Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something to think about...

A few years ago, my husband and I were discussing the Bible and what is and isn't in it.  I have often been puzzled by how much narratives read into the Bible stories.  I became aware of it when I read Francine Rivers' novels about Bible women.  At the end of each book, she included a Bible study.  The first assignment in the Bible study is to read the story in the Bible.  What discovered with the story of Bathsheba was that there were details in my head that weren't in the Bible.  I was caught by surprise when I realized this.

I discussed it with my husband and he said to me that God put what He wanted in the Bible.  The stories in the Bible aren't meant to point us to the people.  They are meant to point us to God.

I was reading a book this morning, Welcome to the Story by Stephen J. Nichols, and came upon an interesting quote.  Nichols makes the point that as we're reading the Bible, we should begin to realize something.  "We, if paying attention, will recognize ourselves in one of these characters. (the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Martha...) By reading about them, we will be reading about ourselves.  And just as they are confronted by Jesus, so, too, are we." p. 97

I thought about what he says in this quote.  He wasn't saying that the stories are about the people.  The stories are still about God.  I think he has a point, though.  I also think it takes humility to see ourselves in the stories.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kindergarten Math

I have been writing a slew of reviews lately and I have one more today.  It is for Kinder-Math.  It's a lesser known kindergarten math curriculum by Susan Mortimer and Betty Smith.

There are all sorts of math curriculums available today.  There's traditional math curriculums.  There's modern, brightly colored math curriculums.  There's mastery curriculums, like Singapore Math, and then there's spiral curriculums, like Saxon.   I've looked at a lot of them over the past few years.  Much of that is because I had to switch math curriculums in first grade because Autumn was stuck and not going anywhere.  Her struggles compelled me to compare math curriculums and think about what made them different from one another.

For preschool, I use a book by Kathy Richardson titled Developing Number Concepts: Counting, Comparing, and Pattern.  I highly recommend this book for preschool, because it explains the basic number concepts children need to learn in order to develop number sense.  I also use this as a supplement to my kindergarten math curriculum.  The one catch about that book is that it is not a homeschool book.  It is made for use in the classroom, so some of the activities have to be modified for home teaching.

With my oldest daughter for kindergarten, I used Singapore Math Standards Edition.  I loved the first half of the year with this curriculum, but began to realize I had to have the $50 teacher's edition to teach the second half.  We made it through, but I chose not to use this curriculum with my second daughter for kindergarten.  Instead, I switched to HSP Math K.  Sami whizzed through the Kindergarten book it in one quarter and we spent the rest of the year slowly working our way through HSP Math 1, which we are continuing with this year.  I don't typically recommend HSP Math for a few reasons.  I do love it a lot, but you can't get teacher's manuals for it.  Math is also my favorite subject so HSP Math works okay for me and my children even though it only has a few instructions.

I have noticed several things about curriculums.
1) More words doesn't necessarily mean better lessons.
2) Big, color graphics don't necessarily mean better comprehension.
3) Newer isn't always better.

Keeping these things in mind, I want to review Kinder-Math.  What kind of curriculum is Kinder-Math?  It is a mastery curriculum--one that teaches a concept fully and then moves on to the next concept.  It was published in 1995 and is printed in black and white.  The set comes with one student work book and a teacher's manual.  It is $15 for the set.  The workbook is not reproducible, so you will need to purchase additional workbooks for your other children for $5 each.  The price makes this a very affordable kindergarten math curriculum.

At first, this curriculum might strike you as not being enough.  It may surprise you that the concepts in this book are all that a child needs to learn in Kindergarten for math.  I looked through what is covered in this book and compared it to World Book's Scope and Sequence for kindergarten.  There were a few minor topics that are missed.  They are Estimation (which my public school curriculum doesn't cover until 1st), Sequence of Events, Calendar, Introduction to the Number Line, Subtraction, and Basic Charts and Graphs.  The topics covered by this curriculum include counting by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s, counting to 100, time, money, geometry, greater than and less than, and addition.  As I read the teacher's guide, I was struck by how simple and easy to use it was.  It may seem thin and give you the first impression that it's not worth reading.  This is simply not true!  Read it please!  There's great ideas in it!

What stands out to me about this curriculum?  The first thing that caught my attention is how they teach the numbers 1-100.  They have flash cards for the 10s numbers and others for the single digits that children place over them to make the numbers in successive order.  What a great idea!  I also particularly liked how the authors explain how to teach the clock.  I looked over Horizons Math curriculum one time and the instruction I found in their book was "Teach the clock."  I thought, "But, I want to know how!"  There is a big emphasis put on counting by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s.  This will help children a lot by building a base for the mental math they'll do down the road.  I also like the 100s chart in the workbook because the tens digits are on the left side of the chart.  If you start with 0, it makes a lot of sense to have the tens on the left side.

Who is this curriculum great for?  
1) Someone who doesn't have a lot of space.  A missionary or anyone who lives in small quarters.
2) A child who's fine motor skills are lagging behind their ability to do math.  This curriculum is good for beginning writers.  It's verbal and hands on.
3) A 4 year old preschooler who's ready for kindergarten math, but not an intensive program.
4) A family who's looking for a very inexpensive, traditionally taught math program that will cover the bases for kindergarten.

What about what the program's missing?  
+ I had to supplement even Singapore's math with a book titled Sort, Graph, and Tally from Teacher Created Resources.  This book would be a great supplement to this program and it's reproducible.  That covers Basic Charts and Graphs.  
+ For introducing the number line, bring out a measuring tape used to make clothing.  Count up and down the number line with your child.  When you are doing the counting exercises in this curriculum, use this tool.  It is a number line!  
+ Sequence of Events...  While you are out with your child discuss what you are going to do first, next, and last.  When you cook, use a recipe card that says 1, 2, 3.  Point this out to them.  When you have an old storybook that is missing a few pages, cut it apart and have your child put it in order.  
+ To teach the calendar--keep one in your classroom.  Let your child put an X on each day that passes.  Say the date together...  Wednesday, September 28th, 2011.  Mark special events on your calendar so they can begin to develop a sense of future events.  Look through the calendar at the end of the year and talk about past events.  Every morning write the date on a chalkboard.  
+ Lastly, subtraction.  I'd recommend Kathy Richardson's book.  If you buy it for preschool, you'll be able to use it to teach subtraction in kindergarten and also have additional lessons for addition.  

How much time do the lessons take?  How do you plan with this curriculum?  Read through the unit's plans.  Pick out 2-3 activities for the first day.  See how your child responds and how long it takes.  For a preschooler or kindergartener, you probably only want to spend 15-20 minutes a day on math.  If they can only sit still for 10 minutes, then do 10 minutes and work your way up to 15 minutes.  After you've discovered how much you can do in that span of time, plan out a week's math activities based on the units.  Some units will probably take longer than others.  You can plan on spending 2 weeks on each unit to start with.  

I know that starting to homeschool can seem daunting.  This is a basic curriculum that's going to remind you of how you learned as a child.  If you use this curriculum with Kathy Richardson's book and a book like the Graph, Sort, and Tally book, your child will learn what he or she needs to know in kindergarten!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review.  

Homeschool Advice for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities and other Special Needs

One of the books that I recommend to friends who are thinking of homeschooling is Help for the Harried Homeschooler by Christine Field.  It covers the bases of the big picture well of what it looks like to homeschool and what many of the challenges are.  It doesn't go in depth into curriculum recommendations because many other books do.  She does include a short chapter on choosing curriculum that is full of very good advice.

Christine has written several other books for homeschooling. I do have one of her other books, Life Skills for Kids, which is also great.  It covers manners, chores, and all the other skills (besides academics) that we want to teach our kids when we homeschool.  

This week I read one of her books that I've been curious about for a while, even though it doesn't apply to my family right now.  Sometimes I wonder if God is preparing me for what may be ahead by prompting me to read a book like the one I read this week.  

Christine wrote a book titled Homeschooling the Challenging Child.  This book covers a lot of the challenges parents face when they choose to homeschool their child if the child has a learning disability or other challenge like ADHD.  This book is similar to many ways to Help for the Harried Homeschooler except that it specifically addresses how homeschooling is different for parents in this situation.  She begins the book by defining disabilites, differences, discipline, personality, and learning styles.  In the next chapters, she tackles teaching the distractible child, personality clashes, learning styles, and discipline.  She also wisely addresses how to keep yourself sane as the homeschool parent--what are strategies you can use to cope with the daily struggles you face.  She even explains how to develop a homeschool "IEP", or individual education plan, so that you can best document your child's progress.  (That is the goal of records--to help you and your child see how he or she grown and developed!)  From there she talks about planning your child's learning program and getting help.  At the end of the book, there is a list of resources for phonics and math curriculums.  As a book reviewer, I thought her reviews in this section were well written, thorough, and helpful.  

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of Heads Up Helping by Melinda Boring.  You can read that review HERE if you're interested.  That book tackled all the daily strategies that she developed over the years of homeschooling her son, who has ADHD, and her daughter, who is ADD.  What I loved most about that book was how honest and down to earth her writing is.  She shares many practical ways of how she helped her children learn.  I noted on that review that there were topics she didn't cover.  Christine Field's book covers many of those topics.  The two books complement each other.  Ms. Boring's book will encourage and give you an arsenal of tools to use every day.  Ms. Field's book gives the big picture framework that your homeschool will operate within.  

I do want to make one side note about Ms. Field's book.  In Help for the Harried Homeschooler, she references two authors that I don't recommend, Michael and Debi Pearl.  Their approach to parenting is very different than mine.  I'd actually recommend Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson instead.  I have found her approach to be more filled with grace.  

In Homeschooling the Challenging Child, Ms. Field includes another author that I'm a bit skittish about.  The author is Cynthia Tobias.  She is well known in the homeschooling community for her advocacy of teaching to learning styles.  I disagree with her on matters of parenting, which obviously influence how one homeschools.  Specifically, she and I disagree about submission to God and His authority, which I believe one must do.  I believe there are some good ideas in what she says, but I'd recommend that you filter her ideas through how you feel called by the Lord to parent your children.  

On the issue of submission to authority, Ms.Field and I do agree.  She explains the importance of this in one of the chapters of her book that children do need to learn to submit to the authorities in their lives.  I was very glad that Ms. Field addresses this in her book because I think it's a really difficult part of parenting and I have heard from my friends who face challenges with their children that it is particularly difficult for them.  

If you are starting out homeschooling your child and facing challenges like a learning disability or ADHD, I'd definitely recommend this book to you.  It's one you'll keep on your bookshelf and refer back to time and time again.  If you're not homeschooling yet, but thinking of taking your child out of school and beginning to homeschool, I'd recommend both this book and Melinda Boring's book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Homeschooling the Challenging Child for review from the author, Christine Field.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christmas Art Lessons

This post is the next is my series of art curriculum reviews.

Yesterday, I posted a review of See The Light's Art Class Curriculum.  See The Light has also made three illustrated videos with art lessons.  My kids and I have had the chance to watch 2 of them.  The Gift of Love and God's Runaway.  Each of the videos has a 10 minute story and three art lessons.  One is a creative lettering lessons, one is a drawing lesson, and the third is a chalk-art lesson.  They are each taught by different artists.

As a mom, I love the lessons from the Bible and the art that illustrates them.  It was surprising to me how much my kids enjoyed the stories even though they weren't animated.  The way the stories are filmed the illustrations come to life.  I enjoyed the art lessons and doing them with my children.  The art lessons are a little more difficult than the first lessons in the Art Class series, so I would recommend them to grades 2 and up.  First graders who aren't able to write all of their letters easily yet may have a difficult time doing the art lessons.  I would recommend the stories to ages 3 and up as See The Light recommends, but the lessons for grades 2 and up.  Middle schoolers would also enjoy the lessons.  

The Gift of Love is a video on the Nativity story.  There are three lessons.  I did the creative lettering lesson with my daughter who is 7 years old.  Here is her drawing:

and here is mine:

Autumn's star looks different because she was a bit discouraged by how her O turned out.  The colors she chose made it all blend together.  So, she drew her own sort of star.  I was surprised by how easy the lesson was to follow.  There are times that you want to be able to pause it and finish the step you're on, so be prepared to do that along the way.  There are also techniques and drawing tips interwoven in the lessons as well as how the art reminds us of God and points us to Him and His Word.  

I also did the nativity scene drawing lesson.  

This is the lesson that I think would be a little more difficult for younger children.  I was surprised by how easy the directions were to follow and that my donkey's mane really did look as it was supposed to!

This DVD would be wonderful for the month of December when you want to do special Christmas activities but still want to cover your subjects.  The lessons on this DVD teach children about art and not just cut and paste arts and crafts.  This drawing and the rejoice picture could be framed and used as special gifts for a family member.  I know grandparents would love them.  It goes right along with Pat Knepley's story about the greatest gift we've received--Jesus-- and how we give gifts to those we love at Christmas time.  That particular nugget is one I plan on talking to my children about often this coming Christmas season.    

Under the "fun stuff" tab on See The Light, there are additional free lessons and downloads available to go along with this video.  The videos on the site are for their Crossmaker DVD, but there is a downloadable chalk lesson of the angels under the downloads section on this tab.  

The second DVD that my children and I watched is God's Runaway.  This video tells the story of Jonah.  It is similar to The Gift of Love.  I can say the exact same things about it.  We all enjoyed the story and the lessons.  There is also a downloadable chalk lesson to draw the whale on the website to go along with this video.  Autumn and Sami enjoyed the creative lettering lesson and drew their whales.  

My children love to draw and they draw almost every day.  But, I loved watching them do these lessons and the art class lessons, because their art has begun to look more realistic.  Their skills are growing with the tips they have learned on these videos.  My children are pretty normal, I think.  They want to rush to the finished product and go like Speedy Gonzales to the end of the race.  These videos help slow them down and walk them through the creation process step by step.  This is very helpful!  You can see that Autumn got to the rushing point of wanting to be done with her star on the rejoice picture.  But, she focused through the rest of the lessons.  The art lessons on the DVDs do last between 18 and 33 minutes each, so it may be wise to take a break in the middle of the drawing or split it up over 2 days for younger students like mine.  I think older children would enjoy making the pictures in one sitting.  

These DVDs are available through the See the Light website HERE for $15 each plus shipping and handling.  I did notice that there were a few used copies of The Gift of Love available on Amazon.  If you have children that love to draw, these are some fun art lessons.  They'd be great whether your children are homeschooling or are in public school.  Actually, if your kids are in school and you really want them to know that it is the beauty of God that is reflected in art, these would be great videos to help them see and hear that.  

My kids have been asking every week and almost every day since these videos arrived to watch them.  That may be because we don't watch very many videos, but I suspect is mostly because they enjoy the stories and the lessons!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of The Gift of Love for review from See the Light for review.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Art Video Curriculum

Two weeks ago, I reviewed the first art resource I found.    The CD by Jim Weiss could be used as a supplement.  It could be expanded into field trips and artist studies of each of the artists mentioned.  It could be your base if you wanted to develop your own art history curriculum.  

Today, I get to review a second art curriculum resource.

See the Light Shine is a Christian ministry that has developed a video art curriculum.  There are 9 DVDs in the set.  Pat Knepley is the artist teaching the lessons in the series.  Each DVD has 4 lessons in it with one bonus lesson.  They are short, only about 15 minutes in length.  Each lesson also talks about God and His Word.  The art concepts are all related to biblical concepts and our faith.  It was neat to me to see how the art teacher wove in lessons about God.  Art does reflect the beauty of God and His creation.  Art is also a very special act because it is a way that we reflect our creator.

There is a sample of the first three lessons on their site HERE.  
Here is the first one:  Art Class Freeview - Web Episode 01 from Kip Perry on Vimeo.

My children have done the first three lessons (as have I).  These art samples are mine.  

I have wanted to draw for a while now.  I even bought a set of watercolor paints.  But, I struggled to know what to do with them.  I needed someone to show me.  I was reminded of my difficulty as I watched these videos.  There are many wonderful art curriculums that consist of a written text.  Because videos are a different medium, they  have different strengths and weaknesses, which I want to elaborate on.

One of the greatest strength of videos is that you can actually "see" someone create a work of art.  You can see how they move their hands and all the little steps involved (if they show them).  If you don't have access to an art teacher, or you yourself aren't experienced in teaching art, there are likely many tricks and techniques you won't be able to demonstrate.  I appreciated "seeing" Pat's demonstration of how to hold the pencil so that you can shade.  She was very specific and clear in her directions.  I also liked her explanation of how to draw a lighter or darker line by holding the pencil differently.  I think it was very appropriate and easy to understand for children.  Other strengths of this art curriculum, which is best suited to children in grades 1-6, are that the lessons are easy to follow and simple.  The lessons build on one another.  Also, the art materials needed are inexpensive and easy to obtain. 

The one weakness of this curriculum is that the lessons don't give specific assignments to continue the techniques in the lesson.  Pat gives general assignments, but as the assistant art teacher/homeschool parent, you'll want to make specific assignments for your children.   For example, I would suggest that you repeat lesson number 2 with a different object.  I do want to note that after ten times drawing the same object for my contour dressing, my drawing still didn't look right.  Your child may have the same experience.  Lesson 4 could be repeated with another object.  If you're anything like me, write these plans into your lesson planner.  I'd also suggest that you do these lessons with your children.  Usually, when my children watch a video, I use that time to take care of other things that I need to.  In this case, that's not the best idea.  Because these lessons need practice, and additional reinforcement, you need to know what's on them.  You will learn along with your children.  I find that with every year I learn so much right alongside my children.  Many of the gaps in my own education are being filled in.  

Sami's Shoe Drawing
You may wonder how my children liked the lessons.  Their reaction was a mixed one that requires explanation.  The week before I let them do these art lessons, they watched God's Runaway, another video by See The Light Shine.  They loved the story and the art that they created with one of the lessons on the DVD.  When they watched these lessons, the video wasn't as "entertaining".  These art lessons are intended to develop foundational drawing skills in your children.  Most children, and people for that matter, want to create a work of art before they learn how to shade and draw a light or dark line.  So, as you might expect, my children thought lessons 1and 2 were "okay".   They were expecting every lesson to be like God's Runaway.  But, by the time we got to lesson 4, they had adjusted their thinking and really enjoyed drawing their shoes.  I think that they would enjoy it more as the lessons progressed and they were drawing more pictures.  The first few lessons just happen to be very basic--and needed!  The great thing about the lessons is that they are short and work well with multiple ages at the same time.  If you're having a hard time fitting art into your schedule--whether because of time or expensive supplies, these videos could be a great fit for your family.
Autumn's Shoe Drawing

Using an art curriculum, or any curriculum really, needs input and ideas from the parent to make it fit for your family.  I let my children watch the first two lessons on their own.  I shouldn't have done that.  I watched the fourth lesson with them.  We paused the video when we needed to and I explained and reinforced what the art teacher was instructing them to do.  My older daughter wanted to rush and not really "look" closely at the contours of her shoe.  I encouraged her to slow down and take time to "look" at it as she drew.  You may find that it is helpful to watch it through once and then draw together.  Or you may find that it is most helpful to pause the video several times during the lesson and discuss what the teacher is talking about.  I would definitely say that it was helpful for my children to see me drawing alongside them and explaining to them what curves I saw in my shoe.

When I'm considering curriculum for my children, I have a couple of priorities:  1) Will it teach them what I want them to know?  2)  Is it doable or will it feel burdensome?  3)  Does it appeal to me--do I want to teach it?  If I don't, I will put it off every day.  4)  Do I think my children will enjoy it and will they be able to learn well from this curriculum?  5)  Will it fit in our budget?   Number 4 is a conversation for another day, but when it comes to art I want my children to really enjoy it.  It is not an academic subject in my eyes.  I've addressed the other questions in this review already except for #5.  Cost.  The set of DVDs is $100.  On the website, it says that the curriculum could be used over a year.  If you give extra assignments, you could alternate each week between 1 video lesson and 1 extra assignment given by you and stretch out the curriculum to 2 years.  There is another option of a monthly subsccription for $10/month.  Each month 4 lessons (or 1 DVD) becomes available to you.  I think the DVD option is better, though, and much more economical.  

This is a long review, but hopefully a very thorough and helpful one.  If you're interested in this curriculum, it can be purchased through the store at See The Light Shine. The sample lessons are on the website.  You can also purchase the first DVD for $5, which includes shipping.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of the first DVD in this series for review from See The Light Shine.

Theology Lessons for Children

At lunch one day this week, Autumn brought a book with her to the table.  She actually wanted to read it instead of eating her lunch.  So, what was this book?  It happened to be a new book that's coming out on Athanasius.  Yes, Athanasius.  This book is newest release in a series written by Simonetta Carr on figures from church history.

Earlier this year, I reviewed one of the other books from the series on John Owen.  Reviewing that book challenged me to think critically about biographies and what we, and our children, learn from reading them.

There is a saying that if we do not learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it.  There are also other sayings about history and why we study it.  I always told my middle school students that we studied history so that we could learn from the past and not have to reinvent the wheel over and over.  Both of these sayings apply to this series of Christian biographies for children.

I asked Simonetta what she wants children to learn from this book on Athanasius.  She said, "Most of all, that Jesus is fully God. Hopefully, they will also realize that we don't always understand some biblical doctrines, and it's OK. They will see the importance of Christian councils and creeds, and hopefully be better prepared to face future Dan Browns (they pop up every few years)."

This was exactly what my daughter took from this book when she read it.  I listened as she gave a summary of the book to my younger daughter.  She saw that it was important for Athanasius to stand firm in his belief that Jesus was fully God and fully man (she actually said that).  

Her reading of the book opened the door to a really important discussion about salvation and the trinity.  Sometimes it's hard to know how to help children understand why theology matters.  But, it does.  It matters quite a lot.  This biography recounts a time in history when Jesus' deity was questioned.  It was challenged.  People chose to believe Arius' teaching because it seemed more logical and easier to believe and follow.  But, what is easier to believe is often not right.  As parents, this is a lesson we have to teach our children.  

Today there is a great deal of controversy about hell and whether it is really real.  Is this controversy any different than what Athanasius faced?  Perhaps not.  It comes down to questioning the Word of God and choosing to believe what the Bible says or what is easier to believe.  

Ms. Carr's hope is that understanding the past will help our children understand their faith, theology, and the Word of God better.  This equipping can help our children discern what is the Truth and what is not.  I have been watching my oldest daughter do this more and more.  I pray that she will continue to do so throughout her life.  

This review is a bit unorthodox and meandering.  I realize this.  So, let me tell you in a quick tidbit about this book.  It is a biography for children grades 3-7.  I would recommend it for 8-12 year olds rather than 7 year olds as the back cover states.  The illustrations are a mixture of paintings by Matt Abraxas (which are wonderful) and authentic photographs and artifacts from the past.  Ms. Carr tells the story of Athanasius' life and acknowledges clearly what is known and what is unknown about his life.  In contrast to many novel biographies written today, Ms. Carr has stuck to what is known and not filled in the gaps with conjectures.  This book tells the story of an interesting time in church history.

This youtube video briefly summarizes the book:

Do I think well of this book?  Is it worthy of reading and discussion?  My daughter is in agreement with me--quite definitely.  She told me with certainty today, "I love history, Mommy, and I love this book!"

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Reformation Heritage Books.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Advanced Readers

My oldest daughter began reading in kindergarten.  Once she caught onto it, she ran with it.  In first grade, her reading level was that of a third grader.  In second, it was higher--4th or 5th grade.  This year, her reading  is at a 5th or 6th grade reading level.  Last year, her reading ability was higher than her comprehension, but this year it has caught up.

I use the QRI-II to test my children for both reading and for comprehension.  It was very interesting to see the difference between the two skills in my daughters skils over the past three years.  When I first realized how high her reading level was, I wanted her to read more challenging books.  This often meant reading books without pictures and with smaller font, which my daughter resisted.  Her resistance caused me step back and relax.  I was concerned that she didn't want to read books without pictures so one day I posted my concern on facebook.  Several friends encouraged me to relax--that she would gradually choose to read books without pictures on her own.

I took their advice.  I didn't press her to read hard chapter books without pictures.  What I most desire for her is that she would enjoy reading good books.  That's key for me.  I really want her to enjoy "good" books that are well written and not just read junk.  She has gradually read books with less pictures and harder words.

One of the trickiest things for me has been to find good, solid books for her to read since her reading level is high but her maturity level low.  I don't want to expose her to ideas and morals that she's not ready to process yet.

There are several resources that I looked to for suggestions.  Each of these curriculum companies have literature lists for their curriculum that I've made selections from.
Sonlight The reader lists are actually literature lists.
Veritas Press  Many of their selections are far above grade level, though.
Ambleside Online:  Many friends have used this, though I haven't.
Heart of Dakota  You have to search through their site, but they list titles for each of their levels for both boy interests and girl interests.

My daughter and I put together a list this morning of her favorite books that she's read in the past year.  These books are not in any particular order.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate di Camillo
B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood
Lady Lollipop by Dick King-Smith  
            Dick King-Smith is one of our favorite authors.  I highly recommend all of his books we've read.  Funny Frank, Babe, Charlie Muffin's Miracle Mouse, A Mouse Called Wolf, and others
Fredle by Cynthia Voigt   This is a higher reading level and a thicker book appropriate for advanced readers.
Betsy Goes to School
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald.  I grew up with these books (there's 4 in the series) and Autumn loves them too.
Imagination Station Adventures in Odyssey book series (identical to the Magic Treehouse books, but Christian)
The Ordinary Princess
Classic Starts--these are easier than the classics, but my daughter just enjoys reading them.  She's read the Anne of Green Gables and King Arthur books.
Courage of Sarah Noble
Rackety Packety House--the best edition is the new one illustrated by Wendy Halperin
Little House in the Big Woods, on the prairie, and on the banks of plum creek.  Autumn specifically said she wasn't crazy about Farmer Boy because she's a girl.  
Mercy Watson Stories(great for 1st/2nd grade)  They're easier chapter books, but they're just silly fun
The Buddy Files (similar grade level) These are a good transition to pictureless chapter books.  The text is easy to kids can understand them without pictures to aid them.
The Littles books
Dr. Doolittle
Betsy, Tacy, and Tib
Tomie de Paola's 26 Fairmount Ave. series 
The Bobbsey Twins (the old series)
The Boxcar Children
Magic Treehouse Research Guides
Magic Treehouse #1-27
Old Value Tales books
100 Dresses

Many of these books are of a reading level lower than what my daughter's is, but she enjoys reading them and they aren't too low.  These books are good, fun stories.  Some are at her grade level and some are just a little below.  Others are really easy for her, but that's okay.  Isn't that the way all of us read?  Typically, I let her pick one book and then I pick one book.  I do have a say in all the books she reads, but I pick harder ones for my choices and she typically picks easier ones.  

There are some books noticeably missing from our list.  One of those is any of the American Girl Books.  A friend commented to me two years ago that she found that it was always a man who was the bad guy in the books.  Autumn simply hasn't been drawn to any of these books.  It has also been tricky to find her good books because she is not a big fan of mysteries.  There are many good mystery series that children can deeply enjoy, but they aren't on our list.  For example, The Boxcar Children has quite a few books in the series, but Autumn has only read numbers 1 and 2.  For younger children, Nate the Great and Cam Jansen are well loved series, but Autumn only read a few of them since both are mystery series.

There were two books I read that really helped me get a good perspective on reading.  The first is Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt.  Read the updated edition not the older one.  There are wonderful book lists in the book.  The second book is Honey for a Teen's Heart, also by Gladys Hunt.  In this book, she again discusses reading (including a great discussion about Harry Potter).  Then, she gives book lists that not only list the reading level, but also the maturity level for books.  She also gives a description of authors' world views which is very helpful in picking books and discussing the morals of books with your children.

Speaking of reading, each of my children are heading to their beds.  Their patience is all short with one another right at the moment, so I thought it would be a good break...

If you have any reading suggestions to add to this list, please let me know!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wonder Struck

I was intrigued by this book when I read a brief description of it in Family Fun Magazine as being two stories told side by side--one in pictures and the other in words. I had the chance to review it so I thought it might be interesting.  The cover made me think the story might somehow be scary or eerie, but it isn't. The cover belies the wonderful story inside the pages. Selznick's story and writing remind me of E.L. Konigsburg's books.

This story begins by telling two stories. The first is Ben's story in 1977, set at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota. His mom has recently died and he is living with his Aunt, Uncle, and their children. Ben's story is told in text. The second story is about Rose. She is a young girl in 1927. Her story is told through pictures. As the brief description of the story says, both Rose and Ben are searching for something that they desire to find.

I loved reading Rose's story through pictures. The black and white pictures are wonderful. In an age where graphic novels are filled with cartoon or anime drawings, these drawings are life-like sketches filled with detail. Ben's story also drew me in. He was an easy character to like.

The only note I have for parents is that Ben's mom chose to have him and not get married. She fell in love and had no desire to have a husband. I don't think most people will have an issue with their child reading this as a part of the story. But, some may and so I wanted to mention it. If this concerns you, I would talk to your child about it rather than make the choice not to read this book. It is a wonderful book and is full of beauty. There are times when I believe it is wise to read a book even if the characters hold morals different than your own.

This book would be a great fit for reluctant readers in 4th-7th grades. The pictures make it a very quick read and also will give children the proud feeling of "reading a really long book". I look forward to letting my children read this book. It is about younger children, so I would recommend it to children as young as third grade and up to eighth grade. Honestly, this book is such a breath of fresh air. It is not filled with darkness and dread as many books for children are today. There is also no mention of potty humor or bad language (I don't even remember reading the word stupid). It is simply a very, good book and interesting story.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Scholastic Publishing.

Evaluating High School Credit for Home Schoolers

I am a planner.  I like to know what's ahead.  I enjoy planning actually.  It gives me a vision of what my goal is and where I'm going.  

Before I got married, I always had a vision or goal for my life.  You might call it having direction.  

Then, I got married and God took that away.  That may sound strange, but it is something I am very convinced of.  It is one way that God has shown me how real He is and that He knows what is better for me than I know myself.  

You see, I am a strong willed woman.  When I got married, I was what you might call an evangelical feminist.  Within the first six months of my marriage, God convicted my heart about what the Word says about submission and I realized that I needed to submit myself to my husband's leadership of our family.  

This is where my vision comes in.  I can see how the disappearance of my vision when I got married compelled me to trust my husband.  If I had retained that vision, it would likely have made me buck my husband a lot more than I have (I'm not a very silent wife.)  It has also allowed me to join in with my husband's vision for our family.  His vision has become mine.  

When it comes to homeschooling, I have a sense of peace when I am able to see the big picture of what we're doing.  I think this is very hard when you're first starting out with your first child in kindergarten who hasn't learned yet to read or write--the first two big milestones in his or her learning path.  I remember that first year getting very impatient those first two years with Autumn.  I expected progress to come more quickly than it did (little did I know what a quick learner she was at the time).  It's a lot easier now with my second as she makes her way towards becoming a fluent reader and writer.  I have more patience with her, though at times I still have wondered, "When will it click?"  My third little one, our son, is just beginning to learn his letters.  Last week, I forgot my patience and wondered why he couldn't remember the letter I had asked him.  Later that day, I counseled myself that he is a different child and I have time.  He needs my patience--there is no rush.  He's only 3!  The danger in having experience sometimes is that you expect one experience to repeat itself.  Autumn learned her letters when she was 4 in a week.  Sami learned them at the same time, though she was only 2.  Eli is different from both Autumn and Sami.  Eli is Eli.  His path is going to be a little different.

So, today, I sat and marveled at the improvement in Sami's reading in the past week.  I also sat with Eli and took it slow.  With Autumn, I watch and learn.  How will her learning connect in her brain?  Will she remember what she's learning?  How will she develop?  Her experience lays the foundation for my experience.  

Even as she learns, I look ahead--being the planner that I am.  Where are we going?  What is the big picture of what she will be learning?  How will Middle School and High School be different than what we're doing now?  I know, I know.... I'm probably getting way too far ahead of myself.  But, there's a part of me that needs to understand the big picture on a basic level.  The other reason I want to understand the course of a homeschooler's education is so that I can understand my friends' lives and what they're juggling--so that I can be an encouraging friend.  

Then again, maybe it's simply my love of curriculum and education that makes me want to understand the big picture.  I'm not exactly sure...  All I know is that I enjoy understanding and learning about curriculum and educational theories.

The newsletter for the homeschooling umbrella I was in last year included a great article from HSLDA on how to determine the amount of credit for a high school course.  I liked this article because it made it seem much simpler to determine what would count for a homeschooling high school course.  You can read the article HERE.  

What is the vision that I live with now?  I used to have a vision that was focused on my career path.  Now, I have a growing vision for the education of my children.  I have talked with many moms who say they are taking it year by year--to determine whether they will homeschool the next year.  I know the phrase is "never say never", but I think my vision for staying the course with homeschooling is growing.  It is as if I need to commit to it wholeheartedly and not check out.  I know that this is not the answer for everyone, but I am beginning to suspect that it is for me and my family.  I have always said that we will homeschool through middle school.  I was a middle school teacher so that is familiar territory to me.  But, now I'm not so sure if we will put them into school for high school.  I'm still waiting on God to give me and my husband wisdom about that time in our children's education.  Until then, I am glad to gather information and listen to the wisdom of friends who are ahead of me on this homeschooling journey.

Side note:  I know that this is a very (VERY) rambling blog post, but I hope that the rabbit trails all connected together at the end.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bringing History to Life

Last spring, a friend came over for lunch with her kids.  They were several years older than mine and had been watching the end of Ken Burn's series about the Westward Movement at home and needed to return it after their visit.  So, they watched the ending on our television.  The movie did bring the Westward Expansion of the west to life, but it was appropriate for upper elementary/middle/high schoolers.  My children are younger.  They do love history, though, so I am always looking for age appropriate resources.

What supplemental resources are out there if you're a public schooling parent with a younger child who loves history and loves to read?  And what supplemental resources are out there for homeschooling parents who's child is interested in a topic you're not learning about that year?  And then... how do you find the time to enjoy and learn from those "resources"?  

I know many parents might say, "just stop what you're doing, take a break, and go investigate!"  That is definitely one way to pursue learning about what your child loves.  Another way would be to stay the course of your regular curriculum and bring in supplemental listening and reading materials to enjoy during their free time.  Both ways are good and beneficial approaches to learning.  It really depends on you as the teacher and your philosophy about how you want to educate your child and your personality--and the personality of your child.

I happen to be one of those parents that stays the course and pursues other interests in our free time.  On Sunday, we went to a local arts and crafts fair.  Then, we came home and my girls watched an art lesson video.  That was our fun, free time.  I look for fun resources that will help my children do something constructive with their time. 

Over the past few weeks, I've posted three reviews of three separate recordings from Greathall Productions done by Jim Weiss.  Two were fun story recordings; one was a recounting of Italy's artists that shaped history; and the final one I'm going to review today is on the Westward Expansion.

The newest recording by Jim Weiss is Gone West: Bold Adventures of American Explorers and Pioneers.  In this recording, Weiss recounts the stories of the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark's travels west.  He talks of Sacagawea and her part in the success of their trip.  

It has been twenty years since I've studies American History and so much information seems to have disappeared from my memory in those intervening years.  As my children learn, I learn with them.  It sometimes feels as if there is so much that I never really learned to begin with!  I was particularly struck by Sacagawea's story and her part as Jim Weiss recounts the tale of her part in the expedition.  I appreciated how seamless the storytelling seems for this cd.  Weiss begins with Thomas Jefferson and what he wanted to purchase--and what he ultimately did purchase for the United States.  The story transitions to Lewis and Clark's travels.  History is a story.  It draws us in and we learn from it when we realize what a story it is!

On these recordings Weiss has a way of telling a story and the relevant details in a way that make them easy to understand, process, and remember.  I look forward to listening to Greathall Productions' recordings for the next few years as my children each grow and learn.

If studying the Westward Expansion is anywhere on the horizon of your studies, I'd recommend this cd.  It's a great way to pass the time while you and your kids are in the car!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cd for review from Greathall Productions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Early Christmas Tale

I've written before that Amish fiction has puzzled me and given me a bit of concern.  But, every once in awhile, I take another chance on it.  This week I read A Lancaster County Christmas by Suzanne Woods Fisher.  Here's my disclaimer:  This is fiction.  It is not nonfiction.  Please keep this in mind if you read this book.  Suzanne Woods Fisher hosts a radio show called Amish Wisdom.  I listened to a short excerpt of the show yesterday, which I do have thoughts about, but those thoughts are probably better suited to a separate post.  So, I'll limit this review to this book. 

Storyline:  Jaime and C.J. have been married for 3 years.  Jaime is having doubts about her marriage and her ideas about what life should be have gotten skewed by the influence of her father who has reappeared in her life after being an absentee father almost her entire life.  Mattie and Sol are Amish and live with their son, Danny, and nephew, Zach, on a farm.  The two families intersect when Danny leaves his whistle at the doctor's office and the doctor asks Jaime to return it to him.  Jaime and C.J. find themselves stuck at the Amish family's home over the Christmas holidays when they try to return the whistle as they are leaving town.  The story is about what transpires over those few days and how hearts change.

Writing:  I thought that her writing was better than in another book I read by her.  It was pretty good and the dialogue was far less contrived than another fiction book I read recently by a different author. 

Plot:  The plot is clear in the first chapter.  No surprises.

Conclusion:  If you enjoy Amish fiction, then you'll probably really like this book.  Is this a genre I'd recommend?  Not really.  But, that's another topic for another day...

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Revell Publishing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Studying Art

I have discovered over the past three years that it is often difficult for me to get around to teaching my children art.  I appreciate and value art, but at the end of the day I find that I am tired and often don't want to get all of the materials out needed for our art lesson.  So, I've been searching for solutions to my procrastination when it comes to teaching art.

As I talked with friends, I've discovered that many of this struggle with this same dilemma!  It's not an essential subject, but it is required by many states, including Maryland where we live.  Over the past two months I've come across several great resources that I am going to be posting reviews of over the next few months.

The first resource I found is one of Jim Weiss' recordings on the Masters of the Renaissance.  When we began listening to this cd, I realized how little I know about Art History.  This cd is a wonderful introduction to Art History because it helps provide some of the historical background of art in Italy.  I have to admit that the first time we listened to the cd I got a bit lost--since I was driving.  But, I heard more and more of the details each subsequent time we've listened to it.  My children have responded well to it in the car and have enjoyed listening to the stories on the cd.  My brother happens to live in Italy and he recently visited us.  It was wonderful to listen to this cd so that I could have a better understanding of the country he lives in.

This recording begins by telling the story of the Medici family in Florence, Italy.  Weiss goes on to tell the stories of Donatello, DaVinci, and Michaelangelo.  This cd would be a wonderful jumping off place for studying art history with 2nd and 3rd graders.  Older children would enjoy it as well.  

These are the ideas that have run through my head of how you could use this for teaching art:
1) If you have an art museum nearby with painters from the Renaissance period, this would be a wonderful cd to listen to before a visit so that your children would have a frame of reference for what they are seeing at the museum.  
2) You could make a notebook with pages for each of the artists.  Your children could listen and write down notes of what they think is most important.  Notetaking will be an important skill for them down the road.
3) Dover has a wide selection of art coloring books.  Color as you listen...
4) Pick one of the artists and do a report.  At second or third grade level, this would mean the artist's name, when and where he lived, and what they are known for.  A cover and illustration could be made to go along with the report.  
5) For older children, talk about what they are most curious about and then pursue further study of that time period or artist.  The student can do a more in-depth research report.

When I first started homeschooling, I remember my mother in law mentioning to me that some families studied art for only a portion of the year.  I am beginning to understand why.  With so many subjects to tackle (and so much of life to handle), it can sometimes be helpful to study one subject for only a portion of the year.  If you wanted to do a short unit on art history and another unit doing art, this resource might be a great and affordable fit for your family.
This cd is a wonderful treat to listen to and learn from as you're running errands and driving from one place to the next.  

I am very pleased to find such a neat recording about art history.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Masters of the Renaissance from Greathall Productions for review.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Christian Multi-Age Science Curriculum

Yesterday, I posted a review of the Great Science Adventures Series published by Common Sense Press.  In my search for a science curriculum that would cross age groups well, I came across another curriculum by a Christian publisher.  It is Eagle's Wings Considering God's Creation.  I was excited to review this curriculum, because the authors' goal is to "introduce our children to God through His creation".  Essentially, they want to help students see God in His creation--to see how truly awesome God is.    

Last week, I reviewed Eagle's Wings comprehensive phonics handbook.  One of my major concerns with that text was its formatting and ease of use.  This book is very different.  Though the formatting of the teacher and student books are all black and white, the font is easier to read--both because of its size and style.  For each lesson, the headings are bolded and it's easy to read the lesson prep quickly.  Each lesson includes sections for preparation (supplies to gather, etc.), vocabulary, a song or poem, activity, notebook, Bible reading, review, and digging deeper activities.  For some of the lessons, there is also an evolution stumper.  You may or may not want to use this part of the lessons.  I am probably going to call them something more along the lines of Creation Time Questions.  

Most of the supplies for the lessons aren't expensive or unusual, but there are some supplies that you'll need to gather, like rock samples.  I'd suggest that you either skim through all of the lessons before you use the curriculum and make a supply list for the year or that you read ahead a few weeks as you go through the year and make sure you have the supplies you'll need.

This is a notebooking curriculum, but you'll need a student book for each student.  They're very affordable, which is a blessing.  The teacher's guide and 1 student book cost $30 and an extra student book will cost $14 on CBD.  This is not a reproducible curriculum, so you do need to purchase a student book for each student, rather than copying the pages you want for each student from the student book that comes with the teacher's guide.  

As I read through the lessons, I was pleased with this curriculum. There 36 lessons, so I would suggest a minimum of a year for this curriculum.  Some of the lessons have multiple parts, so they will probably take longer.  You could spread this curriculum over a year and a half (and then use The Nature Connection for the other 6 months).  You could also break it up and use a portion each year along with another science curriculum.  This is a curriculum that is best for grades 2nd-7th.  That is what the publisher recommends and I agree with that estimate.  First graders are struggling to write still and are learning to read so the reading/writing for these lessons would be much easier for them come second grade.  

This curriculum would be a great break from a secular science curriculum if that is what you're using.  It would help you point your children to God through creation--which secular science curriculums don't do.  What I also like about it is that the lessons touch on a wide variety of science topics.  It is as if students are given a taste to whet their appetites to learn more.  

This is a curriculum I look forward to using with my children.  I have chosen to use a secular curriculum because of how great the textbooks are--age appropriate reading text, good comprehension questions, instant activities, and they've been easy to use.  So far, the curriculum I use also hasn't delved into evolution or the origin of the world so I haven't had any major issues with it.  But, I do want to make sure my children have a deep appreciation for what God has created and for who He is.  I look forward to using this curriculum for these reasons.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum for review from Eagle's Wings Publishing.