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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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Race Car: 2 Months and Counting

I took the little Race Car to the pediatrician today for his follow-up visit.  As the doctor was asking her initial, "How's he doing?" I heard myself saying, "He's actually the easiest thing I have going on right now."  When your newborn is the easiest thing in your life, either your life is really bad or you have an amazing baby.  While life has been really stressful the past few months, he really is just that good of a baby!

He tolerates the big kids' intensity and excitement like a pro.  He practically puts himself to sleep and doesn't bat an eye when I interrupt his nap to go somewhere.  I know life with this Race Car won't always be such a breeze, but I am really thankful for the great time we're having right now.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Missing My Grace

When I say this out loud, I feel silly and foolish.  I miss my dog so much.  I know that my attachment to her was meaningful and rich, so this unexpected separation that brings an ache to my heart isn't silly or foolish.  She is a part of my marriage's identity in a way that I never realized until she was gone.  We brought her home only a few months after we were first married and her personality mirrored mine in so many sweet ways.

Grace was my first go of it as a mother, so to speak.  I loved her longer than I've loved my own children.  She knew when I was upset and tolerated me when I was busy with everyone else.  I remember seeing those deep eyes staring back at me when we first met and those same eyes stared into my soul the day we said good-bye.  She was the runt of the litter and all her litter mates were squirming all over each other trying to get attention, but Grace was shivering at the back just staring at me.  I knew I wanted her from the moment I saw those eyes.  Turns out I couldn't have picked a better dog for me.   She was hesitant and fearful, but she was amazing and caring.  Not only was she in tune with the emotion in a room, but she would leap higher for a frisbee than any dog I've ever seen.  Every trick we tried to teach her, she learned.  And all of this I know doesn't mean much to anyone else.  Your animals don't impact my life and so mine wouldn't impact you either.   But she has so deeply impacted my daily life that I can't seem to see Liz's speckled brown fur without my brain completing the picture with a black and white shiny image following behind.

So, while I try to write about things that might be relevant to my friends too, sometimes I just have to write my heart.  The sting has started to fade, but as my life marches on I can't help but long for her to be here with us.  She was there for the births of all of my children.  She was there when J and Miss Z crawled and walked and started to talk.  I'm so sad that she won't be there for the Race Car's.  She was there when Mr. Butler and I were learning to be us so in a way it doesn't feel like us without her.  Mr. Butler and I surmised how Grace and J are a lot alike - very empathetic and sensitive, just wanting everyone to be okay and have fun - and that her passing was kind of a transfer of the baton.  With the Race Car's arrival, we certainly have been blessed and occupied.  We understand that dogs are not people and people always trump the animals.  I was just given such a bonus blessing in my Grace and I was absolutely not ready to give her up.

Ever since they were young, I've always thought about writing a children's book series entitled, The Adventures of Amazing Grace and Lickety Split.  One of the ways I hope to fill the hole I seem to have in my heart is to seriously pursue that project.  It may not be a fast turn around, but I would love for you to help me by asking how it is coming every once in a while to keep me heading that way.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Whistlefritz: A Spanish Immersion Program Review


Sometimes my battle with deadlines makes me dread writing reviews, but I'm regularly pulled right out of that funk when I'm reminded of the fantastic products I get to try with my family!  The latest product we get to review is the Educator's Spanish Collection from Whistlefritz.   Whistlefritz produces Spanish and French Immersion Programs specifically designed for early elementary students.  They have built their programs on the understanding that learning a new language is easiest at a young age and is most effective when they are immersed in it, much like we all learn our native language.  With all of my children under the age of 7, this is a great program for them.
Whistlefritz Spanish
The Spanish Educator's Collection includes a teacher's manual of Spanish Lesson Plans for Kids, 5 DVDs, 3 CDs and Spanish Matching Cards.  The manual contains 40 lessons that integrate all subjects into learning Spanish providing a reciprocal reinforcement relationship.  Each lesson builds on the one before, but in most cases can be used alone, depending on the student's prior knowledge.  The DVDs are full of engaging skits, music and dance covering all major topics that the Lesson Plans touch on like numbers, colors, seasons, etc.  CDs are full of fun music that reinforces the language areas the others introduce.  We love to use CDs in the car allowing the language to go with us even when we're not in the middle of a lesson.  Finally, the Spanish Matching Cards provide just another way to interact with the language alone or with other students.

They were combining coloring with numbers and colors in Spanish.

What We Thought:

As usual the kids loved the DVDs and asked to watch them over and over.  Since they are entirely in Spanish, they really are beneficial for a student's grasp of the language.  They correspond with particular lessons and are a great add on, but they do very well as a lesson all their own sometimes.  On Whistlefritz's website you can download free lesson plans that correspond directly to the videos (not repeats of those in the book) if you would like to create lessons surrounding just the video.  

We were able to use all of these materials for 4-5 weeks so we went through various lessons that were a good match for both of the kids educational level.  However, depending on the circumstance and needs, you could stretch this program out to an entire school year, coordinating all kinds of things with the Spanish topics from each lesson.  It provides a wonderful base for Spanish vocabulary, but if spread over a school year would certainly spring board into even more!

Whistlefritz Spanish

Whistlefritz Spanish
The lesson plans themselves are very easy to use and adapt to your needs.  The objective is always very clear and everything you need is listed or explained.  There are even several alternative or additional activities that make the entire program so versatile.  The lessons plans are contained in a softbound book with corresponding printable material.  One thing that I would love to see added is the consumable material available in pdf so that it would be more easily printed, rather than just copying from the thick book.  We printed just fine for our lessons, but a pdf would enhance quality and convenience.  The card game is a great anytime activity to pass time and reinforce vocabulary and my 3 year old especially loved getting those out.

After spending some time with all of this material, I feel really confident in recommending this as a comprehensive language program that young kids will love!

Follow Whistlefritz on Social Media: 
Spanish and French {Whistlefritz Reviews}
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Learning to Live in the Pain of Growth

Several years ago when I first started this blog, it was with a desire for balance.  Most people gravitated towards extremes and even I couldn't seem to stay in the middle for very long.  I longed for balance, but that means growth.  Growth can be really hard, but once growth involves bigger things like sickness, a large stack of bills or whatever brings the despair at night - well suddenly it doesn't feel like growth anymore, but punishment.  It's really not.  But it sure can feel like it.

One of our dogs is sick and recovery is uncertain.  If you're an animal person, you understand the heavy weight of making decisions that not only affect them, but your entire family.  It's enough to make you want to run and hide.  Still, until you're placed in such a precarious situation, struggling over such decisions seem simple and not worth agonizing over.  Like being a parent or losing a parent; like going without a meal or being the only one providing a meal; - until you're in the situation, you just don't realize what it is like.  As Christians we seek maturity and growth - because it is commanded, but also because we desire it usually.  Perhaps we think that if we're more mature, life is easier.  I don't know about all that, but to get there - to grow and achieve a new level of maturity - things get harder long before they get easier.  

I have given birth to three children now and I'm amazed at each one of them in different ways.  My racecar is 2 months old and in a lot of ways things are getting easier now, but only after so much was really hard.  But his 2 months is way easier than J or miss Z's 2 months because I knew what was coming.  But until I knew what it was like, it was just hard to live in it.

Over the past 12 months we've had more emergencies in our life than ever in our entire marriage.  Stress and worry.  Bills and more bills.  Kind of like a winter that just won't end.  That winter full of debilitating snow though is actually watering the plants.  The harshness of winter snow still makes beauty possible after it has melted.  All it takes for hope is that first little bud of spring and you realize it was worth something.  Just like the snow, these hardships and burdens that just won't quit are tools God is using to fulfill His promises to us and answer our prayers of growth and maturity.

And so we learn to live in it.  

James 1:2-4

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.…

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

K5 Learning: An Online Program Review

K5 Learning

K5 Learning
It is officially Summer and as a parent you might be thinking about where your kids are academically and where you want them to be when Fall hits.  Would your child  benefit from some extra math and reading practice? How about some spelling and vocabulary help?  Could you use some help getting them there? Over the last month or two we've had the great opportunity to try out K5 Learning, an online supplemental math and reading program designed to provide both entertaining and educational lessons to students at home.  With my eventful pregnancy and my little race car's explosion into the world, our homeschool didn't exactly stay on track.  K5 Learning has been a fantastic online tool to fill in some gaps along the way.  

K5 Learning
K5 Reading includes:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Sight Words
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading Comprehension

K5 Math includes:
  • Numbers & Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Data Analysis
  • Algebraic Thinking
K5 Spelling includes:
  • Adaptive instruction
  • Optimized visual interface
  • 150,000 word database

How It Works:

K5 Learning first provides an assessment for math and reading in Kindergarten through Grade 5.  Students can then begin personalized lessons and custom worksheets at their current skill level, allowing for online and written interaction. Subscriptions are monthly or annual and allows for up to 4 students per account.  Created with busy parents in mind, this program allows the student to work independently on target area lessons until they are mastered and then provides a report to the parents all along the way.  The sequence of  online lessons is controlled by the system so students can't spend all their time on one game and neglect others.   The program's award-winning software provides full instruction which makes it possible for kids to learn a new concept as well as practice familiar ones.  K5 Learning is also recommended for Special Needs and ESL learners due to its individualized, self-paced design and research-based curriculum that meets national standards.  

How We Used It:

I had J take both assessments right away which was easy and provided good information to know anyway.  From there he would start wherever the program started him, which was based on the initial assessment.  The online engagement was impressive and the corresponding worksheets allowed for a good hands-on reinforcement  J enjoyed the short lessons and the creative ways they spent time explaining a concept.  At one point he was working on adding three numbers and immediately balked saying it was too hard.  I talked him through it and in a few minutes couldn't stop saying how easy it was.  This program seems to progress incrementally in such a way that really cannot overwhelm a student for very long.  It has a great mix of instruction and games that don't ever seem to repeat in nature.

This supplemental program can be used throughout the school year as extra practice and filling in gaps or over the summer break to keep their skills up.  Regardless of the time of year, K5 Learning is a great insurance policy when life doesn't go according to our plan!

Keep Up with K5 Learning on Social Media: 
K5 Learning {Reviews}
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