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Apr 27, 2016

YWAM Publishing TOS Crew Review

We really used to enjoy using unit studies, but have gotten away from them with the hoop jumping I've been feeling the need to perform for the state.  YWAM Publishing has just what we needed to bring some fun back to school.  One of our favorite units when the boys were small was about the moon.  YWAM's Heroes of History title, Alan Shepard: Higher and Faster and the corresponding Digital Unit Study was a great introduction to this company.

We received the book in the mail and an email to access the Alan Shepard digital unit study.  The book is a 240 page paperback with a recommended age range of ten and up.  It covers Alan's life beginning with his pre-teen years in East Derry, NH. 

I quickly downloaded the files and found that they opened up in a nice site with tabs and a nifty design, but I couldn't get to the files.  I called my gEEk over and he quickly found the source documents so I was able to open the PDF files.  That's all I really wanted anyway!

The main study guide PDF consisted of the following sections.
  • Key Quotes
Quotes by Alan Shepard and other related notables are listed.  These can be used for memorization, inclusion in a unit display, copywork, or any number of other uses.
  • Display Corner
    I think the favorite part was creating our display corner. 

  •  Vocabulary
Last year, I started a simple dictionary for Mal and Xav to each have.  I just put 26 pages in a portfolio folder, each page labeled with a letter of the alphabet.  We used it for a while, then changed to a vocabulary workbook.  With this unit on Alan Shepard, we got them back out and began writing out the vocabulary word for each chapter, looking it up in their dictionaries, determining which definition applied if there was more than one, then writing a brief definition in their own words.  This part could get time consuming with them, but I think the dictionary practice was well worth it.  They seem to be able to remember more of the vocabulary words this way.

  •  Questions
  1. One factual question
  2. Two comprehension questions
  3. Two opinion-type questions.
I chose to let them answer the questions orally and we had some great discussions some day.  The answer to this section can be found in Appendix B of the digital unit study.
    • Student Explorations
    These are an assortment of tasks that you could choose to assign that include essays, creative writing, arts and crafts, A/V, and hands-on projects.  The boys are currently making rockets with their dad, and Xav and I look at moon topography maps, which were a couple of the hands-on items in the list.
    • Community Links
    These are ideas for classroom visits and field trips, an excellent list.
    • Social Studies
    This extensive section has ideas for several geography studies that relate to Alan Shepard's life, a timeline (Appendix C), a much longer list of related terms and vocabulary.  One nice thing in this section is that the words are cross referenced to the page of the book that they first appear on.
    • Related Themes to Explore
    Want to incorporate cross-curriculum learning?  This is a good place to find related topics to study in other subjects at the same time you study this Alan Shepard biography.  We call those rabbit trails and we run down these, unplanned, often!
    • Culminating Events
    Plan a fun party and invite friends and family to hear all about Alan Shepard and his life.  Show off what you know!
    • Appendix A is a related book and resource list, beginning with other biographies, and including articles, websites, and videos.  Several other YWAM Heroes of History biographies are tied in here also.
    • Appendix B - Chapter questions answers.
    • Appendix C actually is a separate file and contains the reproducibles needed for the Social Studies activities in chapter 6.
    The Alan Shepard Digital Unit Study lists far more activities than I could do on one go 'round with the boys.  I really appreciated the variety of projects for all ages that YWAM provides.  I was able to choose selections that were both enjoyable and educational.  My punks certainly like the read aloud aspect we chose to use (no one can complain that someone moved their bookmark, because they weren't both reading it simultaneously) and, surprisingly, answering the chapter questions and discussing what was happening in the book.  Merrick was sometimes able to be involved, which made him a happy guy.

    Some of the activities, I thought, will be better suited to Redhanded Homeschool when the boys are a bit older; essay questions, for instance.  I anticipate being able to use the Alan Shepard digital unit study again in junior high or high school.  And I'll get to be much more hands off!

    Find YWAM Publishing on social media.
    The YWAM Publishing Blog

    Christian Heroes {YWAM Publishing Review}

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    Apr 21, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in Our Homeschool - Ski Lessons

    Can you believe Dad and I have never had a ski lesson in our lives?  Well, good gravy!  We live in ski country.  The family was able to get group rate ski lessons with our homeschool co-op, but we also have heard of other homeschoolers who are willing to organize lots of random people for group lessons.  Some charge a fee and some do not.  If you're in a ski area, call the mountain and ask if they have group rates and if they know of anyone who organizes trips like this.

    On off peak days, the bigger boys can each ski for $20.  That includes lesson and rentals (skis, boots, and helmets).  Another $10 each would give them access to the lift. 

    Merrick can't get official lessons yet, but I *think* he can next year.  I'm looking forward to not having to sit in the yurt entertaining him.  He gets so upset that he is never allowed (old enough) to participate with his brothers.
    Cocoa in the yurt.

    Apr 20, 2016

    Wonderfully Made Book Review

    Do your children always seem to hit you unawares with questions about where they came from, how did they get there, and what did they eat in there, anyway? I have some curious kiddos with lots of questions.  Especially Xavier!  Oh the questions!

    Wonderfully Made: God's story of life from conception to birth is a delightful look at life in the womb from conception to birth. It describes, in simple terms, what babies look like, how they spend the time in the womb growing and practicing all the skills they will need for life outside the womb. The best thing about this book, is that there is no content that would make me reconsider leaving it out for the children to access any time, on their own. This had been a stumbling block with some books I had picked up which provided much more detail than I may have been ready to share. And really, sometimes the littles haven't even asked those questions yet. Wonderfully Made is tactfully written from a loving mother's voice directly to her children, just as I might tell my guys “their stories.”

    At many places, the size of the baby was compared to familiar items.  A nail head, an apple, and a ruler were all used for reference.  The only confusion we had was week eight and nine.  In week eight, the baby is described as the size of a pencil sharpener and in week nine, an olive.  Our pencil sharpener is pretty big and I had one guy ask if the baby shrank!  They learned which organs were being formed when.  It was a pretty complete introduction to how babies are grown.

    Scripture is sprinkled throughout the book and the gospel message of Christian rebirth is shared at the very end of the book.

    The illustrations are colorful and somehow soothing to look through. We enjoyed watching this little babe grow and develop. The other children throughout the illustrations are precious to watch just being kids and the contrast to the developing child helps little ones grasp that they were once just like that.

    Your preschooler to age ten or so (Mal is 11 and enjoyed it) will almost surely love this look at the miracle of life in the womb. Wonderfully Made is a wonderful addition to your home library.  I purchased a second copy as a gift for an expectant friend and her children because I liked it so much. They also enjoyed it.

    I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to post a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions are my own or those of my family.

    Apr 19, 2016

    A+ Interactive Math TOS Review

    We have some math learning gaps.  It isn't because we don't cover everything they need for math.  Some things just don't stick.  We often go over things regularly, but we can miss a few days and then everyone forgets to carry, can't estimate, and doesn't know how to divide.  It's frustrating for me, but it's especially tough for the boys.  They're sometimes pretty hard on themselves.  A+ Interactive Math now offers Math Mini-Courses along with their regular math lessons.

    I chose two courses, one for each of the bigger littles;
    • Time (1st-4th) - 20 lessons for Malachi, and
    • Money (1st-5th) - 18 lessons for Xavier.
    This is a basic review of the concepts needed to learn the mini-course topics through a certain grade level.  This varies with the courses selected.  The Parent Dashboard enables you to assign the courses to your student and set up their A+ account login and password.  Here, I can also see grades received on each of the video lessons.  A completion date is also listed, but that must be entered manually.  I also can print the questions for the lessons as a math worksheet for table work.  Since we hook the laptop up to the television, which is easier on the eyes, the worksheets work well for us.  Also, it's handy paper for working any arithmetic.  The questions have been pretty much the same online as the worksheets, so a few times I've just entered the answers from their papers online so it's all recorded in my reports.  I don't know if that's the case with every lesson through to the end or in all mini-courses.

    After I log off, one of the boys can log into the account I set up for them.  Then they launch their class.  The program doesn't remember where they left off, so I try to keep track so they can go straight to the appropriate lesson in the menu.  A couple of times, we've clicked ahead of where we were and had to close the box that wanted us to mark the lesson complete so we could go back where we belonged.  Once it was quite insistent that I should mark it complete.  I just closed the whole window and relaunched the course.

    The lesson is a video and a pleasant sounding woman's voice which reads the video screen to the punks.  Generally, she will read a few screens worth of information before the questions start getting asked.  I'm not sure if you are *supposed* to be answering the questions during the video, but there is barely a pause between asking a question and "If you said ____, you're correct."  It drives the boys bonkers, so I need to be standing there to pause the video the second a question is asked so they have time for a breath, a thought, and to answer.

    After the bulk of the video lesson, an online Question and Answer session begins.  As I said, this is also where I could enter in the answers the boys wrote on their math worksheets, if I wanted.  Most of the questions are multiple choice.  Some questions require an answer to be entered manually.  After typing the answer into the spot indicated on the screen, there is a frog on the screen which needs to be clicked on to submit the answer.  If you miss the frog, the system will not receive the answer and the section will not be scored properly.

    Once the lesson and questions are completed, you then manually mark each lesson completed with the date.

    If your child is experiencing any learning gaps in math and enjoys a no-frills audio and video lesson, you may find just what you need at A+ Interactive Math.

    Other Math Mini-Courses include:
    • Counting and Identifying Numbers (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Place Value and Number Combinations (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Naming, Comparing and Arranging Numbers (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Fractions (1st-3rd) - 10 lessons
    • Early Elementary Addition (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Subtraction (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Elementary Geometry (1st-4th) - 19 lessons
    • Elementary Algebra (1st-4th) - 27 lessons
    • Tables, Charts and Graphs (1st-6th) - 17 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Multiplication (2nd-6th) - 13 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Division (2nd-6th) - 15 lessons
    • Measurements and Conversions (2nd-6th) - 23 lessons
    • Number Types and Conversions (3rd-6th) - 35 lessons
    • Ratio, Proportions, Probability & Statistics (3rd-6th) - 14 lessons 
    • Decimal Numbers (3rd-7th) - 20 lessons
    • Advanced Geometry (4th-7th) - 35 lessons
    • Advanced Fractions (4th-8th) - 26 lessons
    • Percentages (5th-8th) - 13 lessons
    Find A+ Tutor Soft on social media.


    Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}

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    Apr 14, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in our Homeschool - Tae Kwon Do

    Master Snyder offers weekly, after school classes at several schools in our area.  He also has summer lessons and a day camp.  We opted for lessons at the smaller of the two closest elementary schools.  Tae Kwon Do is Malachi's "thing."  That's not to say he is great at it, but it's where his body and brain are becoming strong and being trained.  He's learning a lot about self-control and listening, which is very beneficial for him.

    Xavier and Malachi both attended lessons for a few weeks, but it quickly became clear they just could not participate together.  Since Xav also takes archery lessons, we decided to pull him from TKD and Mal started doing much better.  Merrick is devastated that he never gets to do any of the things we find for the big kids.  Hopefully, next year, or the following year, he'll be old enough for Tae Kwon Do.

    Now, to participate, we did need to sign up for the school's after school program.  TKD was not an included class, so there was a charge that we pay our instructor.  We did need to be "official" with the school, though.  We were welcomed and invited to participate in the activities that were offered on other days as well.  When we arrive, the boys can, and often do, participate in the snack program right before everyone disperses to their activities.

    Check with the local school districts or other in-the-know parents who might be able to fill you in on this type of Phys Ed option.

    Talking Fingers TOS Review

    Talking Fingers Inc. is (from the website) an "Innovative Phonics-to-Fluency Software for Hands-on Reading and Spelling."  Normally, I wouldn't have copied anything from the website, but I really felt that was one of the best tag lines I've ever read.  Before we were assigned Read, Write & Type for review, I decided to try out the demos on the website, so I set up the school laptop.  I started the parent demo and before I knew it, Merrick snugged right up beside me and Xav was hovering over my shoulder.  After poking around a bit, I excused myself.  I barely left the room and Xav was sitting in my chair, pushing buttons.  They played around until I came back.  I was trying to show Xav the "home row" when I decided to change him to the kid demo.  The three of them were roaring with laughter and yelling advice to each other for an hour!

    I knew I would definitely get Xav an account.  He's at a good age for it, not a bad reader (though not a great speller), and with decent coordination.  I really was undecided about another account for Malachi or Merrick.  I ended up speaking to someone at Talking Fingers Inc., asking if maybe Mal and Merrick could share an account because I didn't think either would get a ton of use out of it (because Mal's coordination is pretty poor and he doesn't like the character in the program, and Merrick is only 4), but they like to be included.  Kris was super helpful and kindly offered them both an individual account and talked to me about how each could specifically benefit. 

    Read, Write & Type was developed for children approximately ages 6-9/grade K-2, kids with learning disabilities or reading difficulties, and for English as a second language learners (with voice-over help in Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog).  Merrick is four and he was all over this program.  He did need some help from me, mostly with spelling.  And he can only type with one finger.  He definitely isn't ready for actual typing instruction, but the use of phonemes instead of letter names had him typing CVC words alone and the short sentences with help.  I set Merrick's requirements very low in the parent dashboard.  He only needs a score of 50% to pass and move on to the next level.  We share lots of woo-hooing and high fiving!

    Xavier needs to achieve an 80% to pass into the next "spaceship" (level) of the game.  He still hunts and pecks and doesn't use the home row (called power ups) accurately, but I see the improvement that regular practice is giving him.  He finds the keys more quickly and is also learning to spell better.  He still finds some phonemes difficult, so this is a great way to reinforce that.   As he progresses, he earns a certificate which can be printed out. 

    The game takes place at a computer where two hands talk the children through rescuing all of the keyboard letters (people and animals) from Vexor, a blobby green alien.  Using various activities, they must beat Vexor to return the letters to their proper place on the keyboard.  Once all the games are completed, based on the score set by a teacher/parent, the letter is safely returned to it's apartment window.  The boys love all of the things that Vexor does during the games to win by cheating, or things that happen to him when he loses the section.  It's pretty amusing to see a curtain fall on him or a trapdoor open under him.  Sometimes, they get all riled up because he will move their points to his side, but something ridiculous always happens to thwart him.

    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

    There is no marked starting or stopping point for the session, but it is simple enough to stop after a letter is returned home.  If you need to stop at any other point, the program remembers where you left off and you'll start back at the same place when you log back in.  At various points throughout the activities, there are fun books to read.  These can be saved on your computer as a PDF.

    Malachi says
    I was embarrassed.  Germy man is loud.  And annoying.  I think it might be made for babies and toddlers.  Besides, I already know how to spell and type.  You know that.

    Xav says
    I like the thing at the fountain where you have to spell quickly and if you are quick enough, Vexor gets a shower.  I know where some of the letters are on the keyboard now.
    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

    Merrick says
    Vexor sucks me into his space ship.  When you finish, you get a story part. I like when bad things happen to Vexor in the movie theater.  I learned to spell /k/ /a/ /t/ and /s/ /a/ /t/.
    So there you have it.  Three yeas (counting mine) and a nay.  Mal can spell pretty well, but he is a hunt and peck typer.  He obviously doesn't know how to *actually* type.  His review amuses me to no end because, today, he told Xavier not to type until he finished his math and he could watch.  Not do.  Watch.  sigh...  Vexor does kind of creep him out, but he can't get enough of watching.  He covers his ears while he watches his brother play.  It's hard to type while covering your ears!

    I especially like that phonemes are used in place of letter names.  Merrick knows his ABCs, but we have been practicing phonics and this is great reinforcement for him.  It's funny, when he writes now, he is making the letter sounds and trying to read words.  He's very good at beginning sounds.  And he just loves this keyboarding program.  It looks a bit outdated and I was a wee bit skeptical before we used the trial, but I can't recommend Read, Write & Type enough.

    Read, Write & Type and Wordy Qwerty (grade 2-4) both correlate with standards in all 50 states.

    Find Read, Write & Type/Talking Fingers on social media.

    Talking Fingers Inc. Review

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    Apr 8, 2016

    Stopmotion Explosion TOS Review

    One of the best things about being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew is that not only do we get to review fantastic home and homeschool related products and tell you about them, we get some input regarding which things we really want to look at.  That way we are using items we, and our readers, might find the most interesting and useful.  When Stopmotion Explosion showed up on my radar, I may actually have begged for this review (I did it for *you*!).  My eight nine year old had been taking bajillions (I'm sure that's a very accurate estimation) of still photos with his ancient iPod for months, but no one had any idea what to do with all of those pictures.  Enter the Stopmotion Explosion Animation Kit.

    The Animation Kit includes everything needed to create stop motion videos.
    You can read the first two chapters of the book online (there are 17 chapters in all).  This book taught us all we needed to know to create movies, from writing our story and building the sets to the use of proper lighting and film editing. 

    All kinds of items can be animated.  We worked exclusively with toys, mostly Lego and some Thomas the Tank Engine vehicles.  You can also create animated videos with clay, stuffed animals, and basic things like string.  The options are as endless as your imagination!  The Stopmotion Explosion content hub has tons of fan videos, tutorials, and other cool stuff to inspire your creativity.

    Stop motion film animation has been around since the dawn of cinema.  I'm dating myself a bit, but I remember watching Davy and Goliath and Gumby on weekend mornings at my Grandma's house.  Art Clokey created both of those shows.  Many Rankin/Bass Christmas specials used stop motion animation.  My kids are much more familiar with Nick Park's work which includes Wallace and Gromit.  Even the original three Star Wars films (episodes IV, V, VI) have used stop motion.  Remember the game played by R2 and Chewy in A New Hope?  "I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the Wookie win."

    Xavier didn't know that I'd requested the Stopmotion Explosion Kit for review because I didn't want him to be disappointed if we weren't selected.  As soon as I knew though, I told him and he was very excited.  Then I told him it would probably be a few weeks before it arrived so he wouldn't badger ask me every. single. day.  He was so excited when it arrived!

    After running to tell Malachi, he got right into the included book.  There aren't many books he will read as happily or completely as he read Stopmotion Explosion.

    He and Dad used the Quick Start Guide to make their first video the very same day.  Actually, Xav made many videos on many days!  He made some mistakes, like not paying attention to what extra stuff was in a shot (people moving in and out of the background, getting your hand in a shot, shadows, and lighting changes), not sticking his base plates down with putty like we did with the camera, and not focusing the camera.  We did learn that the camera is very difficult to focus.  The ring just does not turn easily.  Otherwise, this actually was a very simple process.  We learned from our mistakes and moved on to improve our videos in time.  Micah showed Xav what to do once and he was able to teach me himself so I could make a video with Merrick.

    For the first attempt, they created a car chase.  This was pretty simple.  They worked in the hallway that day and I think they had better lighting results there than some of the films made in the living room.

    Merrick and I made a video together also.  I let him move one of the two trains we used.  It's a perfect example of tacking down your base.  He kicked and tripped over one of the tracks so many times!  But it was "his" movie and he's only four, so I just let it go.

    The whole process can be very time consuming.  It takes about 12-15 stills to create one second of a movie.  When I see a stop motion film that is many minutes, or even an hour+ long, I have a whole new appreciation for that kind of effort.  Interestingly enough, while we were learning about stop motion animation during this review period, I heard about the full length film Loving Vincent that is being made.  The movie is about Vincent VanGogh.  Instead of using 12 photo stills per second, they are creating 12 *oil paintings* per second. All painted in the style of Vincent VanGogh.  Amazing!

    What Xav thought.
    One minute movies are really hard to make.  I've only gotten up to twenty three seconds.  Making videos is easy.  The book says what to do.  Making the videos and watching them is fun.  The camera that came in the box is the most interesting thing there is.  I learned not to use your iPod because the making movies pack (Stopmotion Explosion Kit) is much easier.
    Here's our first completed video using Audacity and Windows Movie Maker to throw it all together.

    I would definitely recommend the Stopmotion Explosion Kit for anyone interested in learning about and creating stop motion videos.  It isn't difficult to learn, even for a non-techy like myself.  With practice and patience, you can learn to make a lot of different, fun videos.

    Find Stopmotion Explosion on social media.

    Stopmotion Explosion Review

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