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 is 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 

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!  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Update: What We're Learning

We are winding down our school season, though we plan to keep reading and practicing math over the summer.

Sunshine is working her way through The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons, reading short stories.  How cute is she with her McRuffy Reader?  She is excited to read those and her Now I'm Reading playful pals level 1.

McRuffy First Step Reader

The Reading Lesson 

Buttercup just finished The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
 as her reader, and she'll be reading Little House in the Big Woods to us next. I've never read the Little House series, so I'm looking forward to listening to my daughter read it to me!

We're also starting our last week of Literature Pockets: Caldecott Winners.  We've had a great time with this study, as I mentioned in my post about making art.  

Craft for the Caldecott Winner Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears

Buttercup is also finishing up her 2nd grade math book by learning about multiplication.  There are only a couple chapters on multiplication and division in the 2nd grade textbook, and it picks up again in 3rd. Over the summer we'll take some time to memorize our addition and subtraction math facts so we'll have those out of the way to focus on multiplication tables next year (heaven help us!). 

Lastly, we took a trip to a local nature center for an animal show. We got up close to a falcon, a desert tortoise, a tarantula (don't look down if you're arachnophobic!), a snake and a great horned owl. 

Lovely day, but I kept brushing at my ankles after seeing that tarantula up close (shiver). 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek

Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek  -     By: Jill Osborne

I reviewed Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek on behalf of my 7-year old daughter.  I was looking for some fun books to read over the summer that are wholesome and would align with our faith and values.  This is one that I am happy to let her read now that I'm finished with it.

Riley Mae is a sporty 7th grader who has just been chosen as the spokesperson for an athletic shoe company for girls.  She loves the free shoes, and being in ads for the shoe company. She doesn't love missing out on her softball team's games, and the friction that her busy new schedule causes with her best friend. This book had the expected pre-teen friend problems, but a lot more than that. Riley Mae grapples with a mystery, has a mountain-climbing adventure, and discovers a way to help a friend in need. Family and Christian faith are important to Riley Mae, and she leans on both to help her navigate through her challenges.

I actually enjoyed reading this book, even though I was only reviewing/previewing it on behalf of my daughter. I am looking forward to reading other books in the series.

You can buy the book here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes through the BookLook Bloggers Program.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers' Day

It was such a happy Mothers' Day. I was blessed to have my family over for brunch, and we enjoyed a birthday party for the twins at the same time. What a wonderful day.

Mr. Man was not having it. He wanted to play on the grass, not pose for a picture.  

That's better. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Soil Layers

I was browsing online to find some quick and easy science lessons for the girls. I found a simple soil layers craft making layers out of construction paper.

Humus: living and dead organic matter, leaf litter, and if I am seeing correctly, I think Buttercup drew some dead bugs in the bottom picture.
Topsoil: where most plant roots are. You might also notice worms and ant colonies here. This was supposed to be dark-colored, but my girls wanted to be able to draw on it, so it is yellow.
Subsoil: composed of clay, silt, and sand. There is little organic matter so it is lighter in color.
Bedrock: that would be rock.

The real reason I wanted to study soil layers is because I wanted to make dirt cups for dessert.  The layers consisted of biscotti  bedrock, tapioca pudding subsoil, crushed sandwich-cookie topsoil, and some almond slivers and crushed cinnamon cereal for humus.

Crushing the cookies to make topsoil.

Mixing some cinnamon in with store-bought tapioca pudding. It looked a little like sand particles.

 Ready to eat!


You can get a free printable worksheet about soil layers from 
or from

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Oh, I Guess We HAVE Been Doing Art

The other day I was lamenting that we never have time for art. We look at picture books, including Come Look With Me, which is a great introduction to famous works of art.  I was feeling, however, that we were missing out on making art. We have no formal art curriculum.

Then I realized we have been doing art in our Literature Pockets: Caldecott Winners (Grades 1-3). With this guide, you make 11 pockets based on Caldecott Award-winning children's books, learning biographical information about each illustrator and the type of art they created for their award-winning book. Students have a chance to try out a variety of artistic styles. 

For example, after reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, the kids made their own cut-paper collages. 

They made their own scratchboards like illustrator Barbara Cooney. 

They made mixed-media Wild Things, inspired by Where The Wild Things Are.

I love these sponge-painted hills covered in heather, with a cross-hatched wee house, just like in Always Room For One More.  


I could go on, but instead I'll just tell you that we are having a great time with Literature Pockets, and learning about art, too. 


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