Understanding Pre-Algebra (review)

We’ve used some books from The Critical Thinking Co.™ in the past, and they’ve been big hits with my boys. I like how they teach not only things that you need to know, but also how to “think out” how to get there. For today’s review, I’ll be talking about Munchkin (age 11, coming out of 6th grade) and his use of Understanding Pre-Algebra.

The Critical Thinking Co.™
The timing on our receipt of this book was perfect as he had just finished up his 6th grade (generic) math book. Understanding Pre-Algebra is a combination textbook and workbook – everything is self contained, which has been nice. The lessons are fairly short (a couple of pages of reading) followed by practice exercises. No different from a traditional textbook except that there are lines on which to write the answers so no additional paper is necessary. Because of this format, the book is quite large – 8.5 x 11 and nearly 450 pages.

It opens with a chapter on number families. The book explains the different types of number groups used in higher level mathematics (natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, rational and irrational numbers, etc). This chapter lists 5 sections in the table of contents, but they were all simple enough concepts that we (me teaching and Munchkin working) were able to finish it in just 2 days.

pre alg 1The second chapter, Working with Integers, has been a lot more new information for him, and thus is taking us longer to get through. Because Munchkin hasn’t done a lot of work with negative numbers to date, it’s a lot for him to try to grasp at a time (he’s a literature kid, not a math kid, so it’s especially tricky for him to wrap his mind around), so we’re taking it slow. I want him to understand the concepts, not just be able to fill out the worksheet today and forget it tomorrow – which he is definitely prone to do with math. But this is just one more reason I really like this curriculum for him so far – some of the questions require more than just a mathematical answer, which helps to cement the information (and its how and why) in the child’s brain. One example of such a question is is this one from chapter 1: “Joan said that 27 cannot be divided by 2. Is she right? Explain your thinking.” Munchkin correctly answered, “Yes. 27 does not divide by 2 because 27 is odd.” That “explain your thinking” part is what will help him remember concepts from one day to the next.

pre algebra 2Even though we’re not super far into the book, I can tell that it’s going to be a fantastic fit for my son based on what we’ve done so far. The information is presented well, in an easy to understand way. The chapter titles tell me precisely what he will be learning, and it’s all important as he moves through pre-algebra to prepare for Algebra I. Some of them are things he struggled with in his previous math book (specifically volume and surface area), so I’m glad they will be repeated in this book. Some of the things (inequalities, scientific notation) are in the Algebra I book his big brother (14) is working through right now, which is how I know this book will lead beautifully into that one. All in all, I’m very glad we were chosen to have the opportunity to review this book. It’s definitely a keeper for us!

Blessings,

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Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}
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Picture of the Week: His First Self Portrait

Dragonfly drew this picture recently, and then proceeded to tell me all about how it was “Little Boy” (his name for himself as he can’t quite say his own name yet – which is a much easier word than “little boy,” but . . . kids). It’s so cute that I wanted to share it.

self portrait

Blessings,

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Sausage Etouffe (Recipe)

One of Will’s favorite past times is going to a restaurant and trying something completely new. He’ll do this in “old favorite” restaurants as well as new ones we’ve never visited before. Recently, we went to a Cajun grill, and he ordered the Crawfish Etouffe (ay-too-fay). He described it as a “spicy tomato soup with rice and seafood.” I’m not a huge seafood fan (I like many kinds of fish, but not seafood in general), so I didn’t try any. But he found himself going back again and again for this dish because it was so good. He even took the older boys once, and when they got back they raved about it too. So one night when we were at the store with no idea of what to fix for dinner, he decided to look up an etouffe recipe. It was fairly simple with easy ingredients (except the crayfish), so we decided to give it a go, with one exception: we got a kielbasa for the protein instead. It was really delicious, and I’m so glad we tried it! Today I want to share our version of the recipe.

sausage etouffe

Sausage Etouffe

Serves 6-8

6 cups water
3 cups long grain rice
1 kielbasa, cut into small pieces
1 stick butter
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
2-3 cups water, or as needed
3-6 green onions, chopped
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning, more or less to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the rice in the water according to package directions.

While the rice cooks, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Cook the kielbasa and onions until the onions are soft. Add the flour to make a roux. Stir in the tomato sauce and water and cook to make a gravy/soup-like consistency. Add the green onions and seasonings; stir well to combine. Serve in bowls over the rice.

Blessings,

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The Importance of Missions

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I spent the weekend a couple of weeks ago at our denomination’s annual Missionary Convention. I go most years as an elected delegate (meaning I have the right to vote for the new committee members), and this year was no different. I’d like to take some time today to talk about what the convention is like and some of the things I learned.

The Convention moves host churches each year; this year it was far enough away that we (there were a total of 7 from our church) had to stay overnight. It was about a 4 1/2 hour drive each way – our church “district” consists of the entire state. When we arrived, we were just in time for check in, which included picking up name badges, dinner tickets, and event programs, as well as getting the “lay of the land” since we were in a mostly unfamiliar church. Then we headed into the sanctuary for the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony was a time of worship music and welcome speeches from the district superintendent and district missions president. Then we headed into workshops, which is where a lot of the “real learning” of the convention takes place.

Because I’m the missions president in our local church (a new position for me, and one I’ll try to remember to talk about in the future), I had to use one of my workshop options (there are about 8-10 options, and each person gets to choose 2 to attend) to go to the Presidents’ Meeting. Here, we were told about all the new changes and focuses of the district’s view on missions. In the past, things have pretty all over the place, with most of that focus on fundraising. Now, there are only 5 things they want us to put most of our attention into:

  • Prayer
  • Actively engaging children and youth in missions
  • Connecting with specific missionaries assigned to our church by the district (called Links missionaries)
  • Giving to the World Evangelism Fund (a portion of the church’s total income, not a special offering)
  • Giving to the Alabaster fund (for building churches and parsonages in areas where they’re needed)

I’m quite excited that the emphasis on money has been lowered a bit. My main frustration with being the trainee missions president over the past year is that we don’t do anything but fundraisers – a different one every month practically. Having new emphases on communicating with active missionaries and figuring out how to get kids and teens involved in missions will be a welcome change.

So that’s my big thing for the moment. 

Blessings,

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Touching Children’s Books (Kayla Jarmon review)

Last week, I reviewed a set of children’s books with a strong digital tie-in (the week before, too, now I think of it). Today, the books I want to tell you about are from author Kayla Jarmon and are “just” books – though my copies are electronic (that’s the only digital tie-in these books have). As a wife, mother, screenwriter, and director, telling stories is near and dear to her heart. As of the date of this posting, she has three books on her website (A Boy and His Dog, Dying is Part of this World, and Don’t Forget Me), and I’ll talk a bit about each of them. 

Discussion Book Series and A Boy and His Dog by Kayla Jarmon

A Boy and His Dog

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A991A3E0-00C3-4F00-BA73-7203A20FDB76This is a cute story with whimsical illustrations telling the story of the relationship a boy has with his best friend, his dog. It opens with them waking up together, giving each other a big “good morning” hug. Then they go about their day together, doing things such as eating breakfast, playing tug-of-war, and chasing squirrels. For each activity, the book shows how the boy goes about things and how the dog does it. For example, when they climb a tree, the boy helps the dog up, but the dog gets scared when his third paw leaves the ground, so he ends up just watching the boy climb. At the end of the day, once they’ve bathed to get clean from their busy day, the two go to bed together. The final pages of the story repeat the first pages – with the friends waking and hugging. I thought that was a really sweet way to wrap up the story.

I am definitely not a dog person (I truly can’t stand the creatures – my apologies for probably disagreeing with you on this), and I still enjoyed the book. It really shows a sweet relationship between “man and beast.” I also appreciated that the activities the pair do together were all fun, outdoors things – not a screen or digital device in sight.

The paperback edition is available for $14.99 on Amazon.

Don’t Forget Me

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This one was my favorite of the three. As book 1 of The Discussion Series, it’s designed to read to your kids and get them thinking about how life works and how God designed it all.

595205CC-B0AF-4891-A3A8-EED38801A37EThe book tells the story of an unborn baby and his conversations with God. It opens with conception, and how the new embryo is so comfortable in his new environment. At this, God speaks up and reminds the baby that He is there too, at which the baby is even more comforted and glad to have Him around. The conversations continue as the baby grows, and he and God talk about things like how much the baby likes the sounds of his mother (and later, father), what it feels like to grow, and what will happen when Baby leaves this room (Mom’s womb) for a new one (his nursery). Frequently along the way, God reminds Baby that He is always there. 

About two-thirds of the way through the book, the conversation shifts a bit as the baby is getting ready to be born. God reminds him that through this time of pain (because really, contractions can’t be comfortable for babies either), He is still there. And that the pain will be worth it in the end because Baby will get to meet his parents at long last. At the last moment before birth, God reminds Baby, “Don’t Forget me.” The final pages of the book are the parents telling the baby (while still in the hospital) about how God brought him to them and would he like to hear about God. The baby thinks, “Yes, please. I don’t want to forget Him.”

I’ve read this book a few different times during the course of the review period (including right now to refresh my memory as I write), and it makes me tear up a bit every single time. It is such a beautiful story, and I absolutely adore the theme of always remembering God and where we came from.

The paperback edition is available for $14.99 on Amazon.

Dying is Part of This World

8CCC8756-0837-4051-A9F4-9B8E95095107This is book 2 of Discussion Series, and a really good follow up to Don’t Forget Me. While the first book focuses on the beginning of life (conception and birth), this one is more about the end. It is written as a conversation between a child and her mother, with no other narration at all. After a trip to visit her grandfather, the child comes back sad, thinking about her mother dying after having watched the news report. In each chapter (the other two are picture books, but this one, despite being a similar page count, has chapters), the mother explains how death is simply a part of life. She’s very sympathetic to her daughter’s distress over the subject, but she still never backs down from the idea that it will happen, eventually. 

Each chapter is a different portion of their conversation, and it ranges from “we’ll see each other again in Heaven” to “if you (the child) die first, you’ll be too happy with Jesus to be sad about missing me” to how we get our parents (God gives them to us) and why we have to die (sin). At the end of the chapters are discussion questions to help spark a conversation between you and your child.

Overall, it’s a very well done book, and not one that I would feel even a moment’s hesitation in sharing with my children, especially if they’re dealing with a situation like this in real life (the death of a grandparent, for example). My kids aren’t, but I will keep this book in my “hip pocket” for such an occasion.

The paperback edition is available for $11.99 on Amazon.

I haven’t actually read any of these books to my kids yet, because I only have access to (password protected) online versions, and since we don’t have internet access at the house it’s just not really possible for me to read the to the boys at this time. Even just reading them to myself, though, I can absolutely recognize their good qualities and how each and every one of them would be a fantastic addition to any family’s library.

Blessings,

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Discussion Book Series and A Boy and His Dog {Kayla Jarmon Reviews}
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Books that are More than “Just” Books (Weigl Publishers review)

Weigl Publishers has lots of really neat books, and I’ve been able to review three of them over the past few weeks. I’ve been reading two of them to my little kids (I have digital copies, so that’s done by having downloaded the books to my iPad and saving them to the iBooks app) and exploring the third one on my own. The books are:

  • Glaciers from the series “Earth’s Water” published under the imprint Lightbox and intended for a grades 3-6 interest range.
  • A Lion’s World, belonging to the“EyeDiscover” series, intended for a K-2 interest range.
  • There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed an Ant, a fiction title intended for a K-2 interest range.

You can probably tell from the suggested age ranges listed which two we’ve read together: Lion’s World and Cowpoke. Let’s start by talking about Lion’s World.

lion coverA Lion’s World is a simple book with lots of beautiful photographs of the large cats. Each page features a single fact about lions; this way it’s not too much for young children to digest (since it’s a nonfiction title). The facts listed are super easy to read and understand. Small Fry, my kindergartner, had no problem understanding what was going on in the book. Because it’s such an easy book, it would also be good for early readers to practice on their own. The words are big and most of them are easy, though very young children might need some help with a few of the longer ones or those with unusual letter groupings/sounds (“powerful” and “groups,” for example). Generally speaking, though, I think a 2nd grader (the upper range of the suggested age for this book) wouldn’t have any trouble reading it on his/her own.

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cowpoke coverMy little boys have absolutely adored listening to me read There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed an Ant to them. This story is based on the old nursery rhyme (song?) “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” It starts with the cowboy swallowing a fire ant, which obviously stings his insides and makes him very uncomfortable. He continues to swallow more and more desert creatures, trying to get rid of that pesky ant.

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This one is great for little kids because of the repetitive factor that is so popular with that group (with each additional animal swallowed, the list back to the ant is repeated). They love things that repeat so they can learn the rhythm and begin to join in on the story very easily. This was absolutely the case with Small Fry, who loved finishing up the stanza for me – he’d learned it before we even finished the very first read through. Unlike the old tale on which the story is based, the ending of this story has a fun little twist which really made my son cackle – the cowboy ends up swallowing himself because “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself!”

glaciers coverGlaciers is much more in-depth, and we honestly haven’t spent much time with it. The age range is higher, and I definitely agree with that recommendation. It would be really overwhelming for a young child because the amount of information presented is way beyond what a little kid could handle. For an older child, though, it might provide a good reference tool for a report or unit study on glaciers. The one thing I caution is that it refers to “glacier movements over time (millions of years).” If you believe in a young Earth – as my family does – this might not be the right book for you. However, if you don’t believe that, or are comfortable explaining the different opinions of Earth’s age to your children and being discerning, then it could work.

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How these books are “more than books”

I mentioned in the title of this post that these books aren’t just books, and yet I’ve described them as just that – (electronic) books. So what’s the “more”? Well, each book has a code at the beginning, and you can plug that code into a website for access to much more content. Let’s take a quick look at what’s available.

Lion and Cowpoke

Because these books are for younger children, the main feature is an audio reading of the book. In fact, this is the only thing in Cowpoke. Lion offers a bit more description at the beginning (“in this book, you will learn about…”) before diving into the reading.

Glaciers

Because this is a book for older students, there’s a lot more to the website than just a reading of the book. There are tons of audio, video, and activity options to do. There’s even a quiz for kids to do after having read the book to check for comprehension.

We didn’t use the websites really at all, except in my research for this review. Because we don’t have internet access at our house, it has been nearly impossible to get the kids to a place where they can use it, so we’ve been using the books on their own – and it’s fine, especially with the little kid books. But if you do have regular, easy internet access (and I know you probably do, since you’re here reading this), then these books and supplemental websites would offer a really neat option for your kids.

Blessings,

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Multimedia Digital Books {Weigl Publishers Reviews}
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Reading Biographies Together (YWAM review)

My older kids have always loved biographies. When they were early readers, that’s what they chose to read for fun most of the time. In fact, the first chapter book that Seahawk read on his own was called Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans. Will found it at an antique store for inexpensive, even though it was a first edition from 1805. Munchkin read it not long after Seahawk finished. Ever since then, both of them have been really fascinated by the lives of influential people. That’s why I always try to request one of the biographies from YWAM Publishing when they come up for review. Up to now, we’ve reviewed two books from their Christian Heroes: Then & Now series (CS Lewis and Jacob de Shazer); this time I requested Milton Hershey: More than Chocolate from the Heroes of History series. In addition to the book (written by Janet and Geoff Benge), we also were fortunate to receive the study guide in digital format.

Hershey coverMore than Chocolate tells the story of Milton Hershey, who – you guessed it – founded the Hershey chocolate company. It took him a long time to get to that point though, and the book starts well before the founding of the company. The opening chapter, as with all YWAM biographies (in our limited experience with them, anyway), is more like a prologue than a chapter. It tells a short, exciting story that will take place in more detail later in the book to get kids hooked. Chapter two goes back in time to where they want the biography to actually start. In the case of Hershey, this is to his childhood during the Civil War. The first scene is one wherein his uncles (mother’s brothers) come to where the family of three (his mother was pregnant at the time) back “home” because they thought his father was being irresponsible in his ventures to pan for gold while he had a family to take care of. Henry Hershey was given an ultimatum: he could come or stay, but either way his wife and son were going to be leaving.

In their new city, his parents argued over whether Milton should go to school or not. His mother thought no, because her desires for him were to be a “good Mennonite farmer, husband, and father,” none of which required much formal education. But his father had bigger plans, and he won the argument to send 5-year-old Milton to school.

From this point on, the chapters surrounding his childhood fall quickly, and by the time you get to Chapter 6, Hershey is already making and selling sweets. The book takes you the highs and lows of his career and personal life, including the renaming of his childhood hometown in Pennsylvania (the one the uncles moved them to) from Derry Church to Hershey.

ywam logoBecause YWAM biographies are written in such a personable way, they can often feel like fiction. This is good in that it helps to keep kids’ attention; it’s bad in that adults are left wondering “did things really happen this way?” For that reason, I appreciate that the authors include a bibliography at the end of each of their books. In the Jacob de Shazer book that we read last year, this included personal interviews with his wife and family besides the reference books. In the Hershey book, it’s a list of 5 other books that they used for research. Either way, it’s good to know that things aren’t being created for the sake of writing and selling books.

The digital study guide is really more of a unit study preparation plan for parents and teachers. In its 71 pages, there is so much you could do to make the biography a huge project for your kids! The first section is a list of quotes that relate to the book in one way or another. It’s suggested that these could be used for memorization, to spark conversations as you ask your children to describe how and why they apply to Hershey’s life, or to make a piece of art displaying the quote. I’d like to add that they could also be used for copy work.

ywam unit studyNext is ideas for making a large display that you continually add to as you read through the book. Part 3 is comprehension questions, which is the main part of the study guide that we used. I always have grand ambitions to do a complete unit study surrounding these biographies, but it rarely works out. The questions are good, though, since I read the book aloud to 3 of the boys (Seahawk, 14; Munchkin, 11; and Small Fry, 5) to help make sure they were paying attention. There are six questions for each chapter.

The Student Explorations chapter is the main “meat” of the study guide (if you’re doing more than just reading the book). It gives tons of ideas for turning the different aspects of Hershey’s life into larger learning opportunities, including essay questions/research topics, creative writing prompts, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, and arts and crafts. There are many options in each of the categories.

The next section is all about planning a field trip or “community event.” It tells you the best ways to go about doing so to make sure your student(s) are prepared to really take in the activities of the event. This leads perfectly into the chapter after it, which is the Social Studies chapter. This covers geography (the places that are significant in the book as well as places Hershey traveled), vocabulary, timeline, and conceptual questions.

Chapter 7 offers more themes to explore, which can easily become huge projects for older kids. The final chapter is the “culminating event,” where students share what they learned, either through speech and recitation or written works, with others. This can be as casual (inviting the homeschooled kids next door over for an hour or two) to formal (a huge dinner with grandparents and friends) as you’d like. The main point is to showcase that your kids did a lot of work and learned a lot of stuff through this study, and everyone wants to share in that accomplishment with them.

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed this biography on Milton Hershey. I highly recommend any of YWAM’s books. Besides getting a great, kid-friendly biography, you’re also supporting a good company with a good mission when you purchase. Books typically cost between $7.50 and $9.99 apiece, depending on where you buy them. I’ve never seen them more than $7.50 directly from YWAM, but they’re often full price somewhere like Amazon.

Blessings,

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Christian Heroes, Heroes of History & Study Guides {YWAM Publishing Reviews}
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