Unlocking the Secrets to Upper Level Math (UnLock Math review)

For the past few weeks, Seahawk (13 years old) has been working on his first real foray into upper-level math: Pre-Algebra. To do this, we asked to review UnLock Pre-Algebra from UnLock Math. This program has been an absolute blessing to us! Let me tell you more about it.

UnLock Math was created by Alesia and Matthew Blackwood. Both were homeschooled as children, and Alesia went on to become a school teacher, holding certification from Georgia Professional Standards Commission to teach upper level mathematics (grades 7-12). She and Matthew met in 2001 and married in 2002, and as they started having children they decided they wanted to work together, doing their own business. They recognized a need for quality math curriculum in the homeschool community, so they worked to develop a revolutionary complete, online math curriculum that does everything for you (the teacher/parent): it teaches using entertaining videos; it offers quizzes and tests; and it self-grades. The only thing you as the parent need to do is make sure your child logs on (the site is 100% free from ads and other distractions) regularly, and check in on their progress periodically. The program does absolutely everything else.

Unlock Math homeschool curiculum review

As I said, we’ve been using this with Seahawk. As he’s finishing up 7th grade, looking forward to 8th grade this fall, he’s the same age that I was when I did these maths, so I decided it was time to have him step up and start working on more advanced concepts. I know he’s bright enough to manage, so I eagerly requested this review. For us, it’s become his core math curriculum. Each school day (4-5 days per week), he’s working on one lesson, using my iPad. The program would also work on a computer, of course, but we only have one computer available for school stuff, and since math doesn’t require a real keyboard like, say, typing does, math happens on the iPad. I love that it works there! It’s great to have the computer free for my other son to do different lessons while his older brother is working on math.

This screen shot shows the video lesson and the path to follow afterwards. The warm up is up above (you can see the path leading away on the right side of the video); I just couldn't fit it all on my screen to get a full screen shot.

This screen shot shows the video lesson and the path to follow afterwards. The warm up is up above (you can see the path leading away on the right side of the video); I just couldn’t fit it all on my screen to get a full screen shot.

The lessons each have five parts. First is the “Math Warm Up,” which is a short online worksheet designed to get the student in math mode. Next is the teaching video, which is Alesia explaining a bite-sized math nugget. So far, the videos have been about 7-10 minutes long. I’m not sure if they’ll stay that short throughout the entire program, but I can imagine that they’ll get longer as new and more advanced topics are introduced (so far, the program has been mostly review but with new vocabulary for the concepts for Seahawk). After the video is a worksheet to practice the concepts taught in the video. Then comes the “Challenge,” which is a single difficult problem based on things the student should already know. The final element is Reference Notes, which is a downloadable PDF that shows what a student might have taken notes on during the lesson, if he’s a note-taking type. We haven’t used this section very much because Seahawk is very much an auditory learner; seeing the information written out wouldn’t help him much. The lesson page has all of these elements on it, and there’s a path showing students which order they need to work in. This makes it really easy for kids to do the program completely independently, especially since it’s older kids that the curriculum is geared toward.

unlock math 1

This screen shot shows the progress report. This allows the student to see at a glance how he’s doing at moving through the program.

The icon for each lesson is a padlock, and when the lesson has been completed, it opens up – it UnLocks. This gives the student a clear visual representation of how much they’ve completed and how much they still have to go. It also serves as an easy reminder of where they need to pick up at the beginning of the new day. In addition to the lock icons, there’s a large chart on the same page as the lesson list, and this tells the student how far into the program they are and what their average grade is. At the time of this posting, Seahawk has completed 9% of the class with an average score of 89%.

The lessons with the open lock are those that he's finished; a closed lock indicates that he still needs to do the lesson.

The lessons with the open lock are those that he’s finished; a closed lock indicates that he still needs to do the lesson.

I’ve talked to my son at a few different points during this review period to ask him what he thinks of UnLock Math, and he’s told me that it’s his absolute favorite math program by far. He’s even gone so far as to say that he “really likes it.” He never balks when I tell him it’s time to do his math lesson, and he never asks to be done early. He (usually) does all four parts of the lesson without a fight – and for a strong-minded 13-year-old, that’s really saying something.

UnLock Math is adding more upper-level math, too. They currently have Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and their newest offering is Geometry. Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing all of those levels. They’re also in the process of developing Pre-Calculus (coming in 2018) and Calculus (coming in 2019). This is exciting news for parents of high schoolers who want to homeschool those upper grades but are afraid of what that means in terms of getting a good enough math education.

unlock pre algebraBased on the hands-off nature of the program (from me), and the fact that my student loves it, I can definitely recommend this program, especially if you have multiple children who need your attention. This gives you a few minutes each day where you can focus on another kid while not wasting the time of your older child. Win-win!

Blessings,

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Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}
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Learning to Forgive (YWAM review)

A little over a year ago, we had the opportunity to read and review our first YWAM Publishing biography (we chose C.S. Lewis to go along with our study of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). It was okay, but we didn’t love it. Because of that experience, I was unsure about whether to request another book from them or not. Before I totally wrote it off, though, I went through a couple of the options being offered. For reasons I couldn’t place my finger on at the time, the story of Jacob DeShazer really spoke to me. I wanted to read his story, and I wanted my kids to hear it, so I requested the book, which is part of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series. In addition to the biography, Christian Heroes – Jacob DeShazer, we also received a digital copy of the corresponding study guide (you can’t access this page without a YWAM account, but there is a generic page with the list of all the different study guides.).

Jacob de Shazer biography review

About the Book

Based on the brief summary on the website, I knew that Jacob DeShazer was a soldier in WWII who was a POW in a Japanese prison for over three years. I learned that after the war ended, he was released and later became a missionary to Japan – ministering to the very culture that had imprisoned him. What I didn’t know was that when he wasn’t in Japan, he called the Willamette Valley in Oregon home – the very place where we live! I even learned that there were some people in our church who knew Mr. DeShazer personally. (He died at age 95 in 2008, so the people we know who knew him are very old and don’t always come to church so we weren’t able to talk to them, unfortunately.)

Jacob deShazer coverThe biography opens during Jacob’s (Jake, in the book) childhood. He grew up with a mother, stepfather, and 8 siblings in rural central Oregon, on a farm. He abandoned the family’s Christian faith as a young adult, and in an attempt to get away from his parents, he took several odd jobs during his early 20s. By his mid- to late-twenties, WWII started, America entered the battle, and he decided to enlist in the Air Force to fight for the cause. Before very long, we’re following Jake through boot camp and his early assignments in California. While there, a group of men were brought in to talk to the boss and invited to join a top secret mission. Even the boss didn’t know enough to tell them what to expect outside of “it will be very dangerous.” The men were given the opportunity to accept or reject the invitation, no questions asked and no penalty for rejecting, and every single one of them accepted it. Clear up until they were on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the mission was kept secret. They eventually learned that they would be bombing Japan in retaliation of the Pearl Harbor attack in what later became known as the Doolittle Raid. When his plane crashed in Japanese-controlled China (instead of free China, where they were supposed to land) after the bombing, Jake and his crewmates were captured, imprisoned, and held for 40 months. During those 40 months (near the end), the men were given three books to share (even though they had separate cells – most of the time they were kept in solitary confinement). One of these was a Bible. Reading the Bible, Jake realized the truth behind his parents’ religion and became a Christian. His faith kept him going as his life continued to get worse.

When the war ended and Jake was released, he knew that God was telling him that he was to be a missionary – to Japan. I don’t know about you, but I know that I’d have a very hard time with this. It would be incredibly easy to be vindictive and have a “they don’t deserve salvation” attitude after going through the hardships of a prison camp (which are reasonably detailed in the book; I didn’t really mention them here). But Jake didn’t have this attitude. He knew that everyone – even the prison guards and others in Japan – deserved salvation just as much as he did. So upon returning to America, he got his discharge from the military and went to Seattle Pacific College to train for missions work in the Free Methodist Church. College is where he met Florence, who would become his wife. Florence knew that God was calling her to be a missionary, too, but she didn’t know to where. Meeting and marrying Jake made that decision for her. Upon graduation, the two of them started their family (they ended up with 5 children, 4 of whom were born in Japan – the oldest was a year and a half old when the went) and missionary work in Japan.

Our Experience

Because I was the one who chose this book (I didn’t confer with the boys at all on our choice), I decided I wanted to read it aloud to them. Munchkin likes to read, but mostly just the stuff he chooses to read. Seahawk is a fine reader, but he doesn’t like to read. He’d never pick up a book out of his own free will. And I didn’t want to miss this book. So reading it aloud was the best option for us.

watching the doolittle raid

Watching the Doolittle Raid newsreel.

While I would have loved to have made this book a full-blown unit study, it arrived during the time we were dealing with some personal stuff surrounding our old house and moving, so it just wasn’t going to work out this time around. We did, however, use the Bible verse memorization and reading comprehension pages in the study guide. In addition to reading the book and using the questions in the study guide, we supplemented our reading by learning more about the type of plane that Jake flew (a B25 Mitchell bomber) and about the Doolittle Raid itself. We found a newsreel on YouTube about the Raid and watched that. We talked extensively about what it would be like to have been in Jake’s shoes and how we would have reacted the the situations in which he found himself. Despite not using the study guide extensively, I still feel that we had a very rich experience reading this book.

Parts of the study guide that we didn’t utilize include essay/research prompts (compare Jacob before and after his conversion, learn about the GI Bill, talk about the history of Christianity in Japan, etc); creative writing (write a haiku, write journal entries from Jake’s point of view, etc); hands on activities (make an illustrated timeline, build a model B25 bomber, learn Morse code, etc); audio visual (make a website about Jacob De Shazer, etc); arts and crafts (illustrate Jake’s life using Manga techniques, create origami, etc); language (learn a few phrases in Japanese); and much, much more. With the proper preparation and materials, it would be really easy to use the study guide and biography together to make an amazing unit study.

Our first time reading a YWAM Publishing book, as I mentioned before, was “just okay.” Our second one could not have been better. I literally had a difficult time reading the last few pages to the boys because I felt like I knew Jake by the end, and reading about his dementia and death were devastating. I cried. I cannot recommend this book enough, and I truly hope more people will read it and learn the story of how one man – Jacob De Shazer – was able to forgive his enemies.

Blessings,

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Christian & History Heroes {YWAM Publishing Reviews}
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Learning to Type Methodically (The Typing Coach review)

For the past few weeks, my boys (the older two) have been learning to type using The Typing Coach Online Typing Course. This program works in a very methodical way, teaching students to type just a few letters at a time. The Typing Coach teaches the home row first, then the top row, and finally the bottom row and numbers. Each row is taught independently before being combined, and the course emphasizes absolute mastery before moving on.

The Typing Coach Review

The Typing Coach is very easily adaptable to individual students because it’s “work at your own pace.” The goal is one lesson per week, but it’s definitely not set in stone; we had to move slower in order for the boys to get the mastery that the course requires in order to move on.

There are a few things you need to do the course. One is a reliable internet connection to listen to the audio portions and download the typing practice sheets. The other is a computer with a word processor (I hope that’s obvious, but just in case…). The goal is that by the end of the course, students will be able to type a minimum of 10 words per minute with no more than one mistake per minute.

How It Works

 Once you’ve downloaded the practice sheets, you need to either print it out or have it available some other way for students to look at while they’re typing. (Having it in a different portion on the same screen isn’t ideal.) Our printer is currently out of ink, so I put the document on my iPad and the boys used iBooks to read it and type. Then, log in to your account and find the lesson you need. The very first one is all about posture; then you move on to actually typing. For each lesson, there’s an audio to listen to. The audio works in tandem (and sometimes separately) with the downloaded document. There are a lot of different components to the audio lessons:

  • Making sure you’re sitting properly and the keyboard is positioned correctly to your body.
  • Beginning to type what you see on the document.
  • Typing letters from dictation.
  • Turning off (or hiding) the monitor and typing from the document again.

(There might be other parts that I’ve missed, but this is what I remember based on when the boys did these lessons.)

The student can practice, using the downloaded practice sheet, as many days as is needed to master the assigned keys. When they feel confident, there’s a slightly different website to go to to take a test. On the testing website, students enter their name and a parent’s email address (or your own, if you’re taking the course as an adult). They enter the amount of time allowed for the test and choose the test they’re taking from a drop down menu. After you click “start,” a new screen opens up with a box in it. The time starts when the first key is typed in the box. At the end of the time, a report is automatically sent to the email address specified before the test began. If the student passed (no more than one mistake per minute), then they can move on to the next lesson. If they don’t, they should practice for another day or two and then try again.

How We Used It

The two older boys used the program pretty much as I described in the previous section. The boys would use my laptop (with the “print outs” on the iPad next to them) and follow the audio for the lesson they were on. After a few days of working on the lesson, they attempted the test. If they passed, they could move on. If not, they went back to the practice sheets for a few days before trying again. To date, they’re both still working on the home row, but we went through a bit of time right after we moved where we didn’t have reliable internet access, so we were unable to start the program as soon as I wanted. Additionally, the emphasis on mastery is such that just one week on a lesson hasn’t been enough for them. Now that things are settled down (mostly), they’re doing a lesson or having a 20-minute practice each school day. After two or three days of doing the lesson with the audio, they decided that they prefer to do the audio in the beginning, but just type when they’re gearing up for the test. Just yesterday, they both attempted a test and got 2 mistakes over 1 minute. While not terrible, this is too many for The Typing Coach, so they’ll spend today and tomorrow practicing before attempting the test again to (hopefully) be able to move on to the top row.

Our Thoughts on the Program

My boys love this! Even though they’re not making progress very fast, they are by no means getting discouraged. Every time he finishes a lesson or practice session, Munchkin tells me, “I love typing!” Seahawk hasn’t said anything quite so exuberant, but I can tell that he’s enjoying it as well. Just in a 13-year-old, too cool for school kind of way.

Finally

The Typing Coach Online Typing Course retails for $17 per year per student. If this fits into your homeschool budget, I highly recommend giving it a try. If your student is really motivated, they should be touch-typing by the end of the first quarter.

Blessings,

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The Typing Coach Online Typing Course {The Typing Coach Reviews}
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Homeschooling Kids With a Large Age Gap, part 1

This week is an exciting one here on the blog. It’s the annual “5 Days of Homeschool” Blog Hop through the Homeschool Review Crew. Several of us will be sharing things about our homeschool, homeschooling tips, how to keep your homeschooling mojo going when you just can’t (or don’t want to), and more. Everyone who’s participating will have between 3 and 5 posts on their chosen topic. My topic, as you can tell based on the title of this post, is what it’s like to homeschool kids when you have a large age gap to contend with, and tips on making that task a bit easier.

Homeschooling when your kids have a large age gapTo tackle this topic, I’ve decided to explore some of the things that have worked for our family (keeping in mind that they won’t work for every family or in every situation), and turn them into tips. Here’s what I’ll be talking about:

Tuesday: When Everyone Wants a Piece of You (Time Management Tips)

Wednesday: Help a Gal Out (Letting the Big Kids Help the Little Kids)

Thursday: Can You Do It? Yes, You Can! (Trusting Your Big Kids to Work on Their Own)

Friday: When You’re Not the Right Person for the Job (Exporting Big Kids’ Subjects to Other Teachers)

Besides these posts, I’ll also have a literature product review up tomorrow, so make sure to come back tomorrow for double postings. This will be an exciting week; I can’t wait!

Blessings,

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5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017


A Biblical History Novel (Peggy Consolver Review)

Over the past few weeks, Munchkin has been reading a new book from Peggy Consolver – Author. It’s called Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer, and it’s written in one of my personal favorite genres: biblical historical fiction. I’ve read quite a few books in this genre over the years, and when I saw this one come up for review, I immediately thought of my son. He and I looked at the website and book synopsis together, and he decided that he really wanted to read this book, so we requested it for review.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy, and the Star Namer review

The book tells the story of Keshub, a 13-year-old shepherd boy who wonders whether he’ll ever be good enough for his father. Set over the backdrop of the Old Testament battle of the Promised Land, this book provides a lot of action, intrigue, and adventure – perfect for a pre-teen or teen boy (or girl) to read about!

Shepherd Potter Spy reviewHere’s what Munchkin has to say about the book:

Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer is an interesting book. Chapter 6 was my favorite. It’s called “The Son of a King,” and it tells about how Keshub meets someone from the land of his enemies, who turns the prince of that area. The two become friends. I like this chapter because it was the most intriguing to me. I liked how Keshub turned a bad situation (the invading army and palace coming to town) into a new friendship by being kind and tricking the prince into being nice back which led to the friendship.

I also liked how the story of Keshub was laid over the top of the true biblical account of the battle of Jericho. It was interesting to compare the novel to the Bible.

Even though I liked most of this book, there were some things that I found difficult to understand. I think it would be better suited for someone a few years older than me.

In addition to the novel itself, Mrs. Consolver has created a study guide titled Digging Deeper into HIStory to go along with it. This would bring the novel reading to a whole new level, especially if you did it with a group of teens – it would make a great book club selection or youth group unit study. The study guide is available for $2.99 (Kindle) or $12.99 (paperback) and includes questions covering things like map work, reading comprehension, and historical compare/contrast.

Generally speaking, even though Munchkin found the book to be a bit advanced for him, I’m glad he had the opportunity to read it. It gave him a new perspective on the events in Joshua 9-10, and I think he’s a bit better for it. At his own request, we’re going to hang onto this book and he’ll read it again when he’s a couple of years older. We both hope it’s even better for him then than it was this time around.

Make sure to click the banner below for more reviews from Homeschool Review Crew members on this book.

Blessings,

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Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver Reviews}
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Our Great Republic ~ American History Curriculum (Memoria Press Review)

In homeschool circles, there are a few curriculum companies that show up again and again as “the best.” Memoria Press is one of those. I’ve reviewed products from them a few times (I’ll link to my past reviews at the end of this one), and have always been very impressed with the items we’ve received/used. This time, the (older) boys and I have been working through The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & The Great Republic Set ($48). As you might be able to guess from the title (of both the curriculum and this post), this is an American history curriculum. Memoria Press also included the supplemental 200 Questions About American History Set ($27.90).

MP history review

Each of these sets is fairly involved, so I think it will make more sense (at least to me) to take a moment to discuss what is in each of them before I move on to how we used them in our homeschool.

The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & The Great Republic came with three books: a textbook, which feels more like a novel in its size and page count; a consumable student workbook; and a teacher version of the workbook, which looks just like the student book except the answers are filled in and there are reproducible tests in the back. The student workbook is much more than “just” a workbook, though. It includes a wide variety of appendices with such amazing resources as the complete text of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, lots of maps, and tons of other great stuff that I (unfortunately) can’t remember offhand. (I can’t refer to our copy of the book, either, because it’s packed for moving.) I do remember pointing out a lot of this stuff to Seahawk, who was the main beneficiary of this book, though. It will make a fantastic resource for years to come.

The 200 Questions About American History Set includes two books: a student workbook and a teacher manual; and a set of flashcards. The flashcard set is like four sets in one, and I separated them into recloseable zipper baggies for ease of use. These four sets are: 150 Drill Questions (question on one side, answer on the other), 30 Dates and Events (date on one side, event on the other), 20 Notable Quotes (quote on one side, speaker on the other), and 44 U.S. Presidents (president number and years of presidency on one side, name on the other). The student workbook is rather thin, but it covers a lot of history in those few pages. It is basically a workbook version of the flashcards, which is nice if you want a consolidated place for your student to write down the answers to the questions as they learn them. It would also serve as a great tool for review as they get older. The teacher book is just like I described above, in the 13 Colonies set.

How We Used It

Normally in a curriculum like this, I would read everything aloud to the boys and they would answer the questions. The teacher’s guide suggested having students do at least of of the out-loud reading themselves, though. Because my kids don’t do enough of that (or any of that, really), I decided to go with the suggestion of the writers. Each chapter in the textbook, which is really a compilation of two books written by H.A. Guerber, is quite short (less than 2 pages) so this wasn’t a hardship for my boys.

We covered one lesson per week, working 3 days per week, and with as much great information as there is in each lesson, this was a good pace for us. We’d start on Monday by reading the chapters for the week’s lesson from the textbook. Most of the lessons covered 3 chapters, so that was perfect – we each read one aloud. After doing the reading, we went over the vocabulary and answered half of the comprehension questions from the workbook.

On Wednesday, we’d finish the comprehension questions. I liked taking a break between the reading and the questions because this helped to assure that the boys were retaining what we read. If we’d answered all of the questions within moments of doing the reading, it would be easy to forget what they’d read quickly.

On Fridays, we did the enrichment section of the workbook. This was sometimes short, sometimes a bit longer, and includes activities such as finding places on the map (related to the reading done), adding a date or dates to the timeline (I had each boy do their own using some of Will’s comic strip-sized art paper), and a writing assignment. The writing assignments were quite interesting, and I’m pretty sure the boys enjoyed them too. An example of one that they seemed to especially enjoy is (and this is not an exact quote): You were a founder of the colony of Roanoke. After some time away, you’ve come back and discovered the entire civilization missing. Write a journal entry describing what you see and how you feel upon your return. I didn’t give the boys a certain amount of time to write; I just let them write until they were done. Some of the assignments took longer than others, but all were quite interesting.

Seahawk did the workbook because he’s more firmly in the age range for this product, which Memoria Press pegs as “middle school years.” I didn’t want Munchkin to miss out on the information, though, so he sat with us (and read a chapter a week out loud) and chipped in with answers when he knew them. He also made his own timeline and did the writing assignments.

The 200 Questions About American History Set, being a supplement, was just that for us. I looked at the workbook each week, and we answered the questions that were relevant to the section we read. We haven’t done much with the flashcards yet, but we might use them more once we’re settled in our new house.

My Opinion

I really like teaching this product. The curriculum goes perfectly with the text, and there’s enough “extra” stuff (like the writing I mentioned above) to keep it from feeling dry and boring. There are also lots of pictures in the textbook to illustrate times and concepts. Having the teacher book and the student books match so closely is really helpful in guiding your children to getting the correct answer – or even expanding their already correct answer to make it more detailed and relevant. Overall, this product is a definite winner for teaching American history thoroughly!

As mentioned previously, I’ve reviewed for Memoria Press before. Check out what I thought of their 5th Grade Literature set and the history curriculum Famous Men of Rome.

Blessings,

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Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are writing about Memoria Press this week, too. Some are reviewing the same sets that I am, and others are talking about learning Greek or teaching The Iliad and The Odyssey with their older students. Click the banner below for more information.

First Form Greek, Iliad/Odyssey and American History {Memoria Press Reviews}
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How Dad Helps in Our Homeschool

A lot of homeschool families rely on one parent (usually Mom, but not always) to do the bulk of the schooling with the kids, and ours is no exception. However, we do have one “advantage” over others in that my husband is self-employed, and works from home most of the time. This means he has the opportunity to be more involved than he might otherwise be if he worked a traditional job. Here are some of the ways Will helps us out in this adventure we call homeschooling.

He takes the little boys out during school hours.

This might not seem like a way he’s helping with our homeschool, but it totally is. While Small Fry is nearing school age, and therefore isn’t usually too much of a distraction, Dragonfly (at only 16 months old) definitely causes problems sometimes. Sending him away with Dad for a few hours in the mornings assures that I can help the older boys with some of the complicated things that they need help with. While Will doesn’t do this every day, I always appreciate it when he does have the time to make it happen.

He’s really interested in history…

…and he shares this passion with the boys. My husband absolutely loves reading old books and learning about bygone eras. His current favorite is the French Revolution, and they’ve been doing a lot of studying together about this time period. Together, they’ve been reading Les Miserables, watching the film version of the opera in spurts, and learning everything they can about Napoleon. This included watching a 4-part documentary that they found on YouTube. Past units they’ve worked on together include WWII and the US Civil War.

dad and boys bigger

He’s teaching them the “family business.”

Our family business is pretty non-traditional. My husband works in publishing both as an author/illustrator and as a graphic designer creating books for other self-published authors. He also puts out his own newspaper with content that he creates himself, including selling the ad space. On some of these outings (to deliver the papers or sell ads, mostly), he’ll take one of the boys and teach him what needs to be done and how to do it. Learning by example is a great way to understand things.

On the other side of things, he’s passed his love of drawing on to the children. They are all most comfortable with a pencil or crayon in their hand. This is definitely something they get from their dad. Sometimes we all work together to write the jokes for his comic strip, and this too is valuable life experience for the boys.

He encourages me when I’m feeling down.

This is another thing that might not seem like it really is related to our homeschool experience, but it’s definitely a helpful thing when things aren’t going perfectly. Knowing that my life partner is supportive of this endeavor we’re on is vitally important in our success. He’s a constant reminder that what we’re doing the right thing, even if it sometimes feels like we’re floundering.

He helps come up with big projects for the boys.

Because our two older boys are getting to the point where they need to learn to be self-starters, I often assign them bigger projects to help teach them time management. This is always in addition to whatever regular schoolwork we’re doing at the time. Sometimes I’m not very creative in coming up with what those projects should be, so Will is always helpful in coming up with ideas.

He’s a good disciplinarian.

I tend to be kind of a pushover sometimes, but not my husband. He can definitely be playful, but he takes his job as Dad very seriously. He knows that we’re not just raising “our kids,” but rather “someone else’s future husband.” We want our boys to be good husbands one day, and having a firm upbringing is part of this. Having such a strong leader in our family is a real blessing for both me and our boys.

These are just a few of the ways my husband helps out in our homeschool and our home lives. He’s a fabulous person to be married to, and I’m grateful for him every day.

How does your husband help you in your homeschooling journey? I’d love to hear your experiences, so leave me a comment below.

Blessings,

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This post is part of the roundup “Dad in Our Homeschool” through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Dad in Our Homeschool

Kids in the Kitchen: Mixing a Marinade

kids in the kitchen

When my older two boys were little, I wasn’t very good at involving them in the cooking. It’s something that I knew I should have been doing, but it was just never something that “fit in” to what I was doing at the time.

Now that I have a “second chance,” so to speak, with the little boys, they get involved a lot more. Especially Small Fry (4). He absolutely love helping out in the kitchen. And if it’s a meal where there’s not much for him to be helpful with, he at least likes to stand on a chair and watch, so he’s still learning. I understand now that I really missed out in my impatience as a younger parent; having kids help in the kitchen is a lot more fun than it is work. I never expected it to be such a blessing, and I know that I’m giving him something that will last a lifetime. With the older boys, it will be an uphill battle from now on teaching them to cook. It’s something that will have to happen, because I’m sure they’ll be living on their own at some point and they’ll need that skill.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy having my littles in the kitchen with me. Even if just doing tiny tasks like dumping in the premeasured ingredients or mixing up a marinade.

How do you get your kids to help in the kitchen?

Blessings,

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Elementary Science: Growing an Avocado

avocado pit growth

Munchkin is finishing up his science class for the year this month (he’s been working double time to be able to complete the program before our subscription runs out, which is why he’ll be done in March instead of June). One of the things he was instructed to do to learn about plants and roots was to grow an avocado pit. I’m sure this has been done in countless homeschool (and maybe non-homeschool) homes over the years, but it was our first time doing it. Luckily for him, we actually eat avocados now! Until about two years ago, we didn’t eat them. Ever since I tried one a couple of years ago, though, I realized how delicious they were, and now we eat them regularly. (By “we” I mean everyone but Will and Seahawk. They just won’t be convinced.) So having a pit handy to grow was pretty painless.

It took a very long time – long enough that he’s out of that unit now and onto other studies within the course – but it was neat to see the pit grow anyway. Our only regret with this experiment is that we don’t live in a climate warm enough to support an avocado tree!

Blessings,

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Learning Basic Language Arts with Eclectic Foundations (Review)

Eclectic Foundations Review

I’m at an interesting place in my homeschooling career. My two older boys are in 7th and 5th grades – one in middle school, and one nearly there. And then I have the two little boys. Small Fry is 4 years old (nearing readiness for Kindergarten), and Dragonfly is just 15 months old. Because of the age gap between Munchkin (5th grade, 10 years old) and Small Fry (age 4), it’s easy to automatically dismiss review opportunities that fall between them as “not a fit based on my kids’ ages.” I almost did just that with Eclectic Foundations. I saw the information provided by the leadership team at the Homeschool Review Crew and immediately thought that my boys were beyond needing something like this. And the older two are.

But then I looked at the website and got to thinking, “You know, Small Fry is wanting to learn to read. Maybe a lower level would work for him.” Once I allowed myself to think about him instead of just the older boys, I realized that Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A would probably be a good fit for us. And I was absolutely right.

There are 4 components to this program, and you need them all to run it successfully: the Student Workbook ($24), the Teacher Manual ($12), the Appendix booklet and word cards ($20) and the McGuffey reader (public domain book that’s available in numerous places for cheap or free). You can also purchase a PDF download of the entire program for $30. The thing you can’t do is try to get away with skipping any of the components. Some programs allow you to suffice with just the student book or just the teacher book, but this is not one of those.

Filling in the letter M/m with Play-Doh.

Filling in the letter M/m with Play-Doh.

Each of the books is a softcover, 8.5×11, spiral bound book. The Student Workbook is consumable, so you’d need one for each student, but all the other components are reusable in the event you have multiple students (whether at the same time or one a few years after the other). The Appendix workbook was something unique to this program – I’d never seen anything quite like it with any other language arts curriculum. It is a workbook very similar to the others (8.5×11, softcover, spiral bound), but every single page in it is laminated. These pages are used for some of the games in the program, and are designed to be written on in dry erase or Vis a Vis markers (when playing Tic Tac Toe or filling in letters around vowels, which happens in later lessons), or in some cases, just to have your child point to the correct image (during the “Starts with” and “Beginning, Middle, End” games – details on all of this later). We’re not at a point yet where we’ve needed the word cards (they start at about lesson 65, and we’re only at 21), so I can’t really tell how they work yet.

Because Small Fry is just starting to show interest in learning letters and reading, we started at the very beginning – Level A (there are A, B, and C), lesson 1. So far, each week follows the same routine, which is nice. It allows him to anticipate what’s coming next.

Thanks to its "open and go" style, even older siblings are able to help teach this curriculum.

Thanks to its “open and go” style, even older siblings are able to help teach this curriculum.

This is an open-and-go curriculum, which is very nice. There’s virtually no preparation required. It’s based on a 4-day school week, and each lesson takes under 20 minutes – perfect for new learners. Each day starts with a recitation of the alphabet, and then moves on to the student workbook pages. The workbook has a wide variety of activities to keep young minds interested. On the first day, they get to fill in the “letter of the week” with Play-Doh (or pipe cleaners for a mess-free experience). This day we also play the “Starts With” game. For this, there’s a list of words that you read to your child (in the teacher’s manual), and the child determines whether or not the word starts with the letter/sound of the week. The appendix book is used for this – there’s a page with smiley faces on it, and a happy face means the word does start with the sound, and sad face means it does not. The student points to the correct image.

Eclectic Foundations review | Ladybug Daydreams

A portion of one of the letter mazes. Click to enlarge.

Other days have other activities, including but not limited to determining whether the sound of the week is found at the beginning, middle, or end of a list of words, finding all occurrences of the letter in a faith-based poem, writing the letter and simple words that include it, and reading simple words using sounds that have already been introduced (so far, we’re up to “man,” “Nan,” “fan,” “ran,” and “Sam”). And then there’s Small Fry’s absolute favorite activity: the maze. This happens on the third lesson of the week (depending on our week, usually Wednesday or Thursday). The maze looks a lot like a word search, but instead of finding words, students are instructed to follow the path of whatever the letter of the week is, from a smiley face at the top to a smiley face at the bottom.

Using this curriculum was a breeze. The teacher manual spells everything out for you, and the student book is full of fun activities. We’ve been using it for just over a month now, and Small Fry (who’s not even 5 years old yet) is already able to read simple words. And he’s gone from being able to copy his name down to writing it all by himself. On top of being effective, it’s really fun. It’s not at all stressful, and my son absolutely adores having his own school to do. Every morning when he wakes up, he asks if he can “do school today.” And the days that have the maze are even better!

Needless to say, we absolutely love this curriculum. I’m so glad I looked closely at the website before just assuming it wouldn’t be a good fit for us, because it absolutely is the perfect fit for my precocious 4-year-old!

Blessings,

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Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing all three levels of Eclectic Foundations this week. Click the banner below for more information!

Language Arts {Eclectic Foundations Reviews}
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