Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Exploring Creation with Apologia


Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. is known for their high-quality, professional produced series of science textbooks by Jeannie Fulbright. The books are written from a Christian perspective, with emphasis placed on the wonders of our Lord's world. I recently received for review Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day from their elementary series, designed for grades K-6. The elementary books claim to use a Charlotte Mason methodology and have narration, notebooking and nature study built into the lessons.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality of this textbook. Flying Creatures is divided into 14 lessons and each lesson is broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks, complete with reminders to narrate what you have learned and experiments for further investigation using mainly household materials. The simple introduction gives suggestions for scheduling the lessons---typically 2 weeks are spent on each lesson (giving you a year-long science curriculum), though this can be varied somewhat from lesson to lesson. Some will decide to take 2 years to complete the book. The introduction also contains notes on narration, notebooking, a complete list of materials needed to complete the activities in each lesson (nice!), and a "Scientific Speculation Sheet" (for experiments). There is also a password and link given for the "Book Extras," an extensive list of web resources with links for every single lesson in the book.

Lesson 1 begins, quite logically, with Classification and explains how living creatures are classified by scientists to make it easier to learn about individual species. The lesson moves on to cover the principles of flight and includes an experiment on glider design. The lesson also briefly covers habitats, instinct and extinction and finishes up with a Nature Scavenger Hunt. You can see lesson 1 in its entirety here.

It should be noted that Flying Creatures covers all of God's flying creatures, so in addition to birds, the book also includes lessons on bats, flying insects and even pterosaurs. The information seems to be quite thorough and there are plenty of opportunities for first-hand investigation.

The text is written in a fairly engaging, conversational style. However, it is still a textbook. While I have nothing against textbooks as a general rule, as they can be a very valuable resource, I think this one is a bit above my kiddos' heads (ages 3, 5 and almost 9) right now. They very quickly became bored with the reading selections (especially the information on classification) and would beg me to stop reading aloud to them after only a paragraph or two. I feel that Flying Creatures may be a little too structured for the K-3 crowd and should be reserved for upper elementary, say 4th or 5th and up. While Charlotte Mason did advocate the use of many of the principles used in this curriculum (narration and keeping a nature journal, for example), she also advocated a largely unstructured approach to science for children in the early elementary grades, more of a mode of discovery followed by further inquiry, or at least that's my understanding of her principles. Our science studies have been mainly informal to this point, not ruled by a particular path, but more about finding out more about the things we discover and wonder about in God's world.

I think this book could be used in the early elementary grades with some modifications. For example, I would downplay highly technical aspects, like classification, and maybe begin each lesson with a nature walk looking for particular things that pertain to that lesson, or with an experiment, as a way to peak interest and get the kiddos into the "tell me more" frame of mind. Then, read some of the text aloud but either cull from it or break it down into smaller chunks. Lapbooking could also be a welcome addition for younger children. If you wanted to keep older children on the same page, they could read the rest of the lesson independently and learn the more technical aspects.

Since my kiddos are all still fairly young (and Physics is really David's passion at the moment), I think we'll put Flying Creatures on hold for now, but I'm sure that in a couple of years we'll revisit it with renewed enthusiasm.

Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day is available directly from Apologia for $35.

Also available in the elementary series:
Exploring Creation with Zoology II
Exploring Creation with Zoology III
Exploring Creation with Astronomy
Exploring Creation with Botany

To read other reviews of this book and others from Apologia, click the link below:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

TOS Homeschool Crew 2009-2010

Have you been reading my reviews of homeschool products over the past several months, thinkin' pshaw, I can do better than that?

Here is your chance! The Old Schoolhouse Magazine has put out a call for applicants for next year's homeschool crew.

In a nutshell, crew members will receive and review products from up to 75 different vendors over the course of the year. They will be expected use the products in their homeschool and give honest reviews of those products. For complete details on how it works and how to apply, click the banner below:


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rocket Phonics Update

Back in February, I reviewed Rocket Phonics, a program that claims phenomenal results in teaching young children how to read. You can find the original review here.

As I said we would, we did continue the program for as long as it seemed to benefit Mary, but we very quickly found that it really wasn't going to work for her. My gut instinct that using an ITA (initial teaching alphabet) would cause problems down the road proved to be dead on. Part of this may have been due to the fact that Mary already knew some letters can make more than one sound and often would use those sounds instead of the Rocket Phonics sounds. And part of it was just, hey, kids are smart and not too easily misled.

While the ITA is used more or less as a scaffold to get children started reading faster, I don't really agree with the philosophy or soundness behind that idea. There's really no reason for children to learn to read faster, as each child develops and matures at her own pace with ALL skills, not just reading. Of course there are exceptions. Maybe early reading is an important goal for your child or you have an older child who struggles. Perhaps the ITA approach would work better in these situations.

I also feel that this approach will be detrimental to spelling in the long run. I have always cringed at the notion of letting children continue to just spell words "phonetically" far into the middle elementary grades without teaching them proper spelling for simple words (something that seems to go on in some schools)---it does nothing but reinforce the incorrect spelling and it becomes that much harder for them to learn to spell correctly. Although Rocket Phonics does not advocate this attitude towards spelling and does present the words spelled correctly, the letters that don't fit the ITA are shown in light gray with the ITA shown below them in a bright color---ultimately, the incorrect spelling is what is going to stick.

Mary simply became frustrated with it. She got confused by some of the letter pairs used for the ITA. The sound cards were inconsistent and confusing. The reading pages would show pictures that had nothing to do with the phrases she was reading (supposed to be an exercise in comprehension---which phrases have to do with the picture and which don't), but she just found that confusing. After all, when reading even excellent adult readers use cues like pictures, headings and so on in order to get a preview of what they will be reading.

We've taken a break on any phonics the past few weeks---the frustration level was simply too high. Now Mary is interested again, but we will be taking a different approach. I'll post here on my blog as we progress.

I do think Rocket Phonics could benefit some, particularly those who have already tried other approaches without success. There are plenty of positive aspects (see original review), it's just not the right program for us.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Homeschool In the Woods: A Review and A Great Giveaway!

Be sure to read to the end for your chance at a great giveaway!

My kiddos absolutely love, love, love doing lapbooks. They're such a cool way to share what they are learning and David, in particular, loves to revisit them to "review." The only trouble is, 8-year-old David really and truly dislikes the predesigned kind. You know what I'm talking about, the kind where someone else has done all the work of designing templates and clip-art. You just print it out on cardstock or paper, color, fill-in, cut out, and put it together. Nearly every lapbook he has enjoyed putting together has been planned and designed from beginning to end by him and dear old Mom. All the others (so far, anyway) have bored him. They're either too plain or require too much writing or something.

Enter Homeschool in the Woods! Amy Pak has designed a truly wonderful Activity Pak on the New Testament which includes the templates you need to make a high quality lapbook, an Armor of God poster, and a New Testament Times scroll (scroll pages could also be used to make notebook pages). And it's in pdf form (either as a download or on cd), so you can print it out and do it as many times as you want!

The detail of the artwork is amazing. Be sure to click on the pics for closeups. My kiddos were begging to color more instead of complaining about being bored with coloring cartoony pictures. They had a real sense of creating something of beauty, and took care to fill in the details with their colored pencils. For each activity, I read to them about the topic and then we would discuss it, while they colored away.

We were on an abbreviated schedule with this due to review deadlines and a baby coming any day, but when the kiddos are a bit older, I plan to get this project out again and combine it with a complete study on the New Testament. We didn't do the scroll this time (a little too much writing at this age), but I know it'll be a fun project when they are older.

The scriptures quoted in Amy Pak's New Testament Activity Pak come from the NKJV. There really isn't any Biblical commentary included (though there are some summaries given in a couple of places), and this isn't really a study per se, just activities, so you can supply whatever is appropriate for your denomination. The activities are designed for grades 3 and up, though a younger child could do them with plenty of adult help (5-year-old Mary loved doing her share). Some of the cutting is quite detailed, so even a 3rd grader may want some help in the cutting department. And some of the scripture readings will be way above a young child's head...another reason to revisit the project again as your children mature.

You can purchase the New Testament Activity Pak directly from Homeschool in the Woods for $18.95 (download) or $19.95 (cd). Other products include: the Old Testament Activity Pak, Time Travelers History Studies, and Timeline Figures...I just might have to add some these to my collection!

Ok, here's the part you've been waiting for!

Amy has very generously agreed to let me giveaway a free copy to one of my readers! Here's what you need to do for your chance at winning a free pdf download of the New Testament Activity Pak:
  • Visit Amy's website, then leave a comment here on this post telling me which of her products most interest you.
  • To get an additional entry, blog about this giveaway on your own blog, then leave me another comment here linking to your post.
  • Please be sure that you leave a way of contacting you in your comment.
I'll draw a winner at random April 3, 2009 (that's the baby's due date:-).

For more reviews of this product, be sure to visit the link below:

Schleich---Toys You'll Pass Down to Your Grandkids


As much as I enjoy receiving new curriculum to review...my kiddos like the toys. Who can blame them, especially when the toys are from Schleich?

We received these from Farm Life Collection: the Mustang Black Stallion (he's rearing up, though he looks like he's taking a nap in the photo---I should have my 8-year-old take these pictures for me:-), the Hen, and the Piglet (eating). And we received these from the Wild Life Collection: the Female Giraffe, , the Ostrich Chick, and the Black Bear Cub. The quality and details of these animals are awesome, truly exceptional compared to any toy animals we've had in the past...and yes, they are anatomically correct, but are very tastefully done.

And play value? My kiddos claimed ownership almost immediately, with one boy taking the stallion, the other boy taking the giraffe, and the girl taking the little ones and...no fighting, believe it or not! I thought for sure there would be arguments, but everyone was thrilled with their new animals and I have a feeling they will be hankering to add to the collection. I'm not even a little bit worried about durability...these are the kind of toys you can pass down to the next generation.

Schleich is also in the process of expanding their website to add more educational features, so be on the lookout for these changes sometime in the latter half of this year. In the meantime, be sure to check out their on-line catalog...they have over 500 different items available, far more than you'll find in any one store. Prices on the animals I received range from $2.49 to $6.49. In addition to animals, you'll also find barns, knights, fairies, and assorted other figures on the site.

To read other reviews and catch a glimpse of some of the other animals available from Schleich, click the banner below:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

More Easter Gifts


Alphabet Alley is another great company with safe, kid-friendly toys for your little ones. A while back, I reviewed their Noah's Ark matching game and Go Fish game. They also have wooden blocks and puzzles, stickers, and other matching games.

Check out my original review to see these high quality products and why I think they'll stand up to your kids.

Kid Pics


Sorry, took me a whole week to get the snow picture on:-)
Maybe this will be our last snow this season?

This one is from today.
Peter and Mary curled up under our computer desk
and pretended it was a cave.

Looking for Easter Gifts?


One2Believe, creators of the Nativity set I reviewed last year, have also created this cute Noah's Ark set, complete with Noah and 14 animals (donkeys, camels, elephants, ostriches, sheep, lions, and monkeys). There's a gang-plank for the animals to climb into the ark and Noah holds a shepherd's crook to help herd them in (the crook is a separate piece).

The top "deck" of the ark comes off so you can put the animals inside for easy storage. And, the bottom of the ark is specially designed so that the whole thing floats! A bit big for a bath toy in my house, but I'm sure the kiddos will be trying it out in the wading pool, come summer.

As you can see, David, Mary and Peter all enjoyed playing with the ark, though their imagination ran along the lines of animals accidentally being left behind and finding themselves swimming behind the ark and visiting underwater caves with mermaids.

A couple of things to note about the set: There is no doorway or entrance for the animals to walk into the ark. The only way to put them in the ark is to take the top off. Noah's wife and family are not represented...not sure how Noah will repopulate the earth:-)

But overall, it's a cute, child-friendly set with plenty of play possibilities. The Tales of Glory Noah's Ark set is available directly from One2Believe for $29.99.

For more reviews of this product by other homeschoolers, click the banner below:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

SpellQuizzer


Looking for a supplement to your favorite spelling program? Or maybe spelling quizzes for multiple kiddos with different spelling lists takes up a chunk of your morning? Maybe you're looking for a painless way to reinforce the parts of a flower, animal classification, or to remember the names of Renaissance explorers? SpellQuizzer might be just the tool you're looking for.

SpellQuizzer is a simple and easy to use little program designed by Daniel Hite, founder of TedCo Software. The program enables you to create custom spelling lists with recorded clues for each word. You can use your PC's microphone to record the word and a sentence for each word using your own voice. Make it fun by using a silly voice, or tell a joke using the word...it's all up to you. For added practice, have your child record his own spelling words. There are some prerecorded lists available for download from the website, as well (including graded, frequently misspelled words, the months, the days, and the 50 states). And, you can export your own spelling lists to share with fellow homeschoolers using SpellQuizzer. If you don't have a microphone for your PC, you also have the option of typing in a clue up to 100 characters long.

When your child takes a "quiz," he gets immediate feedback for any incorrectly spelled words (a window pops up with the correct spelling in green and the spelling he gave in red). When he's completed the quiz, he'll get a fanfare if he had 100% correct, or the option to retry any words he spelled incorrectly.

The latest update has added the ability to use symbols like +=<>/, which has really opened up the application possibilities for this neat, little program. Here are just of a few I've come up with on my own:
  • math facts
  • math vocabulary
  • science vocabulary
  • people in history
  • homophones
  • books of the Bible
If you have a reluctant writer (and I sure do), typing the answers on a keyboard may help with "quiz resistance." While quizzing of spelling words is not a high priority for us as a family at the moment, as David seems to be a natural born speller, this program will definitely come in handy for some of these other applications.

The only real disadvantages I see are:
  • There are not many prerecorded lists available, though more are being added.
  • There is no progress report or any other "proof" to print out and put in your student's portfolio.
  • There is a little dialogue a box that pops up whenever you enter the same "spelling" word more than once. While this is a nice feature to avoid typing duplicate entries, it's a bit annoying if you are trying to enter math facts where the same "word" (number) might have several different clues that it is the answer to---it would be nice to be able to turn it off.
SpellQuizzer is available for purchase and download from TedCo Software for $29.95. It runs on Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista. Want to see it in action, first? There's a free trial download available here and demo videos here.

For more reviews of this software by other homeschoolers, be sure to click the banner below:

What We Use In Our Homeschool