Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's New?

With us, you ask? Well, we made it through Christmas. It was wonderful to have my husband home for the first time in 8 years for the whole day! Visiting family was equally stressful and enjoyable. I don't know exactly how that is possible, but that is the best that I can explain it. We were home by 5 watching a movie (Hancock with Will Smith - the boys love Will Smith) and in bed by 8 (dh had worked 16 hours previous - he didn't get home until 8 a.m. Christmas morning). It was relaxing and fun to spend time with just the 5 of us.

Since then, I have been cleaning, storing new items, decluttering old junk and making goals for the new year. I love a new beginning! Today I cleaned my room and bathroom (not the closet, but that is another thing to tackle) and the boys bathroom. Even though the whole house isn't clean (when does that happen???) I feel refreshed and satisfied that all is good in the world. I am baking some cookies that Norman bought from a fundraiser.

If you know us in real life, you know that I have been struggling with a recent decision that my oldest son, Lee, has made. He wants to play football, but that requires him to attend our local public high school. So in 2.5 years, he will begin his freshman year away from home - unless, God willing, he changes his mind. So, I have had my emotions all over the place as I struggle with his decision. I am praying frequently! But I know that God is in control and capable of guarding and guiding my son, no matter where he spends his days.

For now, though, things are the same in my happy little world. I am choosing to go on and not allow this to drag me down. We are beginning a unit study in January that I am very excited about.

I have a giveaway that I will announce on Jan. 1st. You won't want to miss this, so make sure that you come back by! And bring a friend!

Have a happy day!

Question about the SchoolHouse Planner

The Schoolhouse Planner has blank planning pages so you can put in the dates to start it wherever you want. That is the great thing about it, it is totally customizable! I don't have my copy in front of me, but I believe that the "big" calendar pages (the only thing in it that is dated) goes through 2010, but like I said you can date your own monthly calendar pages so it will absolutely work after that.
Hope that helps you!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Alphabet Alley

I love products for little hands! I am thrilled to have been introducted to Alphabet Alley.

Christian Toys for little girls and boys! Alphabet Alley is a faith-based
company that produces high quality toys for the early childhood market. We use
all original graphics to illustrate solid values in a fun and entertaining way.
Children choose Alphabet Alley products because they are fun! Parents, teachers
and schools choose Alphabet Alley products for their educational, motivational
and spiritual values.

The 2 products that we have had the opportunity to play with are the Noah's Ark God Fish Card Game and the Two By Two Matching Game. Both are made from sturdy, high quality materials. The Two By Two Matching Game pieces are perfect for little hands and there aren't too many pieces, just enough! The Two By Two Matching Game has received The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval for 2008. The little critters on the pieces are sooo cute!!!! Both of the games have been well received here!

I know that Christmas is over, but we all need gifts/resources throughout the year, so I encourage you to take a look at Alphabet Alley the next time that you are looking for something for "little hands".

Math Mammoth

Blue Series

I was blessed to be asked to review the Blue Series of workbooks for Math Mammoth. The Blue Series of workbooks is arranged topically and is meant to supplement an existing math program. We found the workbooks very helpful and well laid out. A topic (such as multiplication) was presented sequentially. Plenty of examples were given as well as multiple practice problems. I think that they approach for memorizing math facts is very reasonable. I am not sure why I never thought of that!!!

The Blue Series is available for grades 1-5, but works with older children who are in need of review. I think that the books are very affordable (multiplication 1 was $4.95) and you may use them multiple times within your family. I received my copies via ebook download, but they do have them printed as well (for additional cost).

Math Mammoth produces other math products, including a full math curriculum. They offer a free tour of their website so make sure to check them out if you are in need of some math assistance.

Critical Thinking

Building Thinking Skills Level 2

Critical Thinking is a company dedicated to helping parents teach their children to think effectively. When their catalog comes in the mail I study it like it was a final exam. LOL We have been using Building Thinking Skills Level 2 all year with my son Lee. The workbook enables children to think through an idea or situation and teaches them how to express what they are thinking. The book begins with different shapes in different positions. The student is asked to describe the shapes and their relationships to each other. Each exercise is short and fun.

We have used many other of Critical Thinking's products over the years as well. Math Detectives encourage students to take a concept that they have learned and to apply it to daily "real life" situations. Reading Detective helps students to expand reading comprehension and encourages children to pay attention to where the information is at in the reading selection. Punctuation Puzzlers teaches proper punctuation with funny little riddles.

Critical Thinking provides different products for grades preK-12. Many of their products are available as workbooks or computer software. Building Thinking Skills Level 2 is for grades 4-6 and is available for $29.99

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We are one of many.....

who are currently under ice.

Gotta love ice, I suppose. It comes quietly and looks beautiful.....and causes untold damage. We are very blessed this time, that the power stayed on. Norman tried to get to work, thought better of it rather quickly and called in for bad roads; the first time in over 8 years. Enjoying an evening with daddy is such a hardship :)

Daddy is doing baby Bear duty (nap, supper, bath and playtime). And he blessed me by helping with supper (hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and green beans). Greg and I had strawberries and whipped cream as dessert.

We are snug as bugs in a rug.....safe, warm and ready for Christmas.
I pray that your family is also safe and warm. I pray that you all remember the real reason for this season of family and celebration.

Next week I will ponder goals for the new year (I prefer goals over resolutions!).
Have a Merry Christmas!!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I am sure that most of us have had the opportunity to enjoy a puppet show somewhere (ask me about Nemo!). Some of us have even had the opportunity to use puppets. I love puppets! Kids love puppets! I would like to introduce you to Puppetools, an online resource for parents, teachers and students to enhance the use of puppets in your Sunday school class, educational group or homeschool!

Puppetools is a collection of puppet examples, ideas for integration with a subject and patterns. There are HUNDREDS of examples and patterns available for download/print. Any kind of puppet that you would possibly need is available here. The ideas for use were invaluable. I never imagined that puppets could be used in so many different ways/circumstances. Members also have access to a message forum. Members can share the different ways that they have used puppets, therefore allowing everyone access to all the ideas! Fantastic! I think that is the best part of the website, but I like to pick people's brains :)

Here is the list of benefits and costs from the Puppetools website:

COST / BENEFITSSubscriptions Overview
1) $20.00 TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION: Designed for INDIVIDUAL USERS who just want
2) $99.00 REGULAR SUBSCRIPTION (up to 30 users) Designed for small &
large GROUPS such as families, home schoolers, classrooms, scout troops, 4-H,
entire schools, and non-profit organizations with educational missions. This is
the best way to derive the greatest benefit as the group subscriptions as up to
30 people can share the cost and enjoy the ride. Need access for more users? No
Problem -- you can simply add more users anytime in lots of 50 and the cost can
be as low as $2.00 PER USER for an entire year. The purchaser (account owner)
may assign up to 15 administrators per account --all other users will receive
regular access.
Subscription Details
* 1 year to train and master Puppetools - the "Language of Play"
* Access Puppetools' online Educator Work Area* Access Puppetools'
exclusive practitioner video library
* Access extensive research on play and education
* Access hundreds of puppet images, concepts, and patterns
* Access readings from the 200 page Puppetools Manual
* Access our global community forums - learn with teachers around the
* Put Puppetools to work in just days--for many it's just overnight
* Learn fast, flexible puppet design and construction--in just
* Discover how a single paper hinge creates a limitless resource
* Engage playful, energized conversation for lessons and activities /all
* Use puppet know-how and techniques without acting, scripts, or
* Effectively harness Play and spark motivation, participation, and
* Discover the deep impact of play on students and teachers

It is my understanding, however, that an annual FAMILY membership is only $20 a year! Check out the website and be sure to ask Mr. Peyton if you have any questions about this great resource.

Avoiding Homeschool Burnout

I am suffering from homeschool burnout.

This tends to happen every year around this time, so I thought that I would share some ways that I am able to overcome and finish the year with a florish - maybe my suggestions will help you finish your year with a BANG!

1. Take a Break - Our homeschool will be taking a break from Dec. 24- Jan. 3. Feel free though to take a break any time of the year. It is better to take a few days off than to drive yourself - and the kids - bonkers!

2. Mix things up a little - A little change in your routine can do wonders for everyone. Typically we do history/science/geography/read-aloud in the afternoons. For the month of January we will be doing these topics during the morning and math/spelling/english in the afternoon. Life wouldn't work this way all the time, but a change for a bit is good for everyone.

3. Throw in a unit study - We tend to study history chronologically (loosely anyway) and science topically. During January we are going to ditch our history, science, geography and english programs and do a unit study. This year we are going to use Further Up and Further In to study through The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis. (Review to come soon)

4. Try to get outside - As homeschool mothers I think we have a tendency to chain ourselves to our homes. There are always things to do; lessons to prepare, clothes to wash, floors to sweep, things to dust. It is important for us to get OUT. Go to the park or nature area. Visit the library or YMCA. Sit in the yard. Throw snowballs at your kids (if you get snow!). Find something to do outside the 4 walls of your home. I guarantee that your outlook will be improved when you return......and all your chores will be patiently waiting for you!

I hope that these ideas inspire you to continue on. Keep running the race! Your children will grow up too fast.....make every moment count.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crayola Art Studio

from Core Learning

Crayola Art Studio is a digital art platform. The artist can create with paint, pencil, chalk, crayons or markers. Greg, my budding artist, enjoyed exploring the different mediums while creating his masterpieces.

Core-learning also produces other educational software, including math and language arts, art and creativity and health. There are demos of their software selections on their website.

We prefer hands-on materials for art (well, not me, but Greg does), so the program didn't excite us the way it would have a computer oriented person. Greg did have fun with it and it was very easy to use. Core Learning has several other programs that looked interesting and easy to use as well. Take a peek at what they have and give one of them a try!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Current News

Hello everyone!
No this isn't a review post. This is a "just about us" post. Maybe you like the others better? Oh well!
We are doing very well. We are thankful to be over that nasty stomach flu. Christmas cookies are baked, Christmas decorations are out and Christmas presents are bought (and almost all wrapped). Norman and I agree that is a 1st for us. We are usually scrambling for something that last week before Christmas. Now if we buy anything else it will be "just because". We also have Christmas plans hashed out. Norman is off on Christmas this year! That hasn't happened in several years. So we are going to my parents at noon and his mom's in the evening. Christmas cards are mailed. Christmas cheer has been spread. We have much to be grateful for this year!

The weather here has truly been frightful. Ice, ice everywhere! We are supposed to get more today and rain on top. Snow on Sunday and Monday. Might actually have a white Christmas. I know it is hard to believe, but that rarely happens where we live in IL.

The boys are growing like little weeds. We are buckling down in school after I realized some gaps that needed filled. Little Bear is a busy little fellow. Yesterday I turned on the radio and he was "dancing" with his dad's shoe on backwards. Lee and I laughed until we about fell over. He is such a ham. Every day I thank God for my boys. I realize that soon they won't be here sharing my days with me. That is a lonely thought!

I guess that is enough about me for a while. Expect some more reviews over the next few days. I have several to get done before the end of the year and am hoping to "piggy-back" them so that I have a week off. Sorry if you don't want to read them......I will think of some thing better to talk about soon.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Assessment and Learning - K-12 and Higher Education Tutor in Math

ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) can provide you with
the instruction and support you need to homeschool your children in mathematics
for grades 3-12. ALEKS is accessible from virtually any computer with
Internet access, making it a flexible and mobile educational solution for your

ALEKS is a Research-Based Online Math Program:
Complete Curriculum
Solution for Math - One Subscription Allows Access to All Courses
Textbook Required
Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
Automated Reports
Monitor Learning Progress
Unlimited Online Access - PC & Mac Compatible

Our family had the opportunity to try out Aleks for one month. We have been blessed beyond belief by this opportunity. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but Aleks surpassed my wildest expectations.

After signing up for Aleks, your child will be given an assessment test (the parent will determine what level to place the child - that can be changed later). The beginning of the test walks the student through using Aleks. Both of my boys had no trouble. Then the test, 20-30 questions. If they don't know the answer there is a button for "haven't learned that yet". The children aren't graded during the assessment. Afterwards, a graph shows what they know and what they need to work on in that level.

During the actual learning portion there were Quick Tables in level 3 (I think also in level 4 and 5). These are fact drills. They are "timed". This frustrated Lee but Greg took to it really quick and at the end even Lee had to admit that they were fun. I let them work on these for 15 mins. and then moved them on to the lesson. The student will only work on the things that were indicated in their assessment. You or the student can decide the order. A problem is presented and an explanation of the problem is available. Then practice problems are given until the lesson is mastered. At that time the student can move to the next skill. If you need to quit, the program remembers where you are and you can pick up where you left off next time.

It is very easy to see the gaps in math knowledge with this program. I knew that we had some gaps, but I honestly had no idea how many! The boys didn't seem to have any problem working through their lessons. I did stay available to help, but wasn't needed very much.

Aleks can be accessed from any computer (home, library, etc.). It is very easy to use. There are parent reports and parents can request that the student be re-assessed at any time. The only flaw I found was that as you work through the skills, there doesn't seem to be any review of previously taught material. This isn't a problem if Aleks is used as a supplement, but should be considered if you are wanting to use it as a complete math program.

Aleks also has levels for higher math learning. I briefly tried out the Fundamentals in Accounting. I was an accounting major in college. I failed the assessment miserably! But the lessons seemed to be well explained and thorough.

A subscription to ALEKS is
$19.95 per student, per month, or
only $99.95 every 6 months, or
only $179.95 every 12 months
Family discounts are available.

Aleks is offering my readers a Free One Month trial (rather than the 48 hr. trial offered on their website). If you are looking for some help with math, I urge you to go over and give them a try!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems

Trigger Memory Systems are the producers of Times Tales and Clean-n-Flips.

These are wonderful systems. Times Tales uses a story format to help children visually and mnemonically memorize their multiplication tables. I can't explain exactly how it works, but just reading through the story in the prescribed manner over the course of a few days really seems to help my children recall their facts.....even the hard to remember ones. The creator suggests that children as young as six can learn their multiplication facts effortlessly. The story seems a little immature to my 11 year old, but he seems to be helped by it as well.

The Clean and Flips are visual chore charts. Each room is broken down into different steps and there are check boxes so that your child can mark when he is finished with a particular step. Each step has a picture so that non-readers can use the charts as well. Everything is nicely laminated and well made, so that they will last the abuse that our household gives. One chart has the kitchen, bathroom and living room, another children's bedrooms and yet another for laundry. The charts even came with a dry-erase marker for easy marking/removal.

I am very impressed with these products. Times Tales is available for $29.95. Both may be viewed at the Trigger Memory Systems website.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Little Man in the Map

The Little Man in the Map
written by E. Andrew Martonyi
Published by Schoolside Press
Available on the publishers website for $19.95

The Little Man in the Map is a unique book the teaches US geography using visual clues on the United States map. Beginning with "the little man", formed by Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, we learn the rest of the 50 states relating their position to the "little man". I admit, that I haven't ever noticed the "little man" but this is definately a unique way of using visual clues to learn a sometimes difficult subject.

A teacher's manual is in the works. I was able to preview the unfinished version and find that there are many interesting and detailed activities for a wide-range of grade levels. With the use of the teacher's manual, I think that this is a comprehensive USA geography program.

Also, the author has a BLOG, where he shares interesting tidbits of information relating to the book.

You can see more about this book (or order a copy) at Schoolside Press. They are also offering Free Shipping right now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waiting for Bed

Silly title, huh?

I am printing out tomorrow's bulletin for church so decided I would check in. Today I cleaned the house, fixed lunch, did laundry, baked a pecan pie (yummy), sorted coupons, wrote a review, read another book (for review) and addressed Christmas cards. If you are expecting a Christmas card from me, it will be to you by the end of the week (I am waiting for stamps).

Tomorrow we are going to participate in a candle-light service at a neighboring church. I haven't ever been before but friends say it is a wonderful experience. I am excited. Somehow, I feel more "Christmasy" this year. I guess I am usually so frazzled and busy that I forget to just experience the feelings of Christmas. I am so thankful for online shopping! I am done shopping and ready to go :) I am also getting to do all the little "Christmas" things that sometimes seem to get overlooked. There just seems to be less stress this year. I am very thankful for that.

Next week, we are spreading Christmas cheer at my mom's. The boys are going to put up her tree and then we will bake some cookies.

Printing is done. I need to hit the sack. Have a blessed evening!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nasty Stomach Bug

I had heard it was going around, but was hopeful we would somehow miss it. No such luck. Since Tuesday, one or all of us have had it. Greg was last but seems to be the quickest to recover. Praising God for that! We may all be well enough to make a trip to town this afternoon.

So, today I am cleaning up. I have the dishwasher running and a load of laundry going. Bear took all the books off the bookshelf while all the rest were sick (he was sick Tues. and feeling good by the time it hit mom and dad!) so I got most of them put back up. The living room is still cluttered, but that's ok. We have lived there for over 2 days :)

I need to make a batch of oatmeal cookies. Dh ate the ones for my neighbor plates last night. He was feeling better!

Thankfully most of my shopping is done! T-2 weeks till Christmas. The kids are so excited!

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Spears Art Studio Inc.

K-8 Christian Art Curriculum

I will admit.......I have been sitting on this one. Now, I really wish that I hadn't!

I am not an artsy person. Hated art class, art appreciation, art museums....everything to do with art. My idea of "art class" is to hand the boys colored pencils and a how-to-draw book and hope all goes well with them. I know it isn't right, but that is how it goes.

****Before you decide that I am a rough heathen of the worst order, I love to sing, play flute, and create using fabric and yarn. I love to sew and knit and frequently "play" with patterns. I cannot, however, paint, draw or sculpt. It always ends badly.****

Diane Spears led me through understanding why, as a Christian, we should study and produce art. She encourages me to "relate art, its appreciation and skills to my relationship to God and His Word." I hadn't ever thought of art as a ministering tool, but she encourages me to see the hearts of my children through the art they create.

Diane has created a completely comprehensive teacher's manual. She explains everything, giving a lot more information than the student needs just for the benefit of the teacher. All the art terms are defined and she includes a complete scope and sequence for K-8. Each month has a theme and the projects revolve around that theme (included a theme scripture for each month). The projects increase in difficulty and understanding so the curriculum can be used every year K-8 without the student repeating a project. She uses materials that are readily available to limited budgets. Basic art supplies (good paper, crayons, colored pencils) will accomodate most projects.

I was relieved to see that she included evaluation criteria and tools. Not only do I evaluate the student's work, but the students are encouraged to evaluate their own work (at grade 8) and the class is encouraged to critique the work of others. Diana includes resources and guidelines for doing this as well.

Art history assignments are woven into the themes. Diane encourages the use of art available at the library or on internet. The assignments have a certain piece listed, but others may be substituted if necessary. Recipes for baker's clay, glue glaze and other "art supplies" are included in the manuel.

The lessons revolve around a calendar school year (Sept. - May) but don't necessarily need to be used that way. Diane allows for major holidays and the art opportunities that are presented at that time.

I previewed the lessons for December and January. In December all students are instructed in making an advent calendar. Weekly lessons include creating a picture of mother and child, lessons in learning about lines, patterns and color (stained glass for older grades) and ornament and gift projects. I really wish that I would have previewed this before now! We are going to start working on some of these before Christmas.

The theme in January is snow. Each grade will produce different pictures folowing different technique and style guidelines. Students are instructed in how to draw winter trees and also in how to use shape and color. Grade 8 uses a paper quilt square to do this. I can even do that!!!! Different painting techniques are also explored.

This curriculum is very thorough and complete. I am actually excited to begin an art program here in our home. The amazing thing is that all of this instruction is contained on a CD-rom disk. Isn't that amazing!!!!!

Diane also offers high school curriculum and supplies on her website. The cost of the K-8 CD-rom is $39.95 shipping included. The curriculum is also available in hard copy.

Feel free to check out the free samples available at her website as well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Vision Forum Sale Ends Tomorrow!!!!

Just a reminder, if you were wanting to check out Vision Forum's 50% off sale (and $5 shipping!) then Dec. 5 is the last day!

I am such a Vision Forum fan. They have great gifts for boys....manly gifts and the quality is always spectacular. Be sure not to miss the sale :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jealousy and Envy - At What Cost to Your Family?

Today I was reading James (chapter 4) with the boys during Bible study. The discussion was about jealousy and envy and how these can destroy relationships.

As humans we have needs. Then we have wants. Generally our needs don't get us into to much trouble as there is very little that we truthfully need. Food (beans, rice and water), shelter (not a mansion) and clothing (thrift store will do) are the basic needs for life. Where we, as humans, get into trouble is with our wants. We want better food. We want a nicer house. We want fancy clothes. And then there are the gadgets! The biggest problem with this occurs when we see our neighbor with a new car, home improvements or larger grocery budget (not to mention that new ipod, cell phone or laptop computer). How does that make us feel?

Are we thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed on them? Do we compare situations and find ourselves wanting?

The commercialization of our culture doesn't usually make the situation any better. We can see the new things just as soon as they are created. The TV/Radio makes sure to tell us that we NEED the newer option.

I have noticed in my life that envy and jealousy can have a very negative impact on my family. I see another family buy that new vehicle and I begin nagging my husband for a new one as well. A relative builds a beautiful new house and suddenly mine looks shabby in comparison. As the wife I get to choose how that makes my husband feel.

Husbands of a one-income family have a very large burden to bear, right off the bat. They must shoulder all the responsibility for finances. If they are sick, disabled or layed off then who will care for their family? Who will take care of the NEEDS of that family?

This morning, I was praying and began thinking about James 4. Envy and jealousy cause quarrels among people. They are the source of anger. The jealousy that a wife can feel can also destroy a hard working husband. We must always be careful that our actions and words affirm the blessings that God is giving us through our husbands. We must be very careful when speaking or referring to the blessings of others, that we don't speak ill of the blessings that our husbands have given us. If you have your 3 basic needs met, in any form, then you are very blessed indeed. Other things in life are just icing on a very good cake. If we are blessed to receive those things - what a blessing!

Thank you is a simple thing to say and I really believe that we should be saying it more often. Especially to our husbands.

Have a good night!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rime to Read

Is your child having trouble learning to read?

If the problem is with short vowels, then I would like to introduce you to Rime to Read. Rime to Read is a series of short books, each focusing on one short vowel sound. If your child cannot read the short vowel word, then they can click on it and the computer will read it to you. The books can also be printed out, for use when the computer isn't available. The words rime, making it easier for your child to decode them. All sight words are listed in the back of each book and if your child doesn't recognize them, then you will need to read them to him/her.

I think that this program might be helpful for very beginning students. The parent must be active in the learning process (reading sight words). I find them useful for practice but not as a complete program.

If you have a beginning reader, check Rime to Read out for yourself and see if it is something that might help you.