Monday, June 30, 2014

REVIEW: Experience History Through Music

You've heard a bit from me lately about how excited I am to be a part of the team reviewing Diana Waring's Experience History Through Music books. I'm glad it's time to share my review with you! I had the very great pleasure of hearing Diana speak at the NCHE conference in May, and was able to introduce myself to her afterwards. She is lovely inside and out, and I know every woman in the room that day was tremendously blessed by what she had to say.

I have always loved folk music. My mom taught us lots of folk songs as my siblings and I were growing up. She loved true folk songs, as well as the folk music movement that began in the 1940's and peaked in the 1960's. We heard lots of Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Burl Ives, and others. Now, I know that all the songs folk singers performed were not necessarily true folk songs, which are defined by as this:

"a song originating among the people of a country or area, passed by oral tradition from one singer or generation to the next, often existing in several versions, and marked generally by simple, modal melody and stanzaic, narrative verse."

To put is simply, a folk song is of the folk, a song passed on from person to person, generation to generation, telling part of the story of not only the person who wrote it (who probably isn't known) but of the life most people lived at the time. In this day of careful documentation and copyright, I have wondered if there will be any more true folk songs that everyone knows but are credited to no one.

As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, folk songs have been an important part of our education. They are so much fun to learn! It's one of the most enjoyable things we do together. We use a lot of Ambleside Online's curriculum suggestions, and they have a great list of folksongs and resources for finding them. Many of their songs are of British origin, which makes sense, because in order to learn the history of the United States, it's important to learn where we came from, and a significant part of that is British history. However, there is something that tugs at my heart when I hear American folk songs, so I have loved learning the songs Diana has put together in these wonderful books.

My children and I have been exploring the three books in this series: America, Heart of a Nation, Westward Ho!, The Heart of the Old West, and Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Each title contains one book and one CD, with 13-16 songs per book. The first half of each book shares the stories behind each of the songs, with amazing illustrations - drawings, paintings, photograhs -  for each one. The second half of each book contains simple SHEET MUSIC! If you play the piano, or any instrument, really, the music is there for you to play and sing along with your family. The CDs are simply amazing - the recordings are excellently done.

America 1750 to 1890: The  Heart of a New Nation takes you on a historical tour of the folk music of the United States from the French and Indian War through the transcontinental railroad.  There were only three songs in this book I hadn't heard before and I loved sharing them with my kids! I Love them all, but have to say "Shenandoah," "Get Along L'il Dogies" and "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" were the favorites.

Westward Ho!: The Heart of the Old West: This book shares the songs of the pioneer days, when people left the safety and comfort of their homes, to head out and seek their fortunes in lands as yet unknown to them.  I only knew one song from this collection before starting: "Home on the Range." We had lots of fun learning new-to-us songs and the stories behind them. Our favorites were "The Apple Picker's Reel," "Westward Ho" and "Gooey Duck."

The Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, written by William Anderson, was my very favorite book. Like many people, I grew up reading the Little House books, and I still treasure the stories. My girls love them too, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with my son. I was just delighted to have music to go along with the words to the songs Laura mentions in her books. The song we loved most as a family is "The Old Chariot." It's so much fun to sing, and I love the words, too. "Buffalo Gals" and "Pop! Goes the Weasel" are songs I treasure from my own childhood, and I have heard my brother in law sing "Buffalo Gals" to his fussy babies as he walked the halls with them, so I know he learned it as a child too.

What was fun for me in learning the songs is hearing lyrics that were slightly different than the ones I knew, or perhaps sung a little differently. It was interesting to learn "Oh California," which has the same tune as "Oh! Susannah." When I sing "Pop! Goes the Weasel," I reverse the verse and chorus from how it is on the CD. I love seeing how things change through oral tradition.

These books aren't a history curriculum on their own, but they would make a wonderful addition to any US history studies. Each book is available from Diana Waring for $18.99 each. For the month of July only, Diana's offering a special deal on the bundle - all three books for $50! If you decide you'd like to purchase the bundle, make sure you click the "Buy Bundle Now" button - putting each book in your cart individually won't bring up the sale price.

My kids and I enjoy these books so much! We've been singing the songs in the car, and have enjoyed reading through the stories. It's pretty common to find my girls poring over the books, reading about their favorite songs. I plan to focus on the songs in these books in our homeschool throughout the upcoming year, too. I hope you'll check them out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

FLASH GIVEAWAY: Homeschool Encouragement Collection from Diana Waring

Diana Waring has generously given me the opportunity to give away one copy of her Encouragement for Homeschool Moms collection! I have had the privilege of hearing Diana speak, and believe me, you will be blessed by what she has to say.

Here's the deal: Head over to my BLOG FACEBOOK PAGE and "like" or "comment" on

That's it! The winner will be chosen tomorrow morning at 10 am EST!

What are you waiting for? Get thee hence and enter to win! :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

REVIEW: Go Science! DVDs

I've mentioned before that my children love science. It's not really my thing, so it's hard for me to be creative and come up with fun things to do. That's why I love DVDs that teach us how to do experiments, like the Go Science DVDs (Series 2) from Library and Educational Services. I recently had the opportunity to review two DVDs from Series 2: Volume 5: States of Matter, Water; and Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight. The recommended age range for these is 4-12 years.

Ben Roy, the teacher in the videos, teaches science methods at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and has also taught school to elementary and middle school aged children. He has done several science video programs, and has a friendly, engaging style that is great for working with children. In each experiment, he invites children to come up and help him. It's obvious he has a passion for teaching and a love for kids. This is a Creation-based series, and at the end of each lesson,  Mr. Roy tells us that learning more about science points us to the Creator. In some lessons, there is more discussion about religion than others.

Each video is about 5 minutes long, so it's easy to fit them into your day. We would watch a video, and then go do the experiment ourselves if Isaac was interested and we had what we needed on hand. Sometimes, my older girls would help us with the experiments, if we needed extra sets of hands.

Volume 5: States of Matter, Water: This DVD contains 12 experiments. My son enjoyed making ice cream and "oobleck." Corn Starch and water always make for a good time, too, and we learned what a non-Newtonian fluid is.

Volume 7: Engineering, Design, Flight: This DVD contains 11 experiments. Isaac liked the "How Much Will It Hold" experiment, because he got to play with dried beans. (Mr. Roy used pasta.) We also had a lot of fun with the centrifuge experiment. What a great thing to do in the summer when it's hot! My son also really liked the Rocket Balloons and the Vinegar Rockets. He thinks rockets are the coolest things ever right now.

What we liked:
  • Mr. Roy is enthusiastic and engaging with children. You could tell the kids had a good time.
  • The videos are short, so no time to get bored, even for wiggly kids.
  • The experiments chosen had pretty dramatic results, for the most part, which is great for getting kids' attention.
What we didn't like:
  • There was no list of supplies needed for replicating the experiments. That would have been handy, so I could have had things ready to go when we finished watching a video. If I were going to schedule these videos into my lesson plans, it would be helpful to know what we were going to need ahead of time for the term. Much of it was stuff we could find around the house, but not all of it.
  • The episode titles aren't listed on the DVD case. You have to pop the DVD in to see what they are. It's a small thing, but I would prefer to have a list of titles somewhere. They could even be on liner notes.
  • My husband, who is an engineer and loves science, felt the explanations behind what was happening were lacking. It seems to me that Mr. Roy tries too hard to keep things simple, and underestimates what kids are capable of comprehending. 
  • I felt that his attempts to bring discussions around to God were somewhat forced. 
Overall, my husband and I felt that these were most appropriate for the younger end of the age range. They could make a nice supplement, but I would most likely use them as a jumping-off point and find a way to add better explanations. The videos were entertaining, but not terribly scientific. They might give good ideas for science fair projects, but you'd have to do more research into the science behind the experiments for your presentation.

The Go Science Series 2 DVDs are available from Library and Educational Services for $8.97 each, or $59.82 for the set of 7.

I love Library and Educational Services. I've ordered lots of things from them in the past, and have been pleased with how quickly I received things and their customer service. I was just as happy with them this time, and will order from them again. I do hope you will check them out. They have great prices!

Connect with Library and Educational Services on Facebook!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Diana Waring

I am thrilled to be a reviewer for Diana Waring's Experience History Through Music books and CDs, fabulous giveaway that's going on to celebrate the launch of these wonderful products. I wanted to share a little bit of Diana's heart for this project with you! I do hope you enjoy reading the answers to a few of the questions she's answered for us.

NOTE: There will be a Facebook Party next Tuesday evening, July 1, from 8-10pm EST.  It's a joint party with Diana and A Journey Through Learning. It will start on Diana's Facebook wall and end on A Journey Through Learning's wall. There will be lots of great prizes and freebies, so I hope you can join in the fun!

Here is a little information about Diana:

Author of Beyond SurvivalReaping the Harvest and Diana Waring's History Revealed world history curriculum, Diana discovered years ago that "the key to education is relationship." Beginning in the early '80's, Diana homeschooled her children through high school–the real life opportunities to learn how kids learn. Mentored by educators whose focus was honoring Him who created all learners, and with an international background (born in Germany, university degree in French, lifelong student of world history), Diana cares about how people learn as well as what they learn. Audiences on four continents have enthusiastically received her energetic speaking style.

What was you life like musically as you were growing up? Did you take lessons, sing with your family, sing in a church choir, etc.?

I ALWAYS loved music... I was always singing, started playing clarinet in 4th grade, oboe in 7th grade, taught myself to play guitar in 10th grade.

I was an only child, my parent were not musical, and we did not attend church...

But music WAS in my grandparents' lives. My father's father played guitar and sang before he had a stroke in 1953, and my mother's father played various storng instruments and sang, as well. I have met folks who knew him, and they tell me he was a fabulous story-teller and a fun musician.

Once I learned to play guitar (in 1969), I started doing folk music whenever I had the chance. If you can believe this, I even tried to get permission to play in bars when I was 15.

After I became a Christian, I started playing worship music for prayer meetings...

Which led me to becoming the worship leader at our Christian fellowship in college and at the church I attended.

Since music was one of my greatest motivators, I expected to continue in that realm... particularly within church settings. It was unexpected to have the door suddenly open in 1989 to create these American folk music recordings–but I loved the songs and the genre of music!

Now, here we are, 25 years later, and I am absolutely THRILLED to have this musical part of my life come back! I pulled out my 12-string, donned my historic costume, and sang folk songs in Greenville, Cincinnati and Harrisburg this spring– and it was a JOY!

How did you get started as a speaker?

Back in 1989, after I had been struggling for about three years with homeschooling (my kids and I were ALL bored!!!), a friend suggested that I attend the state homeschool convention (in Tacoma, WA)... In those days, the main way to learn more about homeschooling was to attend a convention–oh, how times have changed!!

The problem was I couldn't afford it. My dh was a public school band teacher, we were single income, and there simply wasn't anything extra in the budget. When I voiced that concern, my friend said, "Oh, you should teach a workshop! That way, they pay you $50, give you some mileage to get up to the convention, and you get in FREE!" Looking at her in amazement, I asked, "What on earth would I teach?"

She pulled out the previous  year's convention schedule, with its varied workshops, and handed it to me. Quickly glancing down the list, I noted that the ONLY music workshop was using classical music in the home and that there were NO history workshops. At that moment an idea was born.

Why not teach American history through its folk music?

That was the start of twenty-five years as a homeschool speaker (yes, the convention wanted my workshop) and as a homeschool writer/curriculum producer.

Never saw this coming, but oh, what a life we have shared!

What happened to the first version of "Experience History Through Music"?

Sometime in the mid 1990's, the partnership that had produced "America," "Westward Ho!" and "Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder" decided that it was time to let a "real" publisher take over. So, we signed contracts with a company that was quite large in the homeschooling movement at the time. We were excited to have others taking over the day-to-day details, as I had moved from the Portland area to South Dakota, and this was going to make things so much easier for us all.

However, when this business went bankrupt in the late 1990's, something happened that was past my comprehension. I still don't know why, but when they declared bankruptcy they simply threw everything in the dumpster–including our masters. When I heard this, it utterly devastated me. These wonderful projects were gone, and to reproduce this again seemed too hard without the audio masters. Between having to start over from scratch with all of the images and graphic design and having no audio masters, I thought the entire project was gone forever.

People would ask us about them from time to time, as they had read about them, or heard of them, or had owned the original cassette tapes, but we always told them sadly, "I don't think they will ever come back into print."

Then, several years ago, Gena Suarez of The Old Schoolhouse contacted me to see if we might have any remaining stock of this product. She had heard of a family who had gone through a fire and lost everything, and her company, and her company was trying to help the rebuild their lives. I guess that the mom specifically talked about these American folk music in history books/audios, and this prompted Gena's call to me.

I contacted the former partner who owned the recording studio to see if he, perchance, had somehow saved the audio files to digital. At the time, Tad was quite busy with other things, but he told me he thought he might have saved a FEW songs. Since it didn't sound promising, I thought it was probably a dead end. And I was sad all over again. It seemed like such a waste of a really fun product, that families had thoroughly enjoyed for years!

And, of course, these were the first books I had ever written...

Why I tried again two years ago is a mystery to me. I just took the notion to contact Tad once more and ask if he had discovered whether or not he had saved any of the songs. This time, as we talked, Tad realized that there were possibly some ways he could "pull out" the recordings from the antiquated DAT machines. However, he was in the midst of some medical issues, and was not sure how much time he would have to devote to the project.

It took two years and then, suddenly, I had an email in my inbox. The songs hadALL been digitally restored, remastered for CD, and were ready to go!! I could hardly believe my eyes. After fifteen years, these products were going to have a new life.

I can hardly describe what this means to me, personally. But, maybe I can share with you what happened a few months ago to illustrate. Our business phone rang one day, and a woman began excitedly talking to my husband. As he heard what she was saying, he suggested that I would like to hear her story directly. When I took the phone, this is what she said:

"Diana, I met you fourteen years ago at a convention. When I told you that my family absolutely LOVED 'Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder,' you told me to pray that somehow it would all be restored... And, I have been praying!! Each time I walked by the cassette tape, I was reminded to pray... for FOURTEEN years!!"

She went on to say that she had just read on social media that the products were coming back into print, and she was so excited to see that her prayers were finally being answered. Together, we shared a few tears and a few amazed words of joy, at what was taking place before our very eyes.

Look for my review of Experience History Through Music next week!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Great SALE from Homeschool Adventure Co.!

This post contains affiliate links.

Homeschool Adventure Co. is offering 40% off their digital products, starting today, through June 30. All you need is the code ANNIVERSARY40 at checkout. If you prefer printed products, they're offering free shipping (no code necessary). 

We recently reviewed the Mere Christianity Critical Analysis Journal, and loved it. My girls read Mere Christianity with Ambleside Online's Year 7 this past school year, and they had a hard time with it. The journal helped focus their thoughts without telling them what to think. 

If you're considering any of Homeschool Adventure Company's products, now is a great time!

REVIEW: Kids Love the Carolinas Travel Guide & GIVEAWAY!

When I attended the NCHE conference in May, I had the pleasure of meeting Michele Zavatsky from Kids Love Travel. She and her husband, George, have written guides for 15 states and 2 highways (I-75 and I-95). She gave me a copy of Kids Love the Carolinas to review, and I am so glad she did!

I have lived in North Carolina for 16 years, but I know very little about this state. I grew up in Michigan, and in my head, Michigan is still "home." However, in recent years, I've begun to suspect that we will not be moving back up north "any day," and perhaps it's time to get to know North Carolina. I am a homebody by nature, but I have been trying to plan some family activities at least once per month, so the Kids Love the Carolinas book has been really handy in researching possible things for us to do.

The Zavrotskys have broken both North and South Carolina into areas, with a map showing the areas clearly designated. There's a city index, and general state agency and recreation information. When you flip to the section you'd like to visit, there is a list of activities by city, and a list of their very favorite things to do in the area. The rest of the chapter contains descriptions of each activity, including ticket prices if applicable and contact information. There is also a handy index in the back, so if you've heard of something you'd like to do but you're not quite sure where it is, you can locate it that way.

I'm so impressed with this book! We have had an insanely busy summer, so we haven't been able to do much exploring, but I've learned about lots of things we're definitely going to do when things settle down a bit. Our county is on the border of 2 other areas, so there are many things available to us locally, and truly, I had no idea. My husband did recently take my son to the North Carolina Transportation Museum for a special exhibit, and from the book, we learned they have some special events every year: the Easter Bunny Express, Rail Days, and a Day Out with Thomas. Those are things my son would love, and we wouldn't have known about them without this handy guide. I'm particularly interested to see the Bog Garden in Greensboro. They're supposed to have unique plants you won't see anywhere but in a bog, with a raised walkway to allow you to go through without losing your shoes in the mud.

I encourage you to check out the Kids Love Travel website, where they have a great page with tips for using their guides to plan field trips, a family travel blog, and more.

The best news? I get to give away a copy of one Kids Love Travel guide to one of my readers! Just enter the Rafflecopter below. One lucky winner will win the guide of their choice!

Kids Love Travel Guide Giveaway!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Kids Love the Carolinas in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Diana and Friends Experience History Through Music Giveaway -- $700+ Value!

I am thrilled, and I do mean THRILLED, to be a part of the launch team for the upcoming release of Diana Waring's Experience History Through Music. Music is a great connector, and I love the stories of American history that are told through the songs we're learning. Diana has carefully researched each song, and my family and I are really enjoying each and every one. Look forward to my full review the week of June 30th!

To celebrate the release of Experience History Through Music, I am joining members of the Diana Waring Launch Team for an amazing giveaway. Friends of Diana have joined in and as you can see, someone's homeschool is going to be greatly blessed!

Here's what you could win!

Diana and Friends Giveaway

From Diana Waring Presents:

american history -- never this fun

Experience History Through Music - set of 3 books with CDs ($50/set) Diana Waring Presents is about to bring back into print the BEST folk music you have ever heard, combined with the fascinating stories they represent in American history The Experience Music Through History series includes: America - Heart of a New Nation, Westward Ho! - Heart of the Old West and Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The musicians are amazing, every instrument is real, lots of great vocalists, and more toe-tapping music than you can imagine! The books tell the stories behind the songs. Together, they bring American history to life through it's music!!With fascinating history books and toe-tapping folk music CDs, American history has NEVER been this fun!


Encouragement for Homeschool Moms Collection ($25) Every mom needs that word of encouragement from someone who has been there, who has grownup children and can speak with assurance about the journey. Homeschool moms have an extra portion of the journey to navigate, and often wish for an extra voice that will offer direction but without nagging or prodding. Diana Waring has that voice.

From A Journey Through Learning:

Logo New 300 trans

$50 Gift Certificate
$50 to spend in the A Journey Through Learning store, applicable toward any digital download purchase.

From Homeschool Legacy:

westward ho I 300x400

Westward Ho! Part I ($19.95)
Load up your wagon! Discover the extraordinary times of adventurous frontiersmen and brave pioneers as you travel cross-country along the Erie Canal, Oregon Trail, and even “remember the Alamo”Westward Ho Part I.

Westward Ho! Part II ($19.95)
Continue the exciting saga begun inWestward Ho! Part I as you journey with the forty-niners, ride the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad, experience life on the prairie, and discover the exciting era of cowboys and cattle drives in Westward Ho! Part II.

From Knowledge Quest Maps:


Map Trek: Atlas and Outline Maps of World History ($55)
Map Trek is a historical atlas plus outline maps that allow you to teach geography alongside history. This is a resource that any homeschool parent can use with brilliant success, even if you don't remember a thing from your history or geography classes in public school.

From Home School Adventure Co.:

PAPS-R-96dpi shadow

Philosophy Adventure™ Digital Download  ($39.95)
Philosophy Adventure™ is designed to help students 6th-12th grade cultivate and defend a biblical worldview by teaching them how to write skillfully, think critically, and speak articulately as they explore the history of ideas.

From Heidi St. John (The Busy Mom and Real Life Press):


Firmly Planted Family Devotional Digital Volume 3 ($39)
The Firmly Planted Family Series is divided into ten-week studies and is your key to making sense of the Bible—even if you’re learning right along with your children. Each lesson provides a core idea, a simple narrative, memory verses and discussion questions for children of all ages. And the companion student workbook is filled with age-appropriate, full-color, reproducible activities for children of any age!

From Raising Real Men:


Free Registration to Boyhood Boot Camp or Boot Camp 9-12 LIVE webinar series (winner's choice) plus Mom & Dad Special Raising Real Men (Book for Mom to read in the bathroom + AudioBook for Dad to listen to on the commute) ($62-69)


Free Registration for Marriage Retreat Online plus His & Hers Special of My Beloved and My Friend: How To Be Married To Your Best Friend Without Changing Spouses (book + audiobook), ($65)

From Institute for Excellence in Writing:


$50 Gift Certificate
$50 to spend in the IEW store, applicable toward any purchase.

From The Old Schoolhouse Magazine:

ST-Affiliate-300x300_zpsb38aa8ae ($139)
A one year membership to the curriculum arm of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Nearly 100 classes for Pre-K to High School, taught by expert teachers, and lots of extras including the Schoolhouse Planners, Schoolhouse Expos, monthly free ebook downloads and more.


The Old Schoolhouse Magazine 2014 Print Book ($15) Be encouraged, enlightened, and educated with the all new 2014 Annual Print Book published by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.You’ll get a year’s worth of homeschool support in almost 300 pages in this full color one-of-a-kind print magazine for homeschoolers, by homeschoolers. This is a magazine you’ll refer to again and again.

From Writing with Sharon Watson:


The Power in Your Hands ($53.96)
With The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, they’ll learn what they need to know for high school and will be prepared for college writing.


Writing Fiction [in High School] ($35)
Are you raising the next C. S. Lewis or Jane Austen? Help your students develop their fiction-writing talents with Writing Fiction [In High School]: Bringing Your Stories to Life.

To enter the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter below. Residents of the U.S., age 18 and older only. Other Terms and Conditions can be found in the Rafflecopter.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Keeping One Boy Busy

I adore my son. I do. He is a delight, truly. He is also 6 years old, and quite a lot younger than his sisters, so keeping him occupied in ways that also keep him out of trouble and away from the television can be challenging some days. He's lots of fun, and also very busy, very smart, and constantly looking for "projects."

When my dad was here a couple of months ago, he built some frames from PVC pipe and then covered them with critter netting, to help keep rabbits and other hungry beasties out of my raised garden beds. So far, so good. The bean and pepper plants are growing and nothing seems to have bothered them so far.

When he was finished with the frames, he had some leftover pipe, so he cut it into pieces for my son to play with. My husband purchased a bag of connectors and a bag of end covers, and he has been building things with them ever since. He builds robots and all kinds of things. He has a great imagination and tells me about his many different constructions. The possibilities are endless, really. In the picture below, he told me, "This is a zipline robot, or zip bot for short." I am not sure how it works, exactly, but Isaac liked it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, PVC pipe is inexpensive. If you have a hacksaw (or a PVC pipe cutter, or a miter saw), you can cut it into pieces and have a fun set of building toys for your children. A friend of mine was asking recently what our favorite rainy day activities are, and I remembered how much fun my little man has had with PVC pipe, so I thought I'd share! We have had his little PVC collection out since my dad cut the pieces, but it would be a great thing to tuck away and keep for a rainy day, too. You can also send them outside with their pipe collection - I don't believe anything adverse would happen if they were left in the rain or used in the dirt.

My dad didn't use any rhyme or reason when he cut up the extra PVC for Isaac, so he has random lengths, and he does a great job building with them. I talked with my husband the engineer, and he said if he were going to do it purposefully, he would cut some 12" lengths and some 5.5" lengths. I measured, and when you put the pieces together with connectors, it adds an inch to the total length, so if you were to cut the 5.5" pieces it would help accommodate for the extra length from the connectors.

Here's a list of prices from the Lowe's in my area:
  • 1/2" 5 ft. pipe - $1.70 ea
  • 1/2" 10 ft pipe - $2.00 ea
  • Caps: Bag of 10 $2.76, $0.36 ea
  • Couplings: bag of 10, $3.24 $0.36 ea
  • 90˚ Elbow: Bag of 10 $2.52, $0.28 ea
  • T connectors: Bag of 10 $4.14, $0.66 ea
  • 45˚ elbows: $0.67 each
  • Cross connector $1.26

Isaac's had such a good time with his pipes, I'm making a set for my nephew for his birthday. I hope you can take this idea and have fun with it too!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Checking in from Boiling Springs!

This week, I am beyond blessed to attend the Charlotte Mason Institute annual conference in Boiling Springs, NC. I have been coming to this conference for 6 or 7 years now, and I love it. All my favorite people are here, and I leave here every year challenged, refreshed and encouraged for a new school year. I would like to share some of this soul-refreshment with you tonight.

Tonight at the plenary talk, we read our conference poem by Emily Dickinson entitled "He Ate and Drank the Precious Words:

He ate and drank the precious words—
His spirit grew robust—
He knew no more that he was poor;
Nor that his Frame was dust.

He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book— What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings—

Then we sang our conference hymn - "Be Thou My Vision," a traditional Irish hymn translated into English by Eleanor Hull in 1912. Click here for a printable PDF of the music; here for a YouTube video.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,

May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

It's getting late, and I need to get some sleep, but I wanted to share this quote with you that was shared with us tonight. It adds another layer to some things I've been pondering lately and hope to share with you soon.

Monday, June 09, 2014

REVIEW: Learning Palette Online Subscription

My girls used the original Learning Palette from Learning Wrap-ups when they were younger, as well as the wrap-ups themselves for math fact practice. They were a lot of fun! My second daughter called it her "special game" and played it as often as she could. I was interested to take a look at, to see what it was all about.  We received a full year's subscription, wtih access for up to 5 users, for the purpose of the review. has six math levels available (Basic-Level 5), and four reading levels (Basic-Level 3). The levels correspond generally to grade levels (K-5th). Within each grade level, there are 5 topics to choose from, and each topic has 12 "cards" for the student to work on. First, you select the skill you want to work on, and then the specific topic from within that skill. I found that the games worked on our iPad as well as on the computer. On the iPad, you touch and drag the disks. On the computer, you use the mouse to click and drag.

Here is a shot of the selection screen:

And here is a shot of the game itself:

How did we use this?

I had my son use the game on my computer, once every other day or so. Often, my 13 year old would sit with him, which I thought was so sweet. She used to call the Learning Palette her "special game" and would play it all the time when she was Isaac's age. They had a good time playing together, and it was nice to have her be willing to help explain things to him if he needed help understanding one of the cards. He enjoyed playing, although he doesn't ask to play this game as often as some of the other educational games we have for him. He is what you might call "radically unschooled" at this point, but when he starts more formal school in the fall, it will be a wonderful math supplement for him. It's a fun, effective way to review math and reading skills.

What did we like about it?
  • This is not a loud game with lots of visual stimulation. It's exactly like the physical game, except on the computer screen. Quiet is good.
  • The game is self-correcting. That means Isaac can use it independently, which increases his confidence.
  • The game really forces the child to pay attention to what they're doing. 
  • It was nice to have the game online, because when we play with the physical Learning Palette, it can be tricky to get it all together and it seems we are forever misplacing disks. They do store in a rather ingenious way in the tray, but when you have kids who like to pretend they are cookies and such, they tend to wander off. I have a set of replacement disks hanging around just in case - we needed it when the girls were little. And, I'm sure I have more sets of cards than I can currently locate, but everything is in one place with the online option. 
  • You have access to all the levels available with the online version, so if you find your 1st grade child is really ready for Level 2 activities, you can just switch over to those. 
What did we like less?
  • I wasn't entirely thrilled to have an online game. Isn't that funny? It's both a pro and a con for me. My son loves to use the computer, and any game is all right with him. is a wonderful, educational game - but it gives him an excuse for more screen time, which I try to limit. Screen time is something with which we currently struggle, so adding another reason to be online adds to that. is a subscription site.  A year's subscription is $59.99 for up to 5 users, which is quite reasonable, particularly if you have more than one child who will use it. Additionally, they're offering a 20% discount to homeschooling families, which brings the price down to $47.99. To get the discount, use the coupon code HOMESCHOOL.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Strawberries and Jam!

I love strawberry season! I love to pick berries, although I haven't had time this year. A friend of mine brought us a bunch, though, so we ate lots and made JAM!

Now, I'm a fan of strawberry freezer jam. My Grandma Rosen made strawberry freezer jam and put it in little butter tubs. I could eat it by the spoonful! We did make some freezer jam this time, too, but the majority was cooked jam. I wasn't sure I had space in the freezer for a lot of jam, and this way I can give it away as gifts if the occasion arises.

If you've never made jam, it's a bit labor-intensive, but it's not difficult. And, if your family eats jam (in spite of all the sugar-haters), it's worth it to know exactly what's in it. Many jams you can purchase at the grocery store have high-fructose corn syrup in there, which we try to avoid.

I thought I'd tell you just how easy it is to make jam. First, you have to sterilize your jars and lids. I run them through the dishwasher. My mom used to boil them, and Isaac thought that sounded like all kinds of fun. Nothing says "I LOVE SUMMER!" like heating your kitchen, when it's already hot and humid, with boiling water, am I right? We boiled one batch in the canner, but the rest went in the dishwasher. Never say I'm not a fun mom. The reason you do this first is, if you forget, you will be very sad when your cooked jam is ready to be put in jars and they're not clean.

Then, you prepare the berries. First, you have to clean them. All I do is soak them in the sink with a bit of vinegar, then rinse them. (I wash all my produce in vinegar; it kills bacteria and removes pesticides.) Once they're clean, I cut off the tops and cut them into halves or quarters, depending on how big they are.

After they're cleaned and cut up, you get to squish them! I like to put them through the food grinder on my mixer. I will tell you that the instructions inside the Sure Jell (one brand of pectin) say that you should mash the berries with a potato masher, one cup at a time, because "jam should have chunks of fruit." That's personal opinion, as far as I'm concerned. I have people in my house who don't care for chunks in anything, so I grind the berries. I've never had a problem getting the jam to turn out. This is me, thumbing my nose at the person who thinks jam needs chunks. My middle child loves to use the grinder, so I had a willing volunteer for this part.

Once the berries are squished, you're ready to make the jam! First,
get your canner and lids ready. You will need enough water in the canner to cover the jars by one or two inches, and the water needs to boil to process the jam, so you want to get that started. Also, the lids for the jars are supposed to be hot, so you want to put them in a little pan with water and heat them.

Once you've got the canner and lids ready to go, you can cook the berries. For this last batch, of which I took pictures, I used liquid pectin. That was a first for me. The only difference I can tell is you add liquid pectin at a different step in the process than powdered kind. First, I put the berries in the pot, then stirred in the sugar. Then, I brought the mixture to a rolling boil, and added the pectin. It had to cook for exactly one minute, then I removed the jam from the heat and put it into jars, topped them with lids and screwed on the rings.

Once the jam is in jars, you put it in the canner. My canner is kind of special to me. It looks like any other canner, honestly, but my in-laws found it in the attic of the house on their family farm, and brought it to me, along with some beautiful old blue canning jars. It's the same speckled blue enamel that still comes on canners. You can see the jar lifter, which is what allows me to lower the jars into the hot water and get them back out without too much trouble. You just put them down into the water, boil them for ten minutes, and then take them out. You can listen for the lids to "pop," which is how you know they've sealed properly. All of mine sealed this time. Woo hoo!

That's really all there is to it! You should get 7-8 jars of jam from a single batch. Once they're done, you, too, can make a jam pyramid!

I have used both kinds of pectin, powder and liquid, and the instructions are a little different, but they both make excellent jam. With powder, you add the fruit and pectin first, bring it to a boil, and then add the sugar. With liquid, you mix the fruit and sugar, bring it to a boil, and then add the pectin. I don't know that I have a preference between them. They're both easy. The only thing is that you need to be exact with your measurements of fruit and sugar. I'm no cook, and I frequently have to backtrack and try to fix things when I'm cooking, but I follow the directions for making jam and I've never had a problem getting it to set.

This was a fun jam-making session for me. My berry-squishing volunteer was interested in making jam, so she made an entire batch all on her own. I'm so proud! I felt a little guilty that we weren't doing something related to school work, but you know, now she can make her own jam, and that's important too. She's really proud of herself, and I know she will feel a real sense of accomplishment when she sees us eating her fabulous jam.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Review: Kinder Cottage Publishing

I love to see vintage children's books back in print, don't you? Kinder Cottage Publishing is a publishing company started by a homeschool family, and they have republished ten Peter Rabbit books, originally published by the Henry Altemus Company in the early 1900's. I had a very difficult time narrowing down which books we wanted - it was hard to pick just two! We received the following books to review:

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit at the Farm

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is one that every child should know. It's one of those classic stories I treasure from my own childhood, and my children love it, too. Peter is such a naughty little rabbit, and has all kinds of adventures in Mr. McGregor's garden, but does eventually escape. His naughtiness isn't without consequences, though; he loses his new clothes and ends up with a nasty cold for his troubles.

Peter Rabbit at the Farm is a fun story. Peter starts out by running into Pollie Possum and spilling her basket of persimmons, but he helps her pick them up and is quite sorry for not looking where he's going. Then he is able to help Goosie Poosie figure out why all the water has drained out of her pond, and enlists all the animals to help fix it. He gets himself into a "spot of bother," but he comes out on top. I like seeing Peter's helpful side in this book - he works hard to help his friends resolve their problems.

Isaac really enjoyed these books. Who doesn't love Peter Rabbit? I had never heard of this series, and found the two books we received to be delightful. I love the vintage illustrations, and the stories are so much fun. That Peter is always in some kind of trouble, and my sweet little boy who often finds himself in unexpected sticky situations could identify with Peter's predicaments. And, while Peter is often naughty, he does his best to make things right, and that was also good for my son to see.

As for age level, these are picture books, so intended for younger children. They're not really "readers," though, and are probably better suited for read-alouds, depending on your child's reading level, of course. Here is a sample from The Tale of Peter Rabbit:

And here is a sample from Peter Rabbit on the Farm:

These are small books, the perfect size for a child's hand. Isaac loves looking at the pictures, even when we're not reading the books together. They're also great to tuck in my purse if I know we're going to be waiting awhile somewhere, and want something to keep Isaac busy. They're nicely bound hardcovers, so I don't worry about them getting messed up as we tote them around. My girls, who are teenagers, enjoyed reading them to their little brother, so they were nice family read-alouds for us.

The available books in the Peter Rabbit series are:
Hey look - they're getting along!

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  • Peter Rabbit at the Farm
  • Peter Rabbit's Christmas
  • How Peter Rabbit Went to Sea
  • Peter Rabbit Went A-Visiting
  • Peter Rabbit's Easter
  • Peter Rabbit's Birthday
  • When Peter Rabbit Went to School
  • Peter Rabbit and the Little Boy
  • Peter Rabbit and Jack the Jumper

These Peter Rabbit tales, are available from Kinder Cottage Publishing for $4.00 each. Also, they're offering my readers a 20% discount, and all you need to do is use the coupon code TOS at checkout! These are lovely, affordable books and worth adding to your library. Kinder Cottage has also published some Wizard of Oz books, Advent calendars, and have other exciting projects in the works that are worth checking out!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!