Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Crafty Classroom: A Preschool Curriculum Review

Crafty Classroom

Watch out world, we have a 4 year old in the house and she's chasing down her big brother in almost every avenue!  A classic example is her insatiable desire to "do school" along with her brother.  With J, I attempted to plan out a lot so I wouldn't miss anything in his journey to reading.  Miss Z hasn't had the road paved the same way (because boy does life get busy!), but it hasn't seemed to matter.  She began practicing A, Z and Y all on her own and before I knew it she was recognizing most of the alphabet.  My latest review the Alphabet Curriculum Notebook from The Crafty Classroom that has been a great resource for her as she fills in the blanks in her alphabet skills.
Alphabet Curriculum Notebook

The Alphabet Curriculum Notebook is designed to be a 26-week Curriculum printed out and bound or placed in a binder for Preschool age kids.  As is many preschools' custom, a Letter of the Week approach is used.  Each letter has 25 pages worth of activities, worksheets, charts, puzzles, coloring pages, and math explorations.  When you include the planning suggestions, assembly instructions and games, there are 
over 650 pages of downloadable pages for teaching the alphabet.  Considering you are able to use it multiple times, that's a pretty substantial deal for only $15. 

Since we didn't have 26 weeks to try out the entire program, we decided to skip around and focus on some of the letters she hasn't gotten down yet.  A lot of downloadable worksheets has one kind of activity for each letter and that is it.  We loved all the different ways to engage with each letter!  There were so many different things to choose from that even J begged me to print him out a few sheets.  They both especially liked the coloring and cutting pages.  I liked the handwriting practice pages because there were 32 different places to practice the upper case letter and 32 more places to practice the lower case!  I know the kids sometimes get tired of it, but the repetition is so helpful for their mastery.

Crafty Classroom

As described above, this Notebook can certainly be used as a preschool curriculum, but I'm even more excited about its supplementary uses.  Already having this in my files makes for a great go to when I'm needing something for extra practice for certain letters or just a fun color/activity sheet.  This has turned out to be a great product and I'll be looking forward to trying some of their many other products.

The Crafty Classroom is a homeschooling family with four kids who offers a wide variety of printable materials for your homeschooling needs.  The Homeschool Review Crew reviewed various PDF products for Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary grades so if this Alphabet Notebook isn't something your family needs, check out the other reviews.

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Crafty Classroom {Reviews}

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quik-Sculpting Kit: An ACTÍVA Products Review

ACTÍVA Products

Any time my kids can get their hands dirty and make something, they consider it a good day!   Adding an artistic element to any subject certainly enhances the learning and enjoyment.  When you find a product that is versatile enough to be used with whatever topic you're learning about, you make note of it.  Today I get to tell you about Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit from ACTÍVA Products and a couple of the things we made from the ACTÍVA Products' Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS ebook.  

Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit

The Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit that we received includes:

(2) 4 in. x 5 yard Rolls of Rigid Wrap. Rigid Wrap is a plaster coated gauze that provides an even texture for sculpture, jewelry, mask making and all kinds of craft projects.  To use you cut it into strips, prepare a container of water, dip strips into the water and lay onto the base or object you are working with.  Once it dries you are ready to paint.


(1) 8 oz of CelluClay Instant Papier Mache.  CelluClay is a finely textured, non-toxic material that handles like clay, but requires no firing.  You add water and CelluClay to a plastic bag and it turns into oatmeal consistency, ready to be molded.
Mr. Butler loves a good project so he tried out the Rigid Wrap first on one of our baseball helmets.  He found it really easy to use, but messy with a large item like this.  Thankfully, they did this one outside! It used quite a bit of it and here was our unpainted result:
After looking through the Kids Crafts ebook (it is available to download for free from their website), we decided to try making a Dinosaur, but the template also had an Egyptian Sarcophagus on the same page so we used both and made two templates of each.  The ebook contains 12 different projects in all and I felt they set the stage for how I might go about making much anything else.

The CelluClay felt like playing with oatmeal!

Both of my children made one with CelluClay and one with Rigid Wrap.  The most challenging part of the whole project was waiting for them to dry! We let them dry over night, but when they still weren't completely dry, we set them out in the blazing Oklahoma heat for a little while and they were ready to go.  After painting the CelluClay, my son really wanted to use markers on the Rigid Wrap one.  And so they did!  

We found that the Rigid Wrap dried a lot faster than the CelluClay and seemed sturdier all around, but the CelluClay gives shape and size a lot easier than the Rigid Wrap.  One thing we didn't try was using the two together.  Together I expect they would create a dense, but smooth texture that can't easily be duplicated with only one.  This kit would be a great thing to stock for a school year for things like science projects, holiday crafts, or some bonus fun in the summer! 

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Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit {ACTÍVA Products Reviews}

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trust Fund: A Movie Review

Mapelle Films
So, I have a funny story.
When most of the products you get the chance to review are education related, the chance to review a movie (that isn't just for kids) is celebrated!  When we received Trust Fund from Mapelle Films to watch and review,  it was a nice change of pace for my husband and I.  We put the kids in bed.  We made popcorn.  Mr. Butler set the projector up in our bedroom.  (Since we don't watch that much television - thank you Netflix and Amazon Prime! - and we just can't decide on the best spot for it, our projector and sound system still isn't set up in our living room.) The movie is a prodigal daughter type story with at least a few actors I had seen before, the producer was homeschooled and the trailer looked intriguing so I was pretty excited about the whole affair!

Trust Fund Movie
As soon as it began, I thought Mr. Butler hadn't turned the sound on so I pestered him to fix it.  He insisted that it was on and there just must not be any sound yet.  Weird.  The first scene is a dream sequence about the main character's childhood and he commented that since she was dreaming maybe it made sense there wouldn't be any music.  Umm, this music major didn't see the logic in that, but okay.  
So, as the plot goes, Reese is a free-spirited writer who is drastically different than her straight-laced responsible older sister, Audrey.  Both girls lost their mother when they were teenagers and we see their differing relationships with their father and the publishing company he and their mother built.  When Reese struggles in the responsibility department and finds out information her father has been holding back, she starts down a path of youthful passion.  Much like the Prodigal Son in the Bible, there is much to be learned from all directions about sin, grace, mercy, forgiveness and patience.  So, as the movie goes along I just am struck with shock that there are NO songs.  I hear them walk across the floor or clink a coffee cup, but not even montage music during scenes with no dialogue.  So weird.  
Because life is busy and sleep is very valuable, we watched it over two different nights.  On the second night, I began considering all the reasons why a movie might not have music.  Did they somehow not have enough money for music? That didn't make sense because everything else was high quality and some notable names in the cast.  Was it some artistic statement? I guess maybe, but why risk a financial investment like that on a statement?  It was just so bizarre that I almost couldn't take it.  Then it occurred to me that if I found it bizarre, surely someone else had too and commented on it somewhere.  I googled it and I didn't find any weird explanation, but I did find the soundtrack on Spotify!! And no it was just clinking glasses and footsteps, but real music!! So, wait - did we get a faulty copy or something? Nope. Mr. Butler only set up one speaker, instead of the whole set, and the way it was mixed (or something technical like that) prevented the entire score to be played from only the one speaker! We laughed. so. hard.  
Once we finished the movie and continued to laugh at ourselves, we restarted the movie (with the proper speakers) and sure enough there was a beautiful soundtrack to that dream sequence.  So many scenes were different and enhanced simply because of the background music.  Music matters so much in the evoking of emotion for sure!  
Love Was Near Book
Aside from the sound snafu that was completely user error, the movie did a great job highlighting the emotional dynamic that comes into play when someone sins.  In the movie, the main character is a writer and her book Love Was Near has actually been published and can be purchased on the film company's website, here.  It is all about the character's feelings about putting her bad decisions to rest and what she learns from her experiences.  It was certainly clean entertainment and I think it would be a great thing for families with preteens/teenagers to share together.  There is even a free downloadable Study Guide that assists in diving deeper into the themes of the story.  Both the movie and the book could be great conversation starters!  

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Trust Fund Movie {Mapelle Films Reviews}

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Field Trip to the National Weather Center

When you live in the land of severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches, it is a pretty neat thing to visit where it all comes from!  Last week we had the opportunity to visit The National Weather Center in Norman, OK for free with a group of friends.  We had a good time and the kids LOVED it!

Jude was extra prepared with a book from home about weather!  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Wave of Grief

When we moved from our old house to our current one, I was very sad for the beginnings we were leaving behind.  Still, I found comfort in knowing that our family was coming with us and that really was the most important part.  So the sadness faded rather quickly in a the newness that was now home.  We've now lived out here for a year and a half.  Certainly long enough to call this home.

Since losing Grace, I have grieved so much for her.  Of course our full life has moved along and the busyness pushes the tears aside pretty quickly.  Still, the tears continue to show up with fresh pangs of regret and sadness.  My sweet Jude was watching Sesame Street and insisted I watch a song between Bert and Ernie about good memories, saying it will remind me of Grace.  And it certainly did.  Just another chance for those tears to flow.  This time it was full of snapshots of Grace at our old house.  And then the tears for our old house and all of our beginnings there flowed even stronger.  My fluctuating hormones (and lack of sleep) has rendered me not quite strong enough for all of this yet!

When our little family unit was whole and staying together, the loss I felt from moving wasn't very lasting.  Now that I've lost a part of the original family unit, it makes the old house feel so distant and all that happened there a little more faded than before.  Like childhood innocence that disappeared when you weren't looking, such grief is bitter tasting.  Everything is okay and we're fine.  I know that.  But when the emotional waves get higher than you can see for a moment, I have to write about it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Make-A-State: A Hands-On History Review

Home School in the Woods
One of the beautiful blessings of homeschooling is having the time to dive into a subject and explore it from every direction.  Our latest review is designed for in-depth exploration with hands-on activities to engage all the curiosities.  Today we're talking about Make-A-State from Home School in the Woods, which is one of their latest products from their Activity-Paks collection.  Home School in the Woods is a family-owned company that publishes history curriculum that connects with the learner visually to enhance the understanding and feed the desire to know more about a given subject. 
Hands-On History Activity-Paks: Make-A-State

Make-A-State is a collection of printable pages and activities (either a digital download or available on CD) that combine to create a fun Lap Book on each state of the nation.  Included is step-by-step instructions on how to assemble each activity onto the Lap Book as well an information sheet on each state that you can draw from for the activities.  This is handy especially if your student is old enough to assemble it partly or completely on their own.  

Since we only had time for one state, of course we picked our home state of Oklahoma!

Below is a list of all the sections of information that you include in a complete state Lap Book.
  • Key State Facts
  • Origin of State Name
  • State Motto
  • State Symbols
  • State Song
  • State Industry/Agriculture/Climate
  • State Wildlife
  • Regions
  • State Geography
  • State Government
  • State Seal & Flag
  • State History
  • Famous People From...
  • Native Tribes
  • State Landmarks
  • Sports Teams
  • State Quarter
  • Recipes
  • State Vocabulary
  • State Timeline
These 20 activities incorporate things like coloring, creative writing, vocabulary, handwriting, and mapping in addition to the strong history study component.

As a Bonus, Make-A-State includes the "Name That State" File Folder Game that is designed to help you learn the states and their capitals, as well as match information to each state.  Especially with this unifying game, the life of this curriculum could be very long.  Studying one state a week using only this program provides at least a year solid of material.  Depending on what other outside information you draw from and other curriculum you include, this could turn into a long-range study across a couple of years or more.
Hands-On History Activity-Paks: Make-A-State

From our time spent with this product, I felt it was high quality and a great hands-on component to history study.  With younger students, like my 6 year old, there is more prep work for me as the teacher (printing, cutting out, directing, etc.), but the older the student the more independent they can work.  So, the age of your student(s) will likely dictate how much of your time is spent in lesson planning and that can be a deal breaker some years.  Still, I see it as an affordable and lasting curriculum that likely won't grow outdated over the life of your homeschooling years.

Of course, state history isn't the only history you will be studying and for those times, Home School in the Woods has a long list of other options in a similar hands-on and activity-based approach.  Their Lap-Paks series includes topics like Knights, U.S. Elections and Wonders of the World and the Activity Paks series include Artists, Composers, and the New and Old Testament.  The Time-Travelers American History Studies include New World Explorers, The Civil War, and World War II.  For a really neat project, check out the Timeline Trio that could be a treasure to keep long after the learning has moved on.  Last, but not least, the company is making available singular activities and subjects in their A La Carte area that could be great for tacking onto another curriculum or study.
HISTORY Through the Ages TIMELINE TRIOTime Travelers American History Study: The Civil War

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Hands-on History {Home School in the Woods Reviews}
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Feeding the Fire of Learning

"What time is it on the other side of the world?  Is the sun up right now there?"

The preacher and his wife at our congregation just recently returned from a 4 month long missionary trip to South Korea.  The homecoming was much anticipated, especially by the kids, and so foreign lands have been on their brains ever since.  The other night just before books were to be read, J started asking Mr. Butler about the other side of the world and before I knew it they were having a long conversation all about gravity, the earth's axis, hemispheres and time zones.  After several minutes it finally died down and bedtime rituals commenced.

I didn't say anything at the time, but that moment was full of so many things I LOVE.  A father sharing his knowledge with his kids.  A child curious about the world and thinking beyond only what he is presented with.  An environment of safety and dialogue that, Lord willing, will only continue and solidify as they get older.  Nothing staged or forced but pure organic learning.  As a homeschooler, I leap for joy because #1 I feel successful in facilitating a desire to learn and #2 Science has just been knocked out for the week! Ha! But the interchange did not happen because we homeschool.  The interchange happened because the child has been given an environment that encourages learning and a parent has made themselves available for further learning most any time.  The fact that the responsibilities of education are on our shoulders in homeschooling just makes us more aware of that valuable opportunity and conscious of its importance in the long term education of our kids.

I'm so excited for more exchanges like this one on any number of topics, but I just can't stress it enough that this is something any child and parent can foster, no matter their 'schooling' status.  When you don't homeschool, some if not a lot of the education of your child falls elsewhere.  That makes it so easy to isolate education to school hours and homework time only and think of all other time as something else completely.  The truth is that learning happens constantly and as parents we can be a huge and positive part of that as long as we're paying attention.  When our kids are largely grown and making life changing decisions, my prayer is that they will be so full of little learning moments about this big world we live in and God's infinite presence in it that they will live in a state of growth and honor to Him.

Friday, June 23, 2017

How to Homeschool: An Apologia Review

Apologia Educational Ministries
We have a surprising amount of friends (that we had prior to having kids) who are homeschooling their kids.  We also have a lot of friends who aren't.  To those who don't, the hows and whys of homeschooling are often a mystery.  In so many parents' mind there is the thought that "I could never do that." which can also mean "I don't ever want to do that."  Having done it a couple of years now, I do understand the challenge it is for some parents to even consider such a task as homeschooling.  For the parents who might want to, but feel clueless or the parents who think homeschooling is impossible for them, I recommend this video course from Apologia Educational Ministries entitled How to Homeschool with Stunning Confidence, Contagious Joy, and Amazing Focus.  I may be still be young in this homeschooling journey, but through reviewing this course I've seen how important it is to share and learn from our collective homeschooling experiences. No two homeschools will look alike and every one has some wisdom to share.
How to HOMESCHOOL with Stunning Confidence, Contagious Joy, and Amazing Focus (DVD & Coursebook)
What Is It?

How to Homeschool is a video course designed to support homeschooling families (and those who would like to be) find success and fulfillment no matter how far you are into the process.  This course comes with 2 DVDs  containing 15 short sessions with Rachael Carman and Leslie Nunnery talking about their myriad of homeschooling experiences and a 70 page book that complements the video conversations, details the personal assignments and provides space for note taking.  The video sessions include topics such as goal setting, curriculum, organization, marriage, graduation, college and everything in between.

Who Is It For?

This course is perfect for someone who has never homeschooled before! It might be even more useful to families who have already begun schooling at home, but feel quite overwhelmed.  

How Much Time Does It Require?

Each video session is less than 15 minutes and each corresponding chapter in the book isn't more than a couple of pages of reading.  Most chapters have a personal assignment at the end for you to complete, sometimes with the help of your spouse.  Knowing that growing families don't have buckets of free time just lying around, the course was designed to be digested in small chunks.  Depending on your needs, it could be very reasonable to spread it out to one chapter a week or for an intensive approach, take 3-4 hours on a Saturday and complete the entire thing.  Either way would prove beneficial.  The assignments especially are something that you could revisit every year to reevaluate your purpose in homeschooling, the students' needs and circumstances in order to best serve the homeschooling unit.

One misconception about homeschooling that still gets stuck in our heads even after we know better is that it is just going to be easy and if we hit opposition of any kind, then it probably isn't for us.  One of the things this course highlights directly is the various struggles you likely will have at one point or another.  You probably WILL have family that don't understand your choice.  You probably WILL have to switch curriculum at some point because it isn't a good fit.  Homeschooling WILL affect your marriage and vice versa.  These are realities that need to be addressed eventually and this course does a good job in preparing you for the best way to walk through it.
Much like childbirth or becoming a mother, the best way to succeed is to seek out others with varying experiences to equip you with wisdom.  Despite how easy it is to believe that no one has ever experienced the difficulties you are facing in homeschooling, the truth is you are not alone or unique in your worries or hesitations.  These video sessions are just like having a cup of coffee with some experienced friends and that is something we could all use from time to time!

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Homeschool with Confidence & Internship for High School {Apologia Educational Ministries Reviews}

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