Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I originally published this post on July 1, 2008.  That means it has been six years, and I find myself in a similar circumstance.  At least I've grown to the point that it makes me laugh instead of cry.

Lost and Found

Well, as you know if you've read much here, our family is big. Over half of our seven children are off and on their own. In January we had an influx of kids hanging their hats here, so to speak. We had the uncomfortable task of assisting them in transitioning from one place to another on their life journey.

Anyway, in all the accommodating and moving around of things we experienced a few side effects that are just beginning to heal themselves. We keep finding remnants of those that transitioned here. I have three bags sitting in the office of said remnants waiting to be returned to their rightful owners.

The largest side-effect was the consumption of our garage by items that just seem to have planted themselves there. My big project for this summer is to go through the garage, return what is wanted by non-residents, sort and price the remaining items, and have a garage sale. Of course, we are all about simple living, therefor all remaining items will be donated to charity.

By far the most frustrating and puzzling side-effect suffered was the misplacing of my pictures from the living room. See our first set of transitioning individuals found their way to our home New Year's Eve. This means that Christmas decorations were still up, which in turn means that normal wall hangings and such were put away to allow for seasonal decorating.

You do realize that it is now almost SEVEN MONTHS since decorations came down, right? I could remember where they were before we changed everything around to accommodate unexpected residents, but where they landed after that has been a real mystery. I have searched high and low for these personal treasures.

I just love hidden blessings! We had to pull everything out of the office closet today to allow access to the space under our house for and unexpected meter reading for the city. See, here we have a water meter outside, and we have a water meter inside. Ours just happens to be located under the house in the old Michigan Basement accessed via the crawl space through the bottom of the closet. What at first seemed like a minor inconvenience became an unexpected brightener of my day.

Guess what I found? The missing pictures!!! I was SO happy. Remember, I said this was a personal treasure, right? My husband came home for lunch, as he always does, and he didn't even notice, despite that the living room finally looks all put back together! :-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Imaginative Play - A Real Blessing

My children have been playing A LOT, it is a beautiful thing!  They wake up nearly every morning and launch right into some make believe play that they have orchestrated.  Sometimes they even wait an hour or more before expressing interest in breakfast.  This has been a welcome reprieve for me.

My schedule is such that I have found it challenging to find quiet time in order to plan our our new school year which I have slated to begin in less than three weeks.  I know the benefits of imaginative play for my children, but what I didn't anticipate was benefits for me.  Slowly, I am letting go and allowing this play to progress on its own.  I feel burdened with many tasks fighting for the top slot on my list, so I am really trying to set my priorities.  Since we are set to start our more rigorous school routine in such a short time I am forcing myself to block out all the other tasks calling for my attention, and I am gearing my mind to focus solely on the task of preparing our lessons for the 2014-15 school year.  It is a bit of a daunting task, and it is challenging to focus when I have huge projects just begging for my attention.  However, I am committed to the task at hand.

We do school year round.  Learning just takes different forms depending on the season.  In the summer months we pare back the academics and take a more laid back approach.  However, in the fall and winter months we intensify our efforts taking on a heftier academic load.  This year we will be exploring human biology and History from the Industrial Revolution through present times, among all of our other subjects.  These two require the most effort on my part in regard to planning.  So, they are my first priority.  Getting the most difficult out of the way seems the best approach for me.

I am SO fortunate to have such a supportive group of homeschool friends.  A few of us have found a way to help each other out in the planning process.  We are making a deal with each other to keep each other's children so that we have QUIET time, in a large enough block to actually accomplish something, to prepare our lessons or whatever else may be required for us to be prepared to effectively educate our children.  I am SO excited about this plan!  What a blessing to have such a wonderful network of friends.  Community is something I have been longing to have for many, many years, and God has richly blessed me in this area since our move.

For me, at the moment, the double blessing is that my children are so eagerly educating themselves through imaginative play and occupying themselves without ANY prompting from me.  I am thankful that I am able to SEE the blessing and allow their explorations to continue with very little interruption from me.  It is well established that imaginative play is a wonderful learning medium for children, and their most important business is playing.  Given our unique circumstances, less and less so as years go by, I am fully aware of just how far these precious wee ones have come in their healing to actually be off playing on their own.  This is huge, and I am SO thankful that it is happening.

I am choosing to accept the gift given me.  We will enjoy the next couple of weeks at an even more relaxed rate so that my children can learn, explore, and grow all on their own, and I will take moments of time for myself to commune with my Creator, to listen to the chatter of my children and the birds outside, and I will grab the moments as they present themselves to prepare for the coming year.  Right now we are enjoying the serious business of play.

A Child's Garden of Verses: Selected Poems
by Robert Louis Stevenson


When at home alone I sit
And am very tired of it,
I have just to shut my eyes
To go sailing through the skies—
To go sailing far away
To the pleasant Land of Play;
To the fairy land afar
Where the Little People are;
Where the clover-tops are trees,
And the rain-pools are the seas,
And the leaves, like little ships,
Sail about on tiny trips;
And above the Daisy tree
      Through the grasses,
High o’erhead the Bumble Bee
      Hums and passes.

In that forest to and fro
I can wander, I can go;
See the spider and the fly,
And the ants go marching by,
Carrying parcels with their feet
Down the green and grassy street.
I can in the sorrel sit
Where the ladybird alit.
I can climb the jointed grass
      And on high
See the greater swallows pass
      In the sky,
And the round sun rolling by
Heeding no such things as I.
Through that forest I can pass
Till, as in a looking-glass,
Humming fly and daisy tree
And my tiny self I see,
Painted very clear and neat
On the rain-pool at my feet.
Should a leaflet come to land
Drifting near to where I stand,
Straight I’ll board that tiny boat
Round the rain-pool sea to float.

Little thoughtful creatures sit
On the grassy coasts of it;
Little things with lovely eyes
See me sailing with surprise.
Some are clad in armour green—
(These have sure to battle been!)—
Some are pied with ev’ry hue,
Black and crimson, gold and blue;
Some have wings and swift are gone;—
But they all look kindly on.

When my eyes I once again
Open, and see all things plain:
High bare walls, great bare floor;
Great big knobs on drawer and door;
Great big people perched on chairs,
Stitching tucks and mending tears,
Each a hill that I could climb,
And talking nonsense all the time—
      O dear me,
      That I could be
A sailor on a the rain-pool sea,
A climber in the clover tree,
And just come back a sleepy-head,
Late at night to go to bed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy Kids Review

Happy Kids Songs Review
We LOVE music in our home.  Harmony, the resident nine-year-old is almost literally ALWAYS singing.  With our plan to include character and virtue studies in our 2014-15 school year the three Happy Kids Songs digital album downloads are a natural fit.  The decades of experience brought to this project with Dr. Mac and Brian Mann is instantly evident.  The songs are amazing!

Happy Kids Songs ReviewHappy Kids Songs ReviewHappy Kids Songs Review

Each album is true to its title in the most literal sense.  Happiness & Attitude, Friends & Sharing, and Manners & Character are all fun to listen to and teach exactly what the title says.  The entire family enjoys listening to them over an over again.  For me they have a kind of fun, Broadway musical feel to them that makes listening to the songs with the kids even more enjoyable.  Each song is written in its own unique style making each one fun and interesting all on its own.  The songs touch on tough topics that kids face frequently as a normal part of growing up.  The sweet thing is there is always a solution given which models kind and upstanding behavior.  Listening to the songs provides a wonderful platform for discussing possible challenges our children may face before they actually happen.  The music also creates a peaceful atmosphere to discuss a challenge our child may be dealing with in the present.  Listening to the music is a fun way to introduce our children to making decisions and problem solving with respect for others and ourselves.

Happy Kids Songs Review
The Happy Kids Songs Workbook in softcover has already taken its rightful place on our bookshelf that holds all the materials we will be using in our homeschool this year.  The workbook provides complimentary materials for all eight of the albums available.  I love that the words to all the songs are printed in the workbook.  It's helpful to look at while learning to sing the songs with the kids.  I would love to have the actual sheet music just to aid in learning to sing the songs, but the words in and of themselves are helpful.  There are reproducible activity sheets, allowing you to make copies for each child in your homeschool, or even a co-op, to go along with each individual song as well as multiple learning activities to compliment each album.

Downloading the songs is relatively simple, especially if you are familiar with doing this sort of thing.  For me it was a bit of a learning curve.  My first lesson was that all burnable CD's are NOT created equal.  You simply MUST have the appropriate burnable CD for the playing medium you plan to use.  It also is possible to listen to the songs directly from you computer without having to play them individually.  It took me a little more effort to figure out how to create a playlist, but once I did that listening to the songs was a snap.  The kids can have them playing in the background while they do their math on my laptop.  We love to have them playing in the background while we work on projects, especially learning activities from the Happy Kids Songs Workbook.

The Happy Kids Songs Workbook is available to purchase for $12.56, and you can choose how you purchase the songs.  If you would like to just get a few individual songs they can be downloaded for $.99 a piece.  Alternatively, you can purchase each five-song CD for download for $4.95 which includes FREE downloads of the corresponding lyrics, coloring, and activity pages.  Samples of the songs are available on the website so you can listen before you decide on your purchase.

The songs and materials are geared for ages three through eight years old.  However, children outside of that age range are likely to enjoy them as well.  Mine are three, four, and nine, and it was an absolute perfect fit.  With our age gap it is so nice when we find products like this that appeal to such a wide age span.

All three of the kids enjoyed making the name mobile from page 91 of the workbook.  It corresponds with the song Bye, Bye Bully which is NOT a song from one of the albums in our review, but the lesson was applicable enough.  It helps children reflect on what it's like to be a new kid in the neighborhood and helps them think about positive things they can do to make someone new feel welcome.  We discussed this together, and then we made the mobile together.  The little ones, with a little help from me, got to cut, glue, and use glitter.  Bonus!  Harmony was able to create hers 100% on her own.

Happy Kids Songs and the Happy Kids Songs Workbook has a secure place on our curriculum bookshelf.  We will be learning about character and virtues for years to come.  Having this as a resource will provide the element of fun that we are always looking to incorporate in our adventures in learning.

To learn more about Happy Kids Songs you can check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Also, be sure to check out the other Crew Reviews to see how other homeschool families are using Happy Kids Songs in their homes.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

More Learning Lies Ahead

My office where all of our planning takes place.  It is also
sacrificed space.  This used to be my living room.  I have
hopes of reclaiming it within the next year.  We'll see!
It's that time of year when most of us are preparing for the up and coming school year.  We all do it, but we have our own style about it.  It doesn't matter the form of your approach to education, everything requires some forethought and effort.  Over the years what our family's approach to education looks like has changed several times.  I think we've finally arrived.  (Maybe.  Ask me again in five years.)  We are Eclectic Homeschoolers.  Isn't that a fun label?  I'm cool with it.  It's actually quite freeing to actually know WHO we are and WHAT we stand for as a family.

Aside from knowing God and gaining a more thorough understanding of the Bible our greatest goal as parents of the three youngsters we are currently raising, remember seven have gone before them, it is our greatest charge to instill them with the ability to do for themselves.  I've always believed it my job to raise my children up to live their own lives.  Never before have I viewed that calling in the exact light of which I do now.  We are not young parents.  When our young children are our age they will find themselves with very aged, quite possibly deceased, parents and not a grandparent to be seen.  They will be the elders much younger than we.  Sure they'll have their older siblings and cousins around, but they will definitely NEED to be independent, self-driven individuals.  In addition, it is my prayer that they will be community minded with a heart for their fellow man and that they will carry the wisdom to know when helping IS helping and when the best way to help someone is to step back.

The above goals are always in the forefront of my mind when I am planning their education.  This year is exciting for me in that I have found my way back to my roots.  I am back in communication with my eclectic self, and it feels nice.  With our sudden plunge back into homeschooling I enlisted the help of a "canned" curriculum.  It was great, and I planned to use it for years to come.  It felt good to not have to think so much.  It was fun to just open the book and follow the preset plan for the day.  I could prepare way in advance if I desired, or I could wing it for a day, or week or two, as needed.  The curriculum we used was simple to follow, in line with our morals, and easily alterable to suit our needs.  This I loved!

Now that all of us are getting used to living together and settling in as a cohesive family (It's been nearly TWO years!  Can you believe it?) I am feeling a bit more capable of doing my own thing.  What does this mean for me?  A lot more work is required on my part, but the outcome is so much more fun and totally worth it.  It means late nights and a lot of planning.  It means we get a customized curriculum, and I am SO into that!

I don't know about you, but I love learning about how other people do things, what resources they use, and how they put everything together to meet the individual needs of their families.  So, I thought you might enjoy a little peek into what I've been working on for my family.  I have some favorite resources to share with you and some organizational pointers.  It is my hope that you are inspired to stay the course, or take your first step, with your mission in mind.  Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, but when we are supportive of each other the load can be lightened, and we can even have fun (a lot of fun) on the journey!

My favorite planner is by far The Well Planned Day by Home Educating Family Publishing.  Rebecca Scarlata Keliher has thought of nearly everything we need as home educating parents to plan and manage our year, and she bound it all neatly up into a convenient planner.  I've tried others in an attempt to save a dollar, but this is one area I have decided not to cut corners.  This planner functions VERY WELL as my external brain, and with perimenopause rearing it's ugly head this is a very beautiful thing!  If you're not there yet, trust me on this one.

A glimpse inside my planner clockwise from left: front cover,
month at a glance, week at a glance, and student planning page.

*There are TONS of useful bits inside this planner.  I just shared my most used pages. 

In reclaiming my status as an eclectic homeschooler I have pulled back out and put back into service my trusty three-ring binder.  Here is where I keep the materials that I am putting together for lessons and prepare the individual subjects for my individual children.  It is such a handy system and really works well for me.  I love the resources found inside the FREE Printable Planner by Britni at The Life in Bloom.  I used her planner before, and this year I pulled out some helpful pages to use in my planning binder.  I love her style, and her experience as a homeschool mom is evident with the content of her FREE planner.  It is fun to poke around her site.  There are lots of useful and fun, FREE printables to be found.

A glimpse inside my Homeschool Notebook clockwise from left:
inside front cover holds information requiring immediate attention,
I use the calendar page for a typical month-at-a-glance for each of us,
and   I use it for a typical week-at-a-glance, I use the yearly sheet to
 plan out the material covered for the year, and I use it for planning
out food preservation for the year, dividers allow me to store free
printables to be used with our subjects studied throughout the year,
and for organizing literary resources (also free) to complement books
 we read throughout the year, and the back pocket holds additional
useful resources for future planning.

The last thing in my planning arsenal is a planner for Harmony, the resident nine-year-old.  As members of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew we are being given the opportunity to review a homeschool planner for kids.  What a perfect fit!  This will be her first year using a planner and taking a little more charge of her responsibilities, both on the domestic and the educational front.  Check back in late September to see how it goes.  We will start using this planner on Monday even though we don't start our new schedule until September 8th.  I figure it will be good for her to have some practice down before we pick things up a bit.

A new method has been shared with me in regard to the approach of educating my children that seems a perfect fit.  Up until a couple of years ago The Heart of Wisdom has not registered on my radar.  In this time I have been exposed to it repeatedly.  Finally, I took a look, and I love the concept.  It seems a great fit for us as we were already naturally functioning in a similar way.  However, with The Heart of Wisdom in hand we have a blueprint of sorts.  Just like my Well Planned Day planner it serves to lighten my load.  Robin Sampson has done all the leg work for me, and I get to benefit from the fruits of her labor as do my children.  We've joined in the rotation at year four in order to align with my good friend and her place in the rotation in a hope that we may join together on occasion and share in the learning with our families.  We've not decided as to what we will do at this point, but we could do an experiment, cook a meal, do a craft or art project; the possibilities are endless.  Joining together as like minded families just serves to enhance the learning experience of our children, and creates a sense of community unlike that which I have found in any other circumstance.  We love learning together with other families!

Since it has been so many years since we were active homeschoolers before this new journey began, I find my arsenal a tad lacking at the elementary level.  No, we are not one of those homeschool families learning high school level chemistry in third grade.  This has meant that I need to evaluate my current resources purging what we can't use, pulling together what we can use, and supplementing with new items to enhance our learning library.  I am making a conscious effort to add good quality, living books to our library.  We read seemingly constantly, and I want what is available to be enriching and educational and thought provoking, and fun.  We are making good progress in this area, but it is a lot of work.  Thanks to some good friends I have some new resources and the process is very enjoyable.  Books, books, books, and more books!

The three main bookshelves on our first floor have been "sacrificed" to our homeschool.
The first one is in my office.  It holds all the materials we are currently using; well, most of them.
The second shelf is in our family room.  It holds all the books that complement what we are learning.
They are available for reference, family reading time, or just diving into whenever we feel like it.
The third shelf is in our dining room.  It holds all of our creative play items; games, puzzles,
kitchen toys, musical instruments, building blocks, and things of the like.

*In the beginning NONE of these things resided in these places.  My cookbooks have been moved to the book closet, my fiction books are in a box somewhere up there as well, and all of my health and nutrition books are looking for a new corner as well.  It's what we do, right?  BTW - Sharing these pictures is a stretch for me.  They are not perfectly displayed.  Rather they are in their current state of use.  So, you can see that we actually do live and learn here, and it does get messy!  It only stays perfectly organized IF I get around to doing so while my children sleep.
As you can see I have been hard at work, and it's only just begun.  We all have a lot to learn this year.  Harmony will be studying the Bible, piano, character and virtues, homemaking, math, spelling, cursive, history, photography, science, Spanish, and art.  Avery has asked to learn to read, and he is well on his way.  In addition he will be learning about the Bible, piano, character and virtues, math, Spanish, and art.  Bella's path is similar to Avery's.  It's just a little pared back.  She's SO competitive that I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she learns to read right by his side.  The kids aren't the only ones with educational goals this year.  I will be taking a photography and a natural medicine course I purchased through Great Courses.  (Love them!)  I also plan to learn more about using social media with my blog and to promote our business, and I will be trying my hand at gluten free baking.  Not to mention my grand ambitions in homesteading; canning, freezing, gardening, raising chickens and sheep, and on and on.  Plus we have 4-H, and all that entails.  When you write it all out like that it sure sounds like a lot.  No wonder I need to write it all down and get it all organized!

I'm excited about this coming school year, and I'm glad to be figuring out our path.  I've learned to be flexible and go with the flow a lot more.  That being said, I also know myself well enough to know that I need to at least have goals and plans if I want to accomplish anything.  Planning is important in general, and it can be a tall order to put together an entire curriculum for your family, but it is SO worth it!

Here are some more of my favorite resources:

ABC Teach

Scripture Adventures

Simple Homeschool

Exploring Nature

Little Learning Lovies

123 Homeschool 4 Me


Homeschool Share

Our Little Friend

Teacher's Notebook

Khan Academy

Math 4 Children +

Christian Homeschool Hub

Free Homeschool Deals

Teachers Pay Teachers

Happy Planning!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Mathletics Review

Mathletics Online Math Review

Mathletics Online Math Review
Several online resources are provided by 3P Learning which are used by millions of students in thousands of schools and homes around the world.  We have been blessed with the use of Mathletics, just one of the award winning programs available.  The kids and I have found this a fun and interesting adventure in Math exploration.

Mathletics is a fun and engaging online math program that fosters a joy for learning as well as student independence at a level that I could have never anticipated.  It can be used as a supplement to your regular curriculum, or it could even potentially serve as your whole math curriculum.  The program covers everything from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The three kids together exploring Mathletics.
They all enjoy the times table songs.

You would not believe the problems this program has created in my home!  My kids literally fight over whose turn it is to "do math".  Seriously.  I am not joking or exaggerating.  Mind you, the program begins at kindergarten level math.  My children are 3.5 years, 4.5 years, and 9 years.  Technically, my now nine-year-old is the only one that even falls directly into a grade level offered.  With this in mind, I still included my 4.5 year old in the review thinking he may be ready for at least some of the material covered at the kindergarten level.  I was correct in my thinking, but what I didn't anticipate is that my 3.5 year old would be so stinkin' interested, too.

The 4.5 year old on my lap working through one of his early lessons.

This mom doesn't have a "big stick", but she does have a timer and it yields the same power.  I had to wield it each and every day we used Mathletics in the beginning.  Now, I still have to use it on occasion, but they are learning to work together and take turns a little better; at least when it comes to Mathletics.  My children actually ask REGULARLY to "do math"; ALL of them.  My nine-year-old can work rather independently.  Either myself or the said nine-year-old sit with the 4.5 year old while he works through his lessons, and we always set up the 3.5 year old on the free play activity of her choice.  She calls it her "baby math" and does enjoy the actual lessons as well.  We mostly use Mathletics as a teaching tool for her, but it has been fun to see just what she actually knows.  Getting them all on the computer for something they enjoy so much has also had the added benefit of my little ones learning to use the mousepad on my laptop as well as the wireless mouse I pulled out to offer them a little more ease in operation.  So, we're even working in a little hand-eye coordination as well.

The 3.5 year old enjoying the coloring part of the
dot-to-dot, counting exercise all on her own.  

What I most love about the setup of the Mathletics program is my ability to guide their course of activities as well as track their progress.  It is a perfect fit in our homeschool as one of most important things we aim to teach them is independence.  They love the ease of working their way through the lessons independently, the instant grading, the audio feature that reads the directions to them, the fact that they can personalize their online space, and the ability to control their activity after they've completed their assigned lessons.  The kids have actually been enjoying the challenge of the lessons and spend amazing amounts of time independently exploring the enrichment activities.

Mathletics is a program that I can see us continuing to use into the future.  With that in mind there are a few features that we haven't taken advantage of at this point, but I plan to as we work into our current school year, as opposed to keeping our skills fresh and working on our weaknesses as we have been this summer.  There is a mobile app that I know will be a wonderful fit for my 3.5 year old.  She is my Kindle thief on a regular basis, and I know she would love this.  Whenever it is quiet in our house, and she's disappeared for a little while, I really don't worry much.  There is a 99.5% chance she's holed up somewhere watching her "baby show" on Netflix or playing one of her kid apps on my Kindle.  What a wonderful thing this would be for her to sneak away and "play"!  The cool thing about the app is that it can even be accessed offline making it available whether or not there is currently wifi.  Love that!  Mathletics also includes printable workbooks within the parent login for each grade level.  These will make a great supplement for those areas that require a little more practice, or even the skills that they enjoy practicing.  Sometimes my kids actually enjoy worksheets.

At $59 per student, per 12 month period, Mathletics by 3P Learning is very competitively priced.  You can learn more by visiting the website and even sign up for a free trial.  Mathletics can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Be sure to visit the other blogs in the Schoolhouse Review Crew to get even more opinions on this wonderful educational resource!

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