Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Another amazing Giveaway at Secular Homeschool!


Enter to win one full Calvert Classic Curriculum (grades K-8). Calvert Education Services provides a complete, classic, accredited homeschool curriculum that will inspire your child.

Easy to Use

Spend your time teaching, not planning. A Calvert course includes everything you need:
  • online instruction and games that promote creative thinking
  • additional, easy-to-use manuals with daily lesson plans included
  • materials for hands-on exploration

FREE Expert Support Included

Calvert’s Education Counselors are on call, ready to provide FREE support. Whether you have questions on the best placement for your child, want advice on how to teach a new concept, or just need general homeschooling support, you don't have to go it alone with Calvert.

A Program that will Challenge your Child
At Calvert, we believe that students will rise to the challenge. Our comprehensive, rigorous Pre K–8 program focuses on the fundamentals, assuring that there are no gaps in your child’s education.

Calvert has allowed me to challenge my children at his or her level with a well-researched curriculum and a thoroughly engaging and motivating program. You have given me the tools I needed to mold my children into confident, articulate, educated children who, no doubt, will go far in life." Elizabeth W.

Having multiple children, there are times when I have told one of my sons to call and ask a counselor for help on a concept, a problem, or even just a bit of clarification. The boys have spent as little as two minutes and as long as an hour. The counselors have always been encouraging to the boys, clear in their teaching, patient, and extremely helpful. In fact, I would say they have played an integral role in our sons' education." Maria



Giveaway winner will receive one full grade level of Calvert Classic Curriculum (grade K-8). Enrollment in Calvert's Advisory Teaching Service is available at an additional cost.To ensure proper placement, we recommend Calvert's no-cost, no-obligation placement testing. Or call one of Calvert's Placement Counselors at (888) 328-8285 for a free consultation.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Check out the amazing giveaway at Secular Homeschool!

Have you heard the good news? Time4Learning.com added high school level courses to their curriculum as of August 2013! Time4Learning high school offers an online, interactive curriculum for ninth through twelfth grade that correlates to state standards. Time4Learning high school is organized into courses that cover the core subjects of language arts, math, social studies and science plus two electives. Courses are parent-supervised, student-paced, and can be used for homeschool, afterschool and summer skill building.

One lucky SecularHomeschool.com member will win a one-year subscription to Time4Learning High School, including access to four different subjects of choice!!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sailing School

Our summer usually ends with sailing school, and this year was no exception.  And after three years of sail camp, the girls are ready to join in the fall racing clinics so that next summer they can participate in the sailing regattas which take place all around the Chesapeake Bay.  Go girls! 

Sailing is fun, but there are also valuable lessons which apply to life.  For example, the kids learn to pay attention to the details around them.  Little changes in the wind or on the surface of the water can have big repercussions.  They also learn that you must watch out for yourself and others.  Being careless can result in capsizing or injury.  Additionally, they learn that they can't control everything - the wind blows the way it wants.  Instead, they learn to adapt and make changes along the way so they can still arrive at their destination. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Organizing - ahead of schedule!

Not that I expect anyone to remember my posts from years past, but if you have a photographic memory you might recall that I usually spend two solid weeks in August organizing the upcoming homeschool year and redoing the "school" room (I put quotes around that because it's really an all-purpose kids' room - for example, today my 9- and 10-year-old daughters held a make-up studio in there).  Every year I am determined to deal with the school room immediately after we finish for the year, and every year I shut the door and stay out until August.  Until yesterday!  I managed to get into the room a few days early. 

It's not complete, but I made a HUGE dent.  I went through countless papers and cut the fat on curricula.  Last year I did a major purge and got rid of years worth of stuff - things given to me, things purchased but never used or outgrown or whatever-the-case-may-be.  This year's purge was less dramatic, consisting mostly of recycle art raw materials that I have been holding onto for ages.  Shoe boxes, empty toilet paper rolls, bottle caps, empty containers, etc., etc., etc.  I decided to keep only a few things and get rid of recycle the rest.  I also did a MUCH better job this year of creating portfolios for school work as we went along and tossing the rest.  Best thing ever - I used artist sketchbooks as portfolios.  Love it!  Even so, there were still piles of papers to go through and (mostly) toss. 

I also hit the worst offender in the room - my desk.  Or should we call it a pile station?  Piles of everything known to man were on that desk.  Books, trash, art, messages, jewelry, markers, old photos - including one of my best friend from her 21st birthday - which was only a few years ago, but still. =)  And I moved all unsorted books out of the room and into the hallway.  A year (or was it two?) ago, I redid all of our books.  All subjects have a dedicated spot, and novels are organized by author's last name.  At least in theory.  It's been about 50% successful: the successful aspect is that I can locate books much faster.  The unsuccessful aspect is that my oldest daughter and I are the only ones that actually puts books back.  That means that 3/5 of the people using books just put them on my desk.... So this year I moved all the subject matter books to a new location, got rid of two small bookcases, and put two armchairs in their place.  I'm also instigating a new rule that if you don't put your book away there will be a very serious consequence.  =)  Well, there actually probably won't be much of a consequence other than me asking the offender to put the book away in the proper place.  Hopefully I'll remember to keep up with the nagging.

I'm probably about 75% done in the room! I'll have to post pictures when we're finished.  I'd like to add window treatments and new slipcovers for the chairs, but that may have to wait...

But the best news - I'm ahead of schedule!  Hurray me! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Time4Writing

My daughter successfully completed her course at Time4Writing - Elementary Paragraphs.  She absolutely LOVED this course.  She looked forward to the individual feedback provided by the instructor, and she has told me that when she write other things she often thinks about what she has learned in the class.  The online course is easy to use and straightforward.  There are instructional videos, writing activities, and quizzes.  The class progresses over eight weeks from the understanding how a paragraph begins (topic sentence) through writing an entire narrative paragraph.  While the assignments are not overly difficult, my daughter was encouraged to think critically about creating topic sentences, which types of details to include, etc. 
Time4Writing is not only for homeschoolers, but I do believe that for those children looking for a "school" experience, it provides the outside feedback and interaction.  My daughter looked forwarding to receiving grades (something we don't really do at home) and enjoyed reading the comments the teacher wrote.  She worked hard to improve when she made mistakes - something that doesn't always happen as readily when it is Mom providing that feedback!  It is not an inexpensive class, but the staff and teacher are very communicative and want your child to have a positive experience providing help when needed, responding to questions, etc.  It is not a the same as buying software - you really do get a personal aspect with the course.  That being said, one thing which I think would have improved the experience is the inclusion of a "conference" area for students so that they could interact with each other.  For example, each week the teacher could pose a question and each student could answer, commenting on the other responses as well.  
Overall, I recommend Time4Writing to anyone looking to improve writing skills and provide an interactive experience with outside feedback for their children. Please feel free to comment or email me with specific questions!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Time4Writing - mid-course review

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Time4Writing with the opportunity to have my daughter try a course in return for a candid review.  I elected to have my 9-year-old daughter complete the Elementary Paragraphs course.  As of today, she is approximately halfway through the 8-week course.  Overall, my daughter is enjoying the experience although she has struggled to tell me what it is exactly that she actually enjoys.  She has told me that she likes it because it is a fun way to improve her writing, but pinpointing exactly what is fun for her proves difficult.  She likes the activities, and I know she enjoys receiving feedback from the instructor.  For my part, I am impressed with the fact that the instructor responds to emails and questions fairly quickly (especially after my daughter broke her arm and had a harder time typing).  The instructor also provides feedback on my daughter’s work that is constructive but does not lead to my daughter feeling like she didn’t do a good job on the assignment.   Another positive aspect of the course is that it is broken down into very manageable assignments and not much time is required on a daily basis to keep up with the course schedule.  In Elementary Paragraphs, this is perfect as it meets the attention needs of the target audience.  Lastly, my daughter seems to be retaining what she has learned - a huge positive.

We still have 4 weeks to go, so I will write a final review after my daughter finishes the program.  I hope to see her improve even further, especially with her writing mechanics. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Plans

As this academic year winds down (this week is our last week!), my girls are busy planning for the summer.  My oldest DD is planning to finish her book (and write much fan fiction) as well as work on her sailing techniques.  My youngest DD is fascinated with atlases and maps right now (at this moment she is reading an atlas and studying the index) so she told me today she's going to create her own atlas over the summer.  My 3rd DD has a broken arm, which is clouding her excitement for anything and everything right now.  And my 2nd DD has so many plans and interests, it would be impossible to list them all here.  As for myself, I'm looking forward to cleaning out the "school" room (which is really an all-purpose room at this point) and setting it up to function better for us in the future.  I'm also taking two classes over the summer - hopefully these will get my mind functioning academically before I start graduate school this fall.  And of course, we are all looking forward to hiking, camping, swimming (when the cast comes off for DD#3), and general fun!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Week 34

Oh wow.  Just writing "Week 34" gets me excited.  Why?
Because we do 36 weeks of school ... and we're on Week 34!  Yippee!

I must admit that the closer we get to the end of the year, the more I feel like skipping school.  Yes, I have spring fever.  I remember this feeling from my school days, and apparently age does nothing to mitigate the incredible urge to throw away the books.

So why not do that? Why not just stop?

Great questions.  And I'm sure for many people this would be fine. In fact, I know people for whom this is the approach to life.  But I'm not one to quit at the finish.  And the projects and lessons in the last two weeks are often the most fun and the ones that bring everything together.

I'm all for skipping meaningless, filler projects.  Or modifying to suit my needs.  But that's not what I'm talking about.  I am talking about seeing things through to the end.  I feel like finishing something "all the way" is a great lesson for the girls and provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  I never look back with happiness on something I almost finished (e.g., a baby quilt sitting in my sewing box).  But even when something was difficult and seemed hard, I always feel good if I see it through to the end (e.g., finishing a marathon). And so it is with our school year.

Plus, we're doing lots of cool stuff - and I'm excited to see how the girls do as we round the finish.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Science in Action: Airfoils

Understanding Flight

My middle DDs (5th grade)  had fun today learning about the relationship between air pressure and speed as well as some rudimentary mechanics of flight.  Making a simple airfoil is a great way to demonstrate these principles.  I love science, but I don't love making it hard for kids to understand by introducing complex ideas either too early or in ways which aren't clear.  This experiment keeps it simple.  I try to keep explanations straightforward and in this case the toughest part for them to grasp was why the air speed and its relation to pressure.  We focused on the the very basic concept of the air taking the same time to travel a longer distance as well as the idea that the side with more pressure will push against the side with less pressure (creating lift). Here are some simple instructions:

Create a Simple Airfoil
  1. Fold a stiff sheet of paper in slightly less than half so that the top 'half' curves.  Secure to the bottom 'half' with tape.
  2. In the middle of the fold, punch a hole through both layers.  
  3. Insert a short straw (cut a regular length straw in half) through both holes.
  4. Thread a string through the straw, leaving about 6-8 inches on each side.
  5. Wrap the string around your fingers and hold taut so that the straw is vertical and the curved half of the paper is on top.
  6. Create air movement: run, spin in a circle, or blast the airfoil with a hairdryer.
  7. Observe the airfoils climb up the string!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Math ... Advice Needed!

Image from homeschool-rewards.com
I feel like every year - or at least every other year - I face the same question: what program should I use for math?  Specifically this year, I'm considering algebra programs for my soon-to-be 8th-grade daughter.  Last spring, I struggled with pre-algebra versus 7th-grade math.  I ended up going with a 7th-grade math program. Why?  Two reasons:  (1) all my research led me to the conclusion that there is very little difference between pre-algebra and 7th-grade math; and (2) I already owned Oak Meadow Grade 7 math.  Now looking forward, I'm struggling again.  Here's the situation:

  • My daughter is currently using OM7 Math.  I've only graded her tests and reviews.  She is receiving a B- (83%).  Most of her mistakes are "sloppy errors" - I feel that if she weren't rushing to be finished with math (her least favorite subject) she'd easily have a B+/A- because she understands the concepts.  Overall, I've been happy with OM7.  I have nothing else with which to compare this level of math, but I'd say the style was a good fit.
  • I own OM8 Math.  I don't know for certain, but from the description I'm fairly sure this isn't either pre-algebra or algebra... what is it? Maybe it is an excellent program. I just can't tell. I can tell it's the same format we used this year, so I know what we'd be getting into and I know my DD liked the format.
  • In the past, we've used Teaching Textbooks, which my kids all enjoyed.  I've talked to some friends that used it this year with pre-algebra and algebra.  They are happy for the most part.  However, I'm not 100% sure this will be the right program for my DD12.  She fought me tooth-and-nail when she used TT for 6th grade math.
  • Last year I bookmarked Thinkwell.  This year I read up on it, checked out the reviews, tried the sample lessons.  It looks really good!  However, no one I know IRL has used this.  Not that that means the program isn't solid - I didn't know anyone that used either MBtP or OM and those are great programs.  But I'd like to get a better feel for the program before signing up. 
  • My DD does not love math.  She doesn't hate it, but I wouldn't say she's "math minded" or anything close.  She needs clear explanations.  She needs to have sufficient practice, but not be inundated with pages of worksheets (a la Saxon).   
I guess this leaves me with the following:
Oak Meadow Grade 8 vs. Teaching Textbooks (algebra) vs. Thinkwell (algebra)
Anyone out there have any advice or ideas? Anyone? :)  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Test Drive: Time4Writing

A few weeks ago, I posted about our experience using Time4Learning (click here to read about it).  Last week, a representative from Time4Writing, a program created by Time4Learning designed to help improve students' writing, and offered me the opportunity to try a writing courseIt couldn't have come at a better time - I had just been pondering how to help improve my fifth-grade daughter's academic writing over the summer break.  As such, I am excited to be using a summer writing program to reinforce our writing skills with Time4Writing. With the guidance of an online tutor, who is a certified teacher, we will be taking one of their eight-week online writing courses.  Come visit in a few weeks for a progress report.  I will be writing an in-progress review as well as a final review after my daughter finishes the course. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

American Girl Doll Projects: Molly McIntire

Having led (and co-led for the first two years) an American Girl Doll book and craft club for the past three years, I have been feeling like I should really post our projects more frequently.  If I knew how to post the discussion questions I write each month I would do that as well, simply to save someone else the effort!  But alas, for now photos of the craft project will have to do.  Of course, there are only two meetings left in the year and I doubt I'll be doing this for a fourth year.  Better late than never!

This week our group is discussing A Light in the Cellar: A Molly Mystery.  It was tough to come up with a project, partly because as I approach the end of the third year I've done a LOT of AG projects and partly because this book didn't lend itself to an obvious project. At least not one that we haven't already done.  But I pressed the Easy Button and checked the Molly craft book out of the library.  Lo and behold, the perfect project: Scottie Bookmarks.  These projects must meet the financial requirement (cheap), my requirement (not be total junk), and the time requirement (be something I can feasibly complete with a dozen+ girls in 30 minutes or less).  Check, check, and check!

Additionally, with the discussion questions I also assigned the girls take-home projects.  There were three options, and my youngest (8-year-old)daughter chose to create a model of the manor house featured in the story.  I think this would be a great project for ANY book that has an interesting building.  It's constructed from card stock and tape.  She colored the sides with crayon and colored pencil, and outlined all prominent features with a Sharpie.  She also added some 3-D bushes with extra card stock.  I especially like how she has a light on in the cellar, as the title suggests there should be. 

It would be possible to go all out with something like this, but of course she waited until the night before. She did have plenty of help figuring out how to create this, but I believe now that we've been through the process once she will be able to do it again with less help (figuring out the triangles is tricky!).


Thursday, May 2, 2013


This month Secular Homeschool Community has partnered with Oak Meadow to offer an amazing giveaway - a chance to win the curriculum package of your choice (grades pK-8).  

Click here to read the details on how to enter.  And while you're over at SHC, register and become a member!  It's free!

And just in case you don't win, Oak Meadow is currently having their annual Spring Sale - 10% off of the price of enrollment, 20% off of curriculum and resources.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From the Bookshelves....

Family Audiobook
Our journey with The Chronicles of Prydain continues and we are now listening to the fourth book in the series, Taran Wanderer.  I believe this series is definitely one better listened to than read as the narrator is one of my all-time favorites. 

Dad's nightstand
My husband is still slugging along through the second book in the Game of Thrones series.  He also listened to the audiobook How to Talk to Anyone, by Leil Lowndes.  He described it to me in such a way that I had to listen myself.  I found it hilarious.  I confess that for anyone who has a hard time making conversation, the book's tips are probably helpful.  Not being that kind of person, I found it to be full of rather obvious "tips and tricks."  However, I will agree that it made me think about some areas in which my daughters could improve.

Mom's collection
Where to begin?  I have read so many books in the past month that it's hard to choose.  I promise to narrow it down to only one... but which one?  Hmmm.  I will look to the last book I've read, which is Defending Jacob by William Landay.  Literally, I just finished this novel.  I started reading Defending Jacob last night while I was waiting for the rice in the rice cooker to finish.  And I was hooked.  Going into the book, I was skeptical because I heard from numerous friends and acquaintances that is was "very good."  One trusted friend (and fellow bibliophile), when asked about it, just looked at me and went, "Oh! Yes!" with raised eyebrows and an excited look.  But often I am disappointed after such hype.  Not this time.  I can't say I was totally surprised by this book, but I can say I was totally enthralled with it.  Worth reading.  It's not going to win the Pulitzer, but if you are looking for an interesting summer read go for it. 

As for me, it's hard to choose just one of DD12's books.  I will settle for her most recent academic read: Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic.  This nonfiction work tells the story of the Bosnian conflict from the eyes of eleven-year-old Zlata.  It is an excellent read in that the pictures painted by the narrative do far more to bring the reality and complexity of the war to life for children than simply reading about Sarajevo in a text or newspaper.  I highly recommend this book for adults and children ages 12+. 

As part of an ongoing library book club, my DD11 just read Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. Though the book is a bit of an "easy read" for her, she enjoyed it immensely.  Probably because much of the story focuses on the main characters (twin boys) having crushes on the girls they meet at their new school.  In my opinion, this book is "okay" - not great, not terrible, not one of my favorite Clements books, but okay. In the opinion of my daughters (three of the four have read it), it's a wonderful book and they can't wait to go to the discussion today - so for a reluctant reader, and perhaps especially for 11- or 12-year-old boys, it would be a fun book.

Ah, the graphic novel.  Not something I have ever been able to get excited about.  I wasn't a comic book fan as a kid, and the graphic novel is so close to the comic book that I just don't get it.  I am a reader that likes to imagine my own visuals, not have them done for me.  My DD9, however, LOVES graphic novels. She devours them.  She is currently (or should I say concurrently?) reading books 4, 5 and 6 in the Nancy Drew graphic novel collection.  Sigh.

Last, but certainly not least, my little one just finished reading an American girl mystery: The Light in the Cellar.  As leader of an American Girl book club, I have read countless AG books.  So many, in fact, that I have tried to block most of them out.  That being said, I do think these books are good books for kids in that they are interesting and provide a bit of historical information.  In addition, the books provide excellent starting points for conversation or future study.  This book would be a good supplement to any study or World War II and life on the home front. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Time4Learning Review

Last month, I received a free one-month subscription to Time4Learning contingent on using the program with my child and posting a review at the end of the subscription period.  My youngest daughter, age 8, had been using Oak Meadow 3 this year but I found that I was having to supplement and change many parts of the curriculum to fit her needs (I have not found this to be the case with my three other daughters who are also using Oak Meadow).  My youngest is a little different - she has a hard time concentrating and is very easily distracted.  Additionally, she needs far more "hand-holding" than her sisters did even when they were the same age.  On various homeschooling boards I had read that T4L often worked quite well with children that had attention and hyperactivity issues.  Thus, when the opportunity came along to try T4L I thought, "Why not?"

I was prepared to dislike T4L simply because I do not like my children to be tied into the computer.  Additionally, I was afraid that the curriculum would be "too traditional" for my tastes with too much screen time and not enough creativity.  I am happy to say that I was wrong.  Additionally, T4L provides more than I anticipated for both parent and child. 

My daughter absolutely LOVES using this program.  She enjoys it, and she is learning.  She has been able to retain what she learns and gain independence.  One of my favorite features of the program is the Activity Scheduler - you can determine how many and which lessons will be covered each week of your academic year.  Another great feature is the ability to change levels dependent on your child's individual needs - in other words, you are not tied into the same grade for every subject.

I was also happy to learn that the science and social studies activities involved hands-on experiments, "field work," and projects. It is not as crafty a program as Oak Meadow (few are), but there were plenty of opportunities to make and create things, record and experiment, etc.  Furthermore, if your child is interested in something in particular it is very easy to add in other crafts/experiments, but there are not so many in the program that you feel overwhelmed.  For example, my daughter created an embossed metal amulet after learning about the Inuit amulets. 

Another area which works extremely well for my daughter is the interactive nature of the learning programs and the instructional videos.  They capture her attention, and the immediate feedback on the lesson activity quizzes helps her better her understanding of the material presented.  In math, for example, I can tell that she has improved her grasp of several different concepts in just the past month.  Additionally, every lesson has a quiz or question-answer portion which assesses learning.  I used to think that this type of exercise was unnecessary, but I have to say that I believe there is value as these activities show where we need to review or work further.  I was surprised several times when my daughter didn't understand concepts that I would have sworn she did.  I am glad that we were able to go back and review before moving on.

It did take a couple of weeks to get into the groove and determine how much to do in a day, but once we found that groove it's been relatively smooth sailing.  I cannot speak for every grade level, and certainly any one program will not work for every child, but this program definitely works for my youngest daughter.  In fact, I left the decision up to my daughter and she asked to keep using T4L.  As such, I have extended our membership.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to try the program!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Eight Weeks

“You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing the small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
Alvin Toffer
The above quote reminds me that all of the small things we've done this school year are adding up to a big thing - the completion of another successful homeschool year. And that's unequivocally no small feat, as any homeschooler will tell you.  For me, it's hard to believe that we only have eight weeks of school remaining.  A lot can happen in eight weeks.  Or not happen.  It can be a veritable lifetime.  But when you start out on day one looking at a 36-week plan, getting down to eight makes it look like a very small amount of time.  It also means that many small bits -  2- or 6- or 8-week sections of the academic year - have been accomplished.  When I think about the books read, pictures drawn, sculptures created, reports written, power point presentations given ... I'm amazed at my children.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do in the last 8 weeks. Hopefully we'll keep heading in "the right direction." 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Same Question, Different Day...

As this academic year rounds the final corner, I've been thinking more and more about our plans for next year. Not so much the academic plans, but rather our extracurricular plans.  Some things are easy: swim team.  Some things are more challenging: everything else.  I have this same question every year - it's getting old.  At the same time, would I be a "real" homeschooler without this question? this uncertainty?  Of course, I'm kidding. I'm sure there are homeschoolers that don't question their plans and schedules.  I just don't think I'm one of them. In fact, I know I'm not.

One of the issues for me is that for three years I've lead or co-lead classes for homeschoolers.  Before that I organized park days, or organized group field trips, or lead homeschool girl scouts, or set up science classes  ... And even before my kids were school age I organized a cooperative "pre-school."  Basically, I'm feeling the need for a break from organizing and planning!  My dream solution would be a one-day-per-week drop-off program for homeschoolers that has elective-type classes or workshops.  It would also be free (or very cheap) - but still good quality! - because while in my dream world I could afford something like that, here on Earth I can't.  Oh, and I would love for it to only be 5, maybe 10, minutes from the house.

Another issue is that while I have enjoyed attending classes/etc for homeschoolers, I do not enjoy morning activities. I find that my kids focus best and work most efficiently before lunch, so I prefer to schedule classes, play dates, etc., after lunch. I have been able to find alternatives to what I've been doing, but they are all in the morning - and at least 30-40 minutes from my house.  Doesn't work.

I know I'll figure it out, and that no matter what we end up doing it will work out fine.  I just don't like the interim uncertainty. It's not fun.

AND. I do really wish my dream-world plan could happen ... 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Time 4 Learning Review - Coming Up!

I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. My opinion will be entirely my own, so be sure to come back and read about my experience. Time4Learning can be used as a homeschool curriculum, for afterschool enrichment and for summer skill sharpening. Find out how to write your own curriculum review for Time4Learning.

From the Bookshelves...

Family Audiobook
We have been listening to The Black Cauldron (Book 2 in the Chronicles of Prydain) and just finished the book. I know there are mixed reviews for this series, but so far I am a fan.  The narrator does an amazing job with the different characters and voices - he really brings them to life, and given the sheer number of characters that is quite a talent!  Once that finished we continued on with our Cahill love affair - currently on Book Four of the 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers series, Shatterproof.   I really enjoy this series on audio as well.  Sometimes my mind wanders, but for the most part I'm just as disappointed as the kids when we have to turn the story off and exit the minivan. 

Dad's nightstand
My husband is very slowly making his way through The Game of Thrones series (which is actually not the correct title - the series is actually called A Song of Fire and Ice).  He is currently a fair way into book two, A Clash of Kings.  I've read the entire series and am totally hooked. However, I woudl like to warn would-be readers that "the end" of the series is not the end - there are at least two more books that are yet to be written. However, given the author's age and the length of time it's taken him to write the first set, many fan sites caution that we may never know the end of this story as he envisions it... which is extremely frustrating!  So reader beware.

Mom's arsenal
I have two books to share ...  The first is Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  I'm almost done with this novel and while I like it, I also don't like it.  I don't know exactly what that means but that is how I feel about the book.  Usually I can pinpoint my feelings, but with this book the best I can describe my reaction is "torn."  It is for a book discussion so I'm hoping it at least means it will make for an excellent discussion book.  The novel moves back in forth in time, through different perspectives, different locations, and very different writing styles.  I am also (re)reading Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, which is book one in the His Dark Assassins trilogy, and also a YA book.  I read it while back and am refreshing my memory for an upcoming book discussion at the library.  I really enjoyed this book the first time around and am still enjoying it the second.  I would recommend it for older teens (not middle school) as I think they will appreciate the storyline far more than younger children might. 

My oldest daughter reads many, many books.  One of the novels she is currently working through is Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.  We are using this book as our inspiration historical fiction novel in our writing co-op. My daughter loves this book. I loved this book. All of the girls in the group love this book.  The novel takes place during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, and in addition to being a well-written novel with much to offer by way of literature, the book provides historical information and "jumping off" points for further investigation.  I believe it would be an excellent addition to a History-English program. 

To tie into our history lessons on The West, my daughter is reading Caddie Woodlawn by C.R. Brink.  This story is such a great tale for girls - the main character, Caddie, does not fit into the stereotypical "girl" role (though in my opinion she does fit into the rather stereotypical "rough'n'tumble Western gal"  mold) and challenges traditions left and right.  Best of all, the book is based on the real-life stories from the author's grandmother. My daughter is enjoying the novel immensely, and I would recommend it to any girl (or boy!) from grade 4+. 

My third daughter is also studying The West, and she is reading Little House on the Prairie.  This is not the first time she's read the book, but she is a bit older this time around (I believe she was 6 or 7 the last time we read it) and she is getting far more out of it this go-around.  There's not much I can about Little House that hasn't already been said - a true classic.  Her older sister re-read it last week, and next week the girls will both be creating reports and presentations about life in The West using example from Little House to tie into literature.  This series has so much to offer homeschoolers - it's easy to find resources to use the books for every possible subject. 

Last but not least, my youngest is reading Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary.  This is a funny, engaging read - perfect for younger readers.  This book tells the tale of a contrary third-grader who refuses to learn cursive writing when the rest of her class does.  Her resolve is tested when she must carry notes (all in cursive!) and she worries some may be about her... This book is an excellent choice when you want to fit in a unit that includes reading the novel and completing a book project or book report all in the same week. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Story Quilt Book Reports

Story quilts are a fun way to create an out-of-the-box book report ... even though they are actually in the shape of a box.  There are as many ways to design a story quilt as there are stories, and as such are never boring.  I've created a little "cheat sheet" that can be used as basic guide, but it can easily be altered as needed (normally I like to credit sources and I used several different websites for inspiration when making this sheet, but unfortunately as it was a while back I do not remember which ones). Quilts can be used in other subjects as well - history, science, art, grammar ... the list is endless.  They may also be as large or small as desired. My favorite way to "sew" a quilt together is to mount each square on card stock and use ribbon or yarn to connect the squares together. I hope someone finds this source useful - enjoy!

Please click to access Story Quilt Guide.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Oak Meadow

**This review will be archived as a page, located on the right column.

This is our first year using Oak Meadow, and as we round the final corner and head towards the end of the year I thought I would write a detailed review about our experiences.  I have been a rather eclectic homeschooler in the past – we’ve tried unschooling (albeit briefly), the classical approach, Moving Beyond the Page, and now Oak Meadow. During my years as a classically-bent homeschooler I tried many, many different curricula including my own creations.  I still am a homeschooler who supplements where necessary and adds in different projects as desired.  And I am writing all of this so that as you read my review you better understand from where I come and how Oak Meadow might work for our family.  It is also interesting to note that we only do school Monday through Thursday, so we are able to fit everything in during a 4-day school week (though sometimes my 7th grader does have “homework” - not surprising given that she's in middle school).

We started out the year using Oak Meadow (OM) 3, OM4, OM5, and OM7.  I quickly moved my fourth grader into OM5 so we currently use OM3, OM5, and OM7.  OM4 is a nice program, but my fourth grader works at an advanced grade level after years of being included into the same work as her older sister and she wasn’t being challenged in OM4 although she loved the science and art and has continued to incorporate some of those lessons into her daily work and personal journaling.
Oak Meadow cannot be summarily reviewed as there is a dramatic change in the philosophical approach beginning in fourth grade.  OM3 is less “academic” and focuses more on developing a child’s love of learning, creative expression, and a mastery of basic math facts.  There are no rote assignments and little writing (specifically compared to MBtP or a classically-influenced curriculum).  The literature and history are not interwoven, and OM3 does not include a separate math book.  I have had a successful year using OM3 with my youngest child because (1) she needed a program that did not include seatwork except where necessary; and (2) I have supplemented and changed the program to fit our needs.  An example of how I’ve changed the program is by integrating her literature choices with history, adding additional history projects using SOTW and Lesson Pathways.  I’ve also included more traditional academic assignments, like book reports, writing assignments, etc.  However, I’ve continued to use OM3 as a “spine” and guidebook for the academic year with the exception of math as my daughter uses a separate program.   OM3 would be a good fit for a child that needs flexibility and a parent who doesn’t mind supplementing if her child wants to dig deeper.  

We only used OM4 for about 2 months, so I don’t want to give a full review (that will hold until next year after I use it with my last child).  However, I do think it’s interesting to note that beginning in OM4 the syllabus is written to the child.  A parent should expect to read through each week’s lesson and go over projects and expectations. I created a weekly checklist for my daughter to help her visually stay on track (I believe without this checklist she would have been lost).  It can be quite an adjustment for a child so I would recommend checking in frequently to see if there are questions, issues, etc.  OM4 Math is sold separately so it is easy to adjust the math level/program as needed.  OM4 Math is written to the parent and is not independent.

My middle girls are happily using OM5 – they love how History and English are integrated.  There are enough academic projects to keep them working hard, but not so many that they are overwhelmed.  They have time to be creative and follow any interests piqued by the lessons (and there are many).  The Science is not overwhelming but rather offers a good starting point for additional experiments or projects. For example, we’ve added in additional chemistry experiments when we had time and they were interested. But some weeks we’re swamped and simply follow the lessons as laid out.  OM5 Science is a broad science curriculum encompassing many topics.  Every lesson or so ends in a test to ensure major concepts are remembered.  I let my girls complete this open book as I feel it’s more important to understand than memorize.  OM5 Math is working well for us, though we do also use Life of Fred and occasionally Math Mammoth as a supplement or when a concept needs more work.  OM5 would be a good fit for a child looking to work academically but not be bogged down by lots of seatwork or busy work.  It is easy to follow interests and add in projects where needed.   You can buy OM5 History & English (one book), OM5 Science, and OM5 Math.

My oldest daughter is using OM7 and loves school this year.  OM7 subjects can be purchased separately, (although OM7 English is basically a part of OM7 History and it would not be worth it to buy separately): OM7 English, OM7 History (World History), OM7 Science (Environmental Science), and OM7 Math.  The History and English are quite rigorous and require a good amount of reading and writing.  If your child struggles with reading or writing (or both), expect a major adjustment period. However, the reading and writing are almost all very high-interest assignments so even struggling readers will find them intriguing.  I have only crossed off a handful of assignments over the course of the year (usually when we are traveling and have to cut the week short).  I find the quality of information in the OM History syllabus to be quite good and have been happy with it overall.  The program encourages students to investigate topics on their own and to use independent resources.  The science program works for us, however if you have a child that is extremely interested in science I would guess that you will need to supplement.  There have been a few topics where we added projects, but for the most part she simply follows the syllabus (partially because we’ve done Environmental Science before).  Both History and Science offer options when it comes to projects so children have the opportunity to utilize different learning styles.  My daughter will almost always choose a writing assignment, so sometimes I choose for her so she can try her hand at building, painting, etc.  OM7 math is a VERY good fit for us.  There are not hundreds of problems every day and the lessons are well-written and explain the concepts clearly.  However, there is not a placement test available (if I’m wrong, please provide a link) so it was hard to decide which level to choose for her. She passed Saxon math’s placement test for pre-algebra, but just barely.  So I decided an extra year of foundational math was the better path for her.  She uses OM7 Math in conjunction with Life of Fred Fractions/Decimals as well as Math Mammoth when needed (so far only needed for extra practice with probability and chance).  

Overall, I am jumping up and down at having finally taken the Oak Meadow plunge. It is a curriculum I looked at every year but never purchased.  In general, I happy with the quality of the programs, the amount of work expected in each grade, the options offered for different learning styles, and the emphasis on creative thinking.  I like that there are many opportunities to add in our own projects (I’m definitely a “tweaker” and “supplementer”) and to investigate areas of interest.  My girls have a full school day, but the day does not go on and on and on.   And, OM is a very reasonably priced program – especially if you buy it used.  This year I bought everything from OM3 to OM8 used for less money than I’ve ever spent, even when I created everything myself.  However, no program is perfect and neither is Oak Meadow.  That being said, I have very few complaints. We have found only a few typos (which, after using MBtP is a welcome change!).  Most of the assignments are very good, though there have been the occasional projects that were either impractical or impossible for us.   I believe the program could be improved by providing an overall weekly checklist for each subject (I create this for/with my girls so they can see what has to be done each week).  

Lastly, I can say that this has been our smoothest homeschool year on record. My girls love the program and I love that they love it. I'm happy with content and the cost, I'm happy with the time required, and I'm happy that I'm no longer scrambling to find everything for everyone.