Homeschool Posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: The Phonetic Zoo from IEW


You may have already known about Institute for Excellence in Writing’s excellent writing program…did you know that director Andrew Pudewa has a program for excellence spelling, too?

The Phonetic Zoo program for Excellence in Spelling hinges on how the brain takes in written information. Really fascinating stuff. Really. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about how our everyday activities impact what we learn and even how we learn. Basically, the premise is this: when the brain is presented with a new word, it doesn’t take in and record that new word one letter at a time in left-to-right order…it takes in the whole word at once. Think about it…when you are puzzling over how to spell a word, do you try to see if it looks right? Or try to see it as a picture it in your mind? But what if you remember the picture wrong? Or if the picture is a little hazy? A real problem, if even you aren’t struggling with dyslexia or some other LD.

There is an alternative to reading words over and over again and trying to visualize them in our minds when we spell them. If instead we hear the word spelled out loud, the ear (and the brain) can only hear one letter at a time…it’s much harder to mis-record the information that way, and easier to store the correct word order in long-term memory. Brilliant, right? But maybe, like me, you are already a little overwhelmed with doing one-on-one work with multiple kiddos and you were soooo hoping that spelling could be an independent job for your oldest, hmm? That’s where the Phonetic Zoo comes in.

The Zoo is designed for children ages 9 and up, who already have basic spelling under their belts. The program is multi-sensory and sequential. It does involve some teaching (you present each new lesson by initially going over the spelling rule and the words in that lesson), but the daily tests and correcting can be self-lead through the aid of audio CDs. The program can also be used without the CDs, making it completely teacher led.

EIS Starter Set thumb-e_3For review purposes, we received the Level 3 Starter kit, which includes:

  • 6 CDs (levels A and B each have 5)
  • Spelling and the Brain and Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo DVD which explains the program and the whys behind it (also includes a pdf with additional teacher’s notes)
  • Lesson Cards (include all three levels of spelling words and jingles)
  • Personal Spelling Cards to record your kiddo’s everyday spelling goofs
  • Zoo Cards (think of them as spelling trading cards)

Additionally you will need:

  • lined paper
  • 2 different colored ink pens
  • a cd player (headphones preferred)
  • a DVD player

Briefly, this is how it works: for each new lesson, you present the spelling rule, with a little “jingle” to help remember it, and the new word list. Each day, your kiddo will take a test, writing each word as it is spoken on the audio cd (a word is said, given in a sentence, then repeated). Then, he will play the next track, which spells out each word so he can write out the correct spelling and make any corrections. He has to score 100% on the same list 2 times in a row to move onto the next list. For a more detailed description of how the Phonetic Zoo works, check out this page.

And what did we think?

David has always been an excellent speller, it seems to just come naturally to him, so he’s never actually used a formal spelling program. But there are a few things that trip him up. Is it ie or ei? for instance. After giving him the placement test, I decided Level C would be the best fit. And since each level contains the words from all the levels, I knew that if he needed review from any Level A or B words, it wouldn’t be a problem.

The first word list went great. After only a few days, he had it mastered. It helped that there were only a few out of the 15 words that he was iffy on. And then we hit the 2nd word list…and a brick wall. That would be the ie’s.Open-mouthed smile

He could not consistently get them all correct. So he started moaning and groaning and complaining about the enunciation of the words on the CD (the CDs are well produced, so really no problem there) and making other excuses on why he really really really didn’t want to take that test again. I searched the teacher’s notes in vain hoping for more help on teaching the ie rule exceptions (there’s some in there, but not really much---a complete list of the exceptions would have been helpful).

I considered moving onto the next list and coming back to this one…but then I had a lightening bolt. The problem was not the words, but the method.

The program doesn’t strictly follow the theory laid out in the DVD…testing a skill not already mastered is not the way to learn it. While it might make sense to present the rule and then give a pre-test on the first day of a lesson to see how many of the words the child already knows, it really doesn’t make sense to give them the same test every day until they get it right.

You might think that the learning will happen when he corrects his misspellings. There’s a problem with that though…by that point he’s already learned it wrong by spelling it the wrong way. Each time you do something a certain way (whether it’s right or wrong) it strengthens that neural pathway (I told you I had been doing some reading). The correct information has to compete with the incorrect information already in his head.

I was talking to David about this, and I said:

“It’s like putting the cart before the horse! It won’t work.”

He said: “Unless the horse pushes the cart.”

And that’s the answer, of course! Here’s what we are doing (we just started doing it this week, so we’ll have to see how it goes). Instead of listening to the test track each day, David is going to listen to the answer track each day and write out the words as the spelling is dictated to him. In this way, only the correct spelling will be reinforced. On Friday, he’ll take the test and see if he knows them all. I really think this is going to work. But I’ll keep you posted.

Alternatively, I could dictate the spelling myself (and I will if this doesn’t work out), but he likes the independence of doing this on his own (and so do I).

Overall, I like the materials provided with The Phonetic Zoo and think they can be used to give a child a solid spelling background, but the method, as laid out, needs some work. It might be highly successful with kiddos who are motivated by “beating” their previous score on a test…not so much for my test-phobic 10-year-old boy.

Phonetic Zoo is available directly from IEW. You may download the free Phonetic Zoo placement test here.

  • Starter Kits (available for level A, B and C) sell for $99.
  • Audio CD sets for the the levels can be purchased separately for $79 each.
  • BEST VALUE: The Basic Set (includes all the spelling cards and the DVD, but not the audio CDs) sells for $29.
Read more reviews of this product on the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received the materials these materials free of charge for review purposes. I received no other compensation and was not in any way obligated to write a positive review. The opinions reflected here are my own.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers
“Don’t disappear, you have school work to do.”


“What’s the matter?!”

“You never let me do anything I wanna do!”

“I’m really sick of your attitude.”

Child starts randomly kicking things.

“You are acting like a 5-year-old! Get out of my sight…I can’t stand it when you act like this!”

Um, yeah, that started with a 10-year-old having a meltdown and ended with a 39-year-old having a meltdown. Sound familiar? Things can get a little intense around here when the little people decide not to cooperate.

Having your 10-year-old throw a fit about putting on his pajamas or finishing his homework is one thing. But butting heads with him every other minute of the day is a trial by fire…and often tears. How can I teach Peter how to read or help Mary with her math if their older brother is monopolizing my time and energy with constant power struggles? And what happens when the 5-year-old decides that he’s had enough, too, and throws his own tantrum?

Maybe you’ve heard of 1-2-3 Magic…it’s not really magic, but the results can seem magical. In the book, Thomas W. Phelan (registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist) gives parents a method of restoring order to their sometimes chaotic homes by helping their kiddos get hold of themselves (and helping the parents get hold of themselves). For years teachers have been adapting the method to use in their classrooms, but now here’s a new Magic out and it’s just for teachers.

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that discipline has been a bit of an issue lately in our homeschool. I’ve found that there are discipline problems that are unique to our situation, that aren’t really addressed by typical “parenting” books. Too much crazy-making doesn’t leave much room for real learning…it just sucks the verve out of you. To that end, I was looking forward to my review copy of 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8 book and DVD. Maybe it could make a little magic in my homeschool. But would it work in a homeschool situation? Let’s take a closer look.

The 1-2-3 Magic way to discipline basically consists of 3 parts:
  1. Stopping unwanted behavior through counting.
  2. Starting wanted behavior by providing the right motivation.
  3. Fostering a positive teacher-student relationship.
All 3 parts are necessary for the program to be effective. I’m not going to fully outline the method here for obvious reasons (read the bookSmile), but I will say that the actual method itself is very simple and could probably be explained in a pamphlet instead of a 240+ page book. The rest of book gives you the necessary background to understand the why of the method behind it (your motivation) and provides advice on specific situations and logistical considerations. There’s also some cheerleading going on, of course, and plenty of hypothetical examples of the method being use. This last was a bit of a disappointment for me. As a skeptic, I was hoping for some actual true-to-life examples, but these were obviously scripted along the lines of: this is what would happen if a teacher used the 1-2-3 and this is what would happen to the poor soul who didn’t use the 1-2-3. The DVD does a better job in this area. While the examples are exactly the same, the addition of teacher interviews gives a real-life face to the method.

The 3-hour long DVD consists of a seminar by Phelan and teacher/consultant Sarah Jane Schonour explaining the method, interspersed with snippets of interviews with teachers who use the method, and dramatic portrayals of the method being used (or not used) in a classroom. It’s an effective presentation, though not one you’ll want to watch in one sitting. While the book covers the same info, I found the DVD to be more thorough in many instances. One example, the book states that: A student who is doing his work will not be a discipline problem. Effective teaching is the best preventive discipline strategy. There’s really no explanation given beyond that…it kinda sounds like “if you were a better teacher, your kids wouldn’t act up.” But the DVD goes on to give some practical advice in this area, making suggestions that I can actually use, and not making me feel like a it’s all my fault.

With any book, there will be something you don’t quite see eye-to-eye with the author on. There are a few instances in both the book and the DVD of an Us vs. Them (Teachers vs. Parents) attitude that turned me off. An example from the book: Other times explanations will take the teacher and child through what we call the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell Syndrome (with some parents this is known as the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome). This same point is made in the DVD, but mitigated somewhat by explanation. Now, I don’t disagree that hitting happens in some households, but why mention this here? While all parents have the potential of hitting or even abusing their children, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most do not. Why make us all suspects?

Putting these few things aside, what impressed me most was that the 1-2-3 reasoning makes sense, the methods seem do-able…and the DVD gives me the tools to do it. I haven’t been left floundering trying to figure it out for myself. Thank you Dr. Phelan and Ms. Schonour, I have high hopes for implementing this in my homeschool. I feel confident that I can train my kiddos to be paragons of virtue by giving them the limits they need to control their own behavior and the instruction they need to make better choices. Is this the answer to my whole virtue training dilemma? No, of course not. But reading the book and viewing the DVD has:
  • Reinforced my conviction that my own role is paramount to getting proper discipline in our homeschool (I yell, you yell, we all yell…not!) and
  • more order will free up our time and energy to pursue true virtue training.
It’s a tall order, but I have high hopes. We’ll see how it goes.

I would recommend the 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers DVD as a resource to anyone who is teaching multiple students at home, teaching in a co-op situation, or even volunteering with groups of children. While there are chapters that won’t apply to a non-school situation, and parents have fewer restraints on them than teachers, the majority of the material is very usable or adaptable to a homeschool or homeschool co-op. Might be worth adding to your local support group’s library if they have one. And definitely worth borrowing from your local library.

1-2-3 Magic for Teachers Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8 (by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. and Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A.) is available
  • as a paperback from booksellers and libraries, or directly from Parent Magic, Inc. for $14.95, or
  • as a DVD for $39.95.
Note: Pricing current as of 12/28/10.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Tomoson Product review & giveaway Disclosure.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Don’t Try THIS at Home…

…or How Not to Train-up Virtuous Kids in Your Homeschool.

A little while back…ok, a good while back (insert sheepish grin here), I mentioned we were going to try a point-system. It took me a little while to come up with the system. Ok, it took me a 5-minute brainstorm after a week or so of procrastinating to come up with the system. And here’s how it worked:

We prayed and hashed out a rule list as a fam.

  • No yelling, shouting, screaming, etc.
  • No hitting, kicking, pinching, clobbering, slapping, smacking, etc.
  • No tripping. No tripping Emma. (I know Emma was thankful for this one).
  • No grabbing.
  • No door slamming.
  • No running in the house.
  • No nasty words.
  • No eye-rolling. (That was mine, though I had a hard time living up to it myself).
  • No throwing (or tossing) inside the house. (Note, this includes both inanimate and animate objects, people, animals, whatever).

And attempted to offer some healthier suggestions for expressing frustration.

  • Stop. Take a deep breath.
  • Count to 10.
  • Pray.
  • Leave the room for a few minutes.
  • Talk about it.
  • It is OK to get mad.
  • It is not OK to lash out.

These two lists were written out and posted on the fridge.

You’ve probably already spotted the problem here, but bear with me, I’m a little denser than most. And in my defense, I didn’t create the lists, I just wrote down what everyone agreed on.

Next to them was posted a piece of lined paper in a sheet protector with the kiddos names (and Mom’s) on it and a dry erase marker clipped to it.

Here’s how the points worked:

Each day everyone would start with zero points for the day. For every rule broken, that person would lose a point. For every kind act, that person would receive a point. There were no points given for following the rules…after all, following the rules is expected, right? We would keep track of the daily points and add them up over time and decide on a goal they were working towards.

I know you see the problem now, don’t you?

The first day, everyone (except Mom) finished with…ready for it? Negative points. Many, many negative points. We decided to forget about the first bad day and start over the next day.

The next day…more negativity…what is up with these kids?

And then the unthinkable happened…even Mom had negative points.

Now, you’re probably thinking…get a clue, Susan! But, I have a hard time sticking to projects and actually finishing them. If something’s not going well, I switch tactics. This can be a good thing. I will never stick with a homeschool curriculum for an entire year just because I spent big bucks on it if it’s not working for my fam. But, with anything new, there is going to be a period of getting into a new groove, and I tend to not give it long enough. I’m a waffler. And the kiddos know it…I had to take a stand, even if it was wrong this time. At least for a week.

So we did it for a week. And we survived. But, outside of the one day when Mary went on a kindness spree…she was unloading the dishwasher and folding laundry and picking up other kids’ messes…and David pathetically trying to imitate her to get points (“If I put this toy away, will I get a point?”), it was a bust. And here’s why:

To train your kiddos to be paragons of virtue, you have to actually instruct them. They don’t have an inherent virtue detector. Unfairness, oh yeah, they get that, especially when it involves another sibling getting an extra bite of cookie or minute of Wii time, but virtue, nope, they don’t get it. They get that it’s wrong to hit somebody, especially if they are the ones being hit, but they don’t get what the right thing is. And we really didn’t talk about the right thing, did we? Duh!

Rules need to make it clear what behavior we are aiming for…not just what we are trying to avoid. We spent so much time dwelling on the negative aspects of their behavior, is it any wonder that they had negative points? A system that only penalizes your kiddos for messing up, without showing them how to do better, teaches them that they are bad (not true). It doesn’t teach them how to be good. Any disciplinary program needs to correct bad behavior, but also to model good behavior, and offer instruction. Reasonable expectations wouldn’t hurt, too.

You see, I did learn something. I’m not a lost cause. And a couple of months later, I’m still working on things in this department. I might even come up with a new point system (it’s not the points that were the problem, after all). But more on this in a bit.

Have you ever tried a point/star system for your kiddos? How did it work out for you?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

christmas ho hum 2010-001

A digital greeting to all my bloggy friends.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Created using My Memories Suite.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Free St. Joseph Coloring Book!

Free 17-page downloadable pdf of St. Joseph. To get it, go to Holy Heroes. The link for the coloring book is under "Free Stuff" in the right sidebar. You do need to fill in your name and email address.

Mystery of the Disintegrating Shoes

blogspark betty crocker 032

It’s a little unnerving when you discover the morning after that the shoes you wore for dinner and dancing the night before are literally dissolving.

And you wonder when they started to fall apart.

Was it the walk from the car to the dinner?

During dinner?

Maybe at the dessert table while you were chatting with your friends?

Or were those flashing lights on the dance floor reflecting the utter decrepitude of your early 90’s wardrobe?

Or maybe, just maybe, the baby got hold of the shoe after I kicked them off and decided to gnaw on it?

Theories, anyone?

I swear they didn’t look like that when I put them on.

At least, I don’t think they did.

And While the Rest of Us Were Baking Cookies…

Emma was being self-sufficient…

blogspark betty crocker 008

Yep, that’s a Mini-Wheat in her mouth.

And check out the artwork.

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Reminds me of the time of the time David got hold of a fluorescent pink highlighter.

He was four.

My lampshades were never the same again.

At least she used a washable marker, lol.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Awesome Version of American Pie

by David (age 10)

Tie, tie, this American pie,
to the ba-ack of my Chevy
that's about to fa-all off a cliff,
cuz it has a JATO bolted to the top,
A-and this'll be the day that it'll fly...
This'll be the day that it'll fly (guitar strumming)

And I'm tell'in you man to...

repeat. repeat. repeat. repeat. repeat. repeat.
Crack up.

Note: JATO= jet assisted take off

His opinion of his comedic abilities does not seem to diminish.

Review and Giveaway: The Narnia Code DVD---CLOSED

cover_book-n-dvd There's something in Narnia that keeps drawing you back to those same dog-eared, worn paperback copies from your childhood. We’ve read the books aloud, listened to them on CD, and little Mary is even reading them on her own. The language is simple enough that a child’s imagination can be captured and held within their pages, and yet literary scholars have been studying C.S. Lewis’ fairytale series for decades. What’s the big deal? you ask? Aren’t they just children’s stories with some Christian allegory thrown in?

I’ll admit it, I thought I knew all there was to know about Narnia. Maybe I was wrong (adults who think they know all there is to know about a thing usually are).

I expected The Narnia Code to be pretty much a rehashing of Lewis’ religious beliefs as they present themselves in the Narnia series. Wouldn’t you know that there’s more to it than that? There’s another, deeper message here, a “coded message,” Lewis’ little secret, recently discovered by Michael Ward and elucidated in his book Planet Narnia. This documentary is, more or less, an overview of the theory he presents in his book, bookended by a brief biography of Lewis and testimony of various “experts” as they explore what Ward’s scholarship adds to Narnia.

The Narnia Code originally appeared on the BBC and runs just under an hour long. There are about 45 minutes of extras, as well, including interviews with a few of Lewis’ contemporaries and further exploration of Ward’s theory. Production values are high. It’s well paced and there’s not too much hinting around about what this theory actually is before they come to the point. My husband and I enjoyed watching it. It’s long enough to get the main points across without bogging you down with details. And it whetted our appetite for more…enough that hubby has decided to read the book (he’s got it in hand and says it is definitely a scholarly work, not light reading, but, hey, he’s an academic). I suspect that the Narnia Code will make Ward’s ideas more accessible to the general public.

And what are those theories? There’s a little hint in the trailer:

But I don’t want to give away the bulk of the film.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like. Often an “expert” in the film is identified only by name and the fact that he’s an expert. An expert of what? Credentials anyone? The last part of the film has kind of a fawning tone to it with all the experts talking about how wonderful Ward’s discovery is and Ward himself has kind of this smug look and tone throughout most of the film. I found that distracting to the material, but I suppose the guy does deserve some congratulations.

Overall, I recommend The Narnia Code, a nice little addition if you are reading any of Lewis’ works, especially for the biographical material (the theory itself will also give you some insight into Lewis’ world). I plan on showing this to the kiddos at some point (yep, I think it’s appropriate for upper elementary and up). I don't know what I think of Ward's theory, yet (I may read the book). I do know how easy it is to read things into a work of literature that may or may not be there (my degree is in English and Philosophy). Just a little caveat. Don't believe everything you see on TV.

OK, one of my readers is going to receive their very own copy of The Narnia Code to add to their video library!

Giveaway is open to US residents. Please be sure that your email is visible in your comment or profile or your entry will not count.

Deadline to enter: December 22, 2010 (10 pm est)

Mandatory to enter (1 entry): Leave a comment telling me which book of C.S. Lewis’ is your fave. And it doesn’t have to be a Narnia book.

Optional additional entries (please leave a separate comment for each entry):

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Need a Last Minute Christmas Gift?


Do you know how hard it is to find a game that a 10-year-old, an almost 7-year-old, and a 5-year-old can all play together? And that the adults can enjoy, too?

Simple games like Memory and Fish are right up the 5’s alley, but a yawn to the 10. He’d rather be wheeling and dealing for Park Place in Monopoly or bumping someone back to start in Sorry! And nobody wants to hear the 6 whine when big bro takes yet another of her countries in Risk. Or spend hours playing it until everybody calls it a draw.

But this…this is the perfect game! Wits & Wagers Family by North Star Games.

  • It’s not too long.
  • It’s not too hard.
  • No paper money to deal with.
  • And you just might learn something.

dec 13 2010 037Wits & Wagers Family is designed for 3-10 players, ages 8 and up. Each player gets a small wipe-off board, a dry-erase marker and 2 Meeples (little wooden pawns). The game comes with a stack of trivia questions…the correct answer to each question is a number. Once the question is read aloud, each player guesses the answer and writes it on their board. The boards are then lined up in order and then everybody “bets” by placing their Meeples on the answer they think is the right one (you have two Meeples, so you can split your wager). Points are awarded based on who wrote the closest answer and who bet on the closest answer.

The questions are pretty varied, anything from “In what year was a cow first brought to the American colonies?” to “What’s the record number of tennis balls a dog has held in its mouth at one time?” to “How many types of nuts come in a can of Planters Mixed Nuts?” In other words, things that anybody might know or nobody might know. There are some pop-cultural references (like references to kid’s TV programs), but these were few and far between and easy enough to skip over.

dec 13 2010 034Everybody in our house gets in on this game, even 20-month-old Emma (she would be the one stealing and chewing on the markers and hiding the Meeples). 5-year-old Peter’s answers generally range from something under 10 to binary numbers (e.g. 100100001).

What’s awesome about this is that you don’t have to be a trivia geek to win…once everybody’s got their answers are out there, you can choose any answer as your best bet (and sometimes, believe or not, the binary number is the best bet). This has led to some discussions on probability with the kiddos, too.

We love that it’s fun, but short (tired Littles bore easily), and doesn’t make anyone fell like a dummy.

Finally, a game that everybody, even the adults, have fun playing.

Wits & Wagers Family is available wherever games are sold (sells for about $20).

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of this game for review purposes. I received no compensation. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Learning to Teach Virtue

I mentioned a short while ago that raising virtuous kiddos might be a little easier when you homeschool, but also a bit more challenging.

Because I spend so much time with my children on a day to day basis, not only do I have more opportunities to offer them instruction, but I can actually see their personal challenges firsthand and help them to form plans for conquering those challenges. I can help them throughout the day rather than hope that other authority figures that they look up to are giving them the same instruction and encouragement that they need.

There’s a lot to be said for knowing where your kiddos are all the time and what they are doing most of the time. There’s a lot to be gained by having a consistent environment. When children are still quite young they benefit a great deal from this stability. But this constant contact presents its own challenges.

Am I right that there’s a certain amount of relief in dropping the kiddos off at school for 6-8 hours a day when you go off and do something else? Why is that? You’re still their parent, but suddenly they became someone else’s responsibility. As a homeschooling parent, that responsibility is mine. If one of my children starts spouting off rude words or throwing things, I’ve got no one to blame for it and how I react is oh so important. That whole “do what I say, not what I do” thing ain’t gonna fly. If I yell, well they are going to yell. Every time we react to a situation, we are demonstrating to our kiddos how to react to a similar situation. Think about that a minute.

Now think about doing it all day long. And think about how being with your kiddos all the time might make it challenging to raise virtuous virtuosos.

There’s simply no way to pretend that I’m perfect. They see me for who I am. When I have an off moment, well, the kiddos are going to see it, and yes, I’m going to have my off moments.

They are wise beyond their years. They are wise to me.

It’s funny. Sometimes people think that homeschooled kiddos are helplessly naïve and out of touch with the real world. It’s true that my children aren’t hip to the latest and greatest on the tube or the airwaves (not to mention the colorful language or the desire for acquisition that goes with it), but they seem to have a very keen sense of things like irony and human nature, things that you actually need to get along with other people in this world. I think I’ll pass on the passing fads and take genuine understanding.

Raising them to be good, yes it’s hard…but it’s also a supreme blessing.

Raising my children has forced me to stretch and grow my own self. I’m still stretching. I’m still growing (I wish my clothes stretched as much). Every time I think I have learned my lessons, I find I’ve got more growing to do. God has given me a great gift, He is helping me to become a better person while trying to raise good people. And that’s a double blessing.

Emma (I’m a) Cutie

Emma warrior.

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Funny how she won’t keep her pants on her rear,

but if big bro sticks them on her head she’s all smiles.

Emma pencil sharpener.

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How’s she do that?

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Emma multi-tasker.

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Emma sun-worshipper.

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Emma lady.

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Emma tattoo-artist.dec 13 2010 147

Don’t worry, Piglet made it through the wash, good as new.

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Emma worn out.

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Proof my brain is going…

dec 13 2010 078

This is my brain in a bowl.

Actually, this is the butter I melted in the microwave for pancake batter.

I found it still sitting in the microwave after all the pancakes were eaten.

Why We Homeschool…the Kiddos Have Their Say

This is a guest post by David, Mary and Peter for the TOS Homeschool Crew’s Blog Cruise topic: Kids Answer Week.

David (age 10)

Why does your family Homeschool?

Well, I like being with my family and being able to choose what we study. Also, if a certain curriculum doesn’t work then we just do a different one.

What is your favorite part of homeschooling?

Everything. Especially knowing that mom is teaching me, and not some strange person. Math and science are my favorite subjects, and I’m really into structural engineering.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m……not really sure. Probably an Engineer or an Architect. Maybe a vet.

Mary (age 6)

Why does your family Homeschool?

I don’t have to wake up early to get ready for school and I get to learn things that I wouldn’t get to learn about in school…and Peter is calling me so good-bye.

What is your favorite part of homeschooling?


What do you want to be when you grow up?

um…….. I don’t really know but I think I might be a dancer or a soccer player but I don’t know.

Peter (age 5)

Why does your family Homeschool?

We don’t have to go to the president’s office every time we do something bad.

What is your favorite part of homeschooling?

My reading program and doing math.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A dragon. Actually, I’m not sure. I know I want to be an orca! I want to be a whale when I grow up so I can actually kill sharks.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Good Morning, God (Children’s Book)


Apologia has long been known for their creation-based science textbooks, but there’s more to Apologia than just science.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I recently had to opportunity to review Good Morning, God, a sweet little book written for ages 1-8 by Davis Carman and beautifully illustrated by Alice Ratterree.

Good Morning takes its inspiration from Deuteronomy 6:6-7…

These commands that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

Impress them on your children.

Talk about them when you sit at home

and when you walk along the road,

when you lie down and when you get up.

…by trying to show very young children how we can love God in everything we do and how parents can teach that love in all places and at all times, day by day by day. Even when the kiddos are jumping on the bed. The book’s prose follows a simple repetition that has a quiet, meditative quality to it. It brings to mind the use of repetition that has come down to us throughout history in oral tradition, the simple rhymes that make it easier for the storyteller to remember the details as he tells his story again and again.

covercasebNow, this is not a great literary masterpiece, but it does make the idea of constant prayer accessible to very young children. Each day of the week, we see our hero, a 4-year-old boy as he loves and worships God in play and while learning as his parents gently guide him. To help you with the task of guiding your own children, the author has included some discussion questions, Bible readings, and a few suggested activities at the back of the book for each day, beginning with Sunday…and ending with Sunday, because we know that all things begin and end with God.

Bible translation used in the book: NIV. While this is an openly Christian book, it is not filled with doctrine. I could not tell you after reading it much about the author except that he is obviously a very thoughtful follower of Christ. The discussion questions are of the type to encourage thinking and I don’t thing they would interfere with whatever your particular church’s teachings are. Some examples: Why did God give you ears? How can being quiet help you know, love, and worship God? Think of it as a mini-Bible study for Littles.

What did I think?

I won’t hesitate to use this book with my kiddos in our Catholic household. Though it is suggested for ages 1-8, the Bible readings and discussion questions could be adapted to use with older children so everyone’s on the same page.

What did the kiddos think?

They love the illustrations (you can download a sample of Good Morning, God here to see for yourself). The Littles seem to like the repetition. The 10-year-old not so much, but then the book wasn’t really written for his age group.

272Good Morning, God (hardcover) is available from Apologia for $14.00.

Also available: a coloring book for only $4.00.

For more reviews of this book, please visit the TOS Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Good Morning, God for review purposes from Apologia. I received no other compensation. This review reflects my honest opinions and observations.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Good Habits Lead to Virtue

You want your kids to be good, right? In fact, you expect them to be good. You expect them to know, for instance, that hitting a brother or sister or turning their own room up-side down out of anger is simply, well, wrong. This seems so obvious, doesn’t it? That picking up little sis because she annoys you and throwing her into the next room simply isn’t done?

But the trouble is not that our children are flawed (though they are, we’ll come to that), but that our expectations are flawed. In fact, they are bordering on the ridiculous. Have you ever yelled, slammed the door, kicked, stomped, cursed, or thrown anything just because you were so mad you couldn’t seem to help yourself? I have and probably within the last week…if I can’t control my own reactions after almost 40 years of practice, how can I expect the kiddos to do it with no practice at all?

Human beings are fallen creatures, we need training to help us to be good. Just as we can fall into vice through bad habits, we can learn to practice virtue by forming good habits. If you have to think about whether or not it’s ok to hit someone in the heat of passion, you’ve lost---the anger will beat your cognitive mind every time. Wielding that kind of control over your actions 24-hours a day would simply be exhausting. Especially for children. But once good habits are formed, acting virtuously could almost become a subconscious act, or at least your conscious mind could be saved for harder moral questions.

Our kiddos are not perfect angels. They need to be trained in virtuous habits. I don’t know about you, but my own training is somewhat lacking, so this topic is doubly important to me. I’ll be exploring this topic over the next couple of weeks (what better time than while we await the coming of our Savior?) and sharing what we are doing to encourage our children to be more Christ-like. Since we homeschool, this task is both easier and harder than it might be if they were in school all day. Why is that? I’ll share some of the reasons with you soon. Winking smile

What do you do to help your children form virtuous habits?

Signs You’re Getting Old (and showing it)

Your Mom asks you what you want for Christmas…and you ask her for comfy, “non-binding” socks that won’t cut off your circulation.

When you tug on that loose skin under your chin…it doesn’t even think about springing back (it just hangs there like a turkey gobbler).

You’re plucking more gray hairs than black hairs from your chin.

You order food at a fast food restaurant…and they offer to carry your food to your table for you…

Or maybe that had to do with the 25-lb baby on my hip and the general bounciness of the other kiddos…but Signs They’ve Got You Out-numbered is a whole ‘nother post.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blogging With Blinders On

A little while back I wrote about re-evaluating this blog and questioning the time I spend on the internet. And I have taken a bit of a bloggy break. But I’ve come to realize that the blog is not really problem…

…it’s that vast Google indexed universe called the internet that’s so full of information I just don’t have…yet. If I could just spend another hour or two or 600 of my life searching, I just know I could come up with the meaning of life and maybe even find the perfect unit study on vegetarian sharks. Too bad my family wouldn’t be speaking to me anymore.

I know this because even though I have taken a bloggy break, I really haven’t taken an internet break and it’s telling on me. Somehow that Swagbucks toolbar keeps calling my name to search for the answers to some pretty big questions about life, the universe, and everything and the lowest price on Penguin Crocs, including shipping---have you seen the Penguin Crocs? They are stinkin’ cute!

So, I really need an internet holiday. But here’s the thing: bloggers read other blogs. They also read the news, bulletin boards, forums, facebook, they even tweet sometimes. They do that to get inspiration, to give encouragement, to interact with that great big bloggy world. And they often end up staring blankly into that bright LCD, skimming over pages and pages of blog posts and comments, going video blind before realizing that it’s after 1 am and they still have to write their own post before going to bed. And they really do click the “check mail” button in their email clients every 30 seconds to check for any new messages. How do I know that?

I have a lot of things I want to do in this life. And I’m not getting them done. I even have a lot of articles that (I hope!) will be worthwhile to write. But I don’t get them written. It takes time to zone out in front of the computer. Time I just don’t have.

I’m going to put on my blinders and purposely ignore internet. I’ll talk more about why this is necessary at a later date, but it is necessary. So, here are my guidelines:

  • I will only check my email once a day, probably in the evening (definitely not during “school”)
  • I will limit my internet time to 1 hour/day tops! This includes web searches, reading forums, doing facebook (which I don’t do much anyway), shopping, and uploading blog posts.

I’ll still do my best to respond to comments and to answer email, but please forgive me if you don’t receive the answer 30 seconds later. Smile

Review: Factor Tree

Maybe your homeschool math program is great on the concepts but a little weak in practice? Or the kiddos just aren’t picking up those facts the way you want them to? Or they’re forgetting what you covered last month, last week, or even…yesterday? Factor Tree was designed for you.

Factor Tree is a new online subscription math service for grades K-6 designed to give your kiddos plenty of daily practice and keep their mathematical minds sharp. This is not a complete curriculum, but a supplemental resource that offers practice and reinforcement of skills already learned.

The website states that Factor Tree combines the best of Western and Eastern instruction: Western=conceptual understanding and Eastern=practice and repetition. I don’t know if that’s intellectually accurate, but I guess it sounds good (I’ll talk more about this in a mo).

Cost: $20/month

Here’s how it works:

Upon entering the site for the first time, each student will take an evaluation test to find out which skills they have and which ones they are lacking. After the initial test, each new exercise will consist of a practice test (20 problems) targeting areas in which he needs more practice. The tests are short, simple, and lacking in any sound effects or doodads that might distract. A little pie on the right shows them their progress.

factor tree screen 1

As the parent, you can track your child’s progress at any time in your account. You will also receive email notifications of tests that he has completed.

What did we think?

I am testing this program with 10-year-old David. First this program is not yet fully bug-free, we did encounter some bugs while using it that are being worked on. The hint button that you see in the pic above is not operational, for instance (just takes you to a screen that says this screen will display a tutorial on the topic), so I cannot speak to how good the instruction is or isn’t. At this point there is no instruction at all, just practice problems.

The controls are simple and easy to understand. The problems are not always easy to understand. Notice the problem above. What is supposed to go into the “Value” slot? Apparently nothing (if you leave it blank and fill in the correct numerator and denominator, you get it right), but how is the student supposed to know that? How is the parent supposed to know that when the student asks? Or is this another temporary glitch until the site is complete? There are other instances where what is asked for is stated in a strange way, or at least not a way that I’m familiar with. Now, math curricula do vary in how certain topics are presented, so this may be unavoidable and simply a kink to be worked through.

While David appreciates that the practice tests are fairly short (20 problems), he doesn’t appreciate that they are “tests.” For students who break out in hives at the thought of taking a test, you may want to explain that they are really practice sessions.

Overall, I’m just not seeing the East meet West thing here. There’s plenty of practice, but no explanations at all and no tools for reinforcing, say, the multiplication facts. If your kiddo doesn’t already know the multiplication facts, they are basically left to skip count or count on their fingers. There are no virtual manipulatives, or times table to refer to or anything like that. The program also does not show them why they got a problem wrong.

The cost may seem high, but apparently you can add as many students as you like, so it’s a better value for a larger family.

Would I recommend it?

I’d like to see the final product first. At this time, I can see it being beneficial in your homeschool if your children need practice to develop automaticity for the math facts, for instance, but already know the facts. Or just review topics you know they know but they might be a little rusty at. Factor Tree doesn’t seem to offer any real instruction, so if you looking for something that actually reinforces the concepts, as opposed to just giving practice for the operations, this probably isn’t the program for you.

But, you don’t have to spend any money to find out! You can get a free 2-week trial.

Go to Factor Tree and sign up for a free trial, using the code BZZAGENT.

Disclosure: I received a free trial of this product as a BzzAgent in exchange for spreading the word and reviewing the product.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo Winners!


Mary (age 6) and David (age 10) both took the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November…and both came away winners!

Mary just made her 2000 word goal with 2086 words (but finished over a week early).

David made his 6000 word goal with 6171 words!

He’s already editing his work, adding appendices (maps, pronunciation keys and so on) to his medieval fantasy novel.

Way to go…Mama and Daddy are so proud!