Friday, January 21, 2011

homeschool ramblings

This post is intended for my homeschool friends.  If you don't homeschool, feel free to read my ramblings, too, although your head might be spinning by the end of the post (or, perhaps, before you reach the end!). 

I have been composing emails in my head for the past few days to several of my homeschool friends, but I thought I would just publish a blogpost instead and hope for some feedback.

Here's the scoop:
I'm kind overwhelmed at the moment. 
I know.  I know.  Coming from me, Ms. Stress-Management Personified, that must come as a HUGE SHOCK.
Or not.
If you don't know, we are doing almost all Sonlight Curriculum this year.  On many levels, I love Sonlight.  I truly love the fact that it is literature-based and that we have read some absolutely amazing books together this year.  Amélie loves both the books she reads to me and the books that I read to her.  Her reading ability has skyrocketed, her love of learning has increased exponentially, and she likes school. 
So what is my problem? 
Well, part of my problem is that Sonlight is incredibly time-consuming.  It's not that I am not willing to commit to spending time on homeschooling Amélie.  It's a full-time job, and I'm glad (usually) to do it.  Part of my problem is that, with the exception of two mornings a week when Jack is in preschool, I have a three-year-old to contend with.  He is too young to enjoy most of the books we are reading, and I know he must get jealous of all of the one-on-one time I spend with Amélie that I then don't have time to spend with him (GUILT!  GUILT!  GUILT!). 
Another problem I have with Sonlight is that we spend so much time reading that we don't get to do activities with the reading.  While studying ancient Egyptian history, I would like to hike on over to the Nelson and check out their fantastic Ancient Egyptian gallery.  While reading The House on Walenska Street, I would like to take a break from where we are in history and geography entirely and spend some time studying what life for Jewish families in Russia was like 100-years ago.  Next week is Kansas Day, and if I do something for Kansas Day (which I intend to do), then I mess up where we are in the schedule.
I think I have a problem with the rigidity of the schedule, and while I know it is a suggested schedule, I am such a "rule-follower" that I feel like I have to do it all and do it well.  Meanwhile, we miss out on doing some fun and educational stuff that I feel is important to Amélie's education and to my sanity. 
We are also reviewing homeschooling products this year, and trying to squeeze the trying-out part into our schedule has been incredibly stressful.
So what do I do?
At this point I am not ready (I don't think) to scrap Sonlight, partly because I invested a lot of time and money into this program and partly because I do believe it is an excellent program. 
So what do I do?
(Did I say that already?)

Here is the type of homeschooling program I am interested in (to either find or figure out myself):
I still think I am interested in a literature-based program, because I definitely see how much more Amélie soaks up when what we are learning is lit-based.  Maybe I want a more unit-based lit program?  For example, as I noted above, while reading The House on Walenska Street I would like to learn about life in Russia 100 years ago.  When it's the Chinese New Year I want to celebrate with history and crafts and food.  I would like to feed Amélie's passion to feed the world and save the planet.  I know, for a fact, that I can do this while homeschooling.
But how?
I just get so overwhelmed so fast, and while I do have some time I can spend planning (and, I will confess, it's the planning and researching part that I sometimes love the most), I hardly feel like I have the time or the ability to create my own curriculum (please correct me if I'm wrong). 
Lastly, I have some questions about some specific homeschool programs/products/philosophies, so I'm going to list them here, and if you have any thoughts please let me know.  Here they are:
Shurley English
Excellence in Writing
Monarch or SOS
Tapestry of Grace
Unit Studies
Classical Education
Charlotte Mason
I am at a complete loss as to the other things I was wondering about--proof of my overwhelmed brain. :) 
I would love to know what you have tried...what worked for you...what didn't...etc. 
Oh, and while you're at it, if you feel like sharing your schedule and your thoughts on homeschooling more year-round that would also be fantastic.
Thanks ever, ever, ever so much!

Speekee--TOS Review

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, we were given a free two-month trial of Speekee, which is, according to their website, "the world's number 1 Spanish choice for young children." 

The program, designed for children ages 2 - 10, consists of ten online episodes that are 15-20 minutes long apiece.  Each episode features catchy songs, puppets, Spanish children in Spanish locations, and downloadable worksheets.  The program is done entirely in Spanish, although you can turn on English and Spanish subtitles.  We turned on the subtitles when Amélie was watching the episodes, and she liked being able to read what was being said or sung in Spanish. 

The program costs $7.50 per month, although the first two weeks are free, allowing you to try out the program risk-free.  You can also buy a DVD Box Set of the series, if you would rather.  The set includes the ten episodes available in the online version, as well as a DVD and CD of the songs and a parent guide with activity ideas and a Spanish/English dictionary.  If you choose to order the DVD Box Set and live in the US, make sure you read the note about DVD player requirements. 

Schools can also use this program with their students, and if they would like to try it out they can receive a free 30-day trial

I think this is a good program to introduce children to Spanish.  The songs are catchy, which helps kids learn the Spanish words and phrases more quickly, and the episodes are presented in a fun, engaging way.  Jack, my 3-year-old, especially enjoyed bopping along to the fun songs.  I am not sure how much Spanish he actually picked up on or understood, but I think that his brain has been primed for more Spanish-learning, at least.  :)  My 7-year-old, however, wasn't terribly impressed with the program.  She liked watching the first episode, but after that she lost interest and would drift off to do other things when I was playing the program for Jack.  I must say, though, that she wants to learn French, so she steers herself away from any attempt for me to introduce her to another language!  :) 

Based on our experience, I would recommend this program for young children, although if you have any interest at all in teaching your kids Spanish, you can try out the program risk-free, so you have nothing to lose!

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free two-month trial of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter and the Wolf--TOS Review

I am pretty sure that my eyes lit up when I opened the Maestro Classics CD of Peter and the Wolf.  I love classical music, and I want to introduce it to my kids in a fun way.  I was hoping that this CD would do the trick.  I was certainly not disappointed!  I LOVE (love, love, love, love, love) this CD. 

The Maestro Classics website explains their products as an "award-winning new classical music CD series for children and families [that] combines classic stories with great symphony orchestra music. Combining literature, classical music, education and entertainment, these CDs for parents and children are perfect for ALL kids and interested parents." 

The parents AND the kids in our household loved this recording.  The CD is so much more than merely a recording of the musical piece.  It includes an introduction to the song, which explains all of the characters in Peter and the Wolf and their corresponding instrument (for example, the bird is represented by the flute, the grandfather as the bassoon, etc).  You can also listen to the full musical piece with incredibly well-done narration (the narrator manages to tell the story without intruding on the musicality of the piece), and later in the CD you can listen to the piece without narration.  The kids and I had a lot of fun retelling the story as we listened to the music.  I really enjoyed the track that talked about the life of the composer, Sergei Prokofiev, and we all enjoyed the Russian folk music that was also included.  The CD booklet itself is its own mini-textbook, which includes background on the composer, a game to match up the instruments with the character they represent, a crossword puzzle, and information on Russian folk music. 

You can buy this amazing CD for $16.98, and Maestro Classics is also offering a great deal of three recordings for $45.00.  I would highly recommend at least the purchase of this CD.  You can also try out some of their other recordings, which include The Tortoise and the Hare, The Story of Swan Lake, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and more.  Check out the website to see all of the titles that are offered.  My Name is Handel and The Soldier's Tale (Stravinsky) are coming soon. 

I absolutely love this CD, and if you want to introduce your kids to classical music in a fun, engaging, educational way, then this product is for you!

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

doing the best i can

I made some New Years resolutions.  I'm generally failing.


I resolved to get up early and write, and then to write a bit more after the kids go to bed.
I did this for exactly three days, and I was so tired and cranky that I quit.  Would I get used to lack of sleep if I had to?

I resolved to get up early and exercise.
I walked with Jillian for four days two weeks ago, but then this week was so freakin' cold that we didn't walk.  I resolved that I would get up and exercise anyway.  But I didn't.  My excuse is that I didn't want to wake the puppy.  Um...........yeah.  I really do well with accountability, and when my friend wasn't waiting for me at the literal crack of dawn, I couldn't pull it off.  This frustrates me.  I want to be more self-motivated.

This is really off-topic, but I do really, really well if I have a syllabus.  When I was in school, I vacillated between being totally overwhelmed and totally fascinated with my syllabi.  I studied my syllabi.  I loved copying due dates into my planner.  I would feel freaked out and overwhelmed yet somehow also in control.

I need syllabi for my life, I think.
A syllabus for cleaning my house.
A syllabus for homeschool.  (I have this, I guess, and it is controlling my life in a not-so-positive way.)
A syllabus for writing.
A syllabus for exercising.
A syllabus for sex.  (well, it's true!)
A syllabus for fun.  (kinda sad.  i know. i know. i know.)

ANYWAY, I am actually succeeding in one resolution.  I have been reading for pleasure.  I cannot abandon reading for learning entirely, because my brain craves it and thrives on it, but I also crave reading for pleasure.  I get so incredibly overwhelmed with the NUMBER OF AMAZING BOOKS IN THE UNIVERSE.  There are many of them.  How will I get to them all?  Where do I start?  Well, I won't get to them all, but I decided to start with Pulitzer Prize winners, so that is what I am doing (except that I have had a lovely email exchange with a friend over some other books that have now sneaked onto the list, which IS OK, because (please remind me of this) it is OK to stray out of the lines.).  I just finished Shakespeare's Kitchen, and now I am reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I can't decide whether I like or not.  Have any of you read it?  If so, what did you think?  Should I keep reading, because there are a lot of books out there, and I don't want to waste my time.  :)  It's a really odd book, and after the first ten pages I was ready to abandon it, but I kept reading, and now I'm kind of fascinated and kind of turned off all at the same time.  I'll keep at it. 

I also resolved to eat X number of fruits and vegetables a day.  I'm not telling you how many I said I would eat, because you will laugh at me, but really...........I thought it was possible.  I had this theory that if I ate an inordinate amount of fruits and vegetables I would just automatically lose weight, kinda like magic, kinda like I would hardly have room for anything else.  I'm thinking about making a checklist for this one.
And a syllabus.  :)

So, I'm not doing so great.  But I have a new mantra for 2011.  Want to hear it?
It's this:
I will just do the best I can.

Here's the thing:
I probably will not end this year as skinny as I would like to be.
I probably won't eat as many vegetables as I should.
I probably won't tick as many Pulitzer Prize winners off of my list as I wanted to.
I probably won't write as much as my soul longs to write.
I probably won't spend as much time playing with my kids as I should.
I will probably make some major homeschooling error that will cost Amélie her first college choice.
I will probably not have sex as much as Matt would like.
I will probably spend my days more overwhelmed than is healthy.
I will probably not take some risks that would be life-changing.

But I will do some of those things.
I will hopefully get into a good exercise routine.
I will hopefully eat more veggies.
I will hopefully read more good books.
I will hopefully write.
I will hopefully play.
I will hopefully have some pretty good sex.
I will hopefully learn to cope a bit better.
I will hopefully take some fantastic risks.

And in the meantime, I'm going to do the best I can.  I'm going to be just, plain good enough
Because perfect is impossible.  And paralyzing.  And it ruins my life. 

I'm not about mediocre.  I hate mediocre.
But I have to embrace good enough.
Tomorrow starts a new week.
And next week,
I will exercise.
I will eat vegetables.
I will read.
I will write. 
I will play.
I will have sex.
I will claw my way out of feeling overwhelmed.
I will take a risk that will leave me stronger than I am tonight.

It's all good.
I'm going to do the best I can.
And then take a really deep breath and be OK with that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easy Classical--TOS Review

When I first found out that I would be doing a review of a classical education curriculum for TOS, I wasn't totally thrilled.  It's not that I don't believe in classical education--I actually spent an inordinate amount of time over the spring and fall studying classical education and trying to determine if I should go that route with Amélie.  In the end, I decided not to, and the main reason was that while I totally fell in love with the idea of a classical education, I knew that my perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive self would not be able to handle, without going into stress overload, the scheduling aspect on my own, especially since I was so new to homeschooling. 

Why, then, wasn't I thrilled to see that I was going to be reviewing a scheduling program for classical education?  The reason is simple and silly: I just didn't know that it was possible to actually pull off scheduling and do it well.  I am pleased, however, to say that I was wrong.  Easy Classical definitely succeeds in putting together a quality scheduling product that I would absolutely consider using (in fact...after spending time reviewing this product I am considering changing my curriculum for next year, so obviously I am sold!). 

I reviewed the schedule for Early Modern History (Explorers to 1820).  Here is the website's explanation of this product:

Easy Classical Early Modern History Schedule includes 36 week-long schedules plus 45+ pages of charts, sheets, and helps that will enhance your child’s learning. Each week’s lesson has review questions with answers, and quizzes included with each lesson. This schedule also includes a shopping list for the next day, as well as detailed instructions on how to use the schedules and the books you purchase. We send you all of this neatly placed in a 1″ 3-ring binder.

So simple!  :)

The Early Modern History schedule costs $35.95 for the notebook version or $29.95 for the digital version.  If this idea piques your interest, you can do further research by checking out their introduction pages, sample history schedule pages, and sample lesson pages.  I thought that the schedule and lesson pages were especially interesting to look at, because I think this company does an excellent job of providing activities and questions that both test the students' comprehension of the material as well as broaden the students' education beyond the pages of a book. 

Although I just looked at the history schedule, Easy Classical offers an entire curriculum scheduling package for kindergarten through 6th grade.  You can also order a complete schedule, a main schedule, and/or a science schedule

I would highly recommend this product, and I plan on looking into this company further.  You should check it out, as well!

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Math Facts Now!: TOS Review

When I received a downloadable copy of Math Facts Now to review, I was certainly intrigued.  I like trying new things for math, and this past semester, under the tutelage of our lovely and brilliant math teacher (and I don't just say that because she has two adorable children I get to eat up once a week while she is doing math with Amélie), my eyes have been opened to a world of math that is incredibly fun and that WORKS.  Who knew. 

This new mathematical experience has made me pretty picky about math approaches, however.  For my daughter, the more senses she uses the better.  For example, I had a horrid time trying to teach her evens and odds and to count by 2's and 3's.  She learned a song and dance with Courtney, and by that afternoon she had them nailed.  (And she learned that at the beginning of the school year and can still spout them off.) 

You might guess, then, that I am not a fan of flash cards.  I'm sure they work for some kids, but they don't work for mine.  Math Facts Now is kind of like flash cards in that the child is given a series of problems to answer.  If she gets it right, she gets to move on.  If she doesn't get it right, I can choose how many times she has to repeat the missed problem, and the program remembers that that particular equation is a sticky one for her to remember. 

Here is how the Math Facts Now website explains the program:

Do you want your child to have instant recall of the math facts?

Look at how Math Facts NOW! helps you to reach that goal!

•You choose which function and which specific numbers to drill (ie: multiplication tables, 8's).

•You choose how many problems to be given in a specific session.

•You choose how much time your child is to be given to complete a problem.

•You choose how many times the child is to repeat problems that he/she made mistakes on or took too long on.

•Math Facts NOW! remembers which problems your child is having difficulty with, and automatically presents them back to the child with greater frequency!

•You choose to enter a reward for the completion of a lesson with no errors.

•You choose to print a list of your child's weak areas.

Amélie didn't exactly love this program, but I thought it was a good drill for her.  I especially liked how it repeated the "problem problems" so that she could have extra practice. 

Math Facts Now is available as at $15.95 download, or you can order the CD for $15.95 + $3.95 for shipping and handling.  I thought the downloadable version worked great, and it would save you an extra 4 bucks.  :) 
What's even better is that you can try out this program for free to see if it is a good fit for you!!  I think that's pretty great, and I would definitely recommend that you give it a try.
If you would like to see what my other crewmates are writing about this site, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.