Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My Favorite View

As I sit in my room, there are certain things that I like to look at that just make me happy (isn't that they way your bedroom, your retreat, should make you feel?). This view is my favorite one:

The candles are all Yankee (and all bought on ridiculously good sales). I have dozens more candles (both Yankee and BBW) in my closet, but these are the ones that ended up on display. The yarn is all a JoAnn brand called Sweet Roll. I think its regular price is $5.99, but it's always on sale (right now, as of this writing, I actually think it's $2.99!). One skein makes a super cute scarf. 

Now, the majority of my yarn stash is lace yarn, but for the last couple of months I've been knitting worsted, something I haven't done since I first taught myself to knit. I think the reason is twofold: I was getting a little bored with the same-old/same-old of lace shawls, and I wanted to see some quick results. Oh, plus I think I'm starting to go even more blind, to the tune of needing reading glasses when I knit with lace. To forestall that need, I'm using big yarn with big needles. I still love lace (I'd better, with hundreds of skeins of lace yarn in my stash!), but I am enjoying knitting scarves and blankets for the time being.

My other favorite view is my desk. As I sit here, I am looking at dozens of super-fine tip gel pens in cute pen holders, cute erasers, pads of paper, a planner, bars of chocolate from Germany that my husband brought me from his last trip there, a stack of books waiting to be read, a stack of crossword puzzle books waiting to be solved, and a beautiful desk lamp that doubles as an Ott light. Oh, and a cute row of six miniature Yankee candles, one of which (Pumpkin Buttercream) is lit right now. It's the best feeling in the world when your desk makes you want to work!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review of Kid Niche Christian Books

Kid Niche Christian Books
Bible studies are always a very personal thing, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when we were chosen to review Kid Niche Christian Book's Weave Your Word in Me -- Part 1. One thing that did have me excited right off the top was the fact that this Bible curriculum, which is 36 lessons long, is designed for tweens, and is based on The Lord's Prayer, includes an answer key for six translations, one of which is the NABRE, or the New American Bible, Revised Edition - that would be a Catholic translation. The other translations included are KJV, ESV, NKJV, NIV, and NASB. I think it's safe to say that if you're a Christian, there will be a translation with which you'll be comfortable.
This Bible study comes hole-punched on nice heavy paper, ready to put in a binder. There are 72 color-printed pages. It really is an attractive presentation. As for the Bible study exercises themselves, there are several different kinds of activities, including fill-in-the-blanks, matching, multiple choice, and true/false (all of which you might expect), along with more unexpected activities like cartoons and dramas. There is enough variety to keep even the pickiest tween entertained and interested. 

The Bible study that we reviewed consists of 36 lessons, as I mentioned above. The good news is that there is a Weave Your Word in Me - Part 2, consisting of 44 lessons. It is called "What God Wants, God the Holy Spirit. So if you find that you like the format and content of the Bible study, there's more!

Mary-Catherine and Kid Niche

Mary-Catherine (12) was the child I used this study with. The target age for this is 4th-6th grade, and Mary-Catherine is in 7th. Because Mary-Catherine has been doing Bible studies for years, and because we have four readings from the Bible every Sunday in Mass, Mary-Catherine was very familiar with the stories and passages covered in this Bible Study. Of course, she had to look up things in the Bible (there probably aren't many kids who know the answers to such questions as "How many sheep were mentioned in the passage?" by heart, but Mary-Catherine isn't one of them), to get specifics, but, by and large, she could answer many of the questions without doing so. I found myself wishing that she had had this product when she was in 3rd or 4th grade. I think it is perfect for that age range.

There is no doubt that this product is extremely well thought out and put together. It is very high quality and I have no reservations about recommending it. For our family, it was just a little too late in Mary-Catherine's Bible study life to be as useful as it would have been a few years ago. Sadly, I don't have any younger kids to use it, because I would definitely repurchase it for them. It is straight-up Bible study, so it is Catholic-friendly. 

Over fifty other Crew members reviewed this product, so be sure to click the banner below to read their opinions!
Weave Your Word in Me {Kid Niche Christian Books Reviews}
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review of Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs is a really great way for kids to learn how to read. Several years ago, Michael and I reviewed Reading Eggs, but I haven't looked at it since. Well, there have been big changes over at Reading Eggs, so if you haven't looked at in awhile, now is the time to check it out again! For one thing, Reading Eggs has just added brand new Homeschool Program Guides! Designed for K-2 grades, these guides provide a 36-week overview and teaching plan for Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. They are such a value add for Reading Eggs. They can be found under the Bonus Materials section of the program:

Although Michael is too old for Reading Eggs now (we got to review the Reading Eggspress portion of the program), I do want to tell you a little about it. Reading Eggs teaches children to read in 120 lessons broken into groups of ten. Spelling lessons and reading comprehension are part of the program, and a placement test is used to make sure your child starts in the right place. Of course, if you think your child has been placed in the wrong part of the program, you can adjust that placement. I'll remind you again at the end of the review, but if you have a child at the "learning to read" stage, definitely read the other reviews of Reading Eggs to find out much more about how it works.

Reading Eggs*

What I can speak much more authoritatively about is Reading Eggspress, the part of Reading Eggs that Michael (12) used for this review. I'll be honest: when I told Michael that he would be reviewing this program, he was not excited. He told me that he knows how to read (obviously) and that he doesn't need to use a reading program. I told him that Reading Eggspress was much more about reading comprehension and inference and that it was for kids up to 13. He told me he understands what he reads just fine. I told him that was great - he would review it anyway.

I wish I could have recorded Michael's first half hour on Reading Eggspress. He mumbled and grumbled for the first 15 minutes or so as he took the placement test. I was watching over his shoulder. You can miss three questions before the program places you in your level. He complained that the questions that he got wrong were illegitimate and that he should have placed into a higher level, and then he started the program. I watched for a couple of minutes and then got back to my own work. After a few minutes, the grumbling stopped. After a few more minutes, I heard, "Oh, hey! Trading cards! I didn't know they had trading cards! Game changer! Wow! I got a rare one!" So it turns out that you get trading cards as rewards for reading chapters of books and taking quizzes (comprehension, etc.). 

It was all uphill from there, by which I mean Michael began to love Reading Eggspress more and more with every lesson, especially when he realized that he was rewarded with golden eggs with which he could buy things like pets. There are many components to Reading Eggspress. I can see what Michael has done in a snapshot:

It's very true that Michael reads far more advanced books than those found on Reading Eggspress, but it's also clear that his comprehension skills need some work.

I've seen a few times where he doesn't read the whole question before attempting to answer it, and that has hurt him. The arcade game style of Reading Eggspress draws him in, though, and encourages him to keep "playing."

This is what the front  page of the program looks like. Kids have all of these options to choose from. 

Because Michael is dysgraphic, spelling is particularly challenging for him. He has not minded spelling with Reading Eggspress at all, which is great. He can always use more practice.

In this graphic, Michael's avatar is standing in his apartment lobby. Here, he can customize his avatar and view his trading cards. He can also buy furniture, choose paint colors, etc. Since I took this screenshot, Michael has added a sparkly unicorn to an animal family that already included two blue dogs.

This is the library. Here you can read books for which you are rewarded with golden eggs, which can be traded for avatar and apartment accessories.

Here's what Michael has to say about Reading Eggspress in his own words: "I like the incentive to complete lessons to earn eggs and trading cards and such. It's always more fun when you have a goal to accomplish. I've learned to slow down when I'm reading the questions at the end of books so that I see the whole question before I answer it. I think this would be best for younger kids, maybe 2nd through 5th grades, but I'm definitely going to keep using it while we have the subscription because I like getting the golden eggs. A couple of times I know I've had the right answer even though it was marked wrong, which is frustrating. I love the trading cards!!!!"

And there you have it. I think it is safe to say that Reading Eggspress is a hit in our house. As a side note, if you're an Ebates user, there is currently 5% Ebates on the Reading Eggs site! Also, there is a 4-week free trial so you can see if Reading Eggs is right for you! You really have nothing to lose. If you have younger learners and are more interested in the Reading Eggs side of the website, as opposed to Reading Eggspress, please definitely click the banner below to read all of the reviews, since many of them will focus exclusively on Reading Eggs and the "learning to read" aspect of the site.

Reading Eggs

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Monday, October 16, 2017

A Day in the Life

Saturday started with a fishing outing with 4-H. Both Henry and Nicky caught catfish (but I didn't get a picture of Nicky's - that's on Henry's phone). It ended with Therese going to homecoming. I feel like life is passing me by before I can take it all in...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review of CTCMath


After being on the Homeschool Review Crew since 2010, one thing is sure: we've seen math programs come and we've seen math programs go...well, that statement is almost true. Since we saw CTCMath come, we have yet to see it go. This math program became a favorite the first time my kids used the Family Membership back in 2014. In the intervening years, the kids (now 16, 14, 12, and 12) have all taken their turns with various levels of CTCMath. You can read all of our previous reviews here (which I would really encourage you to do because I try to target different things in each review). This time around, I'll be talking about Michael's and Mary-Catherine's (12) experience with Basic Math and Pre-Algebra (essentially 7th grade). Although we drifted away from this math curriculum in recent months, they were legitimately thrilled to hear that they would be going back to it for this review (and, actually, for the foreseeable future). In fact, when I was talking about the rest of high school with Therese (16), she was happy to remember CTCMath, and indicated that she would probably be returning to it for the rest of her high school math. After all, CTCMath goes all the way from K-Calculus!


What is CTCMath?
CTCMath is an Australian company, the brainchild of a homeschool father (which probably explains these amazing rates for homeschool families; N.B., the family rate covers up to *10* children plus you get 60% off + 6 bonus months!).

The lessons are done as short, PowerPoint style videos, followed by questions. For the younger grades, each lesson is less than five minutes. High school lessons are longer, but are still less than 15 minutes typically. My kids never do only one lesson in a sitting. Here is an example of a lesson in progress. The instructor's voice (in his awesome accent!) is narrating:

While there is an option for a printable worksheet to accompany each lesson, my kids have always opted to do all of their work online.

For grades K-8, CTCMath can be used as a standalone math curriculum, but for high school, they recommend it as a supplement to another program. Nicholas (14) used it to supplement another Geometry program in the past, and it worked wonderfully in that regard. 

One way in which CTCMath excels is with its teacher supports. For example, you can see at a glance what your children are up to:

You can assign tasks to them:

You can even look at every aspect of their upcoming (or past) lessons in the parent view:

One thing that has always irritated me (and my children) about other math programs is when I want to see certain things about their lessons and I have to log in as them and potentially disturb their progress to noodle around in their lessons. As you can see from the graphic above, that won't happen with CTCMath!

My Twins and CTCMath

As I indicated previously, my kids already knew that they loved CTCMath. Michael (12) has this to say: "I like how it shows you the lesson and then immediately afterward you do the questions. I just get it better with this program. He's a very good teacher." Mary-Catherine (12) says: "I like it because I've always had a math mental block (ME - true that), but whenever I'm doing CTC, it always seems to come more easily to me and I'm not intimidated."

For my part, I can tell you that although I have set the pass level at 80% for the twins, both of them keep going until they get 100% typically. It's a point of pride with them. They want to get everything right. They want to make their instructor proud (even though he has no idea how they're doing!). I love that.

My family is clearly sold on CTCMath. I have gotten it free for review, and I have paid for it myself. I will keep paying for it until all of my kids graduate. I believe in it that strongly. I'm sure there are differing opinions out there, so be sure to read all of the other reviews by clicking the banner below. If you're *still* not sure, you can always sign up for their free trial

CTCMath Online Math Tutoring {Reviews}
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Friday, October 6, 2017

Homeschool Regrets

...they're pointless. I've been homeschooling for nearly ten years now, and almost every day I look at my kids and think about the million things I could have done differently. I read blogs of younger moms with their cool ideas and their creativity. I think about the mistakes that I've made (and they have been legion). I look at my children and see the holes in their education because of those mistakes. I wonder if I made the right decision homeschooling.

What I try to do when I have those thoughts, though, is to give myself credit for the good things I have done by homeschooling them. They have been allowed to explore interests, express themselves, and experience things that they wouldn't otherwise have been able to. They have been able to miss school (sometimes a *lot* of school) because of prolonged and chronic illnesses without having to deal with intrusive bureaucracy. They have been able to study subjects that are not part of the Common Core. They have been able to enjoy school so very much!

I still doubt myself daily. I still regret my failures. Those regrets are pointless, though, because I can't go back. I always talk about the next time I homeschool in a joking manner, but, of course, that's silly. There's no going back, and living in the past (for whatever reason) won't get you anywhere but morose, and that's no fun for anyone. So if you tend, like me, to question your choices, my best advice is not to. If you're doing something that's not working, change it up, but don't waste time ruing what's already happened. It's done. Move on. That goes for everything in life. You'll be much happier for it.