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Archive for the ‘Product Review’ Category

Well another two months have gone and is it seems like it was just yesterday that I posted here. The spring has passed way to quickly and summer is almost here, at least officially. If you don’t live in the NW, then you probably don’t know that this has been the coldest wettest spring in decades if not ever. So far we have set many new records for monthly rainfall but the worst is that we have yet to have had a 75 degree or better day. That is right, it has not yet risen above 75 degrees in Seattle since last October. We are usually well into the 70s by this time of the year but I just glanced at the 10 day forecast and it doesn’t look like we will get to 70 for the rest of the month. Here’s hoping they are WRONG!

I have made about 2 trips a week to see my mom and help her navigate the Federal State and local bureaucracies to get her and my dad the VA benefits and Medicaid that they need and to which they are entitled. By the time we go to Mom’s, then to the nursing home to see my father stopping at various places for doctors visits, places for mom to shop or do paperwork and then backtrack do drop of mom and come home, it is about a 200 mile, 6+ hour day. It pretty much kills the day for anything else. The kids still get some school work done but they have already competed more than a years worth of work so they are far enough ahead that my main reason for keeping them doing school work is so that they will not forget what they have learned and get disconnected. We will continue with school on a reduced schedule for the summer so they are ready to go in the fall. I am a believer in a year round school with more week long breaks instead of one long summer break.

I have signed up to be a teaching/educational/curriculum materials reviewer TOS (The Old Schoolhouse). I will be posting my comments here on the blog as the various materials come my way. Please check in here, friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. If you friend me on Facebook, please be sure to let me know that you are either a reader of my blog or a fellow homeschooler as I try to keep my social accounts manageable.

I am going to the state curriculum fair in Puyallup WA on Friday. I plan on dropping my children of at my oldest daughters house so I will be able to browse at my leisure. That is one thing nice about having older married children nearby. My grandchildren are only slightly younger than my youngest children so they play well together. I will share any neat finds early next week.

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In my last post I reviewed “When I grow up I want to be A FIREFIGHTER” from The Old Schoolhouse Store. In this post I will tell you about our trip to Australia via Download and Go “Expedition Australia” also from The Old Schoolhouse Store.

As I said in the first post, the first thing I did after downloading them was to print them out on inexpensive inkjet paper except the first and last pages which I printed on stiff glossy photo paper. These pages became the front and back covers. We then took a trip to KINKO’s and had them each spiral bound for about $4 per book. That might be more effort than you wish to go through but it works for me. I get a well-bound book that won’t fall apart in the hands of two young boys and it is rugged enough to travel which is important as we have spent a lot of time on the road since my father became ill.

After I reread my last review I realized that I should have said more about how well these unit studies prepare you, the parent to lead the study. These unit studies are week-long studies and the subjects are laid out for five days. There is a page of resources for each day that includes material for grades K – 4. (Note: other unit studies from The Old Schoolhouse Store cover other grade ranges. The “When I grow up I want to be A FIREFIGHTER” would be suitable through middle school with very little supplementation.) Reading the material a week ahead and making a trip to the library with references in hand, will help you to be better prepared when the questions cover material with which you are not familiar and is not covered in the unit study. There are other references through the unit study including internet references.

The unit study includes math, vocabulary, geography, biology, art and history, all integrated so that it flows quickly and easily. The unit study also includes a section of Family Fun activities that include links to information recipes for Australian foods and how to make and fly boomerangs, art projects and games.

There is enough information in this unit study to keep your child actively engaged and learning for most of a weeks worth of school days.

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I recently decided to try a few unit studies to see how my kids took to the concept and how well they understood the various core subjects when presented within the context of a unit study.

First a little background for those who have not dropped by before this visit. This is my first year homeschooling my two boys, ages 8 and 9. They are in the 2nd and 4th grades and the oldest is highly energetic. He needs the subjects to be interesting to hold his attention. The youngest, like most 8 years olds, would rather be outside digging or destroying something. We are currently using the ACE Curriculum after a mid year change. The boys have take to it very well and like the independence it gives them.

The unit studies gave us more opportunity to work as a group and for everyone to contribute. We started with “When I grow up I want to be A FIREFIGHTER” and then did “Expedition Australia” from the “Download N GO” series. Both unit studies are from The Old Schoolhouse Store.

The first thing I did after downloading them was to print them out on inexpensive inkjet paper excepting the first and last pages which I printed on stiff glossy photo paper. These pages became the front and back covers. We then took a trip to KINKO’s and had them each spiral bound for about $4 per book. That might be more effort than you wish to go through but it works for me. I get a well bound book that won’t fall apart in the hands of two young boys and it is rugged enough to travel which is important as we have been spending a lot of time on the road since my father became ill.

“When I grow up I want to be A FIREFIGHTER” was by far the more popular of the two. The kids already knew a lot about firefighters and how they live as they had been on several field trips to the fire station over the years. This unit study talked a bit about the regular things that kids learned on these field trips but moved quickly to subjects not generally covered in these more common field trips.

The portion on building codes triggered some very lively discussions as there had been a large fire on the news a few days earlier and this kids had asked why that building burned so quickly while others seemed to have only minor damage. We were able to discuss what building materials are flammable which are not which lead to a discussion on how our house is constructed.

The section of salaries lead to the discussion of cost of living when they asked why salaries for fire fighters in LA were more than twice that of salaries in Charleston SC. This section also listed the salaries of the various positions in the command structure. This was a good teaching point for understanding why they needed to study hard and do their best to excel. Only the best can be fire fighters and only the best of the best can be Chiefs and Captains.

The unit study includes math, vocabulary, art and history, all integrated so that it flows quickly and easily. This was one of the few studies/subjects that the boys begged me to “go further” each day until we were down. Undoubtedly part of the enthusiasm was due to the subject matter but it was facilitated by the excellent way the material was integrated and presented.

I have already purchased about 5 additional unit studies which we will use in addition to our regular curriculum through out the rest of this school year. I will let you know how they go but for now, if you have a child with even the slightest interest in firefighting “When I grow up I want to be A FIREFIGHTER” will be well received and you will both enjoy the study very much.

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I just found an excellent FREE web source for “banking” services for children FamilyMint. Let me say upfront that NO money is involved with respect to this website. The site provides a simple front-end for you to set up a bank for your children’s use where YOU are the banker and hence responsible for the security of their deposits. The children are your clients. You/the banker decide where the money is actually kept and it is not linked in anyway to this website.

I teach my children stewardship using a modified version of Stewardship Street from Doorposts. I do not use actual boxes or piggy banks for the individual savings categories. Instead I have been using a spreadsheets to keep track of everything. My children are old enough to understand a bank statement and they no longer need to see or touch the money for it to be real to them. Their money is deposited in accounts in their respective names at a local credit union.

FamilyMint enables you create a bank and name it anything you want. You set up an account for each of your children and then either you or they can set up savings goals such college, a new video game or vacation. You and they can then track deposits, withdrawals and their progress toward each goal. Money can be transferred between account categories and you the banker must approve each transaction as well as make transactions on their behalf. You can also set up a Savings Plan and have each deposit allocated by percentage into the various accounts representing their savings goals. Our accounts are set up similar to the ones in Stewardship Street and when I make a deposit, it is instantly divided up into the separate categories according to the percentages I set up for them.

I sat up my family bank and the accounts for my children including the various savings categories and how the deposits are to be allocated and “transferred” the balances from the spreadsheet to my FamilyMint Bank in less than 15 minutes.

I had a question about how to allocate the deposits and wrote a note to their support staff. I got a reply back within an hour. It turns out that the answer to my question was right in front of me but I know now that their support staff is right in top of things!!

Check them out! I love the concept and I know that you will find it easy to create a family bank and it will be a valuable asset in teaching your children stewardship, financial planning and goal setting.

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I guess the question could be asked … “What schedule?” I cannot imagine trying to handle the family issues surrounding my father’s illness with my kids in a conventional school. It would certainly be possible but a lot more difficult. It is a bit over an hour south to the location of my father’s care facility. Last week he got so dehydrated, he had to be hospitalized. This was the second time in two weeks. He also has fallen out of bed because he wants to get up but does not have the strength. I sat with him in the ER for many hours last week, and the kids were real champs. They spent that whole time waiting patiently while I held his hand and kept him from pulling the IVs and various sensors.

As a result we are a bit behind as far as the schedule I had set for us but the eldest son is just one lesson from completing two years of math and the younger is halfway through his second year of math so I am not too disappointed with our progress. Still I am behind on some commitments I have made and for that I am sorry. I will get through some curriculum I promised to test and post reviews as soon as I can. We are making our way through the material and the kids are loving it but for obvious reasons, our pace is inconsistent at best.

On another note, we had the grand opening for our new church campus this weekend. Matthew West was there along with many other of our long time friends who had walked and prayed with us through this incredible journey. The existence of Eastridge Church’s new campus is the result of GOD working so many miracles and the faithful, sacrificial support of countless families. I will post some links to the news reports and other videos and pictures later tonight.

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I have made some curriculum changes as we have worked through our first year homeschooling,learning what works and what doesn’t. If your not interested in the details please skip to the last paragraph for a great link to an incredible science tool, “baby soda bottles.”

As we entered the new calendar year it became apparent that some of the curriculum choices I had made were not working as well as I expected. Was it just a poor choice on my part or were there some real mechanical reasons why changes were needed. I had to do some serious soul searching and re-evaluation of the learning dynamic between myself and my sons. Was it something that I was doing or not doing? Was it a mismatch between the curriculum choices and the learning styles of my children. Or worse, was it that the task was harder than I had anticipated or perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough.

In truth, it was probably all of the above but the biggest factor turns out both my son’s prefer to work independently on book/seat work. My wife and I have always taught our children to be as independent as possible and the subjects that they did best on, were the ones where I could just give them an assignment and let them go. The youngest has competed a year and a half of Math-U-See as of this writing. He will likely finish the second year and be one grade ahead by the end of the traditional school year. The older son has done a bit better completing almost 2 years to this point. I did have to back him up a year because I felt that he needed re-enforcement of his understanding of place value. He struggled at first and then a light went on and he flew through a year and a half of curriculum in just 4 months.

They have both done an excellent job in Math and Science. Those are my strongest subjects as well, yet the progress they have made has been mostly self driven. I have set the pace for them to so that they are disciplined and consistent but they have needed very little instruction beyond what is contained in the course material.

I tried to teach them other subjects in the more traditional methods. I would teach the lesson and then send them off to work their way through the material. I found that many times I spent more time re-explaining things than I spent teaching the lesson initially. Each of them learn so differently that most any explanation I could give in the standard teacher-student instruction method was understood to one and confusing to the other. If I tried to explain things in different ways so that each of them was taught in his own style, the instruction was tedious and to long to hold their attention during the parts that were directed at the other child. If I gave them the material and let them work through it without a teaching session, they seemed to get it just as quickly and in many cases with less intervention on my part. I prefer the one on one approach so it really works out well.

Just after the first of the year, I ordered two subjects from The School of Tomorrow. Some of you may know this as the the ACE Curriculum. It is a self instructed self paced curriculum that my older children used when they went to Shorewood Christian School in SW Seattle over 20 years ago. It worked well for them so I thought I’d give it a try for the boys. They took to it completely so last week I ordered more subjects. In general we will continue to use Math-U-See and supplement the science curriculum with lots of hands on experiments at home along with lots of field trips and hikes as the weather begins to warm. They are almost as excited to get the new material as I am. I will let you know how it goes.

I have signed up with TOS (The Old Schoolhouse) to review curriculum and post me review/experiences and comments. Look for something on Firefighters and Australia in a few weeks.

I found a great source for “test tubes.” They are actually pre-forms for liter soda bottles and are referred to as “baby soda bottles.” I found them for about 50 cents each. Google “baby soda bottles” and make sure that they include caps. They are virtually indestructible and dishwasher safe but they are NOT flame or high heat resistant. Beyond that, you can use them for just about anything you want. The best price I found was from Steve Spangler Science . This supplier also provides suggestions for use and a video of some experiments done with the baby soda bottle. There are many suppliers and different sizes. Some vendors even sell test tube racks of the appropriate size for the baby soda bottles.

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In case any of you doubted, yes I really am the stay at home dad and I do the cleaning. Yesterday I was cleaning in preparation for the visit of my wife’s father and step mother and my Hoover died. Well is still sucks but is the self propelled version and it was that portion the quit. Now in order to vacuum carpet you have to plant both feet and push with a great deal of strength to get it to move. I vacuumed one room that way and I felt like I had spend an hour at the gym. So I got on the phone to my lovely wife …

“Hi sweetie. How has your day been?”

“Good, I’ve gotten a lot done today. Have the cretins been helping with the cleaning?” she asks, knowing the answer beforehand.

“Well Matthew is picking on Jack and Jack is whining louder than that vacuum cleaner. Speaking of the vacuum cleaner. Can you stop by Subway and pick up dinner on your way home and oh …. stop by Costco and pick a new vacuum? I am glad to hear you had a good day. I’ll talk to you when you get home. Bye dear”

“Hold on just minute there big guy … why do we need a new vacuum?”

So I tell her the story and she agrees that we haven’t much choice. She calls from Costco and we discuss the selection and decide that since there are only two “better” vacuums to choose from and one of them is self propelled we’d go with the other one … the Dyson. The $400 Dyson. Gulp!

My wife quit her job of 9 years in October and started her own investment firm in January so our cash flow is under constant scrutiny. A $400 vacuum is a big purchase right now and I wondered whether it would be worth the price.

Well … after one day of use I have to say that it is the best vacuum I have ever used. In the past 10 years I have burned up two Hoovers, a Eureka and something else my wife had when we got married. None of those vacuums ever came close to the cleaning ability of my new Dyson. I had vacuumed one room before the Hoover quit and this morning I re-vacuumed the same room with the Dyson. I was stunned at the amount of dirt that came out of that carpet. The Hoover was a model that rated tops in Consumer Reports and had been serviced within the year. In other words, it was doing as good a job as it was designed to do and yet the Dyson was able to get a significant amount of dirt out of the carpet even after the Hoover had given it’s best. I love this machine!!

Yes, I am a 56 year old retired Army Sergeant swooning over a vacuum. Get over it! I like it and I don’t care who knows it!

You laughed. You know you did so share it already!

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