Friday, May 27, 2016

Adventures in Arkansas: Part 1

Earlier this month we took a few days off and went camping in Arkansas!  Some folks are of the opinion that camping is something you do only out of necessity and not by choice.  I guess I'm just not one of them.  It takes me a night to get used to everything, but being outdoors is so good for my soul.  J is five and the explorer in him is exploding these days.  Over the last couple of months I've grown convicted about giving the kids lots of outdoor experiences and making camping a family tradition at least every year.  So on our way to Devil's Den State Park, we stopped at Artist Point.

Unfortunately I didn't get all of my work done before time to leave so I spent a little time on the computer the first day.  But I couldn't complain about the work space!

Our next stop was at War Eagle Mill where we learned about grinding corn and bought some yummy Organic Pecan Cinnamon Whole Wheat Pancake Mix.  In the gift shop the kids were intent on playing chess, though they didn't really know how.

After we left here, we stopped by some friends, the Watsons, for a delicious dinner and play time for the kids!  I didn't even think to get any pictures! :(  We had a great time anyway!

Friday, May 20, 2016

We Need Each Other

In some circles it isn't very hip to lean in to the differences we face in others.  Granted in some circles it isn't very hip to say hip so what are you gonna do, right? Still it bears some consideration.  I hate fighting and arguing and the awkward feelings of people in the same room that just don't like each other.  It can make me physically ill, I hate it that much.  Because I have such a negative response to conflict, I work really hard to neutralize it whenever I can.  The Bible does say blessed are the peacemakers, but it can be quite exhausting sometimes.

What I have learned being in that position is that everyone ultimately needs something from everyone else.  We need passion, but we also need brains and practicality.  We need caution and planning, but don't forget to enjoy your life! We need mothering, but we also need fathering.  Why? Because they are different and fill different needs. We shy away from those differences sometimes in what we think is an act of fear or judgement of that other person.  Could it be that we judge and reject others because we lack what they have in abundance?  Maybe jealousy, maybe just insecurity. We all just want to be told that who we are is not just okay, but the best.  When an elephant enters a room that suggests we aren't okay, certainly not the best, sometimes the ugliest version of ourselves materializes.

 Housekeeping and detail work is not something I'm good at, take pleasure in or even think is all that important (over some other things). Perhaps if I come into your home that is very well kept and organized, a battle will likely begin in my head.  I'll be impressed by your skills and then despise them.  I'll justify my values and criticize yours.  Then I'll calm down a bit until your super well run schedule reminds me of how I fail often in that way.  Then the battle rages on.  Am I perfect and are you bad?  No, we have different skills.  The problem is that I'm insecure and when you're so different you're not validating my skills.  Ultimately I need your skills and habits to influence me to work smarter.  You might could use some influence from one of my skills. But mostly I just don't want to feel so inadequate.

My precious daughter often thinks she needs to do most things all by herself.  Is that how you react to inadequacies in your life?  I have the tendency to just hide from the world with wild determination to be better in hopes that no one will ever see or remember my flaws because the next time they see me, all will be fixed.  But isolation can often only take us so far.  We all need to be better than we are in some areas, right?  The best way to grow is to gain knowledge of and experience in the better, whatever that might be.  Drawing closer to people who are successful at what we're lacking is a great tool, if only we'll see it as such.  Looking at a high quality finished product gives us a better understanding of where we need to change.  Yes, that probably means we have to reveal our failings, but that might just be for the best anyway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Institute for Excellence in Writing: A Poetry Memorization Review

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review

Even though, as a piano teacher, I completely understand the value of memorizing music, the strong-willed free spirit in me still cringes a bit when someone suggests there should be more memorization in education.  You can imagine my initial attitude when Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization from Institute for Excellence in Writing came in the mail!  I enjoy poetry and want my children to appreciate it as well, but expecting them to memorize it seems rigid and too much, right?  After listening to one of IEW's founders, Andrew Pudewa, speak and then witnessing the enthusiasm and speed with which my children learned many of the poems, I am now convicted to maximize the amount of high quality language they digest on a daily basis including memorization!
Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review

Included in Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization is a Teacher book, 5 CDs in a nice brown CD book containing 96 poems and speeches read by Andrew Pudewa, a Nurturing Competent Communicators DVD, a Student downloadable ebook (perfect for printing and binding), and 7 audio mp3s containing hours of workshop presentations.   IEW does have a very generous photocopy policy allowing families to make copies of the Student pages. If you prefer not to print it yourself, you can also purchase the Student book (spiral bound) separately here.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review
The program's design is very simple and easy to execute.  The poems are divided into 5 levels and all students, no matter the age, begin with Level One.  The Student book provides a copy of each poem and when combined with the CD reading, students can recite the poems along with the recording.  A poem is to be practiced every day until it is memorized.  Once a poem is mastered the student will move on to the next, but regularly recite the ones already learned.  After each level (section) of poems is mastered, it is recommended to have a graduation and celebration where all of the poems are recited.  While memorizing is the basic goal, the process of learning new content provides many opportunities for discussion of social, scientific, and historical significance.  The Teacher's Manual provides lesson enhancements such as author, geography and historical notes as well.  The exercise is simple, but the educational breadth is quite large and complex.

On the day this program arrived we were going to drive across town to do an errand and spend almost an hour in the car total.  I hadn't had a chance to really look at the program, but I grabbed the Poetry CDs along with a few others in hopes of keeping the kids occupied.  When I first turned it on I feared my 5 year old and almost 3 year old would tire of poetry being read by the same person pretty quickly (which was why I brought several alternatives as back-up).  Much to my surprise any time I suggested we change to something else, they begged to continue the poetry.  Not only did they enjoy it, but within a day or two we sat down to work on memorizing and they both already had the first two poems, Ooey Gooey and Celery mastered!  Regularly I would have them sit in the school room next to the CD player and go through CD while J followed along in the book.  This would occupy them for quite a while and made memorizing a breeze!

It is been studied and proven that children learn language much quicker than adults, but sometimes seeing it be so in your living room just convicts you all the more.  In addition to the Poetry Memorization program, I received access to a large amount of education and knowledge about teaching our children and students how to better communicate and understand language.  The Teacher's manual provides a wealth of preparation and understanding.  The DVD and 7 audio mp3s expound on that further.  The poetry and speeches contained are fun and a great resource for any classroom.  However, the understanding and motivation I've gained to broaden my children's language base now (while it is still so easy) is the main reason I would recommend investing in this program.

This is the first product of IEW that I've used, but if it is any indication I expect their entire line of educational material is worth investigating.  If you would like to keep up with on social media, follow these links:


Twitter:  @IEW



Check out what others had to say about Poetry Memorization and IEW through the link below.

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

GrapeVine Giveaway: $50 Shopping Spree

Back in March I had the pleasure of reviewing The Resurrection from GrapeVine Studies and their fun Stick Figure Through the Bible approach.  If you haven't looked into all that they have to offer you can start by reading my review here.  This week I get the chance to team up with GrapeVine Studies again for a $50 Shopping Spree Giveaway!  This is such a generous and valuable prize that I'm a bit jealous that I can't win it! ;)

How to enter:

1) Like the Write Balance on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

2) Share any post about this giveaway

3) Comment on any post about this giveaway what books you would buy if you won!

4) Enter every day for more chances to win!

Entries will be accepted through midnight Friday May 20, 2016.  Winner will be announced May 23.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Early Elementary Art Curriculum: An ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review

ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review
Last year about this time, my husband and I attended our first homeschool convention here in Oklahoma and one of the booths we came back to a couple of times was ARTistic Pursuits, Inc. When I was given the chance to review it, I knew it would be a good fit!  From Preschool to High School, ARTistic Pursuits offers a comprehensive art education.  You can choose from their 10 age level curriculum books and 3 Sculpture Technique books.  For this review we received Early Elementary K-3 Book One: An Introduction to the Visual Arts.
ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review
This book contains 36 lessons with at least one project per lesson.  At the front of the book, after the table of contents, is a materials page that provides a list of everything you will need throughout the duration of the lessons.  Their website does offer art supply packs for each book so that you can purchase all of them at once or recommends Blick Art Materials for buying individual supplies at a discount.  We had a few things already on hand like drawing paper, construction paper and scissors, and the rest we found on Amazon pretty easily.  Once we had everything we needed, getting started was easy.  I don't know about your kids, but mine LOVE the idea of creating anything and when I said something about art lessons they would beg for it!  With new to them supplies like watercolor crayons or the oil pastels, it took a little extra work to slow them down.  They had no clue what to do but they wanted to do it in fast forward.  

The book is divided into three sections: What Artists Do, What Artists See and Where We Find Art.  Each lesson can stand on it's own and skipping around is certainly an option, depending on your needs and purpose.  Since we had yet to begin any official art curriculum I chose to start at the beginning and work through it.  Each lesson has a couple of pages of text to read to the students with some observation exercises or discussion of some master art works.  This takes about 5-10 minutes usually.  Since we are starting on the low end of the grade level my son could only touch the surface of some of the exercises, like observing certain details about an object but it was still very engaging.  Then a project follows where the student can work on their own (mostly, depending on the age) for about 30 minutes.  While each lesson can be related to other ones, all the information needed to teach each one is provided.  My husband is particularly good at drawing and the visual arts so whenever he had the chance to teach a lesson, we were all happy!  It's hard to be the teacher, housekeeper, cook and part-time anything else (writer, piano teacher, assistant) sometimes so subbing Mr. Butler in is always a good thing.  While you could add this in up to two or three times a week to a regular curriculum, because of Mr. Butler's involvement, this was a great evening activity before or after dinner.  

J's baseball field with watercolor crayons
Since we only used the first book of early elementary, I can only speak about it, but overall none of us had any complaints.  The lessons were brief enough, but left open many possibilities for extending them.  Each lesson was independent but also perfect to combine with other curriculum especially when it came to history and cultures.  All of the actual art content did not seem watered down, but straight forward while also being age appropriate.  I had never worked with watercolor crayons before, but now my 5 year old and almost 3 year old know how they work!  Since the content of the book is not consumable, we can use these books over again with other kids, or just again to see how we can improve or gain another layer of understanding.  In my mind it is a very productive investment.

Miss Z can never be left out!
Do you have kids at a different grade level than mine? Several of the different books were reviewed so feel free to look around for reviews of the books more age appropriate at the link below.

ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Elementary Music Appreciation: A Zeezok Publishing LLC Review

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
Coming from a musical family and having studied music in school, I knew what a great opportunity it was to review an entire music appreciation curriculum for the elementary grades.  What I didn't know was just how many valuable tools and great content I was going to receive as a part of this review! As you can see below Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades by Zeezok Publishing LLC includes a 354 page textbook, 7 individual storybook composer biographies, 5 audio CDs, and 1 Lap Book CD with printable material.  For this review we focused on Haydn, but with all of the composers there is enough content here to last you for quite a while, depending on how quickly you go through it.  I am so thankful for the chance to review this while my children are young, because this curriculum is something that I will be able to use in so many different ways as they age.
Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
Student Activity Book: Each composer has a section that includes a lesson plan, questions and activities that correspond with the composer biography.  In this activity book, each composer section would include a different musical element.  Haydn's section studied all about the orchestra including seating, the conductor, instrument families and symphonies.  One of my kids' favorite game was the instrument family matching (memory) game. All instruments were color-coded into families with each instrument pictured on a card and a corresponding one with the written name on it.  Other sections looked at elements of music (dynamics, melody, harmony, etc.), composition techniques, geography and music theory.  My favorite element the activity book features is a character traits study for each composer.  Traits like fearlessness and humility were noted in several instances of Haydn's life providing perfect opportunities to discuss their importance and place in the students lives.  This element is not something I've ever heard in a music classroom before!  It is woven throughout beautifully making it a seamless part of instruction.  

This book is designed to be consumable so extra activity books may be needed for multiple students.

Composer Biography: The composer biographies is one of the defining elements of this curriculum. Through a storybook reading of the composer's childhood and adult life, a picture is painted above and beyond facts on a page to be memorized.  Every important incident of a composer's life is included along with written music and illustrations. 
Audio CDs: This set of CDs includes recordings of all music referred to in the texts as well as some interesting additions.  As I mentioned before, Haydn's section included a study of the orchestra and all of it's instruments.  Disc 3 contains several tracks featuring each instrument being explained, performed, and often distinguishing elements or compositions.  In Handel's section it compares styles of music and corresponds with several tracks to illustrate them. Of course there are times for playing specific tracks, but one thing my children enjoy is just popping one CD in and letting it play while they do other work.  All of the music and examples on the these CDs alone is an amazing educational tool!
 Lap Book CD: As the title suggests, this CD contains a complete pdf file with all printable materials and instructions to create a lap book for each composer.  Below is our version of the Haydn lapbook which featured several interesting things like a puzzle, creative ways to remember facts about Haydn, his time and culture, and orchestra elements.  It was quite an undertaking and we only finished one! The content included here is really dense and reusable for years to come.

What Works For Us:  This program's recommended age level is kindergarten through sixth grade with flexible activities that can be suited to different age groups, making it perfect for an ongoing supplement to other curriculum at any pace.  While the recommended lesson plan is 4 weeks per composer, it will depend completely on the age and other activities of your kids.  My kids are first grade and preschool age so a chunk of this was somewhat over their head, but not wasted just the same. The storybook was a big hit and with the corresponding audio tracks the ground work was laid for revisiting Haydn's section in the future.  All of the orchestra discussion was giving them a great chance to exercise their skills in identifying instruments. I teach piano part time and this entire curriculum provides elements I can use to supplement from time to time in listening skills and music history,   For piano classes, co-op classes, or our own homeschool curriculum purposes, Zeezok's music appreciation curriculum equips me to fully enriching my students' relationship with music and broaden their perspective of its development.  Surrounding children at this age with so many excellent works and fantastic content certainly encourages music involvement in the higher grades, which is important for everyone!

Zeezok Publishing LLC publishes a wide variety of products! You can find them on social media at:

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
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Friday, May 6, 2016

Look Who You're Talking To!

There are times in life when we need answers.  Making decisions is a big deal and seeking out someone else's perspective can be invaluable.  Sometimes though we must consider the source.  Mr. Butler was telling me about an exchange that went something like this.  Mr. Butler, referring to buying football season tickets, says, "I just can't see spending the money on it, ya know?" Other guy says, "Nah. It's only $2400 a year."  See, this other guy clearly makes plenty of money and $2400 isn't that much by comparison.  But if my income is significantly lower than this guy's it would be terribly foolish for me to follow his example and invest in season tickets when I'm struggling to pay rent.

Another example.  If I am someone looking to lose weight, have never dieted or exercised before, but find the skinniest person I know and ask them how they stay so skinny, I'm likely to get a very inappropriate answer for myself.  If I follow their lead and do nothing (because those high metabolism kids usually don't do anything for at least 35 years), I've made a foolish move.  Change the category, but the story is the same.  Don't take parenting advice from those without kids.  Don't seek marital advice from the guy who can't get a date or keep a plant alive.  Don't take spiritual advice from the devil.

When trouble hits, we often want to feel better about it all.  There's nothing wrong with that, but often the advice we need to hear is not from the feel good fellas.  Should you take out a loan to get a new wardrobe for that job you haven't exactly landed yet?  Don't ask the guy who is living in his mom's basement, playing video games and taking some time to find himself.

Consider your source and their perspective.  There are plenty of perspectives, some of which are 100% unhelpful to your situation.  Be mindful of who you are asking questions of.  Look for the people who have successfully done what you are trying to do or can understand the direction you are coming from.  It seems like a simple reminder, but I get caught up in just talking sometimes that I don't consider who it is I'm expecting to contribute to the discussion and whether or not that really makes sense.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kwik Stix Review: No-Mess Painting!

Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review
Get ready to add something new to your must-have list in every home, classroom, and kid art studio! The Pencil Grip, Inc. is known for line of grips and other educational therapeutic products and now they have added a product you will most certainly use in your home!  I am typically more of a low-key person when it comes to new things, but this is one of the coolest things I've ever used. Tempera painting is super fun for children and adults alike and a great part of any art curriculum.  The trouble is the mess.  Even as adults you just can't get around it sometimes.  Kwik Stix  Solid Tempera Paint from The Pencil Grip, Inc. is the perfect compromise.  

For this review The Pencil Grip, Inc. sent us a Kwik Stix 12 pk, but also generously threw in their signature product, a pencil grip and an extra dark blue kwik stick! At first glance the Kwik Stix simply look like colored glue sticks and work the same with a removable cap and twist-able bottom for more thickness of paint.  The magical part is how quickly they dry with a tempera paint-like finish. They look and feel slightly sticky going on in the way lipstick might feel on paper, but literally in seconds it is dry to the touch.  The label claims it is dry in 90 seconds, but for most pictures it didn't even require a third of that time.  Not only does that mean easy clean up and no messy hands, but you can stack or file all of the artwork almost immediately.

Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review
Our 12 pack has given us a great variety of colors and my family (including Mr. Butler) has used them a lot with no sign of running low, but they do come in packages of 6, 12, and a classroom pack of 96 with a neon or metallic set as well.  We found these paints to be a fantastic asset that both my 5 year old and 2 year old loved equally, along with several adults that tried them being highly intrigued.  I'm sure these could fall into the same category with adult coloring books as things we would all enjoy spending more time than we should with.  As much as I adore my kids being creative, every time painting is mentioned, I wince a little bit just because it requires so much supervision and clean up at their age.  With Kwik Stix - and I know  I'm going to sound like a commercial here but it's the truth - all I have to do is tell J to go get some paper and the sticks.  Supervision and clean up is minimal! I can focus on something else with no pang of concern!  
Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review
Kwik Stix are the perfect gift for birthdays and holidays because they are consumable.  They provide a creative experience with endless possibilities that continues each time they are engaged again.  The best kind of gift in my book!
Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review

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