Tuesday, November 11, 2014

IXL Math & Language Arts - A Review

Christmas Book Review

Our family has been enjoying the additional learning exercises provided through IXL.  Both the math and the language arts programs have provided fun supplementation to the resources that were already part of our home education routine.  Harmony is old enough to benefit from both of the online programs provided.  IXL Math supplies her with both reinforcement of her current skills and extra practice on strategies that pose her more of a challenge.  Currently we are not using a formal Language Arts curriculum.  Rather we have been using a few less formal resources, and IXL Language Arts has been a nice fit.

We use the programs in a couple of different ways here at Royal Academy.  Harmony can go online and practice her choice of skill sets, and the IXL program keeps track of her progress.  Alternately, I can assign her certain exercises and check back later to see if she's grasping the concepts.  I should note that the assignments cannot be given within the program.  I just write the exercise numbers on a piece of paper for her, and she looks them up on her own to complete them.  As you've heard me mention previously, instilling independence and self-sufficiency is high on our priority list.  Using the programs is another simple way for me to work toward that end goal.  In this way we have put IXL to work as our primary math program to fill the gap in our transitional time since she has completed her previous math program.  It is nice to have a resource to help keep her skills fresh as well as provide an added challenge while we decide where we want to go from here in regard to her mathematical education.

Harmony assisting Avery while Bella observes.

Annabella and Avery are both of the preschool age, and they really enjoy IXL Math.  The Language Arts program begins at Grade 2, so they are too young to utilize it yet.  Harmony loves to work with them on the math program.  Reading them the questions and helping them understand the concepts and answer the questions is a great opportunity for all of the kids.  Not only do the little ones learn math skills, but Harmony gains confidence through teaching them.  It's a win, win!

We are also excited about the potential of IXL in our homeschool thanks to the availability of apps.  It is not something we've managed to implement at this point, but we certainly plan to in the future.  Most likely it will be after Christmas since we are planning to add some new technology to our school supplies this holiday season.  The complete program, math Pre-K through 12th Grade and language arts 2nd through 8th grade, is available through the iPad app.  Pre-K through eighth grade math can be accessed through the Android and Kindle apps with higher level access on the horizon.  The math portion goes all the way from Pre-K through 12th grade when accessed via the internet.

Although IXL is designed for skill practice as opposed to a full curriculum, we have found a way for it to take center stage in our current routine.  If you would like to utilize IXL in your homeschool family memberships start at just $9.95 per month or $79 per year.  For more information or to purchase a family membership, visit the IXL website.

You can connect further with IXL via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

A Break from the Norm

Sometimes it becomes evident that a diversion is needed from the mundane, everyday routine.  Don't get me wrong.  Our routine is a good one, and it works well for us, but sometimes changing things up a bit is just what's needed to add a little fun and adventure into the normal course of living.  Since the kids and I have done so well at staying on track with our academic schedule, and we really don't take any breaks, it was easy to throw caution to the wind this week and head out for some spontaneous shopping and exploring.

My favorite day was Wednesday when we decided to take a truckload of donations to K.I.D.S. in St. Clair.  It's a wonderful organization that provides clothing, books, toys, and other needed items to children that are experiencing difficulty in one fashion or another.  We learned about it shortly after the girls came to live with us, and they really blessed us.  Now, we make it a point to give back.  This time was the first time I directly involved the children in the process.

After breakfast and morning devotions the kids and I headed up to Avery's room to go through all of his possessions.  We took out a trash bag and small box of items to donate.  I had already loaded up the back of my truck over the weekend with items from another room I've been actively purging.  We added Avery's old treasures to the load and headed out.

For some reason I missed a turn and it took us a little longer than it should have to get there, but we weren't in a rush.  It was no big deal.  We still made it there in time for the kids to help me unload the donations.  They enjoyed helping.

Once we were finished at K.I.D.S. we found a local party store to purchase some snacks and headed out to travel the waterline.  We found a nice spot to pull off and watch the water and enjoyed our snacks.  Then, we traveled the back way home through the woods and stopped at a park for some fun time to run around and climb.  Bella's favorite is the teeter-totter.

The rest of this week we wrapped up our science and history studies and focused our energies on purging more things from home.  I cannot tell you how good it feels to finally have enough energy to get some of our house back in order.  With kids moving in and out over the past three years we have changed rooms around more than I care to remember.  It has caused some very frustrating disorder.  Step by step I am reclaiming my organized home.

As the kids grow and get more settled in our family they are growing more independent, and for me that means more time to do the things I need and want to do.  There was a point where it seemed they would never go off and explore or play on their own.  Now they play make believe A LOT, and I absolutely love listening to their exploits.  Sometimes they even include me in their script.  Of course I play along.

Right now we all seem to be in a spot where we need a little more freedom.  Play really is the work of the children, and I have been actively encouraging mine to work very hard.  It just seems like that kind of season right now.  It's a time for us to set aside rigorous academics for a more relaxed approach.  I guess that's why we're so good at being eclectic.  We may use a curriculum, or two or three, for this or that, but we can also flow with our natural rhythm as well.  Sometimes that is what's most important.  Aside from a strong faith walk, the thing I wish most for my children is independence and trust in themselves; their instincts and intuition.  Having enough time to freely explore, create, and play is essential to the end goal.

This week of redirection has renewed my strength and my hope in the future.  It's weird how some days life can seem so long, and others it seems way too short.  Recently I was reminded just how important it is to be present in the here and now.  Life is short, and if we do not take the time to enjoy it we will surely miss out.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow, so we should live today.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

If He Had Not Come by David Nicholson - A Review

Christmas Book Review
I have to admit that I have never heard the original version of If He Had Not Come by Nan Weeks, but I can see why it is considered a classic.  The story is thought provoking and a great conversation starter between parent and child.  David Nicholson retells the story sharing his thirty year family tradition so that we can begin our own tradition of reflection and conversation within our own families.  Tradition has been at the forefront of my mind and a big topic for me lately.   Ever since Avery joined our family five years ago, and with the addition of the girls two years ago, I have learned a lot about the importance of tradition.  If He Had Not Come is a perfect fit for our family.

This year is the first year we are planning to take the month of December off from regular academics and take the time to really enjoy the season.  One of the things I have planned is reading Christmas themed books all month.  I really like the idea of keeping a basket of wrapped books in the family room and having the kids take turns picking one to unwrap and read each night before bed.  If He Had Not Come will be in our basket for sure.  I even plan to read it as a special activity for Christmas Eve, as that is when the story takes place.  We'll light candles, make hot cocoa, pop popcorn, and read and discuss the story before bed.  I can think of no better way to send my children off to bed on Christmas Eve.

Even though If He Had Not Come is geared toward the six years and up group, all of my children enjoyed reading it.  (Mine at home are currently three, four, and nine.)  The story is told through the eyes of a young boy.  I like that the relationship in the story is between father and son.  That, along with the artwork reminiscent of days gone by, gives the story a comforting feel lending to that word tradition that keeps popping up around here.  David Nicholson provides some great resources in the back of the book.  Harmony, the resident nine year old, and I enjoyed discussing the questions posed on the Interactive Topics page.  The questions definitely are not geared for toddlers.  Throughout December we will further explore the questions provided by Josh Mulville for Digging Deeper.  We'll even do the Christmas activity in the back.  The little kids are sure to enjoy it with us!

The added resources really make this beautifully bound, hard cover copy of If He Had Not Come a treasure to last generations.  It's a timeless story with a timeless message that is sure to ignite valuable conversation within every family that reads it together.  It's a wonderful resource for beginning a simple tradition that could have eternal implications.

You can order your own Casebound Hardcover copy for $18.95 and begin your own family tradition.  If He Had Not Come is also available for $3.99 as an E-Book.

Follow David Nicholson and his book If He Had Not Come on Facebook here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Clued in Kids - A Review

Clued In KidsReview
This second journey we are on as a homeschooling family is rather different than the previous one we took.  One of the biggest differences is technology.  Clued in Kids is a prime example of a fun resource that we get to enjoy now that would not have been part of our homeschool experience 17 years ago.  This wonderful, educational resource came about as the realization of one mom's childhood dream.  How exciting is that?

The motivation behind Clued in Kids is to provide a fun and healthy way to educate our children while being reminded that life is a journey to treasure.  Mission accomplished!  Our family loves opportunities to share fun times with each other as well as other homeschool families.  This year we are gathering together once per month to share activities relevant to our current course of study with a nearby family traveling a similar course.  This month the gathering was at our home, and I was excited to tie in our Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt as well as our Soccer Treasure Hunt with our current studies in human biology.  I'm sure my three would have enjoyed the hunt on their own, but some things are are even more fun when shared with friends.

Our afternoon together went like this:

1 - Explain and execute Soccer Treasure Hunt.

2 - Make articulated hand.  (I'll share more on this another time.)

3 - Explain and execute Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt.

5 - Snack and Free Time.

6 - Dinner

Clued In KidsReview
Since we had already studied the importance of muscles and our need to exercise them, the Soccer Treasure Hunt was an easy tie-in.  The kids worked together to solve the puzzles and locate each clue.  I had everything set-up before they got here.  I created a treasure box out of an old shoe box and purchased a treasure for each child from the dollar store.  For this hunt everyone received a different game as their treasure.  The suggestion from the author on labeling each clue with a specific child's name was one that was very much appreciated on my end.  We did our hunts with seven children ranging in age from three-years-old to 14.  Even though some of the kids in our group were outside of the recommended Pre-K through elementary age range they still very much enjoyed participating in the treasure hunts.  Labeling the clues ensured that everyone got a turn, or two depending, and that skill level appropriate challenges were given to each child.  None of us were very familiar with the sport of soccer, so we all learned something new.

Some of the kids working on one of the clues.

The Clued in Kids website offers an abundance of treasure hunts on various topics including health, holidays, sports, and education related subjects.  Middle and high school level hunts are in the works.  You can even use their Puzzlemaker to create your own customized treasure hunts!  One feature that I really like is that you can purchase a treasure hunt in a greeting card.  Oh, the possibilities!  We are currently waiting for our 13th grandbaby to enter this world.  With raising three young ones of our own it is very challenging to be an involved Nana and Papa.  This is a wonderful way for me to be able to send a little love and fun through the mail to our grands.  I am very excited about doing that in the future.  Here is a video demonstrating the process of the treasure hunt:

Clued In KidsReview
Our second treasure hunt was the Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt.  Honestly, I chose this for personal reasons.  Our family has been directly impacted by the whole gluten madness, and this was a fun way to learn a little more about why some of us are sensitive to gluten in our diet.  Food allergies have become a norm in our society, and it seems we know many people that suffer due to sensitivities.  You can read about the Clued in Kids author's personal journey of discovery with autoimmune disease here.  It was exciting to have a fun way to educated the kids on gluten sensitivity and hopefully empower them to be more aware of the issue and why it is important for some people to avoid gluten in their food.  It was nice to watch the older kids get excited and help the younger kids figure out their clues.  At the end of this treasure hunt everyone received a gluten-free snack, and they all enjoyed it.  Some were amazed that the cookie included in their snack bag was gluten-free.  This treasure hunt was a nice prerequisite to the next topic in our biology book, digestion.

One of the older kids helping a younger one figure out a clue.

It was fun gathering together and being able to provide enriching activities for the children in such an easy fashion.  I wish I could download, print, and prepare all of the activities in my life in under 10 minutes.  Now, that would be the day!  (Maybe my house would actually stay clean.)  You can purchase your own treasure hunt download for $5.99 and instantly provide a fun and enriching activity for your children.  Sign up for their newsletter and receive a FREE treasure hunt!

The treasure!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teaching Origins Objectively - A Review

New Liberty Videos Review

New Liberty Videos Review
New Liberty Videos presents a compelling collection of information, compiled from over twenty hours of recorded expert testimony, on the importance of teaching origins and evolution objectively in the public school classroom through the Teaching Origins Objectively DVD.  Many well educated perspectives are shared within the two hour compilation providing a thorough understanding of the importance, and glaring absence, of unbiased discussion within the public education system.  I found the discussion fascinating, compelling, and even disheartening.  Why is it that within such an "advanced" culture we are so closed minded when it comes to open discussion of origins and evolution?  This is truly a fascinating topic.  Why the dishonesty?  Why is it forbidden to discuss openly the evidence that both supports and challenges the theory of evolution?  This is highly intriguing to me.

As I viewed Teaching Origins Objectively the second time around I found myself noting many various, valid points presented by the attending experts.  My personal notes amounted to over ten pages of compelling information and fascinating resources shared by the  expert participants.  I will surely view the DVD a few more times as well as review my notes and follow up on some of the resources I noted.  The two times that I've already viewed this well put together documentary has sparked a desire for me to learn more on the subject of origins and evolution so that I can have a more rounded understanding of the science involved with this topic.

The only thing missing was expert presentation from the Theistic Evolutionists.  They were absent intentionally, barring an attorney that spoke at the end for two hours and forbid any questions in direct violation of the forum agreement, due to an orchestrated boycott of the hearings.  This behavior is eyebrow raising at the very least.  Personally, I find it rather alarming behavior.  When a group of professionals resorts to name calling and strategic, dishonest maneuvering we should pay even closer attention and seriously consider what the purpose of that group really is.

As a parent and grandparent it is more important to me than I ever discerned possible that the education provided our children be as unbiased as possible.  It is important to me that children be taught critical thinking and allowed to practice the process within the educational framework of which they are a student.  So much is to be gained from educated discussion, and so much is to be lost when valid and important pieces of information are missing and/or manipulated out of educational text.  If we were more educated as parents and grandparents perhaps the education of future generations would be provided on a more solid foundation.

One fascinating expert who testified was a Muslim journalist from Istanbul, Turkey.  He shared an Eastern perspective on the Western lifestyle, and why what we teach on origins and evolution has such vast implications on our reputation on the other side of the world.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that the widespread hatred of the Western World could be based on the perception that our society is completely materialistic and poisoned by the ideology of materialism.  He shared a quote that resonated with me, "In China you can criticize Darwin and not the government.  In America you can criticize the government and not Darwin."  Something IS wrong with this picture.

Through Teaching Origins Objectively one gains a more clear perspective of the challenge the public educator faces on a daily basis to provide an unbiased education in regard to origins and evolution.  When an educator's job is at risk by simply allowing students to discuss intelligently within the structure of the classroom the intricacies of evolutionary science we, the general public, should be concerned.  This compelling documentary is an excellent resource for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about origins and evolution and its role in the science industry as well as public education.  A copy can be purchased for $19.95 from New Liberty Videos.  For those of you, like me, that rely on subtitles there are none present on this DVD.

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