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9.27.2021: Google very recently changed drive links for security reasons, so you may find that when you click on a link for one of my printables that you need to submit a share request. PLEASE only submit one share request per item! These have to be manually confirmed and I will get to them when I get to them. I promise you that sending me 12 requests in rapid succession will not make that happen faster, lol! I do not sit on my computer waiting around to send people instant shares of freebies. Thank you so much for your patience as I try to sort out this latest Google mess.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I See Sam, a review


Peter is an early kindergartener. He turned 5 about a month after the cut-off for this school year, so technically he could have waited until next year. I thought K would be pretty laid back this year…no point in stressing out over skills he might not be quite ready for, right?

The boy is constantly amazing me. He really wants to read, yes, but he really really wants to write. On any given day you can find him writing a new comic book, drawing the panels, adding the dialog (his sense of pacing and framing the shot is unbelievable…you’d think he’d been studying under Hitchcock. You can just imagine him seeing this as a movie in his mind).

He’ll stop and ask me, “How do you write ‘marauding creature’?”


And he uses little rebuses for words he can’t spell but recognizes as compound words. His rebus for “cliphanger” (a Peterism for “cliffhanger”) is a little drawing of a clip next to a drawing of a coathanger. “Meanwhile” is a drawing of a frowny face being punched by a fist (Mean!) next to a drawing of the sun.

He’s making his own learning happen. And he’ll learn to read and write whether I teach him or not.

When this box readers from Academic Success for All Readers arrived, his whole face lit up. A reading curriculum just for him!

We received the I See Sam Little Readers (sets 1-4), the instructor’s guide, placement and assessment manual, “certificates of success,” and flashcards:




The instructor’s manual is brief and easy to follow. This is not a fully scripted program. The manual gives you the procedure to follow for the readers and you just do it. No prep, no rehearsing.

Here’s how it works.

Each book has a pronunciation guide on the inside front cover. After the title and contents pages, you’ll find a page with “sound practice” and “new sounds.” These are phonemes that your child needs to be able to read in order to read the book. Once he can read this page without mistakes, you move onto the “word practice” and “new words.” These are the words that are used in this book that need to be mastered. Underlined words are irregular in some way (they are underlined on the word practice pages, but not on the story pages). Long vowels have a line over them (again, no line on the actual story pages).

Each reader contains a short story (about 10 pages) with adorable line drawings. We are enjoying meeting all of the animal characters (with each new book, Peter wants to know who he’s going to meet next). The pages in set 1 have about 1-3 lines of text on each page. Sentence structure is very simple and the new words are repeated frequently. There are prompts at the bottom of the pages with comprehension questions for you to ask your child alternating with reminders to praise his hard work.

It’s recommended that you have your child read each reader at least twice to help with fluency and comprehension. Every 5 or 6 books, there is a “looking back” section at the end of the book. This is essentially an assessment to check for fluency and comprehension. If you spot a problem, you can move back to the appropriate reader.

What do we think?

First a few notes on what I See Sam is not. It’s not a scripted program. Not all words are presented phonetically (some words are taught as sight words). Some sounds are not explicitly taught. For example, for “th” the pronunciation guide only gives the voiced examples of “then” and “bathe,” even though words like “with” are used in the readers. There’s no differentiation made between the two sounds, it’s left up to you to explain it (there’s no instruction for you on this) or for your child to figure it out.

And should “the” be thee or thuh? I prefer the way people actually talk, but the reader puts a line over the “a” and “e” when these words are first introduced. It’s easy enough to explain this to your child, though.

I See Sam is a very gentle reading program that involves a lot of repetition of the same words. Very few new words are introduced in each of the early readers and there’s lots of overlap between one reader and the next. I like that the program sets my child up for success. If a child can read by sounding out each word, that’s good, but the ultimate goal is to read the words, not the sounds, and that requires fluency. The repetition is a good way to gain automaticity. But I’m not in a hurry…I know he’s going to get there and I can see the progress he’s making. The slow pace might be frustrating in a remedial situation or for a child who is itching to read big words in a hurry.

Peter absolutely loves these readers. He does get a little frustrated when I have him stop and review the sounds at the beginning of each book (“I already know that!”), but he’s reading very well. We are nearly done with set 1 (27 books!).

So far, we really haven’t needed the flashcards. These are essentially for reviewing the letter sounds, but I’ve found that the review at the beginning of the books is sufficient for Peter. Academic Success for All Learners does offer a free download of the flashcards that you can print yourself (they have oodles of other free downloads to use with this program, too), so these are an optional extra. The flashcard set does include colored rubberbands for color-coding them according to which cards have been mastered and which ones require more practice.

So far, I have been really impressed with Peter’s progress. Before starting I See Sam, he was not reading at all (beyond his name). Now, not only is he able to read the readers, he is transferring the phonemes he’s learned to reading other words not in the readers. He’s also using them to spell things phonetically. I’m really proud of him! The small amount of reading on each page has been just about right for him (wish I had had these when Mary was first learning to read). I’ll post an update when we get further along.

I highly recommend that you take I See Sam for a test drive. You can download reader 21 from set 1 for free.

There are 8 sets of I See Sam readers available. Each set sells for $30 and contains 10-27 readers.

You can read other reviews of I See Sam here.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received these products for review purposes. I received no compensation. The views expressed here are my own.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Getting Past Our Mid-Year Hump

February is such a tough time of the year. This is the time when we take a close look at how our plans for this year are going, decide if we need to make changes, look forward to next year, and start making curriculum decisions.

Between dealing with sick kiddos, winter blahs, and the mid-year hump, I’m having a hard time getting my head screwed on right. And I realized I should share some of the struggles I’m having because I’ve no doubt that many of you are going through the same process and having some struggles of your own. And if you’ve got it all planned out and in hand, please share…I love to hear inspiring stories.

Today I want to talk about what’s not working for us and how that will influence next year’s plans.

Things I’m out of love with:

RightStart Math. OK, don’t hate me. I still think RS is a solid program, just not the program for us. This one just about kills me because it was a major financial investment. Hubby and I decided together to try it. No blame here. After about 3 months of using this curriculum for both Mary and David we came to the conclusion it was not a good fit for either of them. Or for me.

Some of the reasons: Mary hates manipulatives. Who’d a thunk it? Really. She hated the little games and hated the songs most of all. And after 3 months of using RightStart she was not any closer to mastering her addition facts and was still reviewing material she already knows. She does know the days of the week and can tell time, now, but these were things we were already working on and she would have learned them anyway.

Having to go so far back was really holding David back and keeping him from making real progress in his problem areas. After 3 months we saw no improvement of his retention of multiplication facts (his real stumbling point). And he was plain bored.

I think RS is much more valuable to someone who starts with it from the beginning and continues with the sequence. Nearly everything Mary was doing was review, and yet it was impossible for me to start her later in the book or even in the next book due to the unique way the material is covered and the order in which it is covered. She would need to go through the entire book just to get the “RightStart” way. I understood this going in. Hubby and I had agreed that having a strong foundation in Mathematics was important enough to let her go through it (and we were progressing through the book at a fast rate), but eventually we realized we really weren’t getting anywhere.

Ditto for David, it wasn’t possible to just pick up the topics he was struggling with so about 90% of what he was doing was just reviewing things already knew in a different way.

As the teacher, I didn’t like having to go through each lesson the night before to see what copies of what appendices needed to be made. And cut apart. Hey, I don’t like fiddly bits of paper to keep straight. They have a habit of disappearing.

And I was burning out spending so much time with each child teaching them things that they really already knew. How’s that for banging your head against a wall?

That said, RS might be a good fit for 5-year-old Peter. At this point I’m trying to decide whether to just sell the whole lot or hold onto it for a bit and try it with him. I don’t like to give up, you see.

So, what are we doing for math?

We are refocusing on arithmetic. When you think about it, this is what the essential parts of elementary math are, arithmetic (basic operations) plus some life skills (like telling time, for instance). We are using some older books we already have and doing a lot of oral and mental work. David is thriving on this method, by the way. And while it does require a fair amount of one-on-one time, it’s of the type that I don’t need to have a bunch of manipulatives or fancy things handy and there’s absolutely no advanced prep. We can do it wherever we happen to be.

How does that translate to the plan for next year?

I’m going to look it over and consider RS for Peter (we would actually start it in the next couple of weeks). Otherwise, I’m going to sell it (email me if you are looking for RightStartS B or C!) and possibly do Math on the Level with him and Mary (I already have it). Or we’ll do something like First Arithmetic or Ray’s Arithmetic (have those in ebook form).

Once David has his multiplication facts under his belt and can do long division, I’m thinking about having him do Life of Fred Fractions. I anticipate he’ll be ready before May.

What else am I out of love with?

Unit studies! Ok, ok, don’t throw your coffee mug at me! I still think unit studies can be good for young ones, I love the idea of including all the subjects together and getting kiddos of different levels working together, but they seem inadequate as my children get older. With every unit study I’ve used, the core subject (be it history, literature, or even science) is done really well, but the other areas tend to be peripheral and sometimes just plain forced. You can overcome this somewhat by alternating different types of studies (do a history, then a science, etc.). And keeping math separate (which we do).

The kiddos don’t want to spend a week or a month or whatever on a topic. They get sick of it. And the overall feel is somewhat disjointed.

Another issue---unit studies are a lot of prep work for Mom, whether it’s a study I wrote myself or purchased. Between the running to the library looking for more books (and incurring astronomical fines when the kiddos lose those books), previewing links and videos on the internet, finding new resources because the ones in the study are outdated or unavailable, and putting together hands-on activities (some of which are a real stretch in terms of seeing how they actually add anything to the study other than just being something to do)…well, yeah, I’ve had it.

Add to this the notebooking pages, or lapbooking or whatever method I’m using to “record” the study…the kiddos are sick of coloring, cutting and pasting…and really we haven’t been enjoying our unit studies lately. It’s become a question of just getting them done. Not a good thing.

So what am I doing about it?

I’m still working on this one. One of the studies we are doing is just. plain. dull. And too hard for Mary. I would just dump it and move on, but I’m feeling interior pressure to finish it first. What to do? I’ve cut back on the activities we are doing from it to the bare bones, added some DVDs from the library and we’ll get through it and move onto something else.

For the rest of the year, I think I’m still going to do the unit studies we had planned to use for this year but gut them---keep the core subject and dump most of the rest. And I’ll cut back on the lapbooky stuff and do more narration with me acting as recorder for the younger kiddos and David recording his own narration.

For next year, we’ll be taking a different approach. I like some of the aspects of a classical education. I also like Charlotte Mason’s approach. I’m even considering Sonlight. For now I’m doing lots and lots of praying, research and reading.

One of the challenges I am facing is that David is is on the cusp of being in the dialectic stage of intellectual development and he needs something different from what his siblings need. Trying to include them altogether in their studies is not working so well, anymore. He needs more of a challenge. He’s just hit a different stage of development. And it’s easy to forget how big the gap is between him and his sister (her reading level is at about a 5th grade level and she’s very articulate). She’s feeling pressed to keep up with what he is doing when they are studying the same things. He’s bored and she’s harried. Part of this is my fault, I knew this point was coming but I’ve been teaching everyone together for so long, just making minor adjustments as necessary, that, well, I just wasn’t fully prepared.

So, David will have his own studies. And Mary and Peter will study together, for the most part. I think, regardless of what approach we take. We are still up in the air on this. And on what we will be using.

The important thing is that we are learning and making the changes that need to be made.

Are your plans going the way you planned? Smile

Or are you finding yourself making some changes? Winking smile

Making Your Home Work for You: RE-Purposing Old Things

This is the 2nd installment in an on-going series. You can see the first installment on identifying your home’s problem areas here.

After 13 years of marriage, 4 kids and 6 moves, I’ve found that every time we move (or the kids hit a different stage in development) we need to rethink how we are using what we already have. Like most people, we simply don’t have the luxury of running out and buying new stuff every time our needs change.

So I’ve become pretty adept at “re-purposing” what we do have. I’m also slow to turn down anything someone offers me for free, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

Sometimes what doesn’t work in one situation is the perfect (or at least workable) solution for another situation. That’s why the pictures we took last week (did you take your pictures?) are so important. They’ll show you exactly what isn’t working and will (hopefully) give your brain some ideas on what will work.

Remember this?025

And this?


First you need to diagnose the problem or figure out why things are the way they are. The pictures helped me with that, too.

The media shelf is easy to explain…an open, short shelf, sticky toddler fingers…need I say more?

The reason the books are on the radiator is because otherwise they would be on the floor. Winking smile

The living room is the place where Littles tend to look at picture books, either on the floor or the sofa. And there’s no bookcase or bin or anything in that particular room for pictures books, so they end up on the floor. Duh!

This one was easy.

First we moved out the media shelf. My 7-year-old daughter is now enjoying it very much as a personal bookcase in her bedroom.


And it solved 2 of her problems: where to put all her books and where to put little breakable things she wanted to keep away from little sis---the top shelf is within Mary’s reach but out of Em’s reach. Perfect!

I decided that we obviously needed a full-size bookcase in the living room. Having the book shelves a few feet away in the library wasn’t cutting it.

This one is a cheap laminate bookcase that was in my kitchen being used for homeschool things (I’m totally re-doing and actually moving my school area). 017

Wii controllers and accessories on the very top so none of the kiddos can get them without permission. DVDs on the top 2 shelves. VHS on the middle shelf (Em doesn’t mess with these as much and frankly I just don’t care much about them) and the picture books on the bottom 2 shelves.

Now, this is not an ideal solution, the top shelves are really too far apart from each other for DVDs (you can see that I have some stacked on top of each other), ideally I would find a way to add an extra shelf (although this cheap bookcase may not react well to me drilling new pin holes, so I think I’ll skip it). Not the perfect solution, but a good solution for now. In another few years, our needs in this room will change again.

The only real problem is that the kiddos (even the bigger kiddos) find putting books back into a bookcase a challenge. This is a developmental issue. Think about how hard it can be to hold a shelf full of books upright (so they don’t slump down on ya) while you are trying to put a book back. Now imagine being about a foot shorter and weighing a 1/3 as much and having arms as skinny as rails and this might give you an idea of how my almost 11-year-old feels about it. Never mind the younger ones. Again, in another few years it probably won’t be an issue.

One possible solution for now: Just don’t worry about it and let them stack the books on the shelf instead of standing them upright. But this makes it harder to get out a single book without toppling the whole stack.

Or: Straighten up the books on the shelf myself at the end of each day, enlisting some help from the kiddos according to their ability, but not worrying too much about where the books are during the day (in other words, don’t sweat the general messiness during the day, just clean up the big mess at the end).

Or: Put some books into a bin that’s easy to peruse and rotate the books periodically from shelf to bin. We’ve actually tried this in the past and it doesn’t work for us. Any bin that someone can pick up or move will get dumped in my house. Time and time again.

I do have another solution, but it costs money and is the subject of a review I have coming up. I’m willing to bet there are a few enterprising souls out there with the know-how to take the idea and do something similar on their stay tuned!

But in the meantime…have you come up with any cheap/free solutions for keeping your picture books neat and tidy, but still accessible to the kiddos?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Not so Sweet Nothings

Ok, ok I admit it. 

Raising a guilty hand, here and sheepishly hiding behind my computer monitor. Winking smile

doorsecurityI’m a door slammer…

a dish clanker…

a drawer rattler…

an angry mutterer of not-so-sweet “Nothing!”s…

when someone (you know who) just happens to stumble over my annoyance button.

It’s so much easier to throw a temper tantrum than to act like a grown-up, isn’t it?

And he really should be able to read my mind, right?  I mean we’ve been married for 13 years.

Doesn’t he know me better than that?  Surely all the kitchen clatter will bring him to his senses.  Right?


Don’t throw your coffee at me, please, I know I’m wrong.

Funny how I always seem to know that what I’m doing is wrong even while I’m doing it…and yet, I still do it!  My bad case of the “unfairs” is truly unfair to my husband who is honestly (and understandably) clueless as to what exactly is buggin’ me.   He’s not all-knowing, after all.  

And he wants to know.  He even asks me, “What’s wrong, honey?”

And what does he get?


Well, not exactly nothing, he does get the accompanying sound effects.

When I say “nothing” when there truly is something bothering me, I slam the door on my husband and send him the message that I’m not interested in meeting him halfway and working things out.  I’m cheating him out of understanding me better and cheating myself out of the opportunity to actually find a resolution.

It might be easier to wallow in my anger and self-pity, but the thing about unresolved issues is they have a bad habit of turning up over and over again.

I know all this.  I just forgot (I’m a little hard-headed).  Sometimes I just need a little poke in the heart (or a kick in the rear) to push me to stop being so lazy about my marriage.

And this time that “poke” came from my inbox in the form of the FREE Encouraging Moments e-newsletter from Eternal Encouragement (formerly TEACH) Magazine.

encouraging moments

Encouraging Moments will give you a weekly nudge in your never-ending job as a wife, homemaker and mom.

I’m not usually a fan of e-newsletters…I have entirely too many cluttering my inbox that I simply don’t have the time to wade through just to take away the ounce of wisdom that might be hidden among the ads and platitudes.  But Encouraging Moments is a little different.  The nuggets aren’t hidden, and there’s even an article in pdf form I can print out and read later (this week’s was on “Nothing”!).  Sign up for FREE at

Disclosure:  I am reviewing Encouraging Moments as an official member of The Gabby Moms blogging program for Eternal Encouragement magazine.  I did not receive compensation for this post and all opinions are solely my own.

Math Rider, a review

mathrider opening

Memorizing your math facts…can be a bit boring.

And overwhelming…hence the plethora of computer games on the market designed to make the task a little more enjoyable.

Maybe even fun.

They tend to go to extremes, though…with some it’s hard to see the learning buried under all the bells and whistles. And others are no more exciting than a good ol’ piece of paper, a pencil and a timer.

The developers of Math Rider saw a need for a new kind of math computer game that would reward their struggling kiddos while they learned the math facts, without sucking them into a mind-numbing video game. The end result is a cross between straight math drill and a magical storybook quest.

Math Rider will gradually get your kiddos up to speed with all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) through 4 different levels (the final level is “master”). With each level comes a new colorfully illustrated quest.

mathrider quest

The actual game-play is nothing more than typing in the correct answers to math problems, allowing your “Math Rider” to jump upcoming obstacles.

mathrider play

As you finish a board, the program shows you how you did on each problem.

mathrider screenshot

Hovering over each bar will show you what problem it represents and how long it took you to answer it.

The map shows you your overall progress on the quest.

mathrider map

How quickly you arrive at your destination is determined by how accurately and quickly you answer the problems. It takes multiple rides to complete each quest.

Over time, you’ll see your statistics improve as you master those facts.

mathrider stats

Having trouble with just a few facts? Take a practice run and choose just the facts you need to work on.

mathrider practice menu

Take a look at the Math Rider trailer:

What did we think? I know from firsthand experience how hard it can be for some kiddos to develop automaticity with their math facts. And my oldest son, David, is struggling with that right now. Add to that his absolute phobia of timed tests…I was really excited at the prospect of trying this program out. And if my 7-year-old daughter liked it? That would be a bonus.

But the kiddos weren’t so crazy about Math Rider.

Mary had two main objections:

  1. It is timed and it is possible to get a problem wrong just because you didn’t answer it quickly enough.
  2. There are only 4 different quests and they are keyed to the difficulty of the quest. So the only difference between the easy addition quest and the easy subtraction quest (for example) is the problems you solve, the story and graphics are the same.

While it would be nice to have more quests, I’m not at all bothered by her getting them wrong when she takes too long (we’re not talking a couple of seconds, here, but several seconds). The program clearly shows and tells (there’s audio) the completed problem so she can remember it for next time. Personally, if it were me, I’d want to get that answer without having to sweat it so I can learn it.

David just found it monotonous. And though there is pleasant music and nice graphics (you don’t really notice them much, though, as you are answering the problems), yes, it is fairly monotonous. Math drills can be like that.

I should point out that the first few days we had this program, both kiddos were spending a lot of time on it and kept asking when they could continue their quests…I think the novelty wore off.

As a homeschooling Mama, I love the ability to target particular math facts with the practice runs…most math programs I’ve seen can’t be that closely tailored. And I like that the program adjusts and progresses according to how your child is doing and keeps keeps track of their progress on individual facts. All the grading and timing is done for me.

I would like to be able to print the results from individual “rides” or even print out the day’s rides all on one sheet---I’m always in favor of a paper trail to add to the portfolio. But you can’t have everything. Since I can see at a glance from the stat chart if they need to work on a particular fact more, I can assign practice runs as needed and take notes on progress.

Overall, it’s good program. I just wish my children liked it.

Math Rider runs on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. For full system requirements, check this link.

Price: $37 for an instant download. Comes with a 30-day money back guarantee!

For more reviews of this and other homeschool products, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: I received a free trial of this program for review purposes. I received no compensation. The views expressed here are my own.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feed Them for a Lifetime

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what we are doing in one subject or another that I lose sight of the big picture.  Good thing I’ve got the kiddos to bring me back down to earth. 

Mama:  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

David (age 10):  “I want to be an architect and a farmer, an alpaca farmer.” 

Mary (age 7):  “Maybe a soccer player or dancer.  I also like animals, maybe I’ll be a vet.  Or maybe I’ll be a farmer instead of a vet.”

Peter (age 5):  “I think maybe I’ll be a swordfish.”

Puts a new spin on having a well-rounded education, doesn’t it.

{Smile} I’m pretty sure there’s no specific curriculum aimed at refining swordfish skills (maybe some swimming lessons would be appropriate), but this reminded me that my children see the world through different eyes than I do. 

It might seem important to me that they learn certain dates from American history or Latin word roots, but what’s really important, what will serve them no matter what field they pursue (and God’s plan for them), is their spiritual and intellectual foundation.  My goal is to help them build the right foundation and to acquire the tools they need to become independent learners.

You’ve heard the saying “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime?” 

The same is true of knowledge and learning.  I can fill my children’s heads with facts, but I can never fill their heads with all the facts.  There will always be gaps no matter what books or methods we use, and if they are limited to the knowledge I deem important, oh, that’s very limiting indeed. 

But if I can give them the ability to reason and research for themselves and offer them plenty of opportunities to explore things outside of our immediate experience, they can acquire whatever knowledge they might need. 

Sometimes I forget about that goal and turn into a fact-stuffer, especially when I’m thinking about portfolios…it’s so much easier to document fact-stuffing!  Time to come back down to earth and remember what homeschooling is really all about (for us).

This post is linked to the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog Cruise question:  What do your children want to be when they grow up and what are you doing to help them pursue their field of interest?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Making Your Home Work for You: Identify YOUR Problem Areas

I’m a collector. A packrat. A clutterbug. Every once in a while I go on a de-cluttering spree and for a few days hours I’m pleased with the clear open spaces of my home. But it’s not long before I start missing the things I threw out. Or the clear open spaces are not so clear and open anymore.

And I’ve come to realize something. I’m always going to be a collector. It’s part of who I am. Having a model home is not.

That said, my ultimate purpose in life is not to have stuff. I highly value the simple life. You won’t find any dust-collecting trinkets or fragile doodads lining my mantle (and that’s not because I don’t have a mantle). But

simple ≠ Spartan

It will look different for each family. The key is to recognize what your family actually needs and what is just sitting around clogging up your life. And finding a doable solution to keep the things you need where you use them.

Again, this will look different for everyone.

Not everybody has 4 homeschooled kiddos with a ravenous appetite for books, drawing supplies and food. And not everybody has over 2000 square feet of living space. But I think most people have some problem areas in their homes…places where some sort of organizational solution is needed to keep things working efficiently.

BTW, you might think that having more space will solve your problems. Eh, nope! Just a bigger area for spreading out the messes.

It makes little sense to have the things I do have if I can’t find them when I need them, right?

Living in a perpetual state of chaos isn’t fun for anyone, so I’m on a mission to solve my problem areas and you can join in on the fun.

The first step: go around your house on an average day (not a “I just cleaned up all the messes” day) and take some photos of your problem areas.

This will give you a visual record of what you need to fix and (believe it or not) some ideas on how to fix it. I’ll go first.

Let’s start in the kitchen.020

Ok, that doesn’t look too bad, but…021…notice how it’s pulled out from the corner? That’s because of this:

022The cord won’t reach otherwise.

Now, I could use an extension cord, but frankly, with my kiddos, that’s not a safe solution.

016 This is our school area.


Oh dear!


Does everyone’s fridge look like this?


On to the “mudroom” (enclosed porch).

At least there isn’t any actual mud.


Eeeps! In my defense, this house has no 1st floor closets and putting cardboard outside in the snow to wait 2 weeks for the next recycle pick-up isn’t happening.

The living room.025

These movies and games actually do all fit into this shelf. DVDs are irresistible to toddlers so they eventually all end up stacked on top.

Not the best way to keep track of your library books, I admit.030

Need a clean out here.032

The front hall.

This hall tree isn’t really sufficient for a family of 6. Plus any guests. And it’s by the front door. The only time we use the front door is to walk to church. But it won’t work at all by the back door.035

In the library.

The games and kid book shelf is a bit of a dud. The books never make it back to this shelf. Well, you saw, they are all on the radiator in the living room.028

This was a valuable exercise for me…it showed me not only what the problem areas are, but why they are problem areas. The first step to finding solutions, don’t you think?

And it inspired me to do something about it immediately. I wanted to solve all the problems at once, but reality set in. So we started in the kitchen. And put in some coat hooks where we actually need them…


…by the back door!

We still keep the adult coats by the front door.

The microwave was moved to the kitchen counter and the cart moved to another corner of the kitchen with the humidifier (now the toddler can’t play with the water, yippee!).

I plan to post on this topic weekly as I (hopefully) fix my home’s problem areas.

Does your home have any problem areas? What can you do to make them work for you?

Linked to The Christian Home: Issue 3 at Legacy of Home.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is it Spring Already?

backs edit

Yep, Peter’s wearing shorts! In February!

tree edit

Even the breezes didn’t feel wintery.


Still a bit marshy after the thaw.

I hear they are calling for snow on Tuesday, so we’ll enjoy it while we can.

Two Steps Back? Or a Big Leap Forward?

The big math update.

David has always been a "do it in your head" kinda guy. He hates to write out his work when doing math. He's cool with manipulatives, but please don't ask him to show his work on paper.

I thought this was laziness. His hand-written work does tend to be as brief as he can possibly manage. This is the entirety of his summary of a book on Ferdinand Magellan:

Magellan faced a seemingly endless strait, killer natives, mutiny, starvation, and sickness. Plus, he got killed before he could get back home. Dang those evil natives! By the way Magellan's first name was Ferdinand.

That last sentence was added after I pointed out that it needed to be at least 4-5 sentences. Did I mention that he's also a smarty-pants? {smile}

And yet, he wrote a book for NaNoWriMo. And it was pretty good. He is definitely capable of producing quality written work when he's motivated. So, I tend to put down his resistance to laziness lack of motivation.

But today I discovered something that I think is at the heart of this refusal to show his work in math, and it's not pure contrariness. (Sorry, David, I owe you an apology.)

I gave David an assessment test this morning to try to get a handle on the improvements he's made over the past several weeks and was so looking forward to being able to pat him on the back and show him his hard work was paying off.

Instead I was shocked at the number of problems he got wrong. But it was clear that most of this was due to errors stemming from his insistence on doing all the work in his head and then writing the answers down.

His response to the question of "why so many mistakes?"

The other kiddos were distracting him too much.

"But it would be so much easier for you to keep track of what you're doing if you would write out your work."

"I can't figure out how to write it down."

Silence from Mama. It never even occurred to me that he didn't know how to show his work. We've been working on problems just like these for weeks. I would show him, we would do it together, then he would do some problems on his own. Writing out the steps, then lapsing into not writing out the steps but figuring it in his head and writing out the answer. I thought he felt confident enough about the problem that he just didn't want to show his work.

He knows what he needs to figure out and how to figure out, word problems are a breeze, but what finally dawned on me was that there's apparently a disconnect between reasoning out the problem and how to write it out. He can reason it out and write the answer, but the actual computations are tripping him up and causing him to stumble.

His understanding of how to work it out is absolutely correct. He can do it. In his head!

But ask him to go to the whiteboard and show me the way to do long division, for instance? He can't do it. He can't remember how to show it. And we've been over this lesson over and over and over again, several different ways. The thoughts in his head are not translating to the steps on the paper.

I thought we had hit a wall of stubbornness, but it's really just a hill we need to climb, a challenge to overcome. He's so good at doing the math in his head it was too easy to not see the real problem.

Have you ever made an assumption about your kiddos and found out later you had totally misjudged them?

This post is linked to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Your Library's DVD Shelves...

...can be full of great resources for your homeschool.

And they are free (as long as you return them on time and don't incur any late fees, ahem).

We've found Signing Times vids there and a bunch of others we couldn't possibly afford to have on our own shelves.

Something we are using right now: a couple of vids from Schlessinger Media's Ancient Civilizations for Children series. This is one of the few good resources I've been able to find on the ancient Aztecs, Inca, and Maya.

What I like: They don't go overboard with the dramatization (there's some to feed the imagination, but not enough to make my sensitive child flee the room every 2 minutes), they are short (less than 20 minutes), they are not full of crazy speculation, no over the top effects, and they each come with a short teacher's guide with pertinent discussion questions and some pretty good suggestions for extension activities. These fit in nicely with our study of New World Explorers and are a change of pace from the books we've been reading.

This post was unsolicited and uncompensated, just sharing a worthwhile resource.

Praise for Peter's Ears

Peter's ichthyosis is an ongoing challenge when it comes to his ears. He visits an ENT (Ear, Nose, & Throat) doc every 2 months to have the skin debris and wax removed (the scaly skin in his ear canals covers the little hairs that would normally push out wax and debris and it hardens in there). Between times, he suffers with some hearing loss and endures having oil and medicated drops put in his ears daily. We have been told that it might improve as he gets older, but not to expect miracles.

A funny thing happened last week. There was a skin flake sticking out of his ear canal (common for him, if you look in his ears just around the opening it looks like peeling skin), so I pulled it out with a pair of square tipped tweezers (otherwise he'll scratch and dig at his ear...the squared tip protects him from being poked). Instead of a small flake of skin peeling off, a column of skin the consistency of clear packing tape that had been lining his ear canal came out. There was some crumbly wax in it.

Mama: "Peter, are you ok!?"
Peter: "Yeah."
Mama: "How's your ear feel?"
Peter: "Pretty Good!"
Mama (staring at the skin "sleeve," examining it for signs of blood or trauma): "It doesn't hurt?"
Peter: "Nope."

So I told hubby about it. I said some fervent prayers. Maybe we are coming to a turning point? Maybe a minor miracle?

Today Peter went to see his ENT and hubby explained what had happened. The ENT said that the right ear was still totally clear!

Let me pause here. The debris and wax usually starts building up in Peter's ears within a couple of days of having them cleaned. To have it totally clear a week later is a really good sign.

When the ENT went to clean out the left ear, the same thing happened (he pulled out a similar column)!

ENT's response: "Keep doing what you're doing. And we'll see how he is in a couple of months."

I wanted to share this because even if he does continue to need ENT appointments every few months, this feels like a miracle to me...this could have a real impact on his quality of life and I'm truly thankful.

Monday, February 14, 2011

From Batman to Spanish

Chocolate and St. Valentine

We need to get out of our schooltime funk, so today we took a little trip down a rabbit trail and learned about St. Valentine. And chocolate. In addition to the usual holiday-ey worksheets, we made prayer cards for St. Valentine,


Peter’s artistic rendering of St. Valentine.

and did some other activities.


Matching up lower case and capital letters.


Chocolate box math.

We watched a great (short!) series of videos from Hershey on how chocolate is made (skip the last segment, it’s basically a commercial for all their different candies), learned about chocolate history and completed a mini-lapbook on chocolate.

An almost pain-free day.


Emma after I took the markers and glue away from her.

It’s hard being almost 2, isn’t it?

But the best thing about the day? David’s Valentine’s Day Acrostic Poem (I don’t normally do those things, but he saw the worksheet and thought it was cool).

V is for Velcro

A is for Aerodynamic

L is for Luftwaffe

E is for Empathy

N is for Necktie

T is for Thrice

I is for Ice

N is for Neural

E is for Elk

Not sure I’m seeing the big picture…is my 10-year-old deeper than me?

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where We’re At


A while back I posted about lighting a fire under the kiddos (and myself).  And you are probably wondering:  is he finally learning those times tables?

Yes, actually, he is.  I knew he would.  He is making slow but sure progress, with a little help from a 3rd grade math book that was first published in 1938.  It’s called Living Arithmetic.  We’re skipping over most of it (except for some review), but it teaches multiplication brilliantly, giving varied practice on each set of facts until he’s got it, then we move on.  He doesn’t like copying math problems from a book and answering them, but it’s been good for him.

I’ve a confession to make.  I didn’t learn the times tables until 4th grade.  And I didn’t learn them in school…my mom taught me after school.  Because I wasn’t learning them.

And I just found out something.  Hubby didn’t learn the times tables until around 4th or 5th grade either.  He doesn’t remember how he learned them, but he does remember the frustration he felt when he couldn’t get them.  And he admits that he still has to think about the 7’s (so do I!).

You see, we do understand.  And that’s part of the reason it’s so important to us that he get it.

So, math is working.  I’m pretty sure that David will be totally caught up with his peers by the end of this school year.  Or at least he’ll be ready for what they call “6th grade” work in the fall.  He can definitely do this.

On to other subjects.

The workboxes are not such a good fit for us.  I can’t really implement them the way Sue Patrick suggests anyway (not enough room!), and it conflicts somewhat with our together work to do it that way.  So I was using a modified version.  I had a book for each child that has 8 plastic pockets (picked them up on clearance at Walmart).   I can put worksheets, paper, pencils, things of that nature into the pockets.  For larger books, I would just put a note in the pocket. 

But, that doesn’t really work well for Peter (can’t read yet).  I honestly think he might benefit from doing the full workbox thing, but I have 2 major obstacles:  finding a place to keep the boxes that Emma can’t get into (but he can!), fitting them anywhere at all.  Plus, there’s the initial investment in boxes.  I won’t use the clear shoeboxes, because I won’t treat my books and supplies that way.  Too many things simply wouldn’t fit and would need to be folded or else put to the side with a note in the box.  So, I’m stuck with more expensive ways to do it and, well, that’s not really an option right now. Hmmm…

How about doing “activity bags” instead:  Just using gallon size bags and putting them into a crate for him.  They would be able to accommodate bulky items the way that file folders or other flatter things  can’t.  And wouldn’t require a big investment.  Hmm, the wheels are turning.  When he’s not using them, the whole crate could be up out of Emma’s reach.  And when he is using them, it might be easier to keep her distracted…

Anyway, where was I? 

Ah, I found that putting together the workboxes for the older two was a bit time consuming.  And redundant.  And they didn’t really like it. 

So I suggested doing an assignment sheet for each of them instead.  This week was our trial run.  I took their pocket books and used one pocket for each day of the week (if this idea works, I’ll make a label for each pocket).  They just flip to the pocket for today and find their assignment sheet plus any worksheets, paper, etc. they need for that day.  The necessary books are grouped with the pocket book. I also write in read alouds and activities we do together so they can check them off---they know exactly what they need to accomplish each day.  As they complete their work, they put it back in the pocket to be checked over later.

So far…I need to tweak this.  Mary’s #1 complaint is that she cannot read my half-print/half-cursive handwriting (wink). My #1 complaint is there’s not enough room to fully explain the assignments.  And that if David comes to an assignment that requires Mama’s help and Mama’s not available, he disappears.  Or if I put independent reading on the list, he’ll do that and nothing else.  I really don’t want to have to stand at my 10-year-old’s elbow all day, every day.

So, this system could work with some tweaks.  The question is, do I want it to work? 

Yes, we did get lots done this week.  And we were done by 2 almost every day.  I even got at least 2 loads of laundry done EVERY day.  But our attitude was not so good…it was too much “come on, let’s get it done so we can play.”  Hmmm, I feel a conference with God coming on.

What have you been trying differently in your homeschool lately?

This post is linked to the Weekly Wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Lessons Learned

I learn more than my kiddos, you know. That’s why I homeschool. I’m thirsty for knowledge.

This week I learned

  • Doing 2 loads a day every day still won’t keep me from being buried alive under laundry (at least most of it is clean).
  • There might be enough minutes in the day to get done most of the things I need/want to do if I didn’t waste so much time doing the things I don’t really need (or want) to do.
  • My school area isn’t workin’ for me, but against me…time for an overhaul.
  • I can’t possibly rearrange everything in my entire house all in a day and
  • if I start rearranging and leave things in piles I definitely shouldn’t expect them to be there when I get back.
  • Boy socks are the grottyest (new word) garment on earth and they have magic migrate-to-every-corner-of-the-room powers.
  • A schedule might help you get more done, but make sure you don’t forget to schedule the fun stuff.
  • The internet is a time sucker and I hate it.
  • My kiddos are beautiful, delightful gifts from God and I’m guilty of taking them for granted.
  • If the world ended tomorrow, I’d have regrets, time to make some changes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roman Town from Dig-It! Games, a review

We are a family of gamers.  Period.  I don’t pretend that we game for educational purposes and even if we did, educational games tend to not be so educational if ya know what I mean?  Games tend to be a way to unwind and enjoy ourselves.  I don’t worry over much about it as just about everybody in this house will pick up a book first.  But I wouldn’t mind a truly entertaining game that could add to our personal knowledge, either.

Disclosure:  As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free download copy of Roman Town from Dig It! Games.  I received no monetary compensation.  The views expressed here are my own.

Roman Town emulates an archaeological dig of Fossura, a town destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  You will dig up 6 rooms of a ancient Roman home, one at a time.

for each room, you start with the actual dig:

where you’ll find artifacts:

And can learn more about them:Lucia

After the dig, you’ll visit the lab, where you’ll find interactive puzzles to solve, including 2-D and 3-D reconstructions:

…matching ancient artifacts to their modern counterparts, and more:

You can also visit a 3-D reconstruction of the room with clickable hotspots to learn about the various artifacts:

Afterwards, you’ll complete a little quiz:

What did we think?

I’m going to look at two main parts, here:  the playability of the game and its educational value.

First, I’d recommend this for ages 8 and up or so, depending on reading level.  My 10-year-old played it quite easily, but I think it would have been too much of a challenge for my 7-year-old to play alone.

Lets’ start with playability.  Total play time for my 10-year-old was roughly 2 hours.  He finished Roman Town in 3 sittings.  I’m going a little slower, but only because I have other things to do.

We were a little underwhelmed at first.  The opening scenes to the game have a very cartoony, low-tech feel to them, and all the characters are static cartoons, similar to what you see in the 3rd screenshot.  But, as you get into the game, the graphics are more on a par with what you’ll see from other PC games.

While I like that there’s an intro to give you the background story, you don’t really  need to see it every time you play the game.   I’d like to see a “skip intro” option or have the game take me directly to the menu where I could choose to see the intro, rather than having to click through the individual screens (maybe creating a new player could trigger the intro?).

There is music and some subtle sound effects, but no other audio track.  Directions, narrative and informational text need to be read.  Not a problem for my son and I like being able to turn off the sound (makes it easier with a sleeping babe in arms), but may present a challenge for children with difficulty reading.  See the “quiz” screenshot for an idea of the reading ability required.

The dig part was easy, but maybe a little too easy.  You are given a certain number of workers and tools to use for the dig.  I was a expecting this part to be similar to a time/resource management type game, but it doesn’t really seem to matter which tools you use to dig, you end up sorting the same artifacts eventually and there’s no time clock to beat.  This part would be more engaging if I could see how my tool choices make a difference.  There just doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to do it.

The 2-D reconstruction puzzles are good, requiring you to flip pieces and get them in just the right spot.  Not too many pieces to make it too daunting.

The 3-D reconstructions are cool, but a little iffy.  You can rotate the item you are reconstructing, but if it is not oriented just so, the piece you are trying to fit to it will not click into place (the spot it’s going to has to be facing you directly).  I found the hotspots for a few on the pieces to be a little off.  Might be a little frustrating for some kiddos, but overall not too difficult.

There is plenty of variety in gameplay (each room you excavate has its own set of mini-puzzles), to keep your attention.  Both David and I found it enjoyable.  I had to keep reminding him it was time to quit, lol.  The next time we study ancient Rome, we’ll pull this out.

But is it educational?

The short answer is, it can be, but it will depend on your child and how you monitor their progress.  Let me explain.

There is plenty of educational content in Roman Town:   matching up vocab with definitions, identifying ancient artifacts with their modern counterparts, memory games, reconstruction (spatial relationships), text explaining how objects were used in an ancient Roman home, and the quiz wrap-ups. 

Textual explanations can be skipped, but the knowledge provided by them is necessary to complete the quiz and some other activities. 

One wrinkle I found:  you can just guess.  The quizzes are things like fill-in the blank, True-False,  with words choices provided.  Many of the answers can be guessed just from the context.  And once you’ve answered them all, the program tells you how many you have right.  If you have any wrong, you get to change your answers until they are all correct.  Same with the definitions activity.  The only problem with that is that I child can just blindly change their answers without actually learning anything from their mistakes (did I see a child do just that?).

The game only keeps track of if you complete the activity correctly in the end.  There is no record of how many attempts were made to complete any activity. 

On the plus side:  the program does not tell you which ones you got wrong, you have to figure it out for yourself.  But, I would love to see more accountability for the student.  If they get something wrong on the quiz, I’d like to see the game have them revisit the the pertinent lab activities before they retake the quiz, so they don’t just start switching the answers around.


I’d recommend Roman Town as a hands-on supplement if you’re studying ancient Rome.  Or your kiddos are a little geeky about archaeology.  It’s a good dose of info and plenty of fun.  We would like to see more levels, though!

Roman Town is available on cd-rom from Dig-It! Games for PC.  A MAC version is in the works. 

Check out the vid on their homepage.

Current price for Roman Town is $39.95, but you can get a great discount! 

Use the coupon code TOS2011 and get it for only $19.96!  That’s more than 50% off!

Offer expires February 21, 2011.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew’s blog.