Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Reading Kingdom - A Review

We have two very eager early learners in our family, and they are super excited about learning to read.  Bella is four, the youngest age for which this program is recommend, and Avery is five.  They both cannot wait to read on their own.  Books are huge in our family.  Despite my lack of shelving (Can a dozen bookcases really be enough for any one family?) I continue to pick up books on a regular basis.  We take a very relaxed approach to education, especially reading.  I've tried a curriculum here or there more out of curiosity, but I still hold the belief that a child often read to will learn to read when he is ready.  It worked for the older ones, so why shouldn't it for the ones we're bringing up now?  However, times have certainly changed over the years.  As a home educator the biggest change I have noticed is the sheer amount of tools we have at our fingertips to help us integrate knowledge into our homes through the ease of access via the internet.  Our latest tool being Reading Kingdom.

Reading Kingdom Review
Reading Kingdom Online is a complete reading curriculum that is perfect for the home educating family.  It is unique in that it is not a phonics based program.  Rather, it integrates six specific skills that help children more easily learn reading AND writing.

Our budding readers and writers have been enjoying their experience with Reading Kingdom Online.  They are both at the beginning stages of learning to read, so the program has met them at the beginning.  Both children are learning to identify the letters of the alphabet through the typing portion of their exercises.  Lowercase letters float on the screen, and they locate them on the keyboard to shoot them off the screen.  Although parents are not supposed to provide help, an effort in keeping the program completely customized to their learning level, I have had to provide some coaching.  It is simple for them to match a lowercase letter with another lowercase letter.  However, matching a lowercase letter with an uppercase letter is a skill they are still working to master.  Reading Kingdom Online is bringing them along nicely and strengthening this skill rather quickly.

The added benefit of this portion of the program is that they learn the keyboard, which I think is the main point of the exercise.  Honestly, it never dawned on me to teach them to type at this young of an age.  It does make a lot of sense though with the amount of technology that gets used in our home nowadays.  Not to mention the fact that through this program they are using the computer to learn to read, so knowing where the letters are right from the beginning will save in a lot of frustration.

The other portion of the level they are currently working teaches them to spell words by recognizing the correct letters.  A line of letters is shown to them that contains a short word mixed into letters that are not part of the word.  The child clicks on the appropriate letters and makes a word.  Through both of these exercises they are learning valuable letter identification skills and laying the foundation needed to progress further through the program and their journey toward being a proficient reader.

Currently, we are using the Reading Kingdom Online as a supplement to our regular schedule of learning activities.  The two young ones spend a lot of their day playing, but they do enjoy technology and learning through the laptop and tablets.  This has been a fun and worthwhile addition to our educational resources.  I know that Bella and Avery will gain a lot from our one year subscription.  It is recommended that they spend about 15 minutes working with the program at least four times per week in order to complete it in one year.  Though our family is home to budding readers this program is also suitable children through third grade as well as struggling readers.  Despite Harmony, age 10, being beyond the scope of Reading Kingdom Online she very much enjoys watching the younger kids work the program and was initially jealous that it wasn't for her as well.  It really is a fun and engaging approach to learning to read.

Through the past several weeks I have watched both Bella and Avery grow in their individual skill sets.  They enjoy learning the keyboard, and their letter recognition has greatly improved.  This comes out in their other daily activities.  Learning to read is a fun adventure made even more enjoyable and encouraging for them through this added resource.  It's exciting to think where they may be at the end of this school year with the help of Reading Kingdom Online.

Reading Kingdom Review

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Care and Keeping of ME

I've been focusing on myself a lot lately.  

As a homeschooling mom it is all too easy to put myself last.  In the long run that is the worst thing I could be doing for my family.  Sure, we give up a lot when we become a parent, especially when we decide to home educate, but one of the most loving things we can do for our family is to be the best that we can be.  That certainly cannot happen if we allow ourselves to get lost in the mire.  Unfortunately, I am 100% guilty of doing just that.  I've allowed myself to disappear.

"Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you
and that you may be in good health,
as it goes well with your soul."
~ I John 1:2

We are not meant to sacrifice ourselves; our health, our soul, our very being.  Sure, we are here to serve our family and our community, but how do we best do these things?  First we must be in good health, both physically and spiritually.  When things get out of balance that is when we start to fall apart.  We lose touch with ourselves and things begin to suffer.  If we allow it to go too far unchecked then those around us begin to suffer as well.

How patient can we be when we are exhausted and stressed?  How much of a spiritual guide can we be if we've not fed our soul in days, weeks, or even months?  How much fun can we be if we never indulge our passions and interests?  How can we give of ourselves to anyone if we've allowed all the things that make us who we are to be swept away in the current of a busy and demanding life?

Just how important are you anyway?

"For by grace you have been saved by faith.
And this is not your own doing; 
it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
~ Ephesians 2:8-9

Go gives us grace.  Freely he gives it to us.  It is a gift.  We have done nothing to earn, or even deserve, this gift.  Yet, it is freely given.  

I wonder...

Have we accepted the gift of grace?

What does it look like to accept the gift of grace from God?

What exactly is grace, anyway?

Grace - the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners, and the bestowal of blessings.

The favor of God?

"For you bless the righteous, oh Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield."
~ Psalm 5:12

For many years I thought going on a mission trip overseas, feeding and clothing the impoverished, building churches in third world countries, helping those outside of my family - those were the only ways to serve God.  I thought that I had to do BIG things away from home.  Little did I know that the big things are at home.  I am a big deal.  My family is a big deal.  

I accept God's grace by doing the things before me with a dedicated and willing heart.  I am actually honoring God by putting myself first.  Let me say that again.

I am actually honoring God by putting myself first!

How can I put myself first?

For me, right now, it boils down to making time for the things that I enjoy; maybe even learning all over again what it is that I enjoy.  Recently I found this cute sheet:  50 Ways to Take a Break.  There are 50 fun and simple ways to just take some time for joy.  If you are visual person like I am this is the perfect thing to print out and hang where you can see it.  Heck, it's good for the whole family!  Personally, I think it's way better than those 'I'm Bored' lists for kids.  Everyone can find something to do here.

If you've been reading around here lately you know that I've been struggling with focusing on the task at hand, whatever that may be.  It was suggested that I use this sheet as a means for transitioning into something I need to do.  The idea is to find something on this sheet, do it, and then work on what I need to get done.  I have to admit this is a new idea that I've not tried, but I like it a lot and this picture is getting hung right by my desk in my office.

I have decided to accept the grace fully given to me and embrace my life just as it is, glaring flaws and all.  I have decided to put myself first.  You have heard me mention the oxygen mask a time or two, right?  Well, I'm grabbing the mask and putting it on.  Each and every day I will spend time putting myself first; taking care of my health, feeding my soul, indulging my passions.

"For the word of God is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword, 
piercing to the division of soul and of spirit,
of joints and of marrow,
and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
~ Hebrews 4:12

I'd love to hear from you!

Do you struggle to put yourself first?

Are you in the process of a similar mission?

Have you learned this lesson already?

How do you care for your body?

How do you feed your soul?

What passions do you indulge?

Let's talk in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Middlebury Interactive Languages - A Review

Ever since Avery was born I knew I wanted to teach him of his heritage.  I was raised with a strong sense of my Irish heritage through my dad's side of the family.  Knowing the culture that birthed my ancestors gives me a clearer sense of who I am and where I came from.  Avery is Mexican on his paternal side, and I desire for him to have that same clear sense of who he is and where he comes from.  Growing up knowing the traditions and culture of your ancestors can help us in that process, especially when we have no other contact with or knowledge of our direct ancestors.

Since birth I have read Spanish language picture books, even when I have limited knowledge and understanding of the language myself, to Avery on a regular basis.  My high school Spanish class did little to prepare me for teaching my children to speak the language or understand the culture.  That's why a resource like Middlebury Interactive Languages is so essential to our homeschool.  For the past several weeks we have been enjoying our subscription to Elementary Spanish 1, Grades K-2.  Avery is the student in our homeschool that I had in mind when I volunteered for this review.  However, as soon as we log on it always draws a crowd.  Bella and Harmony just can't stay away when he's working through a lesson.  They inevitably end up participating over his shoulder.

This is such a fun way for children to learn the language of another culture.  I love the immersive approach used in this course.  The program uses actual stories from the culture as part of the lessons.  The animated stories presented completely in Spanish right from the start are very appealing to my children.  I wasn't sure what they would think of watching a story fully in another language that they do not understand.  Much to my surprise, they love it!  It doesn't take long before they are recognizing words and stating their meaning as the story progresses.  (It's a nice bit of confirmation for me as well.  All those years reading stories to Avery in Spanish have been well spent.)

The full Elementary Spanish 1, Grades K-2 course is presented as a two semester course.  It expires one year after purchase.  I was curious about this and took the time to look.  As a homeschooling family we don't always finish things at the same pace.  Fortunately, we have plenty of time to complete our entire one semester course before it expires next year.

Despite Avery's young age, he is able to work nearly independently throughout the day's lesson.  I do help him on occasion with some mouse navigation or preparing the laptop's internal microphone.  Each sentence has a little speaker next to it that can be pressed so that the student can have the information read to him.  So, when they say 'no prerequisite' they mean it.  The children literally do not even need to know how to read in order to complete this course.  Avery's favorite part is when he gets to listen to the word, record himself saying it, and compare the two.  This always leads to joyful laughter all around.  They all love hearing themselves speaking Spanish.

As a busy, homeschool mom that desires the highest quality education possible I really love this program.  It's engaging, effective, and easy to use.  Best of all is that it requires minimal effort on my part.  Avery can work independently, with very little assistance from me allowing me to direct my attention elsewhere as needed, or even ask my older student to assist him.  Anything that makes learning fun for my children and frees up my time is a win all the way around!

Social Links

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Christian Heroes: Then & Now - Corrie Ten Boom - A Review

YWAM Publishing Review
I love to see my children get excited about a book.  Seeing them get excited about history is awesome.  Having them sit through two hours of non-stop reading just because they want to hear what's next is nothing short of impressive.  I was introduced to the books put out by YWAM Publishing a couple of years ago, but I had no idea the treasure they actually are.  Until this review came along I had never read one of their publications, and I could not be more impressed.  We were blessed with a copy of Corrie Ten Boom: Keeper of the Angels' Den by Janet and Geoff Benge along with a copy of the accompanying Unit Study Curriculum Guide from their Christian Heroes: Then and Now series.

Corrie Ten Boom: Keeper of the Angels' Den is a captivating chronicle of the life of Corrie Ten Boom and her family in Holland when the Germans invaded and occupied during the second World War.  Her family is an excellent example of true courage in the face of great evil.  Their story is one of faith, moral conviction, and forgiveness.  A true example of standing firm for what is right no matter the cost.

From the first page we were all hooked.  I must admit that my children have a lot of practice by now sitting and listening to a story.  They have their things that they do to keep their hands busy.  Bella is the youngest at four.  She's most always coloring.  Avery just a year older will color, play with his cars, or find a game he can enjoy on his own.  Harmony at 10 isn't always as easily entertained.  If she thinks a story is "boring" or she's just not in the mood for listening it can be a greater challenge for her to pay attention no matter what.  We had none of that this time around.  In fact, a couple of times she asked, "Can we read just one more chapter?  I want to know what happens next!"

Once the deadline for this review was nearing the horizon I wanted to step up the pace and finish the book ahead of time.  So, I read my way straight through the last four chapters of the book after breakfast one morning.  That's our preferred read aloud time.  We all sat around the dining room table for two full hours, without a single complaint to be heard (the complaint would have likely come had I stopped reading), and we finished the story.  Two hours of reading!  They were present and alert.  Wow!

Once we finished the story we worked our way through the discussion questions located in the Unit Study Curriculum Guide.  We focused primarily on the vocabulary questions.  It was interesting to see which words she figured out on her own and which ones required a little more discussion.  The guide holds so many possibilities for building on the story.  One could do a rather impressive unit study with these resources.  Let me just say right here that all it took was reading this one book and using the Unit Study Curriculum Guide rather minimally this one time, and I want them all.  Yes, I want all of the books and their guides from both collections; Heroes of History and Christian Heroes: Then and Now. They really are that great!

The Unit Study Curriculum Guide is an amazing resource.  It thoroughly covers every aspect of a great unit study.  There are plenty of choices in each category.  You can make it as academic or creative as you like.  There are fun ways to focus on the history, culture, art, English, and biblical aspects of the story.  It can be as casual or as involved as you like with discussions or large projects.  It's just chock full of resources and ideas.

After our discussion I took a look at what they had been doing while I was reading.  Harmony and Avery had use our block collection along with some of our other "busy bag" supplies to create her own version of the prison camp where Corrie and her sister had been held before her release.  It was fascinating to me to see them work together like that so intently while I was reading and even pull something out of the story in their play.

If you've never read about Corrie Ten Boom, this is the place to start.  If you've not yet introduced Christian heroes from history into your homeschool, this is the place to start.  If you've not yet started consciously adding quality literature into your library, this is the place to start.  Reading just one book from YWAM Publishing is all it takes to see just how well written, captivating, and informative their books really are.  We are officially hooked!

YWAM Publishing Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trying to Focus

To be honest I haven't gotten it together much since my last post.  I just put in one of my co-op orders.  It included a one pound bag of hot cocoa.  So, there's still hope.  Seems I'm anticipating this coming winter like I used to look forward to summer.  I am not alone in my longing this year.  Bella has been asking when it will snow again ever since spring began.  A girl after my own heart!

I have some changes in mind that have little to do with our homeschool and more to do with the sanity that comes along with a life more savored than rushed through.  This mindset is bound to effect our approach to education, but for now the planning of our academics remains the same.

We live about 20 minutes from everywhere.  In this diligent planning of excursions is of high importance so as to not waste time or money.  Years ago when it was just us and the first seven children in The Crew I did my grocery shopping once per month.  It's been on my mind to switch to that again.  The funny thing is that I kept that shopping format when we lived in the city where good shopping and frequent sales were plentiful.  It was just nice to knock it out once a month and not have to think about shopping for a few weeks rather than heading out every Sunday, the worst day to shop, gathering up our supplies for the week.  Also, we had a nice produce market within walking distance.  It made replacing perishables on an as needed basis very easy.  This time around we do not have such a convenience.  Where we are now, convenience costs more than I'm willing to pay most times, and it doesn't include anything fresh.  So, I've been giving this some thought.  Maybe once every three weeks would be more realistic.  I'll really have to figure this out soon since I want to get this started next month.

There are SO MANY benefits of shopping monthly as opposed to weekly, or even bi-weekly.  The biggest for me is the savings.  It also teaches you patience and learning to "make do"; the real essence of truly being thrifty.  We can be much more productive around the homestead when the bulk of our time is spent here.  There's time for games, spontaneous creativity, movie nights, baking together, and on and on.  Ultimately, I hope to use my time in the effort of food preservation, cooking ahead, pursuing my writing course, and working more on my love for photography.  Not to mention the natural health course I purchased nearly two years, yes that's YEARS, ago and never even opened yet.

We'll be learning how to over winter animals for the first time this year.  This is our first time ever, like in our whole lives, raising livestock.  We have chickens and sheep now.  Our oldest female is expecting sometime next month, and we're anxiously awaiting the new experiences a new lamb will bring to the homestead.  With the winters we've had these past two years I am a bit anxious about what caring for these critters will entail.  That's a huge change, going out side no matter the weather.  Negative 30 can be really brutal.  Keeping them fed, watered, and sheltered will be a chore, I'm sure.  We are, however, enjoying the dynamic they being to our lives despite the work they require.  There is something to be said about raising your own food.

That brings me to the next thing I hope to achieve this winter.  Garden plans!  I managed to grow a little bit of food this year.  I did get 50+ bags of zucchini shredded up and put in the freezer, and we enjoyed the fresh cucumbers.  However, the chickens have managed to destroy the last of my cukes and are working at my tomato plants.  Jerks!  It's my fault.  I know.  All summer they left my small garden alone.  It's the old flower beds around our front porch.  That is, until I picked four zucchini and forgot to bring them in.  Seeing them laying there was just too much temptation for them to resist, apparently.  Ever since then I have been shooing them off the front porch and out of my vegetables.  UGH!

Next year we plan to have at least a few raised beds built with a fence erected around them to protect our food from the vultures, er uh chickens.  I've been drooling my way through my seed catalog and dreaming of the different things I'd like to grow next year.  I'm hoping my mom with partner with me in this project.  God blessed her with two green thumbs, and a couple of toes I think.  She plans to retire after her birthday in March.  Would be SO AWESOME to have her around more.  There are many, many things we can learn from her.  She's a work horse and would not be thwarted as easily as I when it comes to canning pickles on the hottest day of summer or braving the mosquitoes and humidity to harvest the bumper berry crop in the woods.  She has a way of keeping me moving forward.

Come to think of it, too bad she can't come over and get me motivated.  There are so many things eating at me right now.  I have not finished our school plan for this year, and we are slated to start in just a week and a half.  Then there's the housework.  I really wanted to do some deep cleaning.  My windows look like they've never been cleaned, and there are cobwebs giving birth to more cobwebs in the corners.  Oh, and the books!  I did make a lot of progress with my collection, but there is still more to be done.  How I dream of a fully cataloged library.  Key word dream!


How am I dealing with this jumbled up conglomeration of dreams, wants, and needs that keep tripping me up on my course to a peaceful and prepared start to our new school year?  Sometimes it feels like I'm not, but I know that isn't true.

I've been giving myself A LOT of grace.  We are often times more hard on ourselves than anyone else, so it is appropriate to be the first in line to cut ourselves some slack.  We shouldn't expect perfection from ourselves anymore than anyone else should.  So, why do we do that?  I am actively trying to quit using the word lazy in reference to myself.  I am not lazy.  Repeat.  I am not lazy!  I am tired, overwhelmed, pressured, and a lot of other things, but I know that I am not lazy.  That negative self talk needs to hit the highway.

I make my morning studies a priority.  I have a collection of small books and bible studies that I like to start my day out with.  It helps a great deal to put my mind in the right place before I begin my day.  When my mind is more on Christ and less on my struggles it helps my feet to be firmly planted facing the direction they should be when I step out to face what lies before me each day.  Being grounded means something totally different to me as an adult.  It's a good thing.

I lean on a friend...or two.  Good friends are a real blessing, and I am thankful to count for myself a few.  It's so nice to have at least one person that will tell you like it is; set you straight when your thinking gets skewed.  Sometimes we just need to vent, or we need to run something past someone before we can more forward, especially when it comes to the challenges of life.  I'm willing to bet that most everyone faces difficulties and trials that they never could have imagined they would in their entire life.  Having at least one good friend that you can trust to protect your heart and guard your soul is more valuable than any earthly possession we could have.  Don't be afraid to learn on someone when times are challenging.

I enlist professional, or not so professional, help.  Maybe someone comes and watches the kids so I can take a day to myself.  Maybe I seek the advice of a therapist.  Maybe I get a massage.  Maybe I hire someone to clean my home a time or two.  Maybe I hire a local teen to do garden work or help me organize.  This falls in the realm of grace as well.  Sometimes we don't want to spend our time or resources on someone's help.  Sometimes we feel we don't have time to take off to take care of ourselves.  Let me remind you of the airplane and the oxygen mask.  Enough said.

I throw out the routine and change the plans.  Well, not every day, but here and there when we need to.  Sometimes the time is just right, and I allow myself to go with the flow.  Those are the best days!  No stressing over what wasn't done.  No worrying about falling behind.  Behind what?  Exactly!  No worries, period.  Just go with it.  Those are the times that make memories and rejuvenate the soul.

Now, I am going to go finish preparing dinner.  I am not going to worry or stress over the things weighing on my shoulders.  I am going to be present in the moment, do what I can, and take life moment by moment.  I will do what I can as I am able.

No worries.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...