Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From the Bookshelf

Some of what we're all reading this week..

Together, we are listening (and reading along!) to The Hobbit. Wow! What a great narrator to listen to as we drive around to various activities. I highly recommend this as an audiobook, even if you've read the story. It's been great fun! The only downside is that the kids are definitely too young to listen to the Lord of the Rings trilogy - that will have to wait.


 Frog and Toad Are Friends is one that she has read several times this week (after reading Grasshopper on the Road last week). And of course, she is still into anything and everything Junie B. Jones , which are not books that I particularly like but as we read many good books I feel like I can let it slide. ;)  She is also reading Explore Asia from the Explore the Continents series.


Ramona and Her Mother from the Ramona series is DD7's favorite this week. She is also reading Ribsy , which she told me she likes almost as much. It's a Beverly Cleary kind of week for her! I remember being in love with these books when I was her age.

DD7 & DD9
Both girls are reading Charlotte's Web and A Drop Around the World. The latter is such a fun story and really exemplifies the "life" of water quite well while at the same time providing a great picture of the differences in geography around the world.


 Miranda the Great is written by Eleanor Estes, one of my favorite authors of books for children, and is one of the books on DD9's nightstands. She is also reading The Apple and the Arrow by Conrad Buff, which tells the tale of William Tell and his son, Walter.  She also has a stack of American Girl doll books on her nightstand - I believe she is making her way through the Felicity stories.

DD10 has a pile of books on her nightstand that she is working through, but I will post just a few. The Good Master is book one of two by Kate Seredy and takes place in Hungary just before WWI. It is a complex story with much to offer and much for the reader to think about even after putting the book down. She is also reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I love. I love the combination of art and written word working together to tell the tale. DD9 will read this next week and the local library is leading a discussion group for kids and Hugo is the selection. And tying into Hugo, she is reading The Picture History of Great Inventors which provides great information in an engaging way - especially for visual learners.


I am almost finished reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I see why this book gets such fabulous reviews and is recommended reading for everyone. The only downside I can see is that the people that probably need the book the most are probably the least likely to read it, but that's outside my circle (inside joke for those that have read the book).  I am just getting started on Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoirby Mark Vonnegut and it's too soon to say much about it - except that so far, so good. I'm reading this for a book group and I have to say that I believe it will make for a fascinating discussion!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Off-topic - Vegan Cuts

A bit off-topic, but as homeschoolers enjoy saving money more than most people I know, I thought I'd pass along the information. So fellow VegHeads: Check out this free newsletter!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


 Our butterflies emerged from their chrysalises this week! The first one came out on the first day of spring (you've got to love that!), and the last butterfly came out yesterday. The girls really enjoyed watching the caterpillars grow at an amazing rate.
We all thought the coolest part was watching the caterpillars go into the chrysalises - I think the last time we had butterflies they must have gone through that stage when we weren't around because I've never seen it in action. And now, we have five Painted Ladies in the habitat! Nature is truly a wonder. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Special Commendation

DD10 with DEMS personnel
I'm so proud to share that my oldest daughter (DD10) received a special commendation from our Department of Emergency Services today. Last summer I was driving home from a Junior Rangers award banquet when I was struck with incredible stomach pain - the absolute worst pain I've ever experienced. I managed to get the car off the road, but that was about as useful I as proved to be. My oldest daughter stayed as calm as she could and called 911. She was able to provide the information they needed to send an ambulance and officers to our location. Today they honored her with a special ceremony, certificate, and a tour of the facilities. She is nominated for a state-wide commendation ceremony that takes place in May. We are so proud of her!

Monday Musing

This quote gave me food for thought this morning so I thought I'd pass it along...

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.
~Robert Frost

Friday, March 11, 2011

Klee II

We are on our second week studying Klee and his expressionist/abstract art. These Klee-inspired pieces of art were created by using a sharpie and drawing anything the girls wanted to without lifting the pen. After they were done creating the image, they colored in the pictures using crayons. Very simple, but challenging for the little ones to figure out how to make the image they want without lifting up the pen. And tough for some to accept imperfections in the pictures as a result. If I were to do this project again, I think instead of crayon I would use a variety of paints with different textures and instead of working on a small scale, I would use a larger canvas. I think the girls would have enjoyed the process of filling in the different parts of the pictures with different paints and textures. But on the plus side - this was simple and quick!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Toadally Cute

by DD6

I am a Toad
As Gray as Dust
I like to eat
I like to hop
I can swim
I can Camouflage
I am a Toad

Friday, March 4, 2011

All in My Head

By DD7
By DD9
By DD10
 These art creations are inspired by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee's Head of a Man Going Senile and were perfect for the way my head is feeling this week! Specifically, I used the guidelines in Discovering Great Artists and the website Art Projects for Kids. We traced a small plate to create the circle for the head, drew lines with a ruler, and colored it in using oil pastels. We read a brief biography on Klee and discussed his connection to Kandinsky (who has served as previous inspiration). My youngest daughter has not completed her head yet as she went out with Nana today, but I know she is excited to do so. We will continue our study of the Expressionist artist next week with an abstract line drawing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March is Women's History Month

 Yes, March is the month of St. Patrick's Day and all things Irish-American, the first day of spring, and National Nutrition Month... but it's also Women's History Month! If you're like me, you probably already try to incorporate women's history into history. But because of the long-standing disservice done to women (and especially women of color) in history I like taking this opportunity to honor women from our past (and present) who have struggled against the odds to make a difference for my daughters.

I found a great site that provides many, many resources to help add a bit of women's history into March: check out The Teacher's Guide for links and ideas galore. Along the same lines, Teacher Planet's Women of Color page also provides links and lessons. And don't forget to check out the National Women's History Project - this website includes a section about the theme for 2011, which is Our History is Our Strength.  And for tweens and teens, the book Girls Think of Everything is fun and interesting (at least my tweens think so!).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving Beyond the Page

We've passed the midway point in our academic year, so I figured it was time for a review of the product we've been using this year: Moving Beyond the Page. We are using this curriculum for social studies, science and literature. I still add in some of my own language arts (phonics, oral reading, Latin & Greek roots, and additional literature). I also add in music, art, health, and child-led interest projects.

What I Love:
  • It's secular - this speaks for itself. 
  • Comprehensive and far-reaching - after using the program consistently (all four of my girls have been through two full concepts) I agree that this program reaches kids on a deeper level. If you just use it once or twice, I don't think it comes across, but I do see how well it encourages students to look at issues and apply what is learned in many different ways. 
    • If you follow most of the activities (which I try very hard to do), your student will use many different learning tools from the different intelligences to cover the same concept
    • The lessons take the child from the big concept, have her apply to herself and her life, and then goes back out to the big idea again, making it easier for her to relate to and easier to apply to different situations which increases their critical thinking and their creative thinking. A+
  • In-depth literature studies - I feel my girls are getting more out of the books we read through MBtP than the books we've read in the past. The author does a good job of selecting interesting books that relate to the overall concept.
  • The connection between literature, social studies, and science - this is something I have always done (ala classical education) so perhaps I appreciate more than others might. I don't think it is "necessary" for learning, but I do think it helps create a richer learning experience and that things "stick" better when they apply to more than one area at a time. And this program does a great job with integrating across the different subjects.
  • Project-based - this is actually something I love and detest. ;) I have always tried very hard to be 'project-based' and have been successful, though I do not enjoy the amount of work involved. The same is true here. I love that there are so many fun projects and activities... the kids absolutely love them and will tell you that this is the best part of school. But it is very parent intensive - especially the younger the children.
  • Challenging - this is a challenging curriculum. If a person were to skip any activities which might challenge his child, it may not be. I don't recommend doing this as I feel that we often do the most growth when things are challenging. I would say that my children are definitely challenged and not bored with this program. Particularly with the writing. I also feel that one must choose the correct level for his/her child or it could easily be TOO challenging. Although the concepts may be purchased separately, I believe the program is designed to be used over the year and as such the concepts progress in difficulty, so don't be tricked into thinking it's too easy and jumping up an entire level.
  • The writing - the writing in MBtP is so strong that I wish we had started with this earlier (and my kids are good writers). As I have children in the levels starting with 6-8 and going up to 9-11, I can see the progression and development in the program and I think it is beautiful. 
  • Science - I think that for elementary kids this science is just enough. You can always do more, more, more if your kids want more. Do it on things they are interested in (that's what we do). But in terms of tying it in to the curriculum - it's great. And it's fun stuff - very hands on! Some things are so-so (like keeping a weather chart for a month) but for the most part, I give it an "A."
  • Very easy to communicate with - if you call, someone answers. If you email, you get a reply. At least this has been my experience. And I appreciate this very much!
What I Don't Love:
  • There are many typos and errors. I read this in other reviews and thought, "Okay, I can live with that." And I can live with it, but it is extremely annoying. I didn't realize how annoyed I'd be by it. Maybe because there are more than I feel there should be? Content-wise, the program is great. But it is expensive, and I feel that this number of errors is unacceptable. I know they have hired editors and are trying to remedy this. Let's hope so! 
  • Website: on their website, you can actually look at the summary of skills for each unit, but to find this is not easy! You have to go to "Purchase" then to "Individual Items" then you have to happen to notice that link... I think this should be front and center on the curriculum page, and I would have really liked to have found this earlier on in my search.
  • Format. I feel that this program would be so much better if they improved the format. 
    • Lay-out: I would much rather have things laid out by 'days' rather than lessons. It creates more work for me to then go back and figure out how everything fits into our calendar because some lessons are 2, 3 or 4 days long. By "days" I mean labeling the lessons separately for separate days (e.g., Lesson 1 - Day 1; Lesson 1 - Day 2; Lesson 2 - Day 3; Lesson 3 - Day 4). A weekly format (similar to Sonlight) would also be okay.
    • The workbooks are spiral bound - ugh!! They should offer a three-hold punch format for those of us that cannot STAND spiral.
    • Parent guides - they do not provide answers consistently, and particularly in the upper levels they should really provide example answers for ALL questions and essays. The program is expensive and I expected more in this area.
  • Spelling - in the guides, the authors go over how to do spelling according to their program. This turns out to be virtually impossible to follow if you try to use the words they give you for spelling. This goes back to format - if they had a planning grid and laid things out by the week this would fit much more smoothly into the program. I don't find this topic to be a deal-breaker, but it's an annoyance and it could be integrated so wonderfully into this program. I have to wonder about why they don't improve this area.
  • In the 9-11 level, I think they schedule way too much into each lesson. It's supposed to be a 9-week program, and that means that unless it says 2-days or 3-days, each lesson is one day. And doing everything on their list will lead to a very long day. We've had to modify this level much, much more than the 7-9 and 6-8.
  • Expense - it is a very expensive curriculum considering it's not a complete curriculum. You still have to add in other subjects, for the younger kids phonics and reading, math, foreign language, art, music, health.  There are ways around the expense (buy used, use library books, etc.), and certainly if you have multiple children in the younger years it isn't bad if you can re-use (my youngest will use the level her older sisters are using this year & I only have to buy new student pages and an owl pellet- not bad).
Overall, I am very pleased with MBtP. I think that if you use this program for at least several concepts, you will get a real feel for the progression of skills and development. Had I quit using it after just a few weeks (see this post) I would  never had been able to see how my children are simply blossoming with it. I think there was an adjustment period for me. I have always designed my own program and haven't ever done "social studies" before so it was a bit different. (And I admit - I plan everything out to a "T" and do it all at once. Now, by which I mean "during the year," I have very little to do in terms of planning because I do all thirty-six weeks before the year begins, and this always leaves me feeling burned out at the start, no matter what program I use.) However, I really have grown to like MBtP very much. The things that bother me are not enough for me to stop using it.

And let me say this: there are times when I think a project or activity seems silly or like something I want to skip.... then we do it and I can't believe the value in the work that the girls produce. It isn't "fluff" or "busy work" (which sometimes at first glance I may think it is). Let me give you an example: A few weeks ago I wanted to skip the activity where my 2nd and 3rd grader were supposed to write a biography page for a hero book. It sounded boring to me, and a bit like busy work. I felt like (a) they would complain about the writing and (b) it wasn't worth the hassle and (c) they already know their life story. Boy was I wrong - they got more out of this exercise than I could have imagined. They had to think about things in their past, they had to consider their future, they needed to integrate the characteristics of a hero and think about the lives of the heroes we'd been studying... all in all, they each wrote amazing papers on the subject and really grew as writers, thinkers and scholars. I could see that they truly learned how to think on different levels and apply it to a written paper. And they are 7 and 9. After they completed the assignment, I couldn't believe I had thought to skip it! I think in the past when I did my own thing, I would have shied away from such a project, and I'm glad MBtP has us doing things like this.

I think curriculum is like clothing - not everything looks good on everyone - so I wouldn't do a carte blanche recommendation to everyone, but in all I think this is a great program. There are things I don't like about it, but in general I am very happy with it. I have decided that I will absolutely, definitely use it again next year for my youngest three. For my oldest who will be starting the middle school years I'm not sure yet, but it's one of the top contenders. And if you have any specific questions about MBtP I am happy to answer. I'm sure I forget things that I wanted to add and am happy to touch on points I may have missed. You can leave a comment or send me an email.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Awaiting Mystery Diagnosis

Since last week, I've been kept quite busy with my seven-year old (hence, no posts). Trips to the ER, the primary physician, blood work, x-rays, urine samples... and still we do not have an answer. My next step is to make an appointment with Dr. House, but unfortunately he only takes cases where the patients are actors.

My daughter suffers from chronic abdominal pain and her pediatrician and I have discussed it. I was planning to take her to a GI doctor but had yet to make the appointment for various reasons (I'm trying to keep this short, and I could write a page on that alone). In the last week, however, it has taken a definite turn for the worse. I was able to make her an appointment with a pediatric GI... on April 27th. Come on. Really??? I am KICKING myself for holding off on making that appointment! At least we might have already been 'on the books' or something when this struck. Our pediatrician told me that basically one of two things will happen: (1) this acute period will resolve and she will go back to 'normal' (normal for her being a person who gets serious stomach aches every day, sometimes 2-3 times a day) and she can go to her 4/27 appointment; or (2) she will get worse and will end up being admitted before 4/27.


Meanwhile, I'm calling the GI department every day to check on cancellations, and I'm calling two other nearby children's hospitals to see if we can get in there any sooner, though the closest one (with the 4/27 appointment) is certainly better if we end up needing to go back and forth for treatment, etc. And I've googled her symptoms a billion times and received a billion results. Go figure. The next step? Channeling Dr. House and his team. Or... maybe if I watch enough episodes there will be one with a character that matches her symptoms... Sigh.