Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I don't think he's exaggerating...

The sky was too blue this morning and the temperature was already 65 degrees--we just couldn't do school inside on such a nice day.  Fritz's grandparents had brought a robot-looking kite when they came out last weekend and it had yet to take a maiden flight.

There's a large field behind our property.  It's been cleared for a subdivision but let's just say I think we'll be able to fly our kite there for some time to come.  The robot soared to the end of the string.  For a while I think we caught the attention of a hawk who was wondering what that other object was invading his air space.

Then I had guilt pangs that we should do something scholastic.  I started quizzing Fritz on his times tables.  Somewhere along the line, Fritz has picked up the idea of simple algebra--he calls it a do/undo box.  "You stick a number into the do box and it gets multiplied by 5 and then you add three and 18 pops out.  What's the original number?"  Then he sticks 18 in the undo box and reverses the process to see a 3 went in originally.  I quizzed him on math and "do boxes" for half an hour and he was still asking for more.  I told him my brain was tired.

"Okay," he said "I'll ask the questions.  I've got a BILLION questions in my head."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Galaxy of Education

The Homeschool Crew has received another math product to review--actually a series of products called Math Galaxy.    Games, riddles and worksheets are used to drill math facts from simple addition of whole numbers through fundamentals of algebra.  Fritz is whizzing through our regular math curriculum so he may be ready for algebra when he turns 8 , but for now we decided to stick with the whole numbers. 

Whole Numbers Fun covers topics like Place Value, Rounding, Patterns, Time, Money, and Graphs.  Addition, Subtraction, and Multiplying are taught using 1 to 3 digits, Division covers 1 and 2 digit divisors.   This program is done on the computer.  You can use the tutorial to learn the concept or go right to solving problems.  Correct answers (you type in the answer) earn you robots that can be used in the labrynth game.  The graphics for Math Galaxy harks back to the days of Space Invaders and Pacman so if you have a computer game enthusiast, they may not be impressed.  Fritz doesn't paly computer games and didn't really care for these either.

A better choice for us is the Whole Numbers Worksheet generator.    Rather then working at the computer, he can sit at the table and practice math.  He's not just solving problems for the sake of getting the worksheet done.  The sheet starts with a riddle.  The riddle's answer is solved letter by letter by matching the math problem answers to letters of the alphabet (see the sample below)


 Currently Fritz's Sunday School class has a secret agent theme so to him these worksheets were like cracking codes.  He actually giggled when I handed him the first one.  I liked the format because in addition to math, he was practicing reading the riddle and writing the answer--his two least favorite activities in homeschooling, so I'll take any additional practice we can get.

One downside to Math Galaxy is that for any subject, multiplication for instance, I can't specify a range of facts to be drilled.  The problems come from the whole times table, even though we are only up to the sixes right now.  Just be aware of this if you have a student who will get frustrated being asked questions about material they haven't learned yet.   Or you may be surprised as I was when Fritz knew the answer to  8 x 9.

 All the Worksheet Generators and the Math Fun series come on cd-roms for $29.95 with free shipping.  The programs work with Windows and Mac operating systems.  You can try samples of the games and math instruction at .

You can see what my crewmates thought of the Galaxy of Education programs by clicking here.

Disclaimer:  I received free copies of Whole Numbers FUn and the Whole Numbers Worksheet Generator for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Family Mint

In my life before homeschooling I was an accountant for several non-profit agencies.  As part of our annual fundraising sale I had to deal with hundreds of bounced checks--both from purchasers and troop leaders handling the money.  Another common problem was the dozens of deposit corrections because the troop leader hadn't double checked her math on the deposit slip--sometimes off by hundreds of dollars.   "Why don't they teach money management in school?" my coworker and I would often asked each other.

Apparently I'm not the only one who recognizes the problem out their.  The folks at Family Mint are dedicated to providing tools for money management education.  And here's the best part--THEY"RE FREE!!   The parent assumes the role of "the banker" and may set up accounts for all the kids.   The accounts can be used to teach budgeting, savings toward a goal, the time value of money, etc.  

Family Mint suggests these accounts reflect all the actual funds of the child--balances in real bank accounts right down to coins in the piggy bank.  Any allowance received would be credited right through this account as well.  The parent can match deposits or set up an interest rate for funds on account.  When the child wants to make a purchase, he enters the transaction but it must be approved by the banker first (after approving the transaction the parent would then give the actual cash to the child).  The website for older kids looks similar to the transaction lines of Quicken.  Younger children use a page with more icons.

I wondered about setting a child up with unrealistic expectations if they received a 10 percent interest rate through Family Mint when you'd be lucky to find a savings account paying 2% in the real world.  I can see a point to matching deposits as some companies still offer to match retirement funds deposits to a certain extent. 

My Schnickelfritz doesn't get an allowance at this time, so at first I wasn't sure how to use Family Mint.  Then I realized, I was limited to accounting for "real money."  Fritz's job right now is to learn.  For every day he completes his work, he earned his wages.  Then the wages could be spent on treats, TV or computer time.  We will be covering Stewardship next year with Konos and then we can expand our use of Family Mint to include charity and long term savings, etc.  There are plenty of resources to educate you on how Family Mint might work with your family--a monthly newsletter, a support forum,  and a blog. 

You can see what my fellow crewmates thought about Family Mint by clicking here. 

 Disclaimer:  I received no compensation for this review.  The basic level of Family Mint is a free service to anyone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What an Imagination

My Schnickelfritz had another homeschooled boy over to play this afternoon.  I was enjoying a chance to finish a library book on the couch but managed to hear snippets on conversation coming from his room.  Suddenly I was surrounded by "aliens."  They had taken both arms out of their sleeves and rotated their shirts until one arm was facing forward.  Then both arms were thrust through the front sleeve giving them an elephant-like appendage. 

These hungry aliens were searching for a meal and it seemed they like dog best--poor Della.  She led them on a merry chase but eventually I had to let her onto the forcefield protected couch.  The aliens shuttled back to their homeworld (Fritz's room) to rest and strategize a way to lure the dog out of the safety zone in time for their next meal.  They must have pets on their planet because they knew all about balls and bones and tug toys.  Sometimes they would succeed and other times Della wouldn't play along.  This forced the starving aliens to the floor where they would lie in a comatose state and regenerate for 50 years.  Their planet obviously lies close to the sun and has a very small orbit because in Earth time it never took more than three minutes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review:Children's Bible Hour Ministries

One of my fondest memories growing up was sitting in our large green recliner with my mother to read books together.  We called it our reading chair and I have one in my home now (it's even green) to share those special times with my son.  When we received a set of four books from Children's Bible Hour to review, we knew it was time to head to the reading chair.

These books are adaptations from radio dramas and are categorized into Seasons of Faith.  A tree in various stages of its annual cycle is pictured on the cover to let you know which season being addressed.

Spring : New life in Christ, faith develops, Christians begin to share the Salvation message with others.  The book we received, Race with Midnight a young girl gets lost on a ride and has to trust the horse knows the way home.  She learns it's also possible to be lost spiritually and to trust that God can lead her.

Summer: Faith grows, fruit is witnessed, we strive to be the best we can be in Christ.  Fritz loved this story, You Can't Come In, but I can't help but wonder if it should have been put in the "Spring" season.  A boy receives a life lessons that you can't clean sin out of your life and get into heaven by yourself any more than he could clean his muddy clothes that his mother wouldn't allow in the house. 

Autumn:  Times of struggle and temptation, peer pressure.  God teaches us how to forgive and then grow in grace.  The parable of the unforgiving servant comes to life in Seventy Times Seven.  A young boy won't forgive his friend for ruining his favorite hat, even after he has just been spared from having to pay for a broken sign. 

Winter: Deeper struggles, mourning, the death of a loved one.  God teaches us to lean on Him for comfort and peace.  In Braving the Storm, the gloom and fright of a hail storm reflect the emotions of a young boys forced to move from his home and friends due to financial hardship. 

All of these stories can be read in under 15 minutes, assuming you don't pause to discuss their deeper meanings.  And while I think it is best to read these to your kids, all the books come with a cd of Uncle Charlie reading the story (a chime tells you when to turn the page) so that non-readers can hear the story again whenever they choose.  As soon as we finished one story Fritz asked for a second, and then a third.

I'm the unofficial story lady for Fritz's Royal Ranger's outpost and I took You Can't Come In to read to the boys.  I think you could also share these stories in Sundy School or Backyard Bible Clubs.  These stories are really modern day parables to help children grasp eternal concepts.  The books are $10 each and available through CBH Ministries.  You can use the code  FREESHIPAPR15  till April 15th and receive free shipping on your order.

To dee what my fellow crewmates thought of the CBH Seasons of Faith books click here.

Disclaimer: I received free copies of the four Seasons of Faith books for the purposes of completing this review.  I received on other compensation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Boy Scout Anniversary

It's the 100th anniversary of the Osage District of the Boy Scouts and they celebrated on the grounds of the local community college.  It was a gloomy, cold day with a possibility of snow so the helicopter landing was cancelled.  Still we managed to find some interesting things.

First stop was the local fire department.  They had rigged up their own version of the carnival game where you shoot water into the clown's mouth until a balloon pops.  Here's Schnickelfritz with a most determined look on his face to douse the fire....

Here is his target--a row of houses ablaze.  As the water goes in the hole, a small message that says "Out" comes out the chimney.

There was also three camps of historical reenactors--the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.  I was most interested in the WWI group--one doughboy and one man dressed to be General Pershing (a Missourian).  You know, I took a college prepatory World History class when I was in highschool.  We spent about six weeks studying religions of the world and only seven days covering World Wars One and Two--mostly Two.  Why is that?  I'm certainly keeping that reenactor's card to see about a presentation to our homeschool co-op.

Finally, there was an RV filled with space memorabilia--a real space suit, models of different spacecraft, a diorama of the moon landing, etc.  The display that really captured Fritz's attention was the space food.  There were several dehydrated packs and you were supposed to identify the contents.  Have you ever pulled a ziploc bag out of your freezer and tried to guess what the freezer-burned contents were?  There is hope for Fritz in space know that he knows Macaroni and Cheese is on the menu.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Homeschool Library Builder

I have mentioned before that I'm a confessed book-aholic.  I can spend hours browsing library shelves, but if I have a little money in my pocket nothing beats a book sale.  I love hitting used book sales and "rescuing" abandoned treasures.  Of course these events don't occur everyday and it's starting to cost a pretty penny to drive the long distances.  Now I've found an online alternative -- The Homeschool Library Builder.

This company was started by a couple of homeschool moms who know the value of "living books."  They seek out bargains--publisher's overstocks and remainders mostly (there are a few used books) and pass the savings onto us.  For example, I found a hardcover Hank the Cowdog books for $4.99 instead of $14.99 (it was a remainder).

Visiting HSLibrarybuilder is very similar to browsing the shelves of a "brick and mortor" bookstore.  There are categories on the left side of the screen and you can go through page after page of books in each category--never knowing what bargain might catch your eye.   Browsing is essential because there aren't sub-categories, for example I can look at Historical Fiction but it's not further divided into American History or the Civil War.

A lot of homeschoolers will be pleased to browse by curriculum.  Available books are listed for Ambleside, Beautiful Feet, Five in a Row, Heart of Dakota, Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, and Veritas Press.  I hope the administrators of the site will continue working on this feature--I'd like to see Konos and My Father's World available here.

To top it all off, Homeschool Library Builder has a free membership plan to help you earn point to get more books!!   Every dollar you spend equals one book point--accumulate 15 points and you've earned $1.00 discount on future purchases. 

 You can see what my fellow crewmates think of Homeschool Library Builder by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Homeschool Expo

Spring is in the air -- buds on the shrubs, worms on the driveway, and homeschool conventions are underway.  I miss the big one I used to attend in Indianapolis (a perk of living in the state's capital, I guess).  Now I have the opportunity to attend one without every leaving my home.  Here's the scoop--

If you're looking for homeschool encouragement, resources, and fun, check out all that is going on at The Old Schoolhouse!

Right now March Madness and Win Big are going on in the Schoolhouse Store. During March Madness, over 240 items are 10 to 40 percent off! 
Click here to read the details. (Link:

Then, if you're customer 139,000, 139,500, or 140,000, you will win over $348 in prizes. Prizes include a 5 year subscription to TOS (U.S. 
only), Scripture Sleuth literature series, guitar lessons on CD, and more! Hurry, they are just past customer #137,818.

The BIGGEST news of all--The Schoolhouse Expo is coming in May!   
Pre-register now and save $5!

As homeschool teachers?what do you need to learn? More about teaching multiple grades? All about different homeschool methods? Transcripts? 
Could you use some help with reading, language arts, math, and more? 
Are you intimidated by the idea of teaching middle school and high school?those dreaded, advanced courses? Would some encouraging words and motivational Scripture help you on your way? Get answers when you attend The Schoolhouse Expo, an 3-day, online conference, presented by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse® Speaker?s Bureau.

Pre-register today for only $19.99 through March 31.You do not want to miss this unbelievable, virtual homeschool convention! PLUS, you'll receive over $300 in free gifts when you register.
Get the details and preregister here

Disclaimer: As part of the Homeschool Crew, I was given a free registration to the Old Schoolhouse Expo.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hallelujah, I have a roof again!

Just before the spring rains, we've finally gotten our roof fixed.  We had four men on the roof stomping around, endless bits and pieces of material being thrown down, and a dog who thinks it's her duty to bark at anyone wearing a baseball cap.  I ended up calling for a school holiday because there was just too much excitement going on over our heads.

The Toolman had to go to the office so my Schnickelfritz assumed the duties of overseeing the work.  He put on his official toolbelt with the rainbow suspenders and his safety goggles.  He was dying for some work to do...

The debris had stopped falling by this point.  I assigned him the task of finding the roofing nails stuck between the boards of the deck.  Then he practed pounding them into some scrap wood.

Fritz was actuall given a job by the foreman--he was to keep everyone away from yellow tape before the new railing was installed.   When he reported that no one had fallen off the deck he was paid for a job well done--$4.00. 


Thursday, March 4, 2010

School Holiday

Schnickelfritz and I have been plugging away at school all winter.  We've seen the public schools cancel for snow, potential snow, failures of the heating system and watermain breaks.  Today the workers are finally here to repair the damage from the tree falling on our roof.   We've cancelled classes because there are far too many more interesting things going on above our heads.

Monday, March 1, 2010

To Grade or Not To Grade

This week's blog cruise is about grades.  What is the purpose of a grade anyway?  It's just a coded communication from a teacher to a parent (or a potential college) that tries to sum up in one letter or number how well a student is performing.    It does not necessarily mean the student is learning.  They may be able to retain facts just long enough to take the test and then they wipe the slate clean and prepare for the next chapter of the book.   Or the student may be a lucky guesser.  My mother told me the story of a fellow nursing school candidate taking a multiple choice test.  If she didn't know the answer she would look at the sweeping second hand on her watch.  If it fell between the 12 and the 3 she would pick A, between 3 and 6 she would be B, and so on.  She managed to get a B on her test, but I'm not sure I'd want her assisting the surgeon during my operation.

Grades (in a public school setting) may be relative to how all the other students in the class are performing, not just the one you're interested in.  The famous "bell curve" assigns a C to the class average.  If you do better than average you may get an A, even if your score is far less than the standard 90 percent.   Grades can also be manipulated by the teacher with partial credit.  You would think a math test would be easy to grade--an answer is either right or wrong.   A teacher, especially in higher subjects, may give credit for using the correct formula or argument, even if the addition or subtraction is wrong.   How is a parent looking at a report card supposed to know these things based on one letter grade?

Since I am both teacher and parent, I can tell when my son understands the math application or has learned something about history.  He applies it outside our school setting.   Yesterday, he heard someone introduced as Gladys and turned to me to say "That's the same name as the missionary lady in China we read about."  We read Gladys Aylward's autobiography last October.  

I do make Fritz take the tests in his Math U See curriculum. I keep the papers and record the scores just in case I'm asked to provide evidence that we are doing schoolwork.  We don't take the tests though until I'm sure he's mastered the concept.  Sometimes if I spot a mistake, I'll make him grade the test himself.  If he finds the mistake I'm reasonably sure the error was caused by his rushing rather than a lack of understanding the problem. 

Of course my son is only seven years old.  I'm sure as he reaches the "high school" years, I'll bow to convention and assign grades.  He'll need a transcript  if he wants to pursue college.  Again, it's a single number or letter for me to try to communicate to an admissions board how well my son has performed.

Review: Graphics Toolbox

Notice any changes?  I finally replaced the photo that came with my template with a collage of my own design!  And I did it using the latest Homeschool Crew product--Graphics Toolbox.

I will be the first to admit, I was a little bit intimidated by the thought of a graphics design program.   I can still recall the first picture I ever drew using a computer--a rainbow with a pot of gold.  I used BASIC programing on a TRS-80.  This was the stone age for computers, back when the only game was Space Invaders.  I was on the cutting edge back then, but then I turned my attentions to accounting and computer technology just passed me by. But several tutoring sessions later I find myself spending my free time using Graphics Toolbox to explore my creative side.  For you scrapbookers, there are several digital layouts available. 

My son, who has always been in touch with his creative side, designed a birthday card for his great grandmother.  We have been studying the planets with Apologia and he's been fascinated with the differences between a year on Earth and a year (one complete revolution around the sun) on other planets.  We figured out the Grandma Anna would only be three years old if she lived on Saturn and that's what he wanted her card to say.  We found pictures of astronauts and Saturn on the internet (free wallpapers) and used them to make this card.



Graphics Toolbox is different from Photoshop (my only other picture editing experience) in that it isn't driven by drop down menus.  All the tools appear on the right hand side of the screen--color selection, drawing shapes, and other photo manipulating features.  If you can't tell what a tool does by the picture, just hold the cursor over it and the name will appear in the feedback area.  And while Photoshop allows you to add layers to a picture to adust brightness, etc., Graphics Toolbox only works with one layer.  Anything you add to the picture becomes permanent.  If you try to move it later, you'll be left with blank space not what was originally there.  You can set up GT with several "undo's" depending on your computers RAM capabilities, but take my advice and save early and often.  If you give each save its own distinct name you'll be able to go back to an earlier version when things don't turn out the way you want.

Now how can this apply to homeschooling you may ask?  Well aside from just teaching older students graphic design (a useful and very marketable skill), you may enhance any writing activity with graphics.  What about creating a newspaper based on your Civil War unit study?  We've been learning about attentiveness in Konos and I used Graphics Toolbox to create a "find the differences" puzzle using one of our vacation photos. How many can you find?



We've also been studying about the planets this year.  Rather than requiring a test, I created a quiz game to check Fritz's retention level and I used Graphics Toolbox to make the game board.  Advice: if you're going to include a picture in the background of the board, print it out on photo paper, otherwise all that ink makes the paper wrinkly.

 Once you understand how the program works, it's easy to manipulate pictures and photos.  I'm a very visual learner, but I struggled to follow the operating manual (I tried three times to use the tonal color change on my husband's shirt and got nowhere).  The creator of Graphics Toolbox graciously arranged some online tutorials for the Homeschool Crew and tonal color change was one of the things she covered.  Watching her go through the steps was just what I needed!!  The tutoring sessions are available online here.  Watching one or two of them might help you decide if Graphics Toolbox is for your family. 

Graphics Toolbox retails for $149.  I realize this may be a significant purchase for many families so try before you buy.  A 30 day trial version is available from Great Software Tools.  

 You can see what my fellow crewmates thought about Graphics Toolbox by clicking here.

I received a free download of Graphics Toolbox and free online tutorials for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

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