Monday, January 31, 2011

School Days, School Daze! Part Two- Organizing a Small Space

Of the homeschoolers that I know, very few of them can afford the space in their homes to have a 'school room'  We had a school room in our basement when I was a girl, and I have very warm memories of it.  But that is the exception, I think.  From what I have read, the normal homeschooling family considers the dining room to be the ideal place for schooling, and the living room couch is a close second.  

If that is true, then we are very typical.  We have school at the dining room table, with our reading time in the living room.  I would love to have a room to stick all of my stuff in, so it doesn't clutter up the house but that is just not happening in this small place.  Even if we did have a formal 'school room', I kind of imagine that we would still do our school in the parts of the house that we live in.  There is just something warm and comforting about doing school with books and papers spread out in on the dining room or kitchen table.  Unfortunately, since our dining room table is our ONLY table, I think it sees more books then it does food.  :)

So when you only have living space in which to cram all of your school things, how do you do it?  Well, I am one of those people who believes that you cannot have to many books.  I believe in hands-on science and plenty of art and craft materials for every sudden inspiration.  I believe in nature collections and bringing creepy crawlies in the house to observe. (those of you who know me personally are nodding right now!) I believe that learning does not typically take place behind the pages of a textbook but in the vibrant and active mind of a child in the depths of exploration.  

I also believe in a clean, tidy house.  

Are those beliefs compatible?  Well, not really.  Your house will never be as clean as the house where the children are gone for 8 to 12 hours a day.  BUT there are certain things that you can do to make it easier to maintain a home library and a small house.  I am still learning in this area, so I would LOVE input from you all on how to organize school things in a little space! 

So how do we keep our school things organized, so that each school day can flow smoothly?  Remember, I have to keep them busy because if I don't, they disappear!  Nothing is more counter- productive to a school day then herding children.

shelves by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

SMALL SHELVES My small shelves are where I keep my day-to-day learning stuff.  I say stuff, because it is normally a conglomeration of books, crafts, half-finished projects, and papers.  The only reason this is small shelves instead of the regular shelves is because the books kept multiplying and we ran out of room.  Plus small shelves is just a catchier title.  

I keep several things up here that are often temporary.  Library books.  Bop's almost-done crafts.  Our current nature collection, rocks.  Our crayon and pencil carousel.  The top shelf is reserved for the children.  This is where they can display anything they make in school and their craft projects.  I always feel badly for them, when they make a great project or display and it gets ruined because we don't have anywhere to display it.  

But the important part, for you to know about, is the everyday school things.  Here I have those things that we use (surprise!) everyday.  Bible study and a little bible, our current language learning stuff, spelling workbook, etc.  Anything that we are using for this week that does not fit into the expandable file folder.  

As we go through our school day, everything I need is readily available.  Workbook pages are already torn out and in the file folder.  Bible study stuff is right there.  Our handwriting DVD.  Phonics readers.  Math pages and DVD.  Remember my goal-smooth days.

As we work our way down our planner sheet, where everything is written for the day, we can easily find everything that we need and it is already prepared.  We can go quickly and (somewhat) easily from one thing to the next.  

I try to have our school days done by noon, so that the children have plenty of time to play.  That is the most important part of childhood, and I don't want to infringe on that in any way.  So it is imperative for them to be able to go quickly from one thing to the next without getting distracted.  They deserve large uninterrupted blocks of free time, and they have to stay focused for that to happen.

Shelves by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere
BOOK BROWSER  This is really just a basket, but book browser sounds so much more "early childhood educator", don't you think? I keep a collection of books in here, related to the unit for the week.  I go through all of our books and add any library books that we have.  These are the only library books that they can have access to full-time.  We just have too many books of our own and I don't need the library books getting mixed up with them.  If they come out of the basket, they go back in the basket.  Easy Peasy.

I will also pick out a nice selection of picture books and add to the basket.  These are our read-alouds for the week.  I also add in whatever chapter book we are working on.  Right now we are going through the Magic Tree House books, and we are reading one a day.  

This basket encourages the kids to pick out different books to look at, since they can see the enticing pictures on the front.  It also keeps the unit-study reading at my fingertips and ready to go.  We just pick out a few and snuggle on the couch to read.   We normally have our read-aloud time after lunch, and after they have played for awhile.  We try to sit down and read for an hour or two each afternoon while we all get a little rest.  After I read, we continue our quiet time in the afternoon for about an hour while Baby Girl naps and the older ones look at books. 

I hope you all realize that this is ideal and a lot of our days do not go much like this.  But if I work the plan, the plan works for me.  What I mean by that is when I have everything ready to go before Monday morning our days work well.  When I get behind and am not prepared, we all have bad days.  

How do you keep your school days moving smoothly along?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Ordinary Day

I know we all have a tendency to read through various homeschool and mothering blogs and get a little discouraged.  Sometimes it seems like the 'other' moms all have everything together, and it can seem even more that way in the online world, where we never drop by unannounced and see their houses in a mess and their kids in jammies at noon.

But, as my wonderful friend Oney says, we are really all the same.  We all have days that are great and days that are average, and we all have those "Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad" days, too.  (To borrow from Ray Cruz.)  This post is all about those average days.  The days where not everything goes wrong, but some things do.  They days where you get the laundry OR the dishes all done, but not both.  The days where you may skip studying history but you all play outside for an hour.  Those days.

These are the days that slip by.  The days that are unnoticed and unappreciated in all their ordinary-ness.  These are the days that I will miss desperately in later years, but I will not be able to remember.  These are the days I want to remember, the days I don't want to miss.

DSCN8346 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

     An ordinary day last week-

We had a WIC appointment, to weigh and measure CJ.  He is four and a half.  I forgot all of my paperwork, but they were able to go ahead and do it.  We got groceries.  Went to the Library.  I needed books about the moon, Blue-footed Boobies, and George Washington.  I found books about the moon.

I wanted a new movie for pizza night, but I left my cash at home so we had to get a documentary (no charge) on the ocean.  CJ wanted to watch it anyway, so the princess movie can wait until next week I guess.  The kids had a great time playing with the puppets, so we stayed for a while.  Cj got stacks of books and read them while Bop played, so the librarians had to re-shelve half the library after we left.  That boy LOVES books!  Baby Girl threw several nice fits while we were in there and yelled "potty!"  loud enough for everyone to hear.  Then she started stripping.  :)  A girl has to go when she gets the urge!

0000 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

We got to enjoy the beautiful weather for awhile after we got home, then everyone thought that they should have some dinner.  We had cereal and then we did school.  Math.  Phonics.  Drills on the computer.  Time to sit down and read.
Egypt- the Nile, farming, bread and beer.
Flax and papyrus and irrigation.
Bop made a couple of notebook pages and then Daddy came home.

DSCN8466 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

Pizza and a movie.  Baby Girl fell asleep on my lap and CJ loved the movie.  He said as it started that he hoped he didn't fall asleep before the end.  He didn't.

Messy kitchen.
Messy living room.
Laundry on the chair.
Laundry in the dryer.
Dishes to unload, 
dishes to load.

I think I will go to bed anyway, Mommy needs her sleep.


000 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What our House Looks Like After we go to the Library...

Books and books....

DSCN8329 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

notice the coat that got thrown off and left, 
in the haste to get to the book bag!

DSCN8330 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

What does your house look like after a trip to the library?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary Review

What a treat it has been to review this book!  It is exactly what it sounds like- an illustrated Bible dictionary, for kids.  This book is $14.99 from Lifeway Christian Stores.  You can see sample pages from this beautiful book at the B&H Publishing Groups webpage.  You really need to check this out!

This book is much bigger then I was expecting, and is such an excellent resource.  It is filled with pictures- both photographs and historically accurate, realistic illustrations.  There are not pictures for every reference, so it's not over crowded with un-needed clutter.  The illustrations tend to accompany animals, famous people and other words that are best understood with a picture.

There is a lot more to the pictures then mere entertainment, however.  It also has diagrams such as a cut-away view of the Holy of Holies, and detailed depictions of many cities.  There are charts for the names of God, many of the foods, animals, birds and insects of the Bible, and several Biblical events such as the 10 plagues on Egypt. I really enjoyed looking at all the many, many maps included.  You will find maps of the roman empire, Egypt, and all of the Biblical lands at different periods.

Some of the photographs include Biblical locations and artifacts, and also depictions of such everyday things as nails and oil.  I like the inclusion of artifacts, which really seems to make the Bible come alive.  There are even pictures of many places where Bible events MAY have happened, like the crucifixion of Jesus and the prison where Paul and Silas were held.

Even with all of the great illustrations, this is still a dictionary at it's heart.  With pronunciation guides, numbered definitions (where there is more then one usage), and alphabetical devisions.  The definitions are easy to read and understand, perfect for kids who are just starting to read the Bible for themselves.  There are several other features that make this book special.  I appreciate the inclusion of Bible references that lead the learner to a verse or passage where that word is used.  Several words have more then one passage included, and this book could even be the basis for a very first self-led Bible study.  The charts for comparison of parables, Holy feasts, and names for God and Jesus contain many scripture references and could be the backbone for longer studies.

DSCN8334 by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

My house was very, very quiet after I opened this book...

Probably my favorite part of this book is the addition of words and spellings used only in the King James Version.  Since I was raised using that version, and I plan to do the same for my kids since it is a part of their heritage, it is so nice to have this feature.  Sometimes these words are found with the modern translation, such as 'temperance' being found with 'self-control'.  I am a little disappointed by this, since it could make it hard for the KJV user to find the word he is looking for.  There are several KJV words that have their own definitions, however, and you can always tell these because they are noted.

All in all, we love this book.  It is colorful, accurate, useful, organized, and perfect for kids.  I highly recommend it for every Christian family, homeschooling or not.  I would spend much more then $14.99 on it, and I am a tightwad.  :)  It is designed for users from Kindergarton to Pre-teens, but even adults (me... )  enjoy looking through it.  You can buy this book from Lifeway Christian Stores.

You can read more reviews for this product on 

I received this product free of charge

as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Great Map Giveaway at Download N Go!

A while ago, Download N Go gave away some great maps from National Geographic.  Now, they are at it again!  You really must go over to the Download N Go blog and sign up for a chance to win these wonderful moon maps.  Wouldn't these be fun with Magnificent Moon?

Mom's Favorites Fun Pack

You can get Magnificent Moon on sale, as part of this perfect-for-winter Cabin Fever Fun Pack!  You will get four great Download N Go titles, for only $20.00.  Expedition Canada, Hoppin' Popcorn, Winter Wonders, and Magnificent Moon.  This sale is only lasting until the end of the month, so if you are interested, don't wait. I have reviews for Winter Wonders and Magnificent Moon, and I an anxious to try the others later this year!

Monday, January 24, 2011

School Days, School Daze! Part One, Planning day-to-day

Thinking about homeschooling -with all the requirements, goals, tests, books and options- can put even the most determined mom in a "Where is that yellow bus?!" mood.  Add in the uncertainty and unlimited options of unit studies, and you may end up in a real school daze!  But it is not as hard as it sounds, and once you get started, unit studies can be easier then a lot of other schooling methods.

I wanted to write a page detailing our planning and organizing.  But once I got started, I realized that this is going to be a lot longer then I thought, so you will just have to bear with me!  I really hope that this series helps those of you who are new to homeschooling, and even those who have 'been there, done that', but are new to unit studies.  This first post will be all about planning!

reading by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-SphereI have tried several different methods for planning the day-to-day use of unit studies.  Now, I know some people just do whatever works, until they are done or tired of it.  That just doesn't work for me.  I really need to know what I am going to be doing each day when I wake up, or we will get nowhere and spend all day doing it!

I tried workboxes.  That didn't work for me.  For a lot of reasons, but the biggest being the simple fact that we don't have room for them.  I also found it silly to use boxes for them when I am there directing each step anyway, and they do all their subjects together.

I tried planning out each book, page and website for each day.  That certainly didn't work for me.  Too much time.  Too strict.  Much too complicated.

So finally I have settled on this method which actually seems to be working for me!  My school planning consists of two main things- a file folder and a planning sheet.

We will start with the planning sheet.  It has each child's subjects down the side, and also combined subjects.  This is what I have on my page:

  • Bible
  • Bop, math
  • CJ, math
  • Bop, phonics
  • CJ, phonics
  • Unit study for that week
  • Language, spelling, handwriting (We do not do each one of these on each day) 
  • Tot School for Baby Girl

There is one column for each day of the week and in this I write my ideas for the week.  I add in computer learning and anything that does not fit into my file folder.  I also write in things like math drills and worksheets, so I won't forget them even if they go in the folder.

The file folder:  This is a plastic organizer that you can get for a couple bucks anywhere.  On mine, I cut off the little flap that comes down over the top becasue it just got in my way.  (Unfortunately, mine is pink just like this one.  I wish it wasn't...)  :) 

I labeled each divider with a day of the week, Monday thru Friday.  There is one pocket left in the back that is unlabeled.  This is the physical part of the plan.   After I get my planning sheet filled in, I put whatever I can into the pockets.  Worksheets, small readers, math pages, lapbook and notebook pieces, all go in for each day.  This is as close to workboxes as I get.

This is the way I quickly plan each week and have everything ready.  Anything that does not fit into the folders, such as computer time and our Bible study program, is on the planning sheet so I won't forget it.  I keep the books that we use everyday on my shelf right next to the file folder so they are ready to go.  On most days I actually write down what computer program/website I want them to use, and what part of it.  This really helps keep me on track with our online reviews, which we have quiet a few of.

Every morning I can just pull out my folder and planner, and start working.  We start at the top, and just work our way through.  Everything is there, ready, so I don't waste time looking for that worksheet or this book.  When we are done with one subject we cross it off and go right to the next.  This helps keep us all on track (and in the same room!  They like to run off) because there is no waiting time to get distracted.

Next, I will talk more about why I don't use the workboxes anymore and how I physically organize our very crowded space.  Come back soon!

What do you use to make your school days run smoothly?  Are there any must-have products that you use to plan and organize?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mixing Bowl Academy- Meatballs and Marinara!

Mixing Bowl Academy by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-SphereWe thoroughly enjoyed our last cooking class with Sandie Sanchez at the Mixing Bowl Academy.  Those strawberry smoothies were the best!  So when she invited us back for another class, of course we agreed!  Our second session was a Jr Chefs class, which means that it is geared for children ages 8 and up.  Sandie assured me that we could still do the class, I just needed to plan to do most of it with them.

We started our class with a little chit-chat between the kids, as they all got to know a bit about each other.  Then we went right into the cooking.  We started with the marinara sauce, and I have to be honest here- I had never made homemade marinara before.  It was fun, and we all learned a lot!  Bop got a lot of practice cutting and chopping veggies, and I even let her stand up on a chair at the stove to stir it while it simmered.

After we added all the veggies to the sauce, it was time to mix up the meat.  I had warned the kids ahead of time that they would have to get their hands in the meat and mix it so they were all right with that.  It took a little convincing before they realized that it is okay to touch raw meat, as long as you wash up well afterwards.  :)  After we added all the ingredients and got it mixed up, we got to the fun part!  Time to squish up those balls.  Sandie had a really good idea for the formation of the meat balls.  She used an ice cream scoop, which works great!

Mixing Bowl Academy by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-SphereMixing Bowl Academy by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere
Mixing up the meat and rolling balls.

I really liked several things about the class.  When Sandie (or, rather, her daughter) shows the kids how to do something, they really SHOW them.  It's not just "chop the onion", it's "here is HOW to chop the onion."  And she at the end of each step she asked the kids if they were ready to move on, so no one got behind.

I also really like how Sandie's kids are the ones doing the cooking.  She instructs them and they are the ones in front for the camera demonstrating.  That really helped my kids have the confidence to do it themselves.

If you are planning to have your kids take a class with the Mixing Bowl Academy, I would recommend generally sticking to her age recommendations.  While we enjoyed the class and I think they learned a lot, the older kids would get a lot more out of it.  This class is much longer and more complicated then the Little Chefs class we took last week.  Hailey's comment at the end is pretty descriptive.  "It was a lot of fun, but it made me really tired!"

The best part?  
We had a wonderful supper! 

Our meatballs! by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

You can visit Mixing Bowl Academy to see all she offers, and you can join her Facebook page for updates. You can also go to CurrClick Live to learn more about their live classes.

I received a free live class from Mixing Bowl Academy for the purpose of this review. I am always honest and fair in my reviews.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Magnificent Moon Download N Go Review

Moon by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

I see the moon and the moon sees me...
God bless the moon and God 
bless me!

I have always loved looking at the moon.  There is nothing like a crisp September night with the smell of leaves on the air and a huge orange harvest moon rising.  Or how about the cold clear winter nights with a hazy full moon turning the snow glistening blue-white.

We were very excited to try out one of the newest Download N Go products, Magnificent Moon.  Chock full of lunar knowledge, such as the Apollo missions, moon science, physics, and the history of astronomy, you will love this unit study!  There is a touch of the unexpected, here, as well.  Math, Bible, and lots of copywork.  These unit study lapbooks are wrote by Amanda Bennett and you can buy it for $7.95 at Amanda Bennett's website.

We enjoyed learning about an astronaut each day, and were surprised to find that so many of them were Christians.  You can even keep your own little journal of moon observations for the week.  This would be especially suited to those who like longer studies, since it would be more effective to observe the moon each night for a month, and record all of the changes.   We learned that there aren't just phases that change, but also the location of the moonrise and the timing changes, with the seasons and months.

One thing you will notice if you buy very many Download N Go units is how comprehensive they are.  There is something here for every child.  These unit studies are designed for children in grades K-4, but they are easily stretched a bit for kids who are younger or older.  You can pick and choose the parts you want to use according to your child's abilities and interests.  Magnificent Moon includes simple word searches, copywork, math story problems, lapbook pieces, worksheets to fill in, pictures to draw, and hands-on experiments.

Egg experiment by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere
Egg experiment success! by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere

We did this fun experiment to prove one of the basic laws of motion- an object at rest stays at rest.  Hit the plate off the glass, and the egg falls into the cup.  Success!!

One of the neat things about Magnificent Moon is the nice combination of subjects which will appeal to a lot of different interests.  There are rockets and astronauts for the little boys, and things like moon phases for the little scientist.  I thought that CJ might be the only one to truly enjoy this download, but they Bop loved it as well.  Of course, she always likes the drawing pages but she actually liked the rocket-and-astronaut stuff too.  Just goes to show you how easily we can short-change our kids by putting them in boxes!  The only thing that did not go over so well with them?  Copywork.  I decided that they needed to do copywork every day this week, and Bop was less then thrilled.  I thought it was great, though!  :)

I thought that in this review I could answer one of the common questions about using the Download N Go unit studies.
How do you deal with all the printing?  
Well, there is a lot of printing with a Download N Go.  Actually, there's a lot of printing with most digital unit studies, unless you are sitting at the computer to do them. And that is exactly how Download N Gos work for us.

I sit down and go through the study before we start and print off all the pages I want.  I generally try to do this on Thursday or Friday the week before, so I can be all ready.  I start with day one and I just go through and find anything that I know I want them to do- for us this means drawing pages, lapbook pieces, puzzles (like crosswords) and some of the worksheet pages.  I typically stick to the workbook pages with the most 'meat' to them.  That helps me avoid printing off the WHOLE thing.  Which I would love to do, but can't afford.  :)  And while that would be great, you don't need to do that to enjoy these great learning tools.

Then when it is time to do that day's lesson, we just pull up the unit and read through it.  We can use the links that way, and when we get to a page that I have printed off, I just have them take them to the table to do.  Some other things you can do to save ink and paper:

Bop doing a Download N Go by warmfuzzies, on Pix-O-Sphere
  • Print in black and white (especially for worksheets)
  • Use the 'draft' printing option
  • Print worksheets and other 'throw-away' things on the back side of already-used paper
  • Only print off those things that you know your kids will use
  • Have your children answer the worksheet-type questions verbally

I received this product free of charge 
for review purposes. I promise to be honest and fair in my reviews, and I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. You can visit the Download-N-Go blog to read more reviews on this product.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Speekee Review


What is Speekee?  It is a funny name for a funny little purple puppet who loves to teach kids how to speak in Spanish!  Filmed in Spain and using native Spanish speakers, this series of videos is available on DVD or as an online subscription.  The DVD set is formated for European players, so most American readers will want to go with the online subscription.  This option is $7.50 a month.

Speekee is especially created to help younger learners, from toddlers up, develop Spanish skills using the immersion method.  What is that?  Immersion is the way we learned our native tongue- no translations, just letting our brains figure out the meaning.  That is the only way to become truly proficient at a language, because it eliminates the mental translation stage.  Speekee does contain closed captioning, in both Spanish and English to help the parents and teachers. You can shut this off if it is keeping true immersion from happening.

There are ten videos in all, each taking place in a different setting like the park, the zoo, and the home.  Several basic concepts are included in the videos, like counting, colors, food and family names, and basic phrases.  These are taught in a very natural way using story lines, songs, and simple conversations.  You, as the teacher, do NOT need to know even basic Spanish to use this.  All you have to do is watch the programs with your little ones and you will learn too!

Each movie includes worksheets to go along with it.  These do require that the child be able to do at least basic writing.  I would recommend focusing on the videos and simple games with younger ones.  It is pretty easy to so short role-playing with puppets, stuffed animals, or toys.  You can mimic the conversations in the videos or just play along with them while you watch it.  Encourage your children to say the words and then start using them in everyday life as you learn them.

SpeekeeSo what did we think of Speekee?  I loved it!  I like watching the movies and I really feel like I am picking up the language without any translation in my head, and I have never experienced this before so it is really neat.   The kids are picking it up easily as well.  They sometimes have trouble following what is happening in the story on the first or second viewing, but I think that is normal with immersion.  The girls love the movies, and Baby girls always asks to "Watch Peekee!"  CJ is a little reserved about them, and says he doesn't want to watch.  But as soon as I start it he is right there joining in.

They have all picked up several phrases very quickly, and have started using them all the time.  "Me gusta" was the first, and I think Baby Girl actually forgot how to say yummy in English!  They are also using several of the words for different fruits, and saying please and thank-you in Spanish.  Bop even asked me for "Un manzana" (an apple) this week.

I was really surprised at how quickly our kids picked up the language using these DVDs.  I really did very little in the way of supplemental/ support  activities.  I can think of so many really fun things to do along with this, that would really get the kids SPEAKING.  I am sure that they would learn even more using different activities, but even if all you use are the movies, they will pick up a lot.

You can sign up for a two-week preview of Speekee to see if it is right for you, and the subscription is on a month-by-month basis.  You really don't have anything to lose, and I cannot recommend this highly enough for those who are wanting to start their little ones learning a new language.

There are only two downfalls that I found to this program.  ONE:  You will have the catchy tunes from Speekee running through your head at the oddest times.  Like the middle of the night.  TWO: Your kids may start speaking Spanish instead of English.  They may tell you things you don't want to hear.  They may point at you and say, "Un GRANDE mama!"

This is a true story.

Speekee logo

To sign up for your own free two week trial version, go to the Speekee website.  To read more TOS Crew reviews, go The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

I received this product free of charge
as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter and the Wolf

PhotobucketBeautiful music.  Classic storytelling.  Unique teaching.  This is Maestro Classics' Peter and the Wolf.

We really like audio stories around here, and that is what I expected this to be.  We sat down with some banana smoothies to listen to this, as soon as we got it.  Wow, what a treat!  There is a lot more here then just a story!

The CD starts with an introduction to the story and the music.  It explains how each character is represented by an instrument, and plays them one by one so the little ears can pick them out.  It also gives the setting for the story.  Then the music begins, and the narrator tells the story.  I really appreciate how little the narrator speaks. Nothing is added that isn't needed, and they let the music tell the story.

 After your child listens to the story of Peter and the Wolf, there are several more activities for him to listen to and do.  The next track tells the story behind the story- about the composer, and why he wrote his music.    There are also tracks for learning more about the music, and Russian folk instruments.  The addition of a track with the music alone, no narration, is helpful for those using this as the springboard to a deeper study.  There are a lot of options here... Unit studies on Russia, the composer, and the instruments.  Listening skills can be honed by trying to pick out the individual instruments.

There is a small book included, with activities, information about several of the folk instruments and bio pages on the conductor.  I wish that this little booklet was larger and more comprehensive, but it is certainly a great jumping-off place.  You can purchase this CD, or any of their other titles for $16.98.  Some of the most enticing titles are Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Juanita the Spanish Lobster (which is also available is Spanish).
So what did we think of Peter and the Wolf?  We like it.  It is fun, entertaining, and I think provides a very important and often lacking education on classical music and other cultures.  This is the perfect starting spot for introducing young children into the world of music, and it is nice for older children as well, who will enjoy the challenge of picking out instruments and the storyline.

I think CJ said it best:  "Don't stop it mom!  I like it!"

Enjoy learning more about this and other great compositions for children at the Maestro Classics website.  If you want to read more reviews about Peter and the Wolf, be sure to stop by The Old Schoolhouse Crew blog.

I received this product free of charge
as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mixing Bowl Academy Live Cooking Class Review

We all like to eat.  Some of us REALLY like to eat.  The problem with all that eating is someone has to cook!  Bop has been fascinated by the process lately, and she even says that she is going to be an 'esteraunt keeper' when she grows up.  She especially wants to learn how to cook by herself, or at least to not be just 'helping' all the time.

So, of course, when Sandie Sanchez from Mixing Bowl Academy offered us the chance to take one of her live online cooking classes, I knew that we had to do it.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, since I had never done a live class before.  Turns out, it is pretty simple.  All you have to do is click on the link provided and sign in.  You can watch the live class in a video screen, and there is a little chat box on the side which is just great.  She also had the recipe up on the screen for a quick reference.


Our first class was short and sweet- Strawberry smoothies!  Sandie provided us with all the information we needed in the e-mail she sent.  Date and time, ingredient list, and materials.  We made sure to have all of our materials ready before the scheduled time, so we could keep up with her.  It turns out she moves at just the right pace.  She left plenty of time for the kids to cook, but she wasn't too slow either.


It took us about 20 minutes to make our smoothies, including time to chat and listen to all of her tips.  The kids loved having the chance to make their very own food, they got to do it all.  I even let them run the blender.  (Of course, I handled putting the blender parts together.)

I especially liked how Sandie's son led the cooking- he was in the video, showing the kids what to do while she taught and helped.  It really boosted the kids' confidence- he was doing it, they could too!

Sandie offers two cooking classes, Little Chefs and Jr. Chefs.  The Little Chefs class is for smaller children or beginners and includes easier recipies.  The Jr. Chefs class is for children ages 8 and up, or younger ones with help.  These sessions are $20 for one month, which  includes four weekly classes.  Your whole family can join in for this one price! She also has several enticing special sessions, including the summer cooking class, which has one class a day for a week.

Time to try it!  Mmmmmmm...

To learn more about Currclick live classes and to receive their weekly free product, you can visit the CurrClick website or check out all of Mixing Bowl Academy's classes there..  You can also go to website to learn more about the Mixing Bowl Academy or sign up!  You can also visit the Mixing Bowl Academy Facebook page.

I received one free live cooking class in exchange for my unbiased review. 
 This class is part of Currclick Live.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Planning, planning!

With the dismal failure of our summer break last year, I decided that we would suddenly be joining the group of "school-year-rounders".  I was not too excited about this, but I knew that I was NOT going to do another 3 month summer break.  After I realized that there are SO many different ways to plan a school year, I started to get more enthusiastic.  Here are just a few of the mathods I read about:

The "public school" homeschool.  This is what I had planned on doing (schedule wise, not curriculum wise).  I will leave my mind open to this for later years, when the children have friends and activities in the summer.  However, for us this did NOT work last year, for so many reasons.

The 8 (or 9) on, 2 off method.  What I thought of first when I started thinking about changing our plans.  I like this idea for several reasons.  I like the idea of having a few weeks off to regroup (and re-plan) every so often.  I like the idea of SHORT breaks for the kids, so they can have time to relax and play but not enough time to get bored and naughty.  And forget everything they learned.  :)  This is what my mother did when I was in elementary homeschool.

The semester method.  I don't know what to call this, so "semester" will have to do!  This method has the school year divided up into two semesters, much like the public school system, but each break is longer- maybe a month each in the summer and winter, and a month or three weeks in the spring and fall.  I like some parts of this plan, too.  I like having longer fall and spring breaks when the weather is nice.

The Just-Keep-Swimming method:  This is from "Finding Nemo"- you just keep swimming.  Take a break when you need it.  Keep going when you need it (Yes, as weird as it may seem, we homeschooling moms sometimes just NEED to do school!  That routine is really nice.)  When you get to the end of your school year (many states have some kind of minimum requirements, whether it is in hours, days, or both. ) you start the next one.  Easy Peasy.  However unplanned this may seem, it, too, has some perks.  Like the take-a-break-when-you-need-it part.  Sometimes, for whatever reason you just need some time off with no warning.  You get sick.  You get tired.  The house is really messy.

I finally decided that Just Keep Swimming is the one for us, in this season of our lives.  I really need planning to keep me going, and I like detailed plans.  I like to know exactly what I am going to be doing each morning, because that keeps us moving along quickly and keeps the kids from running off.  But because the kids are so young I have to have that flexibility.  If I get sick, I can't just send them to the table with a bunch of workbooks or reading.  If we have an unexpected task (like the wonderful boxes of corn that we got last year) my attention cannot be on school.  I need that ability to skip a week and just wait till next week- without it throwing off our plan.  So I need short term-detail, and long-term flexibility.

This has worked so well for us!  I can plan ahead, which saves me time.  But I am not thrown off if I take an unexpected break or have to do something else for a week or two.  I can always push my next unit back a week.  I typically plan everything based on weeks, so it is easy to skip, switch, and push my ideas around wherever they fit.

I was working toward having science-heavy units for the four months before our Christmas break, and history-heavy units for the last four months of the school year.  This winter/spring, we will be working through the ancients- Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  I am leaving out the smaller civilizations for now, since we will be back again in 4 years or so and will cover them in more depth at that time.  Plus I need to leave time for my reviews in there, and I don't know ahead of time what they will be or when.

This spring, after our 3-4 week break, we will be back on science and I want to start a 8-10 week study on insects.  That may change, who knows!  That is the fun of this plan.  You know where your going but it doesn't matter if you end up somewhere else.

How do you plan your school year?  What changes have you made to your plans this winter?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easy Classical Review

Do you have an appreciation for the Classical style of learning?   What about a love of History?  Great books?  That all comes together in Easy Classical, with schedules, recommended book lists, writing resources and more.  You can get a look at all of Easy Classical's resources on their very nice website.  I received an electronic version of the Early Modern History schedule, which is $29.95.  You can also choose to buy a print version for $35.95.  This year covers from the explorers to 1820.

PhotobucketTo be perfectly honest, I do not know that much about the classical method of education.  I find it intriguing, but I haven't learned a lot about how it actually works.  Unit Studies won out for now.  ;)  But I was really excited to read about Easy Classical, because I do want to know more about this style of teaching.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the Easy Classical Early Modern History schedule easy to read and understand, even before I read the introduction and instructions.  The lay-out is done in a intuitive manner that looks like it would be easy to use.

The schedule is just that- a plan.  It is organized by the week, which really appeals to me.  The chapter readings are given on Monday, so that you can make your assignments and then go from there.  I wouldn't recommend doing all the reading on that day, but rather spread it out however it works.  The writing assignments are spread out evenly through the week.  I really like how Friday includes the fun activities in the History Pockets.  My kids would really go for that.

The introduction is very helpful when learning how to use this program, but they do not recommend using the program without first reading The Well Trained Mind.  Since I have not read that book (yet ) I felt like there is quite a bit that I could learn about this method.  However, I still felt like the schedule was simple to understand and would be easy to implement.

The Easy Classical family includes several products which are designed to work together, and the Schedule I received has some of these products in the plan.  Geography with History, Writing with History, and the Early Modern Copybook are all part of the Early Modern History schedule, and you really wouldn't be able to use it properly without them.

The Easy Classical schedules are built around several books, including both literature and history books such as History of US and The Story of the World.  These books are the heart of the plan, and you can't substitute other books.  They are well-known and loved books, but I was surprised that so many books were required.  Using Easy Classical for history will require quite a few purchases, so you should keep that in mind when considering it.

Easy Classical also has schedules available for Science and complete schedules.  The literature and text books are not purchased from Easy Classical, so it is not a complete curriculum kit.  The complete curriculum guides could be extremely helpful when thinking about purchasing this program, because the types of books they recommend will help you see the type of schooling they use throughout the schedules.

You can read more reviews of this product at 

I received this product free of charge
as a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew,
for review purposes. I promise to be honest
and fair in my reviews, and I received no
other compensation in exchange for my review.
to read more reviews on this product.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Download N Go Winter Wonders Review

Snowflakes, sweaters, hot chocolate, pine trees...  The crisp, cold air and the frosty windows- it must be Winter Wonders!  We thoroughly enjoyed our Autumn Treasures study last fall, so it was exciting to get to learn all about Winter with Download N Go as well!

The Download N Go unit studies include everything you need- you can literally download it, and then go with it! I really appreciate the fact that even though extensive book lists are included they aren't required.  It is so frustrating to spend money on a unit study and then find out that you have to spend more money on a large stack of books that are vital the the study!  All you need for the Winter Wonders is the study and an internet connection.  All of the information needed can be found in the links included.

You will find all of the expected topics in Winter Wonders, such as temperature and polar animals.  But there are also unexpected surprises, too, like learning about Snowflake Bentley!  Who is this "Snowflake man", you ask?  Well, I guess you will have to get Winter Wonders and learn all about him!

One of my favorite parts of the seasons series is the encouragement to get outside and enjoy a nature walk each day.  There is so much to learn right outside your window, and- particularly in this cold time of year, we often forget to go out as much as we should.  We haven't taken our walk every day this week, but we spent more time outside then we would have if we weren't doing this Download N Go.  They even include little journaling pages to document your walks and all the great finds you come across!

The video links in Winter Wonders were so fun to watch, especially since winter is generally very dry and sunny in our part of the world.  (even though it's still cold.  That's just not fair!)  :)  I love watching the videos, and the kids really like them as a change from me reading the facts to them.  We especially appreciate the videos that are informational because the little ones seem to retain the learning so well.

The back of the Download N Go units have some fun lapbook pieces, and Winter Wonders includes pretty recipe cards and a pocket for them.  We had fun writing down our favorite winter recipes.  There are also lots of links at the end of each day and a big list at the end of the study.  These are great for stretching the  unit  into a couple weeks or even a month.  If you put the book suggestions to use, there are even more ideas.  Some of the units include coloring  pages, puzzles, videos, websites and more.

There were a lot of fun worksheets and coloring pages in this unit, but our favorite were the pages for day four.  We got to learn about several winter animals, and there are backgrounds for drawing them on and worksheets to fill in about each one.  And, like always, there are lots of beautiful pictures, poems, quotes and Bible verses to enrich your learning.

Don't forget to visit the Download N Go blog to read more reviews about this and other great unit studies
and check back often for more reviews here! 

I received this product free of charge for review purposes. I promise to be honest and fair in my reviews, and I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. You can visit the Download-N-Go blog to read more reviews on this product.


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