Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Hewitt Homeschooling


Research papers are a wonderful way to study a topic in-depth and really do some serious learning about a particular subject. Research papers can also be difficult for a young student to grasp. There are so many steps involved in the process: choosing a topic, finding sources, researching the information, sorting through all your information to see what's relevant, writing a rough draft, editing, then completing a final copy. Students will have the need for doing research papers for the rest of their academic years, so the earlier a student starts learning and practicing the process, the better equipped they will be.

Hewitt Homeschooling  has come up with a very efficient and user friendly way to teach elementary students the process of doing a research report. We recently had the opportunity to use My First Report: Southern United States in our home school. This resource can be used as an entire unit study, and is suggested for grades 1-4.


Kelly just completed 3rd grade, and likes writing so I thought this would be a good fit for her. She had no trouble at all with the questions or projects. In fact, they may have been a bit on the easy side. I think a 1st and 2nd grader would need a good deal of help with this, and it would probably be 'just right' for a 3rd grader. Older children who struggle with writing or the mechanics of putting together a research paper might also find this helpful.

What is included in a packet? We received a 58 page packet of papers. There was a cover sheet, and then a fact sheet and question sheet for each state that is covered in the report. There are several maps - not only one of each state, but also a United States map and a North America map, so the student can learn the perspective of where the Southern States are located in relation to their own home state or other regions.

Also included is a crossword puzzle for review, some copywork, and reproducible blank 'report' papers in 3 different size ruled lines. The student can choose the width that they are most comfortable writing with, and the parent is allowed to reproduce as many of those sheets as the student needs to complete their report. (The remainder of the pages are not allowed to be copied - parents would need to order one packet per student).

This "My First Report" can be used in two different ways. A student can use it solely as the basis for a research report in the elementary grades. Picture this as a skeleton of a report, and the student learns how to "flesh it out". It gives good starting information, plus interesting tidbits and probing questions for the student to look up on their own, find the answers to, and write about in their report. There is a very thorough list of resources and books that can be obtained and used for bibliography as well.

Another way a parent could use this with their child is as a complete unit study. There are 11 states that are covered in this Southern States packet: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. There is enough material here to investigate one state per week, and stretch this study out over a quarter or more. 

Unit Study ideas: There is a very creative list of ideas for further study in each of these academic areas: Bible, History, Geography, Social Studies, Reading, Language, Math, Science, Health, Music, Art, and field trips. I love all the ideas of songs to listen to in the Music section. The Southern culture is rich in its musical heritage and contributions to American music, and I would have never thought to include these songs in our study of the Southern States. There are also many clever games that you can make and use to remember the facts learned. 


How we used it: We basically used the My First Report as a springboard to learn more about the Southern States. We have used most of the maps, and have gotten through about half the states so far. Because it's our summer time, and school is less intense, we are really being relaxed about having some fun with this and discovering many of the extras that go along with the unit study. Last year in school, Kelly learned the location and capitals of all the states, so this has been a great review of those facts for her. She remembered a few things from last year, but has learned a lot of new things as well through this study. She really loves knowing what each state's bird, motto, and state song are. One of Kelly's favorite activities was the states and capitals crossword puzzle that is included.

Fun Stuff: Since a southern staple food is biscuits, one of the extra activities we did was to take an afternoon and make biscuits from scratch. They turned out pretty good too! Kelly learned how to knead and cut biscuit dough.



Overall thoughts: I really love how the unit study integrates so many areas of learning into this project. A parent could make the research report as in depth as they want, and Hewitt Homeschooling really lays everything out so you can jump right into it and not have to spend much time coming up with resources and ideas. There is so much here in the packet that it would be difficult to cover it all, and there is also a wide variety of ideas and activities to appeal to a broad range of interests.

How much does it cost? The entire packet costs $8.95.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Obscure Bible Heroes {Blogging Through the Alphabet - M}


M is for Mordecai

Esther 10:3 "For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed."

Mordecai is a true unsung hero. Ask any little girl who her favorite Bible character is, and at least half will probably answer Esther. The story of Esther is a special one: the young orphan girl who is captive in a strange foreign land, and grows up to save her people. There is so much to love about Esther - her determination, her purpose, her wisdom, and her simplicity. In this case, behind a great woman is a caring man - Mordecai - the cousin who raised Esther as his own daughter and instilled these wonderful qualities into her character. 

Esther 2:7 "And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter."

Mordecai had been taken captive along with other important Jewish men, and carried away into captivity. As was the case for many of the Jewish elders, Mordecai served in the king's palace in Persia. He served faithfully, even under trying circumstances, and had the favor of the king.

It is not known when Esther lost her parents. Perhaps it was during the siege of the Jewish homeland, or perhaps later when she was already captive into the land of Persia. What is important to note is that Mordecai took over the rearing of Esther when she had no one else. He instilled such a deep level of character and sense of purpose in Esther, that she was ready and able to not only become the queen in her captive land, but also rise to the occasion and save her people when the circumstances dictated that all the Jews in the land of Persia should be killed.

Mordecai was a man of integrity who sought no reward for himself. His life's purpose was continually wrapped around the benefit of others: the king, the servants, Esther, the Jews. He was a faithful man who did his job well. While he could have been bitter about being a captive in a strange land, he instead decided to quietly save the king's life from a mercenary's plot. He carefully raised up Esther, not knowing that one day she would be the one to save all the Jews from Haman's wicked plot to eliminate them. Instead he thoroughly prepared her for life, never allowing her to nurse a bitter spirit of hatred or revenge towards those who caused the death of her parents.

In the end, Mordecai and Esther were able to establish forever the Jewish holiday of Purim and encourage their people to be more for the Lord.  God used them both in a great way, because of the courage and faithfulness of one man, to do what was right when it was not convenient or easy.

Esther 9:29: "Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm this second letter of Purim"
Esther 9:31: "To confirm these days of Purim in their times appointed, according as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined them, and as they had decreed for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the fastings and their cry."

May we, like Mordecai, seek peace in our lives, and encourage those under our influence to do the same. While seeking peace, may we also have the courage to not compromise our convictions no matter what the presumed cost might be, always realizing that we were placed in our circumstances "for such a time as this", to bring glory to God, and magnify His name. May we also find someone to invest in, and make a difference in their life, like Mordecai did for Esther. 

Ben and Me

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Flourish - Balance for Homeschool Moms


Apologia Educational Ministries has once again hit a home run with this latest time management book specifically designed for home school moms, "Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms". 

I was privileged to receive this book back in June, for review. I found it easy to read, almost conversational, as if I was sitting down in my living room sharing a cup of tea with author Mary Jo Tate, listening to practical advice on being a mom, homeschooling, and ministering to my family. The wisdom in this book is priceless.

About the book: Flourish was written directly to mothers to not only share wisdom about day to day tasks that are universal and common to motherhood and managing a home, but also to give special instruction when a mother takes on extras, such as homeschooling or running a home based business. There is special attention given to those mothers who find themselves in a situation where they are single or the sole source of financial provision for their family. Flourish is 282 pages long, and includes worksheets in the back that accompany the chapters, as well as an online resource with additional customized and printable worksheets.




About the author: Mary Jo Tate is a successful homeschool mom, entrepeneur, and motivational speaker. She writes from her own personal experiences, and expounds in an unfiltered way about what worked and what didn't in her own personal journey. She has been homeschooling since 1997 and is mom to 4 sons. Her personal blog is Flourish At Home.




How Did This Book Speak to Me? The tagline of this book is "Stop enduring the journey and start enjoying it!" Most days I really do enjoy homeschooling and this crazy life I lead. It is a very busy life though, and I often wonder if I am as effective as I could be in many areas. Balance is a somewhat elusive goal that, while I know is important, in practicality is often not achieved. Whatever the crisis or priority of the moment is - that's what gets the attention.

This book was eye opening. At times, while reading it, I wondered....does this lady know me? Is she peeking through my windows and watching my life? How does she know all this about me? The book spoke clearly and directly to me about areas of my life that need an overhaul. While it was very convicting, the author comes across kind and gentle, as a fellow "in the trenches" mom who struggles with the same issues, not as someone who was beating me over the head with my failures and causing me to feel even more defeated. I found the exercises to be very analytical, which I enjoy. Using the worksheets and writing down areas of my life that need improvement helped me to feel like I am actually formulating a plan to succeed, or at least do better. It did not just make me walk away feeling like there was no hope. I love how the chapters are organized. It is not just instructional, but very practical.

What is included? Here are some thoughts that you will find in this book:

  1. An Invitation to Flourish - tells about the author's story and talks about examining your own life, encouraging the reader to get out of their comfort zone and envision what their life could look like.It introduces the reader to the pre-book self-evaluation, where you answer direct questions about your own life and goals. The heart of the book can be found in the following quote, which I just love:

2. Change Your Mind to Change Your Time - helps with learning what true balance is, and helps the reader analyze what can be changed and what can't while examining their priorities. I think, for my own self, this journey can be summed up in one sentence from p. 19, "Find peace in the space between the ideal and reality."

3. Emphasis on "Organization Promotes Efficiency" (p. 33) where the author takes you through a journey to find "FREEDOM" in your life. Topics discussed are delegation, organization, and self-discipline.

4. Where Did My Time Go? Teaches the reader how to evaluate their life using the personal time log. It is not someone telling you what to do, but guiding you in deciding what your primary focus should be, and what you can let go of in your life. 
"Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least" ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (p.25)
5. Goal setting - it is not about making unrealistic goals, but about making manageable goals, formulating a plan to achieve them, then re-evaluating and setting new ones. There are seven planning tools to help with the practical aspect of this. While working towards our goals, we must also stretch our self with thinking big and dreaming. Again, the recurring theme is balance.

6. Attitude Adjustment and oxygen masks: There is a ton of practical advice that speaks to a mom's spirit. All the good planning and organization in the world will be for naught if the mom is mean and nasty while accomplishing it. Life has interruptions, and learning to deal with them and be flexible will teach volumes to the little sets of eyes that are watching us. I enjoyed the chapter about "oxygen masks" and the reminder to build time in to my schedule to maintain my own spiritual, physical, and emotional well being, being reminded that when I am flourishing, it will cause my family to flourish as well.

7. A large portion of the book is dedicated to practical help for the nitty-gritty of keeping a home, running a home school and parenting in general. This is a great help, and I found much useful, down-to-earth advice in these chapters. I loved the emphasis on making memories with the children.

8. Special attention, in fact a whole chapter, is completely dedicated to operating a home business. In our economy, most families find it difficult to survive on just one income. This is very practical help for women who need to supplement family income while trying to remain balanced with parenting, keeping the home, and home schooling. I found much of the wisdom of this chapter very applicable as we have begun a family business this past year, and juggling my new found responsibilities with it has been difficult. I am still working through some of the planning and adjusting that comes with that, and the included weekly plan worksheets have been helpful.

9. Solo Act - Another whole chapter is dedicated to women who are in a position where they must 'do it all'. Any number of circumstances can contribute to this, such as death, separation, or even military deployment. There is definitely a different set of special needs that these women have, and I love how Mary Jo Tate, who has 'been there' as a single mom, raising 4 boys, running a business, and home schooling, addresses these needs in a loving and compassionate way. Although I am not in that position, reading this chapter helped me to understand better the ladies that I know who are, and how I can be a better help and encouragement to them.

Final Opinion: I am really enjoying this book. I lightly read through it for the purpose of writing this review, but now I am really enjoying going back through it a second time, chapter by chapter, and really digging into my own life, learning how to apply many of the principles that I am learning. I have been using all the worksheets, and disciplining myself to write things down, examine my life, and make some decisions about my daily time expenditures. My heart's desire is to see my family flourish and be useful in the service of the Lord, and I see how much of this really depends on my own attitude and actions. With the instruction I am receiving from this book, I am encouraged about my new outlook on my life, family, and home.

What does it cost?  Flourish is currently selling for $15. on the Apologia website.

Is it just for home school moms? I honestly believe the practical advice in this book would be beneficial to all moms, not just those who home school.

Keep up with the author on Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FlourishAtHome
Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryjotate

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GF/DF Zucchini Bread



This recipe makes the summer onslaught of zucchini much more welcome! After washing the zucchini, I cut it into chunks and send it through the food processor to shred evenly. After pulling out what I need for this recipe, I store the rest in quart sized freezer bags in 2-cup portions, since that makes pulling out a bag for making this bread very easy!

3c. GF all-purpose flour blend (for this bread, I suggest Bob's Red Mill)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. xanthum gum
2 c. sugar
2 c. shredded zucchini
2 eggs
1/2 oil
1 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease bread pans. This recipe will make 2 large or 6 small loaves. Baked loaves can be stored in freezer.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, oil, and lemon juice. Pour into the dry ingredients and lightly stir until just mixed. Fold shredded zucchini into batter, then divide evenly among prepared pans.

Lightly sprinkle some extra sugar over the tops of the batter in the pans before putting them into the ovens.

Bake for about 25 minutes for small loaves, and 50 minutes for large loaves. Bake until the tops of the bread are firm and lightly browned, and a tester or thin toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf.

Enjoy!



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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: HomeSchoolPiano



Piano instruction has always been a big part of our family. We decided early on that we wanted our girls to be well versed in music, and have always felt that learning piano was a fundamental key to understanding how music works, before moving on to other instruments. We were very excited to review HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books with a lifetime subscription to an account at HomeSchoolPiano.

What is HomeSchoolPiano? This is an online course that can be used by up to five different family members. It includes levels of Core training for very basic beginners, all the way up to fairly advanced piano playing. A big part of the program is teaching improvisation, which allows the pianist to first learn the basics of a song, then learn how to 'make it their own' by adding in various extra sounds and patterns.

What does a typical online lesson look like? A typical lesson will last about 10 minutes, with suggestions given for additional practice time. The screen is set up in such a way that you see the instructor, the keyboard, and a birds eye view of the fingering all at the same time! It looks like this:


The instructor, Willie, seen at the bottom left corner, talks in an upbeat and encouraging way, and thoroughly explains the technique being demonstrated. While he is instructing, his face is always visible. A second camera is showing his hand moving on the keyboard, and exact fingerings are shown by orange highlighting on the keyboard at the top of the screen.

Willie is funny, engaging, and very enthusiastic. He makes a great piano teacher!

But these are not just online piano lessons! This is actually an entire course, complete with books, worksheets, quizzes, and awesome record keeping. This course is a complete system. When you purchase the lifetime subscription, you are also purchasing access to the instruction books that can be downloaded. We downloaded the book that Kelly was mostly working from, and it was 52 pages long. Included in it is actual sheet music, as well as practice exercises and extra written explanation of the online lessons.



Here is a sample page from Book 1, on the subject of Improvisation:



What method is used to teach piano?  HomeSchoolPiano uses a unique blend of overlapping training, in a "learn at your own pace" speed. The first set of lessons is called Core Piano, and includes 33 short videos that teach very basic piano terms, music theory, and techniques to beginners, introducing them to methods and words that they will need to know later on as they advance through the levels.


There are three levels. Each level has it's own lesson book. Each level is broken down into six units. Each unit examines one song, and advances through six stages of video lessons for that song, breaking it down into manageable pieces of instruction for the student. The following diagram illustrates the order of teaching. First the song is introduced and technique is demonstrated. In the next lesson, the rhythm of the song is broken down and carefully examined. Ear training comes next, showing the student various patterns within the music. Note reading is also included, so the student is receiving instruction in both ear training and reading music. Both are an integral part of playing the piano. Lastly, once the student has mastered the song as it is written, the lesson on improvisation shows them how to customize the song and add their own creative touch.

By the time a student has completed a unit, they have thoroughly picked a song apart and learned how to play it well. With enough practice, it is entirely possible for the student to have mastered the song by the completion of the unit.

Here is the layout of a unit: 




The bonus at the end is an interesting perk that feels like a reward at the end of mastering the song of that unit. Each unit has its own bonus feature, that shows the student something really cool to add to their piece.

What do the levels cover? Book 1 is for the beginner, and covers basic scales, theory, and dynamics. If someone has no previous piano experience, they should definitely start at the Core Piano lessons, but I think the Core Piano lessons also make great review for Book 1 students.

Book 2 explores much more improvisation, and builds on the foundation that Book 1 lays. There are different fingering patterns and music styles that are introduced. Book 3 covers all the scales, and actually advances the student into the realm of composing their own musical pieces.

HomeSchoolPiano even keeps great records! Once you log in, there is a box that shows where you left off, allowing the student to easily return to the end of their last lesson with one simple click. This was a great help to my 9 year old, who was using the lessons on her own and was a bit overwhelmed with all the choices available on the website. With the one click box, she easily just picked up where she left off.

For a teacher, the record keeping that is built into this program is just plain tremendous. As long as each student remembers to sign in to their own account, the program will track how much they finish from each lesson. As the parent, I can click the records for each student and easily see where they were at, and how much work they had put in. I could also see their quiz grades.


As you can see from the records above, we have skipped around quite a bit using this program, to try to get a feel for as much of it as we could for the review. I am looking forward to going back and systematically moving through each level until all are completed, in order.  Each student
has their own records page such as the one shown above.

What are the quizzes like? The quizzes that I saw were short and sweet. They were aligned closely to the lessons, and if the student did well with the lesson, they would have no trouble with the multiple choice quiz. Also, if they answered incorrectly, they were allowed to go back, examine their wrong answers,  and re-submit new answers. I love this because it allows the student to work to mastery of the subject matter.

Here is a sample quiz question: 



In the above quiz, the student plays the 20 second sound bite, then selects the correct answer from the 3 options given. There were 4 such questions on this particular quiz.

What special equipment is needed?  There is none really! Of course, the student will need a piano or keyboard to work with, but the piano/keyboard does not need to be connected to the computer. The lessons can be viewed on any device that can access the internet. (We liked to take the iPad over to the piano, watch the lesson, then pause it and work on the exercises) The videos can be viewed on any media player on your computer.

What age is this program geared towards? Because of the simple, work-at-your-own-pace nature of this program, as well as the 24 hour access, this program really is good for all ages. Even a young child can follow along the Core Piano lessons, and learn the basics. As they master that, they can move on and start working on more involved techniques. At any time, a lesson that is not mastered can be repeated and worked on again. This program is simple, but not childish. As an adult, I have greatly enjoyed using this program, and felt completely able to grasp what was being taught, in the privacy of my own home, without feeling inferior or embarrassed when I had to repeat the video because I didn't quite catch it the first time.

How much does it cost? The complete package of HomeSchoolPiano that gives unlimited life time access to all the lessons (Core to Advanced), for up to 5 students, as well as all the bonuses such as downloadable books, sheet music, and jam tracks costs $299. Just stop for a moment and compare that to the cost of a life time of piano lessons! There is also a payment plan available, allowing the buyer to make 3 payments of $99.97 each over 3 months.

How did we use this...and what do we think? Kelly, age 9, and myself were the main people to use this program. We jumped around quite a bit with Kelly, trying to find where she would best fit into the lesson structure. She has taken piano lessons for most of her life, so I wanted her to be challenged, yet not be overwhelmed. This is summer, and we are trying to take it easy, after all! Besides, I really believe music instruction should be enjoyable and not frustrating. Kelly enjoyed being able to sign in and do this on her own. She would often repeat videos, either because she really liked the lesson, or she didn't quite have the concept down, and wanted to hear it and try it again. She thinks Willie is a funny teacher, and enjoyed the lessons. She thought the songs were hard, but that's ok. I encouraged her that it was good to challenge herself with learning some new things.


As for myself, I have taken piano off and on over the years. I have had multiple instructors, and though I "know my way" around the keys, I have never really felt like I could pull all my bits and pieces of knowledge together enough to actually play a song, or accompany my children as they sing. There were things I learned watching these videos that bridged many of the gaps in my piano learning, and really helped me to grasp the concepts more completely. I was fascinated to be able to actually (sort of) play some of the songs in the units. It definitely inspired me to continue on with these lessons, as time allows, and try to increase my piano skills. The kids enjoyed seeing me work through the lessons as well. 

The only qualm I had about the lessons is what seems to be a heavy emphasis on jazz music and techniques. Personally, I prefer more classical pieces, and although the concepts taught can be applied to any type of music, I would have preferred to have a broader selection of styles in the songs that we worked on.

Here's a short video of Kelly working on a lesson:

video

Overall Opinion: I LOVE this program! I feel blessed beyond measure to have a lifetime subscription to it, and look forward to happily expanding my piano skills while working through the lessons. I have some personal piano playing goals that I have set, and I really feel like they are attainable because of using this program. HomeSchoolPiano would especially be good for large families that have multiple children who desire piano lessons, or families that live in rural settings or on the mission field and do not have access to a piano teacher. For all that is offered, I feel this program is extremely affordable.

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Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jazzedge/

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