Cutest Blog and Widdlytink

My Stick Family from

May 31, 2016

Essential Skills Advantage TOS Review

Essential Skills Advantage has come a long way since my family last had access in 2014!  It's very streamlined and fun.  Last time, I think it just covered reading and language for K-6th grades.  We have been able to review the Complete Home Learning Suite which has grown to include all these subjects!
  • Science for K-3rd (earth and space, physical, and life sciences)
  • Reading for K-6th (phonics, reading, and comprehension)
  • Math for K/1st-6th (number concepts and math operations)
  • Spelling for 1st-6th (fun with spelling, spelling master, spelling stumpers)
  • Geography for 3rd-5th (map and globe skills, world, US, and Canadian geography)
  • Language and Grammar for 3rd-6th (creative writing, grammar, vocabulary building)

I have to say, it was the geography that really sucked me in.  I think it's super important for us to learn about, but when you have kiddos struggling to read or do math, you don't think as much about that kind of subject.  This will be a perfect summer learning opportunity while we set aside some of our other subjects.

Xavier is a huge science fan, so he enjoyed having the 3rd grade science program.  He just finished THREE science classes at co-op (yes, all the kid took at co-op was science and PE type classes), so he enjoyed having yet another science outlet.  Xav can work on it whenever he wants to, completely independently, which makes *me* happy.

Merrick (I may have mentioned this before) LOVES school, as in {bigfatpuffyheart}'s it.  This is not something he can complete on his own, though.  Xav or I usually sit with him to help.  A few times there has been something that doesn't require reading, but mostly he needs assistance.  Even when he did need reading, he did great matching the first sounds in the answer with the words on the screen.

When the boys would complete an activity, they hear encouraging things like
  • A crowd saying "WOW!"
  • "Good job!"
  • A guitar riff.
  • and "I appreciate your effort."
It seemed silly, but Merrick and Xav just loved hearing these.  We especially liked the last one.  We grinned and laughed about it at first, but it has since made it's way into our every day vocabulary.  I get such a kick out of their faces when I say that to them.  One night, Xav didn't particularly love dinner and when he told me, he said, "but I do appreciate your effort!"

ESA can be used on iPads and Android devices.  I asked Xav (my poor guinea pig) to try it on my Kindle.  He was able to use it in my browser, but he did need to do a fair bit of zooming in and out to see well or touch the right locations.  He was frustrated, but completed several activities.  I don't really recommend using other devices, but we love ESA on the laptop.  That's portable enough for most things anyway.

Merrick and Xav often used ESA during the week when Malachi had appointments.  They like to invade his sessions, so I would take the laptop to their room and they would "help" each other complete their activities.  It was a great way to keep them busy and distracted.

I was able to monitor their progress easily.  I simply log into my classroom and select "marks" under the boys' names.  I can see all of the subjects each of them had done.  The first screen shows how complete each subject is and the average score achieved.  Clicking the blue circle under that, I could see the same information for each sub-heading.  Clicking further still, I'm shown each activity under that.  If I click one more time, I see how many attempts Xav made on each activity and the average for that activity.  Xav didn't repeat any activities, so I basically just see the same information from the previous screen.

I can create a report which shows the number of activities completed (ex. 5/6 or 12/12), a letter grade, a percent correct, and any notes I want to add.  That can be done at any point in the program.  Once a section is completely done, I can print a certificate.  It shows the date you created the certificate rather than the date of completion, so if you need that to be accurate, you'll have to get them done right away.  You can save them as PDFs.

ESA is an impressive educational supplement, especially if you are looking at online learning for children who enjoy using media over textbook learning.

Find Essential Skills Advantage on social media.

Google +

Essential Skills Advantage Review

Crew Disclaimer

May 30, 2016

Recipe - Pieless Apples

I was tinkering in the kitchen the other day, when I decided to cook up some apple pie filling.  I wasn't trying to quite make the syrupy, drippy, thick, yummy kind.  Though that is tempting now that I think about it.  I decided to use a granny smith.  I cored it and sliced it into 16 pieces.  I didn't bother to peel it.  I melted a tsp of butter in a small pan and let the apples cook a few minutes.  Then I mixed about 1 tsp of granulated sugar, a tsp of cinnamon, and a 1/4 tsp of nutmeg.  I stirred that in the pan and let it bubble away while the apples continued cooking.  I added a little water (a couple TBSP) as needed just to keep things from burning and speed up the apples.

It tasted pretty good, but I determined it would need a bit more sugar.  I intended to use two tsp of sugar next time.  What I actually ended up doing was using a sweeter apple and brown sugar.  Use the basic instructions above with the following ingredients and let the apple get pretty cooked.

1 tsp butter
1 apple (pink lady or other somewhat firm sweet variety)
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
water as needed

Serves two.  Seriously.  It does.  Xav ate half of one, so it had to serve two.

This would be so good with granola, oats, or ice cream.

May 27, 2016

Heart Island, NY - Field Trip Friday

Every May, our co-op enjoys an amazing field trip that involves a bit of a drive, a hotel stay, and a bigger than your usual field trip kind of destination.  This is what all that fundraising we do throughout the year is all about.  So a big THANK YOU to everyone who buys fruit or fudge and shops at Hannaford's for us!

Boldt Castle on Heart Island was on our list of possibilities last year and came in a close second.  We added it back in this year and chose it.  It was a great trip.  From the hotel, to the boat ride, to the actual castle in the Thousand Islands, everything was perfect.  It was breezy and cool, but not cold or rainy.  Since we were outside a lot, that made a very pleasant trip.

We stayed at The Best Western in Watertown.  The boys could *not* wait to use the pool!  In the evening, Micah was able to get a run on the treadmill, so his schedule wasn't terribly interrupted.  It also had a huge room for breakfast and we took it over for games and a pizza party in the evening.  We also enjoyed their full breakfast Monday before we left for Alexandria Bay.

Uncle Sam Boat Tours took us to the island and to the yacht house on a nearby island.  I don't want to get ahead of myself about that place!  The people were all terrific and no boats sank with us on board, so I consider that a success!

The Castle

The castle was being built by a hotel magnate George Boldt for his wife as a gift.  Louise died before completion and the home was never completed.  It was left to rot where it stood and was vandalized.  The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority owns and is rebuilding the "castle" and other buildings.  Almost all of it is accessible to the public.

I want to say there were six levels from the foundation to the top.  In the foundation, there was a small pool.  One side of the foundation opened right out at ground level.  A tunnel led out to the grounds on the power house side.

The entry and grand staircase with kitchen, dining rooms (formal, maid, and servant), reception areas, den (or library), and sitting room were on the first floor.  On this floor, there also was a ballroom with a pipe organ and doors opening to the veranda that looked out over the gardens.

The second floor housed the family bedrooms and bathrooms.  There also was a small theater for modern day visitors to see a short film about the Boldt family, the life they led, and the building and abandonment of Boldt Castle.  The end of the video was a bit silly, claiming the Boldts' spirits have been seen roaming the grounds.  This is also where the gift shop is located.The entire floor was not finished and part of every level from here up was closed off.

The third floor seemed to be intended for nice sized rooms as well.  Maybe for guests?  I didn't look at the architectural plans on the wall.  I should have because from here up, I'm guessing about the purpose of each area.  (Ah ha!  I found the Boldt Castle map brochure which shows floor plans.  You can check it out.  I'm leaving my impressions of the upper levels here, but they aren't 100% accurate.)

The two higher levels, I imagine would have housed servants.  There was one odd, round window I noticed and couldn't figure out. But when I went out on a balcony, I could see that it made perfect sense on the face of the building.

Around Heart Island

Heart Island has several out buildings.  There was a power house where the generators to power the island were to be kept. It's connected to the island by an arched bridge.  It was severely damaged by a fire in the 1930s and now has some displays and old photographs of life on the river.  It was neat to see the games and other entertainments held on the St. Lawrence.

Alster Tower, or the "children's playhouse" was an incredible stone building surrounded by nooks and crannies and small sized doors.  The bowling alley was in this building as well as a billiards room.  The plans called for bedrooms and cafes and dancing areas.  This was the most castle-like building of them all to me, resembling a corner defense tower that would be set in an exterior castle wall.

The Dove-Cote once held the water tank for the island buildings and is where they kept fancy birds.  It was the first tower built on the island.

There was a lovely gazebo in the gardens around the island which had several heart shaped areas and fountains.  There also is a swan pond, which is actually void of swans.

The entry arch was stunning.  We didn't go in that way, there is another dock where visitors are brought in.  It once was the entry where guests would arrive.  It was never completed, as it was intended to have covered walkways.  Three stags, or harts (a play on the heart theme?), were placed atop the arch.

This is the part where we pointed out the yacht house on another island and the boys asked how we would get there.  Micah said, "Swim, of course."

Swim, little fish boys!

The Yacht House

The yacht house is located on nearby Wellesley Island.  Here, antique boats are housed.  We not only saw all of the wonderful boats, but Xav asked many appropriate questions and we learned about the screw jacks that raise and lower the boat decks for storage or use, respectively.

The steam yacht, The Kestrel, was housed there.  It was donated by a private owner.  Other boats on the premises, have been provided for display by the Antique Boat museum.

The building also housed the Yacht House keeper and his family.  The first floor of their tower home was also open to visitors.

I kept looking at the whole estate, especially from the river, and admiring the beauty of it.  Micah said he looks at it and just sees a lot of maintenance.  I think Dad Boldt probably wouldn't have had to worry about the maintenance himself.  He would have hired plenty of people to take care of all of that.  There is still so much work to be done, it's mind boggling.

I found an inflation calculator which tells me $1,000,000 then is over $24,000,000 today, so the Boldt family certainly had plenty of money.  No matter how wealthy someone is, though, the abandonment of the island was a terrible waste of money.  And I'm a bit romantic myself, but I thought never stepping foot back on the island (where neither of them died) seemed silly.

It was a really fun day with our co-op friends, definitely one of my favorite trips.

May 26, 2016

Sunya Publishing TOS Review

Math facts are a bit of a struggle here.  They haven't been memorized and sometimes I think they never will be.  I'm always and forever looking for ways to make arithmetic a little more enjoyable.  Sunya Publishing has a brand new game, Sunya - The Magic and Wonder of Math and Science Adding & Subtracting.  It will be available soon.  The Crew was able to get a sneak peek.  It is great for fact practice.

We've been playing more card games lately and this one is perfect for us.  It's a competitive game in that there is a winner.  It's also a cooperative game, in that the other players can help play your hand.  I just love that about Sunya.  This card game is for ages 7 to adult and only requires one player, though it's recommended for 1-5 players.

What does Sunya Adding and subtracting include?

We received an instruction book, two distinct decks of cards, and a number line.

The first deck consists of 60 number cards.
  • 3 zeros
  • 4 ones
  • 6 each of numerals 2-9
  • 2 Wild cards
  • 3 operations cards (+, -, =)
The second deck is made up of thirty fact and riddle cards.

The number line runs from -3 to 21.  It is 8.5" x 3" and includes examples as instructions for use.  This is a handy game tool and a nice way to introduce younger children to the number line and negative integers.

The 25 page softcover Parent/Teacher Guidebook is comb bound.  It includes instructions for play of several game variations, a copy of the fact and riddle cards, a few math facts and tricks, and a brief history of the Hindu-Arabic numerals system in use today, and from where the word Sunya derives.

In the word Sunya, the u is pronounced /ΓΌ/ as the "oo" in book.  Sunya is a Sanskrit word meaning empty.  When a player uses his last card(s) to win, he says "sunya."

The most basic of instructions for Sunya are for players to take turns making number sentences with their cards and to try to be the first to run out of cards.  Players decide if they will add or subtract for this round.  The dealer sets up a single digit number sentence using the appropriate operation cards and the 2-9 cards.  The dealer then deals four cards to each player.  The rest of the numbered cards become the draw pile.  The player to the left will draw a card signifying the beginning of their turn.  Next, looking at the number sentence in play and the cards in their hand, a new number sentence is to be formulated using any combination of cards in play and cards in the hand.  In the addition version, an entirely new sentence can be made using all cards from the dealt hand or two new addends that equal the sum in play or a new addend and a new sum can be used.  The first person to play all of their cards says, "Sunya."  The winning player then draws a card from the fact and riddle pile and reads it out loud to the other players.

There are more rules pertaining to wild cards, blocked wins, and exchanging cards, but that's the basic game.  Several variations of the game are also in the guidebook, including how to play with double digits, what to do with the zeros and ones.  As a mom with a younger guy, I can also appreciate the included activities for young children.  Merrick loves doing "school" and at his age, it's still all about fun.

Ordering, Matching, and Counting.
Sunya Publishing is also releasing Sunya - The Magic and Wonder of Math and Science Multiplying & Dividing.  I'm looking forward to playing that as well.  We enjoyed playing and helping each other and I think you will too.  Click the green banner below to read more about both games.

Math and Science {Sunya Publishing Review}

Crew Disclaimer

May 24, 2016

Science Shepherd TOS Review

Though science is not one of my stronger subjects, the boys love it, especially Xav.  He would science the day away.  He's very hands on.  Mal enjoys videos and a little hands on, with the right projects.  Merrick just likes to be involved.  When the opportunity to review Science Shepherd's Biblically based Introductory Science curriculum came up, I had some excited guys.

Dr. Scott Hardin developed Science Shepherd when, as a homeschool dad, other homeschool parents began to voice concerns about advanced science education for their high schoolers.  Life science and biology courses were created to fill that need.  Now, Introductory Science is available for ages six to eleven.

Introductory Science is available in two levels; A for ages 6-8 and B for ages 9-11.  Ages don't mean a whole lot to me as a homeschooler with a special needs guy.  I prefer to know the actual grade level the workbooks are intended to be used by.  Conveniently, there is a one day video sample, a full week workbook sample for both levels, and the scope and sequence available on the Introductory Science webpage.

What are the components of Introductory Science?
  • Streaming video course for 35 "weeks" of lessons
  • Workbook, level A or B for each child
  • Workbook Answer Key for level A or B for your family
The combination is a great plan for audio or visual or kinesthetic learners and those who enjoy workbooks, which pretty much will cover every one of your kids.

The videos remind me of a news anchor at his desk, with videos and still shots behind him.  There are no songs or flashing lights or other overstimulating things happening.  The information is interesting, because let's face it, creation is pretty interesting.  Each day's film is short, just a few minutes in length.  Some weeks have bonus videos for activities.  The activities are easy to complete without running around town looking for the necessary components.

The workbooks are a spiral bound softcover.  We received Level B which is 383 pages.  Level A has nearly the same content, as far as I could tell, but B has a few more questions on each day and a review puzzle at the end of the week.  Questions are mostly fill in the blank posed as multiple choice and matching.  There are word searches and crossword puzzles as well.

The answer key is a 41-page paperback.

The pine cone bird feeder after the wildlife found them.  Yum!  The classifying flowers activity.
How did we use it?

The videos are short, so we quickly morphed into watching a full week at a time.  Some weeks they'd watch the videos one day and do the activities the next.  Some weeks we did everything in one day.  Everyone was able to watch the videos together, Xav would do the workbook pages while Mal worked on another subject or helped with the activities.

We also did not go straight through from week 1 to week 2 and so on.  We jumped around a bit to whatever was most interesting to the boys.  The first few chapters presented creation and the basics of scientific experimentation.  We didn't get the physical books as quickly as streaming was available, so we finished the sample of week 8's workbook that I was able to print from the website.  Then we watched week 1 and 2.  When the book arrived, we started with chapter three and four then headed to the back of the book to learn about anatomy which was a great follow up to the movement and muscles class I taught at co-op this year.

What did we think?

Xavier says:
I liked the experiment to see if the hammer was stronger than the egg by banging them together.  The hammer won!
 Mal says:
I liked the girls that did science experiments at home and we could do some of them, too.
Personally, I don't think level B is challenging enough for upper elementary.  Based on what I've seen, the books are very similar.  I think fill in the blanks with a word bank can be an appropriate activity, *if* the answers aren't obvious.  For example, you might have the sentence
Our skeletal system ____ ____ ____ and is made up of ____. (Circle the answer below)
Followed by the choices
  • chews our food, muscles
  • is very small, systems
  • holds us up, bones
I see nonsensical answers that most children in the upper elementary levels would be able to easily grasp after watching the daily video.  Pairing them up has also simplified the thought process.  If one of the two choices is obviously incorrect, they don't even have to consider the second half of the answer.  Most fourth to sixth graders would be able to consider each blank with individual choices.  Also, at that age, they are more than capable of writing the correct answers in each space.  I actually had Xav do that most of the time.

Also, you almost won't *need* the answer book, especially if you're in the room during the video lesson.  I've used it a few times, just so I could tell you about it.  Beyond that, I only had to look up one answer involving the inner ear on a day I did not see the video lesson.

Introductory Science is heavy on creation and young earth, straddling the line between a Biblical based science course and science based Bible lessons.  This is not a criticism, I just want to be clear that it is stressed throughout the lessons.  I think, if you are looking for young earth science for a child in K-3rd, this would be a good science course for your child.  I would choose level B for a 3rd grader, for sure.

This is also the most comforting homeschool science curriculum I have ever seen.  We heard many times how much God loves us and that we are a special creation made in His own image.  I think the boys enjoy hearing that as well, as they have been known to replay the video segments that tell us so.

Find Science Shepherd on social media.

Science Shepherd Review

Crew Disclaimer

May 20, 2016

Memoria Press Logic TOS Review

For a while now, I've been curious about classical education, but I didn't know much about it, if it's for us, and if it is, how to switch to it.  I never had any real exposure to it and didn't know how to implement it.  When Memoria Press offered their Traditional Logic I Complete Set for review, I was very interested.  This introduction to formal logic is for adults and students in grades 7-12, or the dialectic and rhetoric stages.  My yahoos are firmly planted in the grammar stage, so I offered myself up as a guinea pig willing student.

What's included?
  • Student Book - 164 page softcover book consisting of an introduction, three main sections (Simple Apprehension, Judgement, and Deductive Inference), review, and a short glossary.
  • Quizzes and Tests - This book contains quizzes and the final exam for this entire course.  The pages are perforated for removal.
  • Teacher Key - A 54 page book includes the answers to both the student book and the quizzes and tests book.
  • DVD - This two disc set contains a lesson for the introduction and each chapter in the book.  Disc 1 covers the introduction thru chapter seven and you can print the slides for the lessons.  Disc 2 contains chapters 8-13.  You can see book and a video samples on the Memoria Press website.
Nothing else is necessary to complete this class.

I learned there are several types of logic and this course is the study of traditional formal logic, based on the work done by Aristotle.  When I read the words "calculus of proportions" and "mathematical formulations" in the Note to the Teacher in the student book, I wondered what I was getting into.  It made me very happy to find out this was modern logic and there would be none of that here!  Thank you, Martin Cothran.  This course was developed for homeschoolers and co-op type gatherings.

I very quickly realized I was in over my head!  Nothing in my public high school or community college years had me prepared for this *introduction* to logic.  However, thankfully, I realized the Introduction was where all the terms were thrown at you fast and furious.  The chapters weren't simplified, I just mean that all of the terms and concepts from the introduction were covered again with more detail and it felt less confusing to me.  The first three chapters (we're told in the Note to the Teacher), can be skipped over and done at a later date if they are unclear. 

The chapters in the book are read entirely on the first day of the week, then reading portions of the same chapter each day, reading the entire chapter twice in a week.  The exercises are intended for a four day "week" with some chapters having review sections also to be completed on the 4th day.  The exercise questions mainly consist of short answer, T/F, and matching questions.  I felt very constrained by the amount of space to write in the actual student text, so after the first day, I grabbed a notebook.

I took my books with me often and usually completed my "homework" during Tae Kwon Do or while the boys played on the playground.  I think it was good for them to see that Mom is still interested in learning.

I still haven't decided if it is better to watch the DVD before or after the workbook.  It was so different from the kind of educational videos we normally watch around here with the Littles.  It reminded me of, basically, a college lecture.  That's not a criticism.  It was kind of nice to watch something a bit less exciting than Talking Word Factory or Liberty's Kids!

Memoria Press has a forum that has fairly heavy traffic compared to many other curriculum provider's forum.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is really a whole community.

I still don't know a lot about classical education, but I'm definitely still interested.  And someday down the road, I'm pretty sure a few boys will be taking this class.  I'm hoping they're better prepared than I was.  I'm pretty sure I have yet to do Spock proud.

In addition to Logic, the rest of the Crew reviewed Greek Mythology and Astronomy, also from Memoria Press.  Click the green banner below to see what they thought.

Find Memoria Press on social media.


Logic, Greek Myths and Astronomy Memoria Press Review

Crew Disclaimer

May 18, 2016

Institute for Excellence in Writing TOS Review

The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) was started to help students develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking skills.  IEW uses a program created by primary schoolteacher Mrs. Anna Ingham in the first half of the 20th century.  In the 1970's, her nephew Dr. James B. Webster adapted Mrs. Ingham's lessons for older students and began to teach other instructors in her methods.  Mr. Andrew Pudewa was one of those instructors and brought this method to the United States.  I recently received IEW's Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization with the boys.

We received the Teacher's Manual and CDs as well as the separately available Student Book.  The TM and CDs arrive in a sturdy box, which is nice, considering we'll be using it for years to come.  Included with the Teacher's Manual, is a CD with recitations for each of the *five* levels of poetry and speeches.  These are read by Andrew Pudewa, who delivers a pleasant and error free recitation.  A DVD of Nurturing Competent Communicators is included in the CD slipcase.  I may have chuckled a few times watching that.  Micah was working in another room, probably thinking I had finally lost it.  An electronic copy of the student book is included with the TM, which can be printed for all of the children in your family or classroom.  Other downloads accompanying this set are audio files of various talks.
  • Ten Thousand Times and Then Begins Understanding
  • On Listening
  • On Speaking
  • On Reading
  • On Writing
  • Mastery Learning, Ability Development, and Individualized Education
  • as well as an audio of Nurturing Competent Communicators

I had to laugh when I went to add those audio files to my IEW account.  I realized I had already collected every single one of them!  IEW offers great talks on many educational topics and I highly recommend them.

In Nurturing Competent Communicators, Mr. Pudewa talks at length about the Suzuki Method for learning music and how he has applied this method to linguistics.  I enjoyed hearing how the poetry memorization worked in a preschool he ran many years ago.  Children learn a lot about language through repetition, they are drawn to it.  I would rather they train that part of their brains with fun poems (that they might be able to impress a lovely young woman with someday!) than the ridiculous things that tend to stick in their brains some times, like commercial jingles or a song they might hear with less than intelligent lyrics or, more likely around here, every word of every episode of Thomas the Tank Engine.

We have all actually (and surprisingly) loved every minute of this course.  My reluctant boys have laughed and recited the Level One poems many times and they have never stopped smiling through them all.  The get a huge kick out of the sillier poems and they are still drawn to the few more serious selections.

Through this course the kids learn about communication skills (oral and written), becoming better speakers and writers by repeating one poem every day until it is mastered (including the recitation of the title and author).  At that time, we add the next poem.  They then recite the already learned poem and the new poem, adding a new poem each time the previous poem is mastered.  Nineteen poems are included in the book and the twentieth is chosen by the child or parent/teacher.  We have not completed the twenty poems of Level One yet, but when that level is complete, we repeat the same technique with Level Two while still practicing Level One and so on.  This seems like it could eventually take considerable time each day, but there is a pattern to only repeat some of the previous levels on various days.  The investment in time will be well worth it.

Even on the days we don't recite the poems, we listen to the CD regularly enough and all the way through that Xavier and especially Merrick (his little brain just sucks all that up!) have memorized large sections of most of the Level One poems.  We've learned many new poems that have quickly become favorites.

Merrick was the first of the boys to start memorizing.  He just loved Ooey Gooey from the first hearing when I read the poems through one night.  He has the CD playing in the background often and when he does recitation, he even "says" the short piece of music between each poem on the CD!  He quizzes me about each poem, to see if I'm listening, too.  He also couldn't wait to go to co-op and tell everyone who would listen, *and* everyone who wouldn't, Ooey Gooey.

The poems in the student book are listed one to a page with a simple black line drawing for coloring.  All of the Level One poems and some of the poems in levels 2-4 have a picture to complete.  Level Five consists of speeches and excerpts from historical figures like Queen Elizabeth I and Patrick Henry, important documents like the Preamble of the US Constitution (which I actually memorized from Schoolhouse Rock, many moons ago!), and from books and plays from authors like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.  Each selection in the fifth level contains information about the piece which might include the history of it or the person, some vocabulary, and links to learn more about it, either on the IEW site or elsewhere.  Appendices in the back include a bibliography and brief author biographies.

The Teacher's Manual includes much of the same information as the student book, with information about effective communication and the use of poetry memorization and the benefits of mastery learning.  My favorite part of the TM, however, is Appendix 3 which has optional lesson enhancements for every selection on all five CDs.  This section lists poetic elements, cross-curricular tie ins for science or history, and literature selections for related stories.

This is definitely one of our favorite school items all year.

Institute for Excellence in Writing on social media.
Twitter  @IEW

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization  IEW Review

Crew Disclaimer

May 10, 2016

Zeezok Publishing LLC TOS Review

After struggling to find appropriate homeschool curriculum for their own children, the founders began a business of their own which eventually morphed into Zeezok Publishing, LLC.  The result is the marriage of traditional subject matter and techniques with modern delivery.  The reprinted Great Musician Series by Opal Wheeler, one of the projects undertaken, are included with Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades collection, which we are reviewing.  Besides music appreciation, I noticed Zeezok also offers products for government, penmanship, movie guides, and literature.

This collection meets national standards for K-6th grade at the time of publication.  The collection includes:
  • A Student Activity Book, 
  • Music Discs, 
  • Lapbook CD,
  • Seven composer biographies from the Great Musician Series.
The composers included for study are:
  1. Mozart
  2. Handel
  3. Haydn
  4. Beethoven
  5. Bach
  6. Paganini
  7. Schubert
I love Mozart's music. Since I didn't think the boys had a major preference, I didn't ask them for input.  Well, thanks to The Peanuts Movie, it turns out they *do* have a favorite composer.  They may have also recently seen for the first time another movie which mentioned this composer, but they called him Beeth Oven there.  So, Beethoven will be our next in depth study.  Part of the beauty of this curriculum is that there is no wrong order to learn about these amazing men.  Choose a family favorite and run with it.

The student activity book is a whopping 354 pages.  It begins with a detailed five page scope and sequence which aligns history, music in different cultures, types of music, written music and vocabulary, and more with each of the composers.  It includes ideas for hands on activities as well as discussion and comprehension questions for the reading material.  It's designed to be used by a single child, though we often used the discussion questions as a family.  Even Merrick (age 4) enjoys listening to our read alouds and trying to be involved in Q and A time.

I love that this book covered character traits for each of the composers, highlighting areas where each man (or boy, depending on the chapter!) shined.  For Mozart, these comprised of energetic enthusiasm, eager learner, industriousness, and generosity, among others.  It seems he was a lively character who loved to entertain and be entertained by everyone.

Mozart's section of the student activity book also incorporates interesting tidbits, geography (Mozart traveled often and for long periods.  When I think of traveling with the Littles for nine hours at a time, I feel pretty privileged to live now with good roads, fast cars, and a bit of technology.), learning about opera, and instruments around the world.  They even were exposed to a bit of German.  Mozart also met and befriended many other composers from that time period.  I had never really thought about who the contemporaries of each of them were before.

No matter what learning style your children are, there are activities that match them.  The answers are at the back of each section and lapbook instructions can be found in the pages.

Amazing music CDs are included.  We listen to all the Mozart tracks several times a week as well as specific tracks as prompted in the biography.  I like that the books and CDs are linked like that.  We'll be reading along and read about a piece that Mozart wrote in his childhood and be able to go to the track on the disc and hear that same piece as we follow along with the music in the book.

The many enjoyable books are written by Opal Wheeler (and some co-authored by Sybil Deucher) and illustrated in a neat black and white style by Mary Greenwalt (one is illustrated by Henry S. Gillette).  They tell of the true lives of each composer from childhood into their adult years.  These books are *not* historical fiction.  The pages are full of samples of the composer's music that you can play, if you know how.  If not, you can listen to the CDs!  Mozart the Wonder Boy is 126 pages long.  The first 92 pages are his biography with a few pages of his music throughout.  The balance of the book is more of his sheet music for playing or following along while listening.

The PDF of the lapbook is on a disc.  This is a very big file (215,000KB).  Some *pages* were 64MB!  It seems that this did make it difficult to print.  I had no trouble printing a couple of pages at a time, but when trying to print large numbers of pages at once, I just couldn't get it to work.  I took the CD to Staples to have all seven lapbooks printed at once.  Even their industrial printers would stop after every twenty pages or so.  They never were able to print the last nine pages of the final lapbook.  This is a beautifully done file and it's a shame there seemed to be an issue with printing.  I only mention it here because I think it's an important part of the curriculum for aiding with retention.  Taking the disc to have it printed and dropping it off for the day is a viable option.

I chose to have our lapbook elements printed in black and white (I'm cheap frugal) and the pages were very clear and readable.  The lapbook copyright allows for use by multiple children in a family, so both Mal and Xav worked on those each week.  They learned vocabulary, the kinds of opera, and made a Mozart timeline.  I did change up the design a bit.  I generally leave a file folder folded as is, rather than refolding to close in the center of the front.  We glued the front of the second folder to the back of the first folder which makes it more like a book.  That just meant moving a couple of elements around so nothing was sitting in the fold.

I think the lapbooking and the read aloud time were the favorite parts for Mal and Xav.

Are you intrigued by this homeschool music program, but no longer have an elementary student?  Music Appreciation: Book 2 for the Middle Grades is in the works.  Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, Foster, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mac Dowell will be included in that series, which is for grades 5-8.

Some of the other Crew members worked on other composers.  If you'd like to see what everyone else did, please click the banner below.

Find Zeezok on Social Media.

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}

Crew Disclaimer

May 5, 2016

Things We Do For PE in our Homeschool - Archery

We're just wrapping up our seventh year with a local homeschool co-op.  SEVEN!  Wow.  We've taken part in some classes at co-op that can count as Phys Ed.  This year, and three years ago, Xavier has participated in an archery course at a Pro Shop with indoor and outdoor archery ranges.  For just a few dollars per lesson, he has learned safety and accuracy with a bow from trained individuals with a passion to keep the sport alive.  Our co-op has offered archery for as long as we've been there and longer.  They have built a great partnership with the archery shop and we certainly have benefited from that.

 Aaaaaand, I have no photos of Xav at archery
 that don't show faces of everyone else, sooooo...
*insert imaginary photo here*

Ask around for co-ops that offer PE courses (and be open to the idea that you may need to teach courses at the co-op in order to participate).  Also, check with local pro shops that specialize in one or two sports and see if they have a driving or shooting range and offer instruction.  Your own local community is a great place to find resources!  

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.

Find The Pencil Grip on social media.

Be sure to click on the banner to see more art projects from the Crew!

Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review

Crew Disclaimer