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 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.
The 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.
Even 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!
This picture was taken in southern Oregon when I was there recently for Missionary Convention. We came out from the evening session to this, and it was much too pretty not to take a picture of.
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:
- 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.
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.
More 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.
Because 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.
Next 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.
The little boys have been having so much fun together lately. It’s been really great watching their relationship develop beyond “just brothers” and truly into “friends” as well.
This picture shows just one such incident. Dragonfly, being a toddler, loves to sit in the laundry basket and pretend it’s a car. Small Fry took it upon himself to play with his little brother and push him all over the house.
When my older kids were much younger (around the time when they were in K and 2nd grade – Small Fry was just a tiny baby back then, and Dragonfly wasn’t yet even a thought), we loved doing unit studies together. This was before my time with the Homeschool Review Crew, and before I really knew anything about homeschooling that didn’t consist of buying workbooks from Lakeshore Learning and having us just work through the set each year. (They hated that, by the way.) Because I knew nothing about doing school any other way, or where to find resources, when I first learned about unit studies I was very intrigued. I “wrote” a few of my own unit studies for us to do, always revolving around a book. We did one on penguins with Mr. Popper’s Penguins as the backbone. We did one on newspapers using Henry and the Paper Route as our basis (that one was my favorite – we did so many cool things, including touring the local newspaper office and making our own paper). That time was one of my absolute favorites as a homeschool mom.
So when the opportunity to review a new (to us) set of unit studies designed for older grades (5-8) arose, I was interested. These unit studies, from Creation Illustrated, have been a neat way for the big boys to remember the early days of our schooling careers (now that they’re older, a strict unit study option isn’t always sufficient). For this review, we received two unit studies: Pine Trees and Snow Unit Study. We focused on Pine Trees because we have lots of them where we live. In addition to the unit studies, we also received access to Winter ’18 Digital Edition and Fall ’17 Digital Edition of Creation Illustrated’s magazines.
Because Seahawk is in 8th grade and Munchkin is in 6th grade, they both fall into the suggested age range for these unit studies, so I had them both work on it. I started by downloading the files and printing two copies – one for each child. The file is only 16 pages (including the answer key), so it wasn’t a hardship to print two copies. I printed the cover of the study on its own page and then did the rest double-sided. Each of the aspects of the unit study is presented separately, and it didn’t take very long to work all the way through it. The boys worked on one subject within the unit study each day or two, depending on how long or involved the subject was. Subjects included are Vocabulary/Spelling, Bible, Geography, Science, Math, Writing/Penmanship, Art, and a Puzzle. There is also a full page of reading supplements and educational video links to help further understand the topic at hand. We just started at the beginning and moved through in order, and didn’t use many of the links.
The first page was Vocabulary, and while the boys knew several of the words, there were several others that they didn’t, so I helped them find the definitions. This lesson was two pages. The first page was a list of the words with space for students to write the definitions; the second was the definitions and the kids wrote in the words. We did this over two days.
Moving on to the Bible portion, there is a list of Scripture references that all deal with pine trees of some sort. Students are instructed to read the verses, determine what the tree in the verse was used for, and then whether it was a pine or a fir. There are also “extra credit” critical thinking questions on this page.
Geography is fairly straightforward in a study like this – what kinds of pine trees are located where in the world? Science is similar, teaching students to identify different types of pines based on their needles and cones. Math includes several story problems around pine trees, including one that we used for real life learning a year or two ago: determining the height of a tree using right triangles and a known height (a person, for instance).
Writing and penmanship go together. Rather than being copywork, students are instructed to write an essay based on what they learned using their very best handwriting. For art, similar story – students draw a picture of their favorite pine tree, using what they learned to make sure the needles and cones are scientifically correct. The last bit is a word find puzzle for fun.
The Snow Unit Study has many of the same components (subjects), including activities that are much the same as in the Pine Tree study. I will say that I like the Bible study better in the Snow Unit Study though – it has students do similar activities (read the Scripture that mentions snow, and then determine whether that usage is literal or symbolic), but then it goes a step further. Kids are instructed to choose their favorite verse from the selection and memorize it, and even offered the idea of making a bookmark decorated with snowflakes showcasing that verse (either to keep or bless someone else with). The science portion talks all about the water cycle, which is a good thing for students to grasp and goes perfectly in a unit study on snow. There’s also a hands-on project on the science page to make snow-looking crystals. We don’t get much snow around here, which is why I chose to focus on Pine Trees for this review, but I definitely think my boys would find the Snow Unit Study really neat, so we’ll definitely be doing that one soon as well.
There is a lot of good information in this unit study, but I’m not sure it’s quite as involved as the ones I made up when the kids were little. I wouldn’t feel comfortable using this as a core curriculum for the upper grades, but it’s a really fun supplement/extra little something if you want just a little bit of information on a specific topic. The whole thing could easily be done in a week or two, depending on how much your student does each day, but in my opinion you would still need to do “regular” studies as well. This wouldn’t be enough to be an “everything school day” like the unit studies I did when the big kids were small.
The digital magazines (which admittedly, I haven’t spent tons of time with) look really neat. They’re chock full of gorgeous pictures and great articles reminding us to appreciate and glory in God’s creation. Each article is riddled with Bible verse pullouts, driving their points home. It really is a beautiful thing. Purchase of any of the unit studies (there are eight altogether, not just the two I mentioned here today) automatically includes a link to the digital magazines, or you can purchase just the magazines for $4.99. On top of the articles being inspiring, the pictures would make amazing collage components (or good pieces for any other art project you have in mind). From the little I’ve seen so far of these magazines, I’m very impressed with them.
Sixty members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing Creation Illustrated this week. Some are focusing on Pine Trees (like I did) and others are focused more on the Snow Unit Study. Make sure to click the banner below for more information on both of these unit studies.