Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Heard in the rain...

One of our favorite places is the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. The girls take homeschool science classes there - it's a marvelous place. They also offer quarterly night hikes, and the spring hike was tonight. It was rainy today, so we weren't sure we were going to go - but decided to head out there at the last minute, hoping it hadn't been cancelled. We got there just in time for the hike to start. Saw a bard owl in the bur oak (the oldest tree on the property - probably about 200 years old) - we think she's nesting. Of course being the science-fanatics that they are, the girls were able to answer most of the hike leader's questions (they got tripped up on deciduous trees - couldn't think of the "d word").

It sprinkled rain most of the hike, but that didn't stop us. Toward the end it started raining harder, so we were all getting wet so we headed back toward the building.

I truly believe there is no better smell than rain in a forest. Well, actually, maybe a freshly washed and baby-powdered baby is really the best, but rain is a very close second...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's box day tomorrow!

If you're a homeschooler, you'll know what I mean by "box day". If you're not a homeschooler, "box day" is what we affectionately call the day when our new homeschool curriculum is delivered. Homeschooled kids (especially those using Sonlight) are always thrilled when new boxes arrive on the doorstep.

So, I placed our Sonlight order on Monday - Core 3, Science 3, and LA 3. The order shipped yesterday, and is due to arrive via FedEx tomorrow. The bummer is that tomorrow is a full day for us with lots of outside activities, including a 7:30 pm soccer game. So by the time we all get home, we're likely to be too tired to enjoy box day. Watch out Friday, though!

I'm always amazed at Sonlight's efficiency. Sonlight is a literature-rich curriculum, so if your family loves to read and is homeschooling (or wants to be), check it out - there's a link on this page.

So now you know about box day. We won't even talk about "catalog fever". :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Expedition Australia - TOS homeschool crew tryout review

Well, The Old Schoolhouse ("TOS") has done it again. For my second review in the try-out process for the TOS homeschool crew, I received Expedition Australia, which incorporates the lapbooking method - which is, once again, out of my comfort zone. Confession - I am a lapbook *collector*, but not a user. I buy them because they look really neat and I know my girls (just-turned 8 and almost 10) would love them, but since I may be the least crafty/creative person you'll ever meet, I feel overwhelmed by simply opening and looking at them - so we never even try them. But TOS left me no choice but to actually *use* this one.

We'll start with the basics. This study is authored by Amanda Bennett and TOS, and is available from TOS (by phone at 1-888-718-HOME; on the web at Exploration Australia is part of the
Download N Go™ series and is available as an e-book download here for $7.95. Click the following links for more information on the study and the series:

Sample of Expedition Australia
Other topics in the series
Download N Go™ series - more info
Download N Go™ series - FAQs
Download N Go™ series - subscription option

You can do this study with no other materials - the kids will still learn a lot. The lapbooking activities add another dimension (so I've discovered!), and the suggested books are great for further discovery and discussion - our library had most of them, so we piled them into a book basket for the week.

Despite my apprehension regarding lapbooks, the timing of this study was perfect for my girls. They are currently obsessed with Bindi the Jungle Girl (you know - daughter of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter?). That obsession was fed by recently getting to *meet* Bindi and her mom, Terri, at our local audubon center. Suffice it to say there were squeals of delight when I told them we were going to study Australia.

Expedition Australia is meant to be a one-week study and is geared toward K-4th grades. At first glance, I thought the study would be great for my 2nd grader, but might be a bit "too young" for my 4th grader - but the links provided in the study (including links to multi-media presentations) add *so* much more to it that both girls were enthralled.

The study is divided into 5 days, with each day's activities including map work, an Australian word of the day, an art activity, animals, weather, and other topics. Each day's activities end with a poem and a full-page photo (the landscapes are beautiful!).

As an aid to lapbook-newbies such as myself, there is a very helpful (and encouraging) "Intro to Lapbooking" page This page gives links for more information/directions/samples, including great video instructions making the various components of lapbooks.

The links interspersed in each day's activities help get kids learning "off the page". A list of internet resources, spelling/vocabulary words with activities (including words for more challenge - great for older kids doing the study), and book suggestions is provided at the end of each day's activities.

Pros - what I liked:

  • Links interspersed in each day's activities, rather than listed together at the end
  • List of activities for each day provide additional learning opportunities
  • List of suggested books provided both in a complete list and divided by day
  • Repetitive activities (time/weather, vocabulary words, etc.) reinforce learning
Cons - what I tweaked or suggestions for improvement:
  • I'd like to see a list of suggested activities (in addition to the more challenging vocabulary words provided) for older students who might be "tag alongs" with younger siblings in the study
  • A reference on each study page to the page number of the lapbooking page(s) used on that particular study page. Currently the lapbooking pages refer back to the study pages, but not vice versa. For people (like me) who like to also print the study, the dual references would be helpful.
The girls really loved this study, because it was on a subject they were already interested in. I loved it because the girls loved it, *and* because it sold me on teh value of lapbooking. I foresee adding in a couple of these a year just for fun. Gotta love it when kids think learning is fun!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

When I grow up, I want to be...A Firefighter - TOS homeschool crew tryout review

I will readily admit that I have never done a unit study with my girls - so when I received When I grow up, I want to be...A Firefighter to evaluate as part of the try-out process for The Old Schoolhouse ("TOS") homeschool crew, I really didn't know how my girls (just-turned 8 and almost 10) would react or whether *I* would like the unit study process.

First, the basics. Produced by, and available from, The Old Schoolhouse (by phone at 1-888-718-HOME; on the web at , the Firefighter study is part of the WannaBe series and is available as an e-book download here for $8.95 (see a sneak peek here). Currently, there are 10 topics available in the WannaBe series:

  • Firefighter,
  • Veterinarian,
  • Chef,
  • Military,
  • Doctor,
  • Police Officer,
  • Missionary,
  • Artist,
  • Pilot, and
  • Farmer.
These titles can be purchased individually ($8.95 each) or as a set of all 10 ($89.50). You can see samples of several of the other titles here. There are no additional materials needed for this study, although it did inspire us to get firefighter books from the library for additional study. (Note to self - always look completely through a resource before using it - if I had known the list of suggested resources was included in the back, it would've made my library search a lot easier.) The study includes activities for ages 4-10 (but notes that it will appeal to all ages).

Now for the fun stuff. Despite TOS' claim that the study would appeal to all ages, I expected my younger daughter to enjoy it more - but I was pleasantly surprised. Both girls engaged in the subject from the start (doesn't everyone have a fascination with fire trucks at some point?). Even *I* learned something on the very first page. On the day we started, I expected to simply get started and do the first few pages, but the girls wanted to continue after my self-imposed "deadline" - so continue we did!

Going through the material inspired my girls to pay more attention to the fire prevention tools in our home. They checked our smoke detector, which led to a check of our carbon monoxide detector *and* a check of the home alarm system itself. We also scheduled our first ever fire drill at the prompting of the girls (thanks TOS!). We actually did this *before* I realized that it's a suggested activitiy in the back.

Pros - what I liked:

  • The footnotes helped us work on vocabulary, and also spurred a discussion on bibliographies and how to reference research papers.
  • The quizzes and questions sprinkled throughout the e-book helped me test the girls' comprehension (and girls thought they were fun), plus sneak a little extra handwriting practice in.
  • I liked the writing prompts. The girls resisted writing stories, but did narrate stories back to me and enjoyed it.
  • The girls *LOVED* the robotics part. They played robots for days! It also opened their eyes (as well as my own) to how much automation is around us. And it led to what i like to call a "rabbit trail" to learn a bit more about robotics - which has resulted in a search for a robotics team/camp for the girls to get involved with.
  • I liked the integration of the math word problems - the girls don't normally like them, but integrated into this study they were a little *less* resistant to them.
  • Loved the list of Bible verses referencing fire! Seems like it would be obvious, but I probably would not have thought to look those up on my own.
Cons - what I tweaked, and suggested improvements:

  • We did not try the diorama. I am not the most creative person, so would have appreciated a sample pic - or even directions!
  • The girls love word searches, but were a bit overwhelmed by the size of the one included in the e-book. I used the puzzle maker referenced in the e-book to make a smaller one.
  • Wish there were more links interspersed within the study (to use for related activities on the pages as you go through the study) rather than simply listed in the back.
  • We all thought it was odd that instead of referring to a fire truck as a "fire truck", they used "apparatus." Of course, now when we see a real fire truck, the girls say "there's an apparatus!"
  • The crossword seemed difficult for the lower age-range given. The girls have never really enjoyed crosswords, so I gave them a list of the words to be used, and that made it much easier.
  • Would be great if there were shorter sentences for cursive copywork - the larger ones overwhelmed my younger, since we've just barely started cursive. The handwriting practice only used single words for cursive, so something in between would be a great addition.
  • Wish there was a bit more about female firefighters for those of us raising girls! Mine particularly wanted to know about the grooming requirements for females to be firefighters. They were also curious about the training/testing requirements for females and whether they were different.
Overall, we really liked this study. Even though I'd never used the unit study method, this e-book convinced me that while I don't use a unit study based curriculum, it makes for a fun and informative break from our every day routine. We will probably purchase several other titles in this series, because it's well worth the very reasonable price!