Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Signs of Spring: Beautiful Life! (episode 4)

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

I hope you're enjoying some warmth and sunshine this week!

April E.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The end is in sight, but it's a hectic view ...

We have seven weeks left in our homeschool year. Then it's Graduation Day for our second oldest daughter. We just ordered her graduation announcements, made the facebook event page, and ordered prints of her senior pictures this week. Suddenly it seems a whole lot more real, and we have so much planning left to do. She has some ideas of how she wants her celebration to go, but we haven't finalized anything yet.

Of course, there's also schoolwork to finish. During those seven weeks, she has college classes to finish (dual-credit), with papers, speeches, and tests yet to come. She's also working and extremely busy. I've got 7 kids at home everyday and I'm trying to keep five of them on track with their schoolwork. Most of them are doing okay, but I've got one son who is going to have to work into the summer. I need a better plan for him next year.

It's time to start thinking about next year's curriculum, but I haven't really started yet. I need to really consider what's working and what's not. I need a better plan for my sons who will be 6th and 9th grade next year, especially for history. Neither of them has seemed to enjoy their current history and it's a battle to keep them moving in their books. I may look at Lifepacs for them. I don't particularly care for them (at least not the idea of them) but it would be clear to them how much to do each day to stay on target.

In the midst of all this other stuff, we'll also be starting baseball next month with practices five days a week. Life is perpetually busy. That isn't going to change. So I guess I just need to take each day as it comes and keep my lists handy.

How many weeks are left in your school year? Are your final weeks equally busy?

April E.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson

Sally Clarkson's books have had an immeasurable impact on my life. I own each of her books, and have read some of them more than once. While most of her books speak to mothers, Own Your Life speaks to every Christian woman. It is a call to live "with deep intention, bold faith, and generous love".

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Own Your Life is divided into five main categories, with multiple chapters within each section. The section topics are:
  1. Barriers to Owning Your Life: Don't Settle for a Mediocre Life
  2. Owning Your Vision: Mapping Your Life Purpose
  3. Owning Your Life by Giving God Control: What Only He Can Do
  4. Owning Your Life by Partnering with God: Attitudes and Actions That Transform
  5. Owning Your Life by Loving Well: Create a Lasting Legacy

But what does Sally mean when she encourages us to own our lives? Her forward explains it like this:
"It means taking responsibility for my own behavior, decisions and attitudes so I may fully embrace God's amazing vision for my life and leave a legacy that points others to Him. Quite simply, owning my live means living up to my spiritual potential."

It's hard to explain the exact contents of the book. Each section is different from the previous section, but it also just builds and flows. I've had to read it in small sections due to time-constraints, but also because it takes time to digest what Sally has written and apply it to your life. The book is a bit like a trail mix, I guess. It contains different elements, it's delicious and nourishing, and you can nibble at it as you hike along through life.

I love the book!  So much of what Sally says resonates with me. It speaks to where I am, feelings I have had, conversations I've had with my teens. It challenges me to look more carefully at my priorities, my attitudes, my actions, and my relationships. I've shared quotes with my daughter in college, and tweeted  quotes that just spoke to me. Most of the pages in my book look like this picture - full of underlining, stars, and even notes.
A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Own Your Life will resonate with any Christian woman who is trying to find God's plan for her life, who feels bogged down by the ordinariness of everyday life, or somehow feels unworthy of being used by God. It isn't always easy or fun to take an honest look at changes we may need to make, but Sally is so encouraging in everything she writes. She shares stories from her own life that help us relate to her and give us hope that we can live boldly for God in our own daily life, as well.

Sally Clarkson has done it again! I highly recommend Own Your Life!

April E.

I received a complimentary copy of Own Your Life for review purposes from Tyndale House and Tyndale Blog Network. No other compensation was received, a positive review was not required, and this review contains my honest opinion.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Signs of Spring: It's official now! (episode 3)

It is feeling more like Spring each and every day, and not just because we're past the correct date.

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Are you seeing signs of Spring or are you still buried under snow?

April E.

Join other Wordless Wednesday bloggers at Life at Rossmont . 

Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont

Friday, March 20, 2015

Words to hold onto!

Let's be honest. Often, being a mother is a thankless job. Mom is often the dumping ground for every negative feeling, every complaint and criticism. It can become very easy to believe that nothing you do matters, that your children are unhappy, and that you are failing.

In reality, our kids feel safe with us. They feel safe spilling out all their inner ugly on us, including their disappointment, frustrations and discontentment. They know we will still love them. They hope we will encourage them.

This week, my 14 year-old son returned from a sleepover. He had a good time, but he lounged on our couch that evening and said, "It's good to be home."

Our 19 year-old daughter is home for Spring Break and she wandered out of the girls' shared bedroom a short while later and echoed a similar sentiment. "Usually when I come home, I'm so eager to go back to school, but this time I just want to stay. It's so good to be home and I'm really enjoying just relaxing," she said.

Those words just wrapped a warm hug around my heart. We have an older home. It's a crowded home. We only have one bathroom and everyone shares a room except our high school senior. The shower drips. Our fridge has issues. The young kids make toy messes. We're loud. The house is still sporting 1960s paint and decor, despite us having lived here for 7 years.

I'm accustomed to griping and complaining from the kids on a regular basis about the state of our home, their siblings, the limited satellite internet, or even just the fact that we live in the country and not in town. To hear two of them say "It's good to be home" in the same day was so nice. I was still thinking about it when I got up the next morning.

As I was getting ready for my day, I was thinking about that. As mothers, it is our job to make our home warm and welcoming. No matter how new or how old, we want our home to be filled with love. We want it to be a safe place, a nest for our family. So hearing our kids say "it's good to be home" means we are succeeding.

Sometimes they say that after a long day at school, a vacation, or just a busy day of errands. The extroverts may not say it as often, and they may be ready to leave shortly after they say it, but they still mean it.

Listen for it. Remember it. Remind yourself they said that the next time they start to dump on you about your home, about the lack of "good food", about their annoying siblings, or whatever it is that your kids gripe about.

I know my kids have said it before, but it didn't really sink in until this week. I'll be listening more, and remembering it when the dumping comes. The dumping is just temporary frustrations coming out. It isn't the deep truth that your kids really feel about you and your home.  Don't listen to the negative stuff and get discouraged. Listen for the words that show they really do love and appreciate you and your efforts.

Here are a few other words they casually blurt out every now and then that always lift my spirits:

1. I love you, Mom.
2. Thanks, Mom!
3. You look really pretty today, Mom.
4. You're the best, Mom!
5. I told someone what you said once, and they thought I was so smart.

I don't know what words you need to hear. But I'm sure your kids say them sometimes. Just listen and tuck them away for the bad day. Write it down if you need to, so you can't forget. They do appreciate you, they just don't always say it.

Hang in there,
April E.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Signs of Spring ~ Beauty and Color Returns (episode 2)

Pictures of Spring from around our home.

Siberian Squill starting to bloom.

The first lonely crocus bloom.

Wheat turning green and growing longer.

A prom dress hanging in a closet.

I hope you are seeing signs of Spring around your home, too. What brings you the most joy this time of year?

April E.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crew Review: Critical Thinking's World History Detectives

Critical Thinking Company Review

This post is a review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Our family has been using products from The Critical Thinking Co. for close to ten years. We appreciate their emphasis on critical thinking skills and logic. We have always found their products to be high quality and we love their family-friendly copyright. So of course, I expected no less from the World History Detective Book 1 when we received it for a Schoolhouse Crew review. I wasn't disappointed at all!

Critical Thinking Co. World History Detective

World History Detective, Book One

World History Detective Book One covers ancient and medieval civilizations and is designed for grades 6 - 12. It is a softcover book, with 78 short lessons included in it. In order to finish it in a school year, you would need to cover 2-3 lessons per week.

Each lesson includes 1-2 pages of text with maps and illustrations. The lesson is divided into paragraphs that are labeled by letter, and each sentence is given a number. (You'll see why in a minute.) After the text, there are about 3 pages of activities related to the lesson. Each lesson has questions that not only test the student's recall of the lesson, but also asks them which sentence supports their answer. The numbered sentences allow them to record their answer with a number instead of re-writing the whole sentence. Next, there is a written response question and a concept map (which you can see in the picture above).

The book is 362 pages long. It begins with a three page Teacher Overview that helps you understand how to use the book. There is also a link at the end of the Table of Contents that takes you to bonus review materials, which are set up similarly to the book. The answer key for the activities (except the written responses) are included at the end of the book.

How We Used It:

Since The Critical Thinking Co. allows a family to make photocopies within their own family, I was able to use the same book with both my 5th grade and 8th grade sons. I photocopied the activity sheets so each boy had a copy of their own. At first, I encouraged the boys to read the assignment on their own and assured them I would help them figure out the activities. That didn't work. I finally had to sit down with them and read it aloud. After we had read it, we went through the questions together, and filled in the concept map.

Initially, there was a learning curve for my boys on understanding how to find the answers to the questions. Because I was reading it to them (not the preferred method, but they're reluctant learners at times) it took them longer to find the answers to the questions. I often helped them out by pointing out which paragraph to look in. Labeling the paragraphs with letters would be entirely necessary but it was very helpful at this point. After they found the correct answer, we had to discuss which sentence BEST supported the answer. Sometimes more than one sentence applied, but there was one that gave more detailed information that supported it better. This whole process grew easier for them with each chapter. We sometimes skipped the written answers, but we always did the first nine questions and the concept map.

Even though my younger son is a grade beneath the intended target, I was able to use it with him. He's very bright, and had no issues with the reading or the analytical thinking ... other than his reluctance to actually sit down and do the reading! I'm not sure he could have managed it completely on his own, but he was able to work with me.

ElCloud Thoughts:

There are several things that I liked about the World History Detectives Book One, and there was one thing I didn't like. I really like that the lessons are short, and seem less overwhelming to those who are younger or dislike reading. I also like the focus on analytical thinking and supporting your answers. This is very helpful experience for them as they move into writing research papers. The three different types of activities at the end of each lesson help them absorb and process the  information they had just covered.

The one thing I didn't like as much was that the reading is very factual and a little dry. We've always tried to use more engaging books, so this was an adjustment for us. That's mainly why I ended up having to read it to them. I know that it needs to be that way for the type of logical questions and analyzing they want the kids to do, but it didn't make it very appealing to my 11 and 14 year old boys. I am sure there are some students who would much rather just have the facts laid out for them like this, though.

I do want to note that World History Detectives Book One does not come from a strictly Christian viewpoint. It takes a secular, non-religious approach to discussing history. It isn't anti-Christian, it just tries not to align with any one faith. Since Book One deals with early civilizations, it introduces the faiths of many different countries, including Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. This doesn't bother us, as we have studied them in history already. We feel it's important for our children to know a little about other faiths.

World History Detectives Book One also takes an Old World view of history, mentioning the evolution of man in some early lessons. It would be possible to avoid that particular topic by skipping lessons two through four. We did choose to read lesson one, because I liked the explanation of different types of scientists and historians, but then we skipped lessons two through four. I debated going ahead and doing them, since my boys are aware of evolutionary viewpoints already, but I just decided it wasn't necessary for them.

Overall, I was very impressed with World History Detectives Book One. I'm curious what Book Two will cover and am eager to take a look at US History Detectives sometime. If you don't mind separating your world history into multiple years, it's a straightforward, logic-building secular history that would work well in many families.

World History Detectives Book One provides a unique approach to world history. It can be used as a stand-alone textbook, a supplemental resource, or a review for older students. There is a link to take a peek inside the book at the website .  Book one retails for $34.99. The copyright allows the original purchaser to make up to 35 copies per year for use in one home or one classroom. This makes it completely re-usable for a family and the last student gets to write in the book! That is always a plus in my book!

You can follow The Critical Thinking Co.  via social media:  facebookgoogle+twitter, or pinterest. You can also read more reviews of World History Detectives Book One and other products at The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

April E.

Critical Thinking Company Review

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