Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lesson Planet (TOS Crew Review)

When I was given access to Lesson Planet for the purposes of reviewing their website, I was certain this was an answer to prayer!  Who doesn't want the most information for the best price?  We know there is a ton of information 'out there' on the internet that is free (or just about), but it can be time-consuming to find it all... and let's face it, time does often equal money.

That's where Lesson Planet comes in: they offer an ad-free zone full of lesson plans, worksheets, and links to educational information that is geared for educators.  At this point in the process, I was hooked... but I have to be honest: actually using the site didn't measure up to my expectations.  For some parents/educators, this site would offer a great variety of lesson plans, worksheets, and teaching topics in a short amount of time.  For me, a fairly accomplished "Googler" (is that a word??), Lesson Planet didn't really offer much more than I had already been finding for myself.

Also, much of the information I did find was in "read to learn" format, and for that, we use books at home or in the library.  My kids would rather read a book than a worksheet, and we don't need to pay for most of that access.  In addition, I am fairly creative, have a decent home library, and have more than a passing grasp of ways to extend a subject.  So, just because I didn't love it certainly doesn't mean you won't.

Something worth noting: you can search quite specifically, so if you have a third-grader who is getting ready to learn about weather and it is winter, you could search for "Winter weather" and specify 3rd grade.  You can also specify a "Rating" which is when teachers have rated a resource already, so you could look only at things with a 3-star minimum rating.

While there were a WHOLE LOT of worksheets, activities, lesson plans, unit studies, and outside links for information on just about anything you could think of, it wasn't really something I would pay money for.  It would be useful to lots of people, though (and I didn't dislike it; I just wouldn't buy into it).  You can try it free for 10 days to see if you might be one who would benefit.  After the trial, it is $39.95 per year.

To see what my fellow Crew Mates thought of Lesson Planet, click here.

*Disclaimer: I received a 3-month subscription to Lesson Planet's website in order to use and review it.  This review is my honest opinion, and I have not been compensated for it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Breaking Through the Breakdown

When you watch someone you love struggling with his flesh, you can be pretty sure the breakdown is coming.  It is through the breakdown that people often have the breakthrough.

However, watching someone you love have a breakdown can be heart-wrenching!  We women, especially, want to hold, comfort, reassure... but they don't need us.  They need God.  Sometimes, we get in God's way.

My mission these days is to get out of God's way and let the breakdowns happen.  They might be small and many, or they might be big and few.  Whatever God requires.  And... i find... it begins... in childhood.

Watching my son come to terms with his own breakdown in order to let him have his breakthrough is painful.  But... the goal is adulthood.... So, i have to ask myself, "is this current pain worth less pain later?"  The answer is a resounding "yes!"

Madelyn Swift, author of Discipline for Life and speaker on the subject of behavior training, taught me this: "the lessons are cheaper when kids are younger."  How true is that?!?!  Wouldn't you rather your child learn proper care of other people's stuff with his sister's balloon poodle?  Isn't it better to learn transportation safety on a tricycle (as opposed to an automobile!)?  Aren't kids better off learning about lying when it is about brushing their teeth?

So, that being the case, i will continue to let my children experience the consequences of their actions, the truth of their choices, and the breakdowns that come from seeking one's own selfish desires (the flesh) rather than the will of God.  Because, inevitably, they will be adults... and my job will be done... and they, my children, will deal with the consequences of how i have parented them.  May God have mercy on them!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Bug on the Windshield of Life

i am a bug.
i'm on Life's windshield.
i have broken wings, but i am alive.
i have been bruised, but i can move.
Being able to move means i can make a decision.
Possibly the biggest decision i will ever make....

Do i try to get off the windshield?
Or do i hope Life doesn't turn on the wipers?

i wish i could tell you which decision is the right one.  i cannot even tell that for myself right now.

What i do know is this:
~ i am never alone, for God is with me.
~ i never suffer in vain, for God has a plan.
~ i will not be asked to do anything i cannot bear, though it may sometimes seem that way.
~ i will be alright... as long as i follow the sound of my Creator's voice.

Are you one of the bugs on the windshield with me?  Do you need to hear from God?

Father, in all that i am, in all that i have been, i surrender.  i am nothing without you, and i repent fully of all the days i thought i could rely upon myself.  i ask total forgiveness tonight for my doubt, my fear, my faithless attitude, and my selfishness.  i praise Your Holy Name that you would even hear my request... yet You go one step further and GRANT IT.  i praise You that You have brought me so far in the past year, that You cared enough NOT to leave me where i was.  Lord, i ask You to manifest Yourself further in my life.  i want less of me and more of You.  Please help me in this moment and the next, and please help me remember to seek You in the moments afterward.  i lay my life down at Your feet for You alone are worthy of holding it in Your hands.  i surrender all.  Help me hear Your voice and obey Your words.  In the Name above all names, Your precious son, Jesus' name, i ask these things.  Amen.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Super Star Games (TOS Crew Review)

When we found out we would have the opportunity to review something from Super Star Speech, I thought, "well, I guess we'll sit this one out." We have no speech problems or delays in our home (and 3 of us are even tongue-tied!).  Blessed, for sure!!

Well, it turns out there are GAMES made by the same folks, so we got to try those instead!  Yay!

We got a download of Super Star Games that contained 11 print-and-play games.  The topics were things like insects, continents, planets,  inventors, plus others.

We played a couple of the games since some of them were above my kiddos' level (not that they couldn't be interesting and fun just because we didn't know the subject matter... I just didn't print those because I thought they would be too hard).  The kids really liked them!  They wanted to play again as soon as a game was over, and there was a lot of laughing and 'Oh, man!" to be heard.  My first-grader was really trying, even though he had never heard most of the stuff before!

For $3.50 per game (instant download from Curr-Click), it is another great way to reinforce what you are learning or explore topics you aren't yet cementing in a fun way.  The games take up WAY less space than your average board game, and they are much more educational, but with some of the concepts of other games that make them fun.  For example, the Continents game allows players to win by "settling" continents, so it is sort of like an easy, educational version of Risk.

We liked them.  The only downside for me would be the little game pieces - you cut these out of cardstock, and I like to keep these sorts of things in zip-top bags, but the little game pieces stick to the bag with static electricity!  I could easily see using buttons or beads to solve that problem, though. (and it really isn't a BIG problem at all!)

See what others had to say (or check out the Speech materials!) by clicking here.

*Disclaimer: I was provided the free games with the intention that we would use and review them.  An honest review is all that was promised.  I have not been compensated for this review.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going Batty!

That's it... my brain has flown the coop!

The lights are on, but no one's home!

I've reached the end of my rope!

I'm going to start climbing the walls!

Hmmm, how many idioms can i recite to describe my current state???

Oh, forget it.

I have lots to do, not enough time to do it, and everything is swirling in my head, bumping into each other and getting mixed up!!  Today, i planned a field trip for this week that is supposed to be for next week.  Oh-kay.

I am going batty!! Which is not a good thing since i can't go into a cave!!

Ah, well, it's okay... this, too, shall pass. {sigh}

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Can I Homeschool If my Child Won't Obey Me?

Oh, i wondered the same thing initially! And i sent her to Uncle Sam's Public Brainwashing Academy instead for over 2 years because of that doubt.... oh, the guilt!!!

Well, okay, so your kid doesn't always obey you, and we know kids are better-behaved with strangers, so it stands to reason you would ask this question.

Alrighty, well, just beat 'em.
Seriously.  I'm kidding.

You have a LOT more time to teach proper behavior when you don't ship your kid off to the Brainwashing Academy, so what may seem like a big deal after school will be much less so when your child is not overstimulated, overstressed, tired, hungry, and reeling from negative social influences all day.

Junior gets to fold a LOT of laundry.  Scrub toilets.  Mop floors.  Pick up dog poop.  Whatever it takes to make Junior a productive member of the household and get his cooperation rather than his complaining.

Okay, okay, oversimplifying, i know.  But seriously, if your child doesn't obey you now, how is sending them to school going to help?  The only time you'll see your child is when they are at their worst... because they gave their best to their teacher all day and they're grouchy and tired and they know you won't hate them if they act nasty toward you.

This happened to us, and i do not recommend it.  We actually had to take 6 months off school when we began our homeschooling journey so that we could learn to like each other again - that's how much fun we were having while she was in school (not!).

Do my kids always obey now?  No, but that isn't just because of who they are.  We have bigger issues in the home that negatively influence how the kids treat Mommy, but overall, my kids are well-mannered and obedient. (It's because i beat them! I'm just kidding!! *grin*)

All joking aside, homeschooling won't solve the disobedience dilemma, but it gives you a lot more time to work on it - not to mention, more motivation: that little stinker is going to be in your face 24/7 and that's motivation to give 'er an attitude adjustment!! *big grin*

Go read some more responses to this week's Blog Cruise question, and Happy Homeschooling!!

Alphabet Beats (TOS Crew Review)

We received a copy of the Alphabet Beats "lowercase (Letters)" DVD to use and review in our homeschool.  I was thrilled!  The Smallish Man-Child doesn't form all of his letters properly, and if you watch him write, he even goes about it all wrong!  Plus, the Littlest Drama Princess is learning about letters, so why not let her in on it, too?

Alphabet Beats is a video for your children to watch (with you!) that teaches how to write the letters of the alphabet - each in 5-minute segments.  There are practice segments built right in for your child to write with Miss Marnie, and there are phonics lessons to supplement the writing portion of the program.  So, in essence, your child is learning the sound the letter makes (phonics), the letter's name, things that start with that letter, and how to form the letter with a pencil and paper... all in a television or computer video that is fun.  I don't think they'll even realize they are learning about writing!!

The first time we watched it, the Littlest Drama Princess made us Play. All. The. Letters. Through. (NOTE: this is not recommended by the creator, but this preschooler would not be swayed!) Not only could my kids write more neatly after watching the letters formed in Alphabet Beats, but the littlest one walks around chanting the letters: "candy cane down, line across: F!"  I figure by the time she can actually read, she'll have writing the letters down pat!

The video is fun, engaging, takes short breaks from writing to talk about and show things that start with the letter you're on, and then back to forming letters.  The Smallish Man-Child thinks it is boring (as if!), but he can write better (grin) and the Drama Princess says it would be great for little kids and the chants for the letters get stuck in your head.  These are surely positives!!

The lowercase DVD costs $35 (as does the UPPERCASE DVD), or you can get both for $64.99.  While that may seem a bit steep at first, I assure you the video we received is worth every penny!  Here is a quote from the website: "Children enjoy watching Miss Marnie because she is very engaging and fun, while at the same time she is teaching valuable skills and concepts. The vocabulary words being demonstrated are both educational and therapeutically based: body parts, spatial concepts, opposites, shapes, colors, animals, musical instruments, sensory items, community helpers, cutting, painting, behavior modeling, gross and fine motor activities, daily living skills, and so much more - all in our writing DVD's!"

To see what my fellow Crew mates thought of Alphabet Beats, click here.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of the Alphabet Beats lowercase Letters DVD for free in order to use and review it. This review is my own opinion of that product, and I have not been compensated for it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Camping With the Kiddos

So, we took the kids to Jellystone Mammoth Caves Campground this weekend, and it was so fun!  We tent camped the first night (oh, it was so cold!!), cabin camped the second night (Thunderstorms?? On our camping vacation?? Is that legal??), and were in our own beds last night (praise God!).

We looked at giant rocks, embarked on some Mammoth Cave tours, and walked through the prehistoric times of Dinosaur World - and we played around in the campground (mini golf, kids' playground, potty run, Frisbee, marshmallow roasting, potty run, golf-cart driving, campfire sitting, potty run).  We celebrated my son's best bud's 7th birthday, and we loved the excuse to take a family vacation!

Great times were had, memories were made, and a better understanding of camping with kids was cemented.

One piece of advice: do NOT take your 3-year-old camping when she is recovering from a urinary tract infection - this does not produce the calm, relaxing atmosphere you are striving for.

Have a perfectly blessed Sabbath (sort of), Everyone!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time 4 Learning (TOS Crew Review)

I recently received a month of access to Time 4 Learning's online website - the preschoolers section.  Since this is likely the first thing we have received that is just for preschoolers, and since I seriously contemplated signing my family up for this last year, I was ecstatic!

The Littlest Drama Princess and I got to click around the website, though not as much as I would have liked due to internet difficulties that lasted much of our month-long access.  Now, if I load the page, she happily hops up into the chair and says, "time for my 'kool, Mommy?" which is adorable all by itself!

The site offers LOTS for little people to do: play games, watch videos, draw and color, be read to, and more!  There are topics galore for education: numbers, letters, seasons, bugs, pets, days of the week, space, tools, vehicles, and much more!  When you want a break from all that (yeah, right!), you can head over the Playground, which is full of, yup, you guessed it:  MORE GAMES.  Puzzles, 2-player games, math games, various activities (like creating a flower arrangement in a vase or coloring zoo animals)... so much to do.

Honestly, the site is great, and today's children are certainly technologically inclined, but for my 3-year-old, I like her to play with all of her senses as much as possible.  Time 4 Learning certainly offers a lot for the $19.95 per month price tag, but preschool is free at our house, so we're not going to sign up for this one.  However, trying their preschool section has certainly made me curious about the older kids' areas, and we may try those out!

To see what others had to say, click here.

*Disclaimer: I was given one month of access to the preschool area of Time 4 Learning's website for free in order to review it.  This review is my own opinion of that site, and no compensation has been provided.

When God Allows Sickness

You know, i often think we grouse about getting sick, and with good reason.  Getting sick stinks.  No one likes it.  It is, by definition, not fun.

However, i recently became ill with strep throat and a bronchial infection in the same week, and i have to tell you how much God has done through those paired illnesses!  The strep throat came on hard, and with it, a loss of my voice.  This lasted about a week.  During this time of limited vocalization, God sent me a daily devotion, a sermon, and a book that told me that sometimes i need to "just shut up."  Message received.  Loud and clear.  Since regaining my voice, i am still practicing what i have learned.  So much peace when we obey the Lord!!

The bronchial infection took me down... stairs, laundry, dishes... everything was a chore that sent me into coughing fits and breathing difficulties!  I had to rest more, do less, and take prednisone.  It is through the prednisone (and Dr. Greta!) that i discovered something about myself that God must've wanted me to know: i have ADD.  Not the ADHD we see in many male children, but the kind women usually suffer from in silence: "predominantly inattentive subcategory of ADD."  This means we lose things, forget things, start things we don't finish, and mentally stray from something we should be focusing on.  We tend to develop lots of coping strategies for these struggles throughout our lives, and since we aren't hyperactive, we get by without detection.

As a child of dysfunction and alcoholism, i am not surprised to learn this about myself. The next step is to assist my body to be the best it can be by monitoring and changing the things i can - like limiting sugar, taking Omega-3 supplements, and paying attention to my focus.  My oldest child seems to suffer alongside me, so we are learning together how to live with the hangups that come along with ADD.

I am not interested in a formal diagnosis, having come from a course of study in psychology in college.  I need only understand my limitations with this issue and develop strategies for improving.  God wanted me to know, but not for excuses or medication... He wanted to help me understand myself the way He does.  He is just that loving.  He knows how often i feel inadequate, unfocused, stupid, lazy, and disorganized.  He hears me crying out for help.

We can't always understand why God allows sickness, but we can try to rest in comfort that He has a plan.

Now, off to brew some caffeinated coffee!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

AAS Beehive Reader #2 (TOS Crew Review)

Remember when I reviewed the All About Spelling Beehive Reader?  My son's first question was, "do they have any more?" when he was done reading it.  Well, we were sent their second book before it was even available to the general public for purchase!  Oh, the excitement!!

First of all, the Beehive Reader will be renamed Cobweb the Cat, so look for it by that name, too.

Secondly, the book we just received is a slightly more advanced reading level book at level 2, and it is called What Am I?

Again, a great collection of short stories with great drawings, likable characters, and an elusive kind of charm that wraps kids up in the book like no other book this size seems to do.

Maybe it is because the book is comprised of shorter stories, so it isn't overwhelming...?
Maybe it is the delightful, pencil-style sketches throughout the book that make the stories come alive...?
Maybe it is having his first hard-back, non-Seuss book that he can actually read....
Whatever it is, the second book is as big a hit as the first!

You can currently obtain the first book on their website, but the second one, What Am I?, will not be available until after April 15th - it is currently busy with its debut at all the homeschool conventions happening right now across the country. {wink}  And I may have heard something about a series... {wink, wink}

**Update: This book is NOW AVAILABLE!  List price is $19.95, but it is on sale for $15.95 until April 26th!!

Incidentally, it looks like these books will fall under a sub-name: All About Reading.  The main curriculum is still All About Spelling.

To see what my fellow Crew Mates had to say about What Am I?, click here.

*Disclaimer: The above-mentioned book was sent to me for FREE so that we could read it and review it.  An honest review was all that was promised, and no compensation has been provided.  This review is my own opinion.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Great Example...

... of nobody special doing something extraordinary....

Smiles Without Borders

I always think it is worth discussing when someone ordinary, someone like me or you, does something out of the ordinary, and since i haven't anything poignant to say tonight (shocking, i know...), i am shining the light on a friend of mine's in-laws, who started a non-profit foundation to help people in developing countries receive dental care.

Check them out... and spread the word!  Oh, and feel free to send some dinero their way!! :-)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tales From Terrestria (TOS Crew Review)

As members of the 2009-2010 The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, the kids and I received two books from the Tales From Terrestria series of books by Ed Dunlop.  He also writes the Terrestria Chronicles books, which some Crew Members received to review.  We received books 1 and 4, and we read book 1 thus far.

Book One, entitled The Quest for Thunder Mountain, was quite a good read.  There is a lot of imagery, a lot of adventure, and just the right amount of danger to make this book engaging for the whole family.  I especially liked talking with my children after each chapter about the symbolism in the book... much of which I would liken to our Christian faith, which is a bonus after the kids have been reading the Harry Potter series with Daddy!

All in all, the kids weren't enthralled with the books, but I have struggled to get them to love anything after Harry Potter, so the fact that they paid attention and we had dialogue after each segment of The Quest for Thunder Mountain is worth two thumbs up from me!  I really like the faith-building aspects of the book, and I found the descriptive writing quite appealing.  At 200 pages and $7.99, it is well worth the read, in my opinion.  There are 2 other books available in the series, and you can order them for $7.99 each or all three for $19.99.  These books do not need to be read in order, according to the publisher.

I should note that we have read aloud to the big kids for a couple of years now, both the Harry Potter series of books (1-6 so far) and the Inkheart book.  We are accustomed to big words, snappy dialogue, British slang, and twisting plots. :-)

To see what my fellow Crew Mates had to say about these and the other series of books, click here.

*Disclaimer: The above mentioned books were provided to me for free with the understanding that I would read and review them.  An honest review was all that was required, and no compensation was provided.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Update on Laundry Soap Making

Okay, you may remember that a few months ago we were given the opportunity to use and review some items from Virginia Soaps and Scents (VS&S).  One of the items was homemade laundry soap.  We loved it, in case you were wondering.

Well, after that batch was over, i had decided that we would continue to make our own since i had already purchased the ingredients needed for such a project.  However, months into the new homemade soap, i feel the need to point out: it is not the same.  We purchased Fels-Naptha for our bar of soap because it is the commonly available bar of laundry soap that is in most recipes, and i am not nearly as satisfied with it as i was with the VS&S brand.

So, last month, when the batch ran out, i purchased the bar of laundry soap from VS&S and made another batch, and i am already happier. (you can buy the prepackaged laundry kit or just the bar of soap to go with your supplies) It smells way better, it feels nicer, and it cleans better.

Who knew?

Well, VS&S probably knew. {grin}

You should check 'em out for your soap needs.  They are all wonderful!  We have now ordered (and are using) their Pet Poo (pet shampoo), Kiddiwink soap (hair and body bar for kids), many varieties of bar soap (favorite is Oatmeal, Milk & Honey), Lady's Shave Bar, Shampoo Bar (i love this!!), lotion bar (takes some getting used to, but it is a winner!), and Lip Balm.  I can't wait to place my next order: i always try something new!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter and Technology

Easter arrived, and after our customary basket-dumping, pancake-eating, egg-dying, Jesus-praising, worshipping, and chocolate-eating, we discovered that we had no internet.  All day.  Coincidence?  I think not.

So i am currently borrowing internet until tomorrow sometime when a new modem should arrive (thank you, AT&T!), and i am getting a lot done around the house and with the kids.  God speaks our language, doesn't He?

Be blessed, everyone... i hope you all had a beautiful Resurrection Sunday, and that you have a wonderful week!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Critical Thinking Co. (TOS Crew Review)

My children and I had the honor of reviewing a product from Critical Thinking Company. as part of the 2009-2010 The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew.  The product we were sent was Balance Benders (Beginning), the title of which told me very little about the product until I had it in my hand.  Wow.  It's neat!

Balance Benders is a book of logic puzzles that are based on a balance scale, and we received the beginner level, which is geared for children from second to sixth grades.  Big gap, I know, but there is a wide range of difficulty from the first puzzle to the last in the book, so I can see how they make that claim!

For only $9.99, it is a great resource!  While many people may look at the book and have their doubts that it has any value, I immediately knew it was a great fit for our family.  My husband and I are logical people, and I personally LOVE logic puzzles.  I was instantly immersed in the book myself!!  Then, I decided to see if our fourth-grader could do any of them (I am supposed to be reviewing this for second- to sixth-graders, right? ~grin~).

Well, without any commentary or queries, she promptly answered the first three and looked at me like, "uh-huh, and why are you asking me to do this?"  I explained how difficult the concept is to some and how important it is that we train the logical parts of our brains while we are young.  She seemed proud to be able to do the puzzles so easily.

I contemplated asking my first-grader if he could do them, but he is so sensitive when he doesn't get something right the first time (especially if he is following behind a successful attempt by his sister!), so I haven't done so.  We'll see what the summer holds.

To read my fellow Crew Mates' reviews of Balance Benders or other products from Critical Thinking Company, click here.

*Disclaimer: I received Balance Benders for free as a member of the TOS Crew with the understanding that I would use it and review it. A positive review was not required, just deserving.  I was not compensated for this review in any way.

Holy Week and Good Friday Study

Today at our home, we had the privilege of learning about Holy Week, the final week of Lent, and the culmination of Jesus' life on earth at what we call "Good Friday."  My kids have asked numerous times why we call it Good Friday.  It is easy enough to answer, but it is complicated because i see their point.

So, we made Hot Cross Buns, studied the activities of Christ each day from Palm Sunday to Easter (mostly focused on the Crucifixion, though, since we still have Easter to talk about the Resurrection), completed a puzzle, and drew stick-figure timelines with GrapeVine Studies' Resurrection Study.

We had a few friends join us for the day, and we feasted on pizza and played outside a lot.

We are surely blessed.