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.
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