Thursday, February 28, 2019

Dimensions Math: A Singapore Math Review

Language Art subjects have always come natural to me and just simply made sense.  Math I had to work for.  I did well enough in high school, but it certainly took a lot more time and commitment.  While Mr. Butler (the engineer) is very good at math, I've always worried a bit that I might pass my math 'weakness' onto my kids.  As a result, when my oldest child (J) started 2nd grade I looked for the most thorough and extensive math curriculum I could find and began my first experience with Singapore Math Inc. Singapore's approach is to approach a concept from multiple avenues to ensure complete understanding which was exactly what I was looking for, so that we might avoid learning gaps as much as possible.  Today's review is of Singapore's Dimensions Math PK-5 series that I opted to use with my daughter (5 1/2 miss Z) since she hasn't used any of their curriculum yet.

For this review, we received Dimensions Math Teacher's Guide, Textbook and Workbook Level 1A.

The Teacher's Guide is intended for lesson planning help so it includes introductory notes, key points,  material lists, activity suggestions, and answers to the textbook and workbook problems.  This book covers everything you need to understand the curriculum and to facilitate optimal learning for your students.

The Textbook introduces new concepts with the intent to stimulate discussion and critical thinking through colorful pictures and curious scenarios.  By design, the textbooks are not to be written in, but  to be left blank to entertain various problem solving techniques.

The Workbook, as the name implies, includes exercises and problems for practicing what has been taught, challenging what they have learned and to check for understanding.  The pages in this book are gray-scale printed and intended to be written and colored in.

  There are also online resources available on their website for each level that assist in activities and the needs of the teacher.  These resources include printable activity materials, material lists for each chapter, videos, and book suggestions.

How We Used It:

For the majority of the time, we did one lesson every school day which included 2-4 pages in the textbook and 2-4 pages in the workbook.  Since I only have one student using this level and not a classroom, there wasn't as much opportunity for class activities or discussions, but my older son would periodically chime in when she had trouble with something.  For the various activities (largely from the online resources) we would usually incorporate him too, which they both enjoyed.

The activity seen in the pictures below is the Number Bonds to 10 Flash Cards that they used to test each other's knowledge of numbers combined to make 10.

What We Thought:

Since her older brother had used this brand of books for a while, miss Z was very excited to have her own books (like his).  In addition to that, she is very motivated to learn things, especially when it has to do with numbers.  So in a lot of ways, she makes it easy for me.  That being said, she is only 5 1/2 and because of that wasn't able to just speed through everything.  The procedure of the books was consistent and, even though she didn't always get it right away, the various tools they employed in each lesson helped her really understand what was going on.

From a teaching perspective, they provide everything I need in order to understand why they are doing what they are doing as well as plenty of options to reinforce things.  From a learning perspective, I feel like the way in which every concept builds on the last and the reviews that dip back into already learned material really sets the learner up to develop solid math muscles rather than just memorizing facts.  I feel really confident in this curriculum and will continue to use it with my daughter!

Follow Singapore Math Inc. on Social Media


Over 25 other families used various levels of this curriculum and could have had a different experience.  Follow the link below to see what they thought about it!

Dimensions Math PK-5 {Singapore Math Inc. Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: Books 3 & 4 Review

Growing up as a lover of books, it was always a magical feeling when you found a favorite book series. A great book is hard to come by, but then great subsequent books are gold!   In 2017, we reviewed the first two books in a great series that J just loved!  This time we were given the third and fourth books in the series The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls by M.J. Thomas from WorthyKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.   This time around was a little more exciting because miss Z was ready to start reading the series on her own so we pulled the first two out for her!

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls series follows Peter, his sister Mary and their dog Hank as they journey back in time to critical moments in Biblical history through ancient scrolls they find and must solve.  Through these journeys, the siblings get a fly on the wall view of God's power and plan with the help of their uncle Solomon and Michael the archangel.  In the first two books they witnessed the Creation and Noah building the ark.  The next two books follow chronologically as well.
  • The Great Escape (Book #3) takes Peter and Mary back to Exodus and the Israelites trouble with Pharoah in Egypt.  Between the plagues, the Great Magician making trouble for them and the countdown to the parting of the Red Sea, the kids experience a lot! 
  • Journey to Jericho (Book #4) gives Peter and Mary the chance to be spies and help sneak Rahab and her family out of Jericho before the Israelites conquer the city.  Keeping their cover, learning to be spies and dealing with the Man in Black always trying to get in the way makes it a high alert adventure!
The target age is 6-9, reading grade level 1-4, depending on the book.  J (8), avid reader, finished each book in a couple of hours.  Miss Z (5) new reader, took a few days, but once she got passed the first couple of chapters, she was hooked and seemed to speed up.  In the back of each book, there is a page that asks, "Do you want to read more about the events in this story?" It then lists the chapters where you can find the specific events mentioned in the Bible.  For even more fun, Book #6  The Shepherd's Stone, was just released in December. J has already been begging for it!

What We Liked

I love the joining of Biblical events with modern life!  As a kid, I always felt a disconnect between the Bible stories and my real life.  In addition to greater access to spiritual materials, I feel like the approach the author takes in these books allows my kids to be more invested than I was at that age.

The kids love the adventure.  Since it includes a boy and a girl it can't really be categorized as a boy book or girl book and each story builds on each other leaving them excited for the next story.  Since they were already familiar with the Bible stories, they enjoy recognizing the familiar people and events sprinkled throughout.  J (8) always noted when satan (or who he expected to be acting as satan) was involved.

They are clean, Biblically accurate, creative and fun!  Buying the set would be a perfect birthday or Christmas present!

Check out WorthyKids on Social Media:

Instagram:        Tag:   @worthypub   
Twitter:      Tag:   @worthypub     

Wondering if we might be a little biased?  It's always possible! There were 60 families reviewing these books so feel free to check out some of there reviews through the link below to get a bigger perspective.

The Great Escape & Journey To Jericho {WorthyKids Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Friday, February 22, 2019

IXL Learning: An Adaptive Program Review

As every new teacher knows, the picture of educating those precious children in your head never seems to be the same in real life.  If every child had a perfect amount of patience, confidence and a desire to learn, then maybe, but real life brings all sorts of stumbling blocks when it comes to a successful school day. One of the many reasons I love about being a part of the Homeschool Review Crew is that we are regularly exposed to new educational programs.  Today, we are talking about IXL  from IXL Learning where they have made it their business to come up with new and effective ways to help kids learn and master educational skills.

What We Received:

IXL is an adaptive online practice program that continually evaluates your skill level through the practice of answering questions.  At all times there is a recommendation page where the program suggests what the student might be ready to work on.  However, you can also choose a skill through each grade/subject area to work on.  We received a full annual membership to IXL for two students that includes full access to all grades and subjects.
  • Math and Language Arts  (K-12th grade) 
  • Science and Social Studies  (2nd-8th grade) 
  • Spanish Introduction (7 units)
One of the big hits of this program is the awards each user can collect.  Stickers, toys, medals, certificates, you name it - a user can earn it for everything from just answering questions to spending so much time on the program.  Often the award has to be revealed on the award page, something my kids thoroughly enjoy every time!

The Analytics portion of the program includes a full report on each student's usage, trouble spots, scores, questions, and progress.  This tool alone provides fantastic feedback for the parent to effectively teach and guide the student.  There is also a page where you can look up your state's educational standards, which could be very useful in preparing for any type of testing or to simply understand where your student is in comparison.  To make the program even more versatile than it already is, they offer the entire site in Spanish

What We Thought:

J (8) and miss Z (5 1/2) really enjoyed their time on this program.  They were always excited to tell each other when they earned awards.  In the diagnostic area, whenever they would get a question they didn't know, there was always an option to skip it that said 'I don't know this yet' which was helpful especially for miss Z.  

I especially enjoy the feedback I get on where each child is in each subject and skill.  Our homeschooling isn't a test or grades based approach at all so anytime I get confirmation from outside sources, it helps my confidence in meeting their educational needs.

While IXL is extensive in the subjects and skills you can practice, it is not a teaching program.  It provides hints along the way, but it couldn't stand on its own when introducing new information.  I'm a big advocate for plenty of offline learning so that wasn't a problem for us.  For those in the market for a program like this, I do think it is important to note simply because you can't expect this program to teach a new concept the way some programs do.  Our experience is that everything they do, they seem to be doing it really well, but teaching new information isn't something they are trying to do.

Connect with IXL Learning on Social Media

Are your students older than mine?  Junior high and high school kids will likely have a different experience. Check out the 90 Homeschool Review Crew families that also tried out IXL!

Immersive, Adaptive Learning Online {IXL Learning Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, February 18, 2019

How To Raise Your Kids To Be Readers

The Race Car is almost 2 and has followed suit with the big kids in wanting to read books before, during and after breakfast in the mornings.  I hadn't really paid much attention to it until the big kids were spending the night at their grandparents house and the Race Car started asking for books all on his own.  Besides the fact that an ability and desire to read is oh so important for any person's education, one of my biggest fears in regards to my kids and their education has always been that they would hate reading, especially the boys.  You always hear the stereo-type of boys hating to read and my brothers were that way so I just figured it would be a problem.

Well, so far so good is the state of affairs in our house, I guess.  Two out of three kids are reading on their own and I always have to make them put a book down in order to get them to listen well.  The third seems to be well on his way, as far as I can tell.  So, yay, but I can tell you with certainly that it doesn't just happen, as if they are all born with it like they are born with brown eyes.  There are some things we have discovered that really encourage a healthy reading environment that I thought might help other parents wanting the same thing.

Remove Obstacles.  While you can't force anyone to love something, you can remove the obstacles that could hinder them from loving it.  That includes distractions, limited access, and, of course, learning difficulties.  If the television is always on in your house, wouldn't you have a hard time focusing on books with ease?  If you never were given new books or didn't go to the library very often, would you get excited about reading the same thing all the time?  If reading is hard and stressful, you wouldn't look forward to it either! Put effort into making reading a positive, natural experience by having screen-free times of the day, setting aside time to work on any learning difficulties, and make regular trips to the library!

Read Aloud.  Most parents know it is good to read to your child before they can read for themselves.  Once they start school and learn to read themselves, it is easy and very tempting to quit.  You might think they don't need it anymore, but they do!  Reading aloud feeds their development through  vocabulary, sophisticated language, moral lessons, and enjoyable time spent with you.  Bedtime reading is a nightly ritual with all three kids and has been since J was born 8 1/2 years ago.  We often read storybooks with the Race Car and after he's in bed, we read whatever chapter book we're working on at the time with the big kids for a while.

Read Yourself.  Trust me when I say, I know how hard it is to find time to just read for fun. Still, if your kids never see you pick up a book, it's easy to think it really shouldn't be required of, much less enjoyed by them.  Mr. Butler is always bringing home various books from the library and at least perusing them. 

Every person and family is different, but one thing is pretty consistent: Instilling a love of something in children is infinitely easier when they are surrounded by others who support and love it too.  

Friday, February 15, 2019

For The Temple: An Heirloom Audio Review

One of the biggest things that has always drawn me to educational arenas has been how powerful receiving information and exposure from multiple sources can be toward genuine learning.  That means reading it in a book once isn't enough, not even a little bit.  Reading about it, writing about it, hearing about it, getting up and moving in some way to do with it, even eating certain things can all contribute heavily to how much your brain accepts and maintains of the subject.  So, whenever we discover engaging ways to explore history BEYOND just reading it in a book, it is worth noting! We've only been on the Homeschool Review Crew for 3 years, but Heirloom Audio and their exciting Audio Theater has become a regular favorite review each year for this very reason.  Today we're talking about their latest production, For The Temple.

What We Received:

For this review, we received a 2 disc set that totaled about 2 1/2 hours of listening time and a 51-page digital study guide.  For The Temple is another adventure inspired by The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty that takes you through the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The story tells of John of Gamala who finds himself caught up in the conflict between the Romans and those who would oppose them. As Jewish culture compels an allegiance to and protection of the temple, there is much rallying to save it from being desecrated. The confusion and misunderstanding that even takes place today regarding God's plan for Israel and Jesus' fulfillment of the law, which takes His people beyond the temple and thus God's will, is beautifully scripted.

How We Used It:

In times past we've listened to these stories in the car on the way somewhere, but this time J (8) and miss Z (5 1/2) laid out on the bedroom floor with a snack and some Legos.  This works better than listening to it in the living room because of regularly interrupting sounds.  The nature of this production is complete with music, clangs from swords, different accents and varying sound levels which makes it difficult to understand with any competing noise. 

The study guide was something we used after the kids had already listened to the story once, but I would recommend doing it as you go for my children's ages.  In addition to background information periodically placed throughout the guide, there is a page like the one below for every track of the story.  Each page includes a Listening Well, Thinking Further and Defining Words section. With all the action that goes on, the Listening Well section is a great help for ensuring that you are paying attention and not missing important things.  The Thinking Further is more like discussion or even essay questions if you were assigning work.  Especially for older children, this guide could create an entire unit or project of study surrounding this event and time period.

Since we have listened to and liked the CD's Heirloom Audio puts out before, my children are happy to sit down and listen to another one.  I do believe anything that doesn't include cleaning is a welcome activity as well, but they do genuinely enjoy listening to these stories.  When asked what they thought/learned, my daughter said, "If this was a movie I could tell you about it more."  But then she also proceeded to throw in all the details that her brother didn't readily provide.  My son gave me the general highlights, but when I pressed him for something interesting or that he really liked, this is what he said:  "In the story, they were fighting to save the temple, but John starts to think about what if the Romans winning and destroying the Temple was what God wanted."  This was a great setup to sum up the story AND talk about what God's will looks like sometimes.  I also loved the combining of our Biblical knowledge with history (like the works of Josephus, etc.) which builds an even clearer picture of God and his will for us.

Right now our history study is primarily US History, but world and Bible history studies would be ideal for working audio theater into your curriculum.  But any time I need an entertaining, educational and thought-provoking experience for the kids (that also renders them contained and relatively quiet for a while) our stories from Heirloom Audio are a great option!

Keep Up With Heirloom Audio on Social Media

Instagram: @HeirloomAudioOfficial

Since my oldest child right now is 8, our experience and perspective might not be the same as older children.  Head on over to the Crew page to read other family's reviews and experiences to get a better idea of how this might work in your family.
For The Temple {Heirloom Audio Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, February 11, 2019

Quit Feeling Bad About Your Life Because of a Picture

We're not all the same.  We don't all get the same upbringing or opportunities.  Some choices work out, others don't.  Some bodies are built for certain kinds of work, others aren't.  When it comes to health and education, I am an advocate for one size NOT fitting everyone.  It is impossible to get great results when treating everyone the same. 

Having said that, I also need to be reminded that I am not alone in my struggles.  Different than others yes, but not alone.  You may not struggle with brain exhaustion or being easily overwhelmed like I am, but there are things in your life that you have/will struggle(d) with.  And to that point, we have that in common.  The fun and even artistic side of social media tricks us into thinking that one great photo indicates the way of a life.  Did you ever see a painting and think, "Wow, that artist must paint perfectly all the time and never have to practice!"  Not likely.

I just turned 39, so it's been about 20 years since I was in the adolescent hay-day.  Recently, I did a lot of reminiscing with my parents about how our various friends and acquaintances' lives from our youth have turned out.  And, ya know what? As a teenager, it feels VERY clear who really has it together and who is insignificant.  Even when you think you're a down to earth, good person, adolescence lies.  So many times, the popular, everyone's favorite person didn't do too well or ended up with a really rough situation.  The one you didn't appreciate maybe, turns out they really did life well.  Sure, there are a lot of reasons why people's lives go the way they do, but the point is, none of us can see the future.  Don't make judgments on yourself based on a comparison of others one moment in time.  It is practically useless. 

Life is complicated and requires maintenance.  I can post a photo every week of a clean room, dressed up people, and smiles all around, but that photo doesn't somehow eliminate yelling, crying, stains, or messes the rest of the week.  That weekly photo just might be a sanity saver of mine so that I don't completely throw in the towel when everything is a mess inside and out. The voice in our head can easily lie if we don't educate it better.  The next time you're scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, keep these thoughts in mind.

  • Everyone struggles somewhere, sometime.
  • Your weaknesses might be their strengths (and vice versa).
  • You have a LOT to be thankful for.  Focus on that!
  • Be joyful for others.  Be content with yourself. Be motivated to grow. Be real.
  • God can/will use you and all your struggles, sometimes more than your successes.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Momma Worries & Holy Spirit Assurances

The shift from being a parent of two to three has been significant, to say the least. Not only are we outnumbered, but the required mental attention is an entirely different animal sometimes. Instead of just a mental burden of getting two children dressed in the morning, there is now a blind hope that you don't forget something or someone in the process.  Mismatched socks, neglected hair and ridiculous clothing are too often par for the course, whether we're headed to the park or a funeral.  The reality is much heavier with three that you WILL forget things.  The good news is that you learn it's not really that big of a deal to see last nights mustard on the cuff of someone's pants.  What is troublesome is wondering if you will forget something far more important. 

If you have siblings, you know that we don't all have the same experiences under the same roof.  And I understand why all the more these days.  To give all parents the benefit of the doubt, it is probably not because they loved one child more than the others, but how much life was crashing in on them at the time you were hitting a particular milestone.  This morning as I let the dog out, I glanced into the yard and was met by a dozen or more bright yellow and orange soccer cones and the remains of miss Z's outdoor kitchen adventures from yesterday.  I love that girl and her imagination! When all of a sudden fear gripped my heart for the things that any one of them might forget or never appreciate as they get older.  What if they lose their imagination and ability to have fun?  What if they forget the value of a garden or a walk in the woods?  What if they lose sight of who made the forest and gave them life?  What about all the things I remember to say to one of them but not the other two? What about all the things I'm forgetting? 

The whirlwind of this emotional girl is not insignificant.  At 8, 5 and almost 2, my nest is still full and my chicks are still my charges to guide.  The responsibility of being the strongest lighthouse (for now) showing them the way to God is so daunting at times.  I'm so thankful for them, but I'm also aware of how fast it is going.  At bedtime, J was asking me about the difference between high school and college which morphed into how many colleges are around Oklahoma and how they were different.  One day scholarships and programs offered are going to be all we talk about.  And by that time, this part of my mom job will be largely done.  What if I forget something and it's too late?

My panic and worry often gets the best of me for a little while, but I'm thankful the Holy Spirit doesn't leave me to my own devices for too long.  So, two things.  

#1 Wherever my children go, God will be there, even though I'm not.  It may not change my compulsion to hold their hand into every new room, but the Almighty God can and will walk with them providing hope and peace. 

#2 It only takes one person remembering what is important and worthwhile to remind others. The bonds my children are building right now can breathe new life into them when they are older and lacking.  It only takes one person with joy in their heart and a spirit of life about something to rekindle old memories and joys into someone else.   Not only is God filling in the gaps of my parenting, but He can use my other kids to do it! There is something about a shared experience (even when the details are slightly different) to raise up hope and new life.

My favorite pic of my Papa, J.D. and me at the Azalea Festival

My Granny Susie, my brother and I
My sweet Aunt Nell passed away last month and one of the best things that came about aside from celebrating her was the stir of memories.  Thinking of places and times that had long been forgotten swept me away onto water rapids made of tears.  The best part was leaving that place with a deeper appreciation for the very special blessing my brothers and I were given for being a part of this large family rich with all kinds of blessings.  Music, gardening, sharing what (little or a lot) you have with every neighbor and friend, and most of all a devotion and love for the one who gave us all things.  I could write a book - and I might some day - of all the exceedingly special and significant things surrounding this sweet Elmore family that I get to ride on the coattails of.  My grandparents have been gone since before I became a teenager and their precious home has been torn down and sold for a while now, but the diamonds that are still growing out of that small Healdton, Oklahoma house are becoming too many to count.  And like this momma fears for her own little cubs, sometimes we forget the value of being a friend to every man like J.D. was or the healing goodness of a home-cooked meal like Susie always provided.  Thankfully, you couldn't have known them without knowing the God they served for that love has flowed freely into all of their children as a constant reminder of what really matters.  They have given us all a wonderful heritage to hold on to and remind us when we get off track.

No person can ultimately control the course of someone else's life and I know that there are many unknown events awaiting my children.  But amidst dysfunction or tragedy, I can give my children the gift of a heritage.  Some of it, like the heritage I received from my parents and grandparents, is already set.  The rest is ongoing and that is up to me and Mr. Butler with God's help.  What a beautiful ray of hope for the fearful "What if" kind of day I started with.