Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Room We School In....

As of this month, I've been a homeschooling Mom for 10 years! Wow, time flies!  Even though we've lived in 7 houses in those years, I've been blessed that we've always had a room dedicated to homeschooling.  Now, I know it's not necessary, and lots of homeschoolers don't have or need a specific room for homeschooling, but I do enjoy the luxury of having it all in one space.  Not every room we had was an official "office" room, but rather rooms I purposefully choose to adapt for  homeschooling.  We've turned formal dining rooms, formal living rooms, finished-rooms-over-garages, spare bedrooms and even turned the  Master Bedroom, into our homeschool room.   Now, to be completely open here, I also work from home, 7 of these last 10 years, and need a dedicated office space, so these rooms are dual purpose.  So every house we've lived in, I always have the "which room will we use for homeschooling/office" thought going through my mind, as we look for homes.

Currently, we do live in a house that has a room that was built purposefully as an office.  It's a bit smaller than I would like, but since I'm only homeschooling two out of my three boys, we are able to get everything into this room, with some careful organization.  My oldest son's desk is in a different room, what we dubbed the "library", what is supposed to be the formal dining room which we have no use for, so it had several bookcases full of books at one point.  I've been able to reduce the number of books and organize so all of our books are now in the homeschool room, but we do have a few things in the library, so it's a good quiet place for my oldest to do school work.

About 90% of our school room is Ikea furniture.  I am addicted to Ikea.  That store makes an OCD organized person's heart swell with pure organizational love!  I've added pieces over the last few years, until I think I have it just perfect for this moment.   (Should we ever move to a different house, and I get a bigger homeschool room, I'm going to need a few more Expedit bookcases...the ones I have are completely FULL right now).

I went with a black and white theme in our school room.  I like that it offers simple and clean lines.  We have our "pop" of color from various art work that will be hung throughout our school year, as well as maps of the U.S. and World by each desk.  The wall is currently white, because we rent, and my hubby refuses to paint anymore.   White would not be my color of choice, but it is what it is for now.

Each boy has a desk, along with a pencil cup (attached to the wall), a metal circle on the wall to hang personal items with magnets, as well as a desk lamp.  All from Ikea.   The desk shelving does not have a drawer  (it's a shelf, that holds their subject binders) so behind their chairs are drawer systems (which we had previously used with the Workbox System...we no longer do that system so it's a re-purpose for the drawers).  The drawers hold their markers, colored pencils, art pastels, crayons. Each drawer holds one type of item...I love that organization!

I have three Ikea Expedit bookcases.  They are like cubbies.  I love these better than a regular bookcase with long shelves, because you don't have to worry so much about books falling down since it's easier to fill up the cubby, versus a long shelf.  Unlike other brands of cubby systems, Expedits offer big cubbies, over 12 inches in height, so even binders can stand up in them.  Plus I think the Expedits offer a bit more style in their design than the cheap cubby systems sold at Walmart/Target, etc.  I have one Expedit that is a double, so two rows side by side.  This is between the desks of my boys, and where all of the curriculum we will use this year is kept.  I also have two taller single Expedits, so just one row of cubbies.  These keep our collection of books, the ones for future use, and just fun reading.  

My desk is also from Ikea.  I went with a gray desktop, just to change it up a bit.  I went with a drawer system for my desk, instead of the shelf system the boys have.   Love these drawers...deep and hold so much stuff!

I've purged, cleaned, and organized the room all throughout the month of June and into July.  I was thinking it was ready to rock and roll...but I was hating the big space of blank wall above the desk area.   It was too high to be useful for something like a map, my boys wouldn't be tall enough to see it.    Hmm, what to do...what to do.   I went with vinyl wall stickers.  Black circles of different sizes.   I put those randomly across the top of the wall and I love the visual in the room!

I do love our homeschool room and it makes me smile every time I walk in.

NOTE:  I've just got to address this.  Over the years, I've had other homeschoolers say to me "Oh, my child could NEVER sit at a desk all day long...we just prefer to sit on the couch or he likes to lay on the floor...just wherever he's comfortable is where we do school!" if implying that my children sit at a desk, from 8a-3p, never getting up to stretch, etc.  So just to share, we also do school all over the house.  We sit on the couch, my boys roll around on the floor, we lay in bed (usually when we are reading), we   go to the pool, we lay on the trampoline, we use the kitchen name it, it's fair game for school time.  So we are not locked into our homeschool room all day, every day.  BUT we do have table work.  Work like handwriting, map labeling, composition, etc.  This type of stuff requires a hard surface to write.   So we go into the classroom to do that stuff.  Then we go out to do other stuff, then we come back in if need be.  So believe me, we are on the move all day long.   I can't imagine those families that "wherever he's comfortable is where we do school" are able to  completely avoid migrating to a table at some point in their day when a hard surface is needed for writing.  There, got that off my chest, lol!

So here's my big debut!  Our school room, for 203-2014:

Sunday, August 04, 2013

It's Curriculum Week!

I am a curriculum addict.  There, I said it.  It's true.  Over the last 10 years of homeschooling, I've probably tried, or at least owned, most curriculums.  I'm always researching and reading about curriculums.  I'm constantly searching the For Sale forums and Facebook groups to buy curriculum, for this year, and maybe for next year (yes, I am already planning for Fall of 2014!!).  And yes, it's also true that I've actually bought, sold and bought again, the same curriculum.  My shameful secret.   It's a habit....not going to say "bad habit"...just going with "habit".

Over the years, I've morphed and changed  our curriculum, based on the needs of my children.  My oldest son is a completely different learner than my middle son.  Most of what I used for my first born does not work for my second born.  Thankfully, my third son is an easy student and can pretty much adapt to anything.

I started out as a classical homeschooler, going by the Well Trained Mind thought process, though always open to diverting when need be.  That worked well, but over the years, due to my children needing different options, and as I learned about different philosophies, we've continued to divert.  As a matter of fact, I just sold my loved Well Trained Mind book this month (after reading it about 5 times over the last five years!).  I like to call myself a classical educator with a twist of Charlotte Mason mixed in.  One thing I am determined to do is to STOP curriculum hopping!!  We've got a few things that are working great, and I've realized the grass is not greener on the other side.
Max who is considered a 2nd grader and Cooper who is considered a 5th grader this fall, will be using much of the same curriculum, because I love to work together as a group.  Of course, what they take from it and what they give back, in terms of work, will vary based on their age, and abilities.

This list is the curriculum that we will be continuing with, after successfully using it last year:
1.  Math-U-See.   Both boys will be doing Beta.  While that is NOT grade level for my 5th grader, I preferred to back him up to the beginning to understand the MUS philosophy from the beginning.  There are six worksheets per lesson, so they do one per day, for three days.  The blocks that MUS uses are an awesome visual for my boys.
2. CLE Math (Christian Light Education).  This is our core Math.  This math is spiral and covers every point, and offers lots of practice.  Cooper needs this.    We will continue CLE until at least high school.
3.  Writing With Ease Vol 2.  This is our  main composition curriculum.  It's the copywork/narration/dictation philosophy.  I love the skills it's bring to our day.
4.  Story of the World Vol 2, Middle Ages:  We love SOTW.  We listen to the audio version read by Jim Weiss, on the iPad.  Mapwork is fun, and coloring pages add a nice touch to our history binders.  We also add in Childrens' History of the World by Hillyer, and many many read-alouds that go along with our history studies.   We bring topics to life by watching Discovery Streaming and Brainpop.

This list is the curriculum that we will be using this fall, that we have not used in the past.  We are hoping these are successful and we can continue next year with them.  (No more curriculum jumping, yay!!):
1.  Queen's Language Lessons:  This is a Charlotte Mason based grammar curriculum.  Light and stress free...just how I think grammar should be!
2.  R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Earth and Space:  I'm so looking forward to this science program. It's very hands on, and lots of experiments.  My boys are going to love this!  I've got all the supplies on hand (remember that curriculum jumping...means I've purchased lots of supplies over the years too.).  I'm adding in library books to flesh out the information.  It's going to be a great year!
3.  Memory Work:  We will be using Living Memory by Andrew Campbell.  This is  huge 400+ page book, full of all kinds of memory work, in all subjects.  I got it as a download, so saved it in my iPad.  Can't wait to get started on this! I think we will learn Presidents first, then maybe States/Capitals.
4. Prima Latina:  Latin!!  I've actually used this several years ago with my oldest son, and it was a great success.  This time I've gotten the DVD portion so we'll learn together from the teacher on the DVD.

You may notice we don't have any computer-based curriculums.  That comes along with the classical/Charlotte Mason philosophy.  No fear though, my boys are into electronics and are more comfortable with computers than many adults.

I'm so excited to get started!! We will start on August 13th.  Can't come soon enough for me!  My main goal for this year: Focus on nature, get outside, and see the beauty of the world!

*My oldest attends public school for high school, so unfortunately no curriculum planning on my part.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Home School Grades Review

You may remember, if you've read my past posts here on the blog, that I am  a planner.  I plan many aspects of my family's life, to keep us organized.   So the fact that I plan our homeschooling journey fits right in with my M.O..  I've been planning our daily lessons, planning as in sitting down and actually scheduling it, for about 6 years.  Prior to that, I was more of a "by the seat of our pants" kinda homeschooling Mommy.  Once I added more children to the mix, and more activities, and more, more, more, I realized my planning habits needed to kick in here to keep us on some sort of track.  Honestly, with the chaos that is our home, I would often forget what I had wanted to accomplish each day and only remember during the evening once I sat down to recoup.   Every summer, I take time to  lay out lesson plans for our upcoming school year.  Now if you look at my curriculum list to the left side of my blog, you may see that much of our curriculum is the kind that is already planned for me.  But I need daily plans for EVERYTHING we are going to do each day.  I also like to tweak plans, add things in, take things out, so even with the plans that come with the curriculum, I like to make it "my own".   The benefit to this advance planning is that our school year is able to run pretty smoothly, even if I don't have alot of time week to week to sit down and plan.  No real need, because it's already planned!  I've been using another software for this purpose, but it's a very complicated beast.  I've heard all kinds of complaints and questions from other homeschoolers about this "beast".   It took me a good month to get started and figure out.  With all that in mind, I was excited to get a chance to review and use My Home School Grades as part of the Mosaic Review team.  This is an online software that allows you to plan, organize, track and grade your homeschooling journey with your students.

The first thing I noticed is how very simple and user-friendly this program is.  I've tried several other  homeschool planning programs, and they've all been rather the point, I've  given up on most of them.   I don't have time in my life to spend alot of time just figuring it out, I need to use what time I have to get planning.  This software is awesome for that purpose!    Within just a few minutes, I had both of my boys loaded, including their picture for their profile, and was getting into the task of setting up their classes and lesson plans.  Did I mention this is Internet-based so you can access it from any computer, iPad or mobile device?  Two thumbs up on that for us on-the-go-homeschooling parents!!!

The creator of this program, a homeschooling Dad himself, has made it so easy, he's even pre-loaded some curriculum that are popular in the homeschooling world so the planning is done for you.  Just select it from the list and the lesson plans are automatically created for the student you choose.  You can even edit those auto-generated plans if you are a tweaker like me.   Don't see the curriculum you use in the list?  No worries, you can add your own lesson plans, or contact the company and see if they can load that curriculum into the system.  They are open to suggestions and more than willing to help.

When it comes to grading, you can select for the program to give percentage grades or letter grades.  It will calculate the grade for you based on the score you enter.    It will even do a Pass/Fail option which is good for those younger elementary years. 

There is an Activities option where you can list Activities, Field Trips and other things, which is nice for record-keeping and transcript purposes.

Transcripts, did I mention those yet?  This program will take the class lists you've entered, along with  the grades, and create a beautiful, professional transcript for your high school student with a click of a button!  This might be one of the best features of My Home School Grades.

Printed transcript

Overall, I enjoyed using this program.  There are a few things that keep me from being able to completely switch to  this program and ditch the "beast" program that I currently use, though they may not be factors for you:

1.  I did not see the option of being able to print lesson plans out.   I like to be able to print each week's lessons plans, in a daily grid style, so I can put that in my Teacher Manual (a three-ring binder that I put everything I need for one week in), and just look at that  during the our school day.  I don't want to have to run to the computer for each subject (or iPad for that matter), to see what we need to do next.  I like to see it all in one glance, what exactly we need to do for each subject TODAY.   I normally print out on Sunday night, the upcoming week's plans.  If something changes for the week or something changes affecting next week, no problem, I can edit it in the program and make changes on my paper.  This program did not give me that option.

2.  As a matter of fact, I wasn't able to even schedule lessons for a certain day.  The lesson plans are simply a long list of all the lessons planned out for each particular class.  There's not a way to actually assign a lesson to a particular date.  That simply does not work for me.   That makes this system a online duplicate of what my Teacher Manual for a curriculum already lists out...except for the feature of grading and turning it into a transcript.

3.  The view.  You have to click on one Student, and then one class, to see what the lesson is for that class.   There's no way to see a big picture of what any one Student needs to do, and that kinda goes back to my Point 1. and Point 2.   There's no way to print or assign lessons to a specific day, so no way to narrow down the view you see of classes/lessons.  If you have multiple students I could see how it would become quite cumbersome to have to click back and forth between students and lessons/classes to see what needs to be done next.   With the lack of these features, I'd only be able to use this program as a grade keeping/transcript making tool.  I wouldn't be able to use it as a full lesson planning tool.   I know many homeschoolers strive to have their high school students somewhat independent.  That can be a double-edge sword, though, so it's important that they are not so independent you don't know what they are working on.   A good planner, for me, would be one where I can assign assignments for my high school student, and print those out, for the student to see, check off, and then we can go over the completed assignments together, and then I enter the grades.   I don't see this program offering this option, again due to Point 1 and 2.   Now these are features I'd like to see, so without them, the program has some hurdles for ME, but perhaps you don't need the same features, so My Home School Grades may be the right tool for you. 

Now all that being said, the owner/creator of the program has been very open to suggestions and it is quite possible that these features will be added in at some point (and I'll be honest, I've not taken the time to send my suggestions to the owner/creator just yet).   If you find that there's a feature missing that you think would be useful, you can always contact the creator via the website.  Already they are working on creating an attendance feature, which is a key element for some homeschoolers, including me.  My state law requires that we keep attendance and do school for at least 180 days.  

I recommend checking out My Home School Grades for yourself.   They are offering a 14 day free trial, which is a great way to check it out and you'd be on your way within minutes, it's just that easy!  If you love it, the lifetime, yes LIFETIME, cost is only $49.95 currently.  That is an awesome price! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Waterproof Bible Review

It's pool season!  I'm in the stage of life where I get to be that mom at the pool who sits there and reads books and magazines, because my boys are all very capable swimmers and able to interact with friends, and don't need me to be on hyper-alert.  So I'm looking for a good poolside read.  I received the  Waterproof Bible from  Bardin Marsee Publishing  as part of the Mosaic Review team, to review.  I was eager to see this Bible and wondering how the pages would feel.  Would they be plastic-y and crinkly??

There are five different versions available:
  • ESV - English Standard Version
  • KJV - King James Version
  • NIV - New International Version
  • NKJV - New King James Version
  • NLT - New Living Translation
The Waterproof Bible is available in two forms:
  • The Full Bible for $44.95
  • The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs for $24.99

I received a blue KJV.  Much to my surprise,  pages and binding of the are made of synthetic (plastic) materials that are almost  indestructible.  They are waterproof, both inside and out. They even resist stains!  You can use ink and highlighters, and it doesn't rub off, or bleed through!  You can bend the pages, and be rough with it (well, not too rough, it is the BIBLE after all, lol!).   

I loved that the pages were not crinkly.  They didn't sound like plastic...I had envisioned a sound of a plastic garbage bag when turning pages. Nope, they feel smooth and almost hard to tell they are a plastic material.   This is going to be THE BEST pool-side read!  More than pool-side, I am planning on taking this IN the pool, while floating on my favorite pool noodle!

Head over to the Bardin Marsee Publishing website to take a look at the awesome waterproof Bibles and pick yours out!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ooka Island Review

Our educational philosophy around here does lean toward the Classical side, so we tend to use books versus electronics in our daily learning.  But we are not archaic, and we certainly use today's technology to assist us in our homeschooling journey.  We've used several internet based programs to assist with math and reading in the past, but recently I received Ooka Island as part of the Mosaic Review team.  I was excited to get this as Max is an emergent reader, so I thought he would enjoy this as a extra bit of fun in his day.

Never heard of Ooka Island?  Here's a bit about what Ooka Island is all about, straight from their site:

"Ooka Island’s Learn-to-Read System for children ages 3-7 will ensure skill mastery in the five pillars of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Ooka Island is a revolutionary reading platform for PC and Mac that tutors your child through a compelling, yet robust curriculum and adapts to his or her strengths and weaknesses as they move along the path to fluent reading."

The game is a downloadable hero mission, taking the player through a series of games. Each game level builds on information the child learned in the prior level.   The prize at the end of each level is finding a book that the child can read.  My son looked forward to finding the book and reading it out loud to me.  The graphics are bold and vibrant, and the characters are interactive and engaging.

Alphabet Island has been a big hit with my son because there are activities such as rock climbing and skateboarding down the mountain. There are a bunch of other fun areas for them to explore such as Cake Factory, Popcorn Library, Pencil Playground, and Word Ball.

Overall, I did think that Ooka Island was a great enhancement to our day, and did provide a boost in my son's reading progress.

Hop on over to Ooka Island to see more on what they offer, and their affordable pricing.  They even offer a 14 day free trial!!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Winding down.....or winding up?

It's May!   Lots of things happening around here.

We are slowing down in our school work.  Not getting lazy, just getting done!  We've finished many of our subjects, and only have 5-6 weeks left in a few more.  We'll continue math and reading all summer long, but our school days are definitely at a more leisurely pace.   Good thing too, because our neighborhood pool has just opened, and since public school is still in session until the first week of June, we'll have it to ourselves most of the time in May.

Though school may be slowing down, I'm looking ahead to our summer, and it doesn't seem like it will be slow at all....aka hectic!  Chandler's travel baseball season will be in full swing starting this weekend, which means traveling around the state most weekends through July.  We just found out that spring Football starts May 1st, and then we got the summer schedule for football.  He'll need to be there everyday at 9 much for sleeping in!   So football in the morning, pool mid-day, and baseball in the evenings and weekends.   Add in 90-100 degree temps with 100% humidity and it makes for a sweaty summer!

I'm busy planning our curriculum for next year.  Got lots of ideas swirling around but I think I've narrowed down our choices.  Now to shop around for  good used deals.  We have two huge used curriculum sales in May, here in town, so those will be my first stops.  If I don't find it used, I'll get it new.   The Teach Them Diligently Convention is this weekend, and I'm volunteering, in order to get free admission.  I'm excited to go to that to hear some inspiring speakers and to see curriculum in person.

We officially registered for Classical Conversations, and I'll attend a parent practicum in July for that.

I've got lots of things on my to-do list this summer.  I want to utilize my free time (haha, no that's not a joke, I may have free time!) to organize the photos on the computer, sew a few things, and make lesson plans for next school year.  Oh, and I've set a goal to run a 5K in the fall, so I need to train for that by using a C25K App.    Oh, and I want to go blueberry picking and strawberry picking so I need to pay attention to the harvest dates for those!

So yes, it sounds like winding UP is the way to go!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spanish for You! Curriculum Review

As a homeschooling parent, teaching my children a foreign language is always a priority but often gets pushed to the back burner when those road bumps in life come along.  During those times, it's common to push aside the "extras" and focus on the core educational components, like reading/phonics, and math.  Then, at least in my house, it's hard to get back on track with the extras once we've made it past those road bumps.  So foreign language just never seems to get done around here.

PictureI was excited to be chosen to be selected to use and review the Spanish for You!  curriculum as a member of the Mosaics Review team.

I received a workbook, meant for the student, as well as several files to download.  Those files included: 
  • Audio download (MP3) of the entire book. You use these as the lesson guide instructs.
  • A free bonus audio of the entire book recorded by a native speaker from Mexico. (MP3)
  • 24-30 Week Lesson Guide (PDF) - The student (and parent if needed) follows this guide step-by-step to know what to do, at whatever pace works for you.
  • Self-checking worksheets (PDF) - You just print these as you need them. The lesson guide will tell you what you need to print and when.
  • Free set of pictures for making flashcards and other activity materials. (PDF)

  • The Spanish for You! curriculum currently has two "themes" to choose from, with a third in the works.  The themed books are meant to be done in any order, and each theme is meant to be a full year worth of curriculum.  The two themes available are Fiestas (Celebrations) and Estaciones (Seasons).   I received the Estaciones package. 

    The website Spanish for You! offers alot of instructions, and information on the "Why" behind the program, and how to get started.   I read that information, as well as read the Lesson Guide before getting started.   When I opened the workbook, I will be honest here, I was immediately put off.  Each page is jam-packed.  I am not sure if it is the amount of information on each page, or the font used (it's a cartoonish font, IMHO), or a combination of both, but the pages instantly struck me as chaotic.   I closed the workbook, waited a few days, and then tried again,  hoping to get started with my boys.  Again, I was immediately overwhelmed by the pages.  Maybe it's just me.  I like neat, organized, and concise things in life.  I almost always choose curriculum that is just that, organized and concise.  Open and go.  Planned out for me (although I also tweak when needed).   With this Spanish for You! workbook, I had to stop my brain from spazzing out, and truly focus to get into the meat.  I had to read each page slowly and sometimes re-read it (I don't have any learning disabilities, despite what I have just described here....I just don't function well with "chaos").  The workbook doesn't really tell you where to start and stop each day.  You kind of need to choose your own start and stop point for each day's lessons.   I forged ahead.  I downloaded the worksheets, downloaded the flashcards, downloaded the audio files.  

    I sat with my boys each day as we worked through the program.   My 1st grader is a bit below the intended grade level, as it's recommend for grade 3 and up, but I figured he'd get something from participating.  My 4th grader, while the perfect intended target audience, hated the workbook, as I thought he would (and I promise, I did not tell him about my reaction first!).  He complained that it was "too much"....too much reading, too much to do.  Information overload!!  I explained that we weren't doing everything on the page today, but we'd break it into parts.   That calmed him down a bit.  But still, with the pages being as frenzied as they are, I tended to read the info to my boys.   The flashcards are intended to be made by the students, as the flashcard files are just the pictures to go along with the words.   The pictures are hand-drawn by the author's daughter, so they appear to be just that...a young child's art work.  The author stated this was a way of keeping costs down.  I understand that effort, yet if it was about cost, I could have always had my own children draw corresponding art work.  I was not a fan of the flashcards.  I guess I prefer a more professional look. We worked with this curriculum for several weeks.  

    Overall, I can't say that my family enjoyed Spanish for You!  Perhaps it was just our issues, but it felt like there were more hurdles to overcome than it was worth. Not big hurdles, mind you, but when I added up the pre-work for me (and frankly, even the website seems frenzied to many font colors and sizes on each page!) of reading all the info, and downloading, the effort of having to "translate" the workbook to my children because of the frenzied pages,  and the flashcard work (you assemble the flashcards yourself, well,the children do, as you move along the lessons....this was busy work in my house...not useful to the learning process although I know the author states this was done for a purpose as she does feel creating flashcards is useful to learning) the end, there was just too much "frenzy" to make it worth our while.   The curriculum is offered at a great price, and that was one of the intentions of the author, to keep it affordable so perhaps the price would be worth it for some to overcome these hurdles.  I do know that the author is very responsive to customer inquiries and concerns.

    I would recommend that you take a look at the curriculum as there are sample pages at the website, and more info explaining the goals and techniques of the curriculum.  Head on over to to check it out.

    Monday, April 08, 2013

    Review of Apologia The Ultimate HomeSchool Planner

    I am a planner.   There, I said it.  It's true, I fess up.  I plan EVERYTHING.   Going on a vacation?  I've researched and planned it all, even planned our "days to relax".  Plan out my day to day stuff, plan out my year to year stuff.   Don't even get me started talking about planning our upcoming year of homeschooling...that's an ongoing, never-ending, plan-till-you-can't-plan anymore, type of thing.

    I was thrilled to be a member of the Mosaic Review team that received the Apologia The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Debra Bell.    This is the planner to end all planners. 

    Let me start off by saying it is simply beautiful.   Elegant graphics and subtle colors....sounds like a work of art, right?

    It starts off with a User's Guide.  Is it that complicated that one needs a User's Guide?  Naah, but the User's Guide sure does help you get off on the right foot.  If you are already a planner, it's like a welcoming, fun review that reminds you why you love to plan, and if you are coming in as a hope-to-be-reformed-non-planner, then the User's Guide is a great intro into how to use The Ultimate Homeschooling Planner planner,  reminding why you really want to be a planner, and loads of other great tips.

    It comes with a Yearly Plan, so you can start with the big picture (and the year is not labeled so you can start at any point of the year you want, not just a normal Jan-Dec year).  Then you can narrow down your plans on the Monthly Planner and the Weekly planner.

    A section to help set your student's goals, a section to records grades, activities, field trips, reading lists.   You name it, there's a section for you to plan it, record it, check it off as complete.

    I loved the Teaching Tips section.  Although I consider  myself an old-pro at homeschooling, having done it for almost 9 years now, it never hurts to read up and review things on how to teach different types of learners.   Call it a refresher course if you are an old-pro like me, and a great into to homeschooling if you are a newbie.

    But you know what really made me fall in love..the little tips and messages, quoting Scripture or other pick-me-ups....just enough that when you turn the page and see it, your eyes are drawn to the saying and you always read it first.....and instantly feel a sense of calm and peace, a warm fuzzy, if you will.  We can all use a warm fuzzy, right?

    I'm normally a planner electronically.  I like to use my calendar on my various electronics and sync them up.  But  The Ultimate Homeschool Planner has actually converted me, or shall I say, reverted me, back to planning on paper.  This thing is just so useful, and visually appealing, it makes me WANT to pick it up and use it, and I feel accomplished every time I do!   If you are looking for a paper planner, then I highly recommend this  one.  Head on over to the Apologia website and pick one up for yourself!

    I also received The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students from Apologia.  This one again, was bright and vivid, without being too busy.  I loved the look of it, and thought it would do a good job of helping my 14 year old keep on track.  I went over it with him and explained how to use it.   Now, as with many boys that age....the follow through is less then stellar.   He's not used it as much as he should, or to it's full potential.  I do think it is a great way to keep a student organized, and on the ball.   Check it out if you have a student is ready to do some work independently.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013

    Review of We Choose Virtues

    I was recently provided the We Choose Virtues curriculum to try out.  When I heard about this, I was eager to see what it was all about.   Now mind you, *I* think my boys are great.  They really are nice young men, overall.  That being said, they are humans and don't all of us humans have some things we could work on!  I liked the idea of focusing on particular virtues as a family and really making an effort to practice them.

    The We Choose Virtues website has this to say about their curriculum:

    We Choose Virtues is Simple. It is based on a clear and positive language that everyone can learn together

    We Choose Virtues is Inspiring. It is teaching by demonstration and learning through practice

    We Choose Virtues is about Character...more than attitudes or actions, it is who you are when no one is watching

    We Choose Virtues Lasts. It creates an internal standard in each person and transforms the culture of your home or classroom.

    I was provided with several components of the We Choose Virtues to try out.  I received:  Kids of Virtue Coloring pages, Family Character Assessment, Memory Verses, Bible Heroes and Truths, Teacher's Handbook, a product comparison chart, and a Butterfly Award that you can give to your student when they've "mastered" the virtues.  Best of all, I even received the colorful We Choose Virtues Flash Cards.  These were large, and vividly colored, so grabbed my children's attention right away. 

    The Teacher's Handbook give alot of points for classroom use, ie large group, but also had tips for homeschooling parents.  It breaks down step by step how to use the curriculum, and really brings the whole program together.  It's a key element to the  program.  That being said, it's a easy read, I read through it in one sitting, taking about an hour.   I went back and read it again, just before implementing the  program with my boys.    The program also has a Family Assessment, which helps each family determine which virtues they might need to focus on first.  I enjoyed the fact that many components were downloadable, so I was able to get started right away, in terms of prepping myself to implement the program with my family.

    The virtues that are instilled are simple, everyday virtues that are important to everyone, but ones that can be overlooked in the daily grind of everything we parents need to teach in our children.  I loved the idea of really putting focus on one particular virtue at a time.  Some of the virtues that the curriculum covers are:  Diligent, Kind, Obedient, Forgiving, and more.

    My boys enjoyed the coloring pages that go along with each Virtue Flashcard.  We used those to create a Virtue binder, where we stored our coloring pages for fun review.   The coloring pages are well done, have a professional look to them, and were cartoon type animals that were also highlighted on the flashcards.  I actually choose the Secular version of the program but they also offer two other versions, the Old/New Testament, and KJV.  These versions will incorporate Bible verses into the virtue study.  So something for everyone!

    We enjoyed using We Choose Virtues, and I felt that each week I could see my boys integrating what they had learned from the program into their daily lives and behaviours.     I would recommend this program to any family that wants to focus, in a fun way, on getting back to the basics, and reviewing and practicing virtues that make us all better humans!

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    FamilyMint Money Management Review

    I was recently invited to review the FamilyMint Money Management Certification Program.   I was so excited to be able to give this program a try.  For a bit of background, I've had a history of being horrible with money.  I've always worked, since I was 16, and even worked 2 jobs at times, while in college.  I lived at home with my parents until I was 22, while working and attending college, so not alot of living expense up to that point.   So I HAD money, but I also SPENT money.   Looking back at those years, I'm ashamed at how I spent my money, my lack of saving, and overall wastefulness of my funds.    Add to that, those irksome credit card offers that come bouncing at you as a college student.   Oh, yeah, I was rolling in credit!    It came to a point, around age 23, when I was unemployed, and drowning in debt.   How did that happen? Because I had no financial education.  I did not receive any sort of money management skills from my high school or college education, nor from my family.   If I had money today, I spent money today, and worried about tomorrow then.  Don't even get me started on credit cards!  Turns out, the man I married came from pretty much the same type of financial background, ie had no clue how to manage finances!  The two of us together were quite the financial mess for the first few years. 

    Coming from that experience, we knew we wanted different for our children.   We strive to teach them the value of money, and the value of savings.  But it does get to be a complicated subject, and we haven't ever really sat down to put in on paper, to make a visual for them.  Here's where the FamilyMint Management Certification Program fit in perfectly!    FamilyMint website says:  "FamilyMint's Money Management Certification Program combines a 60-page step-by-step workbook with a fun online money management application for kids. Kids that complete the 2 month program develop key money habits that will benefit them the rest of their lives."    Sounded like just what we needed to help our children understand money management!  The program is designed for ages 10+, and I could even see it being used as a high school credit, if one added a few additional financial planning books, ie Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, or Dave Ramsey books. 

    I received a workbook and an online account.   Though you can purchase each individually as stand alone products. 

    The workbook includes: 
    • Engaging exercises
    • Fun money facts
    • Financial vocabulary
    • Certificate for child upon completion of program
    • Answer key in back of workbook
    There are chapters on budgeting, savings, goal setting, interest, tracking the money.  The workbook also offers several worksheets, such as goal tracking (keeping running totals of what the goal is, the incoming funds/expenditures).  It even has deposit slips and checks to practice filling out.    I read through this with my son, and we worked on it as a team.   We worked on the workbook twice a week.

    While the workbook was important to read through the details and get the meat, I thought the online portion really brought FamilyMint to life.  A parent creates a "bank" and the child gets an account, where funds are deposited.  Note that the funds do not have to be real money, just imaginary funds for the imaginary bank account.  Although if one wanted, real money could be used at home, kept in a "bank" at home that matched up to the funds in the online account.  We used imaginary money here.  Just like my bank offers me online access so I can view what is going on with my account, the FamilyMint account does the same for your child.   You can see transactions, such as deposits and withdrawals.  The child can set up goals and the account tracks the savings in that goal account.  Accruing interest is calculated and shows a clear visual on the benefit of savings.   My son loved this online account and liked to check it every single day.  I loved that habit! 

    Overall, I think that the FamilyMint program accomplished the goal it was created for, and certainly helped us give our son a firm foothold in a financial education.  The cost of the program is very affordable for the benefit it offers families.    

    One thing  that I was a bit disappointed in, was the lack of discussion on the "danger" areas.  For example, there was a chapter in interest, in terms of accruing interest on a savings account.  But there wasn't any mention on the danger side of interest, as in credit cards.  From my own personal experience, credit cards are a HUGE danger.  Credit card companies put millions into their marketing campaigns, and many  young people just do not get it, do not understand how a credit card is not a wise choice in most circumstances, when all they see is these commercials about how cool a credit card is, and the perks you get with them. 

    The other ball that I think was dropped was debit cards.  There's alot of talk in the workbook about checks, learning to write out checks, but nothing on debit cards.   Honestly, debit cards are the way of the world now.  Many companies don't even accept checks as payment.  Personally I write maybe 1-2 checks a month, meanwhile use the debit card on a daily basis.   Debit cards can lead to lots of financial trouble and stress if one doesn't know to use it wisely and remember to balance the checking account with debit card purchases.

    Without a discussion of these two financial dangers, I don't truly think that one could say a child was educated in terms of money management.  Perhaps the authors, who are fathers themselves and wrote this program for their own children originally, thought these two topics were better for a older age group.  I think a chapter on "Dangers" could have been added, or even a second workbook, for an older age group that covered these topics, as well as the original chapters.

    Head over to FamilyMint Money Management website, and see samples, screenshots of online account, and take advantage of their great pricing!