Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 School Plans -- Science & stuff

Installment #4 is all the miscellaneous stuff.  (Can you tell I'm procrastinating on Language Arts decisions?)


Connor has been totally random in science lately, going off in a lot of directions.  So, for 2010, he is going to get back on track with Apologia Physical Science. He is also going to  be pursuing something else.  What?  I don't know.  He has a few options.  I think he's going to be casually reading through Evolution: The Grand Experiment.  And he is working on his Environmental Science merit badge with a group at Scouts.  He has his eye on a couple other science merit badges too.

William and Thomas are working in a Christian Kids Explore book.  Anybody else unschool science for their science-loving kids?

Richard & Trina are doing some things from the two Sonlight PreK cores... mostly the Core P4/5 science materials.  They have the only Berenstain Bears book that I actually like.


We've been totally blessed with some fantastic music resources lately.  My older kids are using Kinderbach to teach the younger two (and learning a fair amount in the process) and will be doing that through January (watch for a review in early February).

We'll also be studying Brahms and Schubert in some detail, thanks to this package from Zeezok Publishing.  I put some additional music on hold at the library, and we'll be spending January studying Brahms, and in February we'll study Schubert.  Watch for a review in another few weeks.

We received more Maestro Classics titles for Christmas, and we'll be working through those too.

Connor has asked to learn to play the piano.  I'm still working on the acquisition of some resources so he can do that.  It will start with our keyboard (which is full-sized as far as the keys, but it is short about an octave from a real piano).  It would be amazing to get a "real" full keyboard again.  Might even get me back into playing.

Other stuff:

Connor will continue his Latin class.  He will continue using Fallacy Detective for logic (and maybe we'll use the logic text in Eclectic Education also).

All three big boys will continue programming computer games with Tektoma.

And everyone will continue to do other miscellaneous things here and there.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 School Plans -- History

Installment #3 of my 2010 curriculum planning.  This one is easy.  History.

First, I need to make a statement about my homeschooling philosophy.  I believe in reading aloud.  A lot.  And for me, it is easiest to frame those read-alouds around our history studies.  So "history" isn't just history.  It is a pretty big chunk of our schooling because it is the vehicle I use to spend an hour or two reading aloud to my kids.  Each day.  I'd recommend Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook if you want to hear someone who can phrase a lot of what I believe in a better manner.

We read a lot of stuff -- historical fiction being a big part of it, but also biographies, modern "classics," fairy tales/folk tales from various parts of the world, classics either set in the time period we are studying or by authors of the time period we are studying, poetry, and a lot of "just fun" books too.

Okay, back to history:

I was totally, totally blessed back in September to receive Illuminations from Bright Ideas Press as part of the Review Crew.  My plan for this year had been for Connor to use Sonlight Core 6, Richard and Trina to use Sonlight Core P3/4, and to do something with William and Thomas.

We have totally loved Sonlight.  But up through August, we have been able to make one core work for everyone.  We started our new plan, with Connor moving off on his own... and it was really, really difficult.  It totally messed with family dynamics, and I felt overwhelmed.

And then came Illuminations.  So now Connor is doing the high school level, William and Thomas are doing the 3rd-8th grade level, and Richard and Trina are doing the Early Learners materials.  Everyone does the same basic history (Mystery of History Volume 1), and everyone is doing the same family read aloud.  Everyone does the same Humanities and Geography.  The three big guys are doing grammar together as well.  It's great, we love it.

However, even though I'm reading aloud a bunch (Mystery of History, the family read-aloud, the 3rd-8th read-alone, the Early Learners literature, the 3rd-8th grade optional readings), and Connor is doing the high school literature himself, it has not been enough.  And I think the history is a bit light for high school.

So Connor is also doing Core 6 (minus the titles included in Illuminations) at about half-pace.

What this looks like for next week -- just to give you an idea as to what we are up to -- is:

Mystery of History lessons 28-30 (Samson, Zhou Dynasty, Samuel)
The family read-aloud is the book of Ruth
We'll be reading Chinese Wonder Book (an ebook) and Why Snails Have Shells
Geography: we'll be working in South America
Humanities: has to do with the use of symbols
We're reading books like D is for Dancing Dragon for the Early Learners (everyone listens)
Connor is reading The Iliad
Connor is reading about Ancient Crete in his Sonlight history, and we'll all be reading D'Aulaire's Greek Myths (God King is also scheduled by SL now, but that is a read-aloud in Illuminations in another few weeks, so we're saving it for then)

So that is the plan at the moment.  Tomorrow I'm going to cover a bunch of miscellaneous subjects, including science and music.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010 School Plans -- Math

In my continuing series of babbling about what we're going to be doing for school next year, let's move on to Math!

We've been blessed with a bunch of things from TOS Review Crew in the math department, so we are going to be using a mix of those.  I'll link it the first time I mention it.  Kid by kid, here goes:

Connor (12):  he'll start the year off working through The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor, which I think is going to mostly be too basic for him.  But he'll undoubtedly pick up something, and he is a great help when it comes to these reviews.  Then, he'll pick his old math back up -- he's doing VideoText Algebra and Math U See Geometry concurrently.  In addition (pun intended), he now (well, in a couple days) has a one year subscription to Mathletics, where he is required to at least work enough to earn a certificate each week.  He is using MathScore to drill his math facts (review coming in January), and he'll continue using Quartermile Math as well.  Once he completes VideoText and Math U See, well, the people at the community college said he could come in and sit for their math placement test.  I'm not sure yet.  We own UCSMP Functions, Statistics and Trigonometry, so that would be a less expensive way to go.

William (11): he will also start off by working through the Word Problem Tutor, either with Connor, or more slowly, we'll see.  I plan to make basic math facts a priority for him the first couple months of 2010.  So he'll be required to spend 20 minutes or so per day in Mathletics, another 10 minutes daily in MathScore, and about 15 minutes a day in FactsFirst (watch for a review, probably in February).  He will continue to be assigned to do Quartermile Math at least once a week.  I will also have him watch Mathtacular DVDs once a week, just so I feel like he is getting some new concepts too.  After some of these online subscriptions expire, or I feel like he needs to move on before that, we'll get back to a more traditional math curriculum.  What?  I don't know.  Right Start?  Singapore?  Scott Foresman Exploring Math?  I own those...

Thomas (9): his plan is pretty much identical to William's, except I may let him out of the Word Problem Tutor DVD.  He'll watch at least the first few segments though.  I'll have him watching an appropriate level of Mathtacular for him (though I'm sure all the kids will watch everyone's Mathtacular... have I raved on here about how wonderful this program is?)

Richard (5): he'll be using Mathletics like his brothers, and he'll be using FactsFirst, and Quartermile Math too.  And the first Mathtacular DVD.  In addition, I plan to start  working with him in Ray's Primary Arithmetic (watch for a review of Eclectic Education in January).

Trina (3): She'll be watching the Young Minds DVD, and definitely the Mathtacular with Richard.

We'll see how all of this goes.  I feel vaguely guilty that I don't have most of my kids doing a "real" math program at the moment, but I think the focus on facts while we have the resources available is the right thing to do.

I'll be continuing this tomorrow.  I'll should discuss Language Arts, but I'm still hammering that out.  I think I'll talk about history.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 School Plans -- Bible

Our school year officially starts in January, and I always spend some time re-evaluating things at the end of December for our "fresh start" in the new year. This year, I'm going to be blogging some of what I'm thinking about. Figured I should start with the important stuff, and I'll work through some other major areas too.

So, plans for Bible, worldview, Christian studies, etc. is first on deck.

In 2009, we have done a few different things.  Connor was doing the Bible portion of Sonlight Core 5.  We tried using Building on the Rock for William & Thomas.  We started using Grapevine Bible Studies Old Testament materials.  We did the Bible portion of Illuminations (I'll be reviewing Illuminations early in 2010).  And there were undoubtedly some other things in there too.

Sonlight Core 5 was excellent, but it was beyond what my younger kids could do.  And the Bible part of Core 6 is, well, not excellent.  We didn't blink when given the opportunity to do something else.

Building on the Rock was some really great stuff -- but it is very much written for a classroom teacher, and I struggled immensely with it.  We gave it up, and now it stares at me on the bookshelf and makes me feel horribly guilty.

Grapevine was a total winner, we loved using that.  Everyone could get involved.  But then Illuminations came along and we set Grapevine aside.  Sigh.  Illuminations has us reading through the Bible, but it isn't really a study exactly.

So, what to do for 2010?  My plan was to go back to Grapevine.  But then the new materials put out by Apologia and Summit Ministries caught my eye.  And when I found myself with the unexpected funds to make a purchase from, and I saw they had the book... well, it jumped into my cart.  And it arrived today.  And I love it.

So, a conversation with my oldest, and we have at least a tentative plan for Bible for 2010.

We are going to use the Apologia/Summit book Who Is God?, going through a chapter every two weeks and really trying to get into some of the extras available.  That would mean getting through it by roughly Memorial Day.  I love the idea of doing something systematic for worldview/apologetics.  And the price... $27 for 20 weeks of study for all my boys.  Not bad.  This book will be used again.

We are also going to start reading through the Bible in a year (this is Kimberly's fault, LOL!), using this website.  Connor and I will do all three readings.  William and Thomas will only be reading through the New Testament.  I will be setting accounts up for the three boys, so they can all do their readings in an appropriate version, check them off online, and I can always check up on them.  I will continue reading through the NKJV Greatest Stories of the Bible as well, primarily for Richard, but at least William & Thomas will be expected to listen.

Plus, our studies with Illuminations include history lessons on people from the Bible, and we also will be reading Ruth, part of 2 Kings, and Esther as part of the family read-alouds.  And Connor will also hit Haggai and Malachi as part of his literature requirements.

After we get through the Apologia book, we'll pick Grapevine back up.  I think it sounds like a plan...  stay tuned.  Tomorrow, I think I'll post about math plans...

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cars update

Oh, I meant to post this before now...

So, the kids & I worked on the car in the photo for a couple hours, taking a break in the middle to post the photo uhhh, warm up.  A neighbor we've never met (they're a bit over a mile south of us) stopped by.  I refused their help, saying we'd get it out... and they got out anyway.  Ahhhh, how wonderful!  Another 40 minutes or so with three adults doing the digging, and we were chugging merrily up the driveway.

Dale got home right as we finished up, and he was ready to go rescue the other car.  The rest of us were frozen though, so we went in to thaw out.

We didn't dare to wait that long though... so after throwing jeans and tennies in the dryer, getting dry socks, putting shoes & pants back on... we were off.

The other car didn't look nearly so bad.  William stood lookout for approaching cars (we were just under a little rise, so we couldn't see vehicles approaching from the west), I dug at one of the wheels, and Dale & Connor hooked up the tow strap.  Got that all set, and thought to actually start the car... and it was dead.  So, unhooked everything, turned the van around, got jumper cables set up, and then we got two offers of help in a row.  The second, we think, was probably called by the county to tow our car out.

Anyway, jumped it easily, turned the van back around, got the tow straps hooked up again, and easily pulled it out of the ditch.  I drove the van home, which was nice and toasty warm.  My walk to the van was difficult, as I could not feel my feet.  I was grateful to be in the warmer of the vehicles.

I got back up the driveway just fine.  Dale struggled with the car.  I did not think he was going to make it, but eventually he got enough traction to get up.

Hot chocolate was made, everyone got out of wet clothes, and Dale saw to it that I soaked my feet in warm water.  They were prickly to walk on for a few hours afterwards, but it doesn't appear that I've done any real damage.

Presently, well, the driveway has drifted closed again -- so we aren't going anywhere.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not the Christmas Eve I planned...

What a miserable start to a Christmas Eve day...

William came in bright and early this morning waving the phone at me and telling me that Daddy was calling...  it turns out, he got the car stuck because the East-West roads are horribly drifted.  He was walking home, and wanted me to come get him, which I did without a problem (we're on a North-South road).

He ended up taking the van and going to work via another route, no problem.

Well, he called about an hour ago and wanted me to go check on the car.  I should have argued.  Really, I should have.  But no, I bundled up, grabbed Connor, and headed out.

Our driveway is completely drifted shut again.  But I got out.

I headed for where the car was, and the plows have been by so that road is almost passable. Almost.  I had to drive backwards to get home though, as I couldn't possibly turn around, and after stopping, I couldn't go forward (uphill) either.

Got back home, maneuvered into position to charge the driveway... and got the car completely stuck in the drift.

After 20 minutes of digging

At least it is only a couple minute walk up the driveway, and I have three boys heading out right now to shovel at it.  From prior experience, I know we'll be at it for a couple of hours.  Just about enough time for Dale to get home and us to head out to dig out the other car.

So much for spending an hour or so finishing up a couple of books we've been reading, so that we can take a completely guilt-free week or two off of everything school-related.  And I planned to spend this afternoon making pierogies.  Instead, we'll probably have spaghetti.

Oh well.  We may end up with a car being towed, but at least it looks like we'll all be together for Christmas, and that is what is important, right?

God Bless Us, Everyone!  :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: ACT, Advantage -- EXPLORE/PLAN

In addition to the Discover Career Planning site that ACT Advantage provided me earlier this year, they also sent their EXPLORE and PLAN tests for us to review.

What are they?  Well, these are tests based on the ACT, but meant for 8th-9th graders (EXPLORE) or 10th graders (PLAN).  The tests are shorter than the ACT, and help you and your student see how he is doing in four areas:  English, Math, Reading and Science.

Our experience:  Well, Connor (age 12) is a bit tired of doing tests after the SAT review course and the various college and career planning resources we have reviewed.  So my normally cooperative child really didn't want to do these.

He had to anyway (mean Mom!!), though I only had him do the Explore test at this point. The test consists of four 30 minute sections, and there is guidance in the back of the book to help you score the tests.  This helps you to correct the test, get a raw score, convert to a scaled score, and figure out how that compares with 8th or 9th graders.

We did learn a bit.  #1 -- a child who is not motivated and has distractions present is going to score horribly.   Especially when he is too distracted to even answer most of the questions.  #2 -- this particular child will still manage to blow away the reading and science sections, even compared to 9th graders.  #3 -- if we are going to have him take either the SAT or ACT this year, we really should choose the ACT.

Going forward, Connor will be doing the PLAN test in the first week or so of January.  Then we'll decide if he should take the ACT this year.  The reason we are considering the SAT or ACT is that the standardized tests we do to meet state requirements really tell us nothing.  99th percentile is great and all, and I'm not knocking that.  But we're just at a point where doing out of level testing sounds like it would actually give us useful information.  Maybe just doing the PLAN test is actually going to give us enough and we won't have to go further.  But if he is scoring at the 95th percentile and above compared to 10th graders, well... we will know that we want more, and he will be doing the ACT for real.

Bottom line:  I think this is a great in-home way to accomplish a couple different things.  One is what the test was designed for -- to get some early indication of how your child is likely to do on the ACT.  The other is to be able to do some above level testing of a child who is topping out the grade-level testing in an informal setting.

At $23 per test, it is not terribly expensive either.  And it is certainly less stressful than registering for tests in an unfamiliar setting.

Bottom line:  I'm glad to have had the chance to use ACT Advantage with Connor.  It is something I will use with the rest of my children too.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various ACT products at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive both the EXPLORE and PLAN test packets from ACT Advantage.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Scouting Saturday: Court of Honor

On Monday, we had a big scouting night.  The Cubs were having a Christmas party, but Thomas was the only one who was able to attend that, as the Boy Scouts were having the Court of Honor that was cancelled last week.

Since I was the only one there (Dale couldn't get off a second week in a row, and my parents had left), the pictures are not that great.  I had to be up front when the boys were awarded with their ranks, so we didn't get pictures of that at all.  I'll post pictures of both of them when I get the new badges sewn on though.

Anyway, up first was William, along with three other boys, receiving their Scout rank.  That's the first rank that the kids can earn.

They worked through the ranks, with a couple of kids earning Tenderfoot and Second Class.  Then it was Connor's turn.  Four boys, including Brian (who joined Webelos back when Connor did) all received their Star rank.  Star requires a fair amount of work, including at least six merit badges -- and four of those have to be Eagle-required ones.

A couple of the boys made Life too, which was presented next (including the tall one standing next to William below).

Then they called up about half the troop to receive merit badges.  There were a LOT of merit badges presented on Monday.  Including a few to our household.

Here is William receiving Photography and Fingerprinting.

And here is Connor receiving Camping and Fingerprinting.

What a great night!  Maybe next Saturday I can post pictures of all three of my scouts in their updated uniforms.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Frugal Friday: Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts

Everyone else is being Christmas-y in their posts, but for Frugal Fridays (hosted by Life as a Mom here), I'm getting into taxes and health costs.  Nowhere near as much fun as how to create adorable presents at home... but as we approach the end of the year, this could be very important.

Okay, if you have Flexible Spending Accounts set up through your/your spouse's benefits programs, do you know what your current balance is?  If not, stop reading and go find out.  Online, our account says we have $186.08 in our account.

Now, if we do not incur another $186 in medical costs this year, we lose that money.  I'm not into losing money, so I have plans to reduce that amount... and some of that may be tips for you in figuring out what to do with any balance you might have too.

First, I know that I used my credit card yesterday to pay for vision appointments for myself and three of my kids, plus to pay the $20 balance for my other son's new glasses.  That totalled $112, leaving me with $74.08.

But that is tip #1:  make sure that you have put through any and all medical appointments that you have paid out of pocket.  And tip #2 is related also -- do you have some some things that aren't necessary, but would be nice, like having a child go in for a vision check in 1.5 years instead of the 2 that the doctor suggested?

Second thing I am doing is to submit a claim to the company for mileage for the appointment we went to yesterday.  You can claim $.24 per mile for the miles you drive to and from doctor appointments.  That adds up fast for me, as I can submit $20.68 for yesterday.  So that will leave me with a balance of $53.40.

So that is tip #3:  claim mileage for all your appointments in 2009.  Go to Mapquest or Google Maps and do up a thing for each of your medical providers -- doctor, dentist, chiropractor, eye doctor... print out however many you need of each map, and then note the date, who had the appointment, round trip miles (using the number Mapquest gives you), and the total cost when multiplied by 0.24.

Of course, you do need to look at your calendar and see if you have anything scheduled yet this month and factor that in as well.

But what if you do get down to the point of having some money left, and no expected expenses?  You don't necessarily have to lose that money.

Could you go order a pair of prescription sunglasses?  Can you refill a prescription in late December instead of early January?  Are you nearly out of Tylenol or cough drops?  Have you always thought having one of those itty bitty packages of Tums would be nice to have in your purse, but you couldn't rationalize the cost of the small sized package? Is one of you overdue for a physical, or a trip to the dentist?  You might not be able to get an appointment scheduled, but then again, maybe you can.

Just be careful with things like over the counter medications.  You are not allowed to "stockpile" the medicines with your Flex Account funds... so if you go purchasing six bottles of Tylenol, that reimbursement really should be refused.

Also, you can't deduct mileage for driving to Walgreens to pick up aspirin, so don't try that either.

My kids are due for a trip to the dentist sometime this month, so I'm going to see if I can schedule that... which would mean another $20 or so in mileage, which gets me close.

Now, for my family, one thing is that last year we drastically changed our medical coverage so we'd be paying less in premiums.  So for our Flex Plan, I figured out what I thought we'd need, and added another $200 as a "self-insurance" of sorts.  So if we get down to only having a few dollars left, I'm happy.

So, now you can go read about inexpensive gifts and other holiday fare.  I admit, that stuff is far more exciting!  And it is where I'm going too.  Well, after I call the dentist.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Travel to Ancient Rome!

Ancient Rome, from Palatine HillImage by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr
My son had to put together a commercial advertising a trip to Ancient Rome for his Latin class.  Seeing as we don't own a video camera, and seeing as he loves any chance to do some programming and call it school, this is what he came up with.

If you happen to have an account at Scratch, I'm sure he'd be tickled to get some comments there.  If not, here works too.

He put some serious work into this.  And yeah, that's me as the narrator, promising to sell unruly children into slavery.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Bertie's War

Bertie's War, by Barbara Tifft Blakey, showed up in my mailbox a couple weeks back.  It was tough deciding what to do with it... but I ended up sitting down and reading it myself for purposes of this review.  I think that was the right decision for us right now.  At just under 200 pages, it was a pretty quick read for me.

Reviewing fiction is hard.  I want to tell you enough to get a flavor for the book, but I don't want to ruin the story either.  Well, here goes.

Bertie (Roberta) is starting 7th grade, in 1962.  I have to admit, this is the first historical fiction I've read set during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is not an era I know a lot about, but some of what I read really struck a chord with me.  I recall (a decade later) doing nuclear attack drills in school.  I remember how incredibly scary that was.  There is a school drill described in the story, and oh, I was so right there.  I thought the author nailed it in that description.

I vaguely remember discussions about bomb shelters too, though to the best of my knowledge, my family did not have one.  I distinctly remember signs in certain public buildings announcing where the fallout shelter was.

Anyway, the pervasive fear of nuclear attack was communicated well in the story.  But for Bertie, it isn't just fear of the Commies and nuclear blasts.  She is afraid of everything.  All of the time.  Her fear controls her life.

The plot takes a few twists and turns -- including some I wasn't exactly expecting -- and comes to a happy ending.  The ending, though, might have been a little too perfect.  It was a bit too much of "and they all lived happily ever after..." for me.

Do I recommend it?  Well, I'm not dropping everything to have my kids read it right now. Look at the "Books we're reading" box on the left... Cat of Bubastes (Ancient Egypt), Classic Myths (Ancient Greece mostly), The Trojan War (Greece & Troy).  I'm just not up to fast forwarding that many millennia right now.

But when we do get to the Twentieth Century again?  Yes, I will pull this book out and add it to our mix.  I think it will be great for the glimpse into the strain of the times.  And I think there are quite a few other conversations we can have.  Focusing on others.  Parenting styles.  Real fears vs. imagined ones.  And I think I could have fun coming up with some writing assignments for my boys from this.  Along the lines of "Rewrite this incident from Dad's point of view."  Or from her little brother's viewpoint.  Because this would be a totally different story through the eye's of anyone but Bertie.

The book is available from the publisher, Kregel Publications, for $8.

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Bertie's War at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this book for free from Kregel Publications.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

BlogFrog Holiday Challenge

BlogFrog.  It's something I joined fairly recently, and I am having a bit of fun with it.  You can see stuff about it down on the left side of my blog -- most recent discussions, people who have been visiting my blog, etc.

Right now, they are doing a promotion.  For every "community" that gets 20 new participants during the remainder of 2009 (that means someone who posts a comment or starts a discussion on my community page), BlogFrog will donate $10 to The Children's Hospital.  Each of those communities also is entered into a drawing for a $100 Target gift card.

So -- hop on over to my community here.  Post a comment.  Start a new conversation.  Help me to help the Children's Hospital.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: NKJV Greatest Stories of the Bible

I've decided to become at least an occasional reviewer for Thomas Nelson.  And I'd highly recommend it... check the link on the right side of my blog.

One day I clicked through to their site to see that they were looking for people to review the NKJV Greatest Stories of the BIBLE for them.  I checked out the links, and knew I really did want this book.  So I signed up.

I had seen the cover shot (shown here!) but that didn't do justice to the book.  When I opened the package, I was impressed... it just looks so much like that old family Bible.  It looks creased, worn, and well-loved, with an attached ribbon bookmark. 
Once I got inside this Bible, I loved it even more.  This is a "story" Bible in the sense that it is broken up into stories -- 250 of them, in fact.  But it is a "real" Bible in that it is using real Bible text.  
What do I mean by that?  Well, let's jump to the New Testament ('tis the season) and take a look.  Story #204 is called "Jesus Before Time" and it consists of the text of John 1:1-18.  This is one of the shorter stories, being only one page (most stories are 2-3 pages).  It starts off with "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God."  And so on.  Yes, verse numbers, just like you would expect in a real Bible, but wouldn't expect in a "story" Bible.
Now, these stories don't necessarily go straight through the Bible, including everything.  If we jump forward a couple of stories, we read "John the Baptist Arrives" which is Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80.  They double space between the paragraphs where they jump over verses, so if you want to figure it out, you have a visual clue that something is missing.  
Being a story Bible, it does not hit all of the Bible equally.  As you'd expect, there are lots of stories from Genesis and Exodus, and not many from the prophets or the epistles.  Basically, 3/4 of the book covers Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and the Gospels.  Being a story Bible, I expected pictures.  But I wasn't exactly disappointed to find that there aren't any.
I like this format.  We’ve read through the Bible in a year.  We’ve read through a chronological Bible in a year.  When the older guys were younger, we read through a more traditional story Bible in a year.
What I plan to do with this Bible is to read it Monday through Friday.  Read a chapter of Proverbs on Saturdays.  And read Psalms on Sundays.  If we are consistent, we'll read through a huge portion of the Bible in a year.  So far, this has kept the attention of my 5 year old, yet it gives a nice overview for my older ones too.  (I tend to lose the 3 year old though.)
You can find this Bible at Amazon, Christian Book (at $20, this was the best price I found), and other places.  I’m thrilled to be using it.

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Scouting Saturday: My New Bear

Okay, so this actually happened at the end of November, but I'm just slow.

Three of the boys in our Bear den -- Joshua, Charlie, and Thomas -- were awarded their Bear badge.  I got lousy pictures, sorry...

Thomas has been steadily plugging away at the Bear requirements, which has included things like:
  • Ways we worship
  • What makes America special
  • Take care of your planet
  • Law enforcement is a big job
  • What's cooking?
  • Family fun
  • Be ready
  • Family Outdoor Adventures
  • Saving Well, Spending Well
  • Ride Right
  • Sawdust and nails
  • Build a model
  • Be a leader
Isn't that a great list?  Wow... I'm reminded again of how much I love the Bear rank.

At the same time, Thomas also received a couple arrow points for completing electives.  Those are some pretty cool activities too.  Here's another lousy picture of that:

I'm very proud of all your hard work, buddy.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

My travels

A friend of mine posted something on her blog about the states she has visited.  I decided I had to get a map colored in as well...

visited 42 states (84%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Isn't that fun?  I desperately want to hit the Northwest to visit a really good friend (you know who you are!).  And I've always wanted to make a trip through the South.  I really wanted to do it when we were learning about the mid 1800's.  Maybe next go-around.

Alaska and Hawaii.  Oh, I'd love to do that someday too.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Tektoma - GameMaker Tutorials

Creating your own computer games.  Now that is something that my boys can get excited about.  And they did, and still are.

Tektoma is an online subscription site that offers tutorials in the use of GameMaker software.  My two oldest boys (7th and 5th grades) found the tutorials very easy to use, though since it can only be done on a PC, I did have to help them a bit with things like where to save the files.  Both sat down with the first tutorial, to make a simple racing game, and worked through it in a few hours.

They love it.

My third grader really wanted to create his own games too, and he has needed a bit more hand holding.  I think if he could have used a Mac, he would have been very independent.   But I want them to be familiar with PCs too, and this is one way to motivate them to do that.

The main tutorials available are:
  1. How to make a racing game (beginner)
  2. How to make an arcade game (beginner)
  3. How to make a memory game (beginner)
  4. How to make a platform game (intermediate)
  5. How to make a fantasy adventure game (advanced)
And then there are a number of mini-tutorials that help you do some other things -- like make the game into an .exe file, or how to make it operate in full-screen mode, or how to pretty it up with some customized stuff.

What does it cost?  There is a free 14 day trial, and after that, you can subscribe for $15 per month, or $140 for a year.  If you join using this link (the other links in this post are non-affiliate links if you'd prefer that), I get another 15 days tacked onto my membership.  My kids would love you forever. :)  The other "cost" is that you need to download GameMaker, the program that these tutorials are designed for.  There is a lite version, which is free -- and all that is required for the Tektoma tutorials.  We're seriously considering an upgrade to the pro version though, for $25.

What I love about Tektoma so far -- my kids are very excited about this, and I love the exactness that computer programming types of things require.  They have to pay attention to detail, or they end up with lousy results.  I love that they can work with some cause and effect, and a whole lot of logic.  There is plenty of math involved too -- algebra, geometry, even some very, very basic calculus.

And Tektoma's tutorials are designed for kids.  I really appreciate that none of the tutorials are teaching them to make gory shooting type games, though some do involve 'lives' and the like.  And while the tutorials are fairly lengthy (the shortest "full" tutorials are over an hour, and I'd think to actually do the work, you probably need to at least triple that), it is really easy to just do a section or two in a sitting for those shorter attention spans (my 3rd grader doesn't want to work at it for more than about a half hour in a sitting, for instance).

You do need to download a few things before you get started, but we didn't have any hassles with that part.  And if you don't upgrade GameMaker, you will see stuff encouraging you to upgrade to the paid version.  My kids are able to ignore that fairly well.

Bottom line:  we are loving this.  I think this makes my "Top 10" list so far.  We will consider extending our subscription by a month or two when it is up in February, depending on how far the boys get with it in the next few weeks.

My boys are already making plans for creating games of their own.  Something about Around the World in 80 Days, something that takes place in ancient Rome, cells fighting off infections, and I don't remember what all else.  Everything they've mentioned has been very literature, history, or science heavy.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Tektoma at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive a three month subscription for free from Tektoma.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Optical blessings

It's been a great day.  My two oldest kids had appointments at the eye doctor.  Connor desperately needs new glasses, and I was quite panicked about how we'd end up paying for them.  And William hasn't been to the eye doctor since his vision therapy.

Well -- Connor's prescription has barely changed, so the first blessing is that his vision appears to actually be fairly stable.

And -- our vision coverage must have changed, as his glasses cost us cost about 20% of what I remember paying last time.  Hallelujah!  We have enough money in our Health Flex account for 2009 to cover that, so that is blessing #2.

Blessing #3 is related... because this cost as little as it did, the rest of us have an eye appointment scheduled next week and we don't have to wait until January.

Blessing #4 is that William has definitely maintained some serious improvement in his ability to maintain focus, and his ability to go back and forth from far to near.  He & I did get homework though, and we need to spend 15 minutes once or twice a week working on some things at home.

What a great day!  I'll get a picture of Connor in his new glasses next week after we get them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Mathletics

I don't recall when or how I first heard about Mathletics, but the site intrigued me.  I wanted to try it out for my kids, but never had a good chance to do so.  Until the TOS Review Crew.

As part of the Crew, all five of my children ended up with 45 days of access to the Mathletics website.  We love it, and hope to find a way to subscribe at least some of the kids early in 2010.

There are a few different aspects to this online math service.  Different parts appealed to different kids.

1) They have a grade-based "curriculum" that the kids can work through, doing lessons (with step by step animated help available) and taking tests.  We worked with grades K, 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8.  The lessons seemed a little on the easy side, but I do have kids who are good at math, so my perspective may be a bit off.  Regardless, the lessons cover great math concepts and seem fairly thorough.  For US students, there are levels available for K-8.  Other countries (Canada, UK, Australia, etc.) have high school levels available also.

2) There is a section where the kids can compete against other kids around the world, live.  This is on basic math facts, and it is a race to get the most correct answers, with fewer than three errors.  My kids competed against many students in the US, but also quite a few from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada.  And one or two from Africa.  My older guys particularly loved doing this, and I heard about any new country flags that popped up.

3) There are games, which you unlock by making progress in the curriculum part.  My younger two loved this.  Some for the younger ages had to do with creating patterns, others with simple counting, or comparisons of different shapes and colors.  In the 5th grade section, one involved a BINGO game using Roman numerals.  Games are available for Grades K-6.

4) There are pdf workbooks available for many of the grade levels.  Not all grades at this point, but many of them.  We haven't used these at all, but I did look four or five of them over, and I liked what I saw.

5) There is a section called Rainforest Maths which also has games and activities broken down by grade levels, K-6.  My younger two liked doing these.

6) There are some other options within the parent account for some video demonstrations and other such stuff.

7) Many of the above activities will earn the kids coins, which can be used in the store to purchase stuff for their avatars.  All of my kids wanted to do at least something with this... to be able to get "the" right background, glasses, or hat.  My older boys were pretty uninterested in it after they did a minimal amount of upgrading.  My three younger ones do the math part so they can go shopping.  The shopping part does involve math though too.  Amazing how my 5 year old can manage to do subtraction of "big" numbers when he is trying to figure out how many more coins he needs in order to purchase the cool space background.  The 3rd grader even starts doing some simple division (how many 10 token activities do I need to do in order to have enough to get the ______?)

So, kid by kid, I'll talk about it a bit too.

Connor, age 12, doing algebra and geometry right now.  He started in the 7th grade program of Mathletics, found that incredibly easy, and moved to the 8th grade materials.  It is mostly review, but it is pretty quick and painless.  He loves the live competition, which is great as he can stand a bit more automaticity with his math facts.

William, age 11, is working at the 5th grade level.  He's found the math to be about perfect, but he really doesn't want to do it.  He wants to do the live competition, and it is like pulling teeth to get him to do some of the curriculum.  I think this is a great program for him though.  The reading required (this is my severely dyslexic one) isn't excessive.

Thomas, age 9, is working at the 3rd grade level. He likes basically everything.  He is collecting hats for his avatar, and backgrounds.  The math is going great, he likes the competition, and he plays some of the games.  The math is a great level for him -- easy enough that he doesn't get frustrated, hard enough to at least make him think.

Richard, age 5, worked through the kindergarten level in a few days, and is enjoying the 1st grade materials.  He loves spending money on stuff for his avatar.  He's pretty so-so about the live competition.

Trina, age 3, was terribly jealous that she wasn't doing this too.  When I let her try out some of the games, she did great.  So I ended up getting her a subscription too.  She adores buying things for her avatar.  She loves the games.  She's doing great with the curriculum part.  She insists on doing Rainforest Maths.  However, I don't plan to buy her a subscription.  Maybe when she is actually in kindergarten, we'll see.

Mom, age older than dirt, particularly loves the weekly reports that are emailed to me (you do have to opt-in to this, it is not automatic).  Very good detail, and I really get a sense for what they have worked on.  I like the mix of drill and games.  And I can access a fair amount of information about where they are through my parent account too.

A few things I don't necessarily like, though, too.  First is that there isn't an option to have the text of the math problems read to the child.  So that means kids who are not fluent readers do need help, at least some of the time.  It's an issue I run into for William all of the time.  He's got a great head for math and science, but it's tough to find things he can do that aren't teacher-intensive due to his reading lag.  Though I do have to say that he has done fairly well with the reading here.  But I think that is why he wants to do the competition and not the lessons.

Another minor gripe is that there is a limit as to how many times you can adjust the "grade level" of the curriculum.  I am assuming that limit is per year, in which case it is reasonable.  But it makes me nervous (or would if I had a one-year subscription) about choosing the right grade level.   Connor tends to move through math fairly quickly, and if I start him too low (very easy to do) and move him up, then up again, all in trying to get him placed right in the first place, suddenly, I've used a pretty good chunk of my allotment.  Given that he can then probably move through an entire grade in about two months, move again in another two months... well, I could easily run out of the ability to move him up.

Recommendation time:  I think this is a great set-up, with multiple ways of presenting the math to hopefully appeal to most kids.  If you have kids who only want to play games or do the live competition part, you can assign aspects of the curriculum to them so they have to do that first.  The price can be a bit steep, particularly for a larger family.  A one year subscription runs $59 per child, though right now (and at least through January), if you input 9 as the human calculator's favorite number, you get roughly $9 knocked off that.

I think this program is strongest at the upper elementary level, roughly 3rd-7th grades.  I don't think I will purchase a subscription for Connor (high school level), as there just isn't quite enough for him. Nor will I purchase one for Trina (though she'd be roughly 4, and is doing kindergarten math) as there isn't as much content and it requires too much hand-holding from me.

My 5th and 3rd graders, though, I am going to look very seriously at getting subscribed in 2010.  And I'll consider my kindergartner as well, though it would probably make sense to wait another year.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Mathletics at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive five 45 day subscriptions to Mathletics for free from 3P Learning.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter storm!

My parents came out to visit, choosing the timing specifically so they could go to the Court of Honor scheduled today.  Connor was to make Star rank and receive a couple merit badges.  William was to make Scout rank and receive a couple merit badges.

We drove into town, finding the weather to be a bit miserable as we got there (it wasn't at home!)  And fortunately, the Bear den leader called my cell phone to let me know that Cub Scouts had been cancelled due to the weather.  I wondered aloud to him about whether it was bad enough that Boy Scouts would be cancelled too.

But last winter, we were given this huge lecture about how neither rain nor snow... oh, wait, that was something else.  But we were told that Boy Scouts will not cancel for weather unless there is a truly severe situation, that even mild blizzards will not stop us from holding a meeting.  So I didn't think there was any danger, as we were certainly NOT in a blizzard.  The roads were merely a bit icy.

WRONG!!  I got a call back from Thomas' den leader, who had just spoken to another mom with both a Cub and a Boy Scout, and she mentioned that she had just gotten off the phone and Boy Scouts was called off as well.

How disappointing!  We proceeded to go out for dinner as planned (Texas Roadhouse, mmmm!), and I went shopping and headed home with the kids.

So, next week, Thomas has a Christmas party with the pack, and William and Thomas have a Court of Honor.  I have to bring food to both.  That's a bit of a hardship... especially as I couldn't exactly save the Scotch Chocolate Cake that I made today.  The kids enjoyed having this for ourselves though!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fill in the Blank Friday

I needed to post something! This grabbed me, don't know why...

The holiday movie I can't live without each year is It's a Wonderful Life.  But the holiday movie I could DEFINITELY do without is Christmas Vacation.

I could come up with some other things, I think, in the definitely do without category... but I haven't seen a lot of the recent movies.  Nightmare Before Christmas would probably make the list if I ever watched it, for instance.  And I saw someone list Die Hard as one of the best Christmas movies ever.  Uh, no.  It may be an okay movie, but a Christmas movie? Don't think so...

How about you?

MckLinky Blog Hop

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics, publisher of a series of CDs that aims to integrate classic stories with great orchestral music, sent me a copy of The Tortoise and the Hare to review.  I had listened to some of the sample clips on the website, and honestly I was not expecting to like this.  But when it arrived, I opened it up, took a look at the little booklet that comes in the CD, and I started to be more hopeful.
The Stories in Music series features a narrator backed by a symphony orchestra, and the goals listed on the first page of the booklet intrigued me.  Stephen Simon, the conductor and composer, is trying to teach families how to listen to music.  So this is about great stories, learning to listen, expanding musical horizons, and learning other things as well.

Looking through the booklet, there is great information on music -- such as a spread picturing the instruments of the orchestra, another page picturing the instruments in a Dixieland band, great pages on the types of notes, rests, and time signatures, and information about the contrabassoon.  There are pages about turtles & tortoises, and rabbits & hares.  The music and lyrics for the Pretzel Vendor of Paris, a song featured within the story, is included, along with some little activity pages like a dot-to-dot pretzel, a word jumble, and a crossword puzzle.  There are bios of the conductor/composer, the executive producer, and the narrator.

So, with a better attitude, I put in the CD.  It is just under an hour in length, and consists of the following:
  1. The Tortoise and the Hare.  This is roughly 21 minutes, and features a modern telling of the story, accompanied by the orchestra.  My kids are familiar with the story, but found this version interesting.  Especially with the music.  
  2. About the Story.  Three minutes of background on Aesop, including a reading of the 'original' tale, and some discussion about the moral.
  3. Pretzel vendor of Paris.  Two minutes.  
  4. About the Music.  Five minutes of the composer/conductor telling about the music.  This was fantastic.  He points out all kinds of interesting things about his choice of rhythm for the hare, or his choice of instrument for the tortoise (the contrabassoon), along with other interesting tidbits.
  5. Now That You Know a Little More.  This is track 1 over again, and it was great to listen to after hearing the previous track.
  6. Prepare to Perform.  Not even one minute... just an introduction to the next track.
  7. Pretzel Vendor of Paris Sing-Along.  This is just the accompaniment, so you can sing along.  Or more talented people than my family could sing along anyway.
This CD got two thumbs up from all of us.  My older kids especially enjoyed the composer's information.  My younger kids mostly liked the story.  Though Richard picked up on the French part.  He's becoming quite the little Francophile here.

What did I love?  I loved the vocabulary used.  Words like computed, exceedingly, fateful, confided, subject (as in "subject yourself to..."), preordained, optimistic, brow, admirable, perseverance, gait, and so on.  And a handful of French words that I couldn't possibly spell correctly.  The variety of music represented was fantastic too.  I loved listening to the "About the Story" and the "About the Music" tracks.

We liked it so well that I put other titles on a Christmas wish list.  And I found that my library has one of the titles... Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  So that was put on hold.  And it is amazing.  We learned about the difference between Irish and Scottish bagpipes, learned some fascinating things about Virginia Lee Burton and how she wrote books... I want to own this one, not just borrow it.

Check the Maestro Classics website for a list of titles, all of which are currently on sale at 3 for $45 with free shipping.  I have my heart set on The Story of Swan Lake, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and oh, I don't know what for a third one.  Coming soon:  A Soldier's Tale (Stravinsky), and My Name is Handel (Water Music).

Negatives?  I can't really think of any.  Unless you have kids that are 'too mature' for stuff like this... but I'd still recommend that you force it on them.  My tweens kind've rolled their eyes at me when I put Mike Mulligan on in the car (captive audience!), but they loved it once it got going.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Maestro Classics at:
Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this CD for free from Maestro Classics.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review: All About Spelling, Levels One and Two

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received Levels One and Two of All About Spelling, plus a starter kit.  I've been using All About Spelling since before they were All About Spelling (my Level One book has the title The Complete Guide to Teaching Spelling!) and I have blogged about it before, and I blogged about it in "The Perfect Program" too.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled to get these materials, especially as we've fallen away from using it.  It got to be a pretty big hassle with some other things we had going on in life, and somehow we just never picked it back up.

So, first... who we are.  My husband and I are both fairly mediocre spellers.  I'm probably better than he is, but I have certainly never won any spelling bees.  I was taught, like most people, with lists of unrelated words every week that I had to study just enough to be able to pass the test on Friday.  I was never given much for rules besides the "I before E" one, and some cute little tricks to help me with specific words -- "friends to the end" (though if you know I before E except after C, why do you need that?) and "the principal is your pal."

My kids, though, are abysmal spellers.  At least the three older guys.  The other two are still too young to tell.  A couple years ago, Connor was reading at a high school level, but his spelling ranked somewhere around a 2nd grade level.  That gigantic discrepancy drove me in search of something different, which is when I found All About Spelling.  William is severely dyslexic, and All About Spelling was a huge breakthrough for his reading ability.  That was even before I knew about Orton-Gillingham, or anything else along those lines.

I posted last February that I think most spelling programs out there are either meant for kids who can already spell, or they are designed for the convenience of classroom teachers.  I have found very few programs that are actually teaching spelling.  Most are practicing spelling.  Not at all the same thing.

All About Spelling teaches spelling.  I still believe that it is the best thing out there for teaching spelling.  Getting back to using it again in my household has reminded me of why I love it.  And I now have even more reasons.

The new book is so much better than what I started with!  And the starter pack?  Wow!  The magnets make a gigantically huge difference for using it with multiple kids.  The new phonogram CD is nicer than the old one.  And the student kits?  The cards are perforated now!  I spent significantly less time pulling the materials together this time around than when I first started.  The progress charts are 1000% better.  Wow, is all I can say...

Whoaaa... I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I received Levels 1, 2 and a starter pack.

Level 1, which I've used/am using with three kids so far (and I'll start Richard as soon as Thomas finishes it) starts off with learning the basic phonograms (like “a” says /a/, ay, ah).  You learn a whole bunch of phonemic awareness stuff (like breaking words up into the sounds...  cat is /k/ /a/ /t/).  And you start spelling words, beginning with basic short vowel words, one vowel at a time.  You learn about syllables.  Even though Connor could already spell every word in Level 1 before we started, he absolutely learned from his time doing it.  He learned *why* we write cat and not kat, or rock and not roc or rok.

Level 2, which I've used/am using with two kids so far (and Thomas will get there soon) starts off with a review, and then jumps into syllable work -- like division rules, and open and closed syllables.  The spelling rules deal with silent E, plurals, er, ar, or, and a bunch of other vowel sounds.

A typical lesson in my household would be something like this:
  1. Review concepts, using the various types of cards included in the student materials.  Review some specific concepts as per the script.
  2. New teaching, which is all scripted, where you spell with the tiles and you and the student do various things to illustrate the concept.  This could include introducing new cards, reading included charts, or other things.
  3. Go over new words, first using the tiles, then with the child writing them.
  4. Go over the "more words" section, which are usually more advanced words following the same rule.  I vary what I do with these words, depending on the kid and the day.  Sometimes I have them spell words orally, spelling bee style (including them asking me for a definition or origin).  Sometimes they read the words.  Sometimes we do more writing out of spelling words.
  5. Dictation -- there are phrases, and eventually both phrases and sentences.  I usually do dictation while I'm working on a meal.  The child sits on the floor in the kitchen and I take a look at each sentence in between chopping onions or whatever.  I go for about 5-10 minutes of dictation in total at one time.
  6. For Book 1, sometimes there is a story in the Beehive Reader (which is a separate purchase).
  7. If we introduced any homophones, I find the related pages in All About Homophones (another separate purchase -- I linked the e-book, which is what I prefer, as you can print out the individual pages as you need them, for everyone)

I also use this for reading practice, for everyone actually.  Connor doesn't need it, but it doesn't take him long either.  I'll back up a couple lessons and have the child read the phrases, or the sentences, or the 'more words' or the previous spelling words from the cards.

This sounds complicated when I write it all up.  But it isn't.  The greatest things about All About Spelling is that it requires very little prep time.  When you first get it, plan to spend an hour or so getting the tiles and cards set up (it was longer before the cards were perforated).  Spend 15 minutes reading the introductory materials.  And then you just start.

I spend ZERO time on teacher prep on a day to day basis.  The only thing I have to do to get ready for a lesson is to grab a dry erase marker out of the drawer, and figure out which card filebox  has the level I need.  (That would be an additional purchase -- you really do need one of those little 3x5 card boxes.  And some type of magnetic board, they recommend one that is 2’x3’.  Mine is 16”x22” and it really is too small, but it works.  Another 3-4” would make a world of difference.  2'x3' would be heavenly.)

The other teacher prep is that when a child finishes a level, I need to spend about 30 minutes getting the cards put back in order for the next child.

A huge plus for me has been how incredibly easy it is to adjust to the child.  Connor has been known to complete multiple “steps” (each book is divided into a couple dozen steps, or lessons) in a single day (particularly in Level 1).  Or we have spent a week or more on a single step.  It’s mastery-based.  Work on it until they know it, then move to the next step.

And it sticks.  After taking about a 5 month break, I insisted on backing up and going over steps we had already completed.  While there were a few phonograms that they had forgotten (does ‘ch’ say /ch/ /sh/ /k/, or /ch/ /k/ /sh/?), they really did not need the review of the spelling part of the lesson.  We covered multiple steps per day until we got back to where we left off in March.

The negatives?  

Cost.  At least compared to all the regular spelling programs out there, this is expensive.  Moreso if you start with an older child so that you will go through multiple levels in a schoolyear.  $30-$40 per level, times six levels, plus the starter kit at $27.  More if you purchase a student kit ($15-$20 per level) for each student.  (I don’t.  We don’t use the one or two consumable parts as consumables, and I make the next child in line wait for the kid ahead of him to finish a level before starting, so I never have more than one child in a level.  Very, very soon here, I will have kids in Levels 1, 2, 3 and 5.)  And if you get the reader and homophone books, that adds on to it as well.

A word on cost though -- in my household, we are using All About Spelling instead of another Orton-Gillingham program.  A program that runs more like $300 per level with 10 levels.  I can purchase everything currently available from All About Spelling for $264.60... that’s Levels 1-5, the starter kit, the reader, and the homophones e-book.  Level 6 will probably add another $40... so for about the same cost as ONE level of the other program, I can get everything from All About Spelling.  And I didn’t have to purchase it all at once either (well, I couldn’t... I’ve had to add the levels one at a time, as they came out).

Another word on cost -- I think many non-dyslexic kids could completely learn to read with this program also, so you don’t need to be purchasing a separate phonics program.  Richard has been informally using All About Spelling (playing with the CD that is in the starter kit, and working on the first couple lessons of Level 1 where they learn the phonograms of the 26 individual letters, and do phonemic awareness activities) and he reads at least a year ahead of grade level.  I have spent maybe 20 minutes “teaching” him to read outside of All About Spelling.  He may have done this without All About Spelling, I don’t know, but I am convinced that All About Spelling has made the difference.  Dyslexic kiddos, well, maybe this could be all the reading instruction they need.  It makes a fantastic base anyway.  I need to add on for William though.

Time.  This is not something you can just hand your child and have them do independently.  All of it involves one-on-one time with your child.  I spend 15 or so minutes per child per day.  That’s 45 minutes of my time right now, and it will be an hour shortly.  I will have Connor through the program before I start Trina, as I really don’t want that to turn into over an hour.  Now, some of that time is spent with me doing something else too, since phrase and sentence dictation happens while I cook or clean the kitchen.  

My recommendations?  If your child is a natural speller and is doing fine with what you have already, well, you probably didn’t read this far anyway.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  However, if your child struggles at all with spelling, I really do believe that All About Spelling could be the answer.  I know my spelling has improved dramatically, and I’m nowhere near working through the whole program.  My kids are doing so much better as well, and I now have the language to help them figure out many of their spelling errors.  Plus they have a great guarantee.  If you don’t love it, return it in the first year for your money back, no questions asked.  (To see the guarantee, put something in your shopping cart.)

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about All About Spelling at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.
Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this product for free from the vendor in question.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.