So Much To Do!

This week’s blog cruise topic is “fitting it all in”, which I think is an appropriate topic for homeschoolers. It seems to me that, (contrary to popular belief) so many of us have so much going on, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done!! The beauty of homeschooling is that we can tailor our kids interests to fit what they learn and what they do, the downside is, this can lead to a plethora of opportunities, on top of managing our homes, volunteering, and all of the other things that falls on our plates!!

So, what do I do to get a handle on all this stuff? Well, I believe the first step is to set priorities, and for me, these come straight from the Lord. It is easy to get swept up in the idea of wanting to do EVERYTHING!! (teach Sunday school?? Yes! Join 4-H and scouts? Yes!! Music lessons? Yes!! Lead the homeschool co-op?? Of course!!). Whenever we are faced with a new opportunity, I always present it to God first, in prayer, and wait for Him to give me a direction. Sometimes the answer is a “yes” and sometimes, even though I really want to do something, the answer is a “no”. Regardless, my goal in homeschooling my boys is to raise them up to serve Him so I always follow His lead.

Some questions I ask myself before agreeing to a new activity are: Will this activity build up my child in their faith? If it does, then that activity will go to the top of the list. Next, I ask, “will we be serving others and spreading the Lord’s message through this activity?”, again, if the answer is yes, then that means it moves up to the top. Next I ask how much time the activity will take and if it will benefit my family or children in some way. I know that I can’t do everything, so I have to be careful to pick and choose what we spend our time on.

Cases in point: we really need some extra money (who doesn’t these days?? 🙂 ). One of my friends, who does the Pampered Chef, wanted to recruit me to work on her team. I love to cook and I love kitchen products!! This seemed like a great chance for me to make some extra money. However, after researching and discussing this with my hubby, we decided that the benefits would not outweigh the cost, so I chose not to do it.

Another example: My youngest has been on a baseball kick lately, he loves to play with his best friends in the backyard and at the park. He asked us about playing with our local league this year, and we told him we would consider it. First we looked into the cost (Oh my goodness!!) and the time committment. Both were pretty high. We were heavily involved with scouts (me a pack leader and my husband the Scout leader) for a long time, and we know the demands it places on you. To participate in this sport, it would tie up all of our weekends, not to mention take time away from church events we consider important. We have limited amounts of time to give, and after serious prayer and discussion, we decided that baseball just wasn’t for us right now. However, I did find our local community center offered fencing lessons (after the Olympics my son got really into this sport) and they were one day a week, for a low cost! We signed him up for those instead and he is very happy.

Both of my boys also take private music lessons once a week (one does guitar, the other, drums). These easily fit into our schedule, and we want to encourage their musical gifts, so this is something we are willing to spend our time and money on. We belong to a local homeschool group that meets once a week and offers elective classes and field trips, as well as a homeschool “running club” that meets twice a week to give our kids interaction and physical activities. These are things I plan our days around, and things we feel give an important and everlasting value to our children. As a family, we are all involved in volunteering at our church as well, and this is usually a first priority for us!

So, what does this mean for me as a mom? Well, I get up early and go to bed late some nights. I try to ensure I am in bed by 11 on weeknights, and up by six. And yes, I have to do laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping and menu planning too!! I find that being organized about these things is a HUGE help. I use my planners from TOS magazine to plan my menus, my shopping, and my day to day activities. I keep everything in a binder where I can easily look and see what I need to do.

I also try to break my bigger chores into smaller chunks. My kids have chore lists they complete every day, which makes cleaning the house easier. I also write daily activities down for myself, that make the work of homeschooling easier (i.e.: Friday: plan, Saturday: Print out all necessary papers…etc. etc.). I find that by breaking my bigger jobs into smaller pieces, I can do a little bit every day and still have some time to hang out by the pool!!

My number one “thing” is to get up early and spend time with God. I read my Bible and ask for guidance for the day. Each day, I want to do what HE thinks is most important. If that means taking a break from science to deal with a character issue, or to help a friend in need, so be it!! I want my children to know that while they may have a “plan” in their heads, God has supremacy over what goes on in our day!!

And yes, I am frequently yawning by 5:00, but that doesn’t bother me too much. My kids seem to grow faster and faster every year, and I want to enjoy every moment I get with them! So, if that means I’m a little tired now, I will gladly deal with it. I know that once they are grown and all of my time is “my own” I will miss these hectic days!! 🙂

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this topic, click here:
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Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

Christian Liberty Press is committed to providing Christian materials to homeschool parents. For this review, we got to check out the book, Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers in PDF format.

Now, let me be the first to say, I’ve never been a huge fan of ebooks!! Up until recently, we didn’t have any type of e-reader, and I find reading books on my computer very tedious and uncomfortable. Recently, each of my boys received a Nook Color from their grandma, so we were able to use that to read this book, which made it much easier! 🙂

This book, written by Douglas Bond, is the first in a series about two teenagers and their adventures with their friend Mr. Pipes, who teaches them about the great hymn writers of the past. The author wants readers to not only connect with the stories of these people, but to come to view worship as an important part of their relationship with God. In this particular book, readers will learn about Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and John Bunyan, amongst others.

At first glance, the topic of this book may seem a bit, well, boring, but I can tell you, it is not!! The story is so well-written, with lots of information, but also humor, that you get totally drawn in. The black and white illustrations are very high quality, and the book is easy to read. We ended up reading it together as a read-alound, but both of my boys (6th and 9th grades) could have easily read it alone too!! We all enjoyed the story, and were surpised at how much we learned, and now we are interested in reading the next book in the series.

While I still say there is nothing like curling up with an ACTUAL book in your lap, Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers is a great family story, and I would encourage you to check it out (in print, or on an e-reader 🙂 ). The PDF download for this costs $8.79, and you can find out more about it, and the other things Christian Liberty Press has to offer, here:

http://www.shopchristianliberty.com/

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this book, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Excitement!! Anxiety!! Yep, it’s the start of another school year!

Whew!! I finally got to order my homeschool materials for this school year this week, and they are on their way! Usually I have this done much earlier than this, but due to my hubby getting injured and having to be off work for 6 months, we were not able to get the money together like we usually do. I have been stressing for a while about how we were going to get what we needed, but God came through like he always does.

Now, or course, I am anticipating getting started and I am in the process of organizing and sorting through last year’s materials. That’s a lot of work!! I am very excited about starting this year, and I am really looking forward to all of the things we are going to study, but, since it will my oldest son’s first year of high school, I am also a little nervous.

I have spent a lot of time poring over graduation requirements, methods for keeping track of hours in order to assign credit, and how to set up transcripts. Wow! Homeschooling high school is definitely going to be more work than elementary and middle school. However, I am fortunate to know some moms who have gone this route already, and I plan to lean on them for advice. 🙂

We also have our fall garden that we still need to plant….and that requires some planning too, so I have plenty to keep me busy right now. I can’t believe my son is starting high school….while this does make me nervous, I am excited to see how God’s plan unfolds in his life over the next four years, and thankful that I get to be such a big part of it!

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Apologia has many amazing products for homeschoolers. I have used a lot of their stuff, and I always really enjoy it. For this review, I got use their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist with my 9th grade son, along with the accompanying workbook.

This book and workbook set makes up Apologia’s first apologetics curriculum for high schoolers, and I think it fits an important need. Growing my boys hearts for God is the main goal of our homeschool, but as kids get older, they have to begin to form their own beliefs and decide WHY they believe the way they do. This book can help them answer that question.

The book begins a discussion of how we define truth, and moves into the beginnings of life, talk about miracles and the bible, and finally a detailed look into the life of Christ. Along the way, readers are encouraged to look at the objective evidence in support of Christianity, and to also evaluate the most popular arguments against it.

The three major religious worldviews (see above) are compared and contrasted, and students are given examples of ways to respond to non-believers questions. This part is very important in my son’s life right now. On top of the questions he often faces about being homeschooled, he also faces questions about his beliefs. He has friends in the neighborhood who are both Christian and non-Christian. Many of his non-Christian friends often ask him about why he does that “church stuff”. Since he is getting older, I think it is important that he find a way to handle these questions for himself and be able to define what it is he believes and why.

The student notebook is a great companion to the book. There is one section for each chapter. Each one begins with a summary of the key topics of the chapter and a list of vocabulary words. There are questions to encourage children to think about the chapter itself, some brief biographies of people who have influenced the various worldviews, and then further questions and assignments to help them further develop their thinking and further define their own worldviews. There are also downloadable tests for each chapter you can use as well.

My son liked the way the book was written, and the length of the chapters was fine for a 9th grader. We used this curriculum once a week, and I read the book too so my son and I were able to have discussions about it. I learned a lot through this as well. I think this is a great curriculum for a high schooler who is looking to learn how to defend his faith.

The soft cover book costs $16.00 and the workbook costs $33.00. I think they are both definitely worth the price! You can learn more about these products at the Apologia website here:

https://apologia.securesites.net/

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, click here:
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**Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Vocabulary Spelling City

Spelling and vocabulary are very important parts of both writing and reading. I am constantly looking for products that will help my youngest son grow in this area! Vocabulary Spelling City is a web-based program that is a great resource for instruction in these areas. I have previously used the Spelling City website, but it has been updated and the newer version has even more to offer!!

As the teacher, you add your students and set up your account. You can add your own spelling and vocabulary lists for your kids to use, but they also have suggested word lists set up by grade and subject area. Once you have added your words for the week, you kids can log in and get learning!!

Once your students have accessed their list, they can select from a number of options. “Teach me” allows them to hear the word read to them, spelled to them and then listen to a definition. The test option allows them to take a test on the words, and “play a game” gives them an opportunity to practice their words using fun games!

As the teacher, you can log in and track your students progress and grades. The reports tell you what your child has done, when they were working, and the gradebook does all the scoring for you!! How easy is that?? Honestly, this is a great website for a busy homeschool mom, especially if your child likes computer games. I also like the fact that the words are read out loud, and, as they are spelled, each letter appears on the screen. This helps both audio and visual learners.

But, that is not all that Vocabulary Spelling City has to offer. They also have Language Arts lessons, on topics like analogies, antonyms, synonyms and much more! The lessons include a video that teaches the concept, and then your child can play games to practice. There are also two writing activities (sentence and paragraph writing) that allow students to practice writing and use the words from their lists!!

The website also has plenty of support for teachers. There are several videos available that explain how to use the features on the website and answer frequently asked questions.

When my son found out we were using Vocabulary Spelling City again, he was really excited!! He genuinely enjoys the games and activities, and that makes teaching spelling and vocabulary so much easier for me!! I like being able to track his progress daily, and he really does well on his spelling and vocabulary quizzes.

You can register on the website and save lists for free. But in order to have access to all of the features, a premium membership will cost you $29.99 per year (for up to 5 students). I think this is a great price for what you get!! We will be keeping our membership up to date for a long time!

To learn more about Vocabulary Spelling City, check out their website here:

http://www.spellingcity.com/

To see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Vocab Videos

Vocab Videos is a web-based program designed to teach SAT vocabulary to students. The concept is simple: students watch short, funny videos (many of them based on popular television programs) that use the vocabulary words in context and the presentation helps them to remember the meanings of the words. The website also has extras like quizzes, worksheets, and a multi-media flashcard maker. You can also purchase an additional workbook to use with the program.
The videos begin with a shot of the word and the definition followed by a brief skit illustrating the definition. Typically, each video is under a minute long, but the videos are done in a series, with the storyline of the skit being followed to completion, illustrating many vocabulary words along the way. The videos are well done and do a very good job of painting a concrete picture of the word. I can see how these would be very useful for teaching vocabulary.
As the teacher, you have the ability to add students to the program, and then monitor them and the work they do. The additional crosswords and worksheets were helpful, and the interactive quizzes gave immediate feedback to the student when they were done. Quizzes are also available to be downloaded and printed out. You can even create your own flashcards to use when studying.
Now, while I love the concept behind Vocab Videos, I did have a problem with some parts of the program. Keep in mind that these videos were created for teachers to use in school, and are meant to appeal to current teen culture. While they are funny, their humor was not something I considered appropriate for my boys. The Lord’s name is used in vain (a lot) and some of the scenarios seemed better suited to adults instead of kids. (One of the skits is based on the movie Scream, something I won’t even allow my boys to watch!) I would strongly suggest previewing the videos yourself before you show them to your child.
A small (meaning less than 20 students) subscription to Vocab Videos will cost you $74.99. While I think this program has a lot of value in the method it uses to teach vocabulary, I don’t think I would be able to use it because the language and situations simply don’t mesh with our family’s lifestyle. However, I would suggest you make your own decision by checking out the 1-month free trial they have available. For more information on pricing, click here:
You can get more information about this program from their website here:
To see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, click here:
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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

King Alfred’s English

King Alfred’s English written by Laurie J. White, is a combination history and english book all about the English language. A homeschool mom, and English major, Laurie started by writing an article on the history of English, and ended up with a whole book!! Chosen by CBD as one of the top 10 picks for homeschoolers in January 2010, this book will give your child (and probably you too) a whole new perspective on the English language. And the website includes links for supplemental materials including worksheets, tests and movies you can use to make this a curriculum for your child.

The book begins with Julius Ceaser’s invasion of “Brittania” and moves into sections about Old English, Middle English, the making of the English Bible, and Modern English. Along the way, you will learn interesting facts about grammar, vocabulary, and people that influenced the language we speak today. The book also includes a lot of information about how Christianity spread to England (and then on to other countries).

I will be honest with you, when this book came in the mail, I read it first! Laurie White’s style of writing is very engaging, and I found the book easy to read, and humorous in many parts. I learned a LOT of things I didn’t know (and I am a former English teacher!). For example, did you know there was an Old English letter called “thorn” that stands for the “th” sound? Or that Old English used the letter combination “hw” instead of “wh” like we do now? The word “while” was spelled “hwil”, and even though we no longer spell it that way, we still pronounce the beginning sound as “hw”. Personally, I found this fascinating (but I’m kind of a book nerd 🙂 )

Laurie has also put together some great extras on her website for you to use along with the book when you are using it, and they are all free!! The links include movies you can use, websites with additional information, literature, and even primary sources you can access on the internet. The teacher page inlcudes printable worksheets for each chapter, and section tests as well (complete with answers!!) Altogether, the supplemental material gives you enough to flesh out a full semester.

You can purchase King Alfred’s English online at Amazon.com ($16.95) and other online bookstores. Prices vary, and it is available at CBD for $14.89.

To find out more about King Alfred’s English and all that Laurie White has to offer, check out the website here:

http://www.theshorterword.com/

To see what other TOS Crew members have to say about this product, click here:

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**Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Our Reasons Why

Our blog cruise topic for this week is “Why homeschool?”. This is always an appropriate topic, because I seem to get asked the question “Why woud you want to homeschool your kids??” at least once a week!! (The question is usually accompanied by suspicious looks, and some eye-rolling).

So, what made my husband and I decide to make this radical change in our lives three years ago? After all, I was a teacher, and my kids were at school with me every day, I could monitor them at school, and they would still get the instruction they needed plus all the social interaction they wanted there. Not to mention, my husband is a firefighter, and we certainly needed my income. Why would we give all that up??

Well, the first answer is simple: God told us to. The Lord laid on my heart a few years earliers that He wanted me to bring my boys home. At first, I was resistant to the idea…and my husband, well, he wouldn’t even consider it. However, the thing about God is, He is relentless when it comes to working on your heart, and as we all know, when He tells you to do something, you really just need to go ahead and do it!!

As time went on, and our boys got older, we began to notice subtle character changes in them we did NOT like. Even though I spent a LOT of time with my kids (driving to and from school, seeing them in the hallway, doing homework, bedtime etc. etc.), I often went to be feeling dissatisfied, like I wasn’t truly engaged with them. This thought troubled me, and as my husband and I began to note how our kids were becoming more and more a reflection of their friends, and less and less a reflection of God, we both knew something needed to change.

That is when we made the decision that I would stop working and homeschool the boys. The decision wasn’t without consequences, we had to make some major changes in our lives to live solely on my husband’s income (including the eventual loss of our home), but there were a lot of positive changes too. My kids smile a lot more, they laugh, they seem less stressed in general. Their academics have only gotten better since we withdrew them (especially for my younger, reluctant-reader, reluctant-writer, reluctant to sit still boy!! 🙂 ). We as a family are closer and we spend a LOT more time just being together, we talk more, and most importantly, my kids get to study God’s word and learn about Him every day, all day!!

That doesn’t mean this homeschooling thing is easy. Some days there are arguments, work that doesn’t get finished, things that come up and get in the way, and financially, we struggle. However, the sacrifice is more than worth it when we consider the fact that we are raising our children up in the Lord every day. Are you thinking about homeschooling? Are you already a homeschooler who just needs a little reminder of why we do what we do? To see what other members of the crew had to say on this topic (and get inspired yourself!) click here:

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Create Better Writers

Create Better Writers is a writing program designed with homeschool teachers in mind!! It is designed to make it easy for you to teach multiple levels at once, it gives you an entire plan you can follow for grades 3-12, and it is aimed at making the whole writing process easier for reluctant writers!!

The first component of this program, the Home School Writing Action Plan is a step by step plan for you to use for all of your writing instruction for your students. It begins with instructing you on teaching your kids how to write a paragraph, and then expands to essays, research reports, etc. The best thing about this is that, while it does reference other products from Create Better Writers, you can simply apply the action plan to other curriculum you already have in place if you want!!

The action plan includes a pacing guide, which references which sections of each book you want to cover each semester (a really nice touch for a busy homeschool mom!!) but you are free to plan when and how to cover those sections on your own! ( I really appreciate the flexibility there 🙂 ). The program progresses from paragraph writing, to sentence building (with instructions on writing tricks like phrases, appositives, dialogue), and moves on to vocabulary and writing assessment. Honestly, just working through some of these activities alone could keep you busy for a while!

The first book in the program is How to Write a Paragraph ebook. This book is aimed at grades 3 and up, but I used it with my (very) reluctant soon to be 6th grader. With this boy, writing is a chore. He has lots of ideas he loves to express verbally, but getting him to put them on paper in a logical order is a challenge!! I really liked the clear directions in this book for the parents. It makes the whole thing very open-and-go, which is nice!! The “paper set up” trick is a very simple graphic organizer any student can use anywhere, at any time!! This makes it a valuable tool for years to come. Printable worksheets are available, as is a great paragraph assessment sheet your kids can easily use on their own!!

How to Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay is another component of the program I got to look at. Aimed at grades 4-12, it also provides detailed lesson plans for you to use to help your child develop a strong essay. Included in this e-book is a pacing chart, which again spells out very clearly what to do each day, and then a detailed lesson for each step of the program. I used this portion with my soon to be 9th grade son. He appreciated how they broke the individual steps into even smaller steps!! (He even told me, “the way they explain this just makes writing so easy!!”)

And, I think that is what is really the big draw of this program for me, it really does take writing (which, when looked at “big picture” can seem pretty intimidating) and simplifies it so it IS easy!! The Homeschool Action Plan in itself is a fantastic resource for any homeschool parent, but when you add in the other available ebooks, you have a great total program as well!

They also have grammar and writing tricks books available, as well as vocabulary practice included in their “The Complete Writing Program” book.

The cost of this program will depend on whether you want to buy individual components, or one of the bundles they have available. The Home School Writing Action Plan costs $19.95, How to Write a Paragraph costs $7.99, and How to Teach the Five-Paragraph essay costs $17.95 for the ebook, and $22.95 for a soft cover edition.

There are also various bundles available, ranging from $64.00 for the soft cover bundle of those three books, to $134.00 for the super bundle, which includes those three plus the Writing Tricks Plus book, the Complete Writing Program, and one grade level of the Standards Based Grammar. They also have other bundles in between those. Personally, I appreciate the range of choices provided so you can find something that fits your budget. For more information on pricing, please click here:

http://www.createbetterwriters.com/Home_School_Page.html

To learn more about Create Better Writers, visit their website here:

http://www.createbetterwriters.com/Home_Page.html

And, to see what other members of the crew had to say about this product, please click here:

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**Disclaimer: I was given free access to this product for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Homeschool Planning!

We are on Day 3 of our blog hop and today’s topic is: Homeschool Planning!! I must admit, planning is one of my favorite things to do. I love looking at our curriculum and deciding what we are going to do next. I always get excited at the start of the school year when I start thinking about our goals and mapping out a curriculum plan.

So, how do I go about planning for our homeschool? Well, I find it is helpful to start by reflecting on the previous year. As I am packing up our homeschool stuff from the last school year, I take some time to go through my kids porfolios and get a picture of where they did (and perhaps) did not grow, and what we need to work on for the next year. I use these ideas to help me when I’m looking for curriculum (I am paying particular attention to the area of writing for my younger son) and also to set goals for the next school year.

In the week or two before school starts, I spend some time making lists of overall goals for my kids for the year. These can be academic (last year, for my younger son one of my goals was for him to achieve mastery of all of his math facts, which he did!), artistic (for my older son, to learn some new songs on his guitar) or related to character training (you will NOT call your brother a name every time you get mad…even if you want to!!). By doing this, I know I have at least some general direction in each area for the coming school year.

I generally plan our day-to-day schedule each week (usually on Friday after we have finished for the day). Yes, I like having a written plan for our schooling each week (I think it’s just second nature from being in the classroom). I am the kind of person who can sometimes be easily distracted, therefore I find that having a written plan helps to keep me on track. That does not mean I am opposed to hopping down a rabbit trail, or exploring some topic more deeply if the occasion arises. We do this fairly often, which is why I write my plans in pencil! I love the flexibility of homeschooling because if an unexpected learning opportunity presents itself, you can simply change your plan for the day!! At times like that, I simply use a sticky note to write down what changed, and when I am making my plans for the next week, I add in whatever did not get finished.

We all know some days DO NOT go according to plan, but that is a part of life, and I want my kids to learn how to adapt when they need to. For me, a written plan is a guide for the week, not a “set in stone” list of things we must do. I find my weekly plans are helpful if something comes up (like mom actually being the one to get sick!), because then my kids and my hubby can actually follow the plan and school will still get done. But, if we have days where something does come up, and we miss a lot of things on our list for the day, I know that’s okay, because we can do them tomorrow!!

Some tools I find useful in my planning are, the TOS Schoolhouse Planners, which are loaded with excellent sheets for planning, goal setting, record keeping etc. You can check them out here:

http://schoolhouseteachers.com/2012/07/purchase-the-2012-2013-schoolhouse-planners/

And, if you are looking for something free to get you started, check out Donna Young’s website which is also loaded with tons of useful homeschool forms that you can download and print!

http://donnayoung.org/index.htm

To see what other members of the crew had to say on this topic click here:

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