Monday, October 27, 2014

We Really DON'T Have To Do Everything Every Day

I have had an epiphany!

I have heard it for years from experienced homeschooling moms, and yet I never really took it to heart until this year.  We REALLY don't have to do everything every day. Really. They're still learning a lot.

This change of mind/heart/schedule may have come from switching up our curriculum choices a bit this year (see what we're using here). We were using a pre-planned curriculum (which I really enjoyed) but I found myself wanting to check off every box for every day's lesson plan. I'm not even a Type-A person, but seeing those boxes waiting to be checked gave me some angst.

This year we are doing things differently, possibly even doing less (I'm not sure we've done any history lessons yet this year) but we have such a happier household. Managing twin toddlers in addition to homeschooling two children, and dealing with some personal family issues has made this the Year of Letting Go.

I'm not an unschooler (yet), because I still love to buy curriculum, and I worry that my kids would only want to study magical princesses or unicorns for their entire school career. However, I have found ways to be flexible.  Some days we'll start at 8:30 and finish at 12:30.  Other days we'll go to the park or library in the morning and start school after lunch.  Some days we'll start at 9:00 and take three breaks plus lunch, and finish up somewhere around 4:00.  Once or twice I've even looked at my kids and said, "that's it, we're done, you need to get outside and play".  It has been SO freeing to not feel the need to check a box.  Even if I go back to a pre-planned curriculum, I am going to have to use it on my terms.

My homeschool planner isn't even a planner, really.  It is more of a record of what we have done after we have done it.  If there is something coming up that I don't want to forget, such as a holiday activity, I'll pencil it in.  Pencil it with real pencil, because I'm going to erase that sucker if my plans change.

The other day this dance party was happening at 10:00 a.m. because breakfast wasn't even ready yet. Ok, I'm not totally proud of that part, but the kids were having a great time and we still did everything I wanted us to do that day.


My kids are so much happier, and so am I.  We are enjoying homeschooling in the midst of our craziness. 




Now if only I could remember to blog about our experiences again, I can share some of our fun times. I've relaxed myself right out of blogging, it seems. Well, tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Magnificent Tales: Treasury of Bible Stories

Treasury of Bible Stories, Kelly Pulley

About the book: Part of the Magnificent Tales series, Treasury of Bible Stories: Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times will delight children ages 4–8 with rhyming Bible stories pairing spiritual truths with playful illustrations.  

Featuring lyrical stories full of lighthearted moments, this colorful collection of Magnificent Tales is perfect for reading out loud. As families read these stories night after night, they will make memories together while learning about the Bible.

About the author:  Kelly Pulley works from his middle Tennessee home writing and illustrating children’s picture books, most recently “Ten Unusual Features of Lulu McDunn” and “The Cycling Wangdoos.” He is best known for illustrating dozens of books in the Beginner’s Bible series, including “The Beginner’s Bible” (over 1.25 million copies sold).
Find out more about Kelly athttp://www.kellypulley.com.
My review: My 5-year old enjoyed the illustrations and lilting rhymes of this Bible storybook.  It makes a fine supplement to Bible lessons, and is a fun bedtime read. I do think that it is so whimsical that a "real" Bible storybook is a must for little ones to really learn their Bible stories and understand that the people and events in the book were real, and that this is not just a collection of fun stories. I would recommend this book for Preschoolers and Kindergarten age kids.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Free Admission to Los Angeles Museums

I thought I'd share the Free Admission dates to museums around the L.A. area 2014-2015:

L.A. County Museum of Natural History Homeschool Days:

Image result for los angeles county natural history museum

November 12, 2014:  Excavating Our Past
February 5, 2015:  Fossil Fanatics
April 20, 2015: Bugs and Botany
June 17, 2015:  Art and Nature 

No preregistration required.  Just mention at the ticket counter that you are there for homeschool days and you get in free.
Click here to go to the NHM site

The museum also has free admission the first Tuesday of the month.


Page Museum (La Brea Tar Pits):
Get your saber-tooth fix for free on the following homeschool days

October 22, 2014: L.A. Underground
January 15, 2015: Bugs and Botany
March 20, 2015: L.A.'s Carnivores
June 5, 2015: Astounding Adaptations

No preregistration required.
Click here to go to the Page Museum site


California Science Center
Admission to the exhibit halls and over 100 exhibits is always free. You will pay for IMAX or to see the space shuttle Endeavour (though the shuttle fee is only $2 or free with the purchase of an IMAX ticket).


Griffith Observatory


Another location that is always free! If you're studying the solar system, you have to visit. There is a charge for the planetarium show, but there are plenty of things to see for free.

The Autry National Center of the American West

The Autry in Griffith Park

Free Tuesdays!  Every SECOND Tuesday of the month, admission is free. There is also free admission on New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Presidents' Day.
The Autry National Center of the American West is all about the West: art and artifacts about cowboys, Native Americans, art of the West, and more.  There is a Family Gallery with hands-on exhibits, and kids can pan for gold on weekends (though weekends aren't free).

Historic Southwest Museum 

(part of The Autry but on a different campus) 
Always Free!  Featuring Southwestern Native American artifacts
Click here for the Historic Southwest Museum site

Skirball Cultural Center

Skirball Cultural Center entrance

The Skirball offers free admission every Thursday! This Jewish cultural center has art, artifacts, photographs, music, and theater events all about Jewish life.  There is a whimsical, hands-on Noah's Ark with life-size animals made of upcycled materials -- it is a must-see for little kids. Tickets are required for Noah's ark, in order to reserve a time slot, but they are no additional charge.

The Getty Museum
(Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades)

In this image of the Museum Entrance Hall we see how exterior walls of glass allow sunshine to illuminate the interiors.

Constructed in the early 1970s, the Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country home.

Admission to The Getty is always free.  The hilltop Los Angeles Getty museum is all about fine art, architecture, and their beautiful garden.  They have frequent family activities and festivals.  The Getty Villa - all about ancient Greece and Rome -  is also free, but requires a timed-entry ticket, available from their website.  Click here for more Getty info

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)


LACMA has a NexGen program where children 17 and under are admitted free, along with one accompanying adult.  You need to sign up for this program, which you can do HERE 
Adults have to pay $15 regularly, but there is free admission the Second Tuesday of every month

Note: Be ready to pay for parking at any of these museums, generally $10-$15.  Check the museum calendar and ticket information before visiting, in case anything changes with their free admission dates.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door


Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door is a Western-themed picture book for kids ages 4-8 with a Christian message about loving your "enemy".

Conrad is spending the summer at his uncle's ranch.  Conrad is no cowboy; in fact, he is more interested bandaging his stuffed animals with his Mega Ultimate Extreme First Aid Kit.  Accident-prone Conrad struggles in learning how to be a cowboy, and on top of that, has a know-it-all little neighbor, Imogene.  After several mishaps, Imogene teasing every step of the way, Conrad has a chance to return the rudeness when Imogene takes a fall.  Instead, Conrad shows kindness and forgiveness to Imogene.

This is a Christian book, and the back page has a note to parents about the parable of Conrad and loving his enemy (or, his annoyance).  There are several bible verses and discussion questions about Biblical character traits that parents can use to spark further conversation.

The illustrations are colorful and expressive. My 5-year old didn't understand some of the cowboy lingo ("greenhorns" and "tenderfoot", for example) and struggled a bit when we read things like "ain't botherin' you none"- I had to stop and explain.  Still, we enjoyed reading the book together and it had a good message.  What kid doesn't get teased sometimes?

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to Homeschool 2014


I thought it couldn't be done -- getting the school room clean and ready in time for our first official day.  The babies (15 months) have been using it as a Zone of Destruction and Chaos.  


Fortunately (?) for me, everyone was sick over Labor Day weekend, so I had plenty of time to work on the school room instead of going to the beach.  Ta Da!



This is the last time the room will be clean until about September 1st, 2015, so feast your eyes while you can.

We actually started back to most of our lessons the week of August 25th, but since we usually start the day after Labor Day, we went ahead and took our First Day photos then.  Why mess with something that works? To make things more "official", we held off on a few subjects (handwriting, new science textbook, and grammar) until this week. 

We have a 3rd Grader in the house! 


And a Kindergartener - Woot Woot!


I handed out our traditional First Day gift.  This year the girls got new forest-theme notebooks and note paper, a rainbow-writing journal, Disney Frozen tattoos, glow necklaces/bracelets, and Pocky. I ate my Pocky in secret while I was cleaning the school room the day before. I love you, Pocky.



We got a late start on lessons, which is no big change from the usual.  We read Bible and Science during breakfast. The babies were wondering why we weren't reading Potty Time With Elmo.


After breakfast we attempted our lessons amid diaper changes, toys being thrown, and Potty Time With Elmo.  Things got easier during nap time, during which we crammed in math, grammar, reading, penmanship, and science.  I'm pretty sure I left out something major.  It wasn't as nearly as relaxed and fun as I envisioned (it never is), because tick-tock, those babies will only nap for so long.  
The best part of our First Day?  Frozen yogurt when lessons were done!




There were some road bumps during our First Day, but we made it through and hopefully will find our groove some time before the start of next year.  Here's to hope!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Our Curriculum Choices 2014-2015

The decisions have been finalized. Box day has come and gone. The school room is still a disaster, but at least we have books.

We have been using and enjoying Heart of Dakota for over three years.  However, we are going to try something new this year.  The girls still strongly desire to do as many lessons together as possible, but the way the HoD guides are set up, their skill levels will keep them apart.  We'll see how this year goes with combined schooling, and if Buttercup becomes more independent in her work this year, we may go back to HoD next year. I'm sad not to be using it for our core curriculum this year because I love it, but it's good to try new things, right?

3rd Grade Choices:

Math: Teaching Textbooks Math 3 -      
I agonized over math choices over the summer. Agonized! I liked the BJU Math books we used for 1st and 2nd, but math was taking a looooong time when I was not sitting right there moving things along.  Admittedly, there were a lot of distractions in our house last school year, and my rising 3rd grader does best with individual attention.  Even though she learned a lot, she was no longer enjoying math, she was zoning out, I was getting mad at her, there were lots of tears.  I KNOW what that is like to dislike math, so I needed to change it up before math negativity developed in our house. Teaching Textbooks is interactive - all of the lessons are on the computer and there are hints and helps all along the way.  We are excited about a new math format.  I have heard rumors that TT is "behind" in scope and sequence when compared to other popular math choices within the homeschool community, but I decided to dive in with 3 anyway, instead of the next grade level up as many people have recommended, to build Buttercup's math confidence (I want to hear "Hey, I know this!"when we get started) and allow for an interactive, independent math program to keep things moving along when my attention needs to be divided among my other littles.

We are also loving Reflex Math for fun games to help solidify math facts.  The website helped immensely with addition and subtraction facts, and we still have a long way to go in our yearlong subscription, so we will use them for multiplication/division facts also.  

Language Arts: 
Grammar/Vocabulary/Poetics - Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts - Island Series
Music of the Hemispheres: Student Book Cover
Because math is going to be independent for 3rd Grade, but Buttercup loves together-time, I chose a snuggle-on-the-couch language arts program.  MCT Language arts Grammar Island/Building Language/Music of the Hemispheres is designed to be read through together, in an engaging and visually interesting format.  I was drooling over this curriculum when I looked at the samples, and I can't wait to dig in. Language arts happens to be my personal favorite subject, and it comes easily to Buttercup, so this should be fun for us.  Sunshine can listen in as well, as the lessons are short and may capture her attention as well.
Reading/Literature - Drawn Into the Heart of Reading 
I didn't leave Heart of Dakota behind entirely.  I am going to be using their stand-alone reading/literature program this year (Level 2/3).  This program can be used throughout elementary (there are student books for 2/3, 4/5, and 6/7/8).  You can use any books with this program, which is nice because the reading level doesn't have to necessarily match the writing/assignment level in the Student Book. 

I also picked up a few Veritas Press Literature Guides as a supplement to our reading program, just because I liked the ones I tried last year.
Spelling - Sequential Spelling - I chose the DVD-Rom format of this, because I think spelling is also something that can be studied independently, and handwriting is still a struggle around here.
Cursive -  Memoria Press

In addition, I have a healthy list of read-aloud books I plan to enjoy with the girls this year. I'll have the girls practice narration with some of them, and we may complete book projects with others. Or not. We'll see how it goes with two toddlers in the house.

Kindergarten Choices
Horizons Math K Workbook One | Main photo (Cover)

Math - Horizons Math K coupled with the hands-on math activities in Heart of Dakota's Little Hearts For His Glory that I am still holding on to.
Phonics - The Reading Lesson (continued from last term) and Phonics Pathways as needed after.

Together Choices

Science is something we love to do together.  Buttercup, as the resident science-lover in the house, wanted an overview science program. She wants to study everything.  I liked the previews of this book, which has six units of 15 lessons each.  Each unit corresponds with a day of creation, so the first 15 lessons are about light, the next 15 lessons are about water and air, the next 15 are about land/rocks/plants, then 15 lessons about the solar system, next are 15 lessons on animal classification and birds, and finally land animals and the human body/senses.  Each lesson has a hands-on activity, and we are excited to get started. 

We also have some lapbook materials: Rocks and Minerals, Owls, and Volcanoes are planned lapbook studies for the year.

Bible - The Gospel Story Bible and companion devotionals. Plus weekly memory verses.  I also have a lapbook on Biblical Character Traits

History - Beautiful Feet Books Early American History

Health - Library books about nutrition, exercise, and dental care, plus fire and household safety.

Physical Education - A homeschool PE class, plus ballet and swimming.

Arts - Fine art appreciation will be through a study of famous artists, picture study, and composer studies on Handel and Vivaldi (primarily using library books).  We will also study the mechanics of art with How To Teach Art to Children.

Is that everything?  I certainly hope so, because it seems like a truckload to me! Now, I just need to finish organizing my school room.  Right now we are using it for our Rocks and Minerals study, with cardboard castle blocks in the middle of everything, and books on the floor.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Product Review: Veritas Press Literature Guides

If you are looking for a guided reading comprehension series using real, quality children's literature, I would like to suggest that you take a look at Veritas Press comprehension guides.

Normally we do narration in the Charlotte Mason style for our literature studies.  We still do, but I wanted to try something new last year (2nd grade) to see how it compared.  We tried out a couple of them:  Little House In The Big Woods and The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook.

These are fairly straightforward as far as comprehension goes.  It is basically, "what do you remember about the story?", at least at the level we used.  There were no character study or higher-order thinking questions. Perhaps older levels of the guides incorporate deeper thought.  Still, the comprehension questions would be useful for someone who wouldn't otherwise know "what to ask" to gauge the student's comprehension.  I still prefer narration for this. They are also useful for students who are working independently on their reading. The pages are reproducible, so you can give your student a worksheet to complete on his or her own.  We prefer reading time to be together-time, so I had Buttercup answer the questions orally instead.

What we really did enjoy about these guides were the "extras".  Sprinkled throughout the guides are fun crafts, recipes, and activities to help bring the stories to life.

For example, the Milly-Molly-Mandy guide had paper dolls to color and cut, a map to trace the paths MMM took around her village, a recipe for blackberry pudding, a recipe for a hedgehog-shaped treat made from a chocolate-dipped pear (yum!), and instructions for making character faces out of construction paper.



The Little House in the Big Woods guide had instructions for making a corn-husk doll, a recipe making butter at home, and instructions for making an apple clove pomander, like the one Ma received for Christmas. 


The side projects were a lot of fun.  I picked up a few Veritas Press Comprehension Guides to use with our 3rd grade reading books.  

For more information, visit http://www.veritaspress.com/curriculum/ 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Get to Know Jesus


I previewed Jesus from the Get to Know series of biographies for children ages 6-10.  I loved it! It is a perfect book for my 7 year old daughter to read on her own.  I plan to use it for the biography genre of our reading program during our upcoming homeschool year. It would be a great book to use for an elementary book report.

The book has 12 short chapters (generally 7-10 pages) that are chock-full of information in an easy-to-read, enjoyable format.  Chapters include "A Special Birth", "Childhood and Youth", "The Teacher", "Stories and Parables", "The Son of God", "Miracles", "A Sad Day", and more.

The book contains many pictures - images of Jesus from classic art, photographs of things referenced in the Bible that kids might not understand (such as a millstone); a timeline of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; and pictures of actual places in the Bible, such as the Jordan River and the Mount of Olives.  There are maps, definitions of words boxed at the bottom of the page (and an alphabetized glossary) that kids might need help with, such as "anointed", "blessed", "repent", and others.

There are scripture passages (noted with a purple oil lamp), information about Bible heroes (noted with an orange sandal), eyewitness accounts (noted with an eye), and fun facts in the "Did You Know?" sections, noted by a blue clay jar.

I love that this book doesn't talk down to children, it presents facts and sources that help kids understand Jesus as a person and not just as a "Bible story".  I wholeheartedly recommend this book and am looking forward to reading others in the Get To Know series (including Mary, Daniel, Apostle Paul, and King David).

This book meets Common Core Standards for Second Grade:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.1 "Ask and Answer Questions such as who, what, when, where, why and demonstrate understanding of key details in a text"
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.3 "Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges."
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.5 "Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently."

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection


Did Jesus really die and then rise from the dead? That is the core belief of Christianity, but it sounds so...impossible.  Unbelievable.  Irrational. The modern mind is beyond this thinking, right?

That is the question addressed by authors Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson in Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection.  Guess what?  Modern thinkers aren't the only ones who have found the resurrection to be doubtful.  
"The resurrection of a man from the dead was not easy to believe then, nor is it easy to accept today.  It has never been easy to believe -- and yet millions have. 
"If you still don't believe it, it's understandable.  It's difficult to switch beliefs overnight.  Doubt is normal -- even good.  But at some point you've got to come up with an explanation for this massive shift in belief..."
First century Greeks and Jews were not expecting a bodily resurrection, and even early Christians had doubts (have you ever heard of Thomas?).  It is entirely reasonable to want to investigate the veracity of the audacious claim of Jesus resurrected.  The authors encourage you to own your doubt, and then seek answers.  Were followers of Jesus delusional?  Why did Christianity change the world?  Isn't the idea of an "afterlife" just sentiment to make us feel better when someone dies?  Why does the resurrection matter?  

These questions and more are answered in this thought-provoking little book.  If you're doubting, why not give your doubts the attention they deserve.  You can start with this little book. The text is less than 100 pages.  Isn't the topic worth that much? It may spark more interest in seeking answers to the question of the resurrection; it may allay some doubts; it may even change your life. 

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the BookLook bloggers program in exchange for my honest review. I would have read this book anyway; you should, too. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Tyranny of Pinterest

You've gotta love Pinterest.  There are so many beautiful, creative ideas there. I'm thinking about Pinterest-worthy parties right now. Beautiful, social media sharing-worthy parties. Because what's a party if you can't put it on Instagram or get lots of likes on Facebook?

Don't get me wrong, I love the look of these parties. However, I'm finding the Pinterest party to be a bit tyrannical lately.  For example, it seems that lately all parties, whether they are birthday, graduation, holiday, baby shower, or wedding, must have:

1. A party table. This is the centerpiece of your party, where you WILL display color-coordinated candies and pastries that match your theme. You DO have a party theme, right?

Adorable Baby Bumble Bee Party // Hostess with the ill save this one for when I have a little girl... My Baby B :-)

Pink table

Una elegante mesa de dulces en tonos rosa y oro / An elegant sweet table in gold and pink

Ariel-inspired mermaid birthday party, except I will just do a mermaid theme I think. I am pretty obsessed with mermaids lately!

Una mesa preciosa para una fiesta vaquero (me encanta el truco con los vasos, para sujetar los cubiertos!) / Great party table for a cowboy bash (I love the trick with the cups, to hold the forks!)
You may have to rent out a barn for this one.

Beautiful, yes?  Absolutely. Am I going to do this? Nope. Too much work. Too much candy. My table generally has a bag-o-salad and 4 boxes of pizza, still in the box. You can choose between cheese or pepperoni pizza, though!

2. A homemade banner. Don't you dare hang up that Dora the Explorer birthday banner you bought at the dollar store. You can, however, use colors reminiscent of your favorite episode, and you may use the officially licensed picture as long as you use it to make your own banner out of cut paper doilies and ribbon.

Pink Dora Ballerina Party // Hostess with the Mostess®   Dora theme birthday party ideas and inspiration

Don't forget to include the guest of honor's name ("Happy Birthday" won't cut it) and that banner had better coordinate with your candy table. 



3. A photo booth - once an element of surprise, now a requirement.  Don't even THINK about forgetting the mustaches.

What is it with mustaches? Will this fad never end?





4. Mason Jars OR custom soda bottles

So that your one year old will know that you care.

Watermelon party drink table

use twine to attach straws   Circus Carnival Themed Birthday Party Drink by twinklelittleparty

Tray Pass Pink Drinks (Izze Pops with cute labels & straws)

I am feeling exhausted just looking at all these adorable parties. I feel like I just can't muster the creativity, even if I am just copying someone else's creativity from Pinterest. I get the same way looking at the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Is it just me?  Will my kids be scarred for life if they get a cake from the grocery store with a plastic figurine on top, or lopsided homemade cake without any theme?  What if they have to get a bottle of Kirkland water from the cooler outside on the patio, and nothing more to play with than squirt guns or our old inflatable bouncer? Will they feel that they missed out?  I don't think so. We are celebrating them, after all -- even if it is just our family and a piece of cake.

Well, there was that one time my husband insisted that we rent a pegacorn.  


But it was just once, I swear!  



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