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May 3, 2016

The Pencil Grip, Inc. TOS Review

I knew when I first heard about Kwik Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc., there were going to be a couple of happy boys at our house.  I didn't realize there would also be a happy mom!  The Kwik Stix 12 pk arrived while Grandma and Poppa were visiting.  They always bring projects to build and toys to play with when they're here.  This time, it was a set of wooden castles and catapults that needed to be painted before they could be played with.  The boys (and grandma) were already painting with the paint pots that came with the castles when the Kwik Stix were delivered.  The table was covered with brown paper, Merrick was wearing an apron, the cups of water and paper towels were out.  You know the drill.

The toughest part about painting like that for the boys is w a i t i n g.  Waiting for the paint to dry between colors when they wanted to paint details.  Waiting for it to dry to play with.  Sometimes being patient is difficult.  We were able to finish up the castles in minutes, compared to a couple of hours.  In no time at all, everything was painted and dried.

At first, we used the acrylic paint in pots, but once the Kwik Stix arrived, we were able to get rid of all of the brown paper, aprons, and paper towels.  The black castle on the left was painted with Kwik Stix.

Kwik Stix look like a glue stick.  You simply remove the cap and twist the tempera paint stick out of the tube.  Apply the paint and twist it right back into the tube.  Recap.  No-mess art and almost zero clean up.  Easy like Sunday morning.  Pause here to sing it.  Feel the mellow.  I'll wait.  The colors are incredibly bright and give great coverage.  The Kwik Stix 12 pk contains red, orange, yellow, two shades of green, two shades of blue, purple, pink, white, brown, and black.  Besides the 12 pack, Kwik Stix comes in a six pack of neons or metallix paints, as well as a basic six pack or a whopping 96-count classroom pack which is eight of each color from the 12 pack.  I did think with thorough coverage, it took two to three minutes to dry completely.  Even though I didn't see 90 second dry time, it was still very reasonable and much faster than regular paints.

Merrick, Xavier, and I have painted on tons of paper, in lots of colors.  We've even layered colors. Merrick has become somewhat notorious for choosing dark colors of construction paper and covering large portions of them with black Kwik Stix.  We thoroughly tested light paint on dark paper, dark on light, layering paints on each other.  When we let the first color dry, there was no problem layering colors without mixing them.

I used Kwik Stix on the cardboard tri-fold when we made our Alan Shepard display corner.  (I wish there had been a gray Kwik Stix for the moon topography.)  Also, I may have finished up *all* of the black stick (which we used in many projects before the tri-fold) by the end of the display board, so the coverage wasn't as thick as I had intended to get it.

Malachi isn't a huge artsy kid.  He just isn't that interested.  He had a big, canvas hoop tent that I picked up at Joann's for 75% off just before Christmas.  (SCORE!)  The kit was intended to be tie-dyed, but when I talked with Mal about how we wanted to decorate it and which colors we would dye it, he was adamant that it should be decorated with trains.  The tent sat in the box for a couple of months while I thought about the best way to decorate canvas.  After the Kwik Stix arrived, Mal decided to use them to paint the train scene from Back to the Future 3 on his tent.  He even ended up drawing a little Doc and Clara hanging off the side of the engine by the time he was done.

At co-op, there hasn't been any chance to paint in Mrs. Blake's art class.  Her class was (I say *was* because last week was the last class of the year!) the last period of the day, so there was no way paint would dry before it was time to leave.  No way paint would dry before Kwik Stix!  I took the pack in for our group one day.  I laid down a few ground rules about not twisting out the entire stick of tempera paint and giving the paint a couple minutes to dry before layering the colors.  The group is about ages 3-7.  They all did a terrific job following instructions and were pretty creative.  Some of them painted the clothespin airplanes we made and some made pictures on construction paper.

When the Kwik Stix arrived, I was also surprised to receive a Pencil Grip in the box.  We actually have a bit of experience with various pencil grips in this house.  Mal has had a time of learning to properly hold a pen or pencil for writing and we've used our fair share of tricks and techniques to help him with that.  The Pencil Grip is a nice, somewhat squishier grip that is suitable for left or right handed people.  The letters R and L mark the section where the user's thumb rests.  The Pencil Grip is recommended by PTs and OTs, and it's definitely the best one we've tried.

There's a page of free informational PDFs about the Pencil Grip on their website.

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Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review

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May 2, 2016

Mal at the Pediatrician

A few weeks ago, I was looking back on my old posts for the day. I was made angry all over again over a nurse who, many years back, *jokingly* told Mal he needed ten shots that day. Who tells a kid that kind of thing?

Anyway, he needed two shots at his check up yesterday. He still isn't 100% himself, so when he asked me while we were waiting if I'd make him a milk shake when we got home, I told him yes. The nurses started discussing milk shakes with him and asked him to bring some back for them next time he comes in. One said she liked chocolate.
When we left, Mal took them completely at their word and told me he was concerned because the nurse in purple never said what flavor she liked. I have a feeling I'll be making milk shakes at this time next year!

Apr 28, 2016

Things We Do For PE in Our Homeschool - Swim Lessons

Grandma and Papa provided swim lessons for the boys.  As usual, only Mal and Xav were able to participate, so Merrick was bored and displeased.  He behaved himself, but it wasn't as good as swimming, too.  Miss Laurel is a terrific teacher.  The boys all loved her right away.  She had Xavier floating on his back, sort of doing a front crawl, and kicking himself along on his back during the four weeks we spent with her.  Mal still hates to get his face wet, but I think if he had to, he could dog paddle.

If family members ask what they can give the kids for birthdays or Christmas, lessons are a great option.  And they don't take up more space at home.

Apr 27, 2016

YWAM Publishing TOS Crew Review

We really used to enjoy using unit studies, but have gotten away from them with the hoop jumping I've been feeling the need to perform for the state.  YWAM Publishing has just what we needed to bring some fun back to school.  One of our favorite units when the boys were small was about the moon.  YWAM's Heroes of History title, Alan Shepard: Higher and Faster and the corresponding Digital Unit Study was a great introduction to this company.

We received the book in the mail and an email to access the Alan Shepard digital unit study.  The book is a 240 page paperback with a recommended age range of ten and up.  It covers Alan's life beginning with his pre-teen years in East Derry, NH. 

I quickly downloaded the files and found that they opened up in a nice site with tabs and a nifty design, but I couldn't get to the files.  I called my gEEk over and he quickly found the source documents so I was able to open the PDF files.  That's all I really wanted anyway!

The main study guide PDF consisted of the following sections.
  • Key Quotes
Quotes by Alan Shepard and other related notables are listed.  These can be used for memorization, inclusion in a unit display, copywork, or any number of other uses.
  • Display Corner
    I think the favorite part was creating our display corner. 

  •  Vocabulary
Last year, I started a simple dictionary for Mal and Xav to each have.  I just put 26 pages in a portfolio folder, each page labeled with a letter of the alphabet.  We used it for a while, then changed to a vocabulary workbook.  With this unit on Alan Shepard, we got them back out and began writing out the vocabulary word for each chapter, looking it up in their dictionaries, determining which definition applied if there was more than one, then writing a brief definition in their own words.  This part could get time consuming with them, but I think the dictionary practice was well worth it.  They seem to be able to remember more of the vocabulary words this way.

  •  Questions
  1. One factual question
  2. Two comprehension questions
  3. Two opinion-type questions.
I chose to let them answer the questions orally and we had some great discussions some day.  The answer to this section can be found in Appendix B of the digital unit study.
    • Student Explorations
    These are an assortment of tasks that you could choose to assign that include essays, creative writing, arts and crafts, A/V, and hands-on projects.  The boys are currently making rockets with their dad, and Xav and I look at moon topography maps, which were a couple of the hands-on items in the list.
    • Community Links
    These are ideas for classroom visits and field trips, an excellent list.
    • Social Studies
    This extensive section has ideas for several geography studies that relate to Alan Shepard's life, a timeline (Appendix C), a much longer list of related terms and vocabulary.  One nice thing in this section is that the words are cross referenced to the page of the book that they first appear on.
    • Related Themes to Explore
    Want to incorporate cross-curriculum learning?  This is a good place to find related topics to study in other subjects at the same time you study this Alan Shepard biography.  We call those rabbit trails and we run down these, unplanned, often!
    • Culminating Events
    Plan a fun party and invite friends and family to hear all about Alan Shepard and his life.  Show off what you know!
    • Appendix A is a related book and resource list, beginning with other biographies, and including articles, websites, and videos.  Several other YWAM Heroes of History biographies are tied in here also.
    • Appendix B - Chapter questions answers.
    • Appendix C actually is a separate file and contains the reproducibles needed for the Social Studies activities in chapter 6.
    The Alan Shepard Digital Unit Study lists far more activities than I could do on one go 'round with the boys.  I really appreciated the variety of projects for all ages that YWAM provides.  I was able to choose selections that were both enjoyable and educational.  My punks certainly like the read aloud aspect we chose to use (no one can complain that someone moved their bookmark, because they weren't both reading it simultaneously) and, surprisingly, answering the chapter questions and discussing what was happening in the book.  Merrick was sometimes able to be involved, which made him a happy guy.

    Some of the activities, I thought, will be better suited to Redhanded Homeschool when the boys are a bit older; essay questions, for instance.  I anticipate being able to use the Alan Shepard digital unit study again in junior high or high school.  And I'll get to be much more hands off!

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    Apr 21, 2016

    Things We Do For PE in Our Homeschool - Ski Lessons

    Can you believe Dad and I have never had a ski lesson in our lives?  Well, good gravy!  We live in ski country.  The family was able to get group rate ski lessons with our homeschool co-op, but we also have heard of other homeschoolers who are willing to organize lots of random people for group lessons.  Some charge a fee and some do not.  If you're in a ski area, call the mountain and ask if they have group rates and if they know of anyone who organizes trips like this.

    On off peak days, the bigger boys can each ski for $20.  That includes lesson and rentals (skis, boots, and helmets).  Another $10 each would give them access to the lift. 

    Merrick can't get official lessons yet, but I *think* he can next year.  I'm looking forward to not having to sit in the yurt entertaining him.  He gets so upset that he is never allowed (old enough) to participate with his brothers.
    Cocoa in the yurt.

    Apr 20, 2016

    Wonderfully Made Book Review

    Do your children always seem to hit you unawares with questions about where they came from, how did they get there, and what did they eat in there, anyway? I have some curious kiddos with lots of questions.  Especially Xavier!  Oh the questions!

    Wonderfully Made: God's story of life from conception to birth is a delightful look at life in the womb from conception to birth. It describes, in simple terms, what babies look like, how they spend the time in the womb growing and practicing all the skills they will need for life outside the womb. The best thing about this book, is that there is no content that would make me reconsider leaving it out for the children to access any time, on their own. This had been a stumbling block with some books I had picked up which provided much more detail than I may have been ready to share. And really, sometimes the littles haven't even asked those questions yet. Wonderfully Made is tactfully written from a loving mother's voice directly to her children, just as I might tell my guys “their stories.”

    At many places, the size of the baby was compared to familiar items.  A nail head, an apple, and a ruler were all used for reference.  The only confusion we had was week eight and nine.  In week eight, the baby is described as the size of a pencil sharpener and in week nine, an olive.  Our pencil sharpener is pretty big and I had one guy ask if the baby shrank!  They learned which organs were being formed when.  It was a pretty complete introduction to how babies are grown.

    Scripture is sprinkled throughout the book and the gospel message of Christian rebirth is shared at the very end of the book.

    The illustrations are colorful and somehow soothing to look through. We enjoyed watching this little babe grow and develop. The other children throughout the illustrations are precious to watch just being kids and the contrast to the developing child helps little ones grasp that they were once just like that.

    Your preschooler to age ten or so (Mal is 11 and enjoyed it) will almost surely love this look at the miracle of life in the womb. Wonderfully Made is a wonderful addition to your home library.  I purchased a second copy as a gift for an expectant friend and her children because I liked it so much. They also enjoyed it.

    I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was not required to post a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions are my own or those of my family.

    Apr 19, 2016

    A+ Interactive Math TOS Review

    We have some math learning gaps.  It isn't because we don't cover everything they need for math.  Some things just don't stick.  We often go over things regularly, but we can miss a few days and then everyone forgets to carry, can't estimate, and doesn't know how to divide.  It's frustrating for me, but it's especially tough for the boys.  They're sometimes pretty hard on themselves.  A+ Interactive Math now offers Math Mini-Courses along with their regular math lessons.

    I chose two courses, one for each of the bigger littles;
    • Time (1st-4th) - 20 lessons for Malachi, and
    • Money (1st-5th) - 18 lessons for Xavier.
    This is a basic review of the concepts needed to learn the mini-course topics through a certain grade level.  This varies with the courses selected.  The Parent Dashboard enables you to assign the courses to your student and set up their A+ account login and password.  Here, I can also see grades received on each of the video lessons.  A completion date is also listed, but that must be entered manually.  I also can print the questions for the lessons as a math worksheet for table work.  Since we hook the laptop up to the television, which is easier on the eyes, the worksheets work well for us.  Also, it's handy paper for working any arithmetic.  The questions have been pretty much the same online as the worksheets, so a few times I've just entered the answers from their papers online so it's all recorded in my reports.  I don't know if that's the case with every lesson through to the end or in all mini-courses.

    After I log off, one of the boys can log into the account I set up for them.  Then they launch their class.  The program doesn't remember where they left off, so I try to keep track so they can go straight to the appropriate lesson in the menu.  A couple of times, we've clicked ahead of where we were and had to close the box that wanted us to mark the lesson complete so we could go back where we belonged.  Once it was quite insistent that I should mark it complete.  I just closed the whole window and relaunched the course.

    The lesson is a video and a pleasant sounding woman's voice which reads the video screen to the punks.  Generally, she will read a few screens worth of information before the questions start getting asked.  I'm not sure if you are *supposed* to be answering the questions during the video, but there is barely a pause between asking a question and "If you said ____, you're correct."  It drives the boys bonkers, so I need to be standing there to pause the video the second a question is asked so they have time for a breath, a thought, and to answer.

    After the bulk of the video lesson, an online Question and Answer session begins.  As I said, this is also where I could enter in the answers the boys wrote on their math worksheets, if I wanted.  Most of the questions are multiple choice.  Some questions require an answer to be entered manually.  After typing the answer into the spot indicated on the screen, there is a frog on the screen which needs to be clicked on to submit the answer.  If you miss the frog, the system will not receive the answer and the section will not be scored properly.

    Once the lesson and questions are completed, you then manually mark each lesson completed with the date.

    If your child is experiencing any learning gaps in math and enjoys a no-frills audio and video lesson, you may find just what you need at A+ Interactive Math.

    Other Math Mini-Courses include:
    • Counting and Identifying Numbers (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Place Value and Number Combinations (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Naming, Comparing and Arranging Numbers (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Fractions (1st-3rd) - 10 lessons
    • Early Elementary Addition (1st-3rd) - 17 lessons
    • Early Elementary Subtraction (1st-3rd) - 15 lessons
    • Elementary Geometry (1st-4th) - 19 lessons
    • Elementary Algebra (1st-4th) - 27 lessons
    • Tables, Charts and Graphs (1st-6th) - 17 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Multiplication (2nd-6th) - 13 lessons
    • Elementary & Middle School Division (2nd-6th) - 15 lessons
    • Measurements and Conversions (2nd-6th) - 23 lessons
    • Number Types and Conversions (3rd-6th) - 35 lessons
    • Ratio, Proportions, Probability & Statistics (3rd-6th) - 14 lessons 
    • Decimal Numbers (3rd-7th) - 20 lessons
    • Advanced Geometry (4th-7th) - 35 lessons
    • Advanced Fractions (4th-8th) - 26 lessons
    • Percentages (5th-8th) - 13 lessons
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    Math Mini-Courses {A+ Interactive Math Review}

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