Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Boy Who Changed the World

Rain and temps in the 60's will mean an end to our winter wonderland.  Before that happens, I took Fritz to the local sledding hills.  Throughout the afternoon families came and went.  We saw all different kinds of sleds from the old fashioned kind with runners like I remember to what appeared to be a plastic box to store things under a bed.  The latter didn't work to well and was abandoned when it cracked.  Schnickelfritz would join up with various kids that appeared close to his age.  He'd introduce himself and ask their name and age, if they'd sledded before, etc.  Who says homeschool kids aren't socialized?   At one time there was a younger boy, a little pudgy and physically awkward, that was having trouble climbing the hill.  His sled didn't have a rope and often when he tried to hold it in his mittened hand, it would slip and slide all the way back down the hill.  He'd have to go back down after it, not a long descent as he hadn't made much uphill progress himself.  Fritz announced to me that he was going to go help this boy.   He went down the hill and left his own sled at the bottom so he could carry the one belonging to the boy.  Then he took the boy's hand and said "Let's pretend you're the first boy to ever climb Mount Everest."  Fritz didn't get frustrated or give up on his new friend whom he learned was named Aiden.    Fritz has always had a kind-hearted nature, but I can't help but wonder if his actions in the afternoon were the result of a book we had read in the morning.

Granny had given Schnickelfritz The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews for Christmas.  This is the juvenile version of Mr. Andrews' book on the butterfly effect.  He describes how the actions and mindset of one individual can impact another, who impacts another, and so on.  In this case it begins with Mr. Moses Carver, who adopts George Washington Carver, who teaches the son of his professor about plants.  This boy grows up to become Vice President and hires a man name Norman Borlaug, who develops "super seeds" to feed 2 billion people around the world.   Throughout the book are phrases in bold letters like "God made you to make a difference," and "Every little thing you do matters."   Now I don't know what little Aiden will do to change the world someday, but I'm sure the kindness my son showed him today can snowball (pardon the pun) into something great.

Friday, December 24, 2010

We're going to have a White Christmas

The weatherman has assured me that snow is on the way--at first it was coming last evening, then overnight, now it's expected mid morning.  I'm hoping it's not preceded by sleet and ice.   I wonder if there was all the fuss for a White Christmas before Irving Berlin wrote his famous song?

 We've run out and got the obligatory milk and bread and since I was at the store I made sure I had the ingredients for a little holiday baking.  As long as we're going to be stuck inside, it might as well smell nice.  I'm making brownies --this year I'm using a mini muffin pan to make individual ones, hopefully with that "corner" texture all around.  I'm making the Toolman his favorite oatmeal cookies with chocolate and peanut butter chips.  And I'm trying a new recipe for orange/persimmon tea bread for Christmas morning.   

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blueberry Jam

I scrounged all over the county and made several clerks check the back rooms, but I came away with my jelly jars and fruit pectin.  That's the trouble when you decide to do something out of season.   We do have blueberries growing at several u-pick farms in the area--again, not at this time of year.  Next year I will do more planning ahead when it comes to making jelly and jam for Christmas gifts.  So I had to rely on a large bag of frozen blueberries from Sam's club.  Next year though, I can pick my own wild black raspberries and blackberries.  I have persimmons too.  Does anyone know of a persimmon jam or persimmon butter recipe?

I have to say, I was pleased with the outcome--half a dozen jars of spiced blueberry jam.  They've already been delivered to the Toolman's coworkers.  And I got permission to use one of my Christmas presents early--a Cricut Expression to make the gift tags.   Let me share what I learned about pectin.  Sorry if this is obvious to you veteren canners, but I wasn't the only one in our canning class that didn't know this.  Pectin should be used in the season you purchase it.  You cannot substitute liquid for powdered pectin (or vice versa) in recipes.  Each seasons pectin has its own binding power, dependant on the fruit for that year, so use the recipes that come in that season's pectin package and don't save the papers from year to year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: North Star Games

Ho Ho Ho!  We're in the thick of the holiday season right now and you're probably either hosting or will be attending a party or two in the next few weeks.  Recently the crew received a party game to review and you may want to have it on hand to play with friends and family.

Wits & Wagers Family is really a junior edition of the award winning Wits & Wagers game by North Star Games.  The scoring is simplified, the questions have more of a kid appeal, but it can still be played by all.  "It's good for ages 8 to senile," as my mother put it.  There are five different colored sets of pieces, but you can play as teams so the number of people playing is unlimited.

The rules are easy to pick up:  A question with a numerical answer is read aloud.  Each person (or team) writes their answer on a dry erase board and the answers are placed on a table in order from smallest to largest--there is a preprinted default card with a 1 on it.  Then each person or team has a large and small playing piece, called a meeple, that they place on the card they believe has the closest to the correct answer without going over.  You can place them both on your own card or split them up and put them on separate cards to improve your scoring chances.

The person who wrote the winning answer (closest without going over) scores one point.  Small meeples on the winning card score one point, large meeple score two.  The maximum anyone can score in one round is 4 points.  The winner is the first to reach 15 points.

Unlike most trivia games, you're really NOT supposed to know the answers to the question.  The fun comes in the guessing and seeing how diverse the answers can be.  In fact, we "threw out" the questions with obvious answers like "How many teaspoons in a tablespoon."   Sometimes in addition to discussing the actual answer we mused on who sat around investigating the answer (who really thought up the one about how many tennis balls you can fit in a dog's mouth?)     We're not really up on pop culture in our family so some questions may be more obvious to you than us (eg. How many books are in the Lemony Snicket series?)   Once we were asked the height of the world's tallest roller coaster.  Schnickelfritz, who wants to build an amusement park called Seven Flags when he grows up knew exactly.  When he scored four points in that round he declared Wits & Wagers "The best game ever."

The game only comes with 150 questions.  This may be enough if you only pull the game out for occasional parties.  If you want it to be a regular in your family game night line up like we did, you may purchase the expansion pack (this is really for the original Wits & Wagers edition so the questions may be over kids' heads).  As a homeschooler, I can think up dozens of sources to write my own questions.  Pull out a history book--When was the Fall of Rome?   How many casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg?  Perhaps you prefer science--What is the diameter of the largest eagle's nest?  What percentage of hatched sea turtles make it to the ocean?   I'm certainly not touting this as an educational game, but it could be fun to write questions throughout the school year and then "test" their retention level with a game at year end.

Wits & Wagers Familyretails for $19.99.   North Star's website is being updated to help you find retailers near you and is currently directing visitors to Target's website for purshases.  The expansion pack is $14.99 for 700 additional questions.  

You can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates think of  Wits & Wagers Family game by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free Wits & Wagers Family game for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pressure Canning

It was a day for the  homeschool teachers to switch roles and become students for a day.  One of the moms contacted the extension office to arrange a class in pressure cooking and making jams and jellies.  With the downturn in the economy,  more and more are pulling out Grandma's canner and planting gardens to preserve the harvest.  A WORD OF WARNING--do not use Grandma's old recipes or any recipes dated before 1989.    Science caught up with home economics at that time--the ability to test pH levels of food and put thermometers inside the jars.  Some things that used to be canned in boiling water now need pressure canning.  Other things like pureed pumpkin shouldn't be canned at all at home.  The danger isn't that you'll get peas exploded on your ceiling, but that those jars can harbor potentially deadly botulism.

For class we canned carrots and made quick grape jelly and a wonderful spiced blueberry jam.  We got to taste a little leftover jam while it was still warm.  Guess what my husband's fellow workers will be getting for Christmas?  I ran right over to Walmart (which still had a good supply of jelly jars).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give More

We've reached week 3 in our Advent Conspiracy--Give More.  I have to say the evidence of giving was all over the church today as the presents  were due for the Crisis Pregnancy center.  Each year the need has been greater and each year our church has sponsored more families.  There were 400 tags on the giving wreath this year.  Our church also takes responsibility to ring the Salvation Army bells several days during the season.  I'm not saying this to brag,  I just want you to know that as a congregation we've embraced the whole concept of spending less on ourselves or giving unappreciated gifts out of obligation and are instead sharing with those who truly need to feel God's love in a tangible way right now.   As part of Advent Conspiracy we are also giving financial gifts to Living Water, an orphanage in Mexico, and a Safe House for abused women in children in our county.

Giving to those in need is only half of the giving more equation.  The other half is giving more of ourselves--making time to spend with those who matter most.  Some of the best gifts don't necessarily have to cost much, but they do require imagination and effort on our part.  The pastor shared one example of a young man who gave his dad a bag of coffee beans.  The beans could only be ground and brewed when the donor and donee were together and the time had to be spent with the dad sharing memories with his son.  I bet the dad never smelled coffee again without thinking of the precious time he and his son spent together.

Last year I gave my father a copy of a cookbook from one of his favorite restaurants and told him to place his order--entree, side dish and dessert and invited him over for a family meal.   Quality time can also come from making the gifts, not just giving them.  I also got to spend time with my son making persimmon loaves to give to my husband's co-workers.  (I find watching Ratatouille before we start builds his enthusiasm to cook).

You can learn more about Advent Conspiracy at their website.

Monday, December 6, 2010


We've hit the wall in homeschooling--you know the one between Thanksgiving and Christmas when nobody is very enthusiastic about learning spelling rules or how birds migrate.  So we're doing a mini unit study on Christmas around the world (the one thing Schnickelfritz is still gung-ho about is geography).   Someone from my homeschool co-op made an open invitation to come see how her family celebrates Hanukkah--so we expanded our study to include this Jewish holiday.    I must say how impressed I was by all the effort she put into the day.

When we arrived we were offered hot chocolate and donuts.  Donuts are fried in oil and the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting eight days is at the heart of Hanukkah.

After a brief lesson (not quite brief enough for Schnickelfritz) we had a craft project.  She had made up bundles with craft sticks, paper flames and Bible verses for each child to make their own Hanukiah.   It has eight candles with a ninth "servent candle" raised in the center.

The children then got to take turns lighting a real candle.

Then it was time to learn the Dreidel game.  The symbols on the four sides stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There."  (The dreidels made in Israel say "A Great Miracle Happened Here).  Each child got a pile of chocolate gelt to play with.  And they quickly learned what each symbol meant--they whole trip home Fritz chanted "Shin, Shin, put one in."   The dreidels were pulled out and played with when the Jews feared someone might burst in and discover their illegal Torah study.

And finally we were served latkes for lunch.   These were made with mashed sweet potatoes rather than shredded potatoes.  But they were delicious served with sour cream and garlic salt.  Once again we were cooking with oil to remind us of the miracle.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spend Less

Week two of the Advent Conspiracy focuses on Spending Less.  This is not the advocation of standing in line at 3 AM to catch the bargains of Black Friday sales.   It is instead, the conscious decision to not purchase the obligatory fruitcake for your second cousin or perhaps decide that everyone in the family could still be happy with one less present. 

According to their website,  Advent Conspiracy claims Americans spent $450 billion of Christmas in 2008.  How much of that was spent in that aisle each store has filled with gifts for people you don't even know well enough to know what they'd like for Christmas--coffee mugs, yuletide ties (or worse, underwear),  or generic gift certificates.   

Before you call me the Grinch, I'm not saying you shouldn't express your love or appreciation to these people.  Next week we'll learn how to give of ourselves, not of our pocketbooks.  And the money we save by not buying unappreciated gifts--well according to Advent Conspiracy it would only cost $10 billion to make sure everyone in the world had access to clean water.  In addition to supporting Living Water, or church is also donating to an orphanage in Mexico and a battered women's safe house right in our own county.   Oops, I think I'm getting ahead of myself.  Stay tuned for next week's topic :  Give More.

You can learn more about Advent Conspiracy at their website.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Smart Kids

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of sitting in the large green recliner with my mom and taking turns reading pages of books.  I’ve been carrying on the “reading chair” tradition with my Schnickelfritz –and sadly, I know our days of fitting together in the chair are numbered.  A recent Homeschool Crew review product gave us another chance to build some reading chair memories. 

 Nanuq: A Baby Polar Bear’s Story  is one of Smart Kids My Animal Family series.  The young title character has a brother, Suka, who is all play and no work.  While mother bear is trying to teach her cubs the necessary skills for survival or just catch up on her sleep (sounds like a homeschool mom to me), Suka is only interested in goading his brother to wrestle.   When he is rescued from a potentially deadly encounter with some walruses, Suka finally learns that there is a time for being serious as well.

 I was glad for the opportunity the book provided to talk with Fritz about the need to devote time to chores, sleep, and studying—yes, he’s one of those little fellows that would rather be building forts all day.  He did get the point of the story as well.

 Fritz didn’t care to sit beside me and look at the pictures though.  When I had the chance to study the pictures rather than read I didn’t linger too long either.  I can only describe the illustrator’s style as dissonance for the eyes.  Somehow the pictures seemed slightly out of focus and I wanted to rub my eyes to remedy the problem.   Just be aware of this if you have a child with sensory issues.  I did share the story with some Thanksgiving guests and they didn’t seem to mind the pictures as much from a distance so maybe this book is better read like the librarian at storytime-seated in front of the kids.

 Far more enjoyable for us was the included DVD.   Crisp videos of polar bears in the wild filmed by the BBC were narrated by a child portraying Nanuq.   There were also fun polar bear facts and a music video.

In the book (behind the DVD) was a card with a passcode to log in to the MAF Kids Club website.  Your kids can create their own explorer avatars and play several games themed to the arctic habitat of Nanuq.  If you register other books (currently there are five) you can explore the ocean, the jungle, or the savanah with dolphins, chimpanzees and elephants.   There are virtual jigsaw puzzles to complete or more video-gamish activities like trying to "catch" snowflakes.  Nothing is too difficult--the website is geared to kids K-2.

Smart Kidz bookstore has Nanuq and the four other My Animal Family books for sale at $10.39 plus s/h.  You can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates thought of Nanuq by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Nanuq: A Polar Bear's Story for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Worship Fully


Our church is starting its third year of involvement with Advent Conspiracy.  For the next four Sundays leading up to Christmas we will cover one of the four tenets:  Worship Fully,  Spend Less, Give More, Love All.   The goal is to escape the commercial trap of Christmas and return to the message of God's love for the world displayed in tangible ways--like drilling wells for clean water around the world.

Today's message was to Worship Fully.   You may have seen the sign "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."  That's true, but so much more than that as well.  It's not enough to think only of the baby in the manger.  He grew into a man, he was the perfect sacrifice, he is our Redeemer.  He deserves our praise and focus on more than just the 25th of December.

For a sermon illustration our minister invited two volunteers on the podium.   Normally when our pastor asks for volunteers my husband and I try to avoid making eye contact--I won't go into the reasons now.  The two volunteers were seated at a cafe table and the minister offered to serve them lunch.  He opened a cooler and pulled out the Thanksgiving turkey carcass in a Ziploc bag saying "I think you can pull a few bits of meat off that."  He follow up with stale rolls left out for three days, cold mashed potatoes and congealed gravy.  The two volunteers were beginning to wish they had avoided eye contact as well.   The point being was this is how some of us worship God--He get's the scraps of our time, the change left in our pockets.

Having made the two guests suffer enough, the pastor's wife came from the baptistry area with two hot plates filled with a lovely Thangsgiving meal.  We are to give God our first fruits, our best -- knowing He can take them and turn them into so much more, just like the loaves and fishes.

Next Week:  Spend Less

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: KBTeachers

Recently I was selected to review the PDF worksheets available by subscription to KBTeachers' website.  Now I have to confess upfront that we're not really a worksheet using family--with only one student I don't need them to occupy his time while I work with another child.  I have however looked through the available material to share with others that do like to use worksheets.  Actually, you can see all the material yourself.  You just have to look at it with a giant KBT watermark in the foreground.

One of the  largest  categories is  Math Activities.  You can start off your youngest learners  with sheets to practice counting images then progress to worksheet generators for the basic four math functions.  Supplemental studies are available for counting money and telling time. 

A second category that can grow with your student is English Language.  The basic sheets provide printing practice for each letter and the sheet is covered with images of objects whose names begin with that letter.   Cursive letter practice would be the next level of skills.  Older students can find worksheets on homonyms, synonyms,  nouns and verbs.

Other categories include Science, Biology (I'm not sure why this is separated from other science) and Social Studies.  The worksheets in these areas are definitely written from a secular world view.  The astronomy pages cover the Big Bang, though not by name.   The Dinosaur worksheets reference Cretaceous period, etc.--another way of refering to millions of years.    The pages available for Thanksgiving show cartoonish turkeys, pilgrims and indians for posters, mazes and stickers.  There is no actual teaching about the origins of Thanksgiving or that the one we are thanking is Almighty God.There is actually very little American history available--5 sub-topics geared at 7th and 8th graders.  The one test one the causes for the Civil War boils it down to slavery being the only issue. 

The website is getting ready to undergo an overhaul before the end of the year.  I'm assuming this will mean more content available.  The material will be based on standards set by several national teacher councils so I doubt that the Christian worldview will be represented in whatever is added.

A one year subscription is $29.00 and grants you permission to print and download an unlimited number of worksheets.  This just isn't a fit for our family cost-wise or worldview-wise.   You may go to their website and get a 10 day free trial to see if you think it a worthy investment for your family.

You can read what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates thought of KBTeachers subscription website by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free 2-year subscription to for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Corp of Re-Discovery

One of Fritz's favorite annual field trips is to visit Lewis & Clark days in St. Charles, Missouri.  Their journey to explore the newly purchases Louisiana territory and search for a water route to the Pacific ocean covered many future states, but we Missourians like to think of them as our own.  Their trip started and ended here.  Clark was governor of the Missouri territory and is buried here.   A homeschooling family from southwest Missouri obviously shares that pride by naming their business The Corps of Re-Discovery.  Their products allows children make their own leather goods and pioneer crafts.  Fritz received a Tomahawk kit for our review.


This kit retails for $7.99 and includes a wooden handle, a leather "blade", lacing, and assembly instructions.  


 We used our  permanent markers to decorate the handle  but you could also use paint.


The instructions suggest wetting the leather and using a tack hammer to apply texture to the edges of the "blade," giving it the appearance of  a chipped flint rock.  This hammer came from Fritz's handyman helper tool kit.

Here's the finished product.  I tried to leave it large enough so you could see the texturing.  Total decorating and assembly time took less than 20 minutes (your child may take more care in the decorating portion of the project).  We did allow a little drying time for the leather blade.  I assumed it might have swollen slightly and drying in the slot would have left it loosened.  Fritz, now eight, did everything except tying the cording without my help.  The blade, being leather, will not cut anything so it should be safe for all children.  That doesn't mean it won't hurt if you hit yourself in the noggin with it (vigorous product testing discovered this fact).

We're going to see the Lewis & Clark re-enactors again in Hermann, Missouri next month and I'm sure this tomahawk will be taken along for the ride.  Other projects available from the Corp of Rediscovery include: leather headbands, vests, moccasins,  cornhusk and clothespin dolls, weaving kits, and quill pens.  Older children may consider flint and steel fire starters and actual throwing tomahawks and knives.  You can check out the entire catalog online at The Corp of Re-Discovery.  Also follow them on Facebook as they announce special coupons and discounts. 

You can see what fellow Homeschool Crewmates thinks of their Corp of Re-Discovery products by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free Tomahawk kit for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinions.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Orienteering: Meramec State Park

An new month means a new orienteering meet and at the largest venue so far--Meramec State Park.  Once again there was a MOJO (Missouri Junior Orienteers) training before the main event.  Today's lesson was on contour lines on the map.  It's easy to tell where the terrain is steep because the lines are closer together.  We also got some clues how to tell which way is uphill and which is down.  The easiest clue is to search for water--on our map the obvious water was the Meramec river.  Closer examination revealed the think blue lines marking creeks emptying into the river.  Since water travels down, we knew the creeks represented the low points on the map and heading toward creeks would be downhill.  Contour lines that form small circles or ovals probably represent the tops of hills, at least in Missouri that's a good probability. 

There were two training exercises this morning as well.  In the first, ten maps were placed on a picnic table, each marked with only the starting point and one control.  The kids were allowed to study the maps as long as needed, but they had to leave the maps on the table and find the controls based on their memory.  This reinforced last month's lesson on using catching features and handrails to hone in on the target area.   Schnickelfritz found a few on his own and then asked me to accompany him as the controls  were further away from our picnic table base.  I wasn't much help in finding the day-glo colored pieces of tape.  At one point we knew the control was located on a switchback on the trail but I started looking one whole turn too soon.  Fritz kept going on the trail and found the control tied around a small sapling.  He also spent the rest of the morning saying "I told you so," to his Mama.

The next exercise was a line course.  The map had a very specific path drawn in red, but no contols were marked.  If the path showed we were supposed to leave the trail and walk around a boulder then we might find a control that wasn't visible before.  We weren't told where the controls were or how many to find.  As we found them we had to remember the letter written on the tape and where they were located (I wished I had brought a pen with me).  As it was we had to walk the path, watch for pink tape, and repeat over and over the letters from the controls we had found and a description of where they were located.  Control M or W was on a boulder, control B was at the base of a impassible rock face, control T was near a man-made object, etc. 

Then it was time to gather for the main event.  The 70 degree weather had brought out a lot of new faces--there were at least two Boy Scout troops and members of the St. Louis Adventurers club.  There were grandparents and families with toddlers in backpacks.  Registration and marking controls on the maps took over an hour.   There were five courses to choose from:  white being the shortest and easiest and the others being longer, more change in elevation, more deviations from marked trails, etc.  We chose the yellow level,  still a beginner course but slightly longer.

Up til now all the events we had attended had a set time limit in which to find as many controls as possible.  Today we  only had nine controls to locate and the winner would be determined by the shortest time.  The teams and individuals took off at two minute intervals from the starting point.  Right away I knew we could gain on our competition because the Boy Scouts just in front of us veered way off course to the left and they were all walking.  When Fritz and I got the signal we trotted (since this was one of the few areas of open ground) to the right and immediately found our first control.  More importantly, we reached the trail head before the troop.

At control #3 we met three boys catching their breath--another group of scouts.  These boys had to have left at least four minutes before us and as Fritz and I started down the trail, they realized we had passed them.  One did ask politely if we were going to be walking of running.  When I answered "Walking" they asked to pass us as they wanted to run.  Their strategy misfired because when we reached Control #4, they were still there catching their breath again.   While Fritz descended into the pit to punch our control card, the boys sprinted down the trail to gain some ground on us again.  This was unfortunate; had they consulted their map they would have realized that the course left the trail here and cut through the woods, crossed a stream, and went to the base of a rock face on the other side.  I don't know if the boys realized their error on their own or heard Fritz and I crunching leaves and twigs first but soon they were on our tail again.  We reached the rock face together and were enjoying a sip from the water jugs left there when the boys heard the other part of their troop walking on the the trail.  They were determined to stay out of sight from these boys lest they give them a clue where the next control was hidden.  We decided to travel together down the creek-bed, which was almost entirely dry.  One boy did manage to slip and get his pants wet.

We continued together to the eighth control--at the mouth of a cave.  Fritz wanted to explore the cave, but I pointed out this was a timed race.  With one control to go, any alliance was broken.  One Scout said he knew where the last control was and the three older boys headed toward the river.  He may have seen a control but he failed to remember that there were five courses going on at once and it might not be a control for our yellow course.  Fritz and I consulted the map again and ran along the roadside to found  Control #9 on a ledge five feet off the ground.  I boosted him up to punch our card.  As I prepared to help him down the three boys arrived--again they were following us, not their map.  I knew we were going to have the briefest of leads.  Fritz and I sprinted towards the finish line 250 meters away.   I handed him the control card and told him to run ahead.  I have to give him credit--he looked behind twice to see the older boy gaining, but he never gave up and ran all the way to the outreaching hand of the scorer.   We finished the course in 34 minutes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Birthday Party

I should have known I was worried for nothing.  These kids know how to entertain themselves.  The hits of the party were the two leaf piles on either side of the yard.  Someone found a yellow baseball which they would chuck in the leaves and then there would be a mad scramble to retreive it.  We also ended up having to search for a size 3 boot at one point--a little tougher since it was brown and blended in so well.  Toolman put the yardcard on the lawn tractor and was giving little rides through our woods for the younger kids.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birthday Party Plans

This Friday my Schnickelfritz turns eight years old and we're planning a birthday party/cookout to celebrate with some other homeschooling families.  I have to confess I feel myself getting caught up with the notion that I must be entertaining rather than  showing hospitality to our guests.   We'll have hot dogs and marshmallows to roast over the fire.  Fritz wants one of those giant cupcakes made in a silicone mold he's seen on TV (we found the mold at a hardware store for 1/4 of the television price).  I'm also making a pineapple upside-down cake in our 14 inch dutch oven. 

My main concern is what the kids will do.  They range in age from 12 down to 3.  Most are homeschooled (and the parents are staying), so I'm not too worried about a riot breaking out if they're not entertained every minute.  These are the simple ideas I've come up with.

  • An Orienteering Course--this is Fritz's favorite activity right now.  We got out the compass and plotted a course to various trees and objects around our three acres.   I'll give a quick lesson in how to get a bearing and determine distances.

  • A Scavenger Hunt--I've got a list of common objects in our yard--different species of oak leaves, rocks, sticks that look like letters of the alphabet.  I've got posters from the Dept. of Conservation to help the kids determine which tree is which.

  • A Squirrel game--I've been saving plastic juice bottles to make bird feeders for our Flying Creatures' curriculum.  For now, the kids will act like squirrels preparing for winter by gathering acorns and depositing them in the bottles.  The first team to get their bottle full wins.  I figure even the 3 year old can participate in this game. 

 Thankfully, it looks like we'll have decent weather for Saturday.   If all else fails the kids can play in the giant leaf pile we've raked to the back of the property.  I still have memories of forts and hide and seek in the leaves.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What's Cookin

All summer long I've been doing my best to avoid the kitchen--fruit smoothies, cold sandwiches, etc.  The last thing I wanted to do on a hot, humid day was spend time making my kitchen hotter.  Although we've still had warmer than average temperatures, a cool breeze and falling leaves always motivates me to cook.  Maybe it's some built in instinct to stock up for winter or maybe it's the thought of  hearty soups and stews to warm me up from the inside out. 

A fellow homeschool mom gave me to boxes full of apples at Spanish co-op this week.  They weren't in the best of shape--a lot of bad spots to cut out.  I reasoned that just proved the apples weren't saturated with pesticides , as close to organic as I could come and free!  I always wanted to learn how to can.  I picked up a Squeezo strainer on ebay and all the pint jars on clearance at Tractor Supply over Labor Day weekend.  I cut up and cooked the apples.  Schnickelfritz, still intrigued by the machine from our pear butter experiment, lent a hand at turning the crank at pressing the fruit down.  My 10 quart stockpot only held 5 pints so I had to process two batches.  But we ended up with 9 pints of practically organic, sugar-free apple sauce.

Second,  I received an email about an e-course in freezer cooking by Shelley from One Roast Vegetable.  This is something I've dabbled in from time to time.  I'm the first to admit that our homeschool day goes SOOO much better when I know dinner is already taken care of.    Shelley has seven lessons online so far.  She has started with some experiments on what is really freezable or not--dairy, vegetables, and fruits.  I'd rather learn from her trial and error than ruin my own food in experimenting.  And the course is free, free free!  You can sign up yourself at Fresh From the Freezer.

A second e-course (and really a third) was shared by a fellow Homeschool Crew member.  She's friends with Wardeh Harmon, who espouses "God's Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, In Season," hence the website  The course is like the lab work for the book Nourishing Traditions.   I'm learning the traditional ways to prepare grains, beans, and dairy foods to make their nutrients more bio-available.  This week I learned how to soak brown rice to eliminate the phytic acid that binds to the calcium, magnesium, and iron in the grain and prevents their absorption.  Wardeh provides lists of ingredients and equipment,  mp3 lectures about each topic, a whole binder-full of notes and recipes, and best of all for my learning style--videos of the step-by-step procedures.   There is a second course available on this site that is strictly to learn how to use sourdough in creating breads, pizzas, tortillas, etc.  The two courses are NOT free, but they are made available on a pay as you go/pay what you feel it's worth system (please don't take advantage of Wardeh's generosity by downloading everything without any compensation).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: PGKey

Most homeschoolers will agree that to some degree their decision to keep their children at home is to protect them from the violence and sexuality so pervasive in the world today.  And yet, we often leave major gaps in our armor by allowing that world in through television, popular music, and the internet.  Recently I received a product to review designed to help boost our defenses in the last category.  The PGKey SafeKey, which  looks like a thumb drive, touts "Protection for Your Children. Peace of Mind for You." 

According to the packaging PGKey includes:

  • SafeKey Session Recorder

  • SafeKey Encryptor

  • Safe Key Safe Search

  • SafeKey Time Lock

  • SafeKey Alerts

You simply plug the PGKey into an empty USB port, the software loads automatically, you select a password for yourself as administrator and set up user ID's for the children you want to monitor.  When you go online you can customize the system by either blocking certain websites or only allowing access to a list of specific websites.  You can set  time limits  for computer usage and you can set up alerts if you child types certain words or phrases.  When I set up accounts for myself as administrator and my son as a user, the program automatically set us up as separate users when we start up Windows.  For myself, I had to type in a password at start up.  My son had no password but the computer would lock up unless the PGKey was plugged in--not just for internet access but any computer usage.   Now let's go through those features one by one:

Session Recorder--Most of the space on the PGKey is set aside to record screenshots at intervals of time you set.  As administrator you can then view the screenshots as a slideshow.  This is not just internet time, but any time used by the child ( I got to see a lot of solitaire games).  When the key fills up (60 hours worth)  it should discard the oldest data to make room for the new information.  I don't know if that actually occurs because my son is not allowed that much computer time.  I do know that when I first installed the PGKey, I would get a "write stream error."  The technician discovered that a dummy file they use to test capacity had not been removed from my key before shipping.  It would not record any screenshots until the dummy file had been removed.

Encryptor--The PGKey  relies on a parents password to disable its use, change blocked sites and alert words, and allow additional usage time once the limit has been reached.  If the key has been removed or someone tries to "hack" it, the information will be recorded.

Safe Search--The PGKey changed our default search engine to its own Google based Safe Search.  We use Google anyway, but this new version only allows for web searches not video, images, books, etc.   Of course you can always go to the search engine's website and use it rather than using the one on your menu bar.

Time Lock--I tested this by setting the limit to 10 minutes.  The feature worked perfectly--after ten minutes (not all internet time) a window popped up saying the limit had been reached.  The was a place for me to type in my password giving Fritz an additional 10 minutes of time.

Alerts --  To test this feature I set up an alert any time the phrase "Mississippi River" was typed.  When I put the phrase in the search engine I got an email alert within the hour.  Not satisfied with that (and assuming some teens will spend a lot of time and energy devising ways around the system), I typed in "river near St. Louis."  I used one of the phrase words and received a list of sites and images with the phrase "Mississippi River" in their titles and texts, but no email alert.  As a parent, you'll have to spend a lot of time inputting phrases and individual words if your goal to know when your kids are delving into forbidden areas.  NOTE: the keywords do not deny access to information, they just trigger an alert to the administrator.

The final feature I tested was blocking websites.  The online tool indicates that any website I list will be in addition to a list kept by PGKey (I'm assuming they've researched the seedier sites I don't even want to know about).  I chose a benign little site--Ultimate Disney, that provides information on Disney movies and DVDs.  When I typed in the address I was redirected to their main host site that has a completely different address ( and the site was not blocked.  I set up a new blocked site ( and this time the blocking worked.

Since my Schnickelfritz is so young and has such limited computer usage anyway, I think the best use for us at this time is to just allow access to a short list of sites.   As he gets older, we may take advantage of other features.  The PGKey is more of a reminder that "Mom is watching" than a real shield against filthy language and inappropriate images and videos.

The PGKey retails for $49.99.  Once it's purchased there are no continuing fees but you will need  to purchase separate keys for each computer in your house.  On their website  you can request a free trial (it doesn't say how long the trial period is).  You can see what my fellow Crewmates thought of the PGKey by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received one free PGKey for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Castlewood State Park Orienteering

Schnickelfritz and I participated in our third O meet this past weekend.  As the weather gets cooler and the vegetation dies down, the events move from municipal parks to the big state parks.   Up to now we've just been covering 100 acres or so, today's event was held on over 1800 acres.  More controls were hidden off the paths then on, the  changes in elevation were much steeper and more frequent.

We began the day with a new training class for junior orienteers.  Fritz and three other boys learned tips for better navigation with the detailed maps.  A "catching feature" is some object or formation located past the control you are seeking.  If you reach it--say, a bridge, you know you need to turn around to keep looking for your target.  A "handrail" is a feature that you can follow to guide you in the direction of the control you are seeking--perhaps a fence line or the ridge of a hill.  The map the boys studied was a mini course laid oud by their coach.  When asked if they wanted to navigate together or by themselves all the boys chose the latter, even my Schnickelfritz.  Now the last time my little adventurer wanted to leave me behind in the dust was last year when we explored the Bathtub cave.  He was the first (after our guide) to disappear down the hole and the first to scramble out again.  There was only one way in or out so I knew he couldn't get lost.  Now I was putting my faith in God and a seven- year-old's ability to read a map.

 The coach gave each boy a two minute headstart before sending the next in line.  Fritz was going last and was really raring at the bit.  He must have asked "Can I go now?" five times in those two minutes.  I stuffed a whistle in his pocket in case of emergency and was still praying he'd decide he really wanted me to go with him.  When he had the green light, he tore up the trail, rounded a bend, and was lost to sight.  The coach waited another two minutes before he and I started up the path.  We were going to shadow the boys and collect the tape used in place of regular control markers.    Somewhere up ahead I heard a voice "Mama, I found the first control!"   After the third control we left the trail and started up a dry creek bed.   My initial reaction was fear that he was just running up the trail so fast he would miss the turn, but then I caught a flash of red shirt scrambling over a fallen tree.  I had to give him credit--the boy can read a map.

We caught up with Fritz on two occasions as our long legs and the coach's familiarity with the course allowed us to travel faster.  In both cases Fritz begged for another two minute lead.  He was determined to do this on his own.  He managed to find 12 of the 14 controls on his own and passed one of the older boys (who had fallen and scraped his knees).  When he reached the finish line, my little adventurer was ready for anything.  The real event was starting in 30 minutes and Fritz informed me we were going to find all 24 controls because he was "full of energy!"

This time we'd be competing as a team and I wasn't sure I was so full of energy.  I began trying to lighten my load as much as possible.  Rather than carry around a clunky bunch of keys, I only needed the one to unlock the car.  I took a familiar key off the ring and hid the rest in the car.  Did you notice I said "a" and not "the" key?  When I tried to unlock the car to get a highlighter pen for marking the map I realized I had removed the house key, not the own for the car.  Instead of using our 30 minutes to plan our course I spent it borrowing other folks' cell phones trying to reach the Toolman to come with a spare key.  He was evidently working with a leaf blower and hearing protection and missed my call.  I left messages for him and then Fritz and I joined the others for a mass start.  I figured it would take at least an hour for Toolman to get the message and come to the park so we might as well keep busy while we waited for him.

Remember that energetic little man I spoke of just a paragraph ago.  After six controls and two miles he wasn't quite so energetic.  "My legs are burning!" , "I'm exhausted!" and the ultimate sign of fatigue "I'm going to take a nap when we get home!"  We managed two more controls before nature called to Schnickelfritz and it was the type that boys can't do off the side of the path.  We headed back to the finish line and the bathrooms.  Fritz was at first disappointed at our score, the smallest we've gotten so far.  But I reminded him how much more territory we were covering.  In the past two events we only found half of the total controls.  This time we found 8 of the 10 required for the short course we were running.  That's quite an improvement if you look at it percentage-wise.

We've got two weeks to build up our endurance before the next event.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wrap up week 10/18-22

Schnickelfritz is busy taking his Unit III test from Math U See Gamma--a whopping 56 questions.  It still won't take him very long.  He is determined to start MUS Delta before Christmas. 

We completed All About Spelling Level 1 this week as well.  This is a program we discoved as a member of last year's Homeschooling Crew.  I can't tell you what a difference it has made to ease the frustration levels of both student and teacher.  Fritz loves moving the magnetic tiles around rather than writing.  I love the step by step instructions--for some reason teaching language arts intimidates me.  We've had to move the tiles from our whiteboard to a new permanant home on the basement refrigerator.  Fritz was constantly using the whiteboard for drawing maps and pretending to be Mr. Demme teaching math.  He would just pick off the letter tiles to get them out of his way and it would take me a week to find them all again.

The weather has turned cool enough now that its difficult to find insects so we've returned back to the bird chapters of our Apologia Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day.  We made a field trip to the World Bird Sanctuary open house last weekend.  While it's always a thrill to see bald eagles, even flightless ones,  this weekend was special because we were given access to the clinic where they care for injured birds of prey and their breeding area.   To go with our bird study, I also started reading aloud E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan.

We've been reading our way through the Bible this year (I have chosen not to read certain passages containing more adult content like Lot and his daughters).  We started Exodus and by coincidence Fritz's Royal Ranger commander decided to show the boys The Prince of Egypt.  She had to divide it and show it over two weeks.  Fritz insisted that we read far enough in the book to meet up with the story so I had to read 4 or 5 chapters a day.  Fritz listened without complaint and even insisted I "Keep going," --words to a mother's ears.

I've really slowed down our Mystery of History because I want to tie in to our Bible reading.   Growing up I never understood the relationship between the things I learned in Sunday School and what I learned about history on weekdays.  I want Fritz to understand that what we read in the Bible were real events that we can add to our timeline.  I can only read so much in a day though, so history lessons will just have to go slow for now.

Tomorrow we have another Orienteering meet.  This will be our first in a state park rather than a municipal park.  I have  a feeling it will mean more compass work and less relying on controls being on paths or easy objects.  There's going to be a new training couse for junior members before the main meet.  I hope Fritz will be able to make some new friends that share his enthusiasm.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A walk in the fall

Tonight it was a real pleasure taking the dog for a walk.  Down the road, where the neighbors keep horses,  there must have been two dozen bluebirds resting on the fence.  he birds took flight as we approached and when the broke out from shadow to sunlight their vivid blue coloring  just popped.  

Schnickelfritz caught up with us on his bicycle.  Further down the road we discovered a dead snake.  I can't be certain what kind it was but it wasn't a copperhead.  Fritz asked if he could touch it.  He's come a long way since we've moved from our urban home in Indianapolis.  He used to be scared of bugs--even the cute ones.  Now he wanted to touch a snake carcass.  He dismounted his bike, got a stick, and dug a trench to give the snake a decent burial.

It reached almost 72 today--rare for this late in the year.  The leaves are as brilliant as they're going to get (actually, they're all expected to fall with the rain this weekend).    I had good company.  It couldn't get any better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Challenger

When most people hear the word Challenger they think of the space shuttle but today I got to see a  Challenger that predates that spacecraft by forty years.   Built in 1943, it was the largest and most powerful operating locomotive ever.   It was restored to running condition in 1981 and today it made a whistle stop at Washington, MO.

It was scheduled to arrive at 9:15 and I was surprised by the crowds who had arrived before me.  Grandfathers holding little hands,  a group of  boys from the local Catholic school sporting cardboard engineer caps,  even a little girl with an English accent and her mummy.  We waited for nearly an hour.  At one time the crossing gates signaled and folks got their hopes up, but it was only an Amtrak dropping off one passenger. 

There was no mistaking when it did arrive.  I'm sure they heard the whistle all over town.

Review: Soli Deo Gloria Resources

A common phrase among the Homeschool Crew when discussing review products is "God knew exactly what I needed."  We may receive the perfect material to help a struggling learner or it may address a personal passion of one of our kids.  That was the case when we downloaded the Map Skills unit study published by Soli Deo Gloria Resources.

My Schnickelfritz has always been fascinated with maps, but recent interstate trips and joining the orienteering club have kicked his enthusiasm into high gear.  This made doing a review of the unit study an easy sell.   The 32 page ebook contains daily assignments for a 3 week study (based on a 4 day schedule).   To get the most out of the study you will need to purchase a separate workbook -- the author recommends selecting the appropriate level from the Weekly Readers series: Map Skills for Today.  Other recommended items: a compass, a variety of maps, blank or outline maps, and any additional reading books to reinforce the study.

We didn't use the recommended workbook as we had plenty of other resources (like I said, Fritz has a passion for maps).  We gathered amusement park and zoo maps, maps from our orienteering meets, free state maps from rest stops, and checked out the largest atlas possible from the library.   Some activities only required a pencil and paper.  Others involved taking a walk through the neighborhood or a more energy burning game of compass tag.  Fritz did enough activities to earn his Mapping badge for Royal Rangers.

In addition to map skills, the student will look up vocabulary words, practice penmanship with copywork, and learn some grammar mostly through studying Bible verses.  The underlying message is the Bible can be a "map" and give direction to our lives.

The study is designed for students K-6.   Older students (or those with a passion for maps) will really need to supplement the study with advanced workbooks or other activities.    The ebook can be downloaded ($14) at the Soli Deo Gloria website.  You can  see a sample page there as well.   The company also publishes unit studies in the areas of  Bible, science,  history, and geography--prices range from $12 to $18.

You can see what fellow crewmates thought of the Map Skills Unit Study and other products from Soli Deo Gloria Resources by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free download of the Map Skills Unit Study for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meramec Caverns

If you've traveled on Highway 44, you've probably seen the signs for Meramec Caverns.  Heck, I've seen an advertisement on Highway 70 in Indiana.  I've always found it a little too expensive to go, but recently the privately owned cave advertised a half price day.  Schnickelfritz got his birthday trip to the cave a few months early.

I believe the cave was the first tourist attraction on Route 66, although it's been attracting people long before that.  It once held a gun powder factory in the Civil War (thanks to all the bat guano).  Artifacts found in the cave are linked to a robbery by the infamous Jesse James.  Some areas are big enough to hold square dances (the buggies were parked around the perimeter of the "room"). 

Outside the cave were more activities--free and half price.  There were bouncy houses, a train made out of metal barrels pulled by a John Deere, a small camp of Civil War re-enactors (complete with cannon).  Fritz learned about the current danger facing bats, white nose syndrome, and made a free bat house to mount on our barn.

The big attraction (well, besides the cave) was the new zip line that takes adventuresome souls across the Meramec River--twice. This also seems to be the rage in Branson right now.   I wonder how they felt with the cannon going off beneath them.  Fortunately, Fritz is still too young for such sport.  I guess that will be a later birthday wish.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Talking Fingers

Typing class....the words send me back to a junior high class room.  The din of clacking interrupted by an occasional bell when someone hit the return carriage. I realize there's a whole generation that has no idea what I'm talking about here--ask your parents.   Just like they never think that it used to take some serious calculation to center text on a page, I never thought about teaching typing to my kid.  After all I didn't learn to type until seventh grade.  Then I realized I didn't have a personal computer until ninth grade!  My son is growing up in a world far different than mine--he looks up library books with a computer instead of a card catalog.  He loves to watch roller coaster videos online.  He may have been the only four-year-old able to put "Expedition Everest" in the YouTube search box.  Of course when he put that in, he was hunting and pecking for the keys.

Enter the Read, Write, and Type Learning System from Talking Fingers.   It is designed to teach K-3rd graders keyboard skills along with phonics, reading, and writing.  Let me just say this is not your mother's typing program.  Gone are the days of drilling ffff and jjjj.   My Schnickelfritz was on a mission to save the characters from the left and right houses from an ugly green alien named Vexor.   His guides on the quest are Lefty La Dee and Rightway McKay--who are technically talking hands not fingers.

Fritz was first taught how to "Power Up,"  the term used for positioning the hands correctly on the keyboard.  I found it a little odd that the focus was put on the middle fingers resting on the D and K keys.  It is the F and J keys that have the little knobs you can feel after all, but this is a minor issue.   F is the first key taught.   Fritz followed Vexor to a theater to rescue the letter F.  A series of pictures is shown, if the name of the pictured object begins with the "f" sound he is to press that key, if not he presses the space bar.   In later lessons he may have to listen for the sound at the end of the word.  In the case of vowels he listens to the middle of words. 

When the letter is successfully rescued and returns to the correct house a "story teller" appears in the window.   The storyteller has to travel to the story tree in the town park.  His or her means of locomotion is done with typing drills.  For the first few lessons this means alternating between the letter key and the space bar, but it is not long before Fritz was typing words and phrases.

The  character usually has to pass across three screens before arriving at the story tree.   In both the phonic sounds screen and the typing drill screens your successes irritate Vexor more and more.  He mumbles, he shakes, steam rises from his head, and eventually he bounces all over the screen or explodes.  Once when I heard Fritz from another room I thought he was getting frustrated with the typing but he was merely imitating Vexor--and having a lot of fun doing it.

The student will also do the typing at the story tree--in this case four phrases or sentences to tell the story.  Of course the vocabulary is very simple and a lot of the story is expressed through the cartoon images.   The story marked the completion of the first few lessons.  As we progressed we went to Vexor's ship for more phonics and reading reenforcements.  There are four lessons for each level and the student earns a printible certificate at the end of each level.  Let me tell you, this was a great motivator for my son!  In fact one day he determined he was going to earn two certificates--that was almost two hours of typing lessons.

There is a parent/teacher report available that will help you track your students scores for phonics, reading, and typing.  It is very simplistic and only gives you a percentage score of each category at each level.  Unless you're sitting with the student as he works, you won't know which lesson (or letter) is giving him trouble. 

The is also feedback for parents to be found on the Certificates of Merit.  It will tell you which letters have been learned, scores for some of the drills, even the words per minute of a speed drill cleverly disguised as a game to keep Vexor up in the air on a park fountain.  Parents should also take advantage of all the free downloads available at the Talking Fingers website.  There are scope and sequence charts, user manuals, a practice paper keyboard, and 18 stories based on the lessons for more phonics reeforcement.

An online annual subscription for  Read Write and Type is available for $35 for the first student.  A second student is an additional $20 and others can be added for $15 each.  We used this online version with our dial up service and didn't notice any real delays in loading or animations.  A  CD Home Edition  is available for $79, but it is not compatible with Windows 7.  My advice:  get this for your kids and just let them play.  You sit quietly to the side racking hours and recording scores.  Fritz played this for hours when it was "only for fun."  When I tried to make it a school assignment the magic disappeared and he quickly complained that it made his hands hurt.

You can read what others on the Homeschool Crew thought of Read, Write & Type by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free online subscription for Read, Write & Type for the purposes on completing this reveiw.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Digital Frog Field Trip Series

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is the field trips.  I loved them as a kid and I love taking them with my Schnickelfritz.   Think about it, is it more fun to read about a subject or go where you can touch the animal, see where the battle took place,  watch an artisan make something new.  Of course some things are beyond our means right now.  I can't take Fritz to the rainforest or the desert--too far, too much money, perhaps too dangerous.  Digital Frog has attempted to remedy this by making virtual field trips possible.    I recently received a cd rom with their three trips: The Wetlands, The Rainforest, The Desert.

The highlight of each trip is a virtual tour through the biome.   There areposts on each tour where the student may  use the mouse to do a 360 degree view of the location.  The accompanying text gives some basic information and also clues for specific plants and animals to look for.   Certain words in the text may be highlighted and clicked on them will lead to new screen where more in-depth material will be shared.   You may also click on the name of the object to look for and the picture will automatically adjust to find it (saving little ones from undue frustration).   Speaking of younger students,  I don't recommend just plopping them down in front of the computer and letting them point and click away.  They will miss the depth of information available.   I know this from experience--I let Fritz loose with the Wetlands field trip while I worked on the other side of the room.  He confused it with one of our orienteering meets where you try to go to all the posts in as little time as possible.  Fritz would arrive at a post, click to see where the hidden objects were, and click on the sign leading to the next post.  The vocabulary of the text was above his second grade level so he didn't bother to read any of it (it is possible to use the computer's text to speech function but the stilted, automated voice is more annoying that helpful).

 The field trip is really designed to whet the appetite for further study in the other sections of the program.  Subtopics for the Rainforest included: Rainforest Study (plants, animals and their interdependancy),  Rainforest Types (Temperate and Tropical and where they are located),  Mechanisms of the Rainforest (soils and water cycles, etc.), and Our Endangered Rainforests.  The material was presented with text and videos.  There were "games" to test comprehension like building a tree with specific features to survive in the rainforest, looking for camouflaged creatures, and choosing which brightly colored fauna were safe to eat.   Fritz enjoyed the last game best, when you chose an incorrect snack, the screen would say "Blech!"


The disc for each field trip contains PDF files for a teacher's guide and a student workbook if you'd like to make these studies more of a traditional education experience.   They're a little tricky to get to because every time you left-click on the drive with the disk, it starts the program.  You need to right-click on the drive and choose the "Explore" option.  It would be best to use this series when you are studying the particular biome itself.  I had hoped to isolate the birds and insects of each habitat to fit in with our current science study, but specific creatures are just hidden gems to be discovered along the path.   When you do find them however, what a treat!  I'll never forget the video of an orchid mantis in the section on camouflage.  This critter looked just like the delicate light purple flowers it was hiding among--until that bee happened by.   The field trip series takes a secular viewpoint, but I saw it as a wonderful example of God's creativity.

The package I received contained all three Field Trips available by Digital Frog and is available at their website for $199.00.   Single trips are available for $84.00.  Digital Frog also has cds on cell structure and a virtual frog disection (hence the name).  Their pricing structure seems more geared toward schools and institutions rather than homeschooling families.

You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew thought of The Digital Field Trip Series by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Digital Field Trip Series for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jonathan Park Download

It's's second anniversary, but you're the one receiving the gift.  Right now (through October 13) you can download a free copy of the entire Jonathan Park Volume 1: The Adventure begins.  Just use coupon code 2NDBIRTHDAY. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Cone of Shame

We had just a few minutes before we had to leave for Co-op Spanish class.  The usual routine is to let the dog out for potty time while I go to the mailbox.  Della was sniffing around the leaves of our daylily bed when she suddenly jumped backwards and growled.  She was immediately ready to go back in the house.  Other than her being a little skiddish, I didn't notice anything unusual and we headed of to Spanish class.  We stopped at the grocery store on our way home and I was in the process of putting things in the fridge when Schnickelfritz yelled "It looks like Della's eye fell out."  Well, that will get anyone's attention in a hurry!

It hadn't fallen out, but it was hidden in the swelling and there was blood around the eye and on her snout.  After I got the perishibles put away, I put Della on her leash and we headed for the car.  Fritz was less than pleased about sharing the back seat with such a "feo" dog (we just learned feo means ugly in Spanish).   Rather than risk seeing the blood he turned his face to the window and cupped his hands around his eyes the entire trip to the vets.  I guess he won't be pursuing a career in medicine.

Fortunately there appears to be nothing wrong with the eye itself, but there is a gash on her eyelid.   We got some antibiotics and medicine for the pain and swelling.   Fritz covered his eyes for the trip home as well.  I couldn't help thinking about Hank the Cowdog and the case of the Double Bumblebee Sting (we have very small rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area, but I don't in fact know what attacked her).

At home we realized that she was trying to scratch the area and that would cause the bleeding to start again.  The Toolman had to make a trip to the big city to get a cone of shame for her to wear.  (we're big fans of the movie UP, in fact we've started calling her Luxo Jr. after the tiny lamp that comes out during the Pixar logo).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Schleich Toys

Ever since I became a member of the Homeschool Crew I've come to think of our mailman as Santa Claus, wondering what wonderful item he'll bring next.    While my Schnickelfritz has to participate in the reviews as well (and he's usually a good sport about it), it wasn't until I told him the next package would contain toys that he really got that "waiting for Christmas morning" feeling himself.

The box arrived a little worse for wear but the Schleich figures inside were fine.  I'm not surprised.  Fritz has been playing with Schleich toys for more than half his life-on the sidewalk, in the tub, being smashed into each other and they've always stood up to the beating.    I have to search long and hard to find evidence of paint flaking or gouges and they appear to be molded as a solid piece so I've never had something break off.

 Schleich fits my philosophy of child play--I want Fritz's toys to be fueled by his imagination, not AA batteries.   The animals are extremely realistic in appearance.  That's not to say he has to play with them in a realistic way.  We've had giraffes and elephants next to cows and pigs in our plastic barnyard.  After watching Pinocchio, the big sperm whale became Monstro in the bathtub and after Fantasia 2000, there was a pod of flying whales in the living room.  

 Many of the animals come in a male and female version so you could set up your own Noah's ark ( not everything would be in the correct scale to other animals, but it never seems to bother my son).   There are also animal babies available to play with their parents or on their own (some so cute I can hardly stand it).

The individual figures are not very expensive (many less than $5.00), making them a reasonable "just because I love you" present.  They are also not out of reach for young people learning to save and budget allowances.   Sets of animals or structures like the castle for the knights can cost over $100.   In the interest of full disclosure: while all of the toys are stamped with "Germany" on their bellies, but below it says "Made in China."  I know Chinese-made toys have been in recent years.  The CEO of Schleich North America issued this statement in 2007.
... Schleich GmbH believes that toy safety is a maximum priority. Schleich has an internal quality control department and it is supported by external test centres. Our products have always been made using materials which at the time of production were classified as safe. Schleich toy figures comply with all national and international guidelines and regulations, e.g. the strict provisions of the European Standard for Toys (EN 71) and the American Specification for Toy Safety (ASTM F963-03). We have also in-troduced our own regulations and test methods which are often more stringent.We obligate our raw material suppliers and other suppliers to comply with these regulations. We also hire independent and authorized laboratories to carry out regular tests regarding the materials, the paints used for our products and the finished toys (saliva and migration tests, for example, are performed by these laboratories)...
Schleich toys organize their characters into Farm Life, Wild Life, Prehistoric Animals, World of Knights, World of American Indians, Fanatsy figures, and of all things---Smurfs.   The complete line can be found on their website .  The toys are not sold on the website but a store locator for finding retailers in your area is available (we find ours at Tractor Supply).   

To see what others on the Homeschool Crew think about Schleich figures click here.

Disclaimer:  I received a sampling of 8 small Schleich farm and wild life figures for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

City Museum

The email had been forwarded through several homeschool groups and individuals before we learned of an opportunity to visit the City Museum in St. Louis for $5.00 per person.  Everyone who had been raved about it and the savings on the tickets would more than cover our gas.   Schnickelfritz and I set out on our adventure not knowing what would be in store.

Whoever dreamed of calling this place a museum???  I've been to museums---they are stately places where people walk slowly and speak in whispers and children are told "For Heaven sake, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!!"   At the city museum you are not only encouraged to touch, but to climb on, crawl through and explore every nook and cranny.  If people were whispering it couldn't be heard above the laughter and intermittent calls "I'm here, where are you?"  You knew this wasn't an ordinary museum when you pull up and see the school bus dangling over the edge of the roof.

The building used to hold a shoe factory but it's found new life, new use and is filled with other objects being recycled in ways never originally conceived.  The outside is a climbers paradise.  You can travel through steel tubes to visit the skeletons of two planes, a firetruck, and trams I'm sure I rode on at Grant's Farm.  Schnickelfritz was determined to climb as high as he could--about six stories in the air.

At the summit he yelled down "I'm never going this way again!"  Less than two hours later he called out "Remember what I said earlier?  Well, I've changed my mind about it."  It seems he had to conquer his fears and scale the heights again.

Inside on the first floor are mazes of holes and tunnels.  Now Fritz and I have been in tight squeezes before when we went to the Cave in Rockwoods reservation, There were a few instances where I had to send him ahead and find a roomier alternate route for myself.   One half of the floor is themed with aquatic animals dominated by a large white whale.  Even the floor has mosaic krill.

The other half was designed like a cave--but are they stalactites and stalagmites or giant teeth and spiny backs of dragonlike creatures.

The caves also led to an enormous ten-story spiral slide.  It was orignally used to move materials and shoes from floor to floor but now it delights kids and grown-ups alike.  When you need a rest from all your climbing and crawling there are a few "sit down" activities.  Today we saw a magic show but other days there is also a gymnastic circus.  Little ones can ride a miniature train.  In the section known as "Art City" you can express your creative side with clay, paint or make paper masks.  I visited the Snowflake Lady.  Her little room was covered with a blizzard of handcut snowflakes.  You may have done this activity as a kid--folding paper and cutting out notches.  Trust me when I say she has taken it to a new level.

In this one photo you can see the snowflakes are actually made up of koalas, tiger faces, dolphins, sharks, lizards, and other creatures.  Other themes are leaves, insects, and musical instruments.  She has the paper all folded for you and you just have to cut on the solid lines.  She'll even laminate your snowflake to protect it on the trip home.  I also sat in our her rag doll making class (Fritz was off riding the train).  All the materials are included in the museum admission.  You can purchase books of her snowflake and doll patterns to make other projects at home.

Before we even left the parking lot Fritz was asking when we'd take our next trip to the City Museum.
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