Friday, August 26, 2016

Family Identity: Deciding Who We Are

When a new educational institution is formed, those in charge make certain decisions about its identity.  Things like a name, the mascot, colors, and song are common things the school will be known for.  As principal it is also within their power to set standards, mission statements, determine the type of classes offered, etc.  All of these things will contribute to the identity and makeup of this group.  When my husband and I decided to homeschool our kids, we were given a reminder that as the leaders of our family, we can determine many facets of our family’s identity. 

A family identity can be created through simple choices that you reinforce in your family life.  One of the choices we have made for our family is how we are entertained.  We appreciate the outdoors so we garden, hike on vacations, ride bikes, going fishing, walk to the pond regularly, etc.  We prefer books, family engagement and games over excessive screen time.  Even though as kids the movie theater was the ultimate entertainment, our date nights are taking a turn toward uncommon dinner spots and live entertainment like plays and festivals.  The point is that hopefully our choices are consistent with our previously decided values.

How we treat others is an area that we are working on in our family.  It can be difficult to raise respectful and loving little people when you struggle with that in your own relationships.  Still, it is a way that your family can band together to fulfill the gospel and rise above the common stumbling blocks of our hearts and tongues.  Some of the things we’re working on are how we speak (yes ma’am, no sir), how we react (meltdown vs asking for help), how we accept responsibility (blaming others for problems vs acknowledging our role), and how we respond when others aren’t acting right.  Again, the goal here is to fulfill our values of the gospel through individual standards we set in daily life.

Another way family identity is created is through the skills we value.  Skills aren’t just things you’re born with or are naturally good at, but abilities you gain through exposure and training.  A fisherman’s son will know much about fishing whether they are gifted themselves.  All families have this, though often they are unspoken and perhaps not premeditated as they ought to be.  By engaging and demonstrating them in our lives, we are choosing to value skills like appreciating nature, being wise with money, reading and playing music, singing/song leading, and commitment to local worship services.   Whether my child may become a mathematician, a back-hoe operator or a news anchor, these are skills we see worthy to support a fruitful life.

The physical identity that we carry – our name, distinguishing facial features, or a resonant voice, etc. – can help others pick you out of a crowd, but the character or our lives is where we choose to walk in the light.  When our goal is to see our children walking in the light, we must build that light into our family identity

Friday, August 19, 2016

Taking the Long Road and the Curse of Convenience

With our modern conveniences, we are almost unknowingly conditioned to expect immediate and effective responses from everything.  When a child misbehaves, many look for an appropriate discipline, but if it doesn't prove effective immediately, then it's considered a failure.  Trying a diet is often just that and nothing more.  When something goes haywire after the first week or two, it falls by the wayside.  While the trouble is obviously lacking patience, it is also common to simply look at symptoms and not consider a root cause of a problem.  Why is the child misbehaving?  Why does every diet only last a couple of weeks?  We could be talking about anything from educational issues to budget problems to relationship complaints.  If we aren't considering what originally caused this problem or series of events, it is likely to continue to be a problem until we do.

This afternoon I was letting my very convenient Roomba robot vacuum in my kitchen as I straightened up when all of us a sudden I heard an unfamiliar crash.  A 3-tiered plant stand with 3 medium sized ivy plants had fallen to the floor because my little robot had gotten hung up on some ivy.  Modern conveniences aren't always that convenient in the end.  Sometimes we do things in the name of convenience or expedience that just don't really cut it and require us to spend even more time correcting a problem that could be avoided by doing something the long, but often more effective way.  Our society has that attitude with a lot of things.  Educationally, we expect everyone to learn on the same schedule and have to go to great inconvenient lengths to accommodate those outside the average.  It seems to be very typical to treat symptoms with the quickest remedy often not considering the underlying cause or subsequent side effects of treatments.  Especially in our marriages, when issues aren't fixed quickly it is common and tempting to just move on.  I've only been married (almost) 10 years, but we absolutely wouldn't be together if we had moved on every time things got really really difficult.

 My brother the orchestra conductor was sharing his opinion on teaching middle school string students.  He said some teachers are in a big hurry to get them playing more and more literature at the highest level possible.  He said he would much rather students enter high school with a great knowledge of basic skills.  The basic skills, in his opinion, are far more important to establish first.  It may seem to take a bit of time in the beginning, but in the life of a musician it pays off beautifully being able to play all the literature they desire with artistry and proper technique for many years to come.

I come from gardeners and I'm attempting to share that experience with my children.  I'm certainly not great at it, but I have learned a few real life lessons.  Things take time.  There's always a reason something isn't working and ignoring it in some way isn't going to fix it.  The end product is more than just the piece of fruit or vegetable you gain.  The process teaches us about life, problem-solving, perseverance and an amazing Creator.  I'm very passionate about learning and natural health for all of these reasons.  In health and in learning, things always take time.  When you try to circumvent the natural progression of things, it generally doesn't go well in the long run.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids: A Spanish Program Review

Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review

It's not news that learning other languages is so good for your brain and your perspective on the world.  Plus, Spanish is the most common second language in our area and so of course I jumped at the chance to review the Spanish Starter Set 1 from Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids.  As parents we easily underestimate not only our children's ability to learn things, but what may or may not be interesting to them! I honestly expected my kids to watch the videos once, maybe twice and then move their interest to other things.  After several weeks, they still ask for it periodically and try to use words on their own.  It's adorable!

Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids is the creation of Kit Strauss and "the culmination of years of studying and experimenting with the most positive and successful ways to learn Spanish."  The program is intended for children as young as 3 years old, but can be a fun way for adults to learn as well.  My children, who are 3 and 5, both remained engaged and enjoyed practicing words they had heard from the videos.  The Starter Set 1 that we received (as seen in the picture below) included:
  • DVD with videos for Levels 1-3
  • Three Parent-Teacher Guides which sets out a detailed lesson plan, with a suggested viewing schedule and a variety of fun, supplemental and hands on activities to choose from to reinforce the material taught in the videos.
  • Flashcards and Card Games for Levels 1 to 3
  • Workbooks for Levels 1-3
  • Stickers for Levels 1-3
Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review
The Teacher's Guide is very helpful in understanding the program's intent and design which really sets the parent/teacher up to maximize the benefits the students receive.  It also breaks the content down into lessons complete with a word list corresponding to each video and activities.  The workbooks are intended for 3rd grade and up so we didn't use them during our review period, but they'll be stored for later use when my son is older.  The stickers are a wonderful tool, especially once your kids are reading, to reinforce the names of things around the house.  The Go Squish Cardgame is another great way for the kids practice the words they are hearing.  Since my children are younger, we spent most of our time watching videos and then practiced with the 'Rapid Review' section at the end of each video remembering Spanish words.  

Why We Loved It:
Maybe my children are different than most, but the videos completely engaged them while being completely in Spanish (except for the intros, I think).  Even though you are immersed in the language, the ideas were very concise and clear. They begged to watch them multiple times without me prompting them.  The videos were not bland in any way, but also not crowded with unfamiliar cultural images or references.  That's not to say that it didn't look or sound authentic, just that it appeared to be regular kids doing familiar/regular things, but in Spanish. And whenever they start spouting off words - even words that aren't real words - they have a much better accent than I could ever teach them!  We found it to be a great program that doesn't require a lot of drab repetition and engaging for my young children directly from the start.

We reviewed the Starter Set 1 (which is Levels 1-3), but they have several other levels and other products as well that you might be interested in.  Feel free to explore what they have to offer here
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Beginner Spanish Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids Review
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Friday, August 12, 2016

Strong-Willed Girls

I'm no expert when it comes to parenting or strong-willed kids, but I am/was a strong-willed girl and I have a strong-willed daughter.  It's a topic I am at least familiar with.  And I know there is an ugliness that comes with being strong-willed.  There are lines that the strong-willed cross out of passion and commitment to a cause and then deeply regret it when the consequences are painfully clear.  There is a fight that arises that seems misplaced, but so real just the same.  There can be bossiness, rudeness, selfishness and pride.  It all comes from a fierceness that just isn't taught, but was burning at birth.  And it is just as hard being a strong-willed girl as it can be parenting one, no matter how well-equipped you might be.  I say all of that to say this.  If you have a relationship with a strong-willed girl, know how amazing they are.  They will be the leaders taking the path less traveled by.  They will be standing up for the invisible and the fatherless.  They will make a way when it seems hard or impossible.  They will do great things.  Unless you don't teach them how to love and respect others.  Then, it's anybody's game.  

One of the big challenges with Miss Z (3 years old and the strong-will is fully activated) right now is how she talks to everyone, especially Mr. Butler and I.  She is fine assuming we are there for her pleasure.  "I need a drink of water!" she will demand.  "Mommy, you need to find my blanket." she declares.  It's a simple, maybe silly thing to you, but I know where it leads.  Where on earth do you think mean girls come from?  They start with a ring leader who thinks she knows better (has the best ideas) and can tell everyone how things should go. So, we're working on the polite way to speak to others and how we ask for things, not demand things.  It's not a huge ordeal but it's an example of how easily these strong-willed diamonds can crush everyone around them really fast if their heart isn't constantly tuned towards God's love for others and how that should look in our daily lives.

I can't speak from a position of success since she is only 3, but I know so many strong-willed girls and awesome mothers of strong-willed girls that have their own struggles.  It really is one of the hardest most significant things you can do simply because of the force you're shaping in them.  Let's not give up, but just remember the privilege and duty these awesome souls bring to us.

Twirling in her new dress

Even though she didn't really want to

It was her brother's idea

And I sorta had to make her

Doing some Yoga in the morning

Doing some Yoga in the morning

Making faces in the mirror

Friday, August 5, 2016

Great Distortions: Educating Expectations

About 10 years ago, my husband and I were excitedly planning our wedding and honeymoon when one of us stumbled on to some really great advice in a magazine.

Don’t expect that just because you are on this monumental vacation that the person you are normally is going to suddenly change.  A high activity person is still going to want to get out and do things and the slow paced person will still appreciate lying on the beach just reading a book.

The article’s intent was for the reader to consider the normal rhythms of life when choosing a destination and itinerary for your honeymoon to help counteract the unrealistic expectations that almost always accompany such a trip.  It was and is really good advice!  We are both slow paced personalities and so a cabin in the mountains was a great choice for us.  Naïve expectations creep in unannounced everywhere even when we’re looking for them.  10 years, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 2 houses and numerous trips later I can say with certainty that those expectations can ruin the best of us.  It is now becoming clear that the same rules apply to adventures in homeschooling. 

Our choice to homeschool is based on educational standards, traveling flexibility, and making our family a priority – all things we really believe in.  I may have all the principled reasons in the world, but that doesn’t change my introverted need for regular amounts of down time and privacy.  Like a young bride who is certain love is all she needs to survive, I must have assumed that because I was going to do this good thing in homeschooling that my basic rhythms wouldn’t matter.   It didn’t occur to me that my loathing of housework and laundry would be exacerbated by an increasing number of hours devoted to schooling.  It also didn’t fully register to me that, while I love my children fiercely, I would need (but not automatically receive) breaks from even the little people. 

Instead I envisioned the emotional fulfillment and maternal satisfaction I would receive from directing my children successfully.  I hung on to the thrill of teaching my own flesh how to read and write.  And, honestly, I have felt those wonderful things just like the newlywed and new parent has magical moments burned into their memory because it is everything you dreamed it would be.  But, as all perfect moments do, they pass and the other difficult moments begin to fill in the gaps.  The flesh begins to cry out in agony in spite of this really good thing we’re doing.

What do we do with all of the distorted expectations?   Educate, don’t eliminate.  Like the honeymoon article suggested, it’s important to back up and be honest about the rhythms of who we are.  I will never do well under a lot of pressure or thrive in chaos, but that just means I have to make time management a priority.  Then, let go of everyone else’s expectations that may have slipped in unannounced because your homeschool experience – much like your honeymoon – should honor who you and your family are.  Most of our friends are about to take a break from schooling for the summer, but long breaks don’t really work for us.  We school all year round, but take days/weeks off when we need it.  When our grand expectations look more like great distortions, remind yourself it is time for a deeper understanding of the family you’re working so hard to honor.
This was originally published at Homeschooling with HeartThe Old Schoolhouse Blog.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Talking Shapes: A Phonics Program Review


Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}Today we're going to look at a product from Talking Fingers, Inc.   Talking Fingers, Inc. was created when Dr. Jeannine Herron and her staff began to research the effective use of computers as tools of learning.  Their work resulted in the development of several online programs including Read, Write, & Type, Wordy Qwerty, and Talking Shapes.   
For this review, we are considering a one-year subscription to the online program Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy. It is intended for Preschool to Kindergarten age (4-5) children preparing to read and designed to take the words children say and teach them that those same words can be seen.
Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Talking Shapes is a web-based (used in a browser, not an app) series of 7 interactive stories about two sisters who invented the alphabet.  Throughout the stories, letters are embedded to help them remember their sound and shape.  There are activities like tracing the letters, reading games, and read alouds. With it's multi-sensory approach, the activities encourage new or struggling readers to actively engage for better understanding.  

Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}
Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}

The concept of interacting with the letters and sounds as kids are entering the realm of reading is not only founded on research, but looks like a lot of fun.  I would caution those who are considering purchasing this program to double check your computer system capabilities with the programs requirements.  I failed to do that right off the bat and ended up not being able to use the program at all on my devices.  I am certainly not the technical one in my marriage because I didn't even know what 32-bit versus 64-bit meant!  The Talking Shapes program requires a 64-bit Mac/PC system in order to run and in my research learned that it often works best with the browser Firefox from Mozilla.

I am told that there are app versions of this in the works that I expect to completely circumvent my issue so I'm looking forward to trying that out!  Despite any technical difficulties, the important things to remember about this fun program is the benefits:
  • children learn that spoken words are made of individual sounds (phoneme awareness).
  • children learn that letters stand for those sounds (phonics).
  • children learn how to draw those letters.
  • children learn how to sound-out and write 3-letter words.

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For more information from other reviewers who may have had a different experience with this program, check out other Crew members' reviews below:

  Talking Shapes {Talking Fingers Inc. Review}

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CTCMath: An Online Math Curriculum Review

CTCMath Review
Even though we homeschool year round, we have slowed things down a bit this summer.  One of the great resources we have taken advantage of is CTCMath's Online Math Curriculum.  For this review we received a year's subscription to CTCMath's Homeschool Membership on the family plan which gave full access to all lessons across all grade levels that includes K-6, Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and Calculus for up to ten students.  For large families this could be mean a lot of money saved!

Since most of our school work is not online, having an online program to fall back on has been really nice for the times when Miss Z (newly 3 years old) is insisting on 'doing school with me' and I need J  (my 5 year old) to still be productive.  This program is beautifully designed for independent work, complete with lessons, interactive questions and diagnostic tests that are all easily accessed.  The parent/teacher area includes detailed records on each student and the ability to assign tasks (lessons, tests, etc.) to each student ahead of time that will be waiting for them at their next login.  Especially for higher grade levels, this program is a smooth combination of parental control and student responsibility.

Since we've only made it to 1st grade work, I haven't had a lot of experience with the different learning issues math can sometimes present.  My son asked to use this program regularly, enjoyed the videos and didn't need much help once he got the layout of things down.  However, I can see CTCMath being very useful for all types of learners.  The lesson videos combine audio and visual avenues to engage the student, followed by interactive questions.  As the teacher, I can adjust how many questions are required for mastery on individual lessons for each individual student which can be helpful when students need extra practice on a skill.  The diagnostic tests are also accessible any time which even further allows you to individualize their experience to their needs.

I mentioned saving money earlier so let's look at that in greater detail.  The CTCMath Homeschool Membership comes in single student plans and family plans that you can purchase monthly (able to cancel at any time), at 6 months, or yearly.  If you only have one student and aren't looking for a complete curriculum replacement, a single membership a month at a time might make a lot of sense.  If you have more than one student able to use it, the family plan saves money and sets you up with a great record keeping system that you might choose to continue for years!  

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Looking for a perspective on older students using this program?  Check out all of the other reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew:

CTCMath Review
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