Monday, March 31, 2014

REVIEW: Spelling You See

I have a confession. I have an addiction to spelling and reading programs. I majored in linguistics in college, and I love to see how different programs teach children the intricacies of the English language. (I have a similar addiction to grammar curricula.) I was excited to learn about a new program from Demme Learning - Mr. Steve Demme of Math-U-See fame - called Spelling You See. Isaac and I were privileged to review Spelling You See: Listen and Write (Level A), and we received copies of the Teacher's Manual and Student Pack, which includes the Student Workbook, the Guide to Handwriting, and the Listen and Write Sticker Pack.

We worked on his pages several days per week. He liked being creative with his letters - you can see in the picture his large "s." "Look at my super big 's,' Mommy. Isn't it cool?" I know we're supposed to be working on perfection, but he makes me laugh with his "ideas." This is the first time he's shown willingness to do any "real school," so I was thrilled.

This level has short lessons, which is perfect for him. Prior to starting the program, he knew all his letter sounds (consonants and short vowels) very well, but had not shown any interest in reading. Now that we've been using Spelling You See for a few weeks, he loves to show all the words he knows, writes them on things other than his school work, and is willing to read words here and there when we read books together. I will point at a word, and he will look at it and sound it out. He's so very proud of himself!

This program is a great complement to any phonics program. It incorporates beginning phonics skills, as well as handwriting, and introduces the concept of dictation. It's very close to what Isaac and I would be working on according to a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education: perfecting single letters and writing short words.

There are 36 weekly lessons, with one page per day to complete. The first three weeks of Level A focus on on proper letter formation and consonant sounds. You can use the handwriting guide included with the program, or you can use your preferred handwriting style. The handwriting guide provides a continuous-stroke printing font that looks like a blend of modern and traditional printing. Level A goes through beginning blends, digraphs, end blends, and double consonant endings. With each new concept, the lessons start out with the square for the vowel shaded, but as they progress all squares are unshaded.

Spelling You See has no grade levels, so you can start where your student needs to begin without worrying about them feeling "behind." It focuses on creating visual memory of words and how they are correctly spelled, which is a natural way of learning. It is an open-and-go program; you really don't need anything but the teacher's manual and student workbook. It does require teacher involvement, but we all do spelling together anyway (my older girls do studied dictation). Isaac loves to do things with me, so this was perfect for us.

There are currently six levels of Spelling You See available:

Level A: Listen and Write
Teacher's Manual: $14
Student Pack: $20

Level B: Jack and Jill
Teacher's Manual: $16
Student Pack: $30

Level C: Wild Tales
Teacher's Manual: $14
Student Pack: $30

Level D: Americana
Teacher's Manual: $14
Student Pack: $30

Level E: American Spirit
Teacher's Manual: $14
Student Pack: $30

You can see sample pages for each level currently available at the links above, and read more about the Spelling You See philosophy as well as how to get started on their website. Two more levels are in the works, too: Level F: Ancient Achievements and Level G: Modern Milestones. If you're looking for a spelling curriculum, this might be it!

Connect with Spelling You See on Facebook and Twitter!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Garden Progress!

I few weeks ago, I mentioned we were starting our very first garden by making some origami pots from newspaper, in order to plant some seeds. I have a very low-tech seed starting setup. I put the pots in disposable 9"x13" cake pans, which came with plastic lids that served to make mini-greenhouses. I used coconut fiber seed starting medium in the pots and planted the seeds. I hadn't planned on using lights, but my sister told me her seeds sprouted much more quickly with one, so I decided to try it. I went to a local home improvement store, and asked for grow lights. They showed me some large shop light fixtures and fluorescent tubes, but I had no place to hang the fixtures. I ended up getting clamp-on shop lights with the strongest daylight bulbs I could find. My wonderful husband found a light timer for me, so I don't have to remember to turn them on and off. Guess what? I have PLANTS GROWING! I know this is the expected result, but I have not done well with seedlings in the past. I have either drowned or dried many, many seedlings to death. This time around, I have LOTS of little plants growing and they're getting more than two leaves!  I have hope they may actually live long enough to be planted outside.

I have a hard time keeping myself limited to a reasonable number of kinds of plants to grow. I really want to grow tomatoes, and I know it will be easier to do so if I buy tomato plants, but I couldn't resist starting some seeds. I found Green Zebra tomato seeds, Yellow Pear tomato seeds, and purple tomatillo seeds! I have no idea what to do with purple tomatillos, but I had to try to grow some. So far, I have plants of all three types growing.

I also have some watermelon plants, some peas, and some very gangly green bean plants. Since I planted the beans, I've learned it's not necessary to start those inside because they sprout so quickly. I can affirm that. Heh. I have some dragon beans that I will plant outside when we get dirt for the beds, and cucumbers, and a few other things.

This week, my parents visited to celebrate the girls' birthdays with us, and my dad built two little raised beds for me. They are 3' by 3'. When we put them outside, we will put landscape fabric in the bottom, which will keep weeds from growing into the soil and also keep the dirt from eroding from underneath the frames. My dad also built little covers for them out of PVC pipe and "critter netting." Hopefully, those will keep any marauding animals from eating my plants or my produce.

I'm really excited about my little gardens! I will share pictures when we get them set up with dirt and planted.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Win a Family Registration for the NCHE Conference!

Have you been thinking about attending the North Carolinians for Home Education Conference in Winston-Salem in May? Are you on the fence about going? Wondering if you should take the plunge?

You most definitely SHOULD come, and I'm thrilled to offer you a chance to win a family registration to the conference! I'm going for the first time myself this year, and am excited to be one of the official conference bloggers. I am looking forward to seeing some old friends and making some new ones.

Are you considering homeschooling for the first time? The NCHE Conference is the perfect place to connect with other homeschoolers and ask your questions. You will receive a lot of encouragement, and learn how easy it is to get started with your family.

Are you a seasoned homeschooler, perhaps in need of some fresh inspiration? Maybe you just need to know you're not alone on this journey, you are not losing your mind, you're not ruining your kids... we all have that list that niggles at the back of our minds. Come and join us for some fellowship and fun!

There are going to be MANY excellent speakers this year, and I'm looking forward to hearing Dr. Anthony B. Bradley, Todd Wilson, Diana Waring, Andrew Kern and Andrew Pudewa, among others. You can see the featured speaker list here, and the list of additional speakers here. And don't forget to check out the Children's Conference!

Let us not forget my very favorite part - THE BOOK FAIR! You can peruse all kinds of curriculum choices, and one of my very favorite sellers of living books will be there, too. I cannot wait.

What are you waiting for? Enter the giveaway, go print your conference schedule and start planning which sessions you'll attend. Hope to see you there!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Birthdays and Books

This post contains affiliate links.

Both my girls have birthdays this next week. I will have TWO teenagers by Friday - 13 and 14 year old girls! For some reason, my oldest turning 14 is much more difficult for me than it was when she turned 13. I think it's because she will be officially *gulp* in high school next year. However, I don't call her a high schooler or a freshman. I call her a 9th grader. Somehow it seems easier to accept that way. Don't analyze; just go with it.

I try to give books for any gift-giving occasion, and for some reason, I've struggled to come up with the perfect books for them this year. I have been reading Anne of Green Gables and other books from this lovely $0.99 Kindle book recently, and thought Anne of Green Gables would be a nice choice. I also considered A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle, one of my childhood (and adulthood) favorites. Alas, my mom and sister called asking for ideas too, so I believe they are going to provide those. It was back to the drawing board for me!

I asked homeschool friends and reader friends, and received some great suggestions. And then, thanks to all the help, I figured out what I believe to be the right books.

For my oldest girlie, I plan to get the first three books in the Sisters Grimm series: The Fairy Tale Detectives, The Unusual Suspects, and The Problem Child. These are fun books, and she likes mysteries. I think she will enjoy the connections to the fairy tales we've read and loved. They might be twaddle, but they are fun twaddle, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with her.

After all that deliberating, I changed my mind for my soon-to-be 14-year-old. Her favorite book to date is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I didn't realize there are two books that continue the story, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I decided to get those for her, and I know she will enjoy them. And so will I, if she will agree to let me borrow them when she's done.

For my younger daughter, I've decided on Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth. I read this book for the first time a few years ago when my girls were too young for it. I liked it so much, I bought the audio book, which is excellent. I think she will enjoy the word play in this book. I'm also going to get another book by the same author titled Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys. I haven't read it yet, but I like Juster's writing and think she will too. The added bonus is that I can read it when she's done with it!

What books have your teens enjoyed? I'd love to add to my list of books for them to read!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Star Chronicles Giveaway! ($275 Value)

Dawnita Fogleman is a homeschooling mom of six living in "Nowhere, Oklahoma," as she describes it, and has just published her first book, Star Chronicles. Her book shows information about constellations without astrology. I'm privileged to be on her launch team, and my kids and I are enjoying going through the book. I've been interested in astronomy for a long time, and this book has been a great starting point for us. 

star chronicles giveaway

Star Chronicles Giveaway

To celebrate the upcoming release of Star Chronicles, I am excited to join the Star Chronicles Launch Team in sharing this fantastic giveaway, a perfect compliment to the Star Chronicles study and just plain fun for your homeschool! 

Here's what you can win: 

A total value of $275!

Enter to win!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below. Residents of the U. S. and Canada (excluding Quebec), age 18 and older only. See Rafflecopter for additional terms and conditions. 

star disclaimer

Sunday, March 16, 2014

REVIEW: Mango Languages Homeschool Edition

Latha math! (That's "hello" in Scottish Gaelic.) Foreign language is one of those subjects I have not taught consistently. I've had the best of intentions to start teaching my children Latin and French, and it's never quite happened. We've done a little Spanish, but nothing for long. I have avoided online foreign language programs, because I would prefer to keep us off the computer as much as possible, but I just had to give Mango Homeschool Edition from Mango Languages  a try. For the purpose of this review, I received a one-year subscription for three students. I signed up my daughters and myself, and we began European French.

The program is intended for children ages 6 and up, even adults. They offer all levels of coursework, which makes them a great option for any grade level, but particularly for those of us trying to figure out how to homeschool high school. Because it's browser-based, it works on both Apple computers and PCs.

We decided to make our French lessons part of our morning time, and did the program together orally. My girls and I had a little competition going to see who could remember things first as we went through the lessons. We had a LOT of fun. Even my 6 year old joined in and learned along with us. He frequently comes up to me and says things like, "Mom, I know how to say 'â bientôt!' It means 'see you later!'" I am impressed by what he's picked up, because honestly, he's not all that interested in sitting still and participating with us most of the time. He's usually playing with blocks or trucks while we are speaking French to each other, although he will sometimes say things along with us.

There is no written component to this program, but European French does come with a Course Guide for each of the three levels. I printed those, and have had my girls copying out the sentences as we learn them, so they see how the words are spelled and become familiar with the sentence structure. It makes good copywork for them.

While we chose to work on French together, Mango's language programs are structured so that students are able to work independently. A few times, when we got started later than usual, I sent the girls to do their school work and asked them to do French on their own. They were able to do it with no problems at all.

I also took a look at Scottish Gaelic. I didn't have as much time to spend on this as I'd hoped, but it was still fun. I've always wanted to learn Gaelic. At this time, there is only one level of Gaelic available, but that's a lot more than I know right now!

I like the way the program works. I wasn't sure, at first, because it's completely different from the way I learned French. However, right from the beginning, students learn things like formal vs. familiar methods of addressing other people, and how to construct simple sentences. You don't sit down and conjugate verbs, but you learn the different verb forms as you listen and respond in the lesson conversations. It's a more natural method of language learning, I think, than sitting down with a textbook, even when there is audio available. The phrases we learned initially were greetings, so we can have simple conversations with each other. It's a great way to practice.

What did my girls think?

  • They both enjoyed using the program.
  • They both thought a written component would be helpful. My oldest daughter has spent the most time writing the phrases we learned into a notebook, and she said it helped her a lot.
We reviewed what you might call the "beta" version of Mango's Homeschool Edition. They offer more than 60 different languages! The lessons are all recorded by native speakers, which makes such a difference in language learning. There is phonetic spelling available on demand, so you can see how it's pronounced in phonetic spelling like you'd see in a dictionary. That's extremely helpful. Sometimes I had a hard time hearing, thanks to years of college marching band, so the phonetic spelling gave me some much-needed hints. Along with conversation and grammar, there are cultural insights, customs and etiquette. One particularly nice feature is the voice comparison tool. It allows you to speak into a microphone and see how your accent compares to the native speaker's. We learned that we do need a separate microphone for that; our computer's microphone didn't pick up enough.

You may have seen Mango Languages at your local library. That's where they started, and they've grown from there. At the library, you may not have access to all the languages Mango offers, and only one level is available for any language through the library system. The homeschool version has all languages and levels, and the community feature, which isn't available through the library.

Mango's vision is to have a community for language learning, where students not only work on lessons, but are able to interact with others learning the same language and eventually with people who know the language well. Currently, the program offers these features:
  • Progress assessments
  • Built-in journals, discussions and wikis
  • Collaborative learning spaces
  • eNote messaging/chat rooms
  • Access to embedded/downloadable content
  • Support from other community members
  • Calendars to schedule meetings or study groups
Additionally, over the next few months, they plan to add lots of new features, like enhanced tracking and progress monitoring, including seat time, for students and parents; goals and personal lesson plans (both stand-alone and tied into Mango courses), and a resume and portfolio builder.

Overall, I'm not sure I would use this program on its own, but it's a perfect complement to go along with any curriculum. You have access to as many languages as you want to try. I am fascinated with languages (I majored in linguistics in college) so I feel like a kid in a candy store when I look at all the languages I could explore with Mango.  They have Ancient Greek! Ancient Hebrew! Pirate! (Yes, Pirate!) Malayalam! I don't even know what Malayalam is, but now I want to learn. I love the idea of a language-learning community, where you can ask questions and talk to others learning the same languages.

Here is the pricing structure for subscriptions to the Mango Homeschool Edition:
  • 1 subscription - $18 per month or $125 per year
  • 2 subscriptions - $28 per month or $175 per year
  • 3 subscriptions - $38 per month or $225 per year
  • 4 subscriptions - $48 per month or $275 per year
  • 5 subscriptions - $58 per month or $325/year total
  • 6 or more subscriptions - special group rate, dependent on the number in your group
Obviously, there are significant savings when you sign up for a year rather than making monthly payments. I hope you'll take a look!

Connect with Mango on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Praying Mantis Update

I have some sad news. The last of our praying mantis babies died this week. We only had three left, and it seemed that they were trying to shed their first skins, and couldn't get them off. I did a little research, and it sounds like they needed more moisture in their environment.

This certainly has been a learning experience. Hopefully we will be able to do a little better if either of our other two egg cases hatch. I was so very sad to lose that last little bug today, though. So were the kids.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

REVIEW: Amazing Science DVD

My little man, who is currently 6 years of age, loves to do "experiments." If I don't have an actual science activity for him to do, he makes up his own. That can get messy. I'm not the greatest at coming up with experiments, to be honest, so I was delighted to have the chance to review Amazing Science, Vol. 1 from I received a physical copy of the 2-DVD set to review. There are 23 different videos, covering such topics as electricity, magnetism, heat, and more.

This DVD set is aimed at grades 1-3, but these science experiments are great for any age, really. I hadn't done most of them before, and I enjoyed them quite as much as my son! He would get the DVD and pop it in every day, to see what we were going to do next.

Mr. Jason Gibson is the scientist who presents the experiments.  He has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and was actually a rocket scientist for NASA! In each video, Mr. Gibson gives the materials list, shows the complete experiment, and explains the science behind what you're doing. I had to laugh at Isaac; he had no interest whatsoever in the explanations and really just wanted to get on with the cool part. I, on the other hand, learned a lot and had a great time!

When we did the first experiment, "Color-Changing milk, I went and got whole milk (recommended in the video), and then we set to work. I was amazed at how carefully Isaac did exactly what he had been shown in the video. He *loved* that experiment, even though I only had yellow and green food coloring for the first run. He got to mix it all up and make "green milk" at the end, which he thought was fantastic. He enjoyed the experiment so much, we had to do it again when Grammy and Papa were visiting so they could see, too. (It was a bit of a trick to find non-gel food coloring. I located it with the spices, rather than with the cake decorating things, FYI.)

Check out this video of the color changing milk experiment:

The next experiment we did was "Egg in a Bottle." My husband was home to help with this one, which is always fun. We lit the matches, dropped them in the jar, placed the hard-boiled egg on top, and watched it squish itself right down into the bottle, even though it clearly did NOT fit through the mouth of the bottle before dropping the matches in there.  We actually did this experiment several times, because my science-loving husband knew if he blew really hard into the bottle, he would reverse the process and force the egg back out.  We have done it again since, too, which has resulted in us getting to eat a lot of deviled eggs, because I'm not going to boil just one egg at a time!

Another fun one was the "Floating Egg" experiment. This one was so simple, and yet did a great job illustrating buoyancy. Mr. Gibson explained how the salt dissolved in one glass didn't really go away, so the water in there weighed more. Because it weighed more, there was a stronger buoyant force pushing back against the egg, so it was able to float. Simple, but fascinating!

The experiments shown on these DVDs are my idea of fun, living science. You get to see how the experiments work, with clear, simple explanations. I watched the videos with Isaac, but in the future, I might set them up for him, let him run them (with help as necessary), and have him narrate what happens. Then, we can watch the videos and hear the explanations. The supplies you need are readily available, and if you don't have them at home you can find them easily. It's fun to go through the experiments sequentially on the DVDs, but you could also use the DVDs as a resource and pull out experiments to go along with whatever science program you're using. My girls enjoyed doing these experiments with us, and they are old enough (12 and 13) to do the experiments on their own and keep a science journal with the steps and results. My girls were able to do these with my little man, too, and they all enjoyed that. I could see this being a great resource for co-op situations, as well.

Amazing Science Vol. 1 is available from for $17.95, and as a digital download for $14.99.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Praying Mantis Update

Well, we're down to three surviving mantis babies from our first egg case. I'm not quite sure what happened, except that perhaps I didn't get them the right food quickly enough. I had been feeding them ground beef, but read that it didn't have enough chitin in it, which is apparently something insects need. I started looking for alternatives, and the recommendations I found online were that we use either pinhead crickets or flightless fruit flies. Isaac and I drove to an exotic pet store, hoping they'd have something, but all they could offer were mealworms - which are, frankly, disgusting, and far too big for the mantis babies. They told me to go to Petco and get flightless fruit flies. When we got to Petco and inspected the flies, I observed that while they cannot fly, they do JUMP, much like fleas. I decided to try "extra small" crickets, in the hope that the mantises could handle those.

Alas, it was not to be. While the crickets were shorter in length than the mantis babies, they were much wider. Most of the little mantids were afraid of the crickets, and the one I did see try to catch one was unable to do so because the cricket was just too wide for it to grab with its little hooks. Back to Petco I went for the fruit flies.

At that point, we had separated as many babies as we could into individual pint and jelly jars, because the population was decreasing steadily as the carnivorous little beasties ate each other. It is quite a trick trying to get fruit flies into small jars. There are always escapees, and there are several out and about in my house now. Unfortunately, even though we'd finally found a good source of food for them, the remaining little mantids kept dying off. At this point, we have one left in a jelly jar, and two left in our butterfly enclosure. The three remaining ones seem to be doing well. We take each one out now and then, and talk to it, and let it climb around on us for some extra exercise. They really are cute.

We still have two more egg cases, so if they hatch, at least we have food ready for them. It's been a good lesson in why God would have so many would hatch at once, because their little lives are so fragile, you need lots of them so that at least a few have a chance to survive until adulthood. We were hoping to raise one for each of us, but now I will be thrilled if even one of them lives to be an adult!

Friday, March 07, 2014

REVIEW: Talking Shapes App from Talking Fingers

My 6 year old boy (that says a lot right there, doesn't it?) does not like anything that looks like actual school work. I try to keep lessons short and fun, but at the end of the day, he still has to hold his pencil properly and do his best to write his letters, you know? This child in particular responds really well to technology-based learning, and while that doesn't thrill me sometimes, there are a lot of great apps out there. One of them is the Talking Shapes iPad app from Talking Fingers, Inc. I received a copy of the app for free so I could review it for you. It's intended for preschool to kindergarten aged children.

The app starts out with a story about two girls and how they invented the alphabet. They come up with pictures for the letters, and as they introduce each letter, the child has to trace the letters with their finger.

In this first story, the child learns 6 phonemes: C, A, T, F, H and S. Here are their pictures:

Aren't they cute? I love the concept of associating a letter with a picture. As they learn the letters and corresponding pictures, the child is asked to say the word describing the picture - for example, INCHWORM, which goes with "I." Then, when they practice drawing  "I," they can tap on the picture of the inchworm and hear themselves saying the word. We had a little trouble getting my iPad to hear us say the words, but I think that's because my case covers up the microphone somehow.

When you open the app, there are three options on the main screen: "Read to Me," which allows you to choose which story you'd like to hear; "Draw Letters," in which you choose which of the three stories you'd like to practice tracing the letters; and "Play Game," which, naturally, takes you to the game for the book you select.

When playing the games, the child first drags letter pictures down
to squares to spell words. Then, the little story is shown, and the words that teach the phonemes for that book are highlighted, one at a time, in red, then removed from the picture. Balloons, chickens with flapping wings, and flying pigs (depending on the story) move across the screen with different words in them, all from the story, and the child has to read the words and choose the correct one to fill in the blank. I will say that I found the chickens distracting. Their shapes were a little too small and the flapping wings made it hard to read the words. Isaac didn't seem to mind, though. Once the game has been completed, a fun little scene plays at the bottom of the screen. Isaac loved those and would replay them over and over just to laugh at them.

The only drawback I found was that when drawing the letters, Isaac figured out quickly that all he had to do was scribble with his finger until the letter outlines were filled in. The app didn't require him to trace the letters. Once I saw that, I made sure to have him trace the letters properly. I would love to see the app require actual tracing. This app is certainly not our only source for handwriting practice, but it does seem like a child would get more out of writing the letter with their finger.

Isaac loves this app. We used it most days, and he was willing to spend a few minutes to go through one part each day - on the first day we'd do the story, the next day we'd work on drawing letters, then finally playing the games. I have seen significant improvement in his ability to put letters together to form words since we started working with it. He enjoyed it, too. Even while I was looking through the app as I wrote my review, he came over to see what I was doing and play with me. It's a nice addition to any reading program, and provides interactive learning with a fun way for a child to practice letter sounds and word building.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

REVIEW: Motivated Moms Ebooks

To anyone who knows me in real life, and actually, probably to anyone who reads my blog, it's no secret that I am "housework challenged." I have a terrible time keeping track of what needs to be done, or even knowing what should be done on a daily basis, much less on a monthly or annual schedule. One thing that has helped me tremendously is the Motivated Moms Chore Planner Ebook. I have used it for several years now, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it for you!

The Motivated Moms planner provides a chore schedule for you, so you don't have to make one yourself. The list includes yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily tasks, and if you complete the tasks on the list each day, your house will stay consistently clean and picked up. You'll find everything from clipping children's fingernails, decluttering a bit at a time, cleaning your refrigerator (one shelf per week) to cleaning the kitchen light fixture. I have read many, many books on how to clean my house, how to declutter my house, how to have my kids help clean my house, and honestly, the Motivated Moms house system is the only thing that has worked for me.

I prefer the printable planner, myself. I tried the app last year. It has some cool features, like being able to assign colors to the kids and add custom tasks to your heart's content. I found it was too easy for me to ignore it on my iPad. This year, they added some new features, including being able to email and print the task list, manual sorting of tasks, and synching between devices. The synching trick might persuade me to try it again next year, because each child in my house has an iPad (I know, I know) and that would be easier than having it just on mine.

One thing I love about this planner is, each day is new. You don't have to carry over the chores you didn't finish. I suppose you could, but I don't. I do what I can every day and aim to get better about completing each day's list. The lists are very doable; I am just easily distracted and forget to check what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm already much further ahead than I was, and the list really does help keep me on track.

This year, I decided to try the half-sheet version. I have a half sheet sized purple binder, and I printed my pages and put them in that. I take out the daily page and stick it on our kitchen white board, where everyone can see it. My girls and I each choose three things from the list to do in the morning, and then I try to get to the rest of the items throughout the rest of the day. I can also have my 6 year old help with many tasks, like changing the hand towels in the kitchen and bathroom, feeding pets, and helping unload the dishwasher.

The only drawback I found with the half-sized version was that the PDF file is not set up for double-sided printing. I did print it on both side of the paper, and the days ended up being out of order. The months ended up grouped together for the most part, and it's not a big deal to do a little flipping to find the current day's page, but it would be nice to be able to print it double-sided. I wouldn't have minded printing it on single sheets, but it wouldn't have all fit in my little binder. I understand why they did it this way; if they made it so that it printed properly on both sides of the paper, it would be funky-looking for those who prefer to print one day at a time. This was not an issue with the full-size planner.

The Motivated Moms Ebooks are available in full page and half page versions, with or without daily Scripture readings, with color or black and white. The price, no matter your chosen format, is $8.00. The app is available for either $.99 per month ($1.99 for your initial purchase, which includes 2 months) or $7.99 for the year.

I love this system so much that I became an affiliate. If you'd like to try it for yourself, please feel free to use the purple "MoMo" button on my sidebar to click over to their site for purchase.

Connect with Motivated Moms on Facebook and Twitter!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Seed Starting: Origami Pots!

This year, I am DETERMINED to do a little gardening. I love growing things, although I haven't tried gardening for food since setting up my own household. I like flowers. Since having children, and especially since starting homeschooling, I haven't made as much time for any kind of gardening. However, my children have wanted to have a vegetable garden for years, and now that Isaac is 6, I think we could handle giving it a try. We're going to make some small raised beds, and see how it goes.

A year or so ago, I picked up a book on organic gardening. The author recommends raised beds for gardening here, for a couple of reasons. First, we have red clay soil, and it's a bugger to amend it so plants can grow. I've been told that root vegetables are nearly impossible in our clay soil. Secondly, you don't have to try to till up soil, which spreads weed seeds and means a lot of work trying to keep ahead of plants you don't want in your garden before you've even gotten started. From talking with several people in our area, I've learned that raised beds are the way to go here, so that's what we're going to do.

We decided to try starting some of our own seeds. My 6 year old is so excited about seeds, he can hardly stand it. I let him choose two packets of seeds from Walmart while we were there this week. He chose an assortment of gourds, and cone flowers. He wanted to go outside and plant them RIGHT THEN, and it's been difficult convincing him that we need to wait a little while yet. Starting some seeds in the house is a wonderful way to wait these last few weeks before we can plant things outside.

Seeds need to be planted in something, and I didn't want to buy seed starting thingies. I searched the internet for ideas, and learned how to make my own pots, origami-style, from newspaper! You can plant them directly into the soil, and the paper will decompose. This is *fantastic* because I won't have more things to store in the garage!

I watched a couple of different videos and tried some different methods for folding pots, and this is the one I liked best:

However, I did find that it was a little hard to pay attention to the video while folding, so I made a tutorial with pictures so you can follow along at your own pace! Here are the supplies I used:

  • Newspaper
  • Butter knife
  • Potting Soil
  • Seeds
  • Plastic cup with water
  • Disposable 9"x13" cake pans with clear plastic lids

Once you've assembled your supplies, you can get started!

First, get your newspaper. I bought newspapers on Wednesday, and got to read some lovely recipes while I was folding pots, as well as discovering that one of the papers has colored comic strips, even during the week! I love reading comics in the paper. I love the crossword puzzles, too. But I digress.

1. You will need to tear your paper down the center crease, so that you have individual sheets of newspaper. A butter knife works really well for separating them, and you can do several sheets at once that way.

2. Next, we start folding! Fold it exactly in half, overriding the original fold, so the top and bottom edges match. Then, fold it in half from left to right, so that you have four loose corners together at the top. You can use your butter knife to make your creases. It will be easier as you go along, just like with regular origami, if you make sharp, precise creases, but there is no need to worry about that too much..

3. Unfold your last fold, so you have your long sheet folded in half just once. Then, fold the corners in to the center line, as if you were making a paper airplane, or a newspaper hat. I marked the center with my favorite hot pink Sharpie so you could see what I was talking about.

4. Turn your paper so the point is at the top, and fold the top layer, at the bottom of your paper, in half up to the bottom of the triangle. Then, fold it again, up over the bottom of the triangle, using that bottom edge as a guide. It still seems as though we might be making hats, doesn't it?

5. Flip your paper over, and fold the outside edges into the center line, as if you were folding paper airplane wings. (Work with me here. I know you probably make much more aerodynamic paper airplanes, if that were your end goal.)

6. Your paper now looks like a rather tall house. Fold the paper at the bottom of the house in half, up to the base of that rectangle. Fold it up again to cover that rectangle. (This is similar to what we did in step 4.)

7. Now, look at your construction at this point. If you unfold it a bit, you can look inside and see little pockets. You want to tuck the flap of your paper into those little pockets.

8. Now your paper does look like a little hat. Actually, it looks like a cat-sized hat. There was a cat handy while I made mine, so I tried it on her. She was not impressed. (I assure you, no felines were injured in the making of these paper pots. Offended, perhaps, but not harmed.)

9. Now, take the triangle and fold it over the rectangle on both sides, creasing on each side, like so:

Those might not seem like important folds, but if you've ever done origami paper folding, you know that each crease has a purpose, even if it's not immediately apparent. Trust me, folding the triangle over on both sides will make your pot-making experience more pleasurable.

10. This next fold is a cool origami trick. Look at the pictures below, and note the two pink corners, one at the top and on on the bottom left corner of your triangle. Take that top corner and bring it over to the bottom corner, and crease. You only need to crease to the base of the triangle, not all the way down.

11. Put your hand inside the pot, and expand it out into a three-dimensional creation. See how that tricky little triangle fold we just did helped the base of the pot fold itself flat?

12. You might need to "encourage" the base of your pot to do what you want it to do, but it will turn out with a nice flat base. It may not sit exactly flat on the table, but that will be solved in a moment.

13. Now your pot is ready to be filled with dirt!

14. Once you have dirt in your pots, they are ready for seeds. Poke the seeds into the dirt, water them, and put them in your tray. I used disposable 9"x13" cake pans I purchased at the grocery store. I had originally intended them for some freezer cooking, but never quite got around to it. It worked out better this way, actually, because the lids are too tall to make them practical for the freezer, but they make wonderful mini-greenhouses.

15. When you've planted enough pots to fill a tray, you can put the lid on your pan (if you have one) and set them in a sunny window to germinate.

There you have it! I will keep you posted on our gardening process. It's always so exciting when the seeds start growing, isn't it? I have killed many, many seedlings in previous gardening attempts, but this year, I have children who can help me remember to water them and keep the kittens away (I hope).