Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Barnum Software

On the whole I am a very fortunate mother--I love math and my son loves it too.  He love's learning it, I should say.  He's always ready for something new.  Practicing and reinforcing math skills are another matter.  For a whole semester I let him write his math answers in roman numerals--at least it got him to do the work.  Quarter Mile Math is an effective way to drill foundational math facts, and here's the great part:  Fritz thinks it's a game!   We received the Deluxe version of the Levels 1,2, & 3 Bundle for our review. 

The package describes the software as "math practice."  You'll need to used something else to teach your children, but after the lesson they could use their computer instead of worksheets. There are hundreds of topics and subtopics  to choose from: addition, subraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, estimation, etc.   I could be as specific as just drilling his +8 facts or covering a range (like 0+0 through 20 + 20). 

I decided to use Quarter Mile Math to see what managed to stick in Fritz's head after summer vacation.  Installation was a snap (I didn't even read the instructions, aren't I a stinker?)   Fritz had the choice of being a horse or a race car and ended up switching back and forth throughout the day.   When the race starts, an addition problem flashes on the bottom of the screen.  Once Fritz typed in his answer his car took off and a new question appeared.  With each correct question his car sped up (this program considerately does not "punish" wrong answers by slowing the car down).  For the first few races in a topic the "competition" are computer generated cars, designed to delay take off and drive slowly--in other words, your kids will win.   As  they repeat topics, the other cars will represent their best previous times so they will be competing against themselves and hopefully improving.  If I hadn't chosen "Schnickelfritz" for my son's pseudonym, a fine second choice would have been "Mr. Competitive."

Fritz hasn't had much exposure to computers yet and certainly not to keyboards.  When we started he got rather frustrated because he could shout out the answer quickly, but it took him a while to find what keys to press.  He must not be the only one with this problem because keyboarding  skills are among the available topics--both numbers and letters..  I had him run both the one and two digit  races using the 10 key pad (that's the accountant in me).

Both the Standard and Deluxe versions allow some tracking of your student's progress.  I was able to see which topics Fritz had covered, the number of races, number of right answers and the average of the best times.  It does not provide the total number of questions or a percentage of correct answers so you can't really use this for testing or grading purposes.

The software package advertises that Quarter Mile Math is used at Sylvan Learning Centers nationwide.  It appears they are really reaching out to homeschoolers as well.  There's a special homeschooling section just added to their website with printable progress charts and a forum to connect with other homeschool users.  Today, I also received the first of a new series of emails with Tips & Info geared helping homeschoolers maximize the benefits from the program.

The Standard version of Quarter Mile Math can be purchased on CD as  individual levels ($39.95 each) or bundled levels ($64.95-$89.95).  The Deluxe version is more of a subscription service giving you access to all three levels for $2.95 per month (there are savings for 1 or 2 year subscriptions).  You must have internet access for the Deluxe version,  but dial-up service is sufficient.  Barnum Software as an easy to read table comparing the two versions available here.   

Thursday, August 20, 2009

School plans

The "About Me" section of the sidebar says this blog is to be about our homeschool, and I realize very little has been said about it thus far.  Of course, it's been summer but summer is rapidly coming to a close.  While Fritz spends the week with Grandma and Grandpa in Indiana, I'm nailing down details on our school year.   Here's our plan:

Reading:     Scaredy Cat Reading--Excursion Into Words

Writing:     Handwriting Without Tears

'Rithmatic:      Math-U-See Beta

After the 3 R's, we'll be using Konos for Bible, Science, History, Art, etc.  I'm planning to work on the character traits Attentiveness and Orderliness,.    My plans have already changed several times--we just learned one of our co-ops is planning a Madrigal dinner so I want to squeeze in Obedience-Kings and Queens to take advantage of that.    I've also got to add Stewardship--Nutrition to tie in with a Homeschool Crew review I'll be doing for a wonderful book by  Growing Healthy Homes.  

 We'll also have additional Bible work through our Royal Rangers handbook--including memorizing the 23rd Psalms.  I don't know why I worry about him being able to accomplish that.  After all,  this is the boy who memorized whole pages of Little House on the Praire after listening to the audiobook at bedtime. 

I'm glad we're using a unit study aproach.  I think it will be easier to adjust our schedule and change our focus as we need to review new items (two products arrived in the mail today).   One thing is certain--this year won't be dull.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Little Man on the Move

While I didn't plan any formal educating, we certainly didn't stop learning this summer.  For two months we went to swimming lessons at the local pool.  The lessons left a lot to be desired, but my Schnickelfritz certainly appreciated the company of other kids and the pool's two water slides.  We're also working on tying our own shoes. ----You know, when they first came out with velcro shoes I warned there would be a generation that didn't know how to tie knots.  Then I became a mom and  grew to appreciate that he could handle velcro himself  and I saved valuable time for myself by not having to put on his shoes in the morning or retie the 87 times during the day.  Now he's reaching an age and shoe size that only comes with laces.

  The big accomplishment this summer was taking the training wheels of the bike.


Fritz chose to ride in the grass--a more difficult surface to learn on, but also a softer one.  The security of a soft landing made this a rather easy lesson.  On the first attempt he made two pedals before tipping to the side.  The second time he increased to 7 pedals and the third was almost 20!   He was able to cross the whole yard that afternoon.  It took us several days to learn to turn and start in the grass (while I didn't have to run alongside the bike, I was getting my workout crossing the lawn to provide takeoff pushes).   As his confidence grew, we started to take in the harder surfaces of the driveway and road.   After moving from the flatlands of Indiana, the rolling Missouri hills provided intimidating downhills and exhausting uphills to conquer.

Then, in week three--disaster struck.   Fritz was  working his way up a medium-sized hill and I was following with Della the Dog.  I yelled out that I had to pause for Della's pit-stop and as Fritz turned to acknowledge he hit a patch of gravel and fell.  It was his first fall and he managed to earn his "red badge of courage" on his left knee.  It wasn't too bad till he looked down and saw it for himself.  "Blood!!" he screamed, "I'm bleeding!!"    I don't want to share blood and gore with my readers so I don't have a photograph.  I am instead including an artist's rendering of tragedy (done by the victim himself).  Please note the very sad expression.


  The image of blocks to the left represents the enormous bandage held in place with tape to cover his knee.

This incident occured about a quarter mile from home.  Fritz refused to get on the bike again.  I had to hold the dog's leash, push the bike, and comfort the wounded.  I tried showing him my battlescar from learning to ride--it didn't help.  He wanted nothing to do with the horrible bicycle EVER AGAIN.  We put the bike away, cleaned and dressed the wound, and drowned our sorrows in an Arby's Jamocha shake.

By the next morning the bicycle had been forgiven and Fritz was once again riding alongside as we took Della out for her walk.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: Grapevine Studies


I was blessed to have grown up in a family that attended church--Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday night AWANA, and Vacation Bible School.  My favorite  and some of my strongest memories were storytimes.  Why?  Because of the flannelboard and felt figures! I loved those things.  Maybe it was the vivid colors of the characters or the way the teacher would slowly add one piece at a time building to the story's conclusion.  Or maybe I'm just a visual learner.  Anyway, when my son was born I looked into flannel Bible figures to share with him, but they were out of our price range.  This month, however, I got to review a product that may be the next best thing.  Grapevine Studies produces a Bible curriculum that incorporates drawing pictures to reinforce stories of the Bible.  And before you get too intimidated by the word "drawing" let me tell you how Grapevine's author signs all her emails--"Serving Him with stick figures."  

I received the Student ebook  of the New Testament Overview Level 1 ($25.95) and the Teacher ebook which actually covers levels 1 and 2 ($22.95).  For all my friends in dial-up land, the downloads weren't bad: under 15 seconds for the Student manual and just over two minutes for the teacher's manual.  These books are also available as hardcopies if you don't want to do the printing yourself ($25.95 Student manual/$45.95 Teacher manual).  

In addition to the books there are several other recommended supplies: a Bible, a dry erase board, dry erase markers of various colors, wall maps, a topical Bible, a concordance, a Bible dictionary, and colored pencils. 

The first lesson is a timeline of New testament events.  It is the only lesson to include a script of what to say.  The remaining lessons, which delve into the events, give you a list of important points to cover, but you get to decide how to deliver the lesson: reading it out of the Bible, giving a synopsis, etc.   The teacher also has a list of Biblical words or phrases to study while preparing the lesson.   The teacher's manual also gives you 6-8 sample stick figure drawings to illustrate each lesson.

The student manual starts with a blank timeline and each subsequent lesson has four pages to be completed by the student:  two pages for drawings with the current lesson, a character/event review page, and a page to review the timeline and Bible verses from the three previous lessons.   The Bible verses and captions for each drawing our printed so it's not a problem for beginning writers.

I only have one student, but this appears to be an easy curriculum to teach to multiple age levels at the same time.  Younger students have the same lessons, but with fewer pictures to draw and no timeline or memory verses.  Older students have additional Biblical facts to memorize.  Grapevine Studies can also teach students no matter what their learning modality:  Auditory learners hear the stories, visual learners look at your drawn examples, kinesthetic learners copy your stick figures or draw their own pictures to remember key persons or events of the Bible.

I am using a unit study approach to teaching, so rather than following the chronological lesson plan I am plucking out individual lessons as they apply to our character trait theme.   We can include the drawings in our lapbook. (I just love the drawing for the Armor of God).   There are some lessons that we probably won't do as well.  I didn't find drawing 12 faces with different hair and hats very helpful in memorizing the names of the disciples--it seemed more like an art lesson or the busy work classroom teachers need to keep a room full of students occupied.   But we will draw Jesus with 12 small circles around him and use a Sunday School song to learn the names.

This is really a product you need to see and experience for yourself and Grapevine has provided a way to do just that.  Visit their website and sign up for their eNewsletter on the far right side.  During the summer they are offering free sample lessons every week (starting in the fall the free lessons are done on a monthly basis).   There are products for different age levels and multi-level lessons that cover topics like Biblical Feasts and Holy Days.

If you like what you see,  Grapevine has graciously offered a discount to Homeschool Crew leaders.  Through Sept 15th you may use the code "crews" to receive a 30 percent discount on all their products.

Before I close, I also need to mention the remarkable customer service demonstrated by this company.  Dianna, the creator of Grapevine Studies, took the time to visit the blogs of everyone on the crew and make individual curriculum reccomendations based on the info she could gather about our kids.  This was the one of the first products we received to review and we peppered her with questions by phone and email.  Responses were quick and friendly and I think we all felt she was going out of her way to  meet our needs. 

You can see what my crewmates thought about Grapevine Studies here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Creek Crawl

It's said "The best things in life are free."  Well, one of the best things I've discovered this summer are the free programs offered by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation.   You can read about our cave adventure here .  This time our adventure, specifically for homeschoolers, was to explore a creek and search for "critters"  at Powder Valley.  Our group of 15 kids and their parents and grandparents gathered in a classroom of the nature center and picked up our equipment for the day: large plastic boxs, aquarium nets, and magnifying cubes and viewers.

We had a half mile hike to the creek, but our guide kept us entertained with a nature scavenger hunt--looking for woodpeckers,  burls on trees, etc.  And these keen eyed kids managed to find several creatures not on the list.   We saw at least four deer ( two being fawns with their cute little spots), a racoon, and a skink (that's skink-- like a lizard ,not a skunk. Thank goodness).    At last we reached a "wet-bridge"  over the creek and rocky beach.  Here we got our lesson on collecting samples. 

We were to place our nets in the water and begin to dislodge the rocks immediately upstream.  Anything under the rock should be carried by the current into our nets (our guide assured us that there weren't any crawdads or crayfish with pincers to worry about).  We would then empty our nets into two plastic containers which would act as holding tanks.  Most of what we would be finding would be extremely small and would need to be observed  in the magnifying viewers.  My Schnickelfritz and the other younger kids were more interested in the immediate gratification of catching  water sliders as they skittered about. 


This picture was taken mere moments before Fritz took a header into the creek.  We had to skp swimming lessons this day in order to attend, and apparently he felt the need to practice his strokes anyway.  I wrung out his shirt as best I could while we moved on to phase two: observation.

 The prize find was a planarian--a freshwater flatworm with an arrowshaped head.  According to our guide, they are a sign of a healthy and balanced stream ecosystem.  Fritz filled  the cup portion of his viewer (again going for the visible and high-animated water sliders).  When I dumped the water, I noticed a brown streak on the lip of the cup.  At first we thought it was just a drop of dirty water, but then it started moving on its own.  I had brought our handheld magnifying glass along and a quick examination revealed a planarian, one of only two discovered that day.  Fritz was extremely pleased to have "bagged" one of the prize catches of the day.

We returned to the nature center and explored the exhibits there--including a "Wild Kingdom" moment with a pair of snapping turtles.  I'll save that story for another time.
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