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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Missing in Action - An Update

Homeschooler at the Food Bank
I cannot believe how long it has been since I've posted ... wow.  As much as I enjoy blogging, I also seem to drop it like it's hot as soon as I get busy. And busy is my middle name these days.  Somehow I seem to add to my schedule every year when every year I swear up and down that I am removing obligations. But in all honesty, the busyness is worth it when it is all about the kids or giving back to the community (see photo).  

There is no possible way to catch up on the months gone by, but we are still homeschooling and still (for the most part) enjoying it immensely.  Today marks the start of Week 25 in our homeschool calendar, which means we are closing in on the home stretch as we begin our last quarter of the academic year. 

I've learned much this school year. I've learned that children only become more complicated and challenging as they get older (I knew this, but this year it really, really hit home as three of my four girls have hit different stages of puberty - fun stuff).  I thought it was difficult when I had a couple of babies and a couple of toddlers, but now that I have tweens and (yikes!) one that will turn 13 soon I have to say that it's a good thing humans continue to learn and adapt as we age otherwise our children would quickly outsmart us and we'd be left scratching our heads and wondering why we're doing dishes while they are out at a One Direction movie (please note: if you do not know what "One Direction" is you are not the parent of a teen or tween girl).

I've learned that giving my children more and more independence with school work and work around the home is beneficial to all parties involved. 

I've learned that despite having a fantastic laundry schedule (in which all of the girls do their own laundry) I still have to be the taskmaster in this area to ensure it actually gets done in a timely manner. Or suffer from HCLS - Hidden Clean Laundry Syndrome - in which clean laundry is mysteriously found under beds and in corners of closets.

I've learned that I truly enjoy teaching.  A friend and I offer a writing class to middle school girls and I absolutely look forward to this class each month.  It's a highlight of the month for me.

And I've learned that while it's important to keep looking ahead and plan well, I also can enjoy the daily moments.  I have always tried to do that, but I feel that this year I've succeeded better than others.  That probably goes back to that humans-continuing-to-learn-and-adapt-as-we-age thing.   But I've learned to accept that life happens despite my plans and to enjoy it.

Hopefully as we round the corner toward the finish line of this academic year, I'll post more frequently... but as life somehow continues to happen despite all of my well-laid plans we'll just have to see how it goes.