Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Right Way to Fill a Crayon Box: A Lesson in Balance

This past week I spent 3 days (in between feeding a baby and refereeing squabbles) emptying the big kids rooms, throwing out a lot, passing on clothing that's too small and just reorganizing EVERYTHING.  It was so long overdue mostly because we were in emergency everything is changing mode for the past 6 months at least and attention to detail - especially as it pertains to cleaning and household management - is NOT a strength of mine.  Our life has been chaotic so that is a verifiable excuse, but at the same time it took a lot of mental energy and gumption to truly go through their rooms.  Still, I did it and for good reason.  These crazies need to know how to find their clothes and not be pig pens everywhere they go! Plus, an orderly space does bring a certain peace to your life, doesn't it? I hate the stigma that I feel (which is probably largely built up in my head alone) that since housework and perfect orderliness isn't my top priority, I'm judged and looked down upon.  Still, I can't deny that there is more to life than perfect order, especially when obtaining that perfect order gets in the way of really important things.

This afternoon after worship services, Miss Z was supposed to be putting away her crayons in their original Crayola 24 pack box.  At first she tried to just shove them in a larger bag, but I directed her to the box.  She tried, but a meltdown seemed unavoidable.  She can get herself worked up pretty easy, but for the life of me, I didn't get why it was causing her such grief.  Finally she said, "I just can't do it.  They will never go right!!"  Then I realized what she was trying to do.  She was trying to put them in exactly as they should go and keep them from sliding in any way. From my extensive experience with coloring, I knew that if you just started shoving the crayons in, they would eventually all adjust to one another, fitting perfectly.  After I told her it didn't matter and to just shove them in, she just seemed to relax and then started laughing at it all.  The task of perfection was so overwhelming that the purpose had been lost.  We were just trying to keep track of all the crayons and not leave a mess.  The method by which they entered the box was just not important.

Balance, again, struck me as the ultimate friend.  Order is so helpful in the longevity of things and in our daily functions, but it can be a life waster if that's all we live for.  Less than perfect demonstrates grace and mercy, but when taken to the extreme leaves you with failure and chaos all around you.  Wherever you are at on this beautiful spectrum, scoot a little closer to the middle. 

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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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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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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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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