Thursday, January 31, 2013

Left Handed Printing Tips and Guide

Yesterday as I was looking at Eli, I realized that I need to remember how it's best for him to hold his paper.  I'm right handed and I just can't keep it straight in my head.  I found two great free helps.

The first is here:

This is the main page and it has a lot of other great resources for preschool as well:

The second is
On this page, there is a 1 page chart you can print to help you remember how a left hander should position their paper.

As for scissors...
Amazon increased the price on the Westcott lefty scissors by $3 (making them $8 instead of $5)!  The lefty scissors can be bought directly through Westcott's website for $3 each, but you'll pay $5 shipping, so you'd want to buy more than one pair to make it worth it.  I think I'm going to do this in February since scissors always get misplaced around our house and right now I only have 1 pair for Eli.  

My husband has been ribbing me for being so concerned about knowing how to teach Eli because he's left handed and wanting the right scissors.  I didn't know I seemed so over the top.  It is interesting though because after I emailed my first left handed post to the homeschool email network I'm a part of here, I received several responses from left-handed moms who have never been able to cut well with scissors.  I'm sure this is because they didn't have true left handed scissors and compensated, like Eli, by cutting with their right hands or with the wrong scissors.  It really is more difficult to use the wrong scissors.  I've tried using Eli's!  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Math Song Contestant #1

A few days ago, I began blogging about my quest to help my children learn their math facts.  In my journey I found four math cds that I love, each for different reasons.  I previewed a lot of cds on Amazon before finding a few that I enjoyed for both the lyrics and tunes.  The first cd I hadn't heard at all before my kids and I began listening to it.  I had seen the words for one of the songs and I was curious.

Contestant #1:  One Hundred Sheep, Skip Counting From the Gospels 

This CD has been published by Common Sense Press, the same publisher who publishes Learning Language Arts Through Literature.  This cd has 9 songs.  Children learn to skip count by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s.  But, this isn't your normal preschool skip-counting sesame street cd.  The tunes are catchy and fun.   They are fast, though, so your children may have a hard time catching the lyrics at first.  The first time we listened, my oldest daughter declared that she didn't like the cd.  I explained to her that when songs are fast and we don't know what people are saying, then we usually aren't prone to "liking" a song.  I suspected that once we sat down and listened to the songs and read the words, the girls and Eli would love the cd.    A few days later we found out that I was right.

What I love about this cd is both the skip counting and the meaning of the lyrics.  On Thursday, my kids and I sat while I read the lyrics and discussed what the songs are about.  The first song is about a boy named Ezra who hears about Jesus' birth from the angels.  He counts the angels by 2s.  Each song is based on biblical passage(s).  I read the passages to my girls and they enjoyed the songs.  The second song counts the years of Jesus' life by 3s.  I don't think my girls or I will forget that Jesus lived 33 years.  The songs prompted a good discussion between my girls and me.  I have read these Bible stories to my children many times already in their short lives, but these songs allowed them to hear and think about them a little differently.  I used these songs as our morning devotion.  After playing the songs that morning, Autumn's new declaration was "Mommy, I love these songs!  I wish I had learned to skip count before addition and multiplication.  Eli is lucky he gets to!".  She went on to explain that she's always struggled with 3s, so she is very glad to be learning to skip count by 3s now.  I listened to her sing the 2s and 3s skip counting throughout the rest of the day.  

My plan is to listen to 1 or 2 songs at a time, read the words and discuss what the songs are about.  These are great songs because they allow children to practice singing along and listening.  I am encouraging my kids to sing along to the skip counting, but listen to and think about the lyrics to the rest of the song.  After we have listened to each of the songs together, we'll listen to the cd in the car.  I love to find music that we can listen to in the car that will help my children learn.  

Skip Counting is the foundation of all of the math facts.  If a child knows skip counting, the math facts will have a foundation to build on.  I've saw this when Autumn learned some skip counting for 5s, 10s, and 25s when she was learning to count money in kindergarten.  I would have loved to have this cd back then.  When Autumn has a question about quarters, I just call that rhythm to her mind and she can count quarters quickly.  

One reviewer on CBD likened the music's style to Jack Johnson's music.  I think it actually reminds me more of the fun music I still enjoy from the 1960s and 1970s.  If you have realplayer installed on your computer, you can listen to a sample HERE.  Scroll down the page and you'll find the link.

This would be an awesome preschool and kindergarten supplement for math.  It would also set the stage for kids to learn their math facts by singing them.   I am excited to use this cd as a part of Eli's PreK and Kindergarten curriculum.   

One of the questions I faced as I listened to each of these cds is:  Is it worth the money?  A set of good flash cards costs $8 or so.  This cd is $13 on CBD.  A math facts quiz book costs about that much.  If your child is an auditory learner, I would say it is definitely worth it.  If you, like me, have a hard time finding the time to daily go over skip counting, then again--yes, it's definitely worth it.  If you're looking for a Bible-based cd for  a devotional change, then it's worth it.  If you're looking for a supplemental math resource that your family can listen to when your kids are out of school (if they attend public or private school), then this is a great way to make fun time a learning time without it seeming like homework.  This would be a great cd to listen to over summer break when your children are taking a break from math.  I can think of lots of great reasons to listen to this cd.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cd for review from Common Sense Press.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good Food for Thought

It seems that I often get excited about reading books.  Then they arrive and they sit on the table for a week, two, and sometimes even three.  Then, one day, I pick up the book and it's the right time to read it.  It's amazing to me how God keeps doing this in my life.  Orchestrating these little, minute decisions and pieces in the puzzle of my days.  

This last weekend I picked up a book that opened my eyes and my heart a lot.  There was a hole that was filled by the Lord as I read it.  Compassion and sympathy filled a hole where hurt has been residing for several years.  My heart was encouraged by where the Lord has my husband and I now, by what he's been doing in my husband's heart and mind since he began seminary last August.  From what I just said, you might be surprised what the book is that I'm finishing up.  

It's Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp.  It's a new book published by Crossway.  The title describes how dangerous the calling of a pastor can be--the dangers pastors face every single day before they become pastors and then, while they are pastors.  

The first section of the book talks about the pastoral culture.  This is the section that healed the hole in my heart.  We had a very heart hurting experience with a pastor a few years ago.  My story could have fit within the pages of these books and the traps that some pastors fall into.  My heart began to see that I wasn't alone in my hurt.  I recognized the sins of man and traps that pastors, just like anyone else can fall into.  When we took our concerns to the pastor all those years ago, he scorned us and blogged about it--mocking us.  Now, I grieve for this pastor and will begin to pray for him.  

In this section, I also saw myself and my husband.  He's on this road through seminary.  He's praying and considering whether God has for him to become a pastor.  The dangers of being a pastor begin in seminary.  I am so thankful that my husband is not just going to seminary and working.  We are involved in ministry. He is being mentored by our pastor.  He is in relationships with the other men in our church.  We host a small group in our home that is led by one of the elders in our church.  We accompany the music.  My husband plays guitar and I sing.  I realized how important all of this is.  My husband has also been telling me how important me and the kids are to him and that he can't neglect us during this time.  He's right. I'm the kind of wife that just lets go.  I tell him to do what he needs to do--for his job for his school.  I'll take the back seat.  I don't want to be that clingy wife.  But, he's right.  This book showed me that in story after story of marriages falling apart and pastors falling apart because of it.  I need to make my marriage a priority and ask for time from my husband when I need it.  I was so blessed last week when he did just that.  My mother in law took care of the kids while I went and got my hair cut and went shopping for some new clothes.  That night my husband wanted to see them.  His part?  He encouraged me to do this and made clear to me that it was a priority.  He is a good man and I am thankful that he loves me well.  He's not perfect and sins just like I do, but I love him too.  We've been married almost 12 years and have come a long way.  Twelve years ago, we thought we'd soon be on this seminary road.  We weren't.  It took almost twelve years to get here.  I am thankful it took that long.  We needed it.  This book showed me how much we needed it.

The second part of the book is about forgetting who God is and losing the awe of God.  Every week I hear from our pastor his awe of God and his humility in sitting under his own teaching.  This is one of the things I most want our children to grasp--an awe of God--who He is, what He's done, what He's doing...  I need to cultivate an awe of God in me and my kids and focusing on his glory and not my own pride or what I think I know.  

The third part of the book is about self-glory and the dangers of falling into this trap.  Even though I am not a pastor and will never be one, this section has chastened me.  Where do I fall into this trap?  I know.  I know where it happens and now I need to remember Tripp's words and God's Word.  I know my heart, though God knows it better.  I know He knew I needed to read these words.  I am thankful that I can receive them.  Now, I need to live them out.  

This book encouraged me deeply in my heart.  I feel as if I understand what Chris and I are embarking on better now and where we are.  I have been warned of the dangers lurking ahead and I am going to be on my guard.  Hurts are healing.  Prayers in my heart are coming together.  I am considering how we can continue to encourage and support our pastor, elders, and their families.  This is vitally important to the health of a church.  The pastor and elders need to be known by their congregation.  Known as friends, not put above on a pedestal.  They are a part of the church community.  They are not to be neglected, nor singled out.  

It only took a day or two for the attacks to set in.  Life's cares, the need to replace one of our vehicles, homeschooling demands, my husband's school work, juggling a brand-new shift to my husband's gluten-free life...  Life is complicated and Satan's on the offensive.  Writing this post has helped.  It has reminded me of what God wants me to focus on and keep on the forefront of my mind.  I hope you'll consider reading this book and if you do, I hope it encourages you as it has me.  I think this book is important for seminary students and their wives, pastors, and church members.  We need to pray for our pastors--that they, like us, would be drawn to the Lord, that they would be encouraged and strengthened, that they would remain humble and not be drawn into the traps of the culture they work in, that they would be in relationships of accountability, that their families would be marked by love and grace...  

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway publishing for review and I am very thankful for this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Just the FACTS, Ma'am

He he he...  When I Autumn was in first grade, I switched math curriculum half way through the year.  I searched and searched.   In the process, I looked at Abeka and noticed that they required daily practice of math facts.  I felt like I was already trying to do so much in a day and I pushed it off.  I pushed it off for two years, actually until spring of last year. I realized that we needed to invest time in the memory of the facts.  Without the mastery of the math facts, I knew my children were not going to be able to complete their math assignments in a timely way.  They would end up spending more time on the facts than on the concept of the problem they were working on.  This hadn't happened yet, but I could imagine it happening down the road.  So, I began searching for how to work on their facts with them.

I went through the addition deck with Autumn last spring.  When she didn't know a fact, I set it aside in a pile and she was to practice that fact aloud 3 times a day.  It seemed to help some, but I couldn't get her to understand how quickly I wanted her to be able to recall her facts.  

We pressed on through this fall working on the facts.  Sami was working her way through the facts as well, but I encountered a different challenge with her.  She didn't rely on her fingers, but she relied on her number line instead.  I had to take it away.  She needed to learn the facts and continue to be dependent on the line.  

Over Christmas break, a friend told me about a free computer facts practice program online.  It's called xtra math.  It looked neat and my kids started out with it three weeks ago.  It really is a wonderful program and is great for classroom settings and homeschool settings.  It could also be used by parents at home who want to supplement their child's public/private school learning.  Every day students are tested on a series of facts.  Then, they practice some facts that they are slower at recalling and a few that they don't know.  

It only took the first day to help Autumn understand how quickly she needed to be able to recall her facts.  As a 4th grader, she has most of her addition facts down pat.  But, she still needs work.  What I noticed right off the bat, though, was that in order to type them on the computer fast enough she needed either for a) me to type them or b) to learn 10-key.  I was thankful for this course of events.  My kids began learning 10 key the very next day.  It's been an easy introduction for them to keyboarding and they love the challenge of it.  I have an older typing book that they are using for the exercises.  Autumn just started putting in her own numbers yesterday after 3 weeks of working on learning 10 key.  

Sami, on the other hand, has had a different experience with the program.  She has greater gaps in her learning of the facts.  Looking at the computer and recalling an answer was very hard.  I began to say them aloud and that helped.  I think she is more of an auditory learner than a visual one.  But, she still struggled to stay focused on the facts for the length of the lesson.  I have to remember she's really the age of a first grader, who happens to be in second grade.  She does have a late birthday and her eyes are continuing to develop.  

So, I pulled Sami off of the program.  I copied the facts practice worksheets from the practice book for her math book and she is completing one sheet each day.  After she's better at 10 key, has had more practice with the basic facts, and her brain has connected more of the dots (doubles and doubles plus 1), then I'm going to try xtra math with her again.  

I do really love xtra math and it's perfect for Autumn.  She's finally understanding that I want her to know her facts right away.  The repetitive practice to learn the ones she struggles with is working with her.  

But Sami needs more time.  So, I'm reinforcing her learning a little bit differently.  She's still learning addition strategies and making the connections in her brain.  

I have to be honest that one of the reasons I let it go and justified not putting time into it earlier was that when I taught in the public schools we didn't have time anymore to help the kids memorize their facts.  They didn't have to learn them.  I had only 2 weeks to help the kids in one third grade classroom familiarize themselves with the multiplication facts.  I would use the word "familiarize", not "know".  But, this is a failing of the schools I worked at.  I do firmly believe that kids need to learn their math facts.  It will make math so much easier for them down the road.  I know my children really do need to know their facts.

Just as I was starting out three weeks ago with xtra math, my mother in law mentioned to me that her daughter's children are learning the facts through song at Classical Conversations.  I had forgotten about this, but realized this might be another avenue to pursue the facts for Sami.  I began to do some research to find some cds that would be genuinely helpful and edifying to my kids.  I am so excited because I found four different cds that I like.  Actually, I love them.  The first is for skip counting, the second cd is on addition, and then two are for the multiplication facts.  Over the next two weeks, I'm going to be posting reviews of these cds.  

So, that's the facts and my family's journey to figuring them out---so far....

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Downton Abbey Fiction Chicago Style

I have enjoyed watching Downton Abbey on PBS.   It has become so popular!  It seems as if historical fiction with similar themes has risen in popularity alongside this show.

One such book with a similar theme is Olivia Newport's novel The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow.  This novel tells the story of Charlotte, a young woman who's son has been in the care of another woman while she was a housemaid in a large home.  I assume that it is because the help lives in the home that children are not allowed.  The woman who has been caring for her son has to leave and can't care for him any longer.  Charlotte is at a loss as to what to do.  Her employer, Lucy, was on her side, but she is away on her extended honeymoon.  The story follows the events of what happen as Charlotte struggles with her love for her son and fear of her supposed husband who she ran away from.  

Plot:  The plot has plenty of twists and turns.  It also has a happy ending.

Characters: Similar to the friendship of Mary and Anna on Downton Abbey, Charlotte is at a loss without her ally and friend, Lucy.  This friendship is the key to the resolution of the story.  I think because the story is so similar in many ways to Downton Abbey, it was hard for me to transplant the whole scene to Chicago.  It was as if many bits and pieces were taken from that story, put into a different combination.

Writing:  I had a difficult time getting into this story.  Since I read so many books, I know that I love a book if I can't but be compelled to read every word and every page.  I just didn't find that with this book.  I skipped around because the story felt like it moved very slowly.  It's not a bad book, though.  It's a perfectly fine Christian fiction book.  It just didn't stand out for me.

If you're looking for light Christian historical fiction along the lines of Downton Abbey, but set in America, you'll likely enjoy this story.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Help for Left Handers, part 1

My son is 4 1/2.  He has been left handed since he was 1 1/2 years old.  I was surprised to see this because no one in my family or my husband's immediate family is left handed.  I realized very quickly that he wasn't switching back and forth.  If I gave something to him in his right hand, he switched it right over to his left.  He also held his pencil correctly at that early age of 1 1/2 years old.  It has been very interesting for me to watch.  

When he began to work on cutting, I bought two pairs of "left handed" scissors from Lakeshore Learning.  I just learned this week that they weren't true "left handed" scissors.  No wonder he had such a difficult time cutting straight lines.  This week I discovered that he had started to cut with his right hand to compensate (even though this is harder for him).  

I have known that I need to learn more about what it means to be left handed and how I can best help my son.  My search began with this book:  Your Left Handed Child by Lauren Milsom.  I am glad I read it for several reasons:
1) My son is not entirely the "leftie" that I thought he was.  He does have mixed dominance more than I knew (there's a series of 10-15 quick tasks to test in the book).
2) I needed to get some true lefty scissors.  Here are two that I found on Amazon:  

Westcott School Kumfy Grip Left Handed Kids Scissors, 5-Inch, Blunt

Westcott School Left Handed Kids Scissors, 5-Inch, Pointed, Colors Vary

The difference is that the blade controlled by the left handed thumb comes up, not down.  There are not truly "universal" scissors that work the same for both right handed and left handed children.  It's very interesting to me that my son is now having to undo his habits of how to compensate for the right handed scissors.  Still, I already see a drastic improvement in his ability to cut and follow a straight line.

3)  When instructing a left handed child how to do something, do it in front of it--like a mirror.  Then they will do it correctly.
4)  There are many ways that my son will need to learn to cope with a right handed world.  At times, accommodations will be possible, but if those accommodations aren't available Eli will have to learn how to make do.  This is my conclusion after reading the book. The author would not agree with this statement.  The biggest thing I can do is be aware of how we set up a workspace (or cooking space), what cooking utensils we use (serated knives need to be used back to forward instead of how righties do it in order to prevent a constant wedge cut), and make accommodations when I can (like getting the right scissors!).  What accommodations a parent makes for their child is really a personal, philosophical decision.  For me, I'm willing to buy new scissors, but not a new leftie ruler (at a hefty price!).  I am going to buy a blank ruler or piece of wood to be made into a homemade ruler to have on hand, though.  

5) Wireless computer mice are great because they can be switched sides for lefties easily.  And if a computer is permanently assigned to a leftie, then the buttons can also be switched.  But, because this is something is going to run up against all his life (and will require him to be flexible), I'm not going to switch the buttons on our mouse for him when he uses it.  I think that touch pads on lap tops are probably much easier for lefites to use than a large physical mouse for scrolling.  

I wonder sometimes if anyone who reads my reviews has ever wondered if we buy books (since books are sent to me for review).  Yes, we do.  Lots of them!  We are a book family.  I bought this book by Lauren Milsom.  But, I wouldn't recommend that you buy it.  Our local library system has 1 copy.  I'd check it out of a library and peruse it.  Look through the sections that might be helpful.  Honestly, I've shared here most of what I found to be helpful.  

I have more thoughts about being left handed which I'm going to post in a second part tomorrow and how it relates to how children learn.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Worth Seeing

There are a few movies that I've wanted to see, but have been trying to keep myself from renting.  So, I was excited to find them at the library tonight!  

The first one I popped in was Hope Springs.  I have enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones' films, so I wanted to see it. Here's my review:  SKIP IT!  I fast forwarded through over half of the movie.  I think I watched this 2 hour movie in a total of 15-20 minutes.  It was so disappointing.  The "counseling" wasn't funny (nor was any of the movie) and it was just redundant.  And I realized very quickly that I didn't want to listen to any of the counseling sessions or watch any of the couple's attempts to "fix" their problems.   

The second movie I watched (since it took so little time to watch the first) was October Baby.  I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the acting, story, and ending.  If you've thought about watching it, I hope you will and that you enjoy it.  I had a miscarriage before I had my daughter Autumn, so it hurts my heart deeply to think of someone choosing to abort a child.  October Baby is about a young woman who learns that she was the result of a failed abortion attempt.  This story is one of a search for identity and healing.

I am so thankful that I didn't rent Hope Springs and waste $4!  I am also thankful to have finally watched October Baby.