Thursday, April 30, 2009

TOS Review: Memoria Press

Finally, I found it.

There is a perfect Latin program out there for Atticus. It's from Memoria Press, and it teaches Latin with the same careful, incremental approach that Mr. Blandings enjoyed at the hands of the brothers who ran his Catholic high school in the Midwest. It's called Latina Christiana, and yes, I had heard of it before. I'd read about it in The Well-Trained Mind but had dismissed it as being too stodgy for Atticus. Turns out, however, it's perfect. A firm grounding in roots, heavy on the memorization and -- did I mention?-- real Latin, right off the bat.

If you have a budding Latin scholar in your home, don't let the seemingly stuffy presentation turn you off. The DVDs make teaching the course an almost auto-pilot experience ... unless you're like me and end up sitting alongside your student and picking up a few handy tidbits here and there. In addition, the texts are simple, easy to understand and (dare I say it?) foolproof for the non-Latin learned.

The program is thorough, it's usable and it's written for anyone to teach with minimal preparation.

Can't you just hear my sigh of relief?

Memoria Press also offers an amazing series called Famous Men of (fill in the time period). We have Famous Men of Rome, an impressive story-based study that brings the reader into the heart of some very action-filled adventure tales sure to woo your child's heart. The parents question provided dig deep into the heart and moral of each story; it's clear that dates and names aren't the main goal in this series. Understanding and a love of learning is at the heart of each classical vignette. The language is challenging--this is not a dumbed down version of the events, but one designed to engage the mind in some academic acrobatics--but it's not stiff or overly advanced, either.

The books are priced just right for adding to your home library if, like us, you can never get enough beautifully illustrated anthologies on specific topics. Rome is one that I think my children could revisit again and again and never tire of. Judging from the appeal of the Famous Men of Rome student book, I think we may be in for many more years of Horatius and Cicero.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TOS Review: Friendly Chemistry

Once word gets out that you review homeschool curriculum, you'd be amazed at how popular you become in certain circles. Shockingly, the homeschool community appears to be populated quite heavily with bibliophiles, education nuts and others who just can't seem to get enough resources into their lives.

Which begs the question, really: which came first, the curriculum obsession or the desire to homeschool? It's our own little chicken and the egg quandary, people. Let's own it!

In the course of trying out Friendly Chemistry, I had a handful of homeschoolers with children "on the cusp" of the dreaded cliff that is high school. Every single person to whom I mentioned the program asked the same, very pointed question: "Is it rigorous?"

Definitions of "rigorous" as they apply to a chemistry program vary, as I found out when I did a little more digging. For many folks, that meant "Is there enough lab work involved?" For others, it meant abandoning a Creationist viewpoint in favor of what she referred to as "college level science." Still another just wanted to know that what was covered would line up with the boxes she needed to check off on her son's transcript in the making. All of those questioned held up an example of what a chemistry program ought to be; for many, that program was Apologia's offering.

And then, I kid you not, every.single.person sighed deeply and told me how they were pretty sure that the chemistry program they had their eyes on was way over their heads and would probably be skimmed over since they--the teaching parent--found the entire prospect so intimidating.

Simply baffling, you all. "I want a chemistry program that is tough. One that covers all the bases. One that digs deep. One that is hard science. But you know, I can't teach that, so I probably just won't."

May I humbly suggest something to the homeschool community at large?

The best curricula is the one that won't stay on the shelf.

That's right. The best curriculum doesn't necessarily fit under the umbrella of supreme academic knowledge. It doesn't have to put you through the paces. It isn't the one that your neighbor used to help her son get into Harvard. It should be the one that you feel comfortable teaching--the one that you will use with your child.

Ladies and gentlemen, you can buy a college-level curricula for any given subject and I can guarantee you that it will include pretty much everything you want to know on that topic. It may be chock full of lab examples outlining the overall process. It may have footnotes that refer you here, there and yon for further studies. It may be researched and annotated and indexed. But if you cannot teach from it, it is useless to you.

No matter how many wonderful reviews something has, no matter how well received it is on a high school transcript, that money was wasted. Both you and your child are far better off buying a user-friendly product that no one has ever heard of it it means that you will use it.

And this is the beauty of Friendly Chemistry.

Friendly Chemistry is not fancy. It's not head-over-heels in love with lab work to the point of making your kitchen seem woefully inadequate when cast as a site for experiments. The explanations could probably go deeper for students with a great desire to understand the field. The explanations don't require a degree in the field to decipher.

But overall? This is a program that you will use.

The presentation of Friendly Chemistry could, frankly, use some polish. The edition I have--with its photocopied sheets stuck into a nondescript binder-- reminds me of one of the very early editions of Learning Language Arts Through Literature that I happen to own. Typos and all, though, the curricula still teaches. It's still approachable, painless and chock full of the tidbits I want to pass on to my kids. Included are games, experiments and explanations that satisfy the general knowledge category that most students occupy when it comes to hard (meaning not soft) sciences.

Friendly Chemistry was written by a homeschooling family. Given a chance, it will grow. The polish will come. Further editions will round out the presentation and (hopefully) leave the fun elements intact. I realize that this program doesn't have the makings of a textbook giant, but you know ... I kind of like that. Friendly Chemistry is real-life chemistry for the rest of us. And honestly, don't we homeschoolers need more of that?

All things old are new again

Two 1970s era commercials warning of a swine flu epidemic:

Those shots were recalled, by the way, for causing more harm than good in a startling number of people.

All that being said ... why wait for a crises to make sure you have food, water & other supplies on hand? Chances are good that if you live in the US, you're in flood/hurricane/earthquake/snow storm territory and face the very real, very quantifiable threat of possible isolation on a far more regular basis than the media feels the need to trumpet. Do your local service agencies a favor and prepare to take care of your own family in the event of a disaster.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Do you ever ... ?

Look in the rear view mirror and feel your heart twist with so much joy that you can't catch your breathe?

Spy peach fuzz on the cheeks of your young boys and get a tiny thrill at the thought that this beautiful gift of God will someday be a full-grown man?

Hear a song on the radio that perfectly sums up the absolute satisfaction you find in the Lord as you're mopping your floor, of all things?

Realize how precariously close the top of your daughter's head is in relation to your own, and marvel that you were used to bring something that amazing into the world?

See a baby bury his face with sheer glee into a blanket and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that even if you could stop grinning, you'd never, ever want to?

Pick up the phone and recognize your darling husband's name on the caller i.d. ... and think Holy Cow! It wasn't just a dream! I get him for the rest of my life?!

Catch the scent of dinner cooking and praise God that in His wisdom he filled the world with things to tickle our senses?

Look around at all that you have and feel very, very small and unworthy?

Size up the stacks of folded clothes on the coffee table and feel full to bursting with the abundance of little souls entrusted you that fill those shirts and socks every day?

I have been a weepy mess lately. Everything--everything--moves me to tears. Happy tears. Sad tears. Oh-my-gosh-I-can't-bear-it tears.


I love being a woman.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Being there

I'm going to a homeschooling conference tomorrow and man, am I looking forward to it. It's not just the fact that I'll be able to shop in the vendor hall, although don't get me wrong, I love curriculum browsing. And it's not just the fact that I'm going to have two days of soaking in some very good teaching on a multitude of family and parenting topics that my heart so badly needs to hear right now. And it's not even just the fact that I'm going to be experiencing some of that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" me time mythos that will no doubt hit the reset button on my mommying cruise control.

All of these things are good, but they're not what I'm really looking forward to. What's really got me excited is the fact that I will not be alone.

For starters, Benny is joining me in attending this particular conference. We have the ride down, all day sessions, the vendor hall, the ride home and a whole other day to do it again. Together. Which sounds like a lot of time, but trust me, it isn't. Because frankly, we could talk the entire time and not run out of things to say.

But even that much quality time with Benny isn't enough to have be as thrilled as I am. (Sorry, Benny!) My joy goes even deeper than time with my best friend.

See, there are some things that are just meant to be shared. And you know what I've discovered? Homeschooling is one of them.

By its very nature, homeschooling is a semi-solitary thing for most of us. That's why it's called homeschooling, after all. You do it at home. Out of the public realm. In your most private space. Just your family, finding your own way.

You may participate in a co-op. You may belong to a support group. You may have the benefit of some fabulous forum friends. But at the end of the journey, you are the one responsible for the education of your brood. And that can be a very daunting thing.

Having people that walk the path with you makes that burden so much lighter. I can't imagine my own homeschooling career without the guidance of my cousin or my best friend. When I doubt myself, when I'm lonely, when I feel like a failure, when I can't quite put my finger on a situation ... they are the people whose voices I want at the other end of the line. The women who are right alongside me in the trenches. The ones who have taught phonics and lived. Who understand what it is like to simultaneously make grilled cheese sandwiches and read aloud from a historical novel. Women who feel my pain when I say that a book has fallen flat, or that a rabbit trail has taken on a life of its own. People like me.

Going to a homeschool conference is an even bigger extension of that sense of comfort. Finally--finally!--walking in to a building and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not the only one who truly understands how it is that you can feel a call that sets you so far outside of the mainstream. Seeing another mother who can't quite figure out what to do with her hands because she is so accustomed to having them full of giggling babies and a sweet 8 year-old boy who hasn't given up loving his momma's hugs. Hearing families talk about how their lives revolve around their home, not their offices or their kids' sports teams. Seeing the sense of purpose on the faces of other parents--parents who put thought, prayer and love into the educational choices they make for their children.

This is what I'm looking forward to: for two days, Benny and I will not be alone in praying when we sit down for lunch. We will not be the only people whose sons are more interested in knights than in video games. We won't be the only ones who have said no to things that most people don't question. We won't be alone when we stand in front of a table of books on purity, homemaking or womanhood. No one will look at us with raised eyebrows when we simply are who we are.

Instead, we'll be surrounded by like-minded women and families. No one will be able to spot us as fish swimming upstream. We will blend.

"It's your own little version of Mary Grace Heaven, isn't it?" my husband asked last night as I waxed poetic over the notion of not looking horribly overdressed just because I'm wearing a skirt.

"Gosh, no!" I told him. Heaven, I'm hoping, will be far more diverse. I really want to see some Bikers for Jesus in heaven. And Marc Driscoll. And my dad.

I don't want heaven to be populated entirely with people just like me. The world is much bigger, much more beautiful because of its variances and nuances. I think God made differences to keep things spicy--kind of like a bright red throw pillow on an all-white couch. God is surprising. He didn't stop with vanilla ice cream Mary Grace clones; instead, he kept churning out flavors all the way down the line. Pistachio. Butter pecan. Death by Chocolate. Rainbow sherbert.

that's good.

But tomorrow, I want to float in a sea of vanilla. I want to feel like I am just one of the crowd. Like I could actually--for once in my life--go with the flow. Because for me, that's the beauty of a homeschooling conference, especially one sweetened by the attendance of a dear friend: for once, there's no explanation needed. For two days, I can just enjoy being there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cloth diapering, (almost) a year later

I never think to update you fine readers on the state of our cloth diapering because frankly, they're diapers. As adorably cute as they are, they're still just a necessary part of life that becomes routine quite quickly. You know the drill: you wake up, try to sneak in a cup of coffee and some Bible time before the baby wakes up. And the second the baby is up, you ....

Change the baby's diaper, of course.

Then you get on with the rest of the morning. Disposable or cloth, same difference.

We ordered our main staple, the BumGenius 3.0s, almost a year ago now. They were used vigorously by Oliver (who has traded in the BGs and has now claimed his stake in our massive stash of big boy pants) for 10.5 months, and continue to grace the edibly cute behind of one Mr. Manolin.

I have never tired of seeing them, washing them or stuffing them. We have a dozen now; happy green, blue and yellow little dipes. I don't feel burdened by them. I will admit, however, that having two using cloth diapers makes for a noticeable increase in laundry. Now that I'm back down to one in dipes, I feel like my washing machine and I are starting to drift apart. :-)

Yes, I have experienced the rolling and pilling on the velcro tabs of our BG's. I am sending off an email to Cotton Babies to see about getting the free replacement tabs I've heard about. The issue started about three months ago and is a bit of a nuisance at this point; if Manolin is wearing zippy pjs without a onesie underneath, the tabs will often grab the inside fleece and come open. Clearly, this is not convenient, even though it's not as if he wears zippy pjs all day long.

Everything else about the dipes looks the same as day 1. The colors are still bright, they are stain-free and except for one stint of getting stinky (and needing to be stripped with Dawn dish soap) they've been odor-free. The hilarious thing is that my one major fear--what if they leak?!?!--has been flipped on its head; nowadays, I hate using disposables because if anything is likely to fail, it's one of those paper imitation jobs.

My husband loves them. He uses them as easily as disposables, but still refuses to learn how to diaper using the Chinese pre-folds.

Speaking of the pre-folds and Bummis, I still use them on a daily basis as well. They are nowhere near as easily to travel with (the prefolds are just bulkier in a carry-along bag, honestly), but I do like them around the house. I know that there are dozens of different folds out there, but I only mastered two and find that they cover the bases as far as I'm concerned. The Bummis are hands-down the cutest on otherwise naked babies. And, for whatever reason, the velcro closures have remained unchanged even after being used a few weeks longer than the BGs. They are also stain-free and have never had any issues.

So there you go. A comprehensive look at the results of a year of cloth diapering. Happy mommy. Happy, healthy babies. Water bills largely unchanged. Budget definitely a little less tight thanks to an initial investment.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stergo, revisited

God can do amazing things. He can move the mountain that is His child's hardened heart. He can open doors that we, in sin, slam in His face.

He can turn a huge blessing into one of tremendous proportions.

A few months back, I wrote about my awe in the gift being offered to me: a huge home in which to raise my growing family. I wrestled with the Lord and my own feelings of inadequacy, and finally found myself coming out the other side of that strangely lonely tunnel. Yes, I admitted. My house is going on the market. I'm following you to this place, God. Just ... hold my hand, o.k.?

No sooner had I come to terms with this blessing then Mr. Blandings and I felt our hearts tugged in another direction altogether. A direction neither of us ever hoped to entertain this side of 50. A direction too good to be true.

A farm.

What we really wanted, in our heart of hearts, was a farm.

Do it, we heard God's voice urge. I've gotten your attention. You've made the first step: the house is for sale. You never would have done it if I hadn't dangled that house in front of you. Now ... open your hands so that I can fill them.

To the outside world, I'm sure it looked like an amazing doubletake on our behalf. From a big suburban American Dream House to a couple of acres and some goats? To us, as a couple, the voice couldn't have been more audible had it been accompanied by a dove. God said put the house up for sale, and we did. We moved forward in faith and yes, He met us there.

It only took a few weeks for things to fall apart with the builder we were working with on the big house. All of a sudden, the door slammed shut. But our house was still listed. God, are you saying we should ...???


So we started looking. Turns out that now that our eyes had been opened to the prospect of a new home, possibilities were popping up all over. Possibilities in and under our price range.

Farms, people. Land. Acreage.

Small farms, to be sure. Five acre plots, just enough to get a couple of dairy goats, some chickens, maybe tinker in a few other animals. Enough room for a sizable garden with all the potatoes, tomatoes, corn and beans a family could eat.

But a farm.

My heart, my soul sings at the thought. If you know me at all, you know how spying a bird fills a place in my heart that nothing else can touch. How eating a tomato I've grown myself is the sweetest form of victory. How walking barefoot in good, black dirt is enough to send me into a state of bliss that can barely be punctured.

So you see, God is still very much in the business of stergo. And while my current home still sits on the market, and we still pray for a sale, I don't worry. God's timing, His path and His journey thus far have led me only to the green pastures I was seeking all along. Surely goodness and love will follow me all my days.

And the winner is ...

asking to be anonymous. I think she's a little shy, which is a shame because she's got a great blog that I'd love to have you all pop on over to visit and enjoy for yourselves.

Alas, it is not to be. ((sigh))

Thanks to all who entered!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Traveling light

Mr. Blandings and I just returned from a fantastic few days away. The weather wasn't perfect and the vacation house had a few little flaws but, yes, we were away from it all for three blissful nights.

Well, away from everything except the five children and most of our earthly belongings which, for some reason, had to be transported with us.

Maybe it was a vacation from our dog? I don't know ... I think he was about the only thing we left behind. And truthfully, I missed him loads because really, you never appreciate the living vacuum cleaner until you realize that all of that food that landed under the baby's seat at dinner time is going to have to be picked up. Probably by you.

We started out on Easter Sunday, having booked a trip without realizing that it was Easter Sunday. Woops! Who knew Easter was so late this year? Anyone not using the iCal on their Mac to plot out vacations, I guess. But that was not us, and our trip was already planned and paid for, the dogsitter already lined up and the days off of work approved. So vacation on Easter Sunday was a go.

I knew we were in for a rare treat when I realized how stressed Mr. Blandings seemed when he scanned my packing list a few days before our planned departure.

"Sugar? Salt? Pepper? What, are you just going to bring the entire contents of our spice cabinet, too" he asked, shaking his head.

"No, silly. But I am going to be cooking, you realize."

"Yeah, I know. That was the whole point of getting a house instead of a hotel room. But seriously? You're going to be bringing all of this? Can't you just cook without it?"

"Sure," I admitted,"but what if it tastes different and the kids won't eat it?"

He thought for a moment. "Ummmmm .... they'll be hungry?"

"Yes, and?"

He thought again and drew a blank. This is the difference between mothers and fathers. If you are a father, you assume that hunger is just a state that children pass through until meal time rounds the bend again and is quenched with another eating opportunity. If you're a mother, you know:

"They'll be miserable. They'll snap at each other. They'll whine. And then, we'll be miserable, too," I reminded him.

"Fine," he sighed. "Bring the spice cabinet."

Saturday night, as the non-essentials were being loaded into the car, Mr. Blandings again exhibited signs of stress.

"A roasting pan? MG, why on earth am I packing a roasting pan?" he called in through the open front door.

"For the ham," I reminded him.

"Seriously? I mean, we can't just eat sandwiches for a couple of days?"

I was tempted not to answer, but that would have been rude and unseemly and just plain old not wifely. Plus, chances were good that it would lead us back to the place where he was trying to leave behind the stockpile of cereal bars, yogurts, pretzels, and other snacks I was bringing along. So instead, I gently redirected him.

"Remember to save space for the playpen for Manolin. He'll need it in the morning, so we can't pack it until almost last. I don't want that to throw off your packing."

Mr. Blandings blanched.

"Tell me again why he can't sleep in a dresser drawer or on a pallet on the floor like we did as kids?"

"He's a foster child. Do you really want someone to find out that you let him sleep in a dresser drawer?" I asked. He admitted that he did not. Packing resumed.

As we readied to leave for church on Sunday, the final items were transferred to the back of our Suburban. Have you ever seen the trunk space in a Suburban? It's mammoth. Cavernous. So big that it's an American embarrassment, really. In Asian countries, entire families ride on mopeds. Three children cling to their mother's coattails and stand on mufflers with their bare feet next to exposed, spinning spokes. But here? Here I've got this just for my stuff:

By the time the bags of food, extra blankets, playpen, etc., etc., etc. were packed the mound of stuff reached to the ceiling. Literally. As in Mr. Blandings could not see out of the rear of the truck.

In my defense, we do have a family of seven. And again, in my defense, two of those people are small and require that things stay fairly status quo in order to maintain their state of happiness. This would be why Manolin's sound machine, blanket, Bandito the Raccoon, and an entire bag of fresh fruit came along for the ride. This would also be why Oliver's favorite truck, a Wiggles video, a blanket and three separate pairs of jammies had to come along as well. Got to cover the bases, you know?

Mr. Blandings and I have always differed on what constitutes preparedness versus overkill. Clearly, as we set off on a four day vacation with a Suburban (a Suburban, people!) crammed full of everything that could possibly be squeezed in, it couldn't have been more apparent. Why? Because of the entire contents of our vehicle, the only things that directly related to Mr. Blandings were a pair of hiking pants, hiking boots, a pair of jeans, three t-shirts, some socks and underwear and his contact solution.

Sure, you can count the food he consumed but seriously ... he really would have made do with exactly 12 slices of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam. He wouldn't have even needed a knife. This is the kind of guy he is when it comes to traveling.

God made him this way for a purpose; the truth is, Mr. Blandings is exceptionally well-equipped for the field work portion of our nonprofit's mission. He could get on a plane with the shirt on his back and be at ease. In a few months, he'll be heading out again, this time into an Asian country that he's never visited before. He'll be staying with some friends of ours who run an orphanage and Bible training school. He'll be in country for two weeks, spending much of the time hiking through hills to meet with pastors that we can then hopefully match with sponsors here in the U.S.

And I guarantee you that he will leave this house with exactly one backpack full of gear.

But four days at a furnished beach house requires our family to travel with the modern equivalent of a caravan.

Did we use pretty much everything that we took along? In truth, yes. As I mentioned, the weather wasn't the greatest the first full day at the house and that Wiggles video and the board games I brought just in case were a lifesaver. We ate the ham on Easter Sunday, then snacked on sandwiches for the rest of our stay. Mr. Blandings turned out to be supremely thankful that I'd had the foresight to bring along extra pants for Atticus, who eschews all but the cleanest of clothing and yet managed to wade waist-deep into the freezing waters of the Pacific not once but twice. And, of course, I had sugar for my coffee. Can't stress how important that is to the overall vacation satisfaction scale.

Still, it makes me think. How comfortable do I have to be in order to be happy? How many of the layers of "necessity" can be stripped away before I succumb to dissatisfaction? How little can I truly live with?

I like to think that the answer would make me feel like someone who can truly cope with the rubs and bumps of a less pampered life, but this recent trip has me wondering. Do I really need all that I have? And if I don't, why do I have it?

TOS Review: WriteShop Primary Book A

Far too many people assume that because I am a writer by trade, I have all of the secret insider knowledge necessary to teach children to write. While I may have a few more tricks in my pocket than the average non-scribe citizen, I'm definitely not above pulling form the wisdom of others when it comes to teaching my own children. The wheel has actually already been invented, and I'm too busy peeling potatoes and washing diapers to go out and carve my own.

For my older children, I've employed the venerable Writing Strands series. The drawback? The lowest levels of this program are, in my opinion, virtually useless. Even Level 3 is of somewhat dubious quality when it comes to actual writing instruction; add to that the fact that it can clearly not be used with your youngest students (the text is written directly to the students and is self-teaching) and you can see that it leaves something to be desired.

In general, my approach to the earliest levels of writing instruction has been to simply allow them to write. If the interest was there, I'd offer to transcribe longer stories. In a handful of cases I have created books on the computer, printing them out with frames above the text so that they can illustrate their own tales. As interest and general knowledge grows, I throw out a few story ideas and keep encouraging journaling.

Thus far, it has worked out pretty well. Neither Jo nor Atticus hates writing. Both would claim the mantle, in fact, if you asked. They'd also both claim to be qualified as veterinary assistants, however, but we're still paying for our German Shepherd's rabies shots every few years.

For Logan, who has blossomed in all things creative since the moment he took his first stuffed animals in hand and made them speak, writing is a far more intricate process. Waiting a few years to bloom into the Writing Strands realm seemed like a waste of his time. He's interested now. He wants to write now.

With this in mind, we gave WriteShop's Primary Book A a whirl. A slim, spiral-bound volume, the book is designed with two separate tracks in mind: the reluctant older writer (approximately second grade) and kindergarten and first grade students of beginning ability. Also available as an ebook (at a discounted price with no shipping added), this is a reusable resource that could easily straddle multiple children relatively close in age. Several early activities can be done orally, and the difficulty level can easily be customized to your child based on skill and/or interest.

The concept is simple: WriteShop has, essentially, done the work of selecting a theme, picking out a few activities and giving you a goal. It's your job, as the teacher, to combine the elements into an attractive package that will make your child love to write. If a particular theme doesn't appeal to your child, the teacher's notes encourage you to change it to something that does light the fire of imagination in your house.

In other words, this program takes the same approach I've been using all along with my littles: pick a topic, feed the fire, and slowly draw out the end product. Brilliant!

The process is fun, but the topics covered are no small shakes. From choosing an appropriate titled, gathering information and planning out a plot, this primary guide covers the basics at a relatively accelerated rate--far too many first graders leave their public school classroom still writing one sentence stories entitled "My dog"--but with a relaxed, casual pace that leads both child and parent by the hand.

My personal favorite part of this program is the emphasis on reading as building the skill of writing. It's a proven fact that great writers read as much as--or more than--they actually write. Each theme in the ten lessons included in Primary A suggests reading picture books, discussing plots, picking out details and otherwise enjoying the written word.

This has also proven to be Logan's favorite part of WriteShop. For lesson two, Logan chose an early reader about George Washington to read aloud to me. Using this as our jumping off place, we were able to collect three other beautifully illustrated picture books from our library and enjoy them together. Caught up in the hero that was George, Logan chose to write his story about a "could have happened" ordeal in which George was nearly captured by the British during the American Revolution.

His opening lines?

"In the beginning, George was not afraid. But very soon he realized he was in big trouble and he was very afraid."

His title? Not quite as snappy. It was "George Washington is Nearly Captured by the British."

Ah, well. That's why there's WriteShop Primary B, I suppose.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown. --William Penn

Good Friday is the mirror held up by Jesus so that we can see ourselves in all our stark reality, and then it turns us to that cross and to his eyes and we hear these words, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." That's us! And so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. We see in that cross a love so amazing so divine that it loves us even when we turn away from it, or spurn it, or crucify it. There is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross we see into the heart of God and find it filled with mercy for the sinner whoever he or she may be. --Robert G. Trache

The Cross did not happen to Jesus: He came on purpose for it.
--Oswald Chambers

Does God really love us? I say look to the crucified Jesus. Look to the old rugged cross. By every thorn that punctured His brow. By every mark of the back lacerating scourge. By every hair of his beard plucked from his cheeks by cruel fingers. By every bruise which heavy fists made upon His head. God said, "I love you!" By all the spit that landed on his face. By every drop of sinless blood that fell to the ground. By every breath of pain which Jesus drew upon the cross. By every beat of His loving heart. God said, "I love you! " --Billy Lobbs

Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.
--Watchman Nee

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The REAL me

Sarah tagged a whole slew of unwitting bloggers with a very mean meme that she didn't create but ... COME ON, PEOPLE!!! I am sitting at my computer. I deserve a little peace!

O.k., actually I'm horribly amused by this one, as you can probably tell from the smirk on my face.

Here are the rules:
Take a picture of yourself right now.
No primping or preparing.
Just snap a picture.
Load the picture onto your blog.
Tag some people to play.
That's it, easy as PIE

To be magnanimous with the whole thing, I'm tagging anyone who has a vowel as the second letter of their name. How do 'ya like them apples? :-)

TOS Review: Homeschool in the Woods Activity Paks

If there's one thing that has slid almost totally off the radar since our family expanded to include the pre-preschool set, it's crafts. Now, I was never a great crafts mom, I'l be honest. Science experiments? Yes. Art projects? Sure. Random messy play? Absolutely.

But crafts--and by that, I mean those projects-for-projects-sake kind of handiworks--have always been a rare effort for me. Maybe it's because I never especially enjoyed them myself as a child. Maybe it's because my home is already awash in a sea of blue crayola-ed styrofoam cups with little paper Peters attempting to walk across the water. Maybe it's because I always have the sneaking suspicion that there are bigger fish to fry in the ocean of academia. Maybe it's because my children seem quite willing and able to cook up more than their fair share of crafts when left to their own devices for any length of time.

Whatever the reason, I just don't do that many crafts with my kids. Add this to my list of failings as a homeschool parent.

I have done a handful of very successful lapbooks, however. And it was this minor victory that gave me a sense of "I can do it!" when I first laid eyes on the Homeschool in the Woods Activity- Pak. It's a hybrid, I told myself. It's a lapbook, only ... not. Don't worry. We can get through this.

Complete disclosure: I have yet to fully "get through" the New Testament Activity-Pak. There is simply too much stuff. What we have done, though, has been enjoyed by all. Beautiful artwork, fun concepts and easy assembly. Included in this huge project pack are the following topics:

1. The Lineage from David to Jesus
2. The Birth of Jesus Christ
3. Miracles of Jesus
4. The Beatitudes
5. Fruit of the Spirit
6. The Parables of Jesus
7. The Last Supper
8. The Crucifixion
9. The Ascension
10. Pentecost
11. The Resurrection
12. Prophesies Fulfilled
13. The Twelve Disciples
14. Paul’s Missionary Journeys
15. “The New Testament News”
16. The Armor of God

There's a poster for your children to make. A newspaper, scroll-style. Beautiful maps to color. A neat study of Paul's journeys told through postcards. A triptych to assemble.

In other words, a lapbook hopped up on one too many caramel macchiatos with whip.

We've been slowly meandering our way through the Activity-Pak, and enjoying it as a low-key addition to our normal Bible studying. We're probably half way through the activities at this point, which puts me in a bit of a bind: my children know that there's an Old Testament Activity-Pak available, and I'm thinking that they're thinking they'll get to do it.

So much for not being a crafty mom.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TOS Review: Apologia Elementary Science

For many, science is the bane of their homeschooling existence. They manage creative ways to blend math into their lives (games, anyone?). They select Language Arts materials that support their overall plan for not just literacy, but actual expressive communication. They work in character-building exercises and yes, they read a great number of really good books. But at the end of the day, they just didn't find a single spare moment to incorporate anything resembling science.

An overwhelming number of homeschooling moms have told me that they feel ill-prepared to teach anything beyond the most basic science in the early elementary grades. An even more startling number of homeschoolers have shared that is is because of science that they will eventually be enrolling their children in public school once they reach the age of labs and period tables.

In today's homeschooling climate, there's just no reason to forgo teaching science, or to fear it so strongly that it leads you to abandon educating your own children. The curriculum options are far too numerous and varied--not to mention accessible--to ignore this subject area.

For years, I wrote my own science curricula. This involved lots of time at my computer and many, many library holds. While I hold no doctorate in the experimental sciences, I have a deep fascination with them and a huge admiration for God's artistic model of creation in general. Wanting to pass that love on, I pieced together long, involved studies on topics such as the human body, the atomic model and space.

Unfortunately, my children were 8, 5 and 3.

Yes, it was a clear example of absolute overkill. And no, my kids don't remember any of it. The beautiful atom analogy that involved rolling a chocolate chip in marshmallow goo? Forgotten. The entertaining Seemore Skinless game? Forgotten as well.

Anyhow ...

At some point, my husband requested that I focus my energies in different directions. "Buy a science curriculum," he advised. "This is eating up too much of your time." Being a wife who knows when she hears the voice of wisdom knocking, I complied.

For a while, we used AO LifePacs as spines for individual kids, with a heavy rotation of library books and other resources thrown in to balance the blah presentation. After a while, though, even I was bored stiff of the things and they had to go. I didn't want my children to lose their love of science simply because the tools we were using to teach were lackluster.

Enter Apologia Elementary, a Charlotte-Mason based science curriculum that centers on creation and notebooking.

In truth, I had coveted the Apologia books for some time. While I'm not generally a CM homeschooler, I like the idea of applying that method specifically to science, which seems a very natural and easy fit. I liked the general flow of the texts I had seen, and was impressed by the detail: binomial nomenclature, classification and a explanations so thorough that they leave no stone unturned all hallmarks of the Apologia books. And these are for grades K-6, folks. Talk about impressive! No watered down, "this is a plant" here. This is science for thinkers, a full meal for the mind instead of snack food intended to be remembered only as long as the next text.

What held me back from buying an Apologia curricula wasn't the price (books sell new for less than $30), but the fear that my younger learner wouldn't be able to keep up. I had decided on Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, but was concerned that my kindergartener would struggle along while my 5th grader flew through the lessons. Gearing something like science to multiple ages can be a bit of a trick, so I wanted to make sure that I got it right.

The answer to that concern has been the notebooking component. Free notebooking pages available online allow Logan to write in simple facts and draw pictures that accompany what he's hearing, while Jo uses plain lined paper to outline and take notes. The notebooks--which are described in detail in the science texts--have become keepsakes of time well-spent learning about the world.

The writing is wonderful--conversational, straight-forward and yet, as I have mentioned, quite detailed. I enjoy reading it aloud while the kids work on their notebooks. Looking at what they've written after the lesson, I can tell that the age-range fears were unfounded; Jo's page is chock full of blow-by-blow information on bats (complete with Latin names for certain functions), while Atticus has a bare-bones set of facts listed, and Logan has sketched a bat and noted details in the margin.

The one drawback to this program that I can't leave unmentioned really has nothing to do with the author, the method or the product itself. It's more of a "Man, I wish I didn't know that," underlying detail that soils the overall pudding for me. Dr. Jay Wile, author of Apologia's upper level science courses and former owner of the company, has been quite active in the pro-vaccination movement. While I am all for defending your beliefs and stating what you perceive as a lack of logic on the behalf of those who debate your stand, I can personally say as the mother of a child who had a violent, adverse reaction to a vaccine (that would be Logan) that a blanket faith in the vaccine industry in misguided. It's good to ask questions. It's good to inform yourself. And it's good to go where God leads you on issues of strong contention.

As I've said, Dr. Wile is no longer the owner of Apologia. Had I known his rather vocal stand prior to purchasing the two Apologia books I own, I very well may have reconsidered. But I may not have. I really can't say from this vantage point.

Apologia's elementary science programs are an exceptional value and of excellent academic calibre. It's hard to beat this program.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


More than one person has asked been confused; apparently, by not titling the previous post CONTEST, I made a snafu. The Rabbit Trails post is a contest. Feel free to enter it. There 'ya go!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rabbit trails, anyone?

Today I sat down to lunch after a completely typical morning of school (math, LA, the basics) and readied myself for our daily Sonlight readings. The goal was to close out a book that has quickly become one of my absolute favorites to recommend to others: Whatever Happened to Penny Candy. I opened the book and, over pb & js, started in. Part of the day's reading was on the concept of government spending in areas of science and engineering. The example given regarded the airline industry. Straightforward enough. I listed the example, and we commenced our normal discussion.

About midway through, I brought up the precursors to commercial airplane travel: namely zeppelins/dirigibles. The kids looked at me blankly.

"You know ... the Hindenburg?"

"That sounds familiar," Atticus said after a long while.

We raced upstairs to our trusty World Book program (thanks, SL!). I pulled up the entry, complete with a video snippet of the airship's demise.

And they, of course, were hooked.

The rest of the afternoon was an absolute wash ... if you're concerned with things like sticking to plans and meeting predetermined goals. If you value the random art of learning then it was a resounding success. After looking up the entire history of zeppelins, finding them in The New Way Things Work and discussing the stability and flammability of certain gases (Atticus: "That was really dumb to substitute hydrogen for helium. What were they thinking?") and talking about which design elements were most likely to have been valued by someone using a gas versus jet propulsion (Logan: "I'd have built mine with bamboo. It's the lightest."), the kids settled in to what became a
three hour drawing conference centered on their own conspiracy theories as to what actually took down the Hindenberg. These ranged from the plausible (an errant cigarette from the smoking lounge) to the fantastic (something involving Jedis and lightsabers) to the historically involved (shot down by a band of German resistance fighters who set up shop in the U.S. and plotted acts of terror against the Nazi party).

I didn't plan a bit of this, but it turned out to be educationally challenging and fun.

I love rabbit trails like these, and I know I'm not alone. In honor of this latest hop down the bunny lane in my own family, I'm offering a prize to the family who shares their own most fascinating rabbit trail with me here at Books and Bairns. Simply leave a comment linking back to a post on your own blog, mentioning that you're participating in the "RABBIT TRAILS, ANYONE?" contest and you'll be entered in a drawing for your choice of one of the following:

--a copy of Apologia's Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day

--a copy of Beyond Five in A Row volume 3

--a pack of three historical fiction titles from Salem Ridge Press.

If you don't have a blog, feel free to share your rabbit trail in the comment section. Contest ends April 16.

Happy (rabbit) trails!