Learning Multiplication through Stories (Times Tales Review)

There are about as many tricks for learning the times tables as there are students learning them. The one thing they all agree upon is the notion that children simply must learn them. There’s really no way around it.

We’ve tried a plethora of different methods for teaching the boys (Seahawk and Munchkin) the times tables. While they’ve done okay at learning them (they can almost always figure out the answer, but they definitely don’t have them memorized), nothing has really made them stick. Until now. Thanks to The Trigger Memory Co. and their Times Tales videos, my kids are finally – finally – remembering the multiplication tables.

I received these videos as downloadable files (currently on sale for $19.95; regular price $21.95), and printable worksheets were included. My laptop doesn’t have a whole lot of memory, and it’s not really conducive for us to use Will’s computer for school stuff, so I had to come up with a way that would work for us to use a downloadable product. Here’s what I ended up doing: First, I downloaded the videos and worksheets to Will’s computer. Then I uploaded them to my Dropbox account. (I did not share them with anyone but myself. This method was simply a workaround for a low-memory computer that couldn’t handle the downloaded videos.) This allowed us to stream the videos, which was perfect for us. The download files are quite large (two 30-minute videos, after all), so if you don’t have access to good (read: huge – preferably unlimited – bandwidth/upload/download speeds . . . I’m not entirely sure what the right terminology here is) internet, then the downloads probably aren’t the best choice for you. Never fear, though; Times Tales is also available in DVD format for $24.95. The downloads and DVDs are identical in content.

The way it works is simple. There are two videos (one for the “lower tables” of 6-9 and one for the “upper tables” of 6-9). Each number (starting with 3) is assigned a character, and there are stories created using the characters that tell a multiplication problem. For example, the character for the number 4 is a chair, and 7 is a bubble-letter 7 with a face whose name is “Mrs. Week” (because a week has seven days). The story for this problem is

Mrs. Week sits on a chair to go fishing. She catches 2 boots and 8 trout.

times tales collageBecause Mrs. Week represents the number 7 and the chair represents 4, the problem is 7×4. The 2 boots are the tens column of the answer, and the 8 trout are the ones. Therefore, 7×4=28. Students are instructed that the order of the stories is important (because 7 times 4 does not equal 82). Each story is accompanied by simple animation to help bring them to life.

Each video is approximately half an hour, so it’s not a hardship to spend the time watching. The idea is that you watch the first video, work through the stories and worksheets and games to encourage memorization, and then one week later – just one week – move on to the second video. By the end of two weeks, students know all of the upper times tables.

In addition to the videos, there are printable worksheets to go along with the curriculum. Included in the worksheets are a crossword puzzle (for story recollection), several pages of flashcards, a practice test (using the characters), a final test (using the “regular” numbers), and cut-out-and-fold dice for a practice game. The dice game was one of the highlights of this product for us. We all had fun rolling the dice and telling the stories to each other.

My favorite part of this program? It actually works! The kids learned the stories (quickly), and were able to translate them into multiplication problems. And they’re remembering the problems/stories/answers. What a blessing this has been! And guess what? Small Fry (3 years old) has memorized the stories, too. He doesn’t quite understand what they mean, but he knows them. I’m pretty sure this means that when he’s old enough to learn the times tables himself, it will be a breeze – not the hardship it’s been for the older two.

Times Tales has been a welcome addition to our homeschool. If you have students just learning (or struggling) with their multiplication tables, this is definitely a product you should try. They even have a 20-minute video on their YouTube channel that shows you their method using just the 9s. If you’re at all skeptical, check that out first. When your child masters the 9s in just a few minutes, you’ll be a convert too!

Blessings,

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This review is brought to you by the Schoolhouse Review Crew. There are loads of other families reviewing Times Tales this week, so don’t just take my word for how great this product is – read other reviews, too.

 

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Studying Literature the Classical Way (Memoria Press Review)

Memoria Press review

We’re no stranger to literature studies in our home. We love them! And we especially love trying out the large variety of studies out there by all the different companies. So it goes without saying that when Memoria Press was offering literature studies to the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I begged to be chosen for the review! We were offered choices from second grade through ninth grade, but I ultimately chose the Fifth Grade Literature Guide Set, primarily for Munchkin (who is technically in 4th grade, but excels in language-based subjects). The other benefit the Fifth Grade set had was that one of the books it covers is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This was a benefit because Munchkin asked for (and received) a Chronicles of Narnia box set (a single-volume, actually) for Christmas, so we didn’t even need to hit the library to do this study.

Each of the literature studies comes with a student workbook and a teacher answer book. These are available together or separately, and the novels you need to complete the study are also available directly from Memoria Press if you need them. The workbooks are a nice quality softcover with a gloss cover, and there’s one spread in the workbook for each chapter of the novel.

We started the very day our package arrived – we were that excited to dive in! The first lesson was all about the author. The Lion study guide began with a short biography of the author as well as a bit of information about the specific novel being studied right in the workbook. On the opposite page is a list of comprehension questions about the passage. Then the real fun begins – reading the novel and working through the study!

Memoria Press suggests that you read each chapter (or section of a chapter) and then do the workbook pages for that section. So each day, Munchkin and I would read a chapter together (he didn’t need my help to read it, but it’s a nice way to spend a few minutes together) and then he would work through the questions. There are some straight comprehension questions and some “digging deeper” type questions (Which biblical character do you think Peter represents? for example). It was a nice balance between the two types. In addition to questions, there are other types of activities for students to do – drawing pictures based on the text or copy work, for example. I think my favorite part of the study is that it requires students to write their answers in complete sentences; my children are traditionally the kings of the short answer. This was a really good exercise in answering questions properly for Munchkin.

The teacher’s manual follows the student book exactly. The pages look identical, except with answers typed into the blanks. Where the student book ends, though, the teacher book continues; this is where you’ll find the (reproducible) quizzes and the final test that I touched on before. I really like the inclusion of tests. I know a lot of homeschool parents shy away from these types of measurements, but I find it really helpful to gauge how well my children are doing in a particular subject. The tests include several sections, including multiple choice, short answer, and essay. There’s a grading rubric right in the teacher manual, which makes assigning points (and *gasp* grades) easy.

Some of the guides have really neat hands-on activities, like recipes. In Lion, it was for Turkish Delight. I really wanted us to be able to make it, but I just couldn’t find all of the ingredients (specifically the rose water, which apparently is the most important ingredient in Turkish Delight according to my online research).

Lassie gives us a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding, which is a favorite of our family and one we haven’t had in ages. (If you’re unfamiliar with Yorkshire Pudding, it’s a traditional English side dish that more resembles bread than pudding.) The kids will be thrilled when Munchkin gets to that part of the book and we get to enjoy that treat again! In addition to the recipe, the Lassie study guide includes a comprehensive appendix of things that the student will find helpful while working through the book (a biography of the author, maps of the locations in the book, information about the industrial revolution, poetry, and much, much more).

Heidi has a lot more interesting kinds of written activities, such as making a to-do list for the main character, writing a letter, and copywork of poetry. It varies quite a bit from the straight question-and-answer pages that Lion had, which will make it more interesting for Munchkin.

I can tell based on the literature selections that 5th grade is the year Memoria Press expects students to study Europe; all three of the books are set there (LWW in England, Lassie in Scotland, and Heidi in Switzerland).

We were incredibly blessed to have received the full grade set of literature studies. Extra special thanks to Memoria Press for this gift, even though they knew the review period would only provide time for working on one of the titles. 

While Memoria Press is known for providing a “classical education,” you don’t have to subscribe to a classical philosophy to use these study guides. In fact, I’m not even 100% sure what that means, and we really enjoyed using this guide. I can definitely see myself working these into our school budget moving forward. (And when Small Fry and Dragonfly are older, we’ll just need new student books!) What a gem we found with this product.

Blessings,

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Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are blogging about a wide age range of Memoria Press literature guides this week. Make sure to click through to the Crew blog to find more reviews, especially if you’re interested in a grade level I haven’t discussed today.

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Essentially English (Logic of English Review)

I’ve always heard that English is the hardest language for people to learn because it’s the least logical. Logic of English has made its mission to dispel that myth by finding and explaining the way the language works – and more specifically why it works the way it does. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing their Essentials 2nd Edition curriculum with the boys over the past several weeks, and I’m excited to tell you all about it today.

There is so much involved with this curriculum, but it all works so easily (for the teacher) and in perfect harmony that it was a true pleasure to implement this into our school day. When you get your package, there will be a lot of things in there (it was a heavy box!): textbook, two workbooks, five packs of flashcards, two packs of game cards, and a pack of game tiles. I’ll go over these items one at a time in the coming paragraphs.

The Elements

Logic of English TextbookThe main component is the textbook, which acts primarily as the teacher’s manual. It’s a very heavy, hardcover book with over 600 pages. The first hundred or so pages is instructions for the teacher, explaining how to teach the course. Then comes the placement test so you know which level to use with which student (there are 3 levels, and all three levels can be taught using the same book). After that are “pre-lessons,” to be used in case your student needs to learn very specific skills before starting lesson 1. The bulk of the textbook is the lessons themselves.

The lessons are very teacher-friendly. The textbook scripts out exactly what you need to say during the lesson, and there’s even a section at the beginning of each one telling you which of the supplemental materials (workbook, spelling journal, and which specific deck(s) of flashcards) you’ll need for that lesson. There are 15 lessons, each split up into 5 sections, which is perfect for a school week (even us, since we recently switched back to a 5-day week to make up for all the extra time off we took for the baby’s birth last November). The lessons are very streamlined and rarely took us more than about half an hour. What I loved most about this curriculum is that it’s mostly “open and go.” It takes a bit of time to go over it all when you first get the book to learn the ropes (remember that the first hundred pages are all teacher training). But once you understand what you’re doing, all you have to do is gather the appropriate student supplies and read the script. Easy.

Logic of English workbook coverThe next component is the student workbook. This is a softcover book with over 300 pages that is designed to be consumed by one student. How your student performs on the placement test will determine which level you start them at, but all three levels are included in both the textbook and the student workbook. There are a variety of different types of activities, and because all three levels are included in each book, you could presumably use the same text and workbook for three years. The lessons would be similar from year to year doing it this way, but there would still be some building on the previous year’s learning.

Logic of English Spelling JournalThe Spelling Journal is like a dictionary that students create themselves using Logic of English phonograms. The book is divided up using the different letter combinations, with letters creating the same sound on the same page (c, k, and ck, for example). It shows each way of making the sound at the top of the page, and underneath is the rule for when to use that form of the sound and several blank lines. Students are instructed to use the guidelines they learned during the previous lesson and put several words in the correct column.

The series of flashcards are really helpful. The five decks include: Basic Phonograms, Grammar, Spelling Rules, Advanced Phonograms, and Morphemes. We primarily used the Basic Phonograms and Spelling Rules decks, with the others making only occasional appearances.

Logic of English flashcardsThe textbook will tell you which flashcards you need and when to use them. The cards are clearly labeled so it’s incredibly easy to find the one (or more) you need for a particular lesson, especially if you put them back in order (ABC or numerical) when you’re done, which I did.

The flashcards are many, so you’ll need an organized way to keep track of them all. I rubber-banded each deck together, and then stored them in a 10×5 crocheted basket that I made especially for the purpose of storing these cards.

In addition to the flashcards, there are two decks of Phonogram game cards, one set in “manuscript” and one set in “book face” (just two different fonts). These cards are used frequently for a variety of activities and games. Their use was probably the highlight of the program for both of my sons.

Finally, there’s a set of Phonogram game tiles. We haven’t come across a lesson that uses these yet, so I can’t really tell you much about them except that they exist and are much thicker than the regular flashcards (think of the spinner board from a children’s game). I have these stored in a ziploc baggie in our flashcard basket.

Our Use and Opinion of the Program

The package arrived late in the week, so I took the weekend to go over the teacher training portion and we started in right away Monday morning the following week. We followed the lessons pretty much exactly; because it’s all laid out so beautifully for you, there’s really no reason not to. Since we had just one workbook and Spelling journal, I assigned those to Seahawk since he’s not quite as strong in the language arts as Munchkin. It was enough for Munchkin to do the work orally.

I don’t think the kids necessarily loved the program – it is pretty intense – but it’s so easy to work through that they were willing to do so. Logic of English does something that no other company we’ve come across before has done – explained the whys of English in a way that makes sense. For Logic of English, it’s not enough to teach students what the rules are. That’s not to say that knowing the rules is a bad thing, but understanding and implementation jump to a whole new level when students know precisely when and why to use a specific group of letters to make the sound they need. It’s not enough to know that “sometimes C says /k/ ans sometimes C says /s/.” Logic of English tells us when C makes each of its sounds. This has been a vital difference for the boys, especially Seahawk. It’s even been interesting for me to learn, though I’m naturally a good speller (as is Munchkin). It’s good to know why we use which letter(s) when spelling; this knowledge helps the non-natural spellers among us to determine on their own how to spell a word correctly.

Long story short: we (I, at least) loved using this program. I saw a marked improvement in my kids’ understanding of their first language. The ease in which I could teach it was a definite plus for our family. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to use.

Blessings,

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Besides Essentials, Logic of English offers a series of English Foundations for younger students. Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are talking about the different levels this week. Click over to the Crew blog to find out more!

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Around the World ~ the social studies (Virtual Curriculum Fair)

This is the third week in the Virtual Curriculum Fair. I didn’t post last week, but that’s okay – last week was math, and we just use circa-2002 math textbooks. It’s not exciting, but it’s very effective.

This week is all about the social studies – geography, history, world cultures, and even life sciences like biology. I’m going to focus primarily on geography and history.

We’ve used a few different geography studies in our school, and I think our favorite was probably Drawing Around the World from Brookdale House. They have a US series and a Europe series; we used the Europe series. It’s a curriculum that focuses on teaching kids to learn the locations and shapes of the countries (or states, in the case of the US study) by having them draw the country onto a map each day. It was quite effective – and fun, for our art-loving family.

For history, we’re currently working through a World War II unit study. It’s based on the Who’s Who in WWII? curriculum found on SchoolhouseTeachers.com, which focuses primarily on the leaders of the different countries during the war. In conjunction with this, they’ll each be doing a big research project and presentation on one of the major leaders from the time period (they choose their leader later this week, so more on that project later), and Will is watching Band of Brothers with them.

Another history product we enjoyed in the past include Famous Men of Rome from Memoria Press for history. This study takes  you through the major leaders of ancient Rome with a textbook and workbook.

Moving Beyond the Page are positively amazing unit studies that cover reading/literature along with a corresponding science or social studies supplement. They’re expensive, but totally worth it if you can afford them. If it weren’t for the price tag, they would hands-down be our core curriculum.

Apologia ReviewFor worldview curriculum, we absolutely adore What on Earth Can I Do? by Apologia Educational Ministries. This comes with a hefty textbook, coloring book for younger children, junior notebook, and regular notebook. Also from Apologia, the iWitness book series is a really good place to go to help instill a Christian worldview in your children. For a more fun approach to the importance of missions, the Brinkman Adventures is a wonderful audio drama series. We reviewed seasons Two and Three of those.

While not quite as expanse as our language arts curriculum (that’s something I need to work on – subjects other than English, grammar, and math), our social studies products are just as good.

What do you use for social studies in your homeschool?

Blessings,

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Writing a Book with Here to Help Learning (Review)

My boys love to write. They have so many creative ideas in their heads, and every so often they get the hankering to write a book. Not a 200-word picture book; no, they always want to write a novel. The problem is that they never have the “stick-to-it-tive-ness” to complete the novels they start. So when I heard about Here to Help Learning and their novel-writing class (formally called Flight 3 Essay Writing), I knew this would be something the boys and I would want to review.

Here to Help Learning Review

What It Is and How It Works

Here to Help Learning combines video instruction with practical use. There are six levels of instruction, from the basics of learning to turn thoughts into paragraph form all the way up to where we worked, writing a six-chapter novel. The program is designed to be used twice a week. The first day of each week, there’s a video that runs about 20 minutes over the course of five sections. I quickly discovered that the first section is the same each time, so after the first two weeks we started skipping that part. (Each section is its own video ranging from about 2 to about 15 minutes, so this was easy to do. It was the 2-minute opening video that we started skipping.)

The titles of the videos are the same from lesson to lesson, and they’re all based on airplane terminology: Pre-Flight Checklist (this is the one we omitted from later lessons), Flight Check-in, Take Off, Full Throttle, and Flying Solo. The meat of the lesson is found in Take Off and Full Throttle, so that’s where I’ll spend the majority of my focus for this review.

Flight Check-in is the part of the lesson where students turn in the previous lesson’s Flying Solo work (what would be “homework” for a public school student, but is just independent study work for homeschoolers) and separate the new week’s worksheets into their appropriate tabs in the binder. Flight Check-in is also when the group is instructed to recite the program’s Bible verse focus, Colossians 3:17 (Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him). I love this verse, and I love that the program includes its recitation each week. It’s a fabulous reminder that our skills come from God and that we should praise him through our work and talents.

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Working on a writing warm-up

Take Off includes my boys’ favorite part of each lesson: the writing warm-up. There is a picture prompt that is different with each lesson as well as a literary technique. Students are instructed to use the prompt as the basis for a short story (they’re given 7 minutes to write and 3 more minutes to finesse after that) which includes the “literary technique of the day.” This is one of the “Top 10 Literary Techniques,” and it’s explained/described during the video – including examples – so the students can understand how to use it an include it in their story. These include metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, and others.

After the writing warm-up is completed, you move on to the longest of the five videos: Full Throttle. In Flight 3 Essay Writing, this includes the Meet the Authors segment of the program, where Mrs. Mora (the HTHL teacher) interviews successful Christian authors. We’ve just completed lesson 8, and so far it has been different portions of the same interview with Bill Myers, author of over 100 books and creator of the animated series McGee and Me. The interview covers a broad variety of topics, but they all come back to what it’s like to be a writer for a living and letting God have control over your life (another great reminder for Christians).

Once the interview video is over, there’s time to go over the “big assignment” of the week, all of which culminate in the student writing their novel. So far, at the end of lesson 8, we’ve done a lot of brainstorming and list-making. My kids are getting antsy to actually start writing their novels!

How We Used It

There are worksheets to print out each week, so upon getting access to the site I sent the first three weeks’ worth over to the print shop. There was quite a bit of printing in the beginning (due to doing several weeks’ worth plus the 36-page Language Helps workbook) so I had it done on Saturday, when copies are half price.

Armed with our worksheets, we watched the video that very first day (I’d watched it in advance so I would know what to expect) and from there, it was easy to implement everything. We quickly found our groove. For the first three weeks, we followed the course of study exactly: the video and worksheets one day, the homework another day, working only two days per week.

After that, though, the boys were getting anxious that they hadn’t really begun their novels yet. (They don’t realize that they are writing their novel. Knowing about their characters and what the main conflict will be is going to help them not to lose their mojo later on in the process.) So, they requested that we up the speed. We still do one section per day, but now we do it four days a week instead of two, thereby getting through two lessons per week. This speed is working really well for us. When we get to the “write chapter one” lesson of the program, I imagine we’ll have to slow down again because I’m pretty sure they won’t be able to write two chapters per week.

Final Thoughts

If you’re not sure whether the program is right for you, they have a free one-day trial where you get full access to everything the site has to offer with no credit card required. If you want something a little more, there’s a 14-day trial (with a credit card) and the price is $6.99 per month after that. This fee covers your entire family – no limits – and includes all the videos and worksheets you need to run the course.

We’ve really been enjoying working with Here to Help Learning. The lessons are relevant and it’s nice that we’ve found something that teaches the boys how to write (a very important skill in our opinion) that isn’t sluggish and boring. Here to Help Learning is a program we heartily recommend.

I’m one of 100 reviewers talking about Here to Help Learning this week. Make sure to hit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to find more reviews about the program!

Blessings,

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Our Language-Heavy Homeschool

The next several weeks mark the annual “Virtual Curriculum Fair” for homeschool bloggers all over the web. This year, it’s being hosted by Laura at Day by Day in Our World, Chareen at Every Bed of Roses, and Kristen at Sunrise to Sunset. This week, the theme is Playing with Words: The Language Arts, and that category covers everything English (spelling, grammar, writing, and more), as well as foreign languages.

Language and writing is super important to our family, so it’s no surprise that Language Arts make up a huge percentage of our homeschool day – and they always have. We don’t neglect the other subjects, but the language stuff is just so diverse that it makes sense that it would take up more time and energy. Here’s how we do it, and what curriculum we’re using to accomplish our goals (as well as some that we love but are the back burner right now for one reason or another).

Links go to my past reviews of mentioned products. From those review posts, you can find links to the actual products from the vendor. Special thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew for providing these review products for our family.

Grammar

iew grammarMy absolute favorite grammar program is Fix It! grammar by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It’s a gentle introduction to grammar concepts for children as young as 3rd grade. Children are given one sentence of a longer story per day with the task of identifying words and concepts (nouns, adjectives, verbs, main and dependent clauses, etc) and making corrections (adding proper paragraph breaks, capital letters, ending marks, quotation marks, and more). Then the student copies the sentence correctly into a notebook. There is also vocabulary included in the curriculum.

Spelling

We’ve tried lots of different spelling products over the years: spelling lists, Spelling You See (from Demme Learning), The Phonetic Zoo (from IEW), and currently Logic of English Essentials (which is more than just spelling, but more on that later). We’ve had varying degrees of success with each of these, but our favorites are The Phonetic Zoo and Essentials.

Literature

We adore literature studies in our homeschool! We always read these books together out loud and then do the corresponding studying of the book. We’ve used two Progeny Press studies in the past (Little House in the Big Woods and Tuck Everlasting) as well as worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets (for Charlotte’s Web). Currently, we’re working through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with a study guide from Memoria Press (there will be a review on that in a few weeks).

Writing

iew student resourcesThis is another subject where we’ve tried a few different things. We used My First Reports from Hewitt Homeschooling, which were a great introduction to writing a couple of years ago. They give students a series of questions on a topic to research and answer, finally compiling everything into a single report. We were also blessed with a copy of Student Writing Intensive from IEW, along with the teacher training that goes along with it, Teaching Writing with Structure and Style. This is a great program but ended up being a bit “much” for us. Currently, we’re using Here to Help Learning, a wonderful video-based writing program that we’re all absolutely loving. With the guidance of Mrs. Mora, the boys are each writing their own six-chapter novel! There will be a review on this program coming up soon, too.

Reading

I’m pretty flexible with my kids when it comes to reading (once they’ve mastered the art, anyway). They have to read something each day. What they read is entirely up to them. Right now, Munchkin (9) is working his way through the Harry Potter series. He’s about halfway through Order of the Phoenix right now. Seahawk (12) is reading The Lord of the Rings (we have a single volume with all three novels), at Will’s urging. Both of these books have really long chapters, so I don’t require a full chapter to be read each day like I used to; now it’s a minimum of 20 minutes.

Foreign Language

We’re plugging away at Rosetta Stone French here. We picked this up on a great sale about a year ago (5 payments of $37 instead of the normal price of $500), and it’s been a real game changer in our learning of the French language.

So that’s what we’re studying in the realm of Language Arts! Make sure to check out one of the other blogs (there’s a linkup on the blogs I linked to up above) for even more ideas!

Blessings,

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Homeschooling Essentials: Flexibility (Throwback)

Homeschooling Essentials Flexibility

Two years ago, I did a series on what I thought were the essentials of homeschooling. I thought it might be interesting today to take a look back at one of those posts and see what, if anything I’d change. Here’s the original article:

You have to be flexible to be a homeschooling parent. Things don’t always go exactly the way you planned, and that has to be okay. There are unexpected sick days (for the kids and you), last minute errands (or days of errands…), and burnout days. You have to be flexible enough to let things go and say, “There’s always tomorrow.”

Earlier this month, we had half a week of the need to be flexible. Right around New Year’s, Small Fry was sick. I think it was New Year’s Eve, actually. He was just feeling puny and was not himself, and finally, about an hour before bedtime, it became clear why when he threw up all over me (sorry if that’s TMI…). That was on a Wednesday. Thursday was normal, and on Friday, Munchkin was sick with the same thing. He spent the day in bed, but was fine the next morning. But that morning, Seahawk was under the weather and slept most of the day. Sunday of that week, the day before I’d planned to start school up again, was fine. We went for a family bike ride and all was well. During the night, though, I came down with the illness. Here’s where the need to be flexible really struck. Even though it was Monday, and the day we were “supposed” to get back to school, there was no school happening with Mom stuck in bed. Let me also say, I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who’s self-employed and works (mostly) from home. He was able to take that Monday (which happened to be our anniversary) off to take care of the kids so I could sleep and recover. Enter Flexibility Day 2: Tuesday. We’d missed school on Monday, and because we’d also missed our anniversary, we took Tuesday off from school, too. The kids spent the morning with Grandma so hubby and I could have our anniversary date. (We went to see Saving Mr. Banks. Have you seen it? Very good. I don’t even care for Mary Poppins and I liked Mr. Banks. In fact, hubby’s been reading the book Mary Poppins aloud to the kids this weekend. Then we’re going to watch the movie, and on Tuesday, which is discount day at the cinema, we’re all going to see Saving Mr. Banks again.) Anyway. So we started school on Wednesday the 8th instead of Monday the 6th. And did anyone die? Nope. Because we understand the importance of being flexible.

Now, this is not to say that you can call yourself a homeschooler and just never “do” school with your kids. There has to be a balance, and I think it’s better to err on the side of more school days than less. The education has to happen, whether you’re at home or sending your kids to school. But you have to accept that things aren’t always perfect.

Outside of the time-sensitive portions of the post, I think what I wrote are still applicable to every day life for homeschoolers. In order to keep your sanity, you have to have some flexibility. We need to do what works for our particular families, within the confines of state law for where we live. If you live in a state with attendance laws, make sure you’re falling within those guidelines. Are your laws more along the lines of “show us what you did”? Then do that. So long as you’re not risking getting into trouble with the local government, there’s really no right or wrong way to homeschool your children.

Take us, for example. We don’t have attendance laws, so I don’t stress (too much) over which days we do school. About a year ago, in fact, we switched from a 5-day-a-week schedule to a 4-day-a-week one. It’s better for all of us this way. It allows us a day for errands (doctor’s appointments, haircuts, banking, grocery shopping…) and also gives me an extra day each week for prep work. This extra day for preparation means I don’t have to do that work on Sundays, which gives our family a better Sabbath experience each week.

Or when I had a baby two months ago. I knew going in that we’d have to have some flexibility around that time, so we adjusted the schedule to be able to take things easy during the final month of my pregnancy and off for several weeks after the baby was born. By not stressing over keeping a strict schedule, I was able to focus on recovering from my c-section and bonding with the baby rather than stressing over what was (or wasn’t) getting done, school-wise. I think that probably helped me to be able to recover better and faster.

Regardless of what it looks like for your particular family, flexibility – within certain parameters – is a must.

Blessings,

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This post is linked up with Throwback Thursday, Blog Style at Tots and Me… Growing Up Together.

 

Tots and Me

A Huge Variety of Homeschool Lessons in One Place – SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, one of the biggest blessings I receive is a free Yearly Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Crew reviewers are invited to continue their membership for free as long as they remain on the Crew, and I’ve opted to keep mine up each year (I’m beginning my third year as a member). I don’t always remember to utilize this amazing resource, but I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-exploring it, and I was reminded of just how awesome it is. We’ve already started using some of these lessons (this is our first week back after baby and Christmas), and I definitely see us using more of them in the near future.

The two classes that we’ve just begun are Keyboarding by David Kimball and Dinosaurs and the Bible by Patrick Nurre.

keyboardingKeyboarding is a 10-lesson typing course for students of all ages. Each lesson can last as long as needed for mastery, from one day to a week or more. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in 9th grade, but times have changed since then, and it’s really not all that realistic for younger student not to learn how to type. So many things rely on the computer these days that it doesn’t make sense to keep them away from this generation of children, even for parents (like myself) who would prefer to have our students work more with “real” things like books and paper.

Each typing lesson focuses on a small portion of the keyboard, starting with the home row. It uses a combination of video (explanations that require visual), audio (oral-only explanations, instructions, and music to type to), and written (a printable student packet with letter combinations and words to type). It might be tempting  to skip the printing of the student packet, but don’t do this. This keyboarding class’s goal is to teach students to type accurately without looking at the keys or the screen.

Dinosaurs and the Bible will be our science course for the next several weeks. We dove into it this week, and it’s not so different from the science course we were using before in method – a video paired with worksheets. This may not be everyone’s favorite way of teaching science, but for us at this stage in our family it works very well. Like with most things involving worksheets, I’ve been hand copying them off of the website for the boys.

The Dinosaurs and the Bible course is currently active, which means not all of the lessons are available yet, but more are added each week and will continue to be until the entire course is complete. Once that happens, the archives will remain available on the site indefinitely. That’s one of the things I love about SchoolhouseTeachers.com – that they leave every course up once it’s there. This means that you can use the material any time, not just when  it’s new and active.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com is an amazing resource for homeschooling families. The two classes I talked about are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This website could easily provide the core curriculum for your students. There are classes in nearly every subject for all grade levels, from preschoolers to high school. There are also printable planners and other resources for parents, and the membership includes free access to Right Now Media, a faith-based video streaming company.

The fee ($12.95 per month or $139 for a full year) is per family, not per student, so it’s quite affordable. To make it an even better value, I have a special deal for you today. Sign up for a Yearly Membership during the month of January and get 50% off using the coupon code CREWFOLLOWER. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Blessings,

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What We’re Reading in January

Happy New Year!

Christmas brought a lot of new books into our home, and I’m excited to share about them over the next couple of months as we begin to read them all 🙂

Wendy (that’s me!)

Will found two books for me from some of my favorite authors, and I’m really excited to read both of them. The decision of which to read first came down to the one that felt better in my hand, especially since a lot of my reading happens while nursing Dragonfly. So this month, I’m reading At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants). It’s a period piece that takes place right at the end of World War II about a woman, her husband, and her father-in-law as they search for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.

Seahawk (6th grade)

He’s working his way through several things right now… He hasn’t finished the George Washington biography I wrote about last time I did one of these posts. He’s also reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and we got him a Star Wars special edition magazine for his “something to read” for Christmas that he’s enjoying.

Munchkin (4th grade)

Munchkin, as regular readers will know, is my reader. This kid will read anything you put in front of him. He was recently quarantined to his bedroom for 4 days while he recovered from pneumonia. He spent the first day of that quarantine sleeping. He felt better after just a day or so on the antibiotics, but because we have an infant we weren’t comfortable letting him out to risk passing the infection on to the rest of us for a few days after that. This was borderline a treat for him rather than a problem – it meant he had 3 solid days to do nothing but read and draw without his older brother giving him grief about not playing! During that half-week, he read the first three Harry Potter books in their entirety. He’s now about halfway through Goblet of Fire. His goal is to read the remainder of that series and then dive into his Christmas books. He received a single-volume Chronicles of Narnia that he’s excited to dive into, among other things. We won’t need to hit the library for him for the next 6-12 months at least!

Small Fry (3 years old)

Sometime in December, this guy decided he was really into trains. I’m not entirely sure what prompted it, but when asked what he wanted for Christmas, the answer every time was “Trains!” So we got him a beginner train set with the understanding that if he’s still interested on successive birthdays and Christmases, it would be easy to add on to. Additionally, we found on sale a book that had 6 Thomas the Tank Engine books all in one volume, so we picked that up for him. He’s loving the book, and will easily sit through 3 or more of the stories at once – assuming he can find someone to read that many to him!

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

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A Bible Study for Kids of ALL Ages (GrapeVine Studies Review)

GrapeVine Bible Study for all ages

It’s important to Will and me that our boys study their bibles. We go to church, yes, but we feel that it’s our main duty as parents to instill a fear of God into them. In this way, and only this way, will they learn to be the godly men we want them to grow into. So, even though we attend church most weeks (unless someone is sick, typically), we also make sure to study the Bible at home. (This is especially important with Small Fry because his church class is taught primarily in Spanish because he’s the only non-hispanic of his age group in our church.) While we firmly believe that the Bible itself is the most important thing, it’s also good to have other options for study under your belt, so to speak. And when those options can work for multiple age groups, all the better, especially in a family like mine with split-age children. This is where this review for GrapeVine Studies comes into play.

The past several weeks, we’ve been studying the Christmas story with Birth of Jesus: Multi-Level. This includes a teacher manual ($12.50 in print or $10 for a family license e-book) and a student book ($8 in print, $6.50 for a family license e-book, or $22.50 for a classroom license e-book) and is designed for ages 7 and up. As a special bonus, I was also blessed with the Traceable student book (same prices as the regular student book), designed for ages 3-6. See what I mean about it being perfect for my family? A study for kids 3-6 (Small Fry turned 3 this past summer) and a matching one for ages 7 and up? I was so excited when I saw this product that I requested to review it even though the due dates for the review were so close to Dragonfly’s birth. That’s how good a fit I thought it would be for our family. And I was right.

The teacher manual is a 65-page PDF e-book that covers the goals for the program (for teachers and students), the supplies needed to successfully complete it, a timeline of the events to be studied, 4 lessons, and a final review. The student book (multi-level) and the traceable book are each 49 pages and cover the same material as the teacher book, minus the teacher resources (goals and supplies). It’s a very easy program to implement. Allow me to explain how we worked it.

First, I had Will print off the traceable book for Small Fry. For the older boys, I had them work with blank paper. They were able to be more creative this way, and I think they enjoyed it a bit more than if it had been “workbook-y.” Then I referred to my computer for the teacher book. I didn’t feel it was necessary to print that off when I could just read off of my screen. Besides the printouts/paper, the only other supplies we used were a Bible to share and a pencil for each child.

A day of using this curriculum was pretty straightforward. The teacher manual shows pictures of the student manual so I could get an idea of what the kids should be drawing. Other than that, it was basically just a list of Scriptures to read. I’d read straight from our Bible the appropriate verse(s) and wait while the boys drew (or traced) an image to go along with that section. Then I’d move on to the next one. Because we were working with Small Fry on this review, too, I kept the lessons short. We did about half a lesson per day in order to keep him interested. The last thing I wanted was to overwhelm him and destroy his excitement about this study. Working at this pace, there were about four pictures per day of drawing/tracing to be done. At the end of each lesson, there’s a series of questions to ask to make sure the material was absorbed.

KIMG0032Our overall thoughts? We liked this study a lot. The boys, as I’ve mentioned before, really love to draw, so this kind of thing was right up their alley. And Small Fry was super excited to have “school” of his own to work on each day. Every single day, he would come up to me and ask, “Is it a school day, Mama? Can I do my school?” It was a real blessing to see him so excited about getting some work done. (This was better than putting him on a video to avoid distraction, in my opinion.) In a nutshell, we definitely recommend this product!

Blessings,

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Make sure to click the banner below to check out what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of GrapeVine Studies. In addition to the Birth of Jesus study, some families are reviewing a variety of Old Testament studies as well.

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