Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Poison of "I Can't"

There is a difference between what we are capable of and what we are comfortable with.  Sometimes the result is one and the same, but sometimes not.  There are a lot of choices I have made in my life where others have said or certainly thought, I would/could never do something like that.

I teach beginning piano and often prefer it to more advanced students.  Many musical people don't have the patience.  To me, I'm more confident with beginners so I feel like I do a better job.  If you can teach advanced students, you are certainly capable of teaching beginners, but perhaps not comfortable doing so.

My children were all born at home.  Especially, 8 years ago when I was pregnant with J many people said or thought (and later said) that there was no way they could ever do that.  Of course there are high risk pregnancies that most certainly couldn't do that, but I'm referring to normal, low-risk births.  Hospitals have always truly stressed me out in every sense of the word.  Being able to relax and birth a child without unnecessary intervention was a great blessing, not to mention I'm pretty sure the Race Car wouldn't have made it anyway!  I know many births would have been blessed by and certainly capable of a home birth, but because of any number of personal preferences they would never be comfortable with a home birth.

Same goes for a lot of things like cooking at home more than you go out, homeschooling, planting a garden, maintaining better health, etc.  The reason I even bring this up is because of how significant our language is on our personal thinking.  My children have a bad habit of complaining that they can't do something when what they really mean is that they don't want to or they don't want to continue working hard enough in order to said thing.  Adults are often very similar.  And the trouble is that start to believe the things we say and take our personal choice out of the equation.

Take the birth example.  Because of my fears, I might say that I could never have a baby in the hospital.  The truth is that I'm capable, but not comfortable with the idea.  If there was a danger to me or the baby, of course I would go to the hospital and, despite my discomfort, successfully have that baby there!  If you have a heart attack and the doctor says to start moving and quit eating out, those that say they could never cook for myself, just might find a way.

For my kids' sake and for my own, I have had to take inventory of the things I say and be more honest about my choices.  See, it is easy to feel like a victim of your circumstances.  I've struggled with this all my life.  Suddenly we're blaming everything under the sun because life is hard and we don't want to admit where our choices really rest.   I am a year out from giving birth and I have only lost about 5 pounds.  A couple of pregnancies ago I would be mad and giving up all the time because it was hard.

The reality of 2017-2018 is that I am choosing to prioritize the education of my children, the health of my marriage, and the health and security of a baby ALONG WITH my recovery and weight-loss.  That is my choice.  Perhaps if I sent my kids to public school and daycare, shirked a lot of my responsibilities around the house or chose not to breastfeed, I could be a lot further along in my weight-loss.  And that is just fact.  But those are also things that are very important to me so I'm trying to balance them and bring myself along albeit a little slower than I'd like.  It's not too hard, it's just focusing on what is most important.  Plus, the scale isn't the only indicator of improvement.  My clothes are fitting better.  My endurance is improving.  The brain fog is lifting most days.  I'm very blessed and thankful.  6 years younger me would not have been so understanding.

We all have our limits, our priorities.  The trouble is we aren't always good at verbalizing them honestly.  Perhaps we're trying to be polite by saying we can't when we really mean we won't or don't want to for specific reasons.  And I'm not suggesting that it's good to go around being rude about other people's life choices!  Still, a little bit of honesty can go a long way in making sure you are okay with the way you're prioritizing your life.  Don't believe the rampant lies of "I can't." Believe it or not, I won't or don't want to are a lot more freeing and healthy.

Planet 316 Story Bible and App: A WorthyKids/Ideals Review

Planet 316


With everything in our modern culture that works against our kids and their relationship with God, it is encouraging to find companies and products that are striving to work together to build our faith  in God with modern day inventions.  Planet 316 and WorthyKids/Ideals are doing that very thing with their Planet 316 Story Bible and the companion Planet 316 Story Bible App so we were excited to get to review it!

Planet 316 Story Bible and Bible App

We were given the Planet 316 Story Bible that has over 100 stories from both the Old and New Testaments written in a child-friendly, read-to-me format.  There is a complete Table of Contents at the beginning that is helpful for jumping to a story.  There is a People, Places and Things in the Bible Index at the back that is a great perk for young readers finding their way through the Bible.  The illustrations are bright and colorful with a lot of fun mixed in.  The innovative part of this product is the free downloadable app that comes with it.  For every story, the app reveals the images in an augmented reality that pops off the screen and, when clicked on, the characters speak often with other sound effects.  It is a neat combination of technology and finding ways to connect with the Biblical stories better.  The kids are always excited to use technology and immersing themselves in scripture at the same time is a win-win, for sure!



The Planet 316 Story Bible App is available in the Google Play store and the Apple App Store, though we had some trouble at first getting the sound to work on our iPad mini.  It requires a device with a camera and we finally determined that it works best on newer hardware like smart phones or newer model tablets.  In some cases, just making sure your device has had the latest update will suffice.

The other thing we encountered was the logistics of holding the device over the book in order to get the app to work properly while holding the book open (since it was a new book, some pages wouldn't stay open on its own).  To activate the images, the device has to be a certain distance (not too close) from the page.  It is easiest as a two person job where one holds the book open and the other works the device.  As long as they took turns appropriately, it worked fine.  If I was using this with just one (small) child it would most likely require my continual involvement.

The Planet 316 Story Bible and App is a fun, innovative way to interact with the Bible.  Modern advancements are a part of our way of life these days, no matter the side effects they sometimes bring.  With this new technology and their mission to spread God's Word through it, it's even more exciting to wonder what Planet 316 and WorthyKids/Ideals will think of next!


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Planet 316 Story Bible and Bible App {Planet 316 Reviews}
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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A+ Interactive Math by A+ TutorSoft Inc.: An Online Math Program Review



A+ Interactive Math
No matter how much the world expects learners to follow a simple step by step journey through learning, life and learning can be complicated and messy.  Sometimes things click and sometimes they don't.  We love homeschooling for that very reason.  When things don't click, we make adjustments.  A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc.)  and their   Adaptive Math Curriculum Online is our latest review and it has been a great tool in making adjustments for concepts that haven't clicked yet or got overlooked.  

Adaptive Math

A+ Interactive Math's Adaptive Math Curriculum is an online math program for grades 1-6 (including Pre-Algebra) that evaluates students' skill levels and then provides video lessons, interactive question and answers and opportunities to retest on areas that need work.  We received a 1-year subscription for up to 10 students.  The program is completely online and works with both Windows and Mac platforms, as well as mobile devices.  It does rely on Adobe Flash so whatever browser you use must support that in order for it to work.  The curriculum is designed to adapt to the students' needs and functions much like a personal online tutor, providing an individualized plan to cover any and all gaps in learning.  Grading, testing and summary reporting are all included which allows the parent/teacher to keep track with not a lot of work involved.



How We Used It:

When I was pregnant with the Race Car, I was really sick and J did a lot more independent schoolwork during first grade than we had planned for.  In math there was a section about measurements that required my involvement so at the time we just skipped over it to the next section he felt more comfortable being self-guided.  Fast forward to now when he's happily learning multiplication and division, but we never revisited the measurement section.  When he took the placement test, it was no surprise that Measurement was one of the skills he didn't do well on.  So, he started with video lessons and worksheets until he felt confident to try the test.  In this way, we used this program to narrow in on his clear weaknesses until he mastered them.  


What We Liked:
Every video lesson has interactive review questions at the end with immediate feedback on how you did.  When you get an answer wrong, you know it immediately and then it explains what the right answer is.  The process of learning isn't interrupted for grading, but instead carries you through the process.  Whether you get an answer right or wrong, it gives an encouragement of some kind.  As silly as it might seem, it really seemed to appropriately motivate J to be proud of himself or try it again.  Also, the lessons are very succinct and to the point, which we found to be really helpful in J's mastery of the individual skills.  The program is really effective at zeroing in on what's lacking and providing all the tools to fix it!

A+ Interactive Math also offers a Family Math Package that covers 1st grade through Algebra for up to 10 students.  This option makes all content and grades available which is helpful for multiple students at varying grade levels.  Check out some of the other reviews if this sounds more appropriate for your circumstance.

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Family & Adaptive Math Online {A+ Interactive Math Reviews}

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hiking: A Bridge to Family Cohesiveness


I have never really thought of myself as the athletic type and exercise never was one of my favorite things to do.  So, to tell my much younger self that I would go hiking regularly with my family years later would have been a funny thing.  Honestly, to think of a hiker or finding trails makes me think of someone in a khaki vest wearing binoculars around their neck with a goofy hat on their head.  In reality, hiking is a wonderful blessing to my family that I can't recommend highly enough. 


It's FREE!  Unless you have to pay to enter the area, like a national park or something, most trails are free and just require finding out beforehand where they are.  When you are raising a family, free activities are a must - especially on a vacation.  We cooked 90% of our meals and limited ourselves to cheaper or free activities, but we still manage to spend more than we would like.  

This particular hike was more strenuous than we had anticipated so we were worn out.  Mr. Butler told us to look how we felt so this is what you get!

It's HEALTHY!  You don't have to like it, but our bodies need exercise and the outdoors to thrive.  Most hiking trails are easy to moderate level terrain and simply requires walking, which most anyone - including my 7 and 4 year old - can do.  Not only is going outside a great mood booster, but all the different types of natural beauty that you can see is so good for the soul.  And you can get some great pictures!  This built-in exercise lifestyle is a gift that will pay dividends toward my children's physical and mental health long after they leave home.



It keeps us TOGETHER!  One of the burdens-turned-blessings of homeschooling is that we are responsible for most aspects of everything.  That means delegating and job-sharing abounds most days, especially since the race car has come along.  Hiking together highlights how we are learning to work together as a family.  From carrying each other's snacks to waiting for the tired one, we can't always just do what we want when we're ready.  For each to be successful, we require support from each other.  We look out for each other and move together.  Relationship building is a huge part of their future and it all begins here.


The process of growing a family that works together is just the same as any organization or community that must grow and learn together.  It takes time and lots of opportunities to live life together rather than isolated.   Need to have a better relationship with someone (or a group of someones), take some hikes together!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology: An Apologia Review

Apologia
One of the most faith affirming concepts I've ever considered is the precision and complexity of the human body.  How anyone can believe that our body fell together by accident is beyond me.  Still, it is hard to find high quality curriculum that acknowledges the obvious creator our body must have had.  Last month we were given the opportunity to review Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology from Apologia that does a beautiful job of teaching all about the human body from a Biblical Worldview and highlights the amazing nature of God throughout the text.  


Anatomy & Physiology
What We Received:
  • Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology Text
  • Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology Junior Notebooking Journal
  • Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology Notebooking Journal
  • Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology MP3 Audio CD

The textbook is a hardback book divided into 14 lessons that are full of different experiments and activities to try.  Every so often the text will break and have the student discuss what they have learned, giving another chance for the student to interact with the information.  In addition to scripture sprinkled throughout the text, lesson 14, Growth and Development, talks plainly about God's design for us in relation to Him.   The paper and layout are well done and reminds me of an improved version of a college textbook. 


The first big project we did was make an edible cell out of jello and various candies.  With each item we placed in the jello we reminded each other what it's job was in the cell.  They were giddy with excitement and it was an excellent teaching tool!  Most of the projects only require household objects or things easily obtained.  For this curriculum I did purchase a kit that contained all of the necessary items for all of the projects.  I loved this especially because they were organized and labeled by lesson so there was not hunting for things.  It has made me more consistent with completing the activities part of the program and thus definitely worth it, but not necessary at all.


The MP3 Audio CD is a full reading of the text that fills out the auditory needs of learners.  Because my students are 7 and 4, this curriculum isn't something I just assign a reading.  Some of the time we would sit down together to read and discuss the text, but other times they would listen to the CD and complete pages out of the Notebooking Journal. Not only did this reinforce things we would talk about together, but it also allowed me to be free to do other things for a while.  With a 1 year old cruising around, that is a big plus!  The one challenge with this CD is that is an MP3 and not necessarily compatible with all CD players, but we were able to get it to work on our laptop just fine.


The Notebooking Journal and the Junior Notebooking Journal contain a suggested schedule of activities and the corresponding writing activities like vocabulary lift the flap, copywork in print and cursive, coloring pages, crossword puzzles, note-taking pages, fill-in-the-blank, matching, full color printings of various projects like the mini-books  and the personal person that showcases all the systems, and more.  The Junior Journal is what my 7 year old used because the regular journal is geared more towards 3rd/4th grade and older students with more difficult crossword puzzles and review questions, though both contained all of the fun cutout activities.



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This curriculum is extremely dense with information and activities.  My 7 and 4 year old certainly gained from it, but I can see it being revisited a few years later for even more value.  Between the glimpses of God woven throughout the text, the multi-sensory approach in the program and the generosity of Apologia by including so many elements in this set, we were so very blessed by this review.
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Apologia - Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology Reviews
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tales of a Messy Mom: The Day I Learned to Love Cleaning My Kitchen


You have heard the phrase "having to learn the hard way" to characterize people.  I have never really thought of myself as that kind of a person.  I always envisioned a reckless person who thrashes around just moving through life without thinking.  But today, standing in the small kitchen of a condo in a small Arkansas town, I suddenly realized that I had just learned a lesson a very hard way and there really could not have been any other way.

I hate cleaning.  I hate dishes and cleaning counters.  I hate laundry.  I despise making beds.  My back aches at the thought of mopping floors.  Things that have to be done over and over and over with little to show for it just seem to weaken my soul and bring out the worst, most indignant teenager, version of myself.  Since recovering from the race car's addition, I've really been trying harder to stay on top of household chores.  I even mopped last month long before we were due to have company! I've been trying because I know I'm supposed to and that it makes everyone feel better.  It is important and I'm committed to being a good homemaker sooner or later!   So, as I stood in this miniature version of our kitchen at home that we had cooked in for 4 days in an attempt to save money, I was overcome with this feeling of completion and motivation.  I knew keeping this kitchen clean was easier because it was smaller and we hadn't lived here very long, but the mental clarity that came from the order we were maintaining was suddenly very intoxicating.


And that's when I realized it!  I had been told this little nugget of wisdom since I was a child, but it absolutely didn't matter.  It wasn't until I needed the blessing of a maintained space that I could really buy into the importance.  And the truth is, there is large part of me that doesn't need it to exist myself.  Messes are a part of life and creativity trumps all sometimes.  But now that I'm in charge of 3 little souls and all the things that go into keeping those plates balanced and spinning in the air, after all of the crashes and failures I've had over the last 8 years, now I need sanity, clarity, and order.  That, ugh, starts with a clean kitchen.  So, in that way, I'm really looking forward to getting home from vacation and figuring out new ways to keeping that kitchen clean.  I'm so proud of and annoyed with myself all at the same time. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Traditional Spelling II: A Memoria Press Review

Memoria Press
Like most things in my life, the needs and interests of homeschooling ebb and flow.  There are periods of freedom and then some of serious structure.  When I was pregnant with the race car and very sick, school looked different for a while.  J and miss Z thrived just the same, but there was more real world education some days.  Now that the race car is 1, life has slowed and gaps have shown themselves.  Since J loves reading and has always done well in that area, we definitely went light on language arts outside of reading.  When this review of Memoria Press came along, I knew I wanted to try their new spelling series!  

Traditional Spelling II


Memoria Press is a regular standard in the curriculum world for Classical Christian Education materials and in my experience all of their resources are very thorough and equipped to get the job done! Their spelling series continues in that reputation and we are enjoying Traditional Spelling II.  Traditional Spelling I is intended for grade level first graders coming directly out of Kindergarten.  Traditional Spelling II is geared for 2nd and 3rd graders already on the road to mastering phonetic skills.  We went with Traditional Spelling II since my son reads so heavily and does fairly well in spelling already. 


What We Received:

The set we received included a teacher's manual, a student book, practice sheets, Phonics Flashcards and Classical Phonics, a book of phonetically arranged word lists.

How We Used It:  We started at the beginning with Lesson 1 where he is introduced to a list of words by categorizing them by a particular phonetic component, such as words that end in -ly or begins with a consonant blend. The next section requires the student to color code each part of the words to reinforce the phonetic components. Each lesson continues in the same way, with the following page being some kind of at-level reading that includes several of the lesson's words in it.  These readings include all kinds of topics from recipes and how to make butter to famous people of history.  Following that is a section of fill in the blank using list words.  The final activity is dictation that includes all words and a final sentence.  We followed this pattern and generally kept to one lesson a week.  The flash cards and the Classical Phonics book were mainly used in reference, especially when labeling or explaining new components like a consonant team, something we had never talked about like that before.  The dictation section often served as the spelling test when he would get all of the words right.

What We Liked About It: When completing all the activities, it is difficult for the student to just race through it, which is what my son would rather do.  He is very smart, but would either rather conquer it or simply move on to something else.  Even though he didn't always enjoy slowing down to complete all the sections over the same set of words, it required him to really let the details soak in, which has really payed off in other areas of school.  I also appreciated the reading section and fill in the blank section that truly gave the words a context, something that is easily left out in spelling.

What Didn't Work For Us: The flash cards and Classical Phonics book were only mildly useful so far, but that may be because of the level my son is at.  If he were younger and/or struggling more, I could see them being very useful.

The Homeschool Review Crew reviewed several other products from Memoria Press and one of the subjects they are known for is their Latin programs.  Until this review, I had never really considered using a Latin program in my children's curriculum, but I've been sold on at least trying their introductory programPrima Latina, that teaches English grammar along side Latin.  I'll have to let you know how it goes, but be sure and read the rest of the Crew's reviews over their entire Latin program, Traditional Spelling I and Music Appreciation I.  Talk about a lot of interesting options!

Prima Latina Complete Set



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Spelling, Music Appreciation & Latin {Memoria Press Reviews}
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Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Way We Feel: Why Acknowledging Matters

Do you ever have feelings that you have no business feeling?  Like first world problems that you really want to complain about, but to do so seems incredibly ungrateful and petty?  I have one of those kind of things that I'm going to write about it, but I do put this disclaimer on it:  I am a big feeler of feelings and those feelings last a while and really impact me - for better or worse.  Those feelings are what cause me to write.  In so many cases, I know there are those who suffer far more than me, who are robbed of the things they love and might view my feelings on a matter as petty and ungrateful.  If that is you, please know that I mean no disrespect or flippant response to someone else's circumstance and feel free to ignore this post or others like it.

When I was pregnant the first two times, I worried about things like moms do.  But both of them were fine.  When I was pregnant with the Race Car, I worried a little more, but ultimately expected things to be fine.  When he came furiously fast and had to have oxygen with some chest compressions, it was a little nerve wracking, but short-lived (it only lasted a minute or two).  When his breathing just wouldn't slow down from birth and we had to take him into the emergency room because things weren't getting better, my brain raced to all the places we could go.  In my heart, he died or he had an organ malfunction with need for surgery or medicine his whole life or all sorts of problems I couldn't even imagine.  I felt helpless and terrified, I yo-yo'd from shock to anger to devastation, all while having to be away from my big kids over Easter weekend.  I now know the symptoms of PTSD so well that I can predict television shows' story lines that are building up to it.  In the span of about 2 weeks, I faced dozens of my worst fears completely against my own will (meaning I didn't want him to be sick - of course I was willing to take him because I wanted him to be okay).  Subjecting my newborn baby to poking and prodding, trying to nurse him with wires coming from everywhere and naively trying not to set off alarms.  (We quickly learned how to turn them off and how incredibly unreliable they are on infants.)  And about a month and half after that my dog died which sort of just sealed the deal with the PTSD.  The recovery from that was an entirely different ballgame than just recovering from delivery. 

The good news that makes me sound like a real jerk for even writing about all of this is that my little Race Car is fine now.  He is adorable, smart, has a smile that goes on for days and loves people - especially his people.  He has no health problems and that span of two weeks feels like a fluke now.  But, because I felt all the possibilities and terror of the what-ifs, some days I look at him as though he came back from the dead.  And I crumble with tears and gratitude that he was given back to me, where so many aren't.  Even more of a jerk, I have 3 healthy children when some aren't blessed with any or struggle with all kinds of sickness or setbacks. 

Still, there are a couple of reasons that I even bring all of this up.  For one thing, these events and the feelings I have experienced over the last year have shaped me into a different person, mostly for good.  That is important to be said somewhere other than just in my own head.  I also think in this day of social media comparing (and sometimes bullying) that everyone gives themselves the opportunity to acknowledge their feelings in one way or another.  It's true that I've not had to deal with the death of a child or infertility or disability - and I should always be grateful and respectful with those mercies - but the residual PTSD feelings that I struggled with could have mushroomed into something awful and destructive had they not been addressed in a healthy way.  We live in a time where mental health is not an automatic anymore.  When you are mushed into the middle of not being the best at something and not having the worst problems, it begins to feel like your feelings are irrelevant because they don't trump someone else's.  That's where we begin to destroy ourselves from the inside out.  Like the children that should never be compared because they are vastly different (think fast talking girl and a boy more interested in a ball than talking), the big deals and minor setbacks of our life are going to be different than the next guy's. Let everyone have their feelings and encourage each other to get in a healthy space.



.  In some ways, my little turmoil is minor compared to others who have to struggle with loss or ongoing burdens.  I am so thankful for my little guy and I can't tell you the joy he has brought to our family, but I sincerely feel like I have just fought a war to get here. And I'm just so thankful to have made it out alive!  Whatever you may struggle (and hopefully come out victorious over) with in your life, I pray that you give yourself permission to acknowledge how big of a deal it is to you.  Even if the rest of the world has no interest or need to know, recognize the progress or the pain.  It is usually there that the healing begins.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Caution: Under Maintenance

There are days when things just fall together and you see growth.  The improvement is obvious and you throw yourself a parade right there in your head over such an accomplishment.  It's such a great feeling that you might could convince yourself it will always be so and never revert backwards.  And then there are days when things just snowball down the hill into a complete failure no matter how hard you try to prevent it.



Marriage is like that.  You work through problems and come out feeling fantastic.  The relief of being on the same page is intoxicating enough that it is easy to forget there will be other disagreements.  Maintenance is never done.  For a long time, the concept of maintenance has been so disheartening to me.  I hate having to do things that will always have to be done and there is no real completion point.  Relationships are all that way, unless you are looking to end them.  There is always some kind of continual investment that is required.  

Even when you think you have maintained things properly, there can still be trouble and unforeseeable problems.  When those arise, it is tempting to throw in the towel and forget the purpose of being in that relationship to begin with.  The purpose should never be to have a perfect relationship where everyone always agrees and there are never any problems.  The purpose of any relationship is to benefit each other through growth, learning and maturity - like those precious metals in a fire, being refined and purified. With people the process is never done.