Thursday, May 29, 2014

REVIEW: What on Earth Can I Do? from Apologia

We have recently had the opportunity to review a book from Apologia Educational Ministries' Christian worldview curriculum series, What We Believe. The intended age range for these books is 1st-6th grade.We received the following items to review:
The text is a nice hardcover book, and the notebooking journals are spiral bound, so the pages lay flat as you work on them. The coloring book is a typical softcover coloring book with pictures for your very youngest students. All are very nice quality, as I've come to expect from Apologia. The course is broken out into 16 weeks of 3 lessons, or 48 days, so about half a school year if you use it 3 days per week.

My girls are 13 and 14, and were fine with the length of the lessons. My son, who is 6 and a half, had a hard time with the longer readings. He started out listening, but it worked out best to let him play with Legos or blocks while we read the lessons aloud. Honestly, for something I'd like to use as a morning time activity, the readings are too long.

The notebooking journals add a lot to this program. The reading schedule is in the front of both the Junior Notebooking Journal and the regular Notebooking Journal, so you know which pages to read in the text and which notebook pages correspond to the reading. I think it would be a key component for a student reading the text independently. And, although my son was not terribly interested in listening intently to the readings, when he and I worked on the activities in the junior journal, we were able to talk about the lessons, and I could tell that he picked up on more than I thought he would. He might not have been quite ready for all the things in the junior journal, but he enjoyed working in it - even when he did his copywork in crayon. He can do word searches with help, too. We had a good time.

What we liked:
  • The parables are rewritten in an engaging style with cultural information that explains a lot about the stories.
  • We enjoyed reading stories about people like Winston Churchill, Corrie ten Boom and Charlie Chapline, and historical places and artifacts like St. Paul's Cathedral and the Apocalypse Tapestry
  • There are of images of beautiful, historical artwork.
  • All the stories and biographies relate to World War II, and it was interesting to watch that unfold as we went through the lessons. They worked well to illustrate the ideas of time, talents and tithes, or stewardship, which is the goal of the book. 
What we didn't like:
  • Bible verses were presented in versions that best presented the concept in the text. That is a pet peeve of mine. Apologia is certainly not the only publisher to do this, and I've even seen it done in sermons in church, but I don't like it. 
  • The lessons are long for younger children to sit through. They were longer than I'd prefer for a family devotional. The readings range from three to fourteen pages, and the pages are large, textbook-sized pages. Three was good; fourteen, not so much. You could certainly read less in one sitting; one of the benefits of homeschooling is having a flexible schedule.
If you are looking for a christian worldview curriculum, this is a good option. It clarified for me that my children are already developing a solid Christian worldview, because we read the Bible together and talk about it. We have great discussions about the way we live our life and the reasons behind it, without using a curriculum. I was concerned that we weren't doing enough in that area, and now I know we are.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

REVIEW: Micro Business for Teens

My children would love to earn their own money. I haven't provided ways for them to do that, simply because I wasn't sure what to tell them until they were old enough to babysit. I have one child who has been interested in earning her own money for several years, and I have not known how to guide her in that process. I jumped at the chance to review curriculum from Micro Business for Teens, aimed at children ages 10-18, hoping it would help us both with ideas for getting started and staying in business. The author, Carol Topp, is a CPA, and helps people start their own businesses. She put this curriculum together because she found the books available on the topic for kids were either too childish, too focused on entrepreneurship, or were adult books "repackaged" and sometimes unrealistic for teens.

The curriculum includes three books: Starting a Micro BusinessRunning a Micro Business, and Micro Business for Teens Workbook. We received a printed copy of each book to review.

The first book, Starting a Micro Business, takes you through what a micro business is, and what it is not. I was delighted to learn that it is NOT an entrepreneurship - no one has to come up with a brand new idea. You work with what you already know how to do. The book takes you through the steps of creating your own micro business, gives LOTS of ideas for possible businesses, discusses potential problems and pitfalls, writing a business plan, financing (no debt!), and encouragement for how to keep going with your business.

The second book, Running a Micro Business, teaches the nitty-gritty of what needs to happen to have your business make money: sales, marketing, and customer service. It also discusses keeping track of your money: record keeping, bookkeeping with examples of a simple way to do that, and whether or not you might want to use personal finance software or accounting software for your business. You will also learn about legal issues, such as whether you need to register a name for your business and if you need a tax ID number or insurance. Finally, you will learn about TIME MANAGEMENT, which might just be the most important part of the course!

The Micro Business for Teens Workbook is a great way for a teen to work through the ideas presented in the books on starting and running a micro business. My oldest daughter likes to think things through on her own, so she took the books and workbook and went through them on her own. It was interesting to read her answers and see how she evaluated herself. She hasn't come to me with ideas for her own business before reading these books, but now she can see that she'd be a great babysitter, and photography is a possibility for the future.

My younger daughter has a business mind, and has knitted several scarves with the hope of selling them to help fund her trip to Europe this summer with her youth choir. As we went through these books, we saw lots of ways to improve her business, as well as several mistakes we've made. For example, we haven't kept good track of how much money we've spent on the yarn for her scarves. We have a general idea how much a skein costs, and we price the scarves accordingly, but we haven't saved receipts or kept track of sales. We also haven't done any marketing. We have lots of room for improvement!

Both my girls love to bake, and are considering ways to start a baking business. They would like to raise money for their youth group to pay for shipping Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes this year. They make me so proud.

I am so grateful for this resource! It has shown my girls and me some great ideas for businesses they could start, and how to manage their money and time. If you have a teen who is looking for ways to make money, this is a great place to start. It offers simple, clear direction for you and your teen and their business.

You can purchase Micro Business from Teens directly from their website.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nature Club Findings

We had our most recent Nature Club meeting at South Mountain State Park on Wednesday, and it was so much fun! We had beautiful weather, and found all kinds of neat things.

We're currently studying wildflowers, and our illustrious leader, Cheri, brought a daisy plant, complete with roots, for the kids to draw. That was pretty cool. I didn't think to take a picture of their drawings! Next time.

We found this nifty little caterpillar. See it there on my finger? One of the kids called it a "toothbrush caterpillar." I tried looking it up, and most caterpillars referred to as toothbrush caterpillars are some kind of tussock moth. I couldn't pinpoint this one; the closest I could come was a definite-marked tussock moth, and I'm not sure that's quite it. If you know, please tell me! When I read about tussock moth caterpillars, the information I found said if we touched them with a bare finger, it would feel as though we'd touched fiberglass, and some of them can sting, too. I didn't try to touch it, I guess, just encouraged it to crawl on my finger, and I didn't have any issues.

The kids also found some snails on a tree. I believe they are Anguispira jessica snails. I'm sharing a video of them because you can see one moving - faster than you might think a snail can go - and the other one comes out of his shell, and it's fun to watch. I won't be offended if you skip it. :-)

Tree Snails

Once we started our nature walk, we looked for flowers. I found the mandrake (mayapple) we saw last time, but we missed the flower. It has fruit now! I still didn't pull any up to check for screaming babies. Sorry. Heh.

Check out this American Holly. Isn't it lovely?

Another plant we saw was yellow wood sorrel. I have a memory of my mom calling this plant sheep sorrel, but that is an entirely different plant. I am not sure if she called it sheep sorrel or if my memory is faulty, but this plant is fun to munch on. The leaves are tangy. It makes me smile, remembering finding it every summer as a child in Michigan.

I saw these nifty little plants, which I believe are non-flowering. I have no way to prove that, of course, but I will keep an eye on them when we go back. If you know what they are, please fill me in. I have tried to identify them, but I don't have a good source for non-flowering plants.

We think these little flowers are primroseleaf violets (Viola primufolia). The name reminds me of something Edward Lear would have used. 

My favorite find was what Cheri called "hearts a-bursting." I had never seen the flowers before, but when I looked it up, I realized the girls and I had seen it years ago with fruit on it along the trail around Lake Pine. Someone walking by told me it was a "strawberry bush." I'm looking forward to watching the progress of these flowers into fruit! 

We walked up to Shinny Creek, which is pronounced "shiny," ate lunch, and played in the river. I found so many pretty rocks! They all had mica in them, and were, well, shiny - hence the name of the creek. 

On our walk back, another child, not with our group, found an American centipede. It was huge. I thought those only lived at the science museum. Ha. Anyway, after the little boy dropped it a couple of times, it curled up in a coil and was very still. I showed it to some of the folks in our group, and then dropped it into a plastic container to take its picture - at which point it decided to reactivate itself and try to escape. Can I tell you how glad I am it waited until I was no longer holding it? (Insert shudder here.) 

I'm looking forward to our next trip out to the park! We didn't get to stay and play in the river when we were done with our nature walk last time, but I hope we can next time. They found a salamander after we left, and Isaac has been dying to find one!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

REVIEW: Heroes and Heroines of the Past

Did you learn much history when you were in school? I didn't. Not that I remember, anyway. The class I remember best included copying down notes from an overhead projector as my teacher read them to us. Scintillating stuff. I *love* that as homeschoolers, we can make history more engaging. When I had the opportunity to review the Digital Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum from Golden Prairie Press, I was interested to see what it was all about. Amy Puetz, the author, loves history and writes books to show history at its best from a Christian viewpoint.

This elementary American history program contains the following items:

Heroes and Heroines of the Past, Part 1 (TOC and Introduction)(Sample) and Heroes and Heroines of the Past, Part 2: These two books make up the "spine" of the program. They cover the Discovery of American (Vikings, Columbus) through the Obama administration. This course provides a one-year overview of American history.

Additional Materials CD - Lots of great stuff here! There are timelines, maps, and games, among other things. When you read about Columbus and his coat of arms, you can print off a copy to color and discuss. There is also a file containing all the pictures used for picture study, so you can print them off in a larger format if you like.

Historical Skits PDF ebook - There are 19 skits, some written by Amy, some by other authors. (TOC and Sample Pages) Skits are a fun way to encourage your children to connect with what they're reading, although I confess mine are not fans of acting anything out. Alas.

Sing Some History CD - We received this CD as a download. There are 20 songs, scheduled throughout the spine books. These are a lot of fun! Isaac loves to sing, and enjoyed learning "All the Pretty Little Horses," "Lavender's Blue" and "The Old Hundredth" during our studies.  I learned that the version of "All the Pretty Little Horses" I learned from Kenny Loggins is not terribly historically accurate, and the version of "Lavender's Blue" I know thanks to Burl Ives is also quite different from the historical song. We also noticed that "The Old Hundredth" has the same tune as the Doxology we sing in church every week. (Technical note: some of these audio files are MP3 files and some are WMA. The WMA files created a little bit of technical difficulty for me. We have Apple computers, and iTunes won't import them, so I couldn't get them onto my phone or iPad. I am sure there is a way around this, but I haven't figured it out. It's not a big deal to listen on the computer, but it would have been nice to have all the songs as MP3 files.)

Listen to Some U.S. History CD - This also came as a download, and contains 20 MP3 audio files. Some are historical documents read aloud, like the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Others are documents of faith, letters, poems, and speeches.

There are literature books that go along with the program as well, which are intended for 5th and 6th graders to read as they use the program, and are optional as read-alouds with younger children. Also, at the end of each time period there is a list of recommended resources, which are mostly living books you can read along with your studies to add more interest.

This curriculum was written for children in 1st-6th grades. There are 30 weeks of daily (5 days per

week) readings. If you went with 4 days per week, it would stretch into 37.5 weeks. The readings are divided into two sections: the first has one page with larger font presenting a general overview for younger students (1st & 2nd grades), and the second with more in-depth information for 3rd-6th graders. Lessons take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and you could choose to do fewer activities depending on your child's interest and how much time you have. Isaac, for example, at just 6 years old didn't do the writing assignments, but he had a great time making a teepee, making a canoe out of play dough, and making succotash. The questions at the end of each section were helpful as a way of introducing him to narration.

When I originally looked over the curriculum, I wasn't sure how I felt about the portion written for younger children. Even at age 6, Isaac is capable of understanding the language in the section for older students. However, he was not interested in listening to a long reading and then going on to activities, so the shorter, 1-page readings for younger children worked out to be a good fit for him, particularly since there were readings scheduled every day.

This is a well-done curriculum. I liked the narrative style of the readings, and I love that we read lots of biographies of historical figures. Amy has obviously worked hard to make this easy for parents to use. Within each lesson, there is clear direction to any resources you might need, such as the play dough recipe and instructions to make a canoe, or a recipe, or a song or other audio file. It's very simple to follow and the curriculum comes with everything you need to complete it.

For my own homeschool, I wouldn't necessarily choose a one-year overview of American history. I follow a more Charlotte Mason-inspired schedule, which would go at a much slower pace and study each topic more in-depth. However, if you're looking for a one-year overview of U.S. History, this is a great option! I've had friends ask about just such thing recently, and I've pointed them to this curriculum.

Digital Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum is available from Golden Prairie Press for $98.99. 

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mining for Gems

We are fortunate to live near several gem mines in North Carolina, and one thing we've enjoyed doing as a family is going to the mines to see what interesting things we can find. We've been to Hiddenite Gems' Emerald Hollow Mine a few times, and we went there again today. My dad is visiting, and he took Isaac there on Friday, thinking they'd dig their own dirt and look for gems that way. Previously, we've purchased already-dug buckets of dirt and rinsed through them in the sluices, which are long troughs with running water. Unfortunately, Friday turned out to be a field trip day at the mines, so there were too many school kids there for them to be able to dig, so we decided to try again today.

We wandered back through the woods as we looked for a likely-looking spot to start digging. My dad and my husband did most of the hard work. Dad did find a vein of rock, but it wasn't quartz and mica, which is what the folks who run the mine had told us are associated with finding gems. Todd found a little bit of mica, and so did Abbie, but the dirt was so soft we felt it had probably washed down from digs up higher on the hill and wasn't indicative of a vein.

Isaac was happy as, well, a boy in dirt while we were in the woods. There are holes where others have dug all over the place, and he was able to dig anywhere he liked as long as he stayed inside the white tape telling us we couldn't get any closer to the river. He jumped in all the holes he could find and then found a "digging stick" and was digging for all kinds of things - he described the magic crystals he was finding as he poked around. I kept an eye out for wildflowers, and we found some lovely ones, which I will post about soon.

We dug for a while, but when it started thundering, and then raining hard, we decided to head back up to the sluices. We ended up getting some buckets to wash in the sluice, which is always fun. We found a beautiful garnet, and we're having it made into a cabochon so we can have it set in a necklace or ring or something.

I had an idea while we were there. Have you ever seen those little cards you find at tourist places, with small rock samples from the state you're in pasted on them? I have one from Michigan, but have never come across one for North Carolina. I would like to start a collection of North Carolina rocks. I'm going to ask the people at the Hiddenite mine the best way to go about that, I think. I've never looked for rocks intentionally, just picked them up along the shores of Lake Superior (every year - I have buckets and buckets of pretty Lake Superior rocks), but really haven't seen anyplace here that makes for easy rock collecting. I do know there is a local lapidary club, though, so I'm going to try to get in touch with them, too.

Have you done any local rock collecting where you live? I have a friend whose son is trying to get rocks from all 50 states, and I sent him a lovely Lake Superior rock last summer. That's a cool idea too.

Friday, May 09, 2014

New-to-Me Wildflower - Violet Wood Sorrel

Do you know about wood sorrel? I remember my mom showing me little plants with shamrock leaves and yellow flours, and having us taste it. It's tangy and a bit sour, and I still like to munch on a leaf when I find it. I learned from a local friend that people around here call it "sourgrass." I had never heard that term before. I seem to remember my mom calling it wood sorrel, but that's an entirely different plant, so perhaps I'm remembering incorrectly.

What I did not know is that it comes in different colors! I've purchased green shamrocks and purple shamrocks around St. Patrick's Day, but as I was driving through our small town one afternoon, I saw these tiny pink flowers and had to stop and see what they were.

Aren't they lovely? I picked some for my herbarium, which I will share with you soon. We've been studying wildflowers in our nature club, so I've been keeping my eyes open for things that are blooming this spring. It's been a lot of fun.

What's blooming in your area these days? Anything fun?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

REVIEW: Maestro Classics

I love music. My kids love music. We sing a lot, listen a lot and make up our own songs. Like many homeschoolers, we study different composers and learn about all types of music. It's pretty common to see "Peter and the Wolf" by Prokofiev recommended as a good way to introduce young children to classical music, and it's been a favorite at our house, for sure. Maestro Classics offers a great series of music CDs for children (generally ages 5-12) and families called Stories in Music™, and includes a fabulous edition of Peter and the Wolf, along with several other titles, which are a fun and educational way to bring music into your home.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review two fabulous CDs from Maestro Classics: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Casey at the Bat. It was difficult to decide which titles we wanted to review, because they all looked excellent, but I went with the ones I thought my youngest child, who is 6, would enjoy most. He did love them, and so did my girls who are both teenagers, and so did I! In fact, we may have enjoyed them even more than Isaac.

The music is conducted by Stephen Simon, a well-known symphony conductor and father of six. The Stories in Music concerts premiered at the Kennedy Center! On the CDs, the music is performed by the London Symphony. It is narrated by Yadu, who is actually a professor of humanities at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, and has narrated performances at the Kennedy Center as well as for the Young People's Concerts with the Washington Chamber Symphony.

Maestro Classics' lineup includes both classical music selections, and well-known stories for which Mr. Simon has composed musical accompaniment. We reviewed two of the story-telling CDs. We popped them in the CD player in our car and listened to them as we drove around. They made our car time lots of fun!

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is one of our favorite books, and one Isaac requests to hear over and over again. The CD began with the story narrated alongside the original musical accompaniment – we even heard a bit of Irish brogue in Mike Mulligan's voice. Then we learned about the author, Virginia Lee Burton. There is a special "Mike Mulligan Song," and Mr. Simon talks about how the music came together. The is also a 24-page booklet containing fun puzzles and more!

Casey at the Bat is such a fun poem. The music and narration created quite a picture; I could see the story playing out in my mind as we listened. We loved learning the story behind the poem (no spoilers - you'll have to get the CD!). There are also some tracks on this CD about the ways music can tell a story without using words. It's great stuff. The booklet that comes with the Casey CD includes the complete text of the poem, as well as more fun puzzles and other information.

Maestro Classics also has homeschool music curriculum guides to go along with many of the CDs. The information and links provided are excellent. Maybe your child is like my son, a Mike Mulligan fan, and they will want to know all about how steam shovels work. Perhaps you're studying the Industrial Revolution and want to find out more about how steam shovels fit into the picture. Maybe you're interested in math and want to know just how much dirt a hundred men can dig in a week! There is lots of great information there for all kinds of rabbit trails.

Casey at the Bat and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, as well as the other titles, are available from Maestro Classics. They are $16.98 for a CD or $9.98 for an MP3 download. These are an excellent music resource for any family, and I hope you'll check them out!

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Friday, May 02, 2014

Nature Study - Iris

In our little Charlotte Mason co-op, my friend Sara had us look at iris flowers. I have lots of iris in my yard, and they are lovely, but I pretty much take them for granted. I wouldn't say they are a favorite flower, although my dad used to have several different kinds in his garden and it was interesting to see how many different varieties there are. I had no idea.

Sara had us go out and identify the parts of an iris flower, and let me tell you, there are more than I ever thought there would be! First, we found the obvious parts: 
  • Standards, which are the three upward arching parts of the flower;
  • Falls, which are the three downward-curving lower petals, or sepals
  • and Beards, which are thick, bushy hairs on the upper part of the falls. (I thought the falls were the beards. Huh.)

Some iris have a signal, which is a spot of different color just below the beard on the falls.

Then we looked inside the flowers. I feel as though I should remember more from learning about the parts of flowers in junior high, but it seemed as though most of this was brand new information to me, too. I had heard most of the terms, but couldn't have told you what parts of the flower they named. In the picture a the right, you can see the stylearms, which are stiff segments in the middle of the flower, shielding the base of the falls, and which hold the stigma.

 In this picture, you see the stigma, which is the flower's reproductive organ, and the stamen, or male reproductive part, which produces pollen.

Here, you can see the spoons, defined as "small horn-like growths with small petaloids protruding from beards."

And finally, in this picture, you can see the spathe, the papery-looking cover over the base of the flower, which is also the ovary; and a branch, which is a lateral extension of the main bloom stem that produces more flowers. See the iris bloom that's all curled up a dried out there on the left?

I had no idea there were so many parts in one flower! Isn't that amazing? I see iris in a whole new light after getting up close and personal with some flowers. I even tried to draw one, which turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. Once I get some color in the picture, perhaps I will share that too.

I don't usually think of garden flowers as nature study topics, for whatever reason, but I'm glad we took a look at the iris. What do you have in your flowerbeds that you could consider more closely?

(We found descriptions of iris parts on this page.)