Friday, November 27, 2009

I can't stop him from doing math!

I'm not really complaining here.  I'm thrilled he loves math--it was my favorite subject too.  This week we cut back on the schoolwork to clean house, take the dog to the vet, and prepare for Thanksgiving.  Every day Fritz asked if we were going to do math and every day he ended up watching the Math-U-See video and pulling out his blocks.  He reviewed past lessons and previewed future ones.  I recently got next year's Gamma set through a used curriculum site and he watched some of those lessons as well.   (I actually think will be using it before this year is up--he's progressing so fast).  

I just wish he would develop an inkling for our other subjects --reading and writing especially.  I have to save math as the reward for getting these done. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Preparing for Thanksgiving

Is there anything worse than returning home from a trip to the grocery store for last minute ingredients and finding your husband "the Toolman" has disassembled the door to your oven?  

We are not a "carve at the table family."  As much as I love the Norman Rockwell painting, past family experience has turned us into a "just serve the slices" bunch.  (The bird "looked done" but it was still a bloody mess inside--not very appetizing to see when cut into)

So I had cooked the turkey earlier and when the Toolman went to remove it from the oven, the pan juices had sloshed all over the door.  In order to clean it thoroughly, he had removed the door and taken it apart.  I didn't even know you could do such a thing.  The door was spotless, but he was having a little trouble figuring out which way the side pieces attached.  I sat on the floor, prepared to "hold this" and "don't push that" and assist in whatever capacity I could.  My mind was preoccupied with contingency plans for how to cook and heat everything else with the microwave, crockpot, and other means. 

I'll give credit where it's due--my husband doesn't give up or do a job halfway. We got the door back on and the next day I was able to finish my dishes and heat those  my 14 friends and family had brought.

***Incidently, I learned there is something worse than seeing your oven disassembled the night before Thanksgiving.  My aunt saw flames in her oven Wednesday night.  She turned it off and let it cool and went to clean it (thinking it was a grease issue) when the coil in the bottom just broke in half.   She had to scrounge up some replacement recipes that could be cooked on the stove top.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Gymathtics


When I first saw Exploramania's Gymathtics dvd, I thought this would be a match made in heaven.  Math is Fritz's favorite subject and he has enough energy to run the western power grid if we could just figure out a way to hook him up.  When I was using exercise videos to walk away the pounds two years ago he would often join me in the living room and jog circles around me.  The packaging included a Dr. Toy's 100 Best Products stickers--another reason to be impressed.

We popped in the video that afternoon.  We were introduced to Ms Carrie and the boys and girls (an older and younger of each).  The workout is sound--starting with a warm up and ending with a cool down. 

  • Warm up while learning about lines, circles, and polygons

  • Calisthenics while counting, skip counting and learning about odd, even and prime numbers

  • More aerobics while learning about patterns

  • Cool down (no math concepts here)

Ms Carrie would explain the activity we were going to do and the math concept that accompanied it.  For example, we were going to do punches and count by place value.  Then she and the kids would appear in a small box in the corner doing the exercise while the math concept takes up the rest of the screen.


The only section Fritz's enjoyed was the Counting Calisthenics.  This could be because it's the same subjects we're learning in math right now.  He took the idea and ran with it--skip counting by 3's and 12's  on his mini trampoline.   In fact, he would now rather do this on his own than follow the video.

The concept is good in theory.  I think most kids could benefit from more exercise and it would be great if learning math was seen as fun rather than a chore.  Once the novelty wore off, Fritz was no longer interested in doing both together in this format.   He's also very sensitive to other people's emotions and he picked up that Ms Carrie's enthusiasm was seemed forced or scripted.

The Exploracise Gymathtics dvd is $24.99 at Exploramania's website. 

Disclaimer:  Exploramania provided a free dvd of Gymathtics for me to watch and use for the purpose of writing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: AVKO Membership

As part of the Homeschool Crew, I was recently given a free 1-year membership to AVKO Educational Research Foundation.  AVKO is the source of the Sequential Spelling curriculum, but our assignment was to review the membership program, not any specific product.  According to their website:

AVKO's mission is to provide free and low-cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all, even despite learning challenges or dyslexia.  Articles, videos, catalogs, blogs, language arts curriculum and curriculum consultations are just a few of our resources.

 If you have a dyslexic child or use Sequential Spelling, then membership is the way to go.  The free e-products you'll receive will more than pay for the $25 membership fee.

  • Word Families in Sentence Context  $19.95

  • The Teaching of Reading and Spelling  $24.95

  • The Reading Teacher's List ...5500 Spelling words  $12.95

  • To Teach a Dyslexic  $12.95

  • Six Audio Workshop MP3's   $2.50 each

  • The Patterns of English Spelling  only available to members 

You will also be able to save 25 percent on all AVKO's printed materials.

I began reading The Teaching of Reading and Spelling because Fritz and I are currently doing just that.  I was an early reader--four years old.  That was so long ago that I just take reading for granted and I was getting frustrated that Fritz was having more of a struggle.  The first exercise in the book was to read a paragraph upside-down and answer some comprehension questions.  I'm actually not bad at reading upside-down, but in this case some of the words were spelled with phonetical equivilents (eg. eadeukecion instead of education).  Wow! was it a struggle.  It helped me to realize how hard the decoding of groups of letters is to someone at Fritz's reading level and my need to be more patient with him.

To see what my fellow crewmates think about the AVKO membership click here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: American Heritage Education Foundation


 It was philosopher George Santayana who gave us the quote "Those who cannot  remember the past are condemned to repeat it."   In today's world perhaps a good addendum to this would be "Those who are not taught the past can be duped into believing anything."  When modern textbooks spend ink to  cover Madonna rather than Washington's Farewell Address, it's no wonder people can be fooled into thinking government is more capable of running their lives than they themselves.

The American Heritage Education Foundation  is trying to remedy this lack of education by providing FREE curriculum to anyone who visits their website.   These excerpts from the Foreward to the Elementary material expresses their purpose more elequently than I could:

In only a little more than 200 years, our ancestors transformed this country from a wilderness into a great nation. This nation demonstrates what can be accomplished by free people who create a government limited to serving the people rather than being their master.

The moral and ethical basis of good conduct was derived from the faith that built America. That faith grew from the common belief that each individual is endowed with basic rights and responsibilities by our Creator.

The character of society is determined by how well it transmits true and time-honored values from generation to generation. These values are not an add-on or supplement to national values but rather determine the charecter and essence of the country itself.


For the elementary level lessons include:

  • The Declaration of Independence

  • George Washington

  • Thanksgiving

  • The United States Flag

  • The Star-Spangled Banner

  • The Pledge of Allegiance

  • The American Bald Eagle

Most of these lessons have a K-W-L chart for the students to complete (What I Know, What I Want to learn, What I have Learned).  There may be quizzes or crossword puzzles for those who like worksheets. Some lessons could go very quickly and be done easily as a family--like Thanksgiving.  Others would take a very large group and several lessons to complete--like the Colonial America activity.

It's all available as a FREE download.  So read through it, use the ideas you like with know guilt that you aren't getting your money's worth. 

I recently received a free CD-ROM from American Heritage Education Foundation to use in creating this review.  I received no other compensation.


You gotta love homeschool

Today's during math, I had to step back for a moment and express my thanks to God for the opportunity to homeschool my child.  This could never happen in a public school setting:

First--we were doing this at 6:30 in the morning.  Fritz woke up and he wanted to get school started (disclosure: he's not always this enthusiastic but Daddy said no basketball until school is done-a big motivator).   When he wants to learn, I'll make time to teach.

Second--we were both still in pajamas.  We don't have to worry about latest fashion trends or school uniforms. 

Third--We do our schoolwork in a game show format.  It just makes it more fun.  Today's format was "Who wants to be a millionaire?"  Each math problem was assigned a dollar value.  We had more than 15 problems though, so we continued up to a $5 million problem.  I hope he never tries to collect his winnings.

Fourth--Fritz was standing on a rocking chair for the lesson.  Now before you panic about safety--it's a childsize rocker with a flat seat and only eight inches off the ground.  He's a kinesthetic learned so trying to stay balanced on the chair provides him just enough movement to concentrate on the lesson.  He could never do this in a public classroom.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Big Numbers

Fritz's favorite and best subject is math (takes after his ol' Mama).   We're using Math U See Beta, but he's already figured out some things on his own--like multiples of twelve and how many thousands are in a million.  He also loves big numbers.  We check out library books designed to help kids wrap their heads around concepts like how large a pile of a billion peas would be. 

Today while walking Della, he had a question for me about subtracting larger numbers from smaller ones.  I had to give a brief explanation about the world of negative numbers. No matter how  big a positive number he could think of there was a corresponding negative number .  The whole way home he would quiz me.  "What's 100-200?  What's 1000-9000?"  Now I'm pretty good at math myself, but he stumped me with this one-- "What's one quadrillion minus one googleplex?"  I couldn't tell him, but I assured him it's a negative number.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today my Schnickelfritz turns seven years old.   What a blessing he has been.  He has a tender heart and an infectious laugh.  For his birthday we found a used basketball goal on craigslist (we may have moved to Missouri, but he was born a Hoosier).  So far we've played H-O-R-S-E, P-I-G, M-A-M-A, and various other words.  He wanted to play T-Y-R-A-N-N-O-S-A-U-R-U-S R-E-X,  but I couldn't spell it and I didn't want to stay out all night so we settled on T R-E-X.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

He wants to do what???

Usually when we finish schoolwork for the day, my Schnickelfritz wants to play a game (he's really into chess right now) or watch a video.  I was completely dumbfounded today when he announced that he wanted to rake leaves!   I spent my whole weekend raking wet oak leaves, so this was the last thing I wanted to do.  "But Mama, the yard looks so pretty when we've cleaned up all the leaves," he reminded me.   He was also thrilled by the prospect of handling Daddy's big rake since Daddy wasn't home to use it. 

He wanted to make lines of leaves.             I wanted to rest my back.

He wanted to jump in the leaf pile.               Leaf piles (especially oak) make me sneeze.

What do you think we did????

We raked leaves, of course!  If a child is enthusiastic about work, who am I to dampen his spirits?  If he enjoys it now, perhaps I wanted have to nag, cajole, or threaten him to do it when he's twelve.   I got to spend a sunny afternoon with my son.  The leaves had dried out considerably and the work wasn't as difficult.  And like him, I can't think of anything more satisfactory than looking over a clean yard during leaf-raking season.  I guess today my son taught me a lesson.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Bright Ideas Press

One of the first things I did when I learned I would be part of the Homeschool Crew was to look through the list of vendors signed up for the year.  I had just reached the "B's" when I big smile appeared on my face -- Bright Ideas Press.  I've been accumulating their products for years: The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide,  and the first two volumes of The Mystery of History.  We were asked  our first and second choices for products to review.  My first choice was The Mystery of History Vol III, since I was familiar with and loved the first two.  For my second choice, I decided to go with a product with which I had no experience--Christian Kids Explore Biology.  I was blessed with the opportunity to receive and review both my choices.

 The Mystery of History Volume III   covers the years 1455-1707.   The text is organized into four 7-week quarters.  Each week starts with a pre-test. Then there are three lessons  written as though the author were speaking directly to the students.  I find this perfect read-aloud material (more on the later...).  Each lesson will have suggested activities based on age groups.  There is a review of the week's lessons when students make memory cards for each lesson and put historical individuals or events on a time line. The Companion Guide gives suggestions if you are making your own timeline figures or you can purchase a gorgeous set  by Amy Pak for $9.95.    Finally, there is a cumulative quiz based on all the previous lessons (some allow students to use their book of memory cards). 

I do not follow this format in teaching my Schnickelfritz.  We use unit studies as our base curriculum and I prefer using living books when possible.  There are times though, when I don't have time to read a whole book or am unable to find one in my rural library.  Then I turn to The Mystery of History.    I know I will be getting a well-researched lesson written from a Christian worldview (whether or not the subject was a Christian).  Last spring our community college had an international day and Fritz had his face painted as a Maori warrior.  (I've been dying to share this picture!) 

Of course he wanted to know more about them and fortunately for me there was a lesson in MOH Vol 2.  I plan to get the whole series just for reference material.

If you are familiar with the Mystery of History series, let me point out some changes in this volume.  First, the text now comes in hardback with full color pictures (wonderful as we learn about the art of the Renaissance).  Second, this book only contains the text.  The lesson activities, pre-tests, quizzes, and printables all come separately on CD-ROM. 

I mentioned earlier that this is a great read aloud.  For some of these lessons I think this is the only way to go.  Some of the great artists of the Renaissance lead less that godly lifestyles.  There are also descriptions of atrocities suffered by those who died for their faith.  In some cases the author includes a warning for younger and middle students to skip the next paragraph and resume later--but wouldn't the first instinct of most kids be to read what they were just told not to read?  Other times, like the death of Thomas Cranmer in the lesson on [Bloody] Mary Tuder, there is no warning so you may want to pre-read and edit the text for younger students.

The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader retails for $59.95 alone if you only want to read the text. The CD Companion Guide: Curriculum and student Activities is $29.95.  Or you can buy them as a bundle for $79.00. 


Christian Kids Explore Biology is one of a series of science books for elementary students.  The book is recommended for 3-6 graders, but it includes simpler hands-on activities for  grades 1-3.    There are 35 lessons organized into eight units: 

  • Biology Basics

  • Plants in God's World

  • Birds of the Earth

  • Mammals in the Wild

  • The Human Factor

  • Reptiles all Around

  • Insects High and Low

  • Water Creatures 

Each units begins with a vocabulary list, a materials needed list, and an intricate coloring page (the cover picture is taken from the first unit).  The coloring pages were more than my Schnickelfritz wanted to tackle, but I can see them appealing to older students. 

The lessons are divided into teaching time and hands-on-time.  The text of teaching time is very conversational and good as a read aloud.  The hands on time may involve drawing, using playdough, or "Checking  It Out"--their term for simple experiments.   For the very first lesson on creation we were instructed to throw cards (we used legos) into the air and see if they built something when they landed.  The object was to see that order doesn't happen without a designer.   Needless to say this was a big hit in our house and we repeated the experiment several times.  

In the margins you will often find Bible verses, recipes, little known facts,  and other goodies.  There are also wonderful labeled diagrams that could be copied for lapbooks.  I took the Food Web diagram and turned it into an activity for our homeschool co-op.  Everyone received a nametag for a plant or animal in the web and then we took yarn to connect the producers to their consumers to the tops of the food chains.    

The hands-on-time for the final lesson in a unit is a review in quiz format.  I must say the author know what appeals to kids because each correct answer is worth 10,000 points!!  

The appendices are a treasure trove!  There are reproducible forms and maps, additional coloring pages,  scripture memory flash cards, and more.  Here you will find the 10,000 point answer key and pages and pages of suggested further reading.

I've been so please with how well these lessons have matched up with our Konos lessons.  We've got the five senses, taxonomy, predators and prey (the food web), and birds this year.  I'll save plants and other systems of the body for later years.  I've been so impressed with this book, I'll have to look at others in the series:  Physics, Earth and Space, and Chemistry.

Christian Kids Explore Biology retails for $34.95.

Most of the Bright Ideas Press products have a Yahoo Group associated with them.  Think of it as a co-op/support group where you can ask questions, share ideas,  find websites with additional materials, etc.  Just do a groups search  of the book's title to get started.

You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of these and other Bright Ideas Press products by clicking here.

Disclaimer: Bright Ideas Press provided me with free copies of these products to test and use in order to write this review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Review: abcteach


Abcteach is a one-stop source for all your worksheet/printables needs.  There are thousands of free printables available to anyone and more than 35,000 items available to those who sign up as members ($40 per year).  I received a short term membership for the purposes of completing this review.

I have to confess, we are not really a worksheet family.  Unless I'm forcing my Schnickelfritz to practice handwriting, he'd much rather build things than  put pencil to paper.  I'm of a mindset that wordsearches and coloring pages are just busy work to keep one student occupied while the teacher is working with another student.   Since I only have one child, this isn't necessary.  I did explore some of the content reserved for members only to see if membership would be of value to other homeschoolers.

The biggest membership advantage seems to be the abctools--wizards to help you create customized worksheets.  If you are a unit sutdy or lapbooking family you can generate crossword puzzles, word searches, and shape books that fit your current study theme.   I did try the handwriting tool to make practice sheets for Fritz.  We use Handwriting Without Tears which is one of the available fonts.  You can fit three very short sentences on a page. My third sentence "I play with my dog" was too long and carried over to a second page so it could be a paper waster.  

I also tried using the extensive clip art library to make a food chain project (you'll hear more about that in another review).   I was searching for pictures of common animals -- squirrels, owls, deer, etc.   I got frustrated with the amount of time it was taking to try and locate each animal.  There are subtopics in the clip art library for animals of North America, South America, etc., but they did not include all the animals.  Another subtopic was "Mammals" but the listings within the topic were not alphabetical so I had to look through several pages each time.  When I tried typing specific names in the search engine I had to dig through listings for word searches and puzzles to find the clip art.  When I did get to the picture I wanted, it could be copied and pasted into my word processor, but it was often way too big (filling the page and pushing everthing else offscreen).

My best advice to you is to try abcteach for yourself.  By browsing the categories or using the search engine, you can see what items are available for free and what items are available for members only.  You can even try the abctools to customize some worksheets in a limited way (only a sampling of formats or limited themes, etc).  If worksheets are something your students enjoy, then by all means sign up--the $40 will go much further here than if you tried to buy workbooks for each subject for each student.      

You can read what my fellow crewmates thought of abcteach by clicking here.

A child's point of view

My Schnickelfritz turns seven this week.  In the first of a string of celebrations with different grandparents he received his own digital camera.   He took several pictures during a visit to the Museum of Transportation with his train-loving grandpa.  At home his favorite subject seems to be our long-suffering dog, Della.

But even patient Della doesn't want to be photographed all the time.





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