Friday, September 28, 2012

Science Co-op Week #3

Our video this week dealt with Gravity and as I mentioned in my post about the Science of Disney Imagineering  DVD, the experiment on the disk was a little too ambitious.  There was no way we could build a hovercraft in  twenty minutes.  I chose to focus on some center of gravity experiments instead.

  1. The students lined up against the wall with their feet and backs touching the wall surface.  I placed a rock at their feet and asked them to pick it up.  No one could.  In order for us to keep our balance, we must keep our center of gravity over our feet.  When we bend over, we stick our tushes backwards to compensate but that's not possible when you're next to a wall.  As each kid bent forward they stumbled.
  2. This time the kids turned sideways to the wall, with a shoulder and one foot pressed against it.  The test was to see if anyone could lift the foot away from the wall off the ground.  Because no one could lean to the opposite side to keep the center of gravity over the planted foot no one was able to do so.
  3. I had the kids sit in a chair with its back pushed up to the wall.  A partner stood in front of the chair and was supposed to push 1 finger against the forehead of the sitter, preventing him from leaning forward.  In theory, the sitter shouldn't have been able to stand because his center of gravity was over his seat, not his feet.  The kids were either unwilling or unable to apply enough pushing force to the forehead (perhaps I should have had them use the palms of their hands) and so the sitters were able to lean forward enough to eventually stand up.
  4. I turned the chairs sideways against the wall.  A child would lean over the chair with their heads against the wall, lift the chair, and the try to stand up.   This task should be easier for girls, who carry their center of gravity lower than the boys.  Most boys in my class haven't develops big chests and upper bodies so the difference wasn't that extreme.  Then I had the kids wear a back pack and repeat the process.  This time the girls really struggled but the boys could do it easily.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: Homeschool Legacy

I have to say I love the idea of Unit Studies--I think it's a great way for kids to learn when reading, writing, Bible, and history or science are combined to reinforce a topic.  I could just never get it to work in our homeschool.  I could never get everything done at the same time.  Part of that may have to do with my reviewing schedule.  If I dropped science to review a science product then we'd have the study completed except for science---did I just skip it and move on to a new study or did I delay everything else while we caught up science.  After trying for a year I ended up switching to a traditional school approach where each subject stands on its own, but I still like the idea of a Unit Study.

So I was curious to see how the more relaxed format of a Once-a-Week unit study offered by Homeschool Legacy would work for us.  The idea is to take a break from your regular coursework and do unit study activities instead.  This company has a variety of subjects to choose from--several that can help meet the merit requirements for Boys Scouts and American Heritage Girls:  Weather, Birds, Nature, Citizenship, etc.   We received Revolutionary Ideas: The Story of  the American Revolution  ($19.95).  This 7 week course is appropriate for grades 2-12 and includes history, geography, family devotions, drama, language arts, art appreciation, and fun & games .

I thought that was a lot to get done in one day--and to be honest,  it is.  Even the scheduling suggestions included in the PDF file show personal reading and family read-aloud every day and a second day for watching the family movie/playing games and taking a unit study related field trip.  (We don't have any Revolutionary sites in Missouri, but we are going to a colonial re-enactment this week).  
The seven weeks of study are:
  1. Significant Pre-Revolution World Events--the reading deals with The French & Indian War, but the research goes all the way back to the Magna Charta, Age of Exploration, The Great Awakening and more.
  2. The Life & Times of Colonial Americans and Their Taxing King! --can you study the Revolution without hearing "taxation without representation"?  Yes, we cover the Stamp Act & Sugar Act, but I'd never heard about the Proclamation of 1773 or the Quartering Act.
  3. The Firebrands --Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine. One of the book choices is Johnny Tremain, but that's a lot to read in a week so we watched the Disney film instead.
  4. Early Battles and the "Shot heard 'round the world" -- Do most Americans even know "Don't fire til you see the whites of their eyes" occurred before the Declaration of Independence was signed or that Paul Revere shouted the "regulars" not the "British" were coming?
  5. America Declared Her Independence--great study of the Declaration.  Older students are encourages to compare the document to the Magna Charta and the English Declaration of Rights.  Younger students are invited to rewrite portions (like "We hold these truths to be self-evident"  in their own terms.
  6. The Turning Point--The family devotional refers to the victory and Saratoga as the turning point, but the family read-aloud is about Valley Forge.  (side note: we also learn to play Whist, a favorite game of Gen. Washington.  We've always wondered about the game from Around the World in 80 Days).
  7. March to Victory! -- There are still a few biographies--Molly Pitcher, Nathanial Greene, and Francis Marion, then we move on to Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris.  Activities are to prepare for a Revolutionary Party to wrap up the study.

Each week begins with a list of books to select for personal reading.  Even the Dewey Decimal listings are included to make your work minimal.  Some titles have asterisks meaning they are required titles.  Our rural library doesn't have a large selection, but  I could choose books with the same call numbers. For example, we read Lenski's Indian Captive instead of Speare's Calico Captive.   Let me be frank, there's a lot of reading in this unit study.   In week one, Indian Captive is 298 pages for a family read aloud and The Matchlock Gun is 80 pages for my son to read on his own.  Some weeks I only selected one book and made it a read aloud. 

There is also a suggested family movie night film and often a documentary each week.   There's a note if the title is available through Netflix.  As slim as the pickings are on books at our library, the video selection is even smaller.  We do own a copy of Johnny Tremain (which was a recommended title) and we substituted for the rest with pertinent parts of the John Adams mini series, The Crossing (Washington's crossing the Delaware), and Benedict Arnold.

We didn't use many of the family game night suggestions.  Most of them were were period games that may have helped my son imagine what it would be like to grow up in that era, but didn't really teach him about the American Revolution.   The schedule suggests playing them in the evening, but I would save them for the themed wrap up party if I were going to do them at all.

I still love the idea of Unit Studies, but all the reading.....because I was shifting all the other subjects to a 4 day schedule that made those days longer even before we got to the unit study books.   Part of the problem may have been that we weren't reviewing this study in a vacuum.  Schnickelfritz is also in a co-op class reading the Little House series so that added to our reading load.   I did enjoy the materials and we may try one of the other studies that tie into his merit badge work--perhaps over the summer when other courses won't interfere.

Homeschool Legacy currently offers 11 Unit Studies ($15.95-$19.95 for a CD-rom)
  • Birds of a Feather
  • Forest for the Trees
  • Horsing Around
  • Weather on the Move
  • Knights & Nobles
  • Native America
  • Early Settlers
  • Revolutionary Ideas
  • We the People: Getting to know your Constitution 
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Christmas Comes to America

Other Homeschool Crew members reviewed other titles so you'll want to read what they have to say.


Disclaimer: I received a free download of the Revolutionary Ideas unit study for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinions.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Head of the Class (of one)

In the world at large  our small family fits in pretty well, it's only at homeschool events where I feel like a slacker for my brood of one.  Complications from my pregnancy and an eventual hysterectomy means that our homeschool class will only have one student.  The good news is that he's a shoe in for valedictorian, the bad news is we haven't yet figured out how to hold debates or even start a chess club, ha ha.  All kidding aside, let me elaborate a little on the positives and negatives of homeschooling an only child.


  • With only one student, my attention never has to be divided.  We can plow through all our subjects in about 2-2  1/2 hours.
  • Field trips can be less expensive only paying for one child and one adult.  I also don't have to worry about keeping track of a large brood where everyone wants to go a different direction.
  • I can cater every subject to his learning style.  Being somewhat kinectic, he can stand on a rocking chair in front of the chalk board working math problems.  To learn Spainsh vocabulary I would tell him an English word and he would race around the basement looking for the Spanish translations written on index cards.  If I had two or three kids doing this, it would be chaos.
  • He can participate in more sports and outside activities--Upwards Basketball, Karate, Royal Rangers, 4-H.  Our funds and driving time don't have to be divided up among several children with conflicting schedules.
  • I have time to create "extras" like the Mystery of History Dates to Memorize posters because I only have to plan and teach one lesson per subject, not three or four at different levels.


  • Finishing school early gives my son more free time and he's neighborhood friends are still in school so he must learn to entertain himself or I have to be willing to play a game with him.
  • The mother of an only probably gets asked the socialization question more than the mother of someone with siblings to play/learn with.
  • The cost of curriculum can seem higher because I don't reap the benefit of saving it to use with another student in the future.
  • Sometimes lesson plans call for brainstorming or acting out a drama--both activities work better with more than one person.  We've been able to dramatize with action figures and sometimes I have to let him bounce ideas off me--I still struggle with what is participating in brainstorming and what is me as a teacher providing him with answers.
The bottom line is our family is what is is and our homeschool is what it is.  Having never known anything different, it seems perfectly normal to us.  There are obstacles to overcome no matter what your situation and rewards to enjoys on the other side.  

Be sure to visit the Schoolhouse Review Blog Cruise and read the insights of others homeschooling only one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Science Co-op Week 2

Our topic for the week was Fluids.  I had planned to do a demonstration on how siphons works for our hands-on time.  I got the idea from Discovery Book Volume 1 for the Teaching Tank.  If you've never seen these--they are a plexiglass container about 1 foot square.  The normal kit makes the container about 1/2 an inch wide, but you can buy an expansion kit that increases the width to 3 inches.  You can see both versions on the book cover.

I think this is a great tool for co-op because it's size can be seen in a large room.  I've purchase three of them as a find them at curriculum swaps because a lot of experiments use more than one--like the siphons.

I share all this with you because I wanted you to know about the tank--I think it's a good investment that we can use throughout Schnickelfritz's  education, but in the end I couldn't get the experiment to work when I tried it before class.  The tubes need to be full of water when they're submersed in the tanks.  I could hold my thumb over one end while I inserted the other, but because I couldn't fit my hand in the tank for the second end I had to move my thumb and the water immediately drained out.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have used the expansion kit for the middle tank so I could remove my thunb under the water.

Instead, we did an experiment that's one the Science of Disney Imagineering DVD.  Asa uses a glass jar filled with water and covers it with a Chinet plate before inverting it.  The water stays in the glass even though it's upside down.  My last minute search for supplies yielded plastic cups and plates.  Here's what we learned--the plastic plates had a little give to them so if we filled the cups to the brim the weight (as the video suggests) the weight of the water would distend the plate and the water could escape.  We were able to acheive the effect if we filled the cups 1/4 to 1/2 full, but it still took some care when inverting.  You also needed to be careful holding the cup because if you squeezed it the pressure would force the water out.  If it hadn't been a last minute substitution, I would have purchased rigid cups and plates. See the importance of trying experiments before doing them with the kids? 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Marshall Publishing

My son is currently on a "Little House" track.  We're ready Farmer Boy at bedtime and he's reading Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie for a Prairie Primer co-op class.  So the timing was perfect for us to review Marshall Publishing's  America in the 1880's. 

A 60 minute video on one decade?   I was skeptical too.  When I went to school this era was the historical equivalent to "fly over county" from the American Civil War to World War I.  But you'd be amazed how much occurred in these ten years.

  • The Brooklyn Bridge , Washington Monument, and Statue of Liberty are completed
  • Billy the Kid and Jesse James are killed
  • The gunfight at the OK Corral
  • Sitting Bull surrenders
  • Mark Twain writes Huckleberry Finn
  • The continental US is divided into four time zones
  • The Oklahoma land rush
  • The Johnstown Flood
That's just a sampling, there is plenty more to cover.  The material is presented in a Ken Burns fashion with a narrator sharing information while you look at maps, old photographs, and some video clips (steam trains passing by, clips from a modern production of Gilbert & Sullivan, etc.).   This video could best be described as an overview--just enough to whet the whistle and perhaps introduce your student to a few subjects that they'd like to study further. 

The video itself is shot in standard aspect (widescreen TV's will have black rectangles on either side).  The are no captions, and it is definitely no high definition--a lot of the video has that grainy quality like a watching old TV shows.  The DVD is normally $24.95, but is listed right now at a sale price of $19.95.   (You can even use promotion code TOS27 for free shipping).   While my son got a better idea of what was going on around the country while Laura was living in her Little Houses,  I don't see us watching this video over and over again.   Our homeschooling budget is tight enough that I might first see if I could obtain the video through the library first.

Others on the Homeschool Review got different DVD's to review so you'll want to click on the link below and check out their opinions.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Science Co-op Week 1

We survived our first week of co-op classes,  and I mean that literally.  In order to create more "classrooms" the church erected some dividers in the fellowship hall.  While we were trying to read Little House in the Big Woods on one side, a group of younger students were singing a song to learn the continents on the other.  Apparently they were pointing on a map at the same time and some one's point turned into a push and two sections of the dividers came crashing down on our kids.  One girl had a busted lip and hurt her back, but the rest were mostly scared and not injured.

I asked one of the older boys to help me get my Science of Disney Imagineering DVD ready for viewing after lunch.  They just installed a flat screen TV and apparently no one was exactly sure how to work it.  In five minutes I had all the boys over 12 checking connections and pushing buttons--on the TV, on the DVD player, on the remote.  We finally had a black and white image on the screen but it was blown up so large it couldn't all fit on the screen.  I was doing some serious praying because half my class was going to be watching the video.  Someone finally had the idea to switch some wires and then it worked fine.

We started with Trajectory.  We did not use the Try It Yourself project from the DVD--as fun as it would have been, a 3 man slingshot in a church didn't seem wise.  Instead,  we tested the statement that a 45 degree angle would  launch the projectile the farthest.  We used large hair rubber bands stuck in a notch in the end of a wooden ruler.  The students could pull the rubber band back the same distance every time.  We used protractors to set the angles from 14 to 60 degrees.  I would have tried 75 degrees but we were already hitting the basement's low ceiling.  I had the students put dominoes down to mark where the rubber bands landed--I'd already made labels for the dominoes with the different angles written on them.  I was planning to have the kids measure the distances next, but we'd already run out of time.  Instead we just looked at the pattern of domino markers and we could see the 15 degree launches were the shortest and the 45 degree launches did go the farthest.

Next week: Fluids

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Math911

I make not make a lot of friends with what I'm about to say, but math has always come easy to me.  I seldom had math homework because I would do it during class while the teacher was still drilling the concept with other students.  Because of my scores on the S.A.T. in sixth grade, I qualified to take a gifted math program at the college instead of the classes in Junior High.  I continued all the way up through Calculus II, when I got my first "C" grade ever and decided I'd gone far enough.  My little Schnickelfritz is following in my footsteps.  We have yet to cover a concept that he hasn't understood and mastered right away.  While we aren't in Algebra yet, it's right around the corner so I was pleased to review Professor Weissman's Math911 program as a refresher for myself.

With subjects like Algebra, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus, the assumption has been made that students are mature enough to not need games, gimmicks, or rewards to keep their interest.  Do you notice in the company's logo that it uses the word "tutorial" not "teaching"?  You'll still need another source to learn the concept and skills.  Then you can use the Math 911 to generate problems to drill the skills.  If you have trouble with a problem, there is a green button to the right that lets you see the solution.  Then it will switch to "See Next Step."  You may be able to pick up from there and solve the problem or you may need to see the next step and try from there.

It became painfully obvious to me that I had forgotten most of what I'd learned from lack of use.  The one thing I remembered from Trig. was "Aunt Sally's Tea Cakes" to help remember what functions were positive in each section of a graph.  Fortunately, this method of problem solving worked well for me as I'm a visual learner.  Once I saw the process being done in steps,  I could usually do it myself on the next problem.  On the other hand, if you don't grasp it after watching, there's not a teacher around who can provide alternative ways of looking at the problem.   If you visit the Math 911 website, you'll find a series of PDF files in the middle of the left hand column--these don't correlate exactly with the Intro to Algebra units, but it comes close.  I don't know if Mr. Weiswman is working on modules for the other courses.  The program is built on a Mastery System so  you're not penalized for wrong answers. The program will keep generating new problems until you get eight of them correct. 

It's a small point, but I was distracted by the fluidity of the program.  After you type in an answer and hit enter, the screen will tell you that you're correct (I'm assuming you are), but it won't move on to the next problem on it's own.  You have to drag the mouse to the other side of the screen and click on the New Problem button.  Changing between courses is also a slight hassle.  When you click on the course you want, you'll be force to exit the program.  Then you click on the icon again and when you enter your password, Math911 opens in the new course.

Here's the great thing--you don't have to depend on my review of Math911.  You can download your own fully functioning copy of Introductory Algebra for yourself for free (just look in the left hand column near the top). If this works well with your family, you can upgrade to the Premier Version ($49.94) and access the other courses.  This is a little tricky so I'll refer to Mr. Weissman's instructions.

RE: Activation Codes for Premier, Premier Password, Network Password
Upon purchase ($49.95) your readers should
1. Click on Register button and email us the Registration Codes
2. Identify themselves as a home schooler.
3. They will receive a reply email with ALL Activation Codes for all versions
     listed below:
     a) Premier Version (one user no password)
     b) Premier Password (Multiusers with Passwords)
     c) Network Version (Multiusers with passwords)
4.  Users can switch between versions by clicking the REGISTER button and
     entering the codes for the desired version.
4. Passwords are generated by the software.

Here's where I start to sound like an infomercial--If you act right now you can purchase the Premier version on a flash drive--no downloads necessary.  When you get to the Google checkout, use promo code homeschool  and the final cost is only $9.95!  It's almost a no brainer.  Don't have kids ready for Algebra yet?  The Premier Version includes lifetime upgrades.  But it at this low price and save it for when they're ready.

This software program is currently compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.


Disclaimer: I received a free Premier Version of Math911 for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Circle Maker

Our church is starting a new sermon series on Mark Batterson's book, The Circle Maker.  The book's title comes from the  legend of Honi :

In the first century B.C.  a devastating drought was plaguing the Promised Land .  The people asked Honi, a man known for a powerful prayer life to ask God for rain. Using his staff to draw in the dust, he created a large circle and walked inside it.   Then he dropped to his knees, raised his hands to heaven and cried out.

"Lord of the Universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children."

A light sprinkle began, and while everyone else was delighted, Honi wasn't satisfied.  "Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns."

In a case of be careful what you pray for, the gentle rain turned violent with drops as big as eggs that threatened to bring flash floods.  Honi prayed a third time.

"Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of Thy favor, blessing, and graciousness." The storm subsided and a good soaking rain refreshed the land and every one's spirits.

The point of the series is that we need to come before God with bold prayers and claim his promises.  Not that God has become a catalog service where we place our orders and wait for them to be delivered, but that we need to stop asking wimpy, nonspecific prayers. 

I wanted to share a time when I claimed a promise from God and created a circle waiting for His healing:

Two years ago, I had just boarded a roller coaster with my son.  When they brought the lap bar down, I felt an intense pain in my abdomen--it was bad enough that I knew I needed to see a doctor to discover its cause.  The answer came two weeks later when an ultrasound revealed a tumor on my right ovary nearly six inches across.

After discovering my tumor and seeing the specialist I had to wait 3 ½ weeks before my hysterectomy.  That's a lot of time for soul searching. I’m not one to randomly open the Bible and put my finger down hoping for guidance (You know the joke about the guy who did that and ended up on “Judas went and hanged himself”?)

Schnickelfritz was having to memorize a lot of Bible verses for Royal Rangers and I was looking up the passages in The Message so he could understand what he was memorizing a little better. While flipping, the pages stopped on Micah 7:8-10 with a heading “Spreading Your Wings.”  The title made me curious enough to read the passage.

8 Don't, enemy, crow over me. I'm down, but I'm not out. I'm sitting in the dark right now, but God is my light. 9 I can take God's punishing rage. I deserve it - I sinned. But it's not forever. He's on my side and is going to get me out of this. He'll turn on the lights and show me his ways. I'll see the whole picture and how right he is. 10 And my enemy will see it, too, and be discredited - yes, disgraced! This enemy who kept taunting, "So where is this God of yours?" I'm going to see it with these, my own eyes - my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter. 11 Oh, that will be a day! A day for rebuilding your city, a day for stretching your arms, spreading your wings!

I heard a voice in my head saying “Your enemy has a name—it’s cancer.”   I was sitting in the dark, waiting for a tumor that may be malignant  to be removed.  I could see how some would ask “where is God” or  “why did God let this happen to you?”  But when I read God is my light and someday that enemy would be trash in the gutter I took it as God’s promise that I would make it through.

For the next 3 weeks until surgery, anytime I felt myself feeling afraid I would read and reread that passage and pray.  After surgery, the doctor said the preliminary lab report said the tumor was borderline malignant.  We had to wait two more weeks for complete work to be done—much more reading and praying!

At the follow up appt. The Toolman  and I braced ourselves as everything coming out of the doctors mouth sounded negative, but she ended by saying “we got it!”  I didn’t need chemo or radiation.  I still go for follow up visits every four months but I read the Micah passage before I go and still claim my promise.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Reading Kingdom

As a parent there are certain milestones you look for to judge your child's progress--crawling, walking, first words, toilet training, etc.  You sweat over them learning these things because you know these skills build upon one another and someday you kid will driving a car and programing your cell phone because you can't figure it out.  In the same way, you can't progress very far in school if your kid hasn't learn to count or read.

Reading Kingdom is designed to help you teach you child the latter skill.   It's much more than a phonics program.  In fact, they work on six specific skills to help beginning or struggling readers.

After registering a new student, they will need to complete an assessment test.   Fritz was a little insulted at how easy the test started off.  He was shown a word and then he had to click on the letters that made up that word in a string of choices (going from left to right to practice sequencing).

I'm not quite sure about the Motor Skills except that he had to use the mouse and there was a LOT of typing.  In fact, I think the program could be renamed Reading and Typing Kingdom.  And unfortunately I think the quality of the sentences he had to read and type suffered at the expense of making sure he used a variety of keys.  Look at the sentence below:

He may have typed it correctly, but if he used this sentence in a paper I would deduct points for structure.

It seemed like the two parts of the assessment were taking forever.  In fact, I let Fritz take a break and return to it on another day.  When he finished, up popped a certificate that he'd graduated the program without ever having taken a lesson.  Apparently he was already proficient in the skills that this program has to offer.  Of course this program is designed for kids ages 4-10, and Fritz is at the upper end of that range.  The parents have access to a report to track each child's progress.  The program assigns your child to a level based on the assessment and once a child finishes a level they can't revisit it.  If you wish to reassign a child (because you work with them every day and know if they've been placed too high or too low), you may email reading kingdom and they will place the child in the level you choose.

The good news is you can sign up for a free month's trial of Reading Kingdom.  If your child already possesses the reading and typing skills, you won't have lost anything.  If you find they are benefiting from the program,  subscriptions are $19.99/month for one child, $9.99/month for each addition child.  You can subscribe  for a year for $199.99 and $99.99 respectively.   As someone still living in dial-up land, I didn't notice a severe lag in the program.

Disclaimer: I received a 1 year subscription to Reading Kingdom for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinions.

One Month Under Our Belts

I'm sure some of you have just started you school this week.  We're already in week five!  And I have to say how pleased I am with our progress so far.  Our curriculum is:

Bible:  We start every morning with Kay Arthur's Discover 4 Yourself series.  I think what really caught Schnickelfritz's interest was the idea it was okay to draw and color in your Bible.  But he absorbs the information like a sponge.  One of today's questions was what month and day did the flood begin.  I hadn't even flipped to the chapter and verse when he rattled off the answer.  I love that he loves this program.

Math:  It's been Math-U-See from the beginning.  We'll be wrapping up Epsilon in a few weeks and starting Zeta and he's not even 10 yet.  Math is by far his favorite and easiest subject.

Worldview:  We've gone back to the first book in Apologia's series with Who Is God.  Disorganized little ol' me misplaced the notebooking journal for a while.  I was making my own copywork pages  and answering the questions in the book.  I finally found the journal under a pile of straws I was saving for science co-op so we're back on track.  This is really meaty stuff  but it uses a lot of stories and analogies that a kid can relate to.

History:  Schnickelfritz picked the Middle Ages for this year.    We're using Mystery of History Vol. 2 and I purchased the lapbook supplement.  We making mini books for each lesson rather than the note cards.  I'm also excited to try Homeschool in the Woods new Project Passport on the Middle Ages.  Rather than focus on individuals like MOH, it's going to give us a better overview of the period--how people dressed and ate and worked.

Language Arts:  We're still using All About Spelling--a product we reviewed three years ago.  I found a cheap copy of Easy Grammar at a consignment store so we're learning about verbs, nouns, and punctuation.  In the past I felt sorry for how hard Fritz struggled with his writing and I was too tired to fight with him, but this year I'm practicing tough love.  He has to write something every day--it may be spelling's phrases & sentences, writing in his Who Is God journal, or working on his Astronomy merit badge. 

Science: We're revisiting Apologia's Astronomy this fall to complete the Royal Ranger's Astronomy and Space Exploration  merit badges.  We'll swing through Swimming Creatures in the spring.

Critical Thinking:  Fritz loves logic and thinking puzzles--it's more like a game.  We use Reading Detective, Balance Benders, and Building Thinking Skills.

Outside Activities:  These are just starting to get into gear and I'm so glad it's not occurring just as we start school.  We had our first 4-H meeting last night, Royal Rangers and Karate begin this month.  We're also trying a new co-op where Fritz will take Mapping the World by Heart , Prairie Primer, and the Science of Disney Imagineering class that I'll be teaching.

On a totally different track,  I saw my first persimmons on the ground yesterday as I walked the dog.  From now on we'll have to carry a bucket to harvest those little orange gems.  They're about two weeks ahead of schedule, but the raspberries and blackberries were a month early.  I guess the drought slowed things down a little.  Despite the lack of rain, the trees are filled with the plumpest persimmons I've every seen.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Review: Everyday Homemaking

PhotobucketTRUE STORY:  Almost exactly a year ago, Schnickelfritz's grandparents moved from several states away to just two miles down the road.  While we are thrilled to be able to spend more time with them on a more spontaneous level we also discovered that we have MUCH less time to tidy the house when the call to say they are coming for a visit.  That's when the panic-picking-up session begins.  One day, I barked orders to my son to "pick up everything in the living room."  He turned to me and questioned, "Mama, how do you expect me to pick up the couch?"

You really needed to be there to hear the tone of his voice.  This wasn't a matter of "sassing back."  It's just his concrete-sequential means of processing information meant he took my order literally.  For me to teach my son to clean, I need clear and specific guidelines.  The trouble is, I'm not the one to give them.  I'm more of an abstract-random processor.  When I pick up an object in one room and take it to another to put  away, I'm often distracted by a new object in that room which leads me to a new task and I never get back to tidying the first room.   I've never actually started a chore and worked through it in one swoop to construct the guidelines for Fritz to use.  To be honest,  I could use my own list of steps to follow and check off to keep me on task.  As it is, there are usually so many half finished jobs around the house that it's easier just to put up a humorous sign like "A cluttered desk is the sign of a creative mind."

Enter our current review product:  The Everyday Family Chore System--the second book in The Everyday Homemaking Series.

  I printed out the entire ebook, bound it, and laminated the covers.  The inside was chock full of several tools to help both my son and me.  First on the list, a page entitled "What is a Tidy Room?"   Up until now, when I send my son to clean his room he'll come back to me to ask if it's clean enough yet.  I'll point out several things that haven't been done and leave him to deal with them.  Some he'll remember,  some will be forgotten as he deals with other tasks.  He'll find me again and we'll repeat the process several more times.  Now he has a written set of standards to refer to so that he doesn't need my inspection until the chore is done.  (It is also free from the whims of a mom who may be more lenient when I'm too busy with my own issues or too tough when I've had a bad day).

Our version of What is a Tidy Room

While the Tidy Room list is more about principles, there are also chore cards that can be cut out and laminated with detailed steps on how to do everything from how to clear the table to how to clean the ceiling fans.  Often the cards leave spaces for you to enter the specific cleaning products you use in your house.  I'll be honest, some of those cards led me to think of chores I never would have considered before--the whole out of sight out of mind thing. Cleaning the top of the refrigerator or under the sink, for example.  I'm not saying we do them all now, but I'll consider adding them to the list as we get the rest of the house under control.

I'll admit that part of the book left me feeling depressed and convicted that I have let chore training slide for so long.   In the Implementation section is a Life Skills list showing what tasks a child should be able to begin training on at each age.  I feel so far behind... I didn't start teaching him to put away clothes when he was five (that's why they often still sit on top of his dresser at age nine).  On the other hand, some jobs on her list seem unreasonable, like oiling bike chains at 9 or emptying the dishwasher at 6--what kid can reach the upper cabinets at six?  Bottom line, don't wait as long as I did to get this book and start training your kids.  This book is not about turning your kids into you personal set of house-cleaning slaves, but wouldn't your house be cleaner if they were working with you instead of constantly adding to the mess?

Is our house ready to be on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens?  No! but it is much cleaner, especially in the areas that guests might see.  And we'll continue plugging away at the rest as we get it uncluttered (the book is about cleaning, not throwing away junk).

Everyday Homemaking offers the Family Chore System as a coil-bound softcover ($19.99 + shipping)  or a PDF download ($17.99).  You may want to consider picking up the CD audio workshop, "Getting Kids to Help at Home" or their other book, Everyday Cooking as well.  By the way, you'll want to check out the other reviews to read more about Everday Cooking.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the Everyday Family Chore System for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.
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