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Short post today. Just this great article that I recommend each homeschooling parent read and bookmark!

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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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Two days lost to sickness and one to taking care of family matters and by the start of the second week of school we are already playing catch up.

We got Mom and Dad settled in their new digs this weekend. It was a hard weekend with way to much going on and Dad was exhausted. He walked as much on Saturday (moving day) as he normally walks in a week and then on Sunday, he wanted to go for a walk at the new place and they got lost in the hallways. It isn’t that hard if it is your first day there. In the end, Dad was so tired that he fell several times and on the last fall he bumped his head. It was a minor bump but the rules where they live say he needed to go to the ER and get checked out. That was a 8 hour nightmare. Next time we will find a 24 hour urgent care facility. He also broke his little finger so now he has a splint on one hand. It makes it harder for him to hold on to his walker. I will need to go down a bit more often than I had planned. That means changing they way I do and schedule homework so that the boys will be able to do some work on those trips.

We did manage to get in several hours yesterday and a whole day today and if I am honest, the only real problem is that MY schedule is off. This kids are doing fine and work hard. The first of the year is designed around review and reinforcement before we hit the harder stuff so the fact of the matter us that they are blowing through pretty fast right now. I just have to get over the fact that MY schedule is changed and the kids don’t know the difference. This whole home school thing as all about me isn’t it? Sigh!

On another subject …

Last October my wife walked out of her job to start her own investment firm. We had been talking and praying about it for a long time and even though the stock market was in a free fall, we knew that God’s timing was perfect. Well it was and things are going well but that is not exactly what I wanted to talk about.

Starting the business meant that we had to budget much differently than we had in the past. As a result, I began to look at open source software to meet my computing needs. I was amazed at the abundance of very high quality, free software that is available. I wrote about some of it in the spring but I have since found a lot more. I will write more about my favorites with respect to homeschooling in my next post. Stay tuned! I found some real gems.

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