm including a screenshot of the names of the first 20 lessons just so you can see what your child will be learning. If you're like me, you might be skeptical that your 5th or 6th grader could be learning about *trinomials*, but put your doubts aside: Mr. Hazen takes the fear and mystery out of algebra. He literally demystifies it. I wish I had had him for a pre-algebra teacher back in 7th grade when my math career began going astray. Prior to that year, I had always been a straight A student. After that, math always stood between me and the perfect report card.

If your child is a math natural, like my first two, then you may not need or want this program, but if your child struggles with or is afraid of math, I would strongly encourage you to check this program out.

What My Twins Thought

I'll be honest - it was a struggle to get my twins on board with Algebra for Breakfast. It is always a struggle to get them to do math. Once they actually sat down with the videos, though, they didn't give me any more trouble. They realized, quite simply, that Algebra for Breakfast isn't hard. They won't go so far as to admit that it's fun, but it's not hard. And they are learning and understanding math concepts more deeply than they usually do. When I got this picture of Mary-Catherine working, she looked at me and said, "I like him." Since Mary-Catherine usually despises anyone who even says the word "math" to her, that's praise of the highest order.

I wish that Mr. Hazen could just teach all of their math from here on out. He is very no nonsense (but has a kind manner), and tells students what they need to know while simultaneously illustrating with manipulatives why such is the case. Seeing math can make such a difference for some kids. Obviously this is a supplementary program, so there wouldn't be any kill and drill, but I have the distinct impression that Mr. Hazen would reject that philosophy anyway. Now if only I could explain the concept of "supplementary program" to Michael and Mary-Catherine...(as in -- you still have to do other math!).

If your children are younger than mine, remember that Algebra for Breakfast has a grades 3/4 level as well! Other Crew members reviewed that level, as well as the grades 5/6 level, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews.

Bob Hazen's Algebra Lessons {Algebra for Breakfast Reviews}

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wordless Wednesday - Inspiration

The little dish I have on my desk. It reminds me to put things in perspective.