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Jun 25, 2016

The week I put about 500 miles on the van and never got farther than B-ton

Oh the insanity!  This week was just one thing on top of another.  Mal is taking TKD all summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I also knew we'd have VBS every evening this week.  Mal's case manager meets with him at our home (thankfully) every week.  THEN, then we added in a gymnastics camp two hours each day all week for Merrick and Xav and a speech assessment for Xavier.  Whew!

Mal enjoys tae kwon do and really is coming into his own.  I think the lessons and the instructor have been great for him, and for me.  I get to see him doing hard things and coming through them.  Even though I worry about *his* fear and/or failure level, his instructor has been confident about his ability and has been insistent that I let him just do it.  He was so excited when he got his yellow belt this spring.

The Vacation Bible School we attended this week is, hands down, our favorite.  This was our fourth year attending.  Merrick has been able to attend, I think, three of those years.  They have classes for two year olds to adults.  The adults involved are amazing with all the kids and I appreciate what they do every evening, some of them after working all day, to give the kids a good time and point them to Jesus.  Their love shines through their faces and I just love and appreciate them all so much, words can never say.

Last year, the boys all took gymnastics for an hour on each of five Saturdays.  This year, it was an intensive camp.  Mal decided not to enroll, though mid-week he kind of regretted that.  I think it was all for the best though.  It was very directed with no time to "do your own thing" which is what he wanted to do.  Merrick and Xav had a great time and really it was the first time I left them anywhere before.  Xav went to archery without me, but other homeschool co-op moms were there.  They've been left with my friends before for babysitting.  I'm almost always around at co-op.  It was weird leaving them, but I enjoyed the time with Malachi and I think he did, too.  What I didn't know was that the instructor had sent out an email to the parents telling them flat out to drop the kids off and leave, but it went out before the boys were enrolled, so I never received it.  I stayed in the school vestibule the first couple of days because I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be there!  Oops!  It was controlled chaos, but the instructors and the helpers were great!

When I drove Xav to his speech assessment, I left the other two boys with my friend Trisha.  They were more than happy to play with her big bucket of trains.  Xav's assessment was supposed to be two hours, but it was closer to four.  Micah met us there.  It was the usual assessment you might imagine and I'd already been through a lot of the same thing with Merrick's assessment a couple of months ago.  I have a mini rant about insurance and speech therapy, but I won't go there!

Throw in a couple playgrounds, a Backpack Theater presentation of Sleeping Beauty and Where the Wild Things Are, Lego at the library, and construction watching and that's about it for our week.  Today is Saturday and I am so glad that busyness is over!  Although, tomorrow we will be out and about a bit...  LOL  We're slow learners.  And though I promised Xav we wouldn't have any school this week, you'd be surprised just how much math and vocabulary got slipped in there in the car rides all over God's very Green Mountain State.

I hope you're able to enjoy a wonderful summer!

Jun 23, 2016

LearnBop TOS Review

Math is my nemesis.  Well, I like arithmetic, but the boys don't.  90% of all tears shed in our homeschool originate over a math lesson.  I am always looking for something that works.  Enter LearnBop for Families 12 month subscription.  LearnBop is a personalized online math program and part of the K12 family of courses.  LearnBop for Families offers a single student plan or a family plan for up to four students.

Originally, LearnBop was developed for schools and recently introduced for families.  The program is for grades 3-12, but also offers "road maps" by subject which start at a lower grade and guide the child through the lessons at their own pace.  It is designed to identify learning gaps to help the child catch up and get ahead in math.  The student does need to work through the lower grades to catch up in the subjects, but the better they do, the faster they move through the Bops.  If they are on par for a grade level, there is no need to use the subject road maps.  Just jump right into the grade road maps and skip all of the catch up work.

I set up our account and assigned the boys' user names and passwords and assigned road maps.  Together, we chose a fun avatar from the selection.  Right away the Bops from the assigned road map begin. 

First, a warm up is used to determine placement.  Then the lessons are introduced by video, after which the question and answer section will begin.  On the student dashboard, a quick glance shows what is next every time they log on.  Some videos are required, others are extra optional videos which aren't required to begin solving Bops, but may be needed at some point if solving becomes too difficult.  While answering questions, the guys can Ask For Help solving where they will be guided through each step of the problem.  First and most importantly, the questions will confirm that the question is being understood by asking a few comprehension-type questions.  After that, the student is walked through every single part of the question in order.  If, at any step, there is still confusion they can Show Hint for that point in the problem.  It's like your own online math tutor.

Xavier thought it was hilarious that there was a question about "Jody's family."
I liked that, as the parent, I was able to move the boys around from grades to subjects easily and without contacting administrators or forcing the boys to continue through things they already knew.  Although, I had boys in grade level and changed one to the road map for measurement and data which started at grade one.  When I looked at the student reports, though, I could only see the information about the current road map and not the grade level activity.

I was able to see what the boys had completed and what score they reached.  They begin at 0% and right and wrong answers raise and lower their score.  Once they reach 90% or higher, they've "mastered" the concept.  I only required them to reach that level.  It's very difficult to get to 100% and missing a question could have lowered their score back under mastery level.  For some reason, no one seemed to want to risk that. 

When there is an error in the program, the kids can report a problem.  When they do this, I receive a copy of the email that goes to LearnBop.  Xav had some trouble and he ended up being so frustrated that I told him he didn't have to continue with the program.

Malachi ended up with a couple of confusing Bops that gave us trouble.  One was a multiplication issue.  Three of four questions would be "row times column equals" type and the final one would be nine red dice in 3x3 grid.  They were looking for 9 dice times the number of dots on the dice.  He kept wanting to use 3x3=9.  The other used a polygon tool to draw a quilt.  He had no idea how to use the tool, the videos didn't explain it, and I was completely useless in that instance.  I ended up googling the tool and playing around with it for 20 minutes to figure out how it worked!  While he was confused a few times, he actually had a much better experience than Xav and is happy to work on LearnBop.

Mal achieving mastery!

We loved these little motivational images that showed up in the student dashboards.

You can access LearnBop online anywhere and any time.

Find LearnBop on social media.

LearnBop for Families Review

Crew Disclaimer

Jun 16, 2016

Progeny Press TOS Review


I've heard a lot of great things about Progeny Press Study Guides for Literature, but I tend to avoid many subjects that aren't math, since that's the bane of our existence!  sigh...  No more!  The Sword in the Tree E-Guide is so much fun.  With trips to two Renaissance faires planned for this summer, I thought a story involving King Arthur, at least peripherally, would be really enjoyable.  I was right.  The boys have really liked The Sword in the Tree.

Progeny Press carries Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective for grades K-12.  Their E-Guides are interactive and can be filled in on the computer and then saved with the student's answers in the file.  I received the interactive guide and an answer key.

You will need to purchase or borrow
  • The book the study is based on, in this case The Sword in the Tree.
  • A dictionary.
  • A Bible.
  • A thesaurus.
  • The downloaded study guide, either on screen or printed out.
It will be helpful to have related books and videos, coloring pages, crafts, and writing implements.  The required book is available from the Progeny Press website as well as various other locations.  My local libraries did not have copies of The Sword in the Tree, but there were some available in our network.  Since the study guide is nearly a two month project, I decided to just purchase a copy of the novel.

Progeny Press E-Guides are reproducible for the entire family or a classroom.  They are not, however, intended to be resold like a physical copy of the Study Guide could be.  The E-Guides are also not returnable.  I really liked the instant access to the guide, the easily printed pages in the quantities needed, and savings due to no shipping charges.

Most of the study guides are written by Rebecca Gilleland or Michael Gilleland, whose family homeschools and operates Progeny Press.  Some of the guides are written by others.  After they are written they are peer reviewed by pastors and teachers, all Christians.

The PDF answer key is short and sweet.  It is exactly just an answer key.  Some of the questions are factual and not really up to interpretation.  Some questions require some thought and have subjective answers.  I was pretty surprised and impressed by some of the ideas the boys had about various parts of the story.  It's always interesting to get them thinking and then get them to talk about it.  Too often, we assume children don't "get" one thing because they are struggling with something else, in school or in their lives.

I didn't use the Interactive Study Guide in the way it was intended at all.  Instead of having the boys type into the computer, I inserted lines for them to write on after each question.  I saved the file with the lines and printed it.  I used the underscore key ( _ ) and connected them all together to make the lines.  Both Mal and Xav struggle with the size of their handwriting, so I thought they'd find the writing guides helpful.

Not only have they been introduced to an enjoyable and exciting story, they've been working on dictionary skills and looking up bible verses.  They've learned about armor and castles.  Parallels between story lines were compared.  We've discussed character and conversely, the lack of character, hospitality, and wisdom.  They were introduced to important writing vocabulary like foreshadowing and paraphrasing.

Prereading activities, postreading activities, and additional resources are listed in the literature study guide.  Progeny Press also has study guides for several of the related books. 

Xav built this castle with a drawbridge out of a tea box, straw, and string.  He's really pushing me to drink more tea so he can finish the rest of it.  We explored tons of related topics through books from our library.

If your little prince would enjoy The Sword in the Tree, I believe he will like the Study Guide from Progeny Press.  This particular study is intended for the upper elementary grades (4th-6th).

Find Progeny Press on social media.


Progeny Press also has guides for Lower Elementary (I have two of them I want to grab for Merricky), Middle School, and High School (I am personally very interested in The Scarlet Pimpernel E-Guide!) so be sure to to read the other Crew reviews!

Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press  Review}

Crew Disclaimer

Jun 15, 2016

Forbrain TOS Review

Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd's bone conduction headset came along at just the right time for our family.  Two of the Littles have been dealing with assessments for speech issues.  It's amazing to me how slowly these balls get rolling sometimes.  Merrick and Xav are both struggling with pronunciation skills and Xav has a stutter.  It's frustrating for them to not be understood and, as they get older, I think the trouble is amplified.

Forbrain can help improve:
  • attention
  • concentration
  • reading and writing
  • short-term memory
  • pronunciation and fluency
  • self-confidence 
What is Forbrain?

Forbrain is a bone conduction headset that is worn while speaking aloud.  The headset is worn on the back of your head and over your ears.  The circular pads sit on your head in front of your ears, on the jawbone.  You speak into a microphone which transmits to the patented dynamic filter.  The filter blocks out ambient noise and isolates your voice.  It boosts some sounds and uses vibration of bone to enhance what you are hearing.  The hearer's awareness of their own voice increases.

I admit to being a hopeful skeptic, but I have a friend who actually is a bio-psych professor/researcher.  She reassured me the science is there and Forbrain could potentially help all of my kiddos with various issues. I also had questions regarding Forbrain's use with tinnitus and stuttering, because I experience one and Xav the other.  I didn't expect it to relieve my tinnitus, but I had hopes about the stuttering as well as the other speech aspects.  I received a prompt, kindly reply that Forbrain cannot treat those issues, but they will not interfere with use for the other issues.  I definitely suggest, if you are unsure how Forbrain can help you or your child, that you pop off an email.  They are great about responding with answers.

What's included?

Forbrain comes in a sturdy zippered case.  It has a firm foam-type liner that fits the appliance perfectly.  A charging cord is included with a USB end.  Three extra microphone covers and a manual are included, as well as the actual headset.  Just plug it in and it will be ready to use in no time.  The battery lasts many hours.  We only had to charge it a couple of times during the six weeks we've had it.

The three buttons on the filter are power and volume controls.  It is recommended that you do not adjust the volume unless it is uncomfortable for the wearer.

Side effects?

The boys have not complained of any trouble.  I did notice a slight "buzzy" kind of feeling in my jaw for a very short time after use.  There's nothing painful or distracting about it and it quickly ended.

How we use Forbrain

Xavier has been my main man reviewer.  He wears the headset regularly while reading aloud.  I can't say for sure that it is helping him with his speech issues, but I will say he shouts when he speaks much less frequently.  At least while he is wearing the headset and shortly after, my own eardrums get a rest.  Xavier speaks quietly with it on, but he can't tell how loud he is when he isn't wearing it. What I found humorous is that he can't actually hear any difference in his volume.  The headset enhances what he is hearing, so he thinks he's speaking at the same volume when he wears it as when he does not.  He is pretty self-conscious about wearing it in front of anyone.

Merrick cannot read yet, so his trial has been more limited.  He can wear it while he recites the poems we are memorizing.  The headset seems a wee bit big on him for now, which is surprising considering the size of the skulls in this house.  He has been denied speech services for the time being, so I'll be working on those skills with him myself.  I also have a phonics app that works very nicely with use of the headset.

Malachi wore the headset once for a minute or two.  He was very bothered by the changes in his hearing.

I wear Forbrain while reading aloud to the boys and have worn it while singing.  Well, talk about self-conscious!  Xav does not have that market cornered.  The singing about did me in!  HA!

It's recommended that you use Forbrain for six to ten weeks, daily or nearly so.  The amount of time varies by age, with younger users wearing the headset for a shorter period of time.  There are also extended time frames (multiple times in a day or for longer periods in a day) for short term use. We are right about at six weeks of use now.  I can't say that I've seen marked improvement in any area, but I see no reason not to finish out the ten weeks and reevaluate what's happening with us after that time.

Find Forbrain on social media.


Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review

Crew Disclaimer

Jun 13, 2016

I Made My Kid "Nunchuks"

Xav got it in his head that he needed a set of nunchaku.  If you don't know, nunchuks are an martial arts weapon made out of two sticks and a short rope or chain connecting the sticks.  I have no idea what brought on this desire, probably Lego.  Thanks a lot.  I was not about to have him clobbering people and breaking things around the house with a couple of sticks.  When he asked me to help him make some, I mulled it over a bit before I agreed to the task.

I had just received a blanket as a gift.  It was wrapped around a piece of foam, which I guess was intended to make the blanket appear more plush or larger than it really was.  Jerks.  But it *is* a nice soft blanket which has since been removed from my possession by Merrick.  Anyway, that piece of foam became the "stick" filler.  We dug through the duct tape assortment and Xav, surprisingly, went with plain white.  But, how to hook them together?   That was the real brain teaser.  Some days, I feel justified in hanging onto all the weird stuff I have...  I found a lanyard with a badge clip on one end.

First, we cut the foam piece in half.  There's nothing technical about it.  I measured nothing.  I had a piece of foam and I needed two pieces of foam, so we cut it in halfish.  I had Xav start making duct tape "sheets" by cutting off strips of several inches and overlapping them so they stuck together.  They needed to be as long as the foam piece.  When that was ready, I knotted and Xav tucked one end of the lanyard into the foam as I rolled it tightly into a long cylinder.  I had cut a small piece of duct tape and made a small X cut in the center.  We used that to help hold the lanyard into the end of the foam.  Then we placed the rolled foam on the duct tape sheet and rolled it tightly again, sticking the tape to itself.

For the second piece, I slipped the X cut tape on the lanyard first, facing the opposite way as the first piece.  Then we tied a knot again and rolled it into the foam.  When the foam was rolled, we wrapped it tight in another duct tape sheet. 

Xav had a blast playing ninja and spinning it around.  The two pieces did eventually separate because the boys have a habit of holding it over their heads, a "stick" in each hand.  They played with it intact for a couple weeks though and Xav still uses the one end still attached to the lanyard.  It was a fun project together and it makes him feel special when we do something, just the two of us.  I hope this inspires you to make something guy-like with your boys.

Jun 9, 2016

It's the Little Things ~ Mal Makes Pizza

Today, Mal said, "I'm going to make my own pizza.  Big kids don't ask grown ups to make their pizza."  He has done parts of the prep of a frozen pizza before, but today he felt ready to do the whole thing.  I was nearby and coached him through setting the timer and cutting the pizza.  He preheated the oven, opened the pizza, placed it in the oven, and removed it on his own.

He did a great job and was, more importantly, so proud of himself. He did burn a finger and his forearm, but he reacted quickly and it's barely red.

Jun 8, 2016

Max Scholar TOS Review

While MaxScholar offers the MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs, I was very intrigued by some of the more unique components included in this review.  Some things weren't typical for language arts.  MaxGuru uses biographies, geography, and popular music to help students learn vocabulary and grammar, and develop reading comprehension.

MaxGuru includes*
  • MaxPhonics - phonics using the Orton-Gillingham Method
  • MaxReading - develops reading comprehension skills
  • MaxWords - learning about spelling, syllables, prefixes and suffixes, and Latin or Greek roots
  • MaxMusic - using song lyrics to find verbs, understand the parts of speech, "play" the piano, and play a sound memory-type matching game
  • MaxVocab - a dictionary of new words by reading level and vocab games (hangman, matching, and word searches
  • MaxPlaces - select a city from the world map and read all about it, followed by comprehension questions
  • and MaxBios - read biographies
*Some levels do not include access to all sections.
Malachi mostly used MaxReading and MaxPlaces.  He really enjoyed learning about anteaters and baboons on MaxReading.  He reads a bit about the animals, then uses virtual highlighters to indicate the topic, main ideas, and supporting facts.  I thought he did pretty well understanding and utilizing this activity, but MaxGuru wanted more highlights than he selected.  He averaged about 70%.  The MaxReading highlights reminded me of some used college textbooks I've seen!  He can then answer five comprehension questions based on what he read.

MaxPlaces was very similar.  Mal read about New York City and some places in Asia that he found interesting.  That's followed by the highlighting and comprehension questions as well.  Mal's highlighting score brought his overall score down, which was unfortunate.

There was a MaxReading placement test that was very similar to the activities in these two sections.  It started with the boys in level 7 and ended placing Mal in level 5 and Xav was left in level 7.  Everything looks like that is grade related leveling.  Honestly, I was surprised they leveled as high as they did.  Especially Xavier.  Once, in the pretest, Xav was asked a question that none of the answers listed were correct.  If a level is a bit difficult, lower levels can be accessed by choosing another chapter.

Xavier's favorite segment was MaxMusic.  I admit, we "sheltered homeschoolers" were not familiar with some of the artists, but there were classics, too.  He didn't love the verb highlighting.  He also doesn't really know the "to be" verbs.  Guess we'll be working on that!  There isn't any instruction.  This is definitely a supplemental program.  What he did like though, was the Fillers and Piano segments.  In Fillers, the lyrics are missing a few words.  There is (usually) an orange space with the part of speech of the missing word (adverb, noun, etc.).  He clicks on that and several choices drop down.  He completes the segment of the song for a score.  Xav's favorite part is the piano!  He follows along as several notes are played at once and then he repeats the pattern.  He feels like he can really play the piano.

Xav did also like playing Hangman.  He *was* a bit disappointed, though, when he intentionally blew a game and nothing happened to Blob Bob.  He felt it was "false advertisement." 

Using CLOVER, in MaxWords, the kids learn about syllables.  I like that each of the six sections tell a rule and then follow up with a few example questions to help cement it.  This is really the only place that I thought there was actual instruction.  The activities really cemented it.

Anytime you or your student run across an issue or a glitch, simply click the question mark in the upper right of the screen.  You can see that below.  A report box opens up and you just tell the issue you encountered and send it off to MaxScholar.

Parent Reports

The Crew had parent accounts as opposed to teacher accounts, so we did not have the ability to adjust levels for our students.  You can zip an email off to MaxScholar, though, to request changes.  I didn't use this service, so I don't know how timely the response is.  I suggest that MaxScholar allow parents to have this kind of access for homeschoolers.  I know I would have preferred to make changes myself.

I can make reports with any date range I would like.  The main report page shows the percent of usage in each section.  This is Mal's page which shows he has spent most of his time in MaxReading.

Then I can click on "See Detailed Report" to see scores and other details for each section.  I didn't think this report was really very detailed though.  Mal's MaxPlaces had an average of zero with no completion date of scores for any places he had done.  He had completed a couple of cities, but they don't show on the report.

MaxScholar's MaxGuru has amazing potential.  I receive regular emails detailing updates they have been making based on feedback.  Some of the updates only apply to teacher accounts, so once again, I would really like to see homeschoolers receive teacher account privileges on their parent accounts.

We'll be making more use of MaxWords and MaxPlaces this year.  I'm sure Xav will want to continue playing hangman and the piano.

MaxScholar is for children in PK to 12th grade.

Find MaxScholar on social media.


MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review 
Crew Disclaimer

Jun 3, 2016

The Moving Wall ~ Field Trip Friday

We actually took this field trip yesterday, Thursday.  But with me, you get what you get.

The Moving Wall is a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.  It has been traveling the US for about 30 years.  There are actually two walls now.  I took Dave when he was a young punk.  We went with my dad, who is a Vietnam veteran, and my stepmom.

This time, we headed to Arkport, NY and to the field near Arkport Cycles.  I took Mal, Xav, and Merrick, and we brought my mom along.  It rained early afternoon and I regretted not going in the morning, but I had something else I needed to do in the afternoon not far from there, so I wasn't about to make two trips.  Anyway, when we got there, the rain was long over and the sun was out.  The field was mown so the grass was fairly dry.

I always thought the Moving Wall was huge, actually.  I still think it is.  Xav's first comment was, "It's not that big."  Whatever kid.  First thing most people do is stare at it and take it all in.  Then you just start looking at individual names.  I know from last time that no one in my family or with my family name are on the wall.  I also know The Bigger's family name *is* on the wall, though they doesn't seem to be closely related. 

When you're ready to look for names, there are awesome people there to help you look up names in a giant book.  The information includes their names and hometowns, as well as a block number and a row number to help you find them.  Each piece of the Moving Wall is given a number.  One is at the center with an E or W after it.  The numbers climb higher as you move away from that center point.  Each segment has a different number of rows on it.  Some only have a few rows of names and some have over 100 rows on them.

We checked Daddy's family name and were not surprised to find none.  I wanted the boys to do a rubbing though, so we grabbed an octagon crayon and a couple sheets of their papers.  We just chose random names to rub.  If you can find a name you know, it's much more personal.

Some girls were wandering around with a Wall app on their phones, interrupting the docents who were leading people to the books and explaining the wall.  I was actually very irritated by that.  Those volunteers, many of whom were former military, were so deeply involved in getting the Wall there.  The radiated such a deep respect for it.  I was just flabbergasted that people were so oblivious to the where and the who of the location.

Volunteers arrange the whole thing locally, usually schools, veterans, or other groups.  There were such a nice group of people in Arkport.  They hosted a hospitality tent, manned the books, watched over the wall, and answered lots of questions.

It was really interesting and probably a once in a lifetime visit for most.  Considering we've never been to DC and don't have plans to go, the Moving Wall is a really inspiring substitute.  Check the schedule, and if it's going to be near you, I highly recommend a field trip to see it.