Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The days are long, but the years are fleeting!

Sometimes the days are very long. I've got a 19 year old daughter and the years did fly by. But it's hard to remember that some days when the kids are fighting, the house is a mess, and there is just noise everywhere.

The days seem to never end when nothing gets done without debates, discussions and discipline. The days when you tuck the kids into bed and the only thing you want to pray is "Thank you God that this day is over."  Instead you pray that they will have good dreams, that you will both wake up in a better mood and that tomorrow will be a good day.

I have a lot of those days. Every day has its special moments when I remember how blessed I am. But every day also has its hard, deep-breathing-for-sanity moments.

Today is one of those long, hard days. I am daydreaming about homeschool conventions where I could run away for a couple days, sip fancy coffees, stay in a fancy hotel, and just be alone for awhile.  (Because crowded homeschool conventions are so lonely, I know.)

Never mind that it's totally non-feasible for me to run away for a couple days alone when we still have 8 kids at home that need adult supervision, and a couple that really need Mom to keep them calm.

So I guess I'll just pray this day ends on a more peaceful note, and maybe daydream a little more about that homeschool convention paradise.

Just being real,
April E.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Online Curriculum Resource:

internet based homeschool online learning

This review is a little different for me. I was a member of from its beginning, even supplying content in its earlier format of Teachers Toolbox. So although I'm familiar with it and have had Yearly Memberships, I haven't fully utilized the website and I let my membership lapse earlier this year. I hadn't even noticed all the changes had undergone. It has really grown and developed! One of the biggest changes is the addition of courses taught by specialized teachers. was created by The Old Schoolhouse magazine. It is an online curriculum resource for homeschool families with online classes, daily content, weekly lessons, and monthly units. There are printable lesson plans and some worksheets, as well. Although they occasionally offer free items for the entire homeschool community, the majority of its resources are only available to its members.

But, can introduce itself better than I can.

When I began reviewing the Yearly Membership, I was looking for simple things I could add into our lighter December school schedule. I went looking for This Day In History, which I remembered enjoying in the past.  Unfortunately, it was taking a December break, so I couldn't use it. When I looked around the site, though, I found so many other elements to use with my kids this month, and in the future.

My 10 year old son enjoys creating things and wants to be an engineer or inventor. The Tinkers Club lessons are perfect for him! The Tinkers Club is a hands-on course taught by Ed Sobey, designed to increase learning by engaging children's curiosity and allowing them to experiment and explore. I love that many lessons begin with inspiring quotes and this fun definition: Tinker (vb.): to play, fiddle, or meddle (with machinery, etc.), esp. while undertaking repairs. I printed out several different lessons for him to explore. He's anxiously waiting for his Dad to finish off his lactose-free milk so he can make a boat from the cardboard half-gallon container. If you have a kinetic, curious, easily bored son like mine, he'd probably enjoy the Tinkers Club, too.

I also loved the Simply Shakespeare lessons, but I couldn't just jump into that right now. I am looking forward to using it next year, when my daughter studies Shakespeare for her 11th Grade English class. These are actually adaptable for younger children, as well, so I've decided to use these lessons to introduce all the kids to Shakespeare while she's studying it next year.

When I stumbled on Everyday Easels, I knew my 8 year old daughter would really enjoy these art appreciation lessons. The week-long or 2-week-long units are perfect for exploring during a light-school week or throughout the year. I chose a lesson on one of my favorite artists, Mary Cassatt. My 8 year old daughter loved working one-on-one with me, studying the Young Mother Sewing painting, and working through the lessons. As a third-grader, I had to help her find answers to the research questions, but she enjoyed the chance to write about the art. It was a change of pace that we both enjoyed!

The more that I explore the website, the more things I find. Ditch the Desk had some fun ideas for the Christmas season and the Daily Puzzlers offer a variety of logic-based word problems that can bring a bit of fun education into the slow days when kids are sick or everyone needs a break from regular schoolbooks. Or you could put aside the textbooks and challenge your kids with the Test Your Knowledge quizzes instead. I joined the SchoolhouseTeachers.Com Facebook Group and found links to Christmas printables I hadn't noticed, too. There is just so much available here!

I have to admit that one of my favorite things about Yearly Memberships have been the ability to download the new Schoolhouse Planners each year, access The Old Schoolhouse magazine digital issues archive, and access free ebooks. The digital Schoolhouse Planners are my favorite! My teen daughters print out portions of the high school planner and I do the same with the mom version. We each customize our planner to suit our personalities and preferences.

The main reason I had quit using my Yearly Membership was that we have satellite internet, in the country, and struggle to stay within our allotted data limits. I just felt I couldn't really use the downloaded materials on a regular basis. But if I'd seen all the new courses sooner, I would have figured out a way to download materials in advance (or once a month) from a different location. You can view the entire list of online courses here. There are full-year and semester-long courses for students, including high school level courses! I wish I'd known about the full-course options available here sooner, like Spanish. I really wish I'd known Spanish was an option. We'd have figured out a way to work around our limited satellite internet to be able to use this video course! Review

If you purchase a Yearly Membership before Christmas, you can get it for less than half price!

Monthly memberships are normally $12.95, but they are currently 40% off for a price of $7.77/month. Yearly Memberships cost $139, but you can get one now for over 50% off , just $64.26/year. This sale price is available through December 25, 2014 at 11:59pm ET.

I'm so glad that I spent some time exploring again this month. I will be using it more next year, and including it in my 2015 lesson plans. It is definitely worth buying the Yearly Membership!

April E. Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, December 15, 2014

Feeling Blessed Today

I am sitting here tonight, listening to the sounds of my family, and feeling blessed. I just thought I'd take a moment to share some of the sweet moments in my day.

  • Early this morning I got up quietly, just in case I needed to wake my 19 yo up for work. She found a full-time job over Christmas break, which is a tremendous blessing for her!  She worked there this summer, and always got herself up, but I woke up just in case she needed me. A few minutes later, I heard her get up on her own and go about her morning routine. It's so encouraging to see her maturity and responsibility.
  • Later, this morning I caught my 13 yo son dancing with his 8 yo sister to one of Taylor Swift's latest songs.  (Shake It Off)  I really wanted them to be doing their schoolwork, but there was no way I was going to interrupt a rare moment when they were getting along and having fun. I just quietly walked away.
  • I wrapped presents today while listening to Christmas music. The younger kids took turns ferrying wrapped gifts from my bedroom to the tree. Each child has 3 gifts from Mom and Dad (totaling under $50), a $10 gift from a sibling, and a pajama gift from us. Of course, once you take 5 gifts times 9 kids, and a few for Steve and I ... you have a huge pile around the tree. (I kind of wish I'd waited to wrap some of them so the living room wasn't so FULL, but my closet was a war zone.) It's fun to see the kids' excitement and anticipation!
  • At this moment, I can hear my 17 and 19 yo daughters talking and laughing in the bedroom.  I don't know what they're talking about, but it is so good to hear them enjoying time together while A is home from college. 
  • My 15 year old daughter is also making me smile as she reads The Night Before Christmas and some of our other Christmas books to 4 yo V.  I love when my older kids read to the younger ones. It always makes me smile!
I am sure I could think of a few other blessed moments in my day, but I need to read our Advent devotions to the kids and tuck them into bed.

April E.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Geography Fair: Christmas Around the World

This post ends with a bonus. When you've read the whole thing, you get to see a video of me making a fool of myself for the sake of our geography fair project. Stay tuned!

Our homeschool group has participated in, or hosted, a geography fair several times in the 7 years we've lived here. For the last two years our group chose to take a Christmas Around the World theme and hold it in December instead. We have always enjoyed the geography fairs, usually sharing about countries from our heritage or countries that we have artifacts from because a family member has been there. This year we were out of options.

We couldn't decide what country to present because we just didn't have any experience or inspiration left. We dug out a book we have which includes information about Christmas in a few countries and our 8 year old daughter started trying to find them on the wall map. Along the way, she found Madagascar and was excited to recognize the country from the movies. A couple of the younger kids excitedly begged to do Christmas in Madagascar.  At first I told them no because I didn't know anything about that country. I finally did a quick google search, just to see if it would be possible. Was there any information out there?

We actually found several web pages with some fun information and decided we'd talk about Madagascar. We didn't really have time to put it together until the day before the event, but we had fun printing out maps, pictures of some animals unique to Madagascar, typing up facts about the country itself, and their Christmas holiday. We made a display and even found some fun coloring sheets to print out for the younger kids. My 8 year old and 15 year old daughters did most of the work (with their 6 year old brother) and they presented it to the group, as well.  I wish the boys would have gotten more involved, but they didn't this time.  At least they learned about some other countries when they attended the meeting with us.

As part of the day, we enjoyed a soup potluck with the other families and then one of the moms had a couple different Christmas object lessons and a fun candy giveaway to share with the kids. She did a great job organizing the event this year. We had more people participate last year, but we still enjoyed the day.

Here are a few pictures from our portion of the Christmas Around the World Geography Fair.

  The display that my daughters helped create and set up.

It's presentation time.  15 yo C and 8 yo L share about Madagascar with our group.

You get a bonus shot of me preparing to try to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the Malagasy language. Aren't you glad you scrolled down this far?  

Even better ... I'll embarrass myself and share the video.

You can go ahead and laugh at me, but be proud of my kids. I'm definitely proud of them! (This video and the pictures are courtesy of my 17 year old daughter.)

Does your homeschool group host a geography fair? Have you ever considered making it a Christmas Around the World event instead? 

April E.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: One Year Devotions For Active Boys
I can definitely relate to the struggle to keep my kids (especially my boys) listening to devotions. They tend to zone out if it's too long, doesn't seem applicable, or is just too dry. The lessons in The One Year Devotions For Active Boys are short, engaging, and applicable.

Each daily devotion has 3-4 paragraphs that may start with a question or a story, then moves into Biblical truth. The devotional is then applied through activities. Some of the activities include jokes, puzzles, fun facts, or hands-on experiments. Each lesson then concludes with a prayer thought and Bible verse.

The lessons are very interesting and can be used either to read aloud to your 2nd - 6th grade children (not just boys) or that the 3rd - 6th grader could read to themselves for personal devotions. Maybe it's because my 3rd grade daughter is surrounded by brothers, or maybe it's just that she also needs short, engaging devotions ... but this book works just as well for her as it does for her Kindergarten and 5th grade brothers.

If you're looking for a very deep, theological study ... this isn't it. But if you're looking for a way to engage your children in applying God's Word to their lives, this book does work well for that. It's easy to read aloud at breakfast or another meal, which also helps guide the conversation away from bodily functions or sibling bickering.

This is a great book and it fits the type of devotion I was searching out for my kids!  Thanks, Tyndale!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Blog Network for review purposes. A positive review was not required, all thoughts included here are my own, and no other compensation was received.

April E. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five (or Six) Things I'm Really Bad At

True confession: I'm terrible at teaching kids to potty train. It gets later and later with each child. I can't imagine having a 2 year old in underwear anymore. My just turned 4 year old is still in pull ups and many days she really resists going potty. She knows how. There have been accident-free days. She just doesn't make it a priority ... I err on the side of preserving relationship, reducing battles, and minimizing messes. Especially the messes. I need to get over that and put her back in underwear. She tries harder when she's wearing them. It's a good thing I've only got one more child to potty train after her.

While I'm confessing ... here are five other things I'm really bad at:

1. Maintaining a family schedule. I can't seem to stick to a schedule for anything. Every day looks different around here: bedtimes, wake times, meal times, chore time, school time. We just go with the flow and try to get it all done ... eventually.

2. Folding laundry. I used to wash it all during the day, then fold it at night after the kids went to bed, while watching TV with Steve. Back in our Night Owl days with little kids, before the Great Commute entered our lives. Now we have teens who never go to bed, and we both crash earlier since Steve has to get up before 5 am. So when do I fold laundry? Infrequently. I've tried folding it on the dining room table or my bed, but the table is usually busy/messy and my bed seems to invite kids to trample my piles. I need to find a new plan because Steve has taken to folding it on the weekends while watching tv, and while I keep little ones happy. It's working, but I feel guilty.

3. Meal planning. I've tried multiple times to get better at meal planning. I currently have a chalk board hanging in the kitchen where I'm supposed to write the week's menu. It worked for awhile, but now we just seem to add to it as we go through each day. More of a record than a plan. Some of my kids are picky and some are calorie-conscious and reject some of the picky kids' favorite meals because they're too high-calorie. I struggle to find a balance that pleases everyone.

4. Spelling Lessons. I never hit this consistently each week. We start the school year off being semi-consistent and then we fade away. Thankfully, most of my kids have a natural spelling ability that seems to just improve as their reading level grows. I have one boy who struggles a bit more with it, and I finally caved and bought him his own workbook system that doesn't rely on me to give him weekly lists and a test. I need to get better about this.

5. Downsizing and Reducing Clutter. Despite what my husband thinks, I'm really not good at getting rid of things. I look at the overflowing bookshelves, movie shelves, and toy shelves and only manage to weed out a few things. I keep too many things because I wonder if one of the younger kids will want it later, even if the older kids aren't interested in it. I just happen to be a bit better at it than my husband, so he thinks I'm always throwing things away or giving them away. I've given up on decluttering his stuff. He'll get to it, eventually.

There are more. Lots more. But when I look at these 6 things, I wonder why in the world God thought I could homeschool and have a large family. I can see how far from perfect I am, with my faults, and my kids' faults staring me in the face each day. I'm thankful that it's not all up to me. God's Grace is also at work in our home and our family. The picture may seem messy and imperfect at times, but He's not done with any of us yet.

April E.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Big Announcement!

Review Crew

I am back on the TOS Homeschool Review Crew for the upcoming 2015 year. We are looking forward to the year ahead!

Stay tuned for curriculum and product reviews, as well as more frequent family updates. Every Crew review will be marked with a banner similar to this one, linking to the rest of the Crew reviews.

April E.