Wednesday, April 30, 2014

REVIEW: ARTistic Pursuits

Art is one of those topics I love to think about, but find difficult to teach. I found ARTistic Pursuits when my girls were young elementary students, and have loved it ever since. This year we had the opportunity to review a brand new book: Sculpture Technique: Construct, intended for students ages 11-18. 

ARTistic Pursuits provides homeschool art instruction for ages Pre-K through high school. Last year we reviewed Book 1 from the Middle School level, The Elements of Art and Composition. It was a lot of fun, and the girls learned a lot. The Sculpture Technique book is completely different from anything we've done before. We were definitely working outside our comfort zones, but in a good way, I promise!

Brenda has a knack for clear instruction. She really does think of everything. When I read the instructions to make paper, she even listed "power source," lest I do something bright and take the blender where there was no plug for it. You know, I could see that happening in the name of trying to keep the mess out of the main area of the house! She can't make us as talented as she is, but she certainly gives all the tools we need to figure things out, and how much time we choose to practice and improve our skill is on us. The book suggests setting aside 1-2 hours per week for lessons, and states that it will probably take more than one session for each lesson. That is the truth. It takes time to make paper; there is no getting around it. And 3-dimensional constructs don't just appear out of thin air. There is a fair amount of trial and error involved, and you have to be willing to start over when things don't go just right.

Let me tell you, thinking in three dimensions definitely had us working outside our comfort zones! First, we made a rainbow of paper. My girls were so funny - they did what I asked without complaining, but when my husband got home they showed him and said, "Look, Dad! We made PAPER! Out of PAPER!" and proceeded to laugh like it was the silliest thing they'd ever done. Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts. I think they began to understand why we had to make paper when we mixed some new colors. I didn't have any specific colors in mind, but thought I'd try for a darker brown once, and then decided to see what would happen if I put the remaining black in with the rest of the blue, and it just blossomed from there. This, in itself, was time consuming. We were able to dry the paper in the microwave, so that saved needing to let it air dry for a few days.

Once we got the paper made, it was time to create! I had to just walk away and let the girls do what they wanted on their own, because they couldn't decide and I am prone to telling them what to do. It took them a bit of effort to grasp how to get portions of their pictures to be three-dimensional. It took some stops and starts, and a few attempts, but they figured it out.

Then, we moved on to forming hand-made paper into three-dimensional constructs. That was fun! I made a poinsettia, and Abbie made a lotus. We cut dry paper into petals, and then sprayed it with water and formed it into our flowers.

And then, we moved on to wet paper construction. I will say I struggled the most. The project was to make a mobile using figures we fashioned from wire, then using wet paper to cover the forms and make clothes for them. I made the little wire people with much trial and error. I failed completely at making thumbs. I had a hard time figuring out how to get the paper to go on to the wire, and ended up calling Brenda, the author, who talked me through it. She was very helpful and encouraging, and definitely wants people to be successful. The girls actually did much better with this part than I did. We haven't quite finished our mobiles, but we have a good start on our wire figures.

If you have a student who loves to create on their own, they could certainly do the work in this book independently. My girls prefer me to work with them, so when I am able to do that, I try to sit down and make projects alongside them. Often I can get them started and they are able to finish up independently. I am certainly no expert, and we learn together, which is the best part of homeschooling for me, anyway.

Sculpture Technique: Construct is available from ARTistic Pursuits for $47.95, which is a great price for a year's worth of art instruction for your homeschool. Each book in each level is the same cost, and has a specific list of the supplies you will need. If you're looking for quality art instruction for your homeschool, I encourage you to take a look at ARTistic Pursuits!

Connect with ARTistic Pursuits on Facebook and Pinterest.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nature Study at the Beach

This post contains affiliate links.

This past weekend, the kids and I were able to join some friends at North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. We had never been to Myrtle Beach, and in fact, had not been to the ocean since Isaac was a baby. My husband and I are both from Michigan, and we are Great Lakes people. Oceans have dangerous things like jellyfish and sharks. Nothing wants to eat you in the Great Lakes. However, I really was excited to take the kids to the beach in spite of my issues (ha) and we had a WONDERFUL time.

It was interesting to note how the terrain changed as we drove from the foothills of North Carolina to the beach in South Carolina. We went from hilly terrain to mostly flat, and the closer we got to the ocean, we saw lots of different trees. The were large patches of bright red flowers along the sides of the highway, starting somewhere south of Charlotte. I couldn't get pictures, because stopping on the highway is frowned upon, but I did manage to stop quickly on an exit ramp and pick some. I believe they were scarlet clover, which I had never seen before, and they were just lovely. I found this Wikipedia image, since I wasn't able to get a picture myself:

Scarlet Clover

The weather was absolutely perfect. The water was a little chilly for me, but I don't really want to swim in the ocean anyway (read above about sharks and jellyfish). It didn't stop my son or my friend's boys, though! They had a blast in the water. When they had enough of the big waves, there were some tide pools with warmer water and they played in those very happily, making big piles of sand, burying toys an themselves, and generally having a wonderful time.

The best part of the beach for me was looking for wildlife. First of all, there are lots of fun birds. There were many happy feathered friends singing in the mornings and it was a delight to wake up to such beautiful music. The first bird I saw and was able to identify was the boat-tailed grackle. I have a vague recollection of seeing these birds when my husband and I visited Disneyworld for our first anniversary, which would be nearly 18 years ago, and they were the birds we were warned against feeding. I think they can be pests. They reminded me a lot of mockingbirds, probably because they're both garrulous bird species and fairly brave around people. Anyway, I saw both males and females on the beach.

Once we were on the beach, I started poking around for shells. I didn't find anything uncommon, but not being an ocean girl, they're all beautiful to me! We found Ponderous Arks, Eastern Oysters, Cross-barred Venus Clams, Coquina Clams and some Cockles. I found a couple of pieces of Lettered Olive shells, but no whole ones. I'm sure the beach was pretty well picked over by the time we got there each day.

While I was digging in the sand for shells, I found some live creatures too. The first things I found were some little mole crabs. My friend called them sand fiddlers. They are tiny little crustaceans who dig in the sand and use their antennae for filter feeding. I learned the females are large than the males, so I think we had two females and several males in our first lot. We put some in one of Isaac's little sand molds and observed them for a while. Check out this video of Emma stirring them up with her fingers:

I also caught some live bivalves while looking for shells. I believe these are coquina clams. We got to see the largest one using it's "foot" to sift through the sand, looking for food. They all put their little valves out, once they were settled into the bucket.

Our second day at the beach, my friend's boys found some dead jellyfish. I believe they said there were three of them. Her younger son picked one up, and while he and her brother were looking at it, three small elephant-nose spider crabs came out! They were able to catch one, and they let us hang out with it for a while. It didn't seem to mind the bucket. We could see the water moving as it breathed through its gill. When Emma and I took it back over by the pier to set it loose, it did to seem eager to leave! We had to let a wave wash it away. Doesn't it look friendly?

As we were getting ready to leave, I saw a large bird on the beach and thought it was a pelican. I hurried over with my camera and saw that is was, in fact, an injured cormorant. There was a boy with a boogie board chasing it, and it was unable to fly. It was finally able to get I to the water and I yelled at tha mean kid to stop chasing it. Oh, he is lucky he wasn't one of mine! Anyway, I was able to get a picture. We only saw this one, but they are supposed to be pretty common.

While I was over there, I also saw this Laughing Gull:

I had never seen a gull with a black head before! That's what they look like during breeding season, according to my bird book.

I also saw these cute little birds, called Semipalmated Plovers:

I saw a bird called a dunlin several times, but unfortunately, never with my camera. I was able to identify it by looking through pictures taken by the Carolina Bird Club. Click here to see a picture of one. We also saw some killdeer, but we have those at home so I didn't take their pictures.

There is a nature preserve at North Myrtle Beach, but it was about a half hour from where we were staying, and no one else really wanted to go with me. The weather was perfect for the beach, so I didn't force the issue. If we'd had one more day, I think we would have gone. It would have been time for a break from the beach. However, as you can see, there is always something to be found, no matter where you are!

My sources for identifying what I found were:

Birds of the Carolinas Field Guide
Birds of the Southeast Atlantic Coast (beach-proof folding guide, nice for taking to the beach with you)
Shells of the Southeast Atlantic Coast (another beach-proof folding guide)
Myrtle Beach State Park Beachcombing Guide (Link to PDF)

Do you like to go to the beach at the ocean, or at a lake? What have you found there?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

REVIEW: Mere Christianity Journal

My girls read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for school this year, and they struggled with it a bit. I didn't feel like they got as much out of it as they could have, which was concerning to me. I've been reading it too and LOVE IT. I hadn't read it before, and it has been a life-changing read for me. I had only read the preface, and underlined about half of it, when I talked with my brother about the book. He told me to stop underlining C.S. Lewis, because most of the book would be highlighted which completely defeats the purpose. That made me laugh, but he was right.

When the opportunity arose to review the Mere Christianity Journal from Home School Adventure Co., I was thrilled. The journal is intended for students aged 12 and up, and is available as either a printed book or an interactive PDF download. It was originally created as a companion product to go along with Philosophy Adventure, another program available from Home School Adventure Co., but you can easily use it as a stand-alone study. We received the download version, which allows students to type their answers directly into fields in the PDF file. That's a nice feature if you have someone who would prefer to type. I printed one copy for us to use during our time together.

Because the girls didn't seem to connect with the book when they read it last term, I decided that we would read it together and do the questions orally. That worked well, and sparked some great discussions. I love talking about this kind of thing with my girls, especially because they are going through confirmation at church, and are at the age of questioning. They seem more open to answering questions written by someone else, because it's not "just mom again," if you know what I mean. My mom also read through some of the book and questions when she visited in March, and she and the girls worked through a few chapters. I know they all enjoyed that time together. My girls appreciated that the questions were clear and helped pull them into what Mr. Lewis was trying to get across.

There are 10-16 questions to go along with each chapter. I had some concerns about using the journal, because I wanted my girls to make their own connections with the material. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the questions put forth in this book. Rather than asking students to look for specific facts or to define vocabulary words, the questions direct them to key assertions in each chapter and ask students whether they disagree, and why. As they think through their answers, they learn to define their own beliefs, and figure out how to put their thoughts into words. Throughout this process, they are building their critical analysis skills. Students are asked to respond to the material, but not in a way that tells them what they should think. There are no "correct" answers - you just have to be able to clearly defend your position.

If I had it to do over again, make sure we each had a copy of the journal, so we could use it while we were reading on our own, and have our answers ready to bring to our discussion time. (Our printer is on the fritz, so printing three copies wasn't an option. I was lucky to get it to cooperate enough to print one!) It would have been better writing practice for them if I'd had them putting their thoughts down on paper.

I can think of no better book on Christian apologetics than Mere Christianity.  This companion journal would be a great resource to use with a high school class in a school or co-op, a Bible study at church or in a small group setting. It has been a great family devotional for us, although my little man is a bit too young for it. He has listened to our discussions, though, and I know he's absorbed a lot of it. It's been a huge help for my girls in understanding Mere Christianity, and I'm thankful for that.

The Mere Christianity Journal is available from Home School Adventure Co.: $28.95 for the printed version, and $18.95 for the PDF. Stacy would like to offer you a 10% discount on any digital product, through May 15, 2014, using the code CREW-10.

Connect with Home School Adventure Co. on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram. Don't forget to check out Stacy's blog.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring Nature Study: Wildflowers

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That's Pinteresting

I love spring. I think it's everyone's favorite time of year, don't you? My very favorite part of spring is wildflowers. I love this time of year in North Carolina! There are flowers popping up all over the place.

My favorite book for identifying wildflower is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers, Eastern Region. They also make one for the Western Region. The nice thing about these books is they're organized by color and shape, so you can look up things like "yellow daisy and dandelion-like" flowers. These books are by no means definitive, but they're the easiest to use for me. I just got Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, which is supposed to be pretty cool, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. It's for a fairly specific region of the U.S, basically north Georgia up through New England, but it is supposed to be a better way of identifying wildflowers.

Some local friends have started a nature club, and our first subject is wildflowers. We were able to attend for the first time last week. We met them at South Mountain State Park, and looked along the walking trail to see what we could find. Take a look!

Here are some fiddleheads (ferns just coming out of the ground):

Then we found these Mayapples, or Mandrakes:

They weren't flowering yet, but we did see buds. Maybe they'll be in bloom next time! These used to grow in the woods where I grew up. (We did not dig any up to see if the roots were screaming babies. No picking the flowers!)

And then we saw this lovely trillium:

When I looked up the trillium in my wildflower guide, I learned that it is also called "Stinking Benjamin." Apparently, the flowers smell like carrion, which attract carrion-feeding flies for pollination. I'm glad I didn't get close enough to the flower to try to smell it.

When we saw this flower, we had a hard time figuring out what it was. I kept thinking, "Wow, that looks like chickweed, but the flowers are so big!" Come to find out, it's GIANT chickweed! It's also called star chickweed. I know not everyone loves having chickweed around, but I think it's pretty.

We also saw three kinds of violets! I love violets. They remind me of my grandmothers. They grew everywhere in Michigan. Here, they grow wild, and pop up all over the place. We find them in our yard, volunteering their beauty. I had never seen a yellow violet before, I don't think, and I am not sure I'd seen a Canada violet, either. 

The last thing we were able to identify was foamflower. They're so pretty. I used to have some in my flowerbeds when we lived in Apex, but I'm sure they were a hybrid variety. It was such a lovely surprise to find them growing in the wild.

We were hoping to be able to spend some time dry-brush painting in our nature journals, but it was chilly and windy, so we decided to do that next time. 

My friend Jenn over at Simblissity has created some lovely nature journal pages for you, if you'd like to print them off and get started on your very own study of the spring wildflowers in your area. I'd love to know what you find. What is your favorite?

Be sure to check out  the Spring Studies Crew Carnival and see what other folks are doing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hymn Study Helps: Go to Dark Gethsemane

In our little Charlotte Mason co-op, we are currently studying the hymn, "Go to Dark Gethsemane" by James Montgomery. It is a beautiful hymn, and I don't remember singing it before Sara introduced us to it. I've found myself connecting with hymns as never before, and this one has touched my heart particularly this last week, as we've walked with Christ during the Holy Week readings at our church.

As I've been singing this with my children, I see Christ so vividly, praying not to have to be crucified, and yet going willingly because He knew it had to be. I am so grateful for His sacrifice for me, and this hymn reminds me so beautifully to turn to Him when things seem too hard. The petty struggles of my day-to-day life come sharply into focus in proper perspective when I consider what He has done. I hope this hymn will bless your Good Friday meditations.

Go to Dark Gethsemane
James Montgomery

Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; 
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See Him at the judgment hall, beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; 
Learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry; 
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; 
Savior, teach us so to rise.

Click here for a PDF of music with lyrics. 

James Montgomery was born in Scotland in 1771. When he was 2 years old, he moved with his parents to a Moravian community, where they left him to go to Barbados as missionaries. James was orphaned when his parents died on the mission field. He attended an English Moravian seminary for a while, but was dismissed because he was preoccupied with writing poetry. Eventually, he became editor of a newspaper called the Sheffield Register, and when the owner of that paper had to leave the country to avoid persecution and imprisonment over his political writings, James bought the paper and renamed it the Sheffield Iris. He also wrote political editorials, and was put in prison twice because of his writings. Before his death in 1854, he wrote over 400 hymns, 100 of which are still used today. The one I'm most familiar with is "Angels from the Realms of Glory." (Sources: Then Sings My Soul, Morgan; 101 More Hymn Stories, Osbeck)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blogging Essentials Giveaway!

Blogger Essentials #giveaway ARV $440 @picmonkey @inlinkz @passionfruitads @RebeccFlansburg Starts 4/13

Welcome to the 
Blogging Essentials Giveaway 
hosted by 
The Squishable Baby.

This giveaway is part of the Boost your Blog - Giveaway challenge (#BB100).  The purpose of this giveaway is to boost another bloggers blog - whether they are a new or a seasoned blogger.  I am hoping that the winner will be provided with the necessary tools to either start their blogging journey on the right foot, or improve upon the blog that is already started.  I have gathered a variety of exciting tools.  One winner will receive:
  • 1 year subscription to PicMonkey - Create professional images and graphics
  • 1 year subscription to Inlinkz - Host  blog hops and linky parties and also organize affiliate links
  • 1 Year subscription to Passionfruit Ad Swaps - Network with other bloggers easily
  • Choose between a free blog design, redesign, SEO work-up or Graphic overhaul from Amber Galore and create the blog that is going to take you to the next level
  • 1 hour consultation with Amazing Success Academy and learn the tools you need for success

  • Read the review of these two great ebooks here.

    #bloggers enter the Blogging Essentials #Giveaway & #win subscriptions to @picmonkeyapp @inlinkz free blog designs via @ambergalore and more  RV $440

    Enter below for your chance to win this grand prize!

    Open Worldwide!

    The Squishable Baby, Boost Your Blog Participants, and participating bloggers are not responsible for prize distribution.

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    REVIEW: Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner Cookbook and GIVEAWAYS!

    Be sure to read all the way to the bottom and enter the giveaways!

    I have not been good about teaching my children to cook. That's just a fact. I want to have them help me in the kitchen, but I don’t have a plan that allows me to do that most days. I was THRILLED, therefore, when a friend posted that her cousin, Cherilyn Dahlsten, had written a cookbook for kids entitiled, “Hey Mom, I’ll Start Dinner,” and even more excited to review it! 

    Cherilyn is a working mom of four boys. She created this cookbook using recipes she tested on her own family, and each one is something they like to eat on a regular basis. Her passion is not cooking, but raising confident, unselfish kids who contribute to the family. This cookbook is one tool in our parenting toolbox to achieve that.

    The cookbook is a large format paperback, 8.5"x11", but not terribly thick. The recipes are color-coded by difficulty with color pictures, and include a bit of everything: main dishes, soups, side dishes, and desserts. There are also full-color pictures of the kitchen tools used in the book so children can figure out what they need independently. The instructions are written to the child, assuming they know nothing. There are also "night before" instructions where applicable, generally written to parents so you can be sure your child has what they need to make dinner independently. It will encourage you to plan your meals ahead, too, so that you have the ingredients on hand for the recipes you want them to make.

    The first recipe we tried was Chicken Pot Pie. Abbie (age 13) made it one night when I wasn’t home, so no one took pictures. She was a little offended by how easy it was to make, which made me laugh! It was quite tasty, though, so I know it’s something we will have again and I can have either of the girls put it together and pop it into the oven. We had it again during the review period, and my older daughter made it with the same tasty results.

    I had Emma make Meatballs and Garlic Mashed potatoes, and they were excellent. We chose to use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs in the meatballs, Abbie gave up bread for Lent, and it did seem to give them a slightly different texture, but they were still good. There were NO potatoes left after dinner and we willingly ate the meatballs as leftovers.

    Abbie just could not decide what she wanted to make next, so I assigned "Uglies," just because I thought the name was fun.  They turned out really well too, and were gone by the next day. I kept hearing, “Who ate the rest of the Uglies?” Abbie requested that I get more barbecue sauce (between the meatballs and the Uglies we used all I’d bought) and biscuit dough so she could make them again, and they were just as tasty the second time - maybe even better because I got better barbecue sauce.

    Peanut Butter Cookies!
    Abbie also made peanut butter cookies. The girls have been making cookies weekly since last summer for their dad to take to work, so are good judges of recipes, and found Cherilyn's to be easy to follow. The received the "Cookie Wednesday Seal of Approval" from the folks at my husband's office, too.

    Although Isaac isn't reading on his own yet and is just 6, I am planning to go through this with him as well. He is certainly capable of chopping things and getting started learning alongside me when I cook, which will make it that much easier when he's old enough to take a turn making dinner too.

    I really, really love this book. Love it. It gave me simple plan (key word: simple) to get my kids in the kitchen, both with and without me, so they know how to feed themselves when they eventually leave home. It's been wonderful to hand dinner prep off to someone else now and then. My girls might not show a great deal of enthusiasm when I ask them to cook, but I can see the pride they take in their accomplishments when we eat what they've made. We're going to use this book often, and I can see it being especially useful this summer, when I will be gone more than usual to conferences and on a trip with Abbie. My peeps at home will have a greater variety than macaroni and cheese and spaghetti in their diet.

    The cookbook  is available through the Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner website, and (aff. link). You can also see sample pages at

    Be sure to connect with Cherilyn on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. And don't forget to check out her blog, where she shares recipes and tips!

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

    Enter to win an ebook copy of Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner!

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    Day 5: Be Intentional

    Here we are on day 5 of the 5 Things Blog Hop! Thanks for hanging out with me! Today I'd like to talk to you about making sure nature study becomes a regular part of your life.

    If you're new to nature study, it's important to build nature study into your routine and make a point of sticking with it until it becomes a habit. You know what I'm talking about. I start out every week with the best of intentions, but somehow, things happen and important things like nature study go by the wayside. While you're getting into a groove, make sure nature study happens, even if it means math (gasp!) slips a little.

    Here are some things to try:

    Spend some time outside every day. In a session on high school science at the Charlotte Mason Institute Conference a couple of years ago, the speaker told us she went outside every morning with her coffee and just observed. When she was done, she came back inside and recorded what she'd seen and heard in her nature journal. What a great way to record the seasons!

    Depending on where you live, you might have to get creative at certain times of the year. In North Carolina, it's extremely hot and humid in the summer. My fair-skinned redheaded beauties just cannot be outside during the hottest parts of the day. We have to go out in the early morning if we're going to go out at all. We can be outside nearly all winter, though, and some of you who live in colder places will have to think about how to get outside when it's really cold, even if just for a few minutes each day.

    Schedule a topic for weekly, purposeful nature study. Nature study is different than a nature walk, Ambleside Online has a schedule laid out on their Nature Study page, and they have links to great information there. The Handbook of Nature Study website has the Outdoor Hour Challenges, and are a nice way to structure your studies.
    or being outside to see what you might find. You want to choose a topic and focus on that for a term. The easiest beginning study is probably birds. Birds live wherever you are. You can put up a small feeder and see who comes to visit. You could spend an entire year on birds alone!

    Find a new place. Is there a park close by? A pond or stream? Can you get to a nature preserve or botanical gardens? Perhaps there is a science museum with a butterfly house you can visit. It's worth making a special trip. Consider choosing one place and really get to know it throughout the year. What blooms, and when? What animals do you see? Are their migratory birds that only appear in the spring or fall?

    Adopt a tree or two or three for the year. What's in your yard, or nearby? Trees make a great nature study subject, because they change with every season, and they don't move. Learn what kinds of trees you have, what their bark looks like, when their leaves come out, what kind of flowers they have, what their seeds are...

    Mark off a specific spot in your yard, 1'x1', and observe what happens there throughout the seasons.  What do you find there? Bugs? Grass? Flowers? Check out this Squidoo lens for ideas.

    I hope you've enjoyed our brief foray into the wonderful world of nature study. I will be sharing more on this topic soon. I hope you'll join me and share what you're doing!

    Don't forget to check out some the other participants in the 5 Days Blog Hop:

    Aurie @ Our Good Life ~ Photography Tips and Tricks
    Dinah @ The Traveling Classroom ~ Tips for Learning a Second Language
    Julie @ Nurturing Learning ~ Art Resources
    Tara @ This Sweet Life ~ Preparing for a New School Year
    Sara @ Embracing Destiny ~ Purposeful Living
    Rebekah @ There Will Be A $5 Charge for Whining ~ Culinary Adventures for Boys
    Beth @ Ozark Ramblings ~ Photoshop Elements for Homeschool
    Hillary @ Our Homeschool Studio ~ Fitting in the Extras

    And, you can click on the banner to see everyone who's participating!

    April Blog Hop

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    REVIEW: Supercharged Science

    I'm always looking for good science options, so was excited to review the e-Science Learning Program from Supercharged Science. We received a 6-month subscription to the K-12 program.

    Aurora Lipper is a real-life rocket scientist with a passion for getting kids interested in science. She started out teaching a group of elementary students about supersonic combustion, then held a science camp, and eventually put together her SuperCharged Science program. She has lots of teaching resources on her site, as well as a homeschool blog, and offers an e-science camp in the summer. She is even available for weekly Q&A sessions on the phone!

    There is a TON of information in this program - over 600 experiments! If you look at it all and feel overwhelmed, Aurora has a nice Science Activity and Video Series put together as a place to start. Each one contains five simple experiments with videos explaining what to do.

    You can choose to use the e-science program in several different ways: by grade level, by topic, and by interest. You can use it as your primary science program, or as a supplement. They provide "conversion charts" that help you correlate your homeschool science curriculum with the e-Science program. If they don't have a chart for your program listed, they will make one for you if you send them the TOC from your book. (I was excited to see that they offer correlation to Secrets of the Universe by Paul Fleischer, which we used with Ambleside Online last year.)

    The topics included in the e-Science Online Learning Program are as follows:
    • The Scientific Method
    • Mechanics
    • Motion
    • Matter
    • Energy (2 units)
    • Sound
    • Astrophysics
    • Chemistry (2 units)
    • Light
    • Electricity
    • Magnetism
    • Alternative Energy
    • Thermodynamics
    • Electronics
    • Life Science (2 units)
    • Biology (2 units)
    • Earth Science
    • Award-Winning Science Fair Projects
    • Mathemagic
    They're working on adding even more hands-on worksheets for advanced students, which will be equivalent to college and real-life science work.

    We decided to do delight-directed science this time, and selected some I knew everyone would enjoy, even my 6-year-old. All three of my children really enjoyed the experiments we chose. My girls, at 13 and 14, are old enough to try most of them on their own. One fun and simple activity was the Microwaving Soap experiment in the "Solids" section of the unit on Matter. I had never done it before, and it was fascinating to see what happened. I only bought three bars of soap, which was probably a good thing because otherwise I'm pretty sure we'd still be trying different variations! As you can see from the pictures, I had a captive audience.

    There is a lot to love about this program. You're intended to do experiments first, then learn the "why" behind them, which is the best way to learn science. Students are encouraged to keep a science journal with their hypothesis and results, which has been a lot of fun for us. There are is something for every age, and you can have all your children working on the same topic with age-appropriate material. I love having the experiments available to use alongside whatever science we have, and it would also be an excellent stand-alone science program. Most of the supplies needed are common household items, and if they're not, links are provided for ordering online. The only real drawback is the cost. The monthly cost is a significant chunk of our homeschool budget, and while science is obviously important, it's not the only important thing.

    The e-science Premium Membership is available for $57 per month for grades K-12, or $37 per month for K-8. When you sign up, you're given access to 1-2 levels per month, but if there's a topic you'd like to cover and you don't have it yet, you can just email them and they will get it set up for you. Note: because this is an online program, there are some technical requirements you'll want to check.

    If you'd like to see what using Supercharged Science is like, click to sign up to receive a free copy of Aurora's Science Activity Video Series and Guidebook. Also, Aurora is offering a fantastic special: try e-Science for one month for only $1! Click here to find out how to take advantage!

    Connect with Supercharged Science on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Google+. Don't forget to check out their blog!

    Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

    Day Four: Keep a Nature Journal

    One of the most enjoyable things for me, since beginning nature study with my children, has been keeping a nature journal. I am not nearly as consistent with it as I'd like to be, but it brings me a great deal of pleasure when I'm able to sit down with my colored pencils or watercolors and add a picture. I also like to try to write things in it, such as today, when I heard a Carolina wren singing on my front porch (loudly) and saw another one on my window sill with a piece of what looked like mulch from my flower bed, obviously headed for its nest.

    My first dry brush
    I was first introduced to nature journaling at the Charlotte Mason Institute Conference a few years ago. A lovely woman named Deborah Dobbins and her daughter, Holly, took our class on a nature walk, and instructed us each to pick a specimen to record in our journals. I chose a ginkgo leaf and seeds. When we got back to our classroom, she had us sit and look closely at our specimens for one minute, noting every detail we could see. Then we got to paint them in our books, using the dry brush technique with watercolor paints. (In a nutshell, you use a very small paintbrush like a pencil, using as little water and as much pigment as possible.) It was a lot of fun, and after taking the time to carefully observe my leaf, I noticed many more details about it than if I'd just picked it up and started painting.

    In our little Charlotte Mason co-op, we have been learning more about the dry brush technique and mixing colors. We've learned that in order to mix colors that are as true to nature as possible, we need to use CMYK colors, rather than the "primary" colors we normally think of. My friend Sara, who is in charge of nature study during our co-op time, found that she could not mix the color of a henbit flower from the paints she had, and that's how she learned she needed magenta, rather than red. (Here is some nice information about CMYK colors.) I invested in Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor sets for myself and my girls (Cotman are the less expensive version, also available at craft stores), and found that they didn't come with magenta (Permanent Rose is the WN color name) so I've ordered some for us. We have also used Prang watercolors and liked those too. You can order a magenta from Prang, as well, but we haven't been able to determine if they have anything comparable to cyan.
    Emma's Maple Tree
    We use Canson Field Sketchbooks (aff. link) for our nature journals. They have a nice hard cover, and the paper holds up well to painting. Plus, they're readily available at local craft stores and I can almost always find a coupon! If you can't purchase one right away, you can make your own. Here is a fun tutorial from the National Wildlife Federation.

    Emma's Mockingbird
    We've used both colored pencils and watercolors. I find pencils to be more convenient when we're outside on a walk, but I like to have us work on our dry brush painting, too, when we bring specimens back to the house. I'll be honest: we find dry brush much more challenging than drawing and coloring with pencils, but it's an important thing to practice. You really have to pay attention to what you're doing with dry brush. And, as we discussed at our last CM book club meeting, it's not about perfection, but about encouraging the connection between a child and what he sees. Skills will improve, and each moment preserved in a nature journal is precious.

    Nature journals can be whatever you want them to be. You can draw or paint
    things you find outside. You can copy poetry if it comes to mind. You can write little snippets of what you see every day - you don't even have to use complete sentences if you don't want to! C'mon, everyone has a little bit of rebel in them somewhere, right? You can draw scenes, such as your yard when spring starts to visit. Spend 15 minutes outside first thing every morning, then come in and write your observations. The possibilities are endless.

    Probably the hardest thing (at least for me) is letting a child be in control of their own nature journal. I'm no great artist and I don't pretend to be able to instruct them in the finer points of technique, but often their connection is not mine. They do have to make some assigned entries during our nature study time, but when they just go outside or we're on a nature walk, they are free to choose. I'm sure my son will have no end of insects and worms in his, and I would really rather see him try to draw flowers, you know? 

    Keeping a nature journal is not only a source of pleasure, but an important piece of a child's education. It will encourage them to be a life-long observer of the world, to become intimate with nature. Just get started - don't let anything hold you back. 

    Here are some helpful resources:

    Don't forget to check out some the other participants in the 5 Days Blog Hop:

    Aurie @ Our Good Life ~ Photography Tips and Tricks
    Dinah @ The Traveling Classroom ~ Tips for Learning a Second Language
    Julie @ Nurturing Learning ~ Art Resources
    Tara @ This Sweet Life ~ Preparing for a New School Year
    Sara @ Embracing Destiny ~ Purposeful Living
    Rebekah @ There Will Be A $5 Charge for Whining ~ Culinary Adventures for Boys
    Beth @ Ozark Ramblings ~ Photoshop Elements for Homeschool
    Hillary @ Our Homeschool Studio ~ Fitting in the Extras

    And, you can click on the banner to see everyone who's participating!

    April Blog Hop