Monday, May 28, 2018

When Life Changes You

Every stage of life brings about changes.  There is always plenty of physical changes that are normal.  If we move schools, homes, or jobs, our physical locations change.  If we are 'normal' our wants and desires change over time too.  But then there are crises or traumatic events that change you even further.  Returning to what is normal after that is sometimes not possible or not even desirable anymore.  The older you get, the more life may change you.  Is that good?  Is that the way it is 'supposed' to be?

I have an adorable little boy who just learned to walk.  He's extra adorable to me because he resembles another little boy who is now 7.  J and the Race Car embody two very different stages in my life.  One is newness, naivety and deep wells of feelings.  The other is bursting with activity, seasoned joy and determination.  And yet to me they are just two sides of a ball (another thing they share a love for).  This walk of motherhood has brought about changes in me.  This decade (plus) of marriage has brought about growing pains and harsh realities.  Shock and grief took hold of me last summer after a season of severe change. As it turned out, I had all kinds of emotions tied up in my sweet dog, Grace and when she died this final part of my shifting identity went with it.  Who I was when I first got her was completely gone (it felt like).

That feeling of change can be empowering and assuring, but sometimes it is unfamiliar and unsettling.  Or better yet, to me it is just overwhelming sometimes.  I feel loyalty to this person I used to be and the priorities she had, but the life that now is holds so many different things.  The reality is I cannot honor both fully at the same time and to try undermines it all.  So what can be done when life changes you and you're not exactly okay with it all?  I guess the same thing we always need to do when we don't like what we're getting.

-Accentuate the POSITIVE.  Be thankful about all things. Life is different and not what we expected, but that's not all bad.  Many of the things I dreamed of having or doing in my adult years are mine.   A God who has never left me without hope, a committed husband, healthy children, a taste of the country, many freedoms to do what I want.

-Set a Game Plan.  When things don't work out like you want, then it is usually time for a new and improved plan perhaps with slightly adjusted goals.  Instead of wallowing in what isn't, it's time to take what is and look for what it could be. 

The changing is never going to stop, so I'm told, but it is worthwhile to do it in as healthy a way as possible.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Home School Navigator: A Language Arts Curriculum Review

Home School Navigator
All the way through school, one of my most favorite classroom activities was discussing literature.  I had always been good at reading aloud and then found myself full to the brim of analysis and ideas!  I'm sure my classmates got tired of listening to me, but I adored it.  In my homeschool daydreams (long before I had kids), I would imagine a family of kids sitting around discussing a book we had just read.  It was glorious until I actually had kids and lost part of my brain along the way.  At the early stages of learning it is so easy to get pulled down in the mud of learning to read and not falling behind in math.  Even though I'm an avid writer, the demands and pressures of life had misplaced my love for literature and writing when it came to educating my kids.  I'm so thankful to be reviewing Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum from Home School Navigator because it has reminded me of an early love and orchestrated a fantastic language arts curriculum based on those loves.

Home School Navigator

Home School Navigator is a comprehensive language arts curriculum for beginning readers all the way up to established readers working on their paragraph writing skills (about K-5).  What sets this program apart is that it is divided into colored levels rather than typical grade levels and provide you access to all of them.  They understand the uniqueness of students and how they very well may find their expected grade level too challenging or too simple.  With your student's subscription, if at any point the curriculum becomes a stumbling block (too easy or too hard), you are welcome to move to the next appropriate level!  This speaks volumes about their innate design intended for homeschooling.


Each color/level provides 36 weeks of instruction (with catch up days built in) complete with book lists, extensive planning guides, handouts with answer keys, instructional videos, games, handwriting, vocabulary, word study, poetry, creative writing and so much more.  For higher levels (beginning with Green), they also offer some really neat interactive notebooks that are great for the hands-on student.  All of the various assignments and activities usually connect to the read-aloud book of choice for that day/week.  Most of the books are ones you might already own or certainly can get from a local library.  While it is ideal for students to have the books in hand, the curriculum provides a video of each book being read aloud both for reinforcement and in a pinch, your main focal point isn't lost because you don't have a book.  In addition to the assortment of videos, handouts and lesson plans,  the other online component of this program is the portfolio option.  At the end of each lesson or section their is an option to check items as completed and/or upload files to add to the student's portfolio.  In many states there is a portfolio requirement so this is a super handy element that they have built right in.  Otherwise, it still will keep track of how far you are from completing a level as you check off assignments.

You can manage a total of 4 students so we tried the program out with my 7 year old and 4 year old which translated into Level Yellow and Level Red.  The read-aloud videos were everyone's favorite and resulted in a double blessing because they both wanted to listen to each others'!  Some of the favorite activities all centered around writing.    In Level Red they are still learning to read so the writing began in the audible stage where the student and parent create together before it makes it to the page.  The 4 year old is enamored with stories already so this was right up her alley.  A similar activity expects more independence in Level Yellow.  The instructional videos were extremely helpful in part because it was someone else doing the teaching and I was merely reinforcing.  In the beginning when the Writer's Notebook is introduced, my 7 year old took to it really well and before I had even directly assigned it, during his afternoon quiet time he had written the first chapter of his book, Vacation to Colorado!  It was as if something sparked a fire in him and he just went with it.  As a writer, educator and a mom, I LOVED it.                                                                                      

Overall, I highly recommend looking into this program.  The interface was a little daunting at first, but made a lot more sense with more use.  The best part of the program is its versatility.  Wherever your student is in their learning and comprehension, this program encourages them there.  If one element is already mastered, it is flexible enough for you to leave it out with no issue at all.  It is designed with the typical home school family in mind!  If you would like more information or other perspectives on the Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum, check out other reviews at the link below.

Home School Navigator on Social Media: 

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}
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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

T is for Tree: A Bible ABC Review

Reformed Free Publishing Association
Long before I had kids and jumped into the homeschooling adventure, I loved books.   My Type B personality makes me worry I'll miss something really important one of these days, but then I watch my 1 year old fall in love with books over the last month like the big kids already have and I can relax.  Loving books becomes synonymous with a love for learning.  A love for learning is the entire point of education!  Our latest review is a beautiful book called T is for Tree: A Bible ABC from
Reformed Free Publishing Association that encourages a relationship with the English alphabet that also points to God's Word all along the way.

T is for Tree: A Bible ABC
As the title suggests, this is an ABC book where every page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet.  Each letter and its chosen word is then illustrated on the page somehow and depicted in rhyme that is connected to a Bible verse quoted at the bottom of the page.  In addition to the main illustration, all the pages include a thick frame decorated with some element mentioned in the scripture.  This is a sturdy, hard-bound book that provides many opportunities for learning and further discussion.

T is for Tree: A Bible ABCT is for Tree: A Bible ABC
T is for Tree: A Bible ABC
At church and in our own reading at home we rarely use the King James Version so it didn't take very long for the kids to give me a funny look when words like whereunto and wilt were used.  I bring it up not as a criticism though.  While KJV hasn't always brought about ease of understanding, in this context it actually broadens things for the reader.  Many of the verses are familiar enough that they recognize them, but also highlights new or different words.  My 7 year old would try his hand at inferring what the word meant and the 4 year old simply expands her vocabulary.  So not only are we reinforcing alphabet knowledge and vocabulary, we're given the opportunity to discuss illustrations in the Bible.  It is a safe and easy environment to learn a little more.

The variety of words used is a nice mix of the familiar with the unique.  Things like nest and king weren't a surprise, but things like faith and zion definitely set this book apart.  The author Connie L. Meyer also did the illustrations that are all worth noting.  The pictures are beautiful with bright colors and detailed drawings that are also simple and attainable.  Drawing is something we try to include in our children's curriculum pretty often (Mr. Butler is quite the artist himself) and this book could be used to draw from or imitate in drawing practice.

T is for Tree: A Bible ABC

This book would make a great gift with plenty of room on the inside to write an inscription and sturdy enough to last a while.  Check out other books from the author and Reformed Free Publishing Association by keeping up with them on social media.

Stay Up to Date with Social Media: 
T is for Tree: A Bible ABC {Reformed Free Publishing Association Reviews}
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

PandaParents: An Early Education Resource Review


When my oldest was a baby, I knew we were going to try homeschooling so I was already eyeing curriculum options.  From that time to now, when I have a 7, 4 and 1 year old, I can see a change in my perspective.  Finding just the right method or materials seemed really important - and yes it can be.  What I missed sometimes is what is MORE important.  It is more important for a child to have a positive connection with learning and the person facilitating the learning.  Whether you have one small book or dozens of them, with the right relationship and time spent most children will thrive either way.  My latest review from the PandaParents has kept that concept in mind with their MESSYLEARNING FOR PRESCHOOLERS AND KINDERGARTNERS monthly program that includes a pdf book, online videos, and a pdf workbook for ages 3-6.
Panda Parents Kindy Curriculum

MESSYLEARNING FOR PRESCHOOLERS AND KINDERGARTNERS is a monthly subscription that sends you a new set of resources each month.  Each set (book, video & workbook) relates to each other through the story combining various subjects and skills. The MESSYLEARNING title might give you the impression that it requires heavy clean up or something, but that is not the case at all. 
MESSY stands for
  • Mixed subjects & activities for integrative learning
  • Engaging activities that challenge minds
  • Simple 1-2-3 steps: READ, LEARN, CREATE
  • Smart designs for creative learning
  • Yeah, a new way to learn!
There are various arts and crafts activities but they aren't any more destructive than a simple cut and paste activity.  The workbook activities are really flexible in that you can pick and choose what you want to do without taking away from other ones.  Collectively, the workbooks provide a balanced variety of activities, but each can stand on their own when necessary.  

Having three kids to keep up with now, I understand all the more how tempting (and sometimes necessary) it is to find something educational for your kids and just leave them to it.  How else does anything get done, right? Still, the 7 years learning process of motherhood is still teaching me how valuable I am to their education no matter what they are learning.  The comfort and assurance of a parent combined with engaging activities sparks a love for learning that is rarely matched.  So, to that end, this is NOT something you can leave them to work independently very easily.  The videos you can of course, but the activities build on the story and those require a parent involvement.

 For this review, we received 3 months worth of stories, videos and resources.  We started with the Christmas themed story first and even in April, it still gets kids excited. Then we moved on to Scotty Skunk, which even in the title I half expected miss Z to turn her nose up at it.  In fact, she LOVED it.  According to her, there aren't enough books about skunks, I guess.  She has her moments of being scared about things so I think she identified with all of Scotty's fears.  The final story is Mommy's Baby that introduces a lot of different objects while highlighting children that age's most favorite thing, Mommy!

The storybooks and workbooks we received were all digital and I do think the system would work so much easier if they came already printed and bound.  I believe that option will be available eventually.  If so, I would opt for that!  Overall, it is a neat way to incorporate learning into a simple story time with all kinds of different options that reinforce a positive learning environment.

Stay Up To Date with PandaParents: 

Messylearning For Preschoolers and Kindergartners {PandaParents Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The choice to homeschool certainly comes with challenges.  Here in Oklahoma, it is end of the school year time with numerous programs and ceremonies.  So even simple things down to scheduling, we are on a different planet. We won't be finishing some grade related work until at least September.  Just being different than the status quo can be uncomfortable.  However, the video below is a good example of what is good and valuable about being 'different' in some ways.  It was a beautiful morning and everyone just wanted to be outside so we learned in the morning sun! 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Baseball in the Morning

While I honestly I have no inkling about what this kid is going to do when he grows up, I do not hope or expect he will play professional sports.  However, he loves to play.  And I love that he loves it.  Ever since it has warmed up, he wants to be outside hitting balls.  There is something so pure about morning light and the clink of a bat and ball.  I have a lot of regrets and worries, but being able to give him space and opportunity to do this is a good good thing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Reading Kingdom: An Online Reading Program Review

Reading Kingdom
When I began my master's program about 15 years ago, I remember being exposed to the heated debate surrounding the most effective teaching method in reading.  Some championed phonics, others were devoted to whole-language approaches.  At the time, I really didn't understand why a combination of many methods wasn't a major part of the discussion.  Now that miss Z is learning to read, I can confirm that both her and her brother learn very differently.  J instinctively understood phonics and readily picked up on various rules.  Miss Z has struggled a little more with phonics and needed more interaction than just reading on a page.   This latest review from Reading Kingdom  has given me a deeper appreciation for their differing needs in developing reading skills.

Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom is an online subscription K-3 Reading Program that was developed by Dr. Marion Blank, a literacy expert.  Instead of just focusing on phonics or whole-language methods, Reading Kingdom incorporates 6 skills (Sequencing, Motor Skills, Sounds, Meaning, Grammar, & Comprehension) to provide a full reading and writing education.  It also provides an extensive reporting feature that keeps you up to date with each student's progress.  One of the things that sets Reading Kingdom apart is it's focus on meaning and real world exposure to reading through immersion rather than grouping words together simply based on sound or category.  In this way, the program works to incorporate elements of writing in with the reading sometimes far sooner than other methods.

Our Experience

Both of the kids used this product and had a tough time at first with it solely because it relies heavily on typing and computer skills, something they had some but not a lot of experience with.  In the beginning the students take a placement test and because of their lacking keyboard skills, they were both placed at level 1.  I knew going in that the use of the keyboard was involved but perhaps in my rush to dive in I didn't pay attention to how much of a factor it was.  One thing I learned was that you can change the settings on how long of a reaction time is allowed for answers.  My kids might know the right answers but took too long to find it on the keyboard.  Once we sorted that out and the kids got more used to using the keyboard in this way, things went a lot smoother.  Plus, they both have improved their typing skills tremendously!

Each lesson focuses on one word and requires the student to repeatedly interact with it in different ways.  For my older reader, the repetition got old and wasn't always super engaging to him, though he didn't complain about it.  For my beginning reader, though, the repetition seemed to be just what she needed.  Overall, both kids enjoyed working through this program and benefited from it's reality based lessons.  

If you are looking for a traditional online reading program, this might not be for you.  If traditional methods don't seem to be working for your student, I absolutely recommend giving Reading Kingdom a try.  This research-based program at its core seems to be looking for your child's gaps in order to fill them in.  Some of the Crew members also reviewed their ASD Reading Program designed for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Consider reading some of their reviews if this applies to your family. 

Reading Kingdom on Social Media: 

Learn to Read with Reading Kingdom OR ASD Reading {Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Balance is present in every good thing.  Even in the seasons we experience the ebb and flow of creation.  The dullness of winter has been glossed over by the explosion of spring buds.  The labor of sewing and reaping is cooled by the mildness of autumn.  

This journey of life is such a winding road that circles around and back again, which sometimes seems fruitless and wearisome.  But it may not be until your last circle back that you realize what it was all for.