Monday, April 30, 2012

J is for Jenga Blocks

Do you remember playing Jenga growing up?  I seem to recall spending a New Year's Eve party with the church's youth group, seeing how tall we could build a tower of blocks without it tumbling.   I still had my set when Schnickelfritz was born so I turned it over to him when he reached the building with blocks age.  Trust me when I say he's taken Jenga blocks to a whole new level.  I started buying more sets.  You can't believe how cheap they are to come by--one block gets lost and they end up at a garage sale for a quarter.  We probably have 7 or 8 sets now, some plain and some in primary colors.

Sometimes he uses them for two dimensional art, like this outline of the state of Missouri.

Other times he builds up.  He went through a phase where he'd wath You Tube videos of roller coasters and then build his own--sometimes with the wooden tracks from his Thomas trains and sometimes with Jenga pieces serving as tracks.  Last year he entered a highway interchange phase as you can see below.

He's even created his own Jenga font--letters and numbers, so he can track the contestants and points on his favorite show--Fetch with Ruff Ruffman. 

I can alway's trace Fritz's activities for the day by following the trail of blocks left behind (they usually travel in groups of four).  It's a quiet activity, it encourages imagination,  and I don't have to replace batteries all the time.  Someday if you find out Schnickelfritz has designed the latest, greatest roller coaster at a theme park near you, you'll know it all started with a set of Jenga blocks.

Be sure to check out the other J posts at Ben and Me.

Backup, Backup, Backup

This week's blog cruise question is very near and dear to my heart--What is my favorite record-keeping tip?  Rather than calling it "favorite,"  I might choose to call it most important: backup, backup, backup.  I live in a state that requires me to document 1000 hours of school each year--broken down into core and non-core subjects, taught in our regular school location and not.  To accomplish this, I use a program (designed by a fellow Missourian) called Edu-Track.  I've written more about the actual record keeping process in another Blog Cruise post called "If It Ain't Written Down, It Ain't Happening." 

In the post I mention that I try to have the bulk of my scheduling done before the school year begins.  I can edit my printed schedule and then print a final, accurate copy of our core and non-core hours to keep in a binder.  The program prompts me to make regular back-ups and I do so to an external hard drive.  Well, this past February my laptop drive crashed.  While attempting to salvage any files still available, something wrote over my copies on the external back up drive as well.   At first I mourned the loss of over three years of family pictures.  Later I realized that our school records were just as vital.

I'd gotten lazy by this point in the year and hadn't been printing out updated schedules.  We were fortunate that we'd replaced the hard drive last year and still had the old one to put back in the laptop--but everything after January of 2011 was gone.  I had to reconstruct all of this school year and half of Schnickelfritz's second grade records.  Fortunately I had this blog and my personal calendar and could find special field trips we'd taken.  I'm sure I've missed some books that were read and extra-curricular activities.  In an effort to simplify entries, I've left out a lot of details--now the entry just says the Mystery of History lesson number, not the lesson's subject.

Going forward we'll backup the system on a CD as well as the external hard drive.  I'll be more diligent about printing out updated schedules.  Perhaps you think "This will never happen to me, I keep a written journal."  Well, things can happen to paper as well--fire, flood, tornado.  If keeping records is required by your state perhaps you should scan the pages of your journal and keep it on CD as well.  Whatever format your records take, make sure you keep a backup (no, make that two backups).

You can see what record keeping tips from others on the Homeschool Crew by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: Balance Math Teaches Algebra

It was a happy day in our home when we learned we'd be reviewing Critical Thinking Press.  We use their Building Thinking skills, Reading Detective, and Editor in chief products already.  We've never used their math products before so this was an adventure.  Our book is Balance Math Teaches Algebra.  You're probably thinking "Algebra,  my kid won't be ready for algebra for years!"  Let me stop you right there--the book is recommended for 4th grade and up.  If you child knows all the math facts for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing he or she can handle this book (or at least start it).

With math, it is often easier to learn new concepts with in a concrete format--you probably started with counting blocks or forks in your house too.  So algebra is presented as a balance beam:  on either side of the beam are shapes and or numeric values and since the beam is balanced the two sides must be equal.

In the first problem we see X on one side and 50 on the other.  The beam is balanced so X equals 50.  Then two X's must equal 2 times 50 or 100. 

 None of the problems involved exponents (X squared or cubed) so as long as you know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, you'll be able to isolate the unknown.

I'll confess I was more thrown by this format because I've studied algebra before.  When I see an X and a Y next to each other like this (XY)  I assume it means X times Y, but in this book with the shapes around them it means X plus Y.   Since all this is new to my Schnickelfritz, he did fine (but I wonder if he'll be hampered when he does switch to standard algebra equations?)  I would have preferred they added the + signs for all the balances, not just adding an unknown shape to a number

To make the learning even more concrete, I cut out shapes from Card stock, laminated them, and applied magnets to the back so we could use them on our chalkboard.  As you can see below, there are also half circles and triangles to represent 1/2X and 1/2Y.   (Note to husband:  See Honey, I can use my Cricut for educational purposes). 

Let's look more closely at the problem on the left.

Fritz can see that the top balance has 2 Y's and 2 X's on one side, the other holds 20 (which is the same as 2 tens).  The first thing to do is divide both sides by 2.  He can physically remove an X and Y and cross out the 20 and write 10 in it's place.

On the next beam we can replace the Y and X with 10 since we just discovered that balance above.  Then to isolate the Z we subtract 10 from both sides.  Now we see Z = 15.

On the last beam Z + Z must equal 15 + 15, or 30.

The whole process seems more like a game or puzzle than a math lesson.  The 52 activities in the book do get progressively harder so it's important to do them in order.

Balance Math Teaches Algebra is available for $14.99.  The perforated pages can be removed and reproduced (permission is granted on the website).   As I've mentioned, we love their other products as well and you can read what others on the Homeschool Crew think about some of them by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To the Bat Cave!!

Have you ever noticed the pictures on the sides of U-Haul trucks and trailers?  They usually promote national landmarks or tourist attractions in the states and provinces.  They call them Super Graphics and you can learn more about them here.  You can even play your own version of the license plate game by seeing how many different states you can spot on road trips.  The newest designs focus more on natural features in each state--like the new one unveiled last weekend for Missouri.  It features a red bat and echolocation.  Apparently U-Haul offers an educational opportunity when it reveals new graphics.  We took part in their Bat program at Onondaga Cave

with more than 100 other homeschoolers (public school kids were invited in the morning so I don't know how many students there were in all).

The Organization for Bat Conservation traveled down from Michigan with their displays and live animals.  The lady below gave a brief power point presentation before introducing us to two special guests...

This is a Big Brown Bat, the "Big" is part of the name to distinguish it from the Little Brown Bat, but you can see that it's really not that large.  The bats of North America are all considered microbats.  The large ones, like you see chasing Indiana Jones,  live in South America and Asia (and are all fruit bats, so Indy really didn't need to run unless he had a banana hidden in his fedora).  Next she brought out the dreaded Vampire Bat ...
who was not much bigger and really nothing to be scared of.  Incidentally, she keeps these bats with her in her motel room and has to feed them.  The Big Brown Bat gets meal worms and the Vampire  Bat drinks cows blood.  My mind wondered to the thought of an unsuspecting hotel maid getting ready to restock the mini-bar and finding vials of blood inside.  What must she think?

The presenter had a little device that could detect ultrasound and play it in a frequency that humans can hear.  These bats were so used to being handled and being around humans that they were very quiet, but when she fed the meal worms the brown bat started clicking.  I don't know if it was searching for more food or just knew it was time to perform.

Our next learning station was outside.  A large tent was filled with over sized models of bat heads (which really don't seem aerodynamic up close), stuffed bats, free shirts featuring the bat Super Graphic and more.

Here's my Schnickelfritz seeing how loud a tent full of kids can be when you have over sized ears.  He's pretty sensitive to loud noises anyway so the grimace on his face is real.

Here we're learning how scientists capture and study bats.  Each child had a bag with a toy or model bat inside.  They had to weigh the bat and describe it and then the volunteer would find the species in her guide book  (it helped that she knew what the answers were supposed to be in case the descriptions weren't accurate).

Finally we got to go in the cave.  I think it's more beautiful than Meramec Caverns and the lighting is natural--not the colored lights that M.C. uses.  We had a shortened tour (but it was FREE so I'm not complaining).  When we turned around to work our way back out of the cave, the guide asked if any of us has spotted the dormant bat on our way in.  It turns out we were all oblivious to a bat sleeping just a few inches away from our heads.  On our return trip, the guide pointed it out with his flashlight.

I'm sad to say that White Nose syndrome has been detected in Missouri caves this year.  The fungus doesn't kill the bats directly, but apparently irritates the bats so they wake up from hibernation during the winter.  They use up fat reserves trying to remove the fungus or search for insects to eat and end up dying of starvation.   In an effort to slow the disease, the Cave State may end up having to close caves to the public.  I'm not what you'd call a tree-hugger, but I'd hate to lose access to such wonders of God's creation (or have to deal with all the extra bugs that now won't be eaten if the bat population plummets).  So check out the Organization for Bat Conservation and see how you can help.  In the meantime, look for a Missouri Bat on a U-Haul on your next road trip.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I is for Immigrant's Letter

Long before there was a TV show called “who Do You Think You Are” or or Family Tree Maker,  my family has had a passion for learning about the past (granted, it’s gotten easier since those things have arrived).  They would visit old country cemeteries and look through old church records.  We spent a recent family reunion browsing through attendance records and teacher’s notes from the one-room schoolhouse my grandparents attended.   There’s the story of one relative that hid in a cave rather than be conscripted in the Confederate Army while a younger boy had to drive a wagon load of salt to the Confederates before he was allowed to return home.  One of our dearest treasures is a letter written in 1851  by my great-great-great grandfather.  The story of how we got the letter is fascinating in itself:  Johann Kuhlenhoelter wrote back to friends and relatives back in Germany about the wonderful opportunities of life in Missouri.  In case anyone wanted to join him, he gave 19th century directions to the farm—

“…take a bout on the Mississippi to St. Louis, from St. Louis he has to take a boat on the Missouri river to Herman, from Herman on foot circa 7 hours to Second Creek.  From second creek I am three quarters of an hour away.” 

A descendant of the letter’s recipient brought the letter with him when he vacationed to the United States more than 150 years later.  He stopped at the county historical society and asked if there was anyone around with the same last name.  Because of our family’s research trips to the society, they knew my grandmother would be interested.  They even helped us find a translator for the letter.

The letter itself is long and rambling—apparently in those days (at least in Germany)  the recipient had to pay a steep fee before the letter was handed over.  Johann wrote to the one who could best afford to pay and asked him to share the news with everyone else, answering their questions helter-skelter. There are also some issues in translation that make the phrasing sound awkward but there are a few passages I’d like to share----

Mid August 1851
In the name of Jesus
Yes, Lord, in your hands are my beginning and my end—and also while I am writing this letter.  Jesus Christ the crucified, the true Savior, or only salvation in life and in death, be with all who seek thee and who love Him with all their hearts.  To live with the most beautiful among the living and in true belief and love to trust Him, that—wishes you your least worthy brother (Johann Otto Kulenhoelter) with all his heart. 

First let me pause to say “How cool is that?”  It sounds like the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians, not some farmer letting the folks back home know he’s okay.  It just proves God’s promise in Proverbs 20:7 “The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.”  (I can say that as a great-great-great granddaughter.  Even my son, another generation, has accepted Christ as his savior).

Of course everyone back home is curious about life in the states.  Johann writes about the weather, his crops, his farm...

 My beloved readers--it is a rare occasion to read about the conditions of this country.  How one lives and what is happening here...therefore the reader in Germany cannot get the whole picture and remains doubtful and confused.  Even I cannot give you everything I know, because my time and the paper is limited. 

Nobody will find America to be the way we all thought it would be.  I live in the State of Missouri.  As you look at the map, this is a southern state of America.  The longest days here are about two hours shorter than the longest days in Germany.  From that you can conclude that the climate is a lot warmer here and the winters not so cold and long lasting.  The weather here is quite changeable, and we have a lot of thunderstorms.  Spring comes a little earlier than in Germany.  Crops come here to an end much earlier.  Grain, for instance, is ready to be brought in by the end of June.  Oats can be harvested in the middle of July.  Maize is one of the main crops and can be planted around March to June.  The plants are separated by around 4-5 feet, because the whole plant can be about 10-12 feet high, and even higher at times.  This way you can keep the underbrush from spreading out between plants, and you can plow on both sides just using one horse.  When you start the plants, you have to keep the ground raked, which you can do with small rakes or a mall pick ax.  But whoever is too lazy to take the time and look after the plants has only himself to blame.  In good times and with good care an acre can produce up to 60 or 80 bushels, even more if there is some top soil.

Wheat and oats don't grow here as well as in Germany.  It must be the heat--they ripen much too fast.  And one doesn't change the ground as much as one does in Germany. Corn can be grown in the same spot for several years.  Germans will grow potatoes, Americans don't even try.  I haven't seen brown cabbage grown here but white cabbage grows very will and all like it.  Peas are grown here also, but like beans, they are more likely eaten by Germans than Americans.  But they are not considered to be the main meal.

Main meals here consist of pork, fried or cooked, with bread, which is made various ways.  It's not baked in the oven, but made in pots and pans and consists of flour of various grains.  Coffee, eggs and sweet milk and butter is good in the summer time, when everything like that is in plenty supply.  In the morning one drinks the coffee first and then makes sandwiches with various meats.  Now, in the spring we eat eggs, fried or boiled, because there are so many chickens and they lay many eggs, and it goes on all day.  Now the reader shouldn't get angry--it's the truth, we have meat with every meal.  Same in the wintertime.  Then we have plenty of sausages.

Anyone can live like that, even if you come to this country without a penny to your name.  Granted, not quite as much in the first year, a little more in the second year, but in the 3rd and 4th year everything will be improving, because the livestock has been started and is growing.  And this happened with much less work than in Germany.  Dear reader, America is a country which leads poor and honest people to the road of prosperity. From the food that is just enough to the food that's plenty.

Now you would like to know how much I have.  I have restored 8 acres of pretty good land.  On all 8 acres I have planted corn, because it brought me the best reward.  I had more than 50 bushels from last year...On my grounds I have 3 little houses, the biggest is the size of your living room Bernd.  That is the henhouse, then I have a horse house and then my house where we live.  I will build another 2 houses this year--a larger house for ourselves and a house where I can keep my grains.  I want to build two  more-- a larger horse house and a smoke house.  And when the Lord is willing I will have 5 more acres and a meadow, but not all in one year, and only if the Lord says yes.  My livestock is rather small.  I have one horse, two oxen, two cows with calves and two more cattle.  This fall I will buy two more small oxen.  I have not been lucky with pigs.  I have all together only 14.  It should have been 30.  Sheep I don't have at all.  I had 2 the first year, but I sold them because they are hard to keep because of wolves.

Dear Brothers, I need to answer your questions:  How does a man start to live and earn if he comes here without money?  I will tell you--nobody puts you and your things into the cold and leaves you there.  The oldest farmers take the newcomers into their houses and keep you there until you have worked the ground and have put a house on it.  

[ Imagine that...neighbors helping neighbors.  No one asking the government for a handout...I'm just saying.  Johann concludes with the American dream, but with a Christian twist]

If I would have stayed in Germany you know what my fate would have been.  I would have been a day worker, and how hard that kind of life is you know yourself.  Here I don't need to pay rent to anyone, no money to pay for wood, no money to rent some land.  And I don't even need to buy bread.  Here I am every day with my family, here I use my own livestock to work the land.  No police will come by, no miner boss and no judge of farmers will appear.  No farmer will employ me and fire me at will and nobody can evict me from my house.  In this free county I don't take my hat off to anybody but my Lord.  In this free country anybody can worship his belief as he pleases.

Now I am getting to my last page.  Anyone reading this letter will have to see how he wants to see the truth, because I have not written this letter to antagonize nor to entice anyone.  He who has the notion and the ability to leave, should leave the misery of Germany and come--in God's name and fortified with prayers, and with faith in HIM, you will make the crossing over the Atlantic into this large, wide country.  There is room enough for millions of people who wish to live free and not worry about food and drink.  Whoever doesn't want to come, nor has the means to come, will have to stay in Germany.  When the days of your life are up, it doesn't matter where on dies, in Germany or America.  It depends on who is the boss: belief in God or belief in man, the Holy Ghost or one's own pursuit, if we are children of God or the children of Satan.  Nobody will ask you that but you have to ask yourself that question.

I remain--for the grace of God, the least of your brothers,
Johann-Otto Kuhlenhoelter

Someday I will get to meet this ancestor of mine in heaven  and I will thank him for having the courage to come to this new land and also for the heritage of faith that he passed down. 

This was week 9 of the Ben & Me's ABC challenge.  Check her blog to see what others have come up with.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Amazing Science

I've blogged before about the benefits of educational DVD's when I was feeling under the weather.  It's easy to find movies that cover history, but science is another matter.  So I was excited to get Amazing Science Volume 1 from   There are 23 experiments (each 6-16 minutes long) on 2 DVDs.  I figured you'd like to know exactly what they are.  I've added my own coding after the titles: WOW--high wow factor for viewers, CH--uses common household items,  PG--parental guidance needed because of fire or other hazards.

  1. Color Changing Milk (WOW, CH) -- Food coloring allows us to see the movement of molecules when dish soap reacts with milk.
  2. Egg in a Bottle (WOW, CH, PG)-- Burning matches create a vacuum in a bottle, sucking a hard boiled egg through a seemingly too narrow opening.
  3. Exploring Air Pressure (CH) -- Two cups completely filled with water are stacked open ends together.  The water of the inverted cup doesn't leak out till air is introduced via a straw.
  4. Build a Lemon Battery (CH) --  Acid interacting with two different metals creates a weak current of electricity.  Several Lemon batteries can run a calculator.
  5. Inverted Cup of Water (WOW, HC) -- A piece of cardboard (or plastic) is placed over a full cup of water and everything is inverted.  Not only does the cardboard stay in place but the water doesn't leak out.  (I've seen this performed as a  magic trick and it's simply physics).
  6. Candle Suction Power (HC, PG) - A burning candle is placed in a dish of water.  A clear glass is placed over the candle.  When the flame dies out, the water creeps up the sides of the glass.
  7. Amazing Magnetic Force (WOW) --  You need a copper tube and a neodymium magnet. Rather than simply fall through the tube, the magnet gracefully floats down--seemingly defying gravity, despite the fact that copper is not magnetic.
  8. Lift Ice Cube with String (HC) - Table salt changes the freezing point of ice long enough to melt and refreeze around a string.
  9. Unburnable Money (WOW, PG)-- Paper (or money) is wrapped around a copper pipe and held over a flame.  The copper dissipates the heat rapidly enough the the paper doesn't reach its combustion point.
  10. Matchstick Speedboat (WOW, HC)--A wooden matchstick (or some black pepper) allows us to see how dish soap breaks the surface tension of a bowl of water.  (The pepper is more eye-catching than the matchstick).
  11. Cloud in a bottle (WOW, HC, PG) -- After coating the interior of a two liter bottle with rubbing alcohol, you use a bicycle pump to increase the air pressure in the bottle.  When you remove the pump and the pressure decreases, an instant cloud forms in the bottle.  (PG so little ones don't think the alcohol is water and try to drink it).
  12. Reverse an Image with Water (WOW, HC) --Draw several arrows on a sheet of paper and look at it through an empty glass.  When you add water to the glass, the arrows suddenly appear to point in the opposite direction.
  13. Floating Eggs (HC)--By adding salt to a glass of water, we change its density allowing eggs that previously sand to the bottom to now float (This demo is much cheaper than a trip to the Dead Sea, but it's more fun when you're the floating object).
  14. Keeping Paper Dry Under Water (HC)--Presented as more of an "I bet I can..." proposition, the paper is crumpled up and stays dry in the air pocket of an inverted glass.
  15. Dry Ice Bubbles (WOW, PG)--Probably the most mesmerizing effect on the disk (watch the video below).  The dry ice vapor is trapped in a bubble which sinks instead of floating away.  I don't know which is more fun--watching the bubble form or pop. Parental Guidance because of the dry ice.
  16.  Balloon in a Candle Flame (HC, PG)--Hold an inflated balloon over a candle and it pops, but add one simple ingredient inside the ballon and it won't.
  17. Ocean in a Bottle (HC)--You may have seen these commercially available but now make your own with oil and water.
  18. Build a Motor with Lights--By stacking a battery, a nail, and a neodymium magnet and connecting the battery and magnet with wire, you can make the magnet spin at great speed.  You can make it flashier by adding a flat battery and LED lights.
  19. Simple Lava Lamp -- (HC)You may not be old enough to remember the original lava lamps.  This version doesn't have the large globs floating up and down.  It's a much smaller and simpler version that uses oil, water and salt.
  20. Invisible Ink (WOW, HC)  I suppose making secret writing appear is always visually appealing to kids.  They may like to pass secret messages to friends or siblings.
  21. Density Tower (HC)--several liquids of different densities are color and placed in a jar.  Then items are dropped into the jar to see in which layer of liquid they rest.
  22. Soda Can Fizz (HC)--We've all faced the problem of how to open a dropped or shaken can.  Here we learn it's more effective to tap the sides rather than the bottom of the can first.
  23. Build a Motor #2 -- A similar spinning motor like experiment 18, but this one can stand on a table and spin on its own.

While watching the videos with my Schnickelfritz I noticed an emerging pattern.  He would be attentive during the "performance" of the experiment itself but often tuned out the rationalization--sometimes even leaving the room.  That was all right with me.  At his age I'd rather he develop a fascination with science then nail down the facts behind the experiment.  With younger kids it might be better to view the video alone and then do the experiment yourself based on the example just for the wow factor.  Older students studying physics or chemistry may benefit from the very thorough explanation.  You can decide for yourself which experiments to try in your home, but you can still benefit from the more complicated or dangerous ones by watching the DVD.

The 2 DVD set is $19.95 (plus shipping) or you can download the videos for $17.99.  There are many other products that have been reviewed by the Homeschool Crew in the past.  You can see my reviews of  Young Minds: Numbers & Counting and The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor DVD's or you can see what other Crew members think of Amazing Science by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Amazing Science for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: God's Great Covenant

Two years ago my son volunteered to run sound for children's church on Sunday mornings.  Part of the agreement in being accepted for the privilege/responsibility was to commit to a daily Bible study.  We were both excited by the opportunity to review Classical Academic Press' Bible course for kids--God's Great Covenant.

Our text says New Testament 1: The Gospels on the cover which leads me to think at least one more volume is in the works (there are already two Old Testament volumes in their catalog).  We received paperbacks of the student and teacher's editions and a download of the student text audio files.
The complete student text actually appears miniaturized in the teacher's book--the surround space is used for notes and space for note-taking.  Pages showing student worksheets have the answers filled in.

Teacher's Edition
 The one thing the teacher's edition does not provide is any guidance in how to present the material to the student, which put me slightly out of my comfort zone.  I decided to spend a week going through all the aspects of the introduction and then jump to the chapters covering Palm Sunday through the Resurrection.

Can I just say how much the introduction helped me?  It shouldn't be skipped.  Each section helped explain a different aspect of the setting of the Gospels:
  • Historical & Political
  • Chronological events of Christ's life & ministry
  • Geographical
  • Religious
  • Daily Life
I've been a Christian for 40 years and no one has ever explained to me how we went from priests and prophets in the Old Testament to Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes in the New.  When Jesus was born, King Herod was on the throne in Jerusalem but by the time he was a man there was a Roman procurator in charge.  How did that happen?  (Answer: Herod the Great's kingdom was divided between his three sons.  The one in charge of Palestine caused so much trouble he was banished to Gaul by the Roman emperor who then appointed procurators to oversee the region).

Each of the 36 Chapter/lessons follows the same format.  Page one lists the Theme, Scripture referenced, Memory Passage, Key Facts, and Prophecy Fulfilled.  Next is Story Time--events from the life of Christ written as a narrative compiled from all the gospels.  There are usually two pages of Review Worksheets with fill-in the blank and multiple choice questions.

The lessons have been organized into four units.  After 8 lessons in the format described above the 9th lesson has a brief review and then several more detailed worksheets, including a place to write out the memory passages and what they mean.  Then comes Simon's World--insight into daily living as told by a fictional young boy living in a fictional town in Galilee. 

With 36 lessons, God's Great Covenant could certainly be a year long Bible Study--although I don't think there's enough material to make it a daily study.  There's no syllabus or calendar however so you can cover the lessons as quickly as you desire.  I wanted to get through the events of Holy Week so I actually read the Story Times for all those lessons on the day they would have occurred.  I usually read from the Teacher's edition so I could check the notes and see if there was any information I wanted to add.  Then  Fritz answered the review questions orally.  We didn't go into the depth available by also reading the Key Facts or the Bible passages.   

Schnickelfritz always enjoyed the lessons that included maps and I was particularly pleased that he was able to do well on the review questions (sometimes I wonder how well he pays attention when I'm reading aloud).  In the event that I couldn't read the stories myself I was able to download the MP3 audio files to my Kindle and Fritz could listen to them on his own.  The course is written for students in fourth grade and up, but you could certainly include younger students by reading aloud or letting them use the audio files. 

The prices for God's Great Covenant are:

  • Student's Text  $26.95
  • Teacher's Edition $29.95
  • Audio Files Download $9.95
Or you can save about 15% and get all three bundled for $56.95.  There are samples of all the products available at the Classical Academic Press website.   You can read what other Homeschool Crew members thought about God's Great Covenant by clicking here.

Disclaimer:  I received free copies of the products described above for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinions.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

H is for Home Management Binder

Here week are at week 8 of the ABC challenge at Ben and Me.  My H is for Home Management Binder.

I have to confess that I am not a naturally organized person (I'll pause here a moment to allow those who know me well to get up off the floor and quit laughing at my stating the obvious).  I do see the benefits of being organized  --  school can go much faster when you don't have to search for the book, the pencil, the whatever;  there aren't as many heart palpitations when the doorbell rings and you're nervous the person on the other side will see the dirty dishes on the table,  you don't waste money on fines for library books that aren't returned on time or late fees for the electric bill.  I'm usually pretty good when it comes to things that cost me money, but lately I've been slipping up so perhaps it's time I kept my brain in a binder.

If there's something you truly can't afford to forget--WRITE IT DOWN.  Then you have to take that further step and make sure what you've written it on doesn't get lost.  So I went to my local office supply store and purchased a perky, green three-ring binder to collect those "do not lose" papers.  So far the sections I know I need are :
  • Phone numbers for utilities, doctors, other members of the co-op, etc.
  • A calendar with appts, field trips, and other not to be missed events
  • A check off list of monthly bills to be paid and their due dates
  • a calendar to track when I have reviews due and other blogging deadlines
  • A list of household chores--I just don't come by this naturally

I started by looking through the pages of my Schoolhouse Planner (which has plenty of non-schooling related forms).   There's the library item list (is it a homeschooler thing or a bibliophile thing, but I go to the library more than once a week so nothing I get has the same due date).   I also printed out medical history forms,  shopping lists,  chore charts, and phone/address pages.  Then I went online to find recommendations for how frequently to do certain household chores (not the frequency with which I was currently doing them obviously) and wrote them on calendar pages.  Now I at least have a reasonable shot at remember to clean the refrigerator coils or change the furnace filter.

Here's my own contribution to a Home Management Binder, two-sided sheets where I list all my family's favorite recipes and where I can find them under the appropriate category .   This way we don't forget a favorite just because it's in a cookbook I don't crack open often.  The Planned Over pages are for recipes that use meats left over from a roast on a previous night--cooked, chopped chicken for example.  It's a great place to list what you're going to do with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  On the protein type pages there is a column to list the specific cuts of meat and amount to purchase.   This way when you see a  sale price on meat you'll know immediately what recipes you can prepare.

Recipe Organizer Printable

Speaking of sale prices, if it's really a stock up value you may want to buy more than you can consume in a week (or would care to, who wants pork chops five nights in a row?).  There's a column labeled Freeze?  I may a check mark if the dish can be assembled ahead of time and frozen to cook and serve later.  You'll want to check back May when I present 5 Days of Freezer Cooking and part of the Homeschool Crew's Blog Hop.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I just wrote my first letter to the editor

The ACLU has finally noticed my little county of Missouri and threatened to sue if they don't stop praying before the start of comissioner meetings (I guess they know we're too small to afford the court costs and hope we'll back down without a fight).  There have been a number of letters to the editor being printed on both sides of the issue.  Someone wrote the editor of our local paper saying the Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves that prayer would take place in "government."  Since this falls into the category of "Things never taught in schools"  I thought I would educate my fellow citizen.  Here's my response:

Northernrepublican [author of the letter to which I was responding]  should do a little research before speculating the Founding Fathers would be “rolling in their graves” at prayer at a public meeting.
The first act of the first session of the Continental Congress was to pass the following resolution—

Tuesday, September 6, 1774.—Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Duche be desired to open Congress tomorrow morning with prayer, at Carpenter’s Hall, at nine o’clock.

At the Constitutional Convention (June 28th, 1787) Benjamin Franklin rose to say:

"I therefore beg leave that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

In the first session of the first Congress under the Constitution the following was passed:

September 25, 1789—Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceable to establish a constitution of government for their safety and happiness.

As you can see by public records, the Founding Fathers were quite comfortable with the idea of praying in official meetings of the government, no matter what the ACLU has to say.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Earth Rocks!

Last fall, Schnickelfritz and I had a grand ol' time doing magnetism experiments and activities found in Primarily Magnets by Aims Education Foundation.  This past month we've had the opportunity to review another AIMS publication--Earth Rocks!  The book is filled with activities integrating math and science for 4th and 5th graders (My son had no difficulties handling the tasks as a third grader, so don't let that stop you).

The key word in the title is "Earth" as the lessons go beyond just Rocks & Minerals, although that is one of the chapters.  Other Chapter headings are:  
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Earth Changes
  • Resources
  • Pollution
Each of the 50 lessons follow the same format.  The first two pages are directed to the teacher listing, among other things: The Learning Goal, Integrated Processes, and Materials Needed.  The section entitles Management lets you know the prep work to be done before the lesson.  This is followed by Procedure- step by step instructions on completing the activity with kids (some procedures may take several days).  The teacher section ends with Connecting Learning questions to ask the kids--these are not simple yes/no questions your student will need to use several complete sentences.

After the teacher section are sample pages for student handouts.  Some fold up into mini-books while others provide space to collect observations from the activities and could be stored in a three ring binder.  There's no need to try and scan these pages--a CD ROM in the back of the book has PDF files of all the handouts.  A few lessons had small black & white photos in the book but the PDF files had color photos.  I noticed each lesson had a handout page of the Connecting Learning questions but these was no space provided for the student to write an answer. 

Schnickelfritz and I tried to of the experiments--"Growing Crystals" and  "Many are Metamorphic" for the Rocks & Minerals section (because we already had all the necessary materials on hand).  Both were successful, that is we were able to answer the questions based on our observations.  I wish the Management and Procedures sections for the crystal growing had had a little more guidance.  We were instructed to place a curled pipe cleaner into out supersaturated solution of Epsom salts.   I don't know if we needed to have the pipe cleaner standing up out of the solution or if we added too much salts to the water.  When we went to observe the crystals, it appeared the pipe cleaner was encased in a solid mass rather than crystals growing on its chenille stem.  We could see the texture was finer on the jars placed in cooler spaces-which was the point of the experiment. 

We had much better success with "Many are Metamorphic" and honestly we didn't care because we could eat our project afterwards--success or failure.  We began by creating a variation of  rice crispy treats by adding craisins, toffee chips and M&Ms.

Metamorphic rocks are forms when pre-existing rocks are changed by head and/or pressure.  After our treats were completely cooled, Fritz tried to "smash" some with his hands and stepping on them.  We ended with a few cracked M&Ms and a little compression.  Next we applied heat.  The book suggests using an iron but I found our panini maker worked great.  Now the changes were dramatic ( they might have been even more so with plain M&Ms instead of the peanut variety).

Note:  You need to resist the intense urge to look at the results before they completely cool.  Our first attempt stuck to the foil and we couldn't compare anything.

Earth Rocks! is geared toward use in a classroom and I had some concern that it would be filled with "millions of years" rhetoric.  I'm pleased to say it is barely mentioned and the few cases I found were in the teacher's section so I could simply omit it from our lessons.

The book is $29.95 in paperback or PDF download format.  Most consumable materials can be found in your home.  They do recommend rock and mineral kits but we simply studied photos of rocks in the books we had on hand.  Others  had the opportunity to review other titles so you'll want to be sure and visit the Homeschool Crew blog and see what they think of their products.

Disclaimer: I recieved a free copy of Earth Rocks! for the purposes of completing this review.  I recieved no other compensation for my honest opinions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

G is for Graphic Toolbox

My first year on the Homeschool Crew we reviewed a software product called Graphics Toolbox.  I was familiar with digital photos and programs to correct and refine them, but at the time I wondered how homeschoolers would really use GT’s features.  Now I can honestly say I can’t imagine doing school (or writing this blog) without Graphic Toolbox.  In fact when my computer crashed, my first concern after losing family pictures was how I’d make notebooking pages and other worksheets without my digital desktop software.

Unlike Photoshop or Photoshop Elements where things are kept in layers, GT  working space is like a giant desk top and you can move and manipulate pictures, text and graphics around.  Once they’ve overlapped however, they become one piece so I have blank lapbook templates saved in one folder and I immediately re-save the image under a new name before I start working with it.

A lot of my projects deal with my son’s Royal Rangers merit badges.  The work they do at outpost meetings usually involve camping skills, but there are a lot of academic merits that we can incorporate into our school.  I try to create a notebook for each merit that we can show the Commander to prove Schnickelfritz has learned the information/ or done the activity.  Here are some pages for Astronomy that I made from scratch.  It’s so easy to scan pictures from textbooks or download from the internet and draw lines for Fritz to write his answers.  Once I built the template, I could switch out pictures for additional pages.  I even flipped the page over to make a corresponding layout for a two page spread.

I don’t always need to start from scratch either.  One requirement asked Fritz to list each planet, its relative size and distance from the sun, the length of its day and year and one other interesting fact.  The Solar System Detective worksheet in Considering God’s Creation had just about all the details I needed so I scanned it into GT and rearranged some things to fit our exact needs.

You can see I :
  • Changed the title area to the merit requirement
  • Eliminated the orbits of the planets and flipped the planets and sun moving them to the top of the page
  • Added lines for writing an Interesting Face
  • Moved the Relative Size label to make more room for the writing lines.
  • Removed the check boxes for Distinctive features
All this took about 10 minutes and now week can fill out a sheet for each planet.

Need to be more organized.  I used Graphic Toolbox to make labels for our workboxes and subject tags so Schnickelfriz can see what work we have for today and what order we'll do it in.

So far, we've only talked about school...I've also used GT to make new labels for may spice jars (you can read the whole post here).

If you like to make a lot of your own notebooking/lapbooking templates I highly recommend Graphics Toolbox.  You can try it free for 30 days and if you have any questions their customer service is top rank (in fact, they won the Seaworthy Award for service from the Homeschool Crew that year). 
Of course, Graphics Toolbox is just one "G" for the ABC challenge.  See what everyone else comes up with by checking out Ben and Me

Sunday, April 1, 2012

History doesn't require NoDoz

I have a confession...growing up I hated history class.  I took more than my fair share--Honors American History, World Civilizations, etc.  The books seemed like an endless list of dates, places, and names  with an occasional battle thrown in.  I could certainly memorize the facts long enough to get an "A" on the text but then I flushed the system out to prepare for the next chapter.  Then one day in my Junior year we had one of the school secretaries subbing in class.  I don't know that she had any formal training, but she obviously had a love for English history.  She threw the scope and sequence out the window and began telling tales about the mysterious disappearance of two princes in the Tower of London and Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine days between Henry VIII's son Edward and bloody Mary.  Suddenly these historic figures had flesh on their bones.  When I set out to teach history to my own son, I wanted to make sure I did it in a way that wouldn't require him to take NoDoz.  I've found some great products to help me.

History Via the Scenic Route

I'm sorry to say I think this 4 cassette workshop by Diana Waring is out of print, but I did find several used copies listed on Amazon and eBay.  I know the Indianapolis library used to have a copy and maybe other large libraries still do.   If you're the type who wants to build your own history curriculum, Diana can help you put "flesh on the bones" by including art and music, making recipes for the time period or county, reading "living books" instead of trying to summarize a lifetime in a single paragraph like textbooks tend to do.  

A modern textbook might mention the Patrick Henry is famous for saying "Give me liberty or give me death,"  that is, if he hasn't been squeezed out of the text entirely.  How much better to hear the whole speech, recited with the passion that sparked the Revolution?  Read it to you kids and if they're old enough, have them learn it themselves.   We read that the pilgrims suffered during the Mayflower voyage or the plight of soldiers during the Civil War and then go on to the next sentence without any thought.  Why not learn to make hardtack biscuits and eat them for every meal one day to see how monotonous it really was?

(Side note:  Diana Waring will be offering monthly history lessons for the new . She just posted on Facebook that April's lessons will be about missionary Betty Greene)

Janet & Geoff Benge Books

The Benges have two great series:  Christian Heroes Then & Now and Heroes of History.  Both series follow the same format: the first chapter ends with a cliff hanger that occurs later in the story--Daniel Boone escapes his Indian kidnappers, John Adams is about to be attacked by English ships at sea,  David Livingstone is attacked by a lion.  Once the reader is hooked, the story goes back to the subjects childhood and he must read several chapters before learning how the problem is resolved.  These books make great read-alouds and more than once I heard "Don't stop now" at bedtime. 

The Heroes of History all deal with Americans (or those who had a part in exploring or colonizing America before it was a country).  They may not all be Christians, but their stories are shared in a Christ honoring way.  Current titles are: John Adams, Clara Barton, George Washington Carver, Meriwether Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, William Penn, Harriet Tubman, George Washington, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Daniel Boone,  Alan Shepard, Benjamin Franklin, Captain John Smith, Christopher Columbus,  Douglas MacArthur, Orville Wright, Ronald Reagan, and Theodore Roosevelt.  The newest title is Davy Crockett. 

Christian Heroes Then & Now all have missionaries as subjects.  If you are studying history by continent, I'm sure you'll be able to find at least one that traveled to your area.  My introduction to the Benge books was a free copy of Gladys Aylward given out free at a homeschool convention (I was at one last week and they still make this offer).  Her real life  was so much better than The Inn of Sixth Happiness loosely based on her story.   I also found that I could read Corrie Ten Boom with my young son when I didn't want to expose him the the brutality found in The Hiding Place

If you choose to make these books the spine of your history studies, YWAM publishers offers separate unit study books that will add geography, creative writing, arts/crafts, and cultural foods to the biographies.

 All through the Ages

As much as I love the Benge's books, there's still a lot of history that they don't cover.  I still want to find living books though.  I could look through homeschool catalogs like Beautiful Feet, Sonlight, or Vision Forum.  Then I could look at lists of  winners of the  Nobel Prize or Newbery Award.  Finally, I could check suggestions in Honey for a Child's Heart or Books Children Love.   I still might not find the time period or biography I'm looking for and now I'm worn out with research.  OR I could look at one resource, All through the Ages by Christine Miller.  The first section of the book lists titles by time period from antiquity to the modern era.  The titles are then broken down by grade level (1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12) and finally listed by Overview, Specific Events, Biography, Historical Fiction, Culture, and Literature of the age.   The author is mentioned and there is a brief sentence to describe the book, followed by a code telling which resource recommended the title.  Here's an example Under the Reformation:

4-6  Biography  Luther the Leader - Virgil Robinson (wonderful children's biography of leader of the Reformation)  VP

The VP stands for Veritas Press.  The second section of the book has titles listed by Geographical area, then comes a section of Science and Math titles, a History of the Arts, and Great Books of Western Civilization.  All in all there are more than 300 pages of recommendations.

I'm please to say I love history now.  My son and I have been learning Missouri History through living books this year:  The Explorations of Pere Marquette,  A Boy for a Man's Job,  The Great Turkey Walk, even Laura Ingalls Wilder's travels from De Smet to Mansfield, MO in On the Way Home.   Be sure to check out the Blog Cruise for other History Resource suggestions.
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