Springtime Sunshine

It seems like I’ve been anticipating springtime sunshine for far too long.

You know the kind.  It’s the golden-glow type of sun that hits you square in the face first thing in the morning.  It casts a beautiful warm hue over everything, even though it’s still a tad frosty out there until late morning.

I LOVE this time of year.   buds

I actually truly appreciate all of the seasons, but because springtime marks the end of our period of relative hibernation, I get extra excited.   Springtime means that trees are budding, my veggies are sprouting (check out my garlic scapes reaching up and into fruition) and my laundry is making its way back out to the clothesline.   Line dried sheets anyone?  (Inhale….  Exhale….)   Ah.  Nothing like ’em.

garlic sprouts (2)

sheets on the line

I also see it as another time to restart.   For me, it happens in September with the new school year, and it happens again in January when we hang our new calendars.  But April always seems the perfect time to figure out where we are this year, and where to go for the next 8 weeks or so before we kick our reduced (but not school-free) summer schedules into effect.

sunshine through the window

So here’s to putting away the snow pants, bringing out the bikes, soaking up the vitality of the sun, and appreciating the newness of the season.

Happy Springtime, Everyone!

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The Mission of Motherhood

I love great messages of inspiration. 

I write them out, put them on my fridge, write them on my chalk board, highlight them in my bible.  I draw so much strength and focus from a handful of otherwise ordinary words put together to deliver a powerful message and hit you square in the face when you need it. 

We need reminders as Mamas. 

They come to us in a variety of forms at a variety of times for a variety of reasons.  This one came to me a couple years ago and it’s been resting at eye level on my fridge, right in my face where I can draw from it daily.   It just sums it up so perfectly for me, my family, and our desire to follow Christ.     

And the fundamental mission of motherhood now is the same as it always was:

         to nurture, protect, and instruct children,

         to create a home environment that enables them to learn and grow,

         to help them develop a heart for God and his purposes,

         and to send them out into the world

                      prepared to live both fully and meaningfully

It’s up to us to embrace that mission as our own,

         trusting God to walk us through the details

         and to use our willing mothers hands as instruments of his blessing.

Sally Clarkson from The Mission of Motherhood

Amen to that! 

This post has been linked Finer Things Friday over at Amy’s Finer Things.  

Curriculum Review: The Mystery of History (early input)

Aside from some unit studies we have done over the years, we didn’t really have a history ‘curriculum’ at all.   But the kids were expressing an interest in learning more, and frankly, I was interested in teaching more.  So, I started to explore some options for history. 

I had heard some great things about Story of the World and was *this close* to buying it, but a bunch of feedback on some biblical inaccuracies held me back.  After a couple of months of hesitation, I discovered and ultimately chose The Mystery of History.   I didn’t personally know anyone who had used either, so I was only going on the basis of what I had read.   Perhaps the comments on Story of the World were unfounded, but with a the lack of such comments for The Mystery of History, and my desire to remain as biblically accurate as possible, I knew the choice was clear. 

We are taking our sweet time working through this book.  We don’t do a lesson every week.  At some points we don’t do lessons for a few weeks, and then we do a few all at once.   But it fits well with my desire to meander through our studies based on our interests and for that it is perfect! 

What I bought: 

  1. One BIG book (detachable, reproducible pages)
  2. The Audio CDs  (basically an audio book of the lessons)
  3. One CD of printables (maps and such)

Major Highlight:  The biggest ‘plus’ with this program that it begins with Creation and goes from there.  As a product of the traditional school system and a Christian, I grew up knowing both histories, but like many, compartmentalized them.  One history was one I learned at church, from my family and by reading my bible.  The other I learned at school.   I knew they coexisted in reality, but to see them laid out this way has been a real awakening for me.   It’s all interwoven in a way I’ve never seen before.  Isn’t Stonehenge way more interesting when you realize it was created about 80 years before Abraham?  

Here’s my run-down of positives thus far:

  • Right off the bat, I REALLY appreciated being able to print the necessary pages for my kids and put them in binders.  That’s a cost saver that I really do appreciate, and it allows the kids the ability to mark up their own versions. 

Okay, so speaking of ‘marking up,’ when we first started, this is how Caleb highlighted the important parts.  His comment:  “They’re ALL important parts!”   So, like the good teacher-mama I am, I showed him how to really highlight (hence the blue lines among the green). 

  • I love the audio CD option.  The author reads the text herself and speaks with some slang that seems to allow the kids to better relate to her (but thankfully not too much slang).  She has a nice, calm voice and speaks with interest and excitement.  The kids read along and highlight as they wish.
  • What we have done so far has been riveting.  Seriously.  We all love it.  
  • The lessons are long enough to incorporate what needs to be there, but short enough to maintain interest.  For the topics that really pique the kids’ curiosities, we take little detours to uncover more of what’s interesting to us.  (Example:  From Ancient Egypt, we watched a great PBS documentary on Netflix about The Great Sphynx.   The kids lit up with excitement about what they knew from their MOH studies, shouting out facts toward the television.  Cute.) 
  • The material is suitable for all student ages.  The activities are broken into Younger, Middle School and Older students.  Rather than pick the age group, I read all the activities and pick the one that is most relevant  the student.  Or I may allow them to choose from 2 or 3 of them.  My 11-year-old has completed activities of all three levels, for example, based on what I think he’d like.  The idea is to maintain their interest while  learning, so we go with whatever achieves that goal. 

(Gabe and his Ziggurat:)

  • There is a great pre-test before every set of 3 lessons.  We love the ability to do this as a written exercise or verbally, as it’s simply an idea of gauging how much they already know.   It’s very helpful as the teacher to know where to fill in the blanks.
  • Similarly, there is a regular “What Did you Learn?” quiz to help us mama-teachers determine what parts were missed and might need a recap.  In these cases, it’s nice to develop something fun (tactile) to tie to the item missed.  It will help for recall. 
  • I really appreciate that the author says right from the get-go that there is no need to memorize dates, except for a handful of really key historical markers.   This keeps it realistic, and focussed on what’s important, because really, isn’t it more about what happened (and in what context) than the exact year? 
  • There are additional activities to add to the learning.  One is a time line (where we create little figures to stick on a board and track the chronology of things).  We have been creating our figures but haven’t put them up anywhere, mostly for lack of wall space.  (I’m working on a portable option.)  The other is a memory box of cards with a few hints about each lesson.  This will be a great tool for review and study of the key important dates and monumental points in history.  Although we divide up the timeline characters between the children (so we have one master timeline) the kids each have their own memory box of cards.  I expect that as we continue through the future levels of this curriculum, they can still use their box as a valuable reference. 
  • The maps are great!  There’s nothing like building a geography lesson into history. 
  • Of course, there is flexibility in all the materials.  Since I’m a rather eclectic homeschooler, I don’t like to follow too rigid a routine to educate my children.   We are going along at approximately one-third the pace of what’s suggested in the book, and I’m more than fine with that.  In fact, I prefer it. 

A flexible schedule provides the ability to ‘chase rabbits’ and have our learning take us down a path that, although off-schedule, allows us to enrich our learning with discoveries and experiences that will stick out in our minds long after the books are closed and back on the shelf. 

 It’s been a joy!

Here’s my run-down of negatives thus far:

  • …*crickets chirping*…
  • Nope, can’t come up with any yet.  

 Oh, what fun we’ve had with this one!  I’m excited to finish up the first quarter (probably in the late June).   I told you we were taking our sweet time.

This post has been linked to The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.    Click on over to read more reviews from more moms on more wonderful curriculum options!

Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

 

I love when my homeschool curriculum catalogue arrives in the mail.  I get excited over flipping through the 150 pages, subject by subject, making notes with my highlighter about things I want to consider, or at least research a bit further.  I love it.  It makes me giddy. 

But the best input doesn’t come from the publisher.  It comes from hearing from people who have used it in the homeschooling of their own children.  So, I was happy to see Toni’s Curriculum Review Round-Up  over at The Happy Housewife this week.  

I hope my perspective and experience can be of help to someone shoveling through the enormous heap of options. 

For the first several years of teaching math, I had put together a cobbled mix of workbooks and word problems.  I knew that at some point when they were older, say, algebra level, we’d be best to purchase a program, but that was a few years away and we were doing just fine… at first. 

When I started to see the kids getting frustrated, and desperately wanting to avoid math altogether, I knew I needed to try something else.   I found the ‘something else’ bit quite overwhelming, as there are so many options out there.   But when I raised the question with some fellow homeschoolers at our kids’ drama class one day, Math-U-See received accolade after accolade.  I decided to give it a go.  

The program includes placement tests on its website and suggests where the child should begin.  However, since it was a decidedly different approach to math, I thought it would be best for my kids to go back one level and start there.  If they got it, they’d breeze through it (fine by me to skip questions and pages), but I didn’t want to potentially miss something important.  I wanted to lay the groundwork.  

That was over 2 years ago and we haven’t looked back!    Gabriel (11) is now on Epsilon (fractions) and Caleb (8) is on Gamma (multiplication). 

Overall, (FOR US) I would say a typical math lesson looks like this:

  • Watch DVD (usually twice… it’s only a few minutes long)
  • Test it out with manipulatives, discuss level of understanding and watch for lightbulbs (we usually use a white board for this part)
  • Assign lesson pages (usually 2) and review pages (usually 2) – be there to help along the way
  • End of lesson

Note:  For concepts that I believe will be more challenging, I will check work as they go along through their lesson pages.   Otherwise, I check the 2+2 pages at another time (usually minutes before the next math lesson while they’re working on something else) and depending on how well (or poorly) they mastered (or didn’t master) the concept, we will work through the incorrect questions, correcting them, before continuing on to the final lesson page and the final review page. 

Most days, we spend 1 hour on math.  Some days it’s 20 minutes.  Some days it’s 2 1/2 hours.  I try not to stifle it if they want to keep going.  And I try to move on if it’s a day we’re just not feelin’ it.  

I truly believe that kids will learn when they are open to being taught, and we all have days when we’re just. not. into it. 

Upsides

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, two BIG ones come to mind:

1)  The sequential building of skill upon skill, bit by bit.  Each lesson contains 3 ‘lesson’ pages and 3 review pages.  The review pages are especially critical in making sure they keep up the previous skills.  

2)  The manipulatives are wonderful – the program wouldn’t be effective without them.  They help children (and adults, frankly) to understand the WHY and HOW behind the what.  This is huge in my mind.  It’s wonderful to see the lightbulbs go off in my kids eyes when they master a new concept by seeing it, saying it and doing it with the blocks and fraction overlays. 

But of course, there are many other upsides:

  • There is great flexibility in how we use the program.  In line with our entire approach to homeschooling, we do math on the days we feel like it, skip it on the days we don’t.  When we do math, we spend more time on some lessons than others (I will make up or pull additional questions from the website if needed), and conversely, we’ll skip many pages if there is no need to do them.  I don’t want my children to be bored with math, so there’s no point drilling into them something they already know.  This program works very well with my homeschooling philosophy. 
  • The program is filled with tricks to make things easier.  I’m telling you, there are tricks in there that I WISH I had learned in school.  I can’t imagine how much less frustrated I would have been knowning some of these things.  And that says a lot since I was a pretty good student.  For all the kids that struggled and stressed and agonized… ?  Ugh… this would have likely saved them all of that. 
  • Being from Nova Scotia, we were thrilled that MUS was available with a Canadian version, using kilometers and meters as appropriate. 
  • There are lots of word problems, which I think is WONDERFUL!  The math requirements in real life don’t come to us in the form of neatly printed numerical questions.  They come to us in real life terms and force us to figure out what kind of math to use to answer the question.  Math U See is great in this regard. 
  • I love that someone else is teaching the lesson.  Let’s face it, as a homeschooler, we get LOADS of face-time with our kids.  🙂  And the 5ish minute DVD segment allows me to do something else with another child while one is watching Steve.  We usually watch each lesson twice, so the student can be extra sure he gets it (and so I can pay attention at some point to). 
  • Yes… Steve Demme.  He’s great!  The kids really enjoy him. 
  • The skip counting songs are really helpful.  When my kids are stuck, I hear them singing the song for the appropriate multiple.
  • There is a lot of Teacher material.  I choose not to read most of it, though I do use it as a reference when needed.  I’m sure that as we start to get into the higher levels, this material will become much more valuable.  (I did have to read up a bit on multiplying, dividing fractions for my 11 year old).
  • There is also a test booklet which we tend to use later in the year.   I prefer to see how they recall a concept later, since I can see from their workbook marks how they are doing as they go.  Sometimes I’ll test quarterly, but mostly, I test when I think they are ready for one.   (Again with the flexibility.) 
  • The program runs up to Grade 12 Calculus.  I don’t know if we’ll be homeschooling then, but if we are it’s nice to know we can continue with this amazing program if we coninute on in this (thus far remarkable) journey.
  • I see they have added a Stewardship Course:  “A Christian approach to personal finance and consumer math.”   This sounds GOOD!!! 
  • As an added bonus, the manipulatives have been great fun for my 4 year old who is eager to “do school” with her older brothers.  A cute workbook and use of the blocks makes her (and her mama!) very happy indeed!  

 The Downsides

  • Though I appreciate keeping the costs low, it would be nice if the workbooks were a bit more exciting for the kids… especially in the lower levels.  Colour would be nice, but even a few cartoons would help.  It hasn’t been a complaint of the children, but I think it would be more fun for the littles. 
  • The Candian version should eliminate the other imperial measures… like gallons and pints.  Our juice, ice cream, and gas are measured in litres, so this bit has been hard for my kids to visualize, though we’re working around that. 

And a story to share:

My Aunt homeschooled her children for a number of years before they entered the public school system.  They also used Math-U-See very successfully, and her son really struggled with the subsequent concepts in math after hitting highschool.  He came home one day and told his mom how he wished they used Math U See in the school system, becuase it just made so much more sense!  

Oh, and another:

There is a great study posted on their site about scores among Special Education students in Albuquerue.  Check this out! 

Both stories lead me to believe that MUS doesn’t have to be just for homeschoolers.  It can be for any student who needs a boost in this area. 

Heck, even MY math has been boosted because of it!   🙂

This post has been linked to The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.   (Thank you Toni for gathering so many of our experiences in one place!  It’s going to be fun reading what everyone has to say about various subjects, in preparation for next year!)

Anticipation

 

Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best —

and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.                                         — Winnie the Pooh

 

Spring.

It’s coming, I can feel it.

(Plus my calendar tells me it’s on its way.)

Doesn’t it feel GOOD?  I love the seasons and the excitement for each part of the year.  Winter is filled with coziness and fun in the snow, Fall brings perfect temperatures and beauty all around us, and Summer for our family screams “BEACH” and lots of other outside adventure.  But I think Spring is my favourite season of all.   It’s full of promise and projects and anticipation. 

It’s an anticipation of renewal and I love it!

It was a beautiful 13 degrees yesterday (that’s about 55 F for my American friends).   It was the first day I didn’t wear a coat to church, just a sweater.  Oh, I love that. 

And now the air has a new sweetness about it.  The breeze carries no chill.  The icy back yard is giving way to big grassy patches.  I am noticing sounds of birds that have been absent for many months.   It excites me! 

With spring also comes a desire to just get your stuff in order.  David and I have already talked at length about our intended purging, sorting, and cleaning.  Over the summer, we hope to have two yard sales to rid ourselves of the massive amounts of ‘stuff’ that is strewn about our basement.  I have a burning desire to build some furniture too.  I’m part way through my first big project (I’ll post about it when I’m done) but I also want to do a cabinet for our tv (I hate looking at it), some built-in shelving, a window seat or two.  We have landscape projects to wrap up outside (started last fall), a garden to plant, some painting to do.  This year we’ll be tackling a new chimney and fireplace, new giant glass doors out to our deck and a tiny bit of reconfiguring of some small walls inside.  It’s fun to talk about it all.  Well, it’s fun for me anyway.  Putting it in to practice is another thing, but I do so love the planning. 

Since I’m a homeschooling mom and have multiple clients to take care of in addition to the usual home and family stuff, planning is really key for me.  I think this week I’ll make a very detailed project list and plot it all out on a project calendar, because I want to make sure we have time and money for all these things and prioritize them if we don’t.  

Plus, I’m planning kind of girl.  That’s me.  Sometimes I make lists just to make them. 

Lists feed my anticipation.  Pooh Bear was right.

Informed Choice & A Much Loved Book

Back in 1999 when I was pregnant with Gabriel, I received a gift from my Aunt.  It was a book.  It looked very good to me at the time, but I really had no idea 11 years later that I’d still love that book so much.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly given it as a baby shower gift.  Despite the title, the book is really great for anyone, but I found the content especially valuable as a new mother.  Over the years, I’ve even taken it with me on road trips, along with my little arsenal of homeopathic remedies. 

Oh yes, yes I have.

The main benefit of this book is that it lists conditions and ailments in alphabetical order, describes them in detail and then proceeds to give you multiple approaches to treatment.  I think this is key because it allows people to read about the various approaches and then choose what is best for them.   It allows people to make an informed choice. 

In each section, there is an explanation of the symptoms, an indication of other similar infections (and how to compare them), as well as a section in the margin called “When to Call the Doctor.”  Then it proceeds to outline the approaches to treatment, and also key recommendations for prevention:

– Conventional Treatment 

– Dietary Guidelines

– Herbal Treatment

– Homeopathy

– Bach Flower Remedies

– Acupressure

– General Recommendations

– Prevention

I find that so often, traditional medicine is so quickly (and many times detrimentally) relied upon as the only way to solve a problem.  In our family (barring emergencies of course), we choose to first go the natural route (mainly nutritional, homeopathic and chiropractic – unfortunately not included in this book) and then move through the other treatments only if we need to.   With three kids and 11 years of parenting, I can only think of one instance where we’ve needed anything medicinal.  That was a brief experiment with Tylenol about 2 years ago, when Caleb opted to go back to the homeopathics because he insisted they worked better.  I’m not saying there is no place for synthetic medicines, but in our house they are a last resort. 

I know I’ve been blessed with healthy children, but I also believe that their immune systems are strong because their bodies have been built up.  They have largely learned how to heal themselves and fight against illness.  Each time they get sick, they actually get stronger. 

So yes, this book has been a wonderful tool for me.  The beauty of it is that it presents options that may have otherwise been unknown to the reader.  It allows you to read about them and make an informed choice.  That is a beautiful thing.   

I just recently bought two gift copies on Amazon – a newer edition than my 90’s version (which I should update some time).  Here’s the link.     (And look at all those great reviews!  I guess I’m not the only one who loves it!)

Since this book is a Finer Thing in my mind, I’ve linked up with Amy’s Finer Things Friday.