Book Club: Sooley

I love basketball, and I love John Grisham books. So when I found out that his new book this year was a stray from his normal legal thriller into the world of “hoops,” I was intrigued. I’m not normally a fan of his non-legal books, but because, well, basketball, I wanted to read Sooley anyway.

This post contains major spoilers for the book Sooley by John Grisham.

Samuel Sooleymon is the oldest child of four living in a small village in South Sudan with his parents and three  younger siblings (two brothers and a sister). He loves playing basketball, but in the poor nation he can only play on a dirt court. When he is recruited for a summer league to represent his country against other teams as they play in America, he is thrilled – and apprehensive – to go. But go he does because he wants the opportunity to play his favorite game against other good players. He and the team from South Sudan don’t do so well, and most of the team is sent home after the tournament having won nothing.

While Samuel and the rest of the South Sudanese team is playing in the summer league, his parents’ village is ransacked by militant rebel soldiers. His father is killed and his sister is kidnapped. The family never finds her again, and doesn’t know whether she’s been sold as a slave or killed. His mother and two brothers walk from their home country to the neighboring nation of Uganda. When they make it to the refugee camp, they are finally safe.

Samuel’s coach in the summer league learns about his village and has the difficult discussion with Samuel, letting him know what happened and imploring him not to go back. He promises to help him come up with a way to stay in America. This is accomplished through an emergency refugee/student visa, and his coach convinces a college coach to give Samuel a scholarship so that he can honor the terms of his visa and stay in the country. Grudgingly, Coach Lonnie Britt of NC Central in Durham, North Carolina, awards the scholarship. After seeing Samuel in practice (he’s terrible – barely made the summer league team), he decides to “redshirt” him, meaning he gives him a spot on the team to keep his scholarship but he doesn’t let him play. He gets to practice and will join the team more fully the following year.

As the year progresses, Samuel practices basketball every single day, even on the team’s off days. He shoots and shoots and shoots, eventually shifting his percentage from well below 50 to above it. As Lonnie sees the improvement in Samuel, now called Sooley by his teammates, he takes a chance on him and lets him play in a game. Sooley blows the socks off everyone, becoming the star of the game.

He continues to practice and is rewarded with more game time. He quickly becomes the star of the team, playing almost every minute of every game and scoring upwards of 40 points per game. He ultimately leads his team, always a national underdog, to the college championships – clear up to the Final Four.

Unfortunately, they lose their first game in the Final Four and are eliminated. But Sooley had such an amazing season that he is encouraged by his coaches to enter the NBA draft, and he is taken in the first round by the Indiana Pacers and then immediately traded to the Washington Wizards. He’s thrilled with this because it means he’ll be close to his North Carolina family. The NBA money means he can come up with a plan to bring his family to America, out of the refugee camp they’ve been living in for over a year.

A party in the Bahamas turns tragic when Samuel ODs on Ecstasy. He never makes it to the NBA. He never gets to sponsor his mother and brothers for immigration to the US. It’s a tragic story.

But Murray, Sooley’s college roommate (and part of the “NC Family” I mentioned before) turns the tragedy into something beautiful. He starts a foundation in Samuel’s name and within days it raises millions of dollars. He uses some of the money to finish Sooley’s work of bringing his family over. The rest goes into a scholarship fund in Samuel’s name for future Central basketball players.

I loved this book. I was floored when Sooley is killed near the end, and from that moment on I couldn’t put it down until I discovered how Grisham would turn the tragedy around in just under 10% of the book. It’s so rare to see an author kill the main character of a book, and frankly I’m not sure I liked it. But it worked. It’s been a few days since I finished reading it, and I still feel a little raw when I think back on the story.

As for the writing, I thought it was very well done. I don’t follow college ball, but I found each of the games exciting. They were well described, and I could see all the moves in my head as I read the words. I did find the phrase “behind the arc” to be a bit overused to describe 3-pointers, but that’s literally my only complaint. Now that my library loan for this book has ended, I want to get a copy of my own to have for rereading at the drop of a hat.

Sooley gets 5 stars from me.

Do you like sports, or sports books and/or movies? What’s your favorite sport?

Blessings,

Kindergarten Fun: Giraffes

The Homeschool Review Crew recently asked on Twitter

I responded

Upper elementary. Reading and basic math are mastered, but you’re not yet to the difficult upper level courses. Lots of fun things to do with the 3-4-5 grade crowd.

I stand by that, but I also think Kindergarten is pretty fun. When you’re not dealing with the frustrations of a child learning all their letters and sounds but being unable to put them together in random scenarios (i.e. outside of Reading Eggs), kindergartners are a great bunch. They have intense interests and very little can sway them from the things they like. This makes it an ideal time to really cater the schooling to those interests, thus creating a fun schooling environment and teaching them that learning is fun.

Dragonfly loves giraffes. Like, really loves them. They’re his favorite animal by far. I don’t know where he developed that love, but I understand it (I love elephants in almost the same way). So I decided to hone in on that love with a kindergarten unit study for him. He and I have been spending the past week or so, and will spend the next week or two, learning all about giraffes. Under normal conditions, we would head to the library and get a stack of books, but we can’t really do that in the age of COVID. (Although, a quick online search tells me that our city library is actually open again with limited hours. I think I’ll head down there today!) Instead, we’re doing a lot of online research and relying on the information that came with our lap book from Homeschool Share.

Let me tell you a bit about Homeschool Share and how I use their resources with my kids. Homeschool Share is a website that’s chock full of homeschooling resources for a wide range of ages. I typically use them for finding the “fun” stuff – primarily lap books – for the younger kids. It was founded in 2004 by Ami, a homeschooling mom of two boys. She initially started it as a forum of sorts, where other homeschool moms could post unit studies they’d written for their own families in order to share and bless others. It quickly exploded, and there are now hundreds of unit studies, lap books, and printables – all available for free. The site is organized by subject, but there’s a search feature too, in case you want to find something specific for your child to learn about (as was the case with Dragonfly and giraffes). If you scroll down on the homepage, you can find the age breakdown of the resources (as opposed to the subject breakdown in the menu bar at the top). It’s really quite simple to poke around, and you’re almost guaranteed to find something you can use. The only “fee” for using the resources is signing up for the email list, but Ami isn’t one to spam your inbox every day.

The giraffes lap book is perfect for a kindergarten student. It’s got 18 pages of mini books (some of them take up more than one page of printing; if I remember correctly, it was 15 mini books total). The entire study is self-contained, with the exception of additional books, which are, of course, optional especially in the digital age. But all the information you need to complete the mini books are included in the first couple of pages of the unit study, so for a basic, generic understanding of giraffes you don’t need anything more. The pages are black and white, which is perfect for allowing your child to color in all the giraffes. Some of them are already shaded, so there’s less to color on those mini books, making them ideal for the days when you don’t have quite as long to work.

What will your student learn in their study of giraffes? Quite a bit for just a simple, 18-page file! Topics covered include giraffe-related vocabulary; giraffe anatomy; diet, predators, and defenses of giraffes; how giraffes live together in herds; names of the different genders of giraffes; fascinating facts about baby giraffes (for example, they are able to stand within 15 minutes of birth and are 6 feet tall when they are born); where giraffes live and what their habitat is like; the closest living relative of giraffes (there’s only 1 known relative of giraffes, the okapi); and miscellaneous fun facts. Did you know that giraffes have such large shoulder muscles because they run “front wheel drive” instead of “rear wheel drive” like most other animals?

In addition to learning about giraffes specifically, one of the things I really like about this lap book is the opportunity students are given to practice their handwriting skills. Dragonfly is still working on reading better, but he’s getting pretty darn good at copying letters from one page onto another in his own handwriting. These papers will make for lovely keepsakes when he’s older.

When Dragonfly and I finish up learning about giraffes, we’re going to utilize the other African animal lap books from Homeschool Share and continue this line of study for quite a while longer. It’s such a fun way to learn (and teach)!

What’s your favorite animal?

Blessings,

Defending Twilight

Twilight is one of my favorite book series. I’ve read the books probably 10 times each, listened to the audio books a few times, and seen all of the movies countless times. It seems that people either love it or hate it, though, and there’s not really any in-between. Today I want to talk for a few minutes about my thoughts on the saga, and more specifically about the things most people seem to have a problem with.

(In case you’re not familiar, Twilight is a series of 4 books that were adapted into 5 movies. They tell the story of a human girl who falls in love with a vampire.)

Bella is a flat, boring character

Twilight centers on the story of Bella Swan, a teenager who’s spent her entire life living with her mother in Phoenix after her parents divorced when she was a baby. Her father lives in northern Washington. She visits him annually, and we’re dropped into her story as she’s on her way to move in with him permanently. Her mother has recently remarried, and she decides to give the newlyweds some space, hence the big move. This alone is something that I would argue is anything but “flat” and “boring.” It takes courage to move across the country, especially as a young person leaving behind everything you’ve ever known (including your own mother). The books are told from her first-person perspective, so we as readers are privy to her every thought and action. She might come across as a little bit vapid, especially when she gets her first glimpse of the Cullens (the vampire family in the story) – she cares more about how beautiful they are than really anything else. But because we’ve been inside her head for a few chapters already at this point, we know that this is because she doesn’t have the best self-esteem (and who can’t relate to that?). She doesn’t view herself as exceptionally beautiful, so she’s fascinated by people who are – especially since there are 5 of them all together who are. And besides that, she’s a 17-year-old girl; that particular species is vapid (I say, as someone who used to be one). So while she may not be the most exciting character on the planet, I don’t think Bella deserves half the criticism she gets online.

Bella and Edward’s relationship is “toxic”

This is the biggest problem most people have with the series, and I can boil down every single issue people have with it down to one main cultural failing we have in America (and the West in general): lack of proper roles. I know that this is an unpopular opinion (very unpopular), but it’s one I sincerely hold. If we adhered to proper biblical roles in our society, we wouldn’t be offended by any of the things people have serious issues with. Allow me to explain a bit.

Edward is creepy because he watches Bella sleep. This is perhaps the only one on this list that’s a little weird, but that’s only because we live in a human world where everyone sleeps. Edward, the vampire in the relationship, doesn’t need to sleep so he spends his nights watching Bella. So again, weird but not automatically problematic.

Edward is an abusive jerk for preventing Bella from seeing Jacob. In proper biblical roles, Edward – as the man – has a right to determine and demand things from Bella. While Jacob was a good friend in New Moon (the second book in the series, when Edward left Bella in an attempt to protect her from the vampire world), he takes advantage of that friendship in later books. He knows that Edward is back, and that Bella chooses Edward over him, and yet he still pushes a relationship (not just a friendship). But even ignoring Jacob’s behavior, it bears repeating: so long as Bella and Edward are together, he has the right to make certain decisions on her behalf. That’s just how it works in a proper relationship, whether you like it or not. (And believe me, it’s not always easy to be a fully submissive wife, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do or that my husband doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.)

So, in short, yes, their relationship is toxic if you view from a Western, feminist mindset. If you look at it from a traditional, biblical perspective, it’s not.

Jacob and Renesmee

(Renesmee is Bella and Edward’s half-human-half-vampire daughter.)

This is one aspect that I’m unsure of. The main criticism of this “relationship” is that it’s considered grooming. This young child – quite literally a newborn – has a 17-year-old man in love with her. Jacob’s defense is that it’s not “love,” but more a protective relationship. He wants nothing more than to keep her safe. Critics say, “Yes, but only until she’s old enough to become your girlfriend, and by then she’ll be so used to having you around that she won’t realize she has the choice to say no.”

It seems a bit strange to have chosen for Jacob to “imprint” on Renesmee. In fact, because of that, it seems as though the entire pregnancy plotline of the last book was put into place for no reason except to separate Jacob and Bella. It was a tidy way to get Jacob to give up on Bella, when really he should have done that the moment Bella and Edward got married (whether he was happy about it or not). When I read the books the first time, over ten years ago, it didn’t seem that strange to me. It was just the way the story went, and who was I to judge the way an author chose to tell their story? But now, as I exercise my critical thinking skills more and more, I can recognize that this plot device was nothing more than an “ex machina” (a plot point that exists for no reason but because there’s not other way for the characters to get out of their current situation). The entire character of Renesmee is an ex machina, and that’s a bigger “problem” than Jacob’s imprinting on her. I wonder how the finale of the series would have gone if Bella hadn’t gotten pregnant?

These are just three of the many issues people complain about in Twilight, and there are many others. I might explore more of these issues in the future, but that’s all I’ve got for now. And the second one, regarding the “toxic” relationship (which I don’t think was toxic at all) was what I really wanted to put out there.

Blessings,

Using Movies in a Literature-Based Homeschool

One of my favorite things about using a literature-based approach to homeschooling is that there is so much flexibility! Beyond having your kids read books they’re more likely to find interesting for their learning, you can springboard that so easily into watching movies, too – which is great for sick days, hot days, or any other days when you just need an “easy out” for some reason. Here are some ways to incorporate movies into your literature based homeschool.

The backs of cinema chairs, which are red. A gold curtain is covering the screen at the front of the room.

Compare and Contrast

The easiest thing to do is obviously to compare and contrast the book and movie, if a matching set exists. There are so many fantastic children’s books with equally fantastic movies. One of my favorite examples of this is Charlotte’s Web. It’s a classic children’s book, and for good reason. It teaches strong lessons, but isn’t preachy. It wasn’t written with the intent of teaching those lessons, which is why it works so well. A lot of modern books are “lesson first, story second,” and that’s the wrong way to write. It’s much better when authors write a compelling story that kids will be interested in, and there are some lessons that can be organically gleaned from the story. (Pushing those lessons after the fact is also unideal. Let children make the jumps for themselves when possible.) Not only is Charlotte’s Web an amazing early novel for kids to read, but there are quite a few good film adaptations. The best one is the 2006 version starring Dakota Fanning as Fern and an all-star voice cast for the animals. Holes is another great example. Or the entire Harry Potter series. So if your kids are old enough for some serious critical thinking, have them do a compare and contrast between the books and movies they read. Ask specific questions: why do you think the filmmakers chose to change that from the book? Would you have made that change? What do you think was better in the book? Better about the movie? Which did you like better?

Use the Movie as Incentive to Read the Book

We’ve done this before with our kids. We don’t have a strict “you have to read the book before you’re allowed to see the movie” policy, but I know some parents do, and that works well. But even in a familiar story (a movie your child saw as a young child, for example), giving them the motivation of not being allowed to watch the movie (again) until they’re read the book can be a great motivator.

Let the movie help you explain parts of the book that may have been confusing (or vice versa)

In 2015, I saw the movie The Martian for the first time. It had been on my list for a long time, and I was so excited to finally see it. It was only upon seeing the opening credits that I realized it was based on a book, and I was really interested in then reading the book too. I found both to be fascinating – in fact, The Martian is now one of my favorite movies. I watch it about once a year, even now. But there were parts of the movie that I didn’t fully understand. I read the book, and it was even more complicated than the movie – but in different ways. What I found most interesting about that story in particular was how well the book and movie complimented each other. The parts of the book that were more confusing were clarified by the movie; the parts of the movie that were confusing were clarified in the book. They really do work hand in hand. So next time your student is struggling through a specific part in a book, see if there’s a movie counterpart that might help them to get a better visual on what the story is trying to say.

Do you use movies in your homeschool, or just as fun?

Blessings,

Bible Breakdowns (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Teaching the Bible is of tantamount importance, and simply reading it is the best way to do that. But sometimes a product comes along that does nothing more than help you with that. It doesn’t attempt to insert the author’s own thoughts into the text (like some devotionals). It quite literally just helps you explain the overview of the Bible to your children. This is what Bible Breakdowns from Teach Sunday School does. Nothing fancy, just a basic overview of each book of the Bible.

I received downloadable copies of the Bible Breakdowns, broken into two documents: Old Testament and New Testament. Because I am reading the New Testament together with the younger kids, we focuses on using those pages, particularly the Gospels.

Each Bible Breakdown is 1 or 2 pages, and it gives an overview of a specific book of the Bible. It starts with the name of the book at the top of the page, nice and big. Using attractive graphic design, it also tells you which number and “OT or “NT.” For example, Matthew is 1 NT; Mark is 2 NT; and so on. Underneath the header is a 1-2 paragraph overview of the book, and then the “big info” for the book. This includes the number of chapters, type of book (history, gospel, letter, etc), date written, dates covered in the text, and author’s name.

Once you get through the major, overarching information, the Bible Breakdown takes you on a list of the specific stories covered in that book. It even goes one step further and color codes the “classic Bible stories.” Each verse in the book is covered, so you can easily refer to it and find exactly what’s covered in the book. At the very end, after the verse-by-verse breakdown of the book, there’s a shorter list: the most popular verses in the book. It lists them out in order, and then tells you how that verse ranks in popularity both in comparison to other verses in its book as well as in the Bible as a whole. If you’re looking for memory verses for your kids, this “Most Popular Verses” section is a great place to start!

Like I mentioned, we are reading the New Testament together (me, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly). It’s the first time through the NT with the younger kids, so it was really nice to be able to have the Bible Breakdowns on hand to show them the overview of the books before we started reading. I used the pages as an introduction to the book. We read the top portion of the Bible Breakdown, and that gave the kids a basic understanding of the book and its “goal” for having been written. It gave us just a tiny bit of background about the author, which can be invaluable information – especially for nonfiction books like the Bible.

As we continued to read, I primarily referred to the rest of the breakdown on my end. This helped me to determine a good stopping point each day for our reading. Sometimes that was at an even chapter break, but not always. And while the standard “just read 3 chapters a day” will usually work, it was also nice to have the breakdown handy to refer to larger sections that should be read all in one sitting for context. The Sermon on the Mount is one of these sections. Not only should it be read all together (at least as you’re introducing the idea to your child for the first time), but it’s also not specifically labeled in the Biblical texts as all being one long section. The headers in the Bible tell you “Beatitudes,” “Lord’s Prayer,” etc, but the Bible Breakdown specifically labels those sections as the Sermon on the Mount. This information was really useful to have at my fingertips.

If you’re looking for a Bible curriculum, Bible Breakdowns aren’t it. They are best used as reference for the Scriptures themselves. They don’t tell you what to teach or how to teach it. It’s not a devotional with ideas and concepts added. It is the simplest document in the world, just telling you what to expect from your Bible reading. It’s exactly what I was looking for to help me help the kids understand what’s going on in the Bible.

Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews!

Blessings,

Vindication Season 2 #VindicationMIN

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through Momentum Influencers.

You might remember that a few weeks ago I did a review for the first season of Vindication, a crime drama series available to stream on Pure Flix. Find more info on the show as a whole in that review. Today, I want to talk specifically about episode 7, which hit the streaming service this past Wednesday. Make sure to read to the end of this post for a chance to win a 6-month subscription to Pure Flix so you can watch both seasons of Vindication as well as loads of other family-friendly and faith-based content!

In Vindication, much like most other dramas, there’s a bit of change from season 1 to season 2. For example, Detective Travis has gotten a promotion and is now the head of a smaller police department. His former deputy/intern, Kris, is still working at the old station, so we still get to keep up with those characters through her.

Episode 7: Be a Man

In this episode, Detective Travis is off on a hunting trip with a group of other men (and one daughter). Each team of 2 is given a specific area of land within one of the members’ property where they can hunt deer. As one might imagine, there’s lots of opportunity for bonding while we see the groups of hunters waiting for deer to pass by.

At the end of the day, the hunters gather together again for a meal of fire roasted venison and the entire group has some deep conversations. One of the men (the man whose land they’re hunting on) reveals that his son “no longer likes girls,” and he as a father is struggling with that. A younger man tells him that he should just tell his son that he loves him. This younger man grew up in a family where he was never told that by any men of consequence in his life, and is “recovering” from a life of crime because of it.

The episode also spends a bit of time with Kris and her brother, Shane (a vet suffering from PTSD who lives with her). There’s a bit of tension between the siblings, but they push through it. Kris is also approached by the upcoming police chief in her precinct, who hints at the fact that he wants her to become his sergeant when he lands the promotion.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode (as I have the rest of the Vindication series to date). I struggled a little bit with the gay son story line, especially in a faith based show, but it was easy to move past. I’m looking forward to seeing the final episodes of the season as we finish out the month of October.

If you’re interested in winning your own 6-month subscription to Pure Flix, just leave me a comment on this blog post, telling me what show or movie you’d want to watch on Pure Flix. I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday, October 20th.

Blessings,

Fall Welcome Sign

I hadn’t made a fresh welcome sign for our door in a few months, and it was well past time. I took down the spring one a few weeks ago, and we went without one for a while. But it was summertime, and I wanted to look toward fall instead, so I waited. But by the end of August, I couldn’t really handle it anymore and I got something up there, just in time for Bumblebee’s birthday party. Here’s what I did and how I made it (using all Dollar Tree items except for the paint).

First I found this “Gather Together” wood cutout. Dollar Tree does a really nice job with their wood laser cuts – they’re quite detailed and really high quality considering the price tag. I wanted to put it on a “fall” feeling background to make it more substantial feeling. I had a felt pumpkin in my hands, and I rather liked it, but then I found this pumpkin that’s made of planks. I liked that a whole lot better, so I bought it instead. I also picked up a door hanger that consisted of a ring covered in rope, a fall ribbon, and some jingle bells hanging from a sheer brown ribbon. I wasn’t entirely sure how I would incorporate that but I really liked it so I grabbed it anyway.

I started by removing the metal “Warm Hearts” bit from one of the pumpkin planks. If there’s one thing Dollar Tree loves, it’s adding metal and glitter to their wood signs! I wanted something a bit calmer though, so I took that off. Then I painted the top two planks with orange paint. I really liked the watercolor pumpkins at the bottom, so I left those unpainted.

Next I took my wood cutout and painted it. I chose red and brown to really emphasize the fall season. My red was a bit brighter than I wanted, so I took a tip from Kelly Barlow Creations and dulled it with brown. I really like how it turned out. The cornucopia is the weakest part of my painting, but it’s alright. When the paint on both pieces was dry, I hot glued the “Gather Together” to the top portion of my pumpkin planks.

Now I was left with my door hanger. I took all the pieces apart and laid out where I thought each piece would go best. The hanging portion, obviously, was ideal for the top, so I used hot glue to attach it there. I really liked the fall-themed ribbon and even though it would have been really easy to eliminate it and use it somewhere else in another project. I don’t do enough of these Dollar Tree projects to justify trying to save it, though, so instead I attached it to the top of the sign. Then I had the jingle bell ribbons. I really liked those, too, and I think they would really add to any project. For this one, I hot glued the ribbons right to the back of the bottom plank. I liked that the ribbons were each a different length, so they fall at varying points below the pumpkin.

I am really happy with the way this sign turned out. I like it quite a bit better than the spring one I made earlier this year, and I enjoy seeing it each time I approach my home.

Blessings,

Spelling Ninja (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Spelling is a subject that is fairly important, but can be tricky to teach. I’ve struggled to teach it in the past because I’m a naturally good speller. I don’t understand having to “learn” to spell; I’ve always just been able to do it well. I had to deal with this a few years ago with Ballet Boy (he’s still not the best, but his writing is at least decipherable now – once you get past his handwriting!). Now that Grasshopper is the age to start dealing with spelling, I wanted to try to nip any potential problems in the bud, so we signed up to review Spelling Ninja from Reading Kingdom.

Spelling Ninja is an online program run through the website (not an app). Once you sign in and choose your student’s name from the list, you’re taken to that student’s home page, from which you can launch the program. It’s recommended that your student plays Spelling Ninja 4 days a week for optimal results.

The “game” itself is easy enough to understand. There is a picture at the top of the screen and a sentence below it. The student studies the sentence and then clicks the little star box when they feel ready. If they take a long time to study, the question eventually starts on its own. To pass each question, they simply have to type the words (spelled correctly, of course) into the boxes. Correct capitalization and punctuation is a must. The picture stays in place throughout the studying and typing process, but the sentence disappears a few words at a time. This means that in addition to spelling everything correctly, you must remember the words (which wasn’t usually too hard, but we did sometimes struggle with the specifics when a certain blank could have two words that both made sense in the sentence). The words in the sentences build on each other, meaning that you’ll see very similar sentences at the beginning (Can these kids read? and These kids can read.), but new words are introduced over time. Then those new words are shown over and over in a variety of different sentences. The sentences get longer and longer as you go because there are more words to choose from. There are 10 sentences per lesson.

When we first started, I had Grasshopper work on this on his own, with me watching to make sure he understood what he was doing. It quickly became apparent that that was not going to work long term. Grasshopper has a working knowledge of the keyboard, but he’s not a typist by any stretch of the imagination. He was having to type every single word many times, even when he got the correct spelling because he couldn’t get it typed in fast enough. So the next day, we switched it up and I did the typing while he dictated the letters to me to spell each word.

We worked 3-4 days a week this way (me typing, him dictating), and we had reasonable success. Grasshopper was able to get most of the words quicker, and there were just a few words that he needed to “study” with each new sentence. I really liked that he was able to get the spellings correct so much quicker over such a short period of time (I saw improvement after just 2 or 3 lessons). However, the time limit of the program was really frustrating for us. Even when I went in and adjusted the amount of time allowed before getting marked “wrong,” we still sometimes struggled. For example, in a sentence that’s 12 words long, you can be working along just fine, get the first 8 words spelled correctly and in the time limit but miss the 9th one. When that happens, you have to retype the entire sentence from the beginning, not just the word you missed. It got to be really demoralizing for Grasshopper and frustrating for me.

If your student knows the keyboard well and can type quickly, then Spelling Ninja would likely be a great fit for you. It wasn’t our favorite program ever, but I can definitely see the benefits to it and am pleased with the successes we had.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been trying out three programs from Reading Kingdom; make sure to click over to the main website to read reviews on Counting Kingdom and Story Smarts as well as Spelling Ninja.

Blessings,

What We’re Reading: October 2021

It’s October already! I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited about that. I adore October and November; they’re my favorite months all year long. And I think there are going to be big changes for our family this month. But for now, my fingers are tied on that front.

Instead, let’s talk about what books we’re reading this month!

Read Aloud

We’re still working through our shelf of beautifully illustrated novels. This month we’re going to spend wrapping up both Pinocchio and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (We didn’t do as much reading of those as we should have last month.) We’re also reading A Cricket in Times Square, and we will have a review on the Progeny Press study guide for that book later in the month!

Scorpion (9th)

As I briefly mentioned last week, Scorpion is reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. He will have a hefty portion of guest posting on that Progeny Press review when it comes up in a few weeks. Scorpion has always loved classic novels. From the time he was very young (like 6), he’s been reading them. Of course, back then he read children’s versions. Now that he’s older, I’m glad that he’ll get the opportunity to read some of them in their entirety rather than as a “Great Illustrated Classic.”

Grasshopper (4th)

We’re making great progress with Wayside School, and when he finishes it we’ll dive into a book I read a few years ago (it’s a kids’ book, but I saw it in the store and was intrigued by the plot so I bought it and read it anyway): Circus Mirandus. This is the story of a magical circus that only those who already believe in it can find. The main character must make himself believe so he can find the circus and get in touch with the one person who can help him save his ailing grandfather.

Me

I recently finished reading a book that had been on my to-read list for months, Sooley by John Grisham. It’s a stray from his normal legal thriller and explores the world of high-end college basketball through the eyes of a South Sudanese young man in America on a series of emergency visas. I love basketball, so I was pretty sure I’d like this book. It was not entirely what I expected, though, and Amazon reviews on the book are mixed. (I would give it 5 stars.) But that’s all I’m going to say for now, because more of my thoughts will be outlined when I feature it in this month’s book club post. For my new book, I’m sticking with my Grisham streak and reading an older novel called The Racketeer.

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

Science for Little Kids (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is a favorite in our homeschool. We’ve used many of their books over the years, and always had great success with them. All three of my older children (Ballet Boy, 17; Scorpion, 15; and Grasshopper, 9) have used one of their math books over the years. When they were offered up for review this year, many of the choices were for the Preschool crowd, so I chose Science Mind Benders®: Animals to work on with Dragonfly (5). He’s very interested in learning, and animals are always a popular choice for little kids so I thought it would be a good introduction to science for him.

Science Mind Benders®: Animals is an 86-page, softcover workbook printed in full color. The pages are a bit glossy, so it feels almost like a picture book inside. There are 7 lessons, and each lesson has 7 activities. This gives your child enough time to take the book slowly and reinforce the concepts being taught throughout, making sure they remember they remember what they learned over the long term. At the end of each group of 7 lessons, there is a page of “interesting animals in this lesson” and a review page, which you could use as a quiz if you wanted to.

Because this was Dragonfly’s very first introduction to any sort of formal science lesson, we just started at the beginning of the book and worked our way through. For an older child, you could use this book as a review for certain types of animals and jump around a bit more.

Let’s look at the first lesson – Vertebrates and Invertebrates – fairly in-depth to give you an idea of how you could use this book in your homeschool.

My favorite type of homeschool curriculum is “open and go,” which means that there’s minimal prep work involved. This not only makes it easier to keep your homeschool day moving, but it also limits the amount of loose papers and other things you have floating around your school area. This book is definitely an open and go science curriculum. Everything you need to teach your child is included all in the one workbook – a simple lesson teaching children what they will be learning about and the consumable workbook pages for them to do themselves.What this looks like in the Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson is a page with a short paragraph at the top that you can read to your child or paraphrase to teach the concept, and then the other 4/5 of the page is a series of pictures showcasing the different types of creatures, all separated out so children can get a clear understanding.

Once they have the initial learning done, the next seven pages are activity pages. You could do one activity a day, or all at once, or anything in between. We did one lesson per day because I want my son to tuck away that knowledge and remember it long term, not to just breeze through only to forget what an invertebrate is in two weeks when he’s working on the Mammals and Reptiles lesson.

Examples of activity pages are “point to the pictures of animals that are vertebrates.” This page also comes with discussion questions. Instead of having Dragonfly simply point to the pictures, I had him draw circles around the animals the question asked about. When we got to the question that compared invertebrates with an exoskeleton vs those without, we drew circles and squares to differentiate them. There are some very basic logic puzzles for the children to work through, which is perfect for developing good critical thinking skills. Activity 3 in the lesson shows photos of 6 different animals and you’re given three clues. The child is to determine which clue goes with which animal. Lesson 4 is very much like lesson 3, except that after matching the clue with the animal, the child determines whether each animal is a vertebrate or an invertebrate. Lesson 5 is another logic puzzle. Lessons 6 and 7 mirror lessons 3 and 4. For the review of this lesson, there’s a flow chart. Groups of pictures are shown together and the child determines what word from the “choice box” best fits that particular group. There’s even a bonus question for further research.

Dragonfly and I have had so much fun learning about animals together! We’re not done with this book yet, but we will definitely be continuing to work our way through it. It’s the perfect introduction to both critical thinking and science for my Kindergartner.

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been reviewing one of 6 different books from The Critical Thinking Co.™. Make sure to click through and find out more about those books, as well as an introductory article that talks more about the company itself than I got into here.

Blessings,