Friday, April 17, 2015

What's New at the Zoo?

 A lot has been happening on our little wannabe homestead.  Last weekend we had one of our granddaughters visiting for the weekend, and I think we gave her a nice taste of country life.  We are fortunate enough to have my best friend of nearly 35 years and her family living just down the road, and we got to visit their little budding farm to feed baby goats.  It was a lot of fun and really got us excited about the animals that will soon be joining us here.  This weekend will see 20 chicks moving in, and in about a month we plan to add four sheep.  There is talk of goats, but we'll see when they get added to the mix.  It may be later this summer, or possibly next spring.  One thing at a time.  Here are pictures of kids with kids.  Too much cuteness!





There is a lot of work to be done on the homestead.  When we moved here four nearly four years ago the property was very overgrown.  The one animal shelter was so well camouflaged by plant life that it took three visits before we even discovered its existence.  The first order of business is to fence in the area where the sheep will be housed.  Fortunately the hubs had some experienced help, and as a bonus we were able to use existing poles.  Have you ever priced fencing?  Yeah, and there's lots more to put up.

You can see why the hubby wants goats.


Hard at work.

Another thing we've been hard at work on ever since we moved in is establishing some garden beds.  There was no real landscaping here at all, and everything was overgrown.  Each year we've managed to grow some sort of food, last year providing the biggest haul so far.  We actually got to do some canning!  This year we are trying our hand at seed starting.  There are flowers and veggies in there.  We have three beds that need attention.  There are bushes to pull, branches to trim, and plants to move.  Hopefully, we'll see a bigger haul this year.


This is the first time we find ourselves without a canine companion in nearly 20 years.  However, we do have two resident felines.  They do a wonderful job of keeping the rodent population under control, and I'm guessing their presence keeps snakes at bay.  In all the years we've lived here I've yet to see one.  Although, I do know they are present as they've been spotted by others.  Harmony and I have been working on honing our photography skills.  This first picture is Charlie, the alpha male.  He loves to hang out in the woods behind our home.  I was finally able to focus past the branches and capture his little, basking self.

Charlie on a Log

Admiring the kill.


All the little kids chickened out, so Harmony
flung the dead mole into the woods.
I love Kiley's face!

We've been cooking a lot of food from scratch here, and Harmony is really growing in her abilities in the kitchen.  She has been working on perfecting her recipe for Gluten Free Chocoloate Chip Cookies for entry in the 4-H Fair this July.  She's getting pretty good and can now follow the recipe all on her own.  We're still working on completely understanding measurement, but she does it all on her own asking questions as she goes along.  We enjoy being her tasters very much!  Every family should bake chocolate chip cookies once a week!

Harmony baking GF Chocolate Chip Cookies
 I've never been a fan of oatmeal.  A friend from our local homeschool support group was kind enough to share her recipe for Baked Oatmeal.  We absolutely love it.  I'll share the recipe in a future post as well as a few others I've been working on for you.  So, stay tuned!

Martha's Baked Oatmeal

We love to hear what others are doing in their homeschool.  What have you been up to?  What are your plans for the summer months?  Do share!












ARTistic Pursuits - A Review

ARTistic Pursuits Review
As a home educator for nearly 20 years now I have grown to see the importance of the arts in education very clearly.  There is nothing more inspiring than artistic expression.  Every form of art has something to offer the health of the human mind, body, and spirit.  Some of our favorite forms of artistic expression are photography, music, and drawing.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we had begun to neglect art studies in our homeschool.  Just about the time I was searching for something to use with our family the opportunity to review ARTistic Pursuits came my way.  I was thrilled!  Our family chose to review the Early Elementary K-3 Book One: An Introduction to the Visual Arts.  I think it was a great choice.  All of us have learned a little something along the way, and it has made more clear for me some areas that could benefit from a little extra attention.

ARTistic Pursuits Review

Keep in mind that I am working with PK, K, and 3rd grade levels.  This particular level of ARTistic Pursuits was a pretty good fit.  However, based on my experience with the two younger ones I am thinking they may have benefited from working through the first book, The Way They SEE It, geared toward ages 3, 4, and 5.  I am finding it a little challenging to encourage the five year old to persist with his artwork, be original, and not try to produce work as "good" as the book or myself.  (I am by no means professional, but I do have a few years on him.)  I remember my youngest of the older seven giving up on drawing, despite having a natural talent for it, because he next two older siblings were excellent artists, and he felt inferior.  This is not something I want to see repeated.  Working through this book has reminded me of the need to develop the natural abilities of each child meeting them where they are and teaching them to persist.  Art is such an nonthreatening way to develop such traits.


The other thing I love about art is how naturally it fits into all subject areas.  One can study every aspect of academics with art.  My favorites are probably history and science.  In ARTistic Pursuits we are taught about art history and art appreciation as well as creativity and technique.  The lessons we learn here can easily be integrated into every area of study.  Building a solid art foundation is an amazing thing, because it broadens our potential for exploration in other areas.  I am so glad we have this too in our homeschool.  It's just what we needed to round things out more fully.  Art is what was missing at Royal Academy, and now we have it.


When the kids and I sit down to begin a lesson each child gathers their personal tools.  ARTisitic Pursuits provides you with a list of necessary supplies for each book.  We made a special trip to gather them up.  (If I had to do it over again, I do believe I would have just purchased the corresponding supply package directly from the company.  By the time we drove to the store, searched for what we needed, and left with a few items still not crossed off our list it would have been much easier and more economical to just purchase them conveniently online through their website.)  We also purchased each child a cup style pen holder traditionally used for a desktop for them to keep their supplies.  Ours are plain black and are divided into three compartments inside.  We got them from the dollar store, and kicked off the beginning of the program with a time for each child to decorate and personalize their own container.  We created a special area on our bookshelf to keep all of our supplies together which makes art time super easy.  I always use those self-adhesive, re-positional paper tabs to keep our place in whatever book we're using.  So, we just grab our supplies and set to work.


The lessons are all planned out for you.  They're short and simple to execute with little to no real advance prep required.  For me, that is an extremely beautiful thing!  I do try to read over the lesson ahead of time, but they are short enough for me to do it right at the start of art time if I wasn't able to be that prepared.  Each lesson introduces a specific technique or aspect of art.  There is a short introduction, real art to review, complementary and thought provoking exercise, as well as time to practice the skill or technique introduced.  That's it!  Couldn't be more simple.  For us, each exercise takes about 15 minutes to complete, but it can carry on as long as the child is interested in exploring the introduced subject matter. We are sure to use ARTisitc Pursuits for many years to come as the go through high school and really beyond.  The books are written specifically with homeschoolers in mind and anyone could benefit from their instruction.  I work right alongside the children and enjoy it very much.

Don't forget to checkout ARTistic Pursuits on Facebook!


ARTistic Pursuits Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New American Cursive by Memoria Press - A Review

Memoria Press Review


In today's world it's becoming increasingly important to support family run businesses.  Personally, I try to go out of my way to support local companies, family businesses, and American made products.  Aside from New American Cursive: Penmanship Program Workbook I being a top notch program for teaching children to write cursive in a fun and easy fashion, Memoria press is a family run business.  For me, that's the icing on the cake!  Memoria Press was founded by Cheryl Lowe and her son Brian in 1998, and in 2000 they opened the Highland Latin School where all of the Memoria Press products are taught and field tested.  Cheryl is an experienced homeschool parent as well as a teacher of many other subjects from phonics to Latin.  Today's Woman magazine even voted Cheryl one of the "Most Admired Women" of 2014.

I've read a lot over the past year about the benefit of cursive handwriting to the development of the young brain.  Learning to write cursive has benefits that reach far beyond the ability to read cursive that naturally accompanies the learning to write process.  It has also been brought to my attention that there could even be benefit to young children to start with cursive right from the beginning as opposed to the standard printing that we seem to teach most often.  Within the New American Cursive workbook it is pointed out that cursive does improve the speed of writing thereby improving the attention span as well as the ability to excel academically.  The mere act of writing in cursive provides an impressive amount of benefits to the young student.

With the above information in mind, I decided to try New American Cursive with all three of our children in mind.  Harmony, the nine-year-old, is our primary focus. She has a strong desire to write in cursive, and we plan to ease into having her submit more and more of her assignments in cursive writing over the next year. Just watching Harmony write in cursive excites the younger two. I let them practice letters separately, but I use the same approach provided withing the New American Cursive workbook. Avery, age 5, enjoys it very much. Bella, age 4, is not quite ready. She can write a few letters, but her attention span for this sort of thing is much more limited. When working with the workbook, Harmony usually spends about 15 minutes per day working on letter and practice pages. Watching Harmony practice her cursive is providing the younger two with a glimpse into cursive writing and all it entails as well as substantiating the information I have been learning in relation to this subject over the past year. I feel encouraged and inspired to teach the younger two cursive right from the start, and they seem eager to learn. Bonus! As far as I am concerned there is everything to gain and nothing to lose.


Memoria Press Review



We will certainly stick with this program for the duration.  New American Cursive is fun and simple which are two very important factors for learning tools making it into our homeschool.  Despite being geared to grade 1 and above, I plan to use this method of teaching cursive with all of my children over the next year. Anything that can span the vast age gap of my children is a top contender for sure.  Talk about a shining star!  With the nine-year-old, I will be following the advice of the program and slowly requiring more and more work submitted in cursive after she's mastered the letter spacing, accuracy, and speed.  This process will surely take longer for the younger two when we incorporate it into their day, but it will occur at a much younger age for them which is totally exciting.  Just think, all that's needed to learn cursive is a workbook for each child and 15 minutes or less per day.  Couldn't be more simple!




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Memoria Press Review
Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Adventures of Pajama Girl - A FlyBy Promotions Book Review & Giveaway!



As homeschoolers I think our official uniform is pajamas, and one of us at Royal Academy happen to love our comfy clothes more than the rest.  No, it's not me, but good guess!  LOL  Our resident four-year-old LOVES her comfy clothes, and asks almost as soon as we walk through the door from an outing if she can put on her pajamas.  They really are her favorite clothing item.  So, when I had an opportunity to review The Adventures of Pajama Girl and the Coronation of the Cupcake Queen how on earth could I pass it up?

We really enjoyed this story rich in imagination and adventure.  Even the five-year-old boy loved it.  I printed out the free downloads.  While their little hands were busy, I read the story.  It was an excellent addition to our morning literature hour.  Each morning we spend the first hour after breakfast reading books of various sorts.  We all loved the story with its beautiful illustrations and sound life lesson.  The story is based on Exodus 20:15 and provided us with a fun way to discuss another important virtue in our family.

About the book:

Hardcover:  32 pages

A cute, illustrated story about a girl's imagination and her magical pajamas  In this adventure, Ellie's cupcake pajamas pave the way for she and her Sis to take a journey to a land filled with all kinds of sweet treats.  Their journey quickly turns into an adventure to help the Cupcake Queen find the missing sprinkles needed for her coronation ceremony.  In searching for the missing sprinkles, Ellie and Sis uncover a life lesson that is important for every child to learn.

About the Author:

Sandra Hagee Parker lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Ryan, and their daughters, Olivia and Elliana - the original pajama girls.  A practicing attorney, Sandy is also a part of the music ministry at Cornerstone Church where she and her husband are leaders.  When not working or writing, Sandy enjoys traveling with her family and mastering the art of making Pancakes a la Pajama Girl with her two girls.

FlyBy Promotions has generously provided the opportunity for another fun giveaway.  If you'd like to enter for a chance to win your own copy, please tell us your favorite flavor of pancakes in the comment section below.  Make sure that you comment with a format in which I can notify you if you are the lucky winner.  Giveaway ends Friday, April 17th.

The kids and I thoroughly enjoyed joining Pajama Girl on her adventure.  We loved the free resources and even enjoyed making frozen bananas with yogurt and sprinkles.  (We're limiting sugar right now, so no cupcakes at The Zoo Crew for the moment.)  It was good fun to put banana halves on sticks, dip in vanilla yogurt, and coat with sprinkles.  Some of them didn't even make it to the freezer!  To purchase your own copy of The Adventures of Pajama Girl and the Coronation of the Cupcake Queen simply click here.


A little fun with sprinkles in honor of The Adventures of Pajama Girl.  Lots of fun!


Disclosure:

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”





Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Playing Games



My kids love to play games, and they are a wonderful tool to use within the homeschool for many reasons.  Over the years we've amassed quite a collection of games for various age levels.  Over the past several months we have really upped the amount of time we spend playing games, and it appears to be just what the doctor ordered.

Family Bonding

I grew up playing games.  Lots of games.  Some of my fondest memories are that of game playing.  It was always simple, lighthearted, and fun.  When I think of my in laws I picture them sitting at their kitchen table playing cards.  They were always laughing and having fun.  There's nothing complicated about pulling a game off the shelf, and sitting down at the table.  There is no advance prep.  Everything is done for you.  Pop a bowl of popcorn if you like, but that's about as complicated as it gets.  There is no simpler way to bring the family together for a time of casual conversation and laughter than a board game.  Our last few family gatherings have ended at the kitchen table with a game of cards or other board game.  It just seems the natural thing to do.

Building on Virtues

We focus on one virtue per month here at The Zoo Crew, and board games offer up a simple way to reinforce those virtues.  There are plenty of opportunities for sharpening our character in game playing.  Are we being honest?  Are we being helpful?  Are we being kind?  What about being attentive, or exhibiting self-control?  And on, and on.  Games are such a non-threatening way to interact with each other and reinforces the virtues we teach in our home.

Being a Good Sport

Losing isn't always easy, and games with family provide us with a great opportunity to practice being a gracious loser.  This is such an easy way to set the example for our children on how to lose like a winner.  Games are for having fun, even when we think we're losing or we actually do lose.  Sometimes there's even the opportunity to teach about being a gracious winner.  It really isn't if you win or lose, but how you play the game.  Board games are the perfect place to teach doing your best and having fun no matter the outcome.

Reading and Math

There's hardly a homeschooler that has dropped a few beads of sweat over reading and math.  We're always so worried about them both, aren't we?  Well, what better way to reinforce math and reading than board games?  There are specific games on the subjects like Sight Word Bingo and Money Matters for Kids.  However, games in and of themselves naturally reinforce these skills.  Try to play Monopoly without reading or math being involved.  If you keep score in games like UNO and Rummy that's math.  Plenty of games, like Caboodle and Life, require reading along the way.

Creativity

A lot of games foster creativity naturally.  Cranium and Pictionary play on the imagination and artistic abilities of the participants, and games like Story Cubes or Pig Tales foster creativity on a more literary level.  However, my favorite thing about games is making them your own, and no one that I know does that better than m five-year-old.  He loves to take games and totally use them in ways they were never designed.  He has a game he made up with his cars and our Sorry game.  Typically, he will play this when he really wants to play a game, and no one is available to play with him.  He spends hours doing this.  No kidding!

Critical Thinking

Sometimes it is difficult to impart abstract thinking, thinking ahead, analyzing, and the like.  Games are perfect for this.  Our nine-year-old was gifted the game Othello for Christmas this past year.  We finally pulled it out last month and taught her to play.  All it took was my husband and I playing a game or two with her watching for her to catch on.  Now she's teaching others.  Someone famous along the way said something to the effect that the true test of our knowledge is our ability to teach it to others.  What better way to reinforce knowledge than to teach others, and she's been doing that a lot with the little ones and even her cousins.  A lot of decision making happens in game playing.  What safer environment to practice decision making, risk taking, and making mistakes than playing games?

Some of Our Favorites

Pig Tales
Chutes and Ladders
Hi Ho Cherry-O
UNO
Sorry!
Guess Who?
Sight Word Bingo
Story Cubes
Othello
Monopoly - Dinosaurs
Brain Box - USA and World Versions
Scrambled States of America
Instructables
Ants in Your Pants
Scrabble ABC Scoop
Money Bags
Connect Four
Sequence for Kids

What are your favorite games?  We have plenty more, but those are on the top of our most played list.  We'd love for you to share some games with us that you enjoy as a family. 

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