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Saturday, February 28, 2009

review of Heads Up! frames


Heads Up! frames are just one of many products meant to help "all kinds of special kids". The Heads Up Now company sells organizational helps (like timers and colored notebook paper for coordinating subjects), memory helps, books on helping distractable children, and books on children with sensory integration issues, speech and language therapy aids, and vision aids such as the Heads Up frames I reviewed.
These are little colored plastic overlays that a student can place over words or problems on a page. They help block in pertinent information on a page while the colors help the student to sustain attention. The frames come in many different colors and sizes. I was happy to get to try these as my son, with some vision problems, seems to need something to put under the lines on the paper he is reading or he tends to lose his spot. So we have tried the frames in different shades and shapes, on and off for a few weeks now. I can tell he reads better and more efficiently when he uses a frame (he prefers blue) but getting him to remember to use is the hard part. The smaller sizes would be a great book marker. I may try leaving one in each of his books all the time so he has them handy.
For children who get overwhelmed seeing what looks like a ton of work to them, especially those math fact sheets, you can help them focus on one problem at a time using these frames. With my children, when they think a task is impossible, they tend to give up before they even begin. Blocking out a few problems at a time makes the task less daunting and much more manageable.

I like the way the frames keep the distractable child on task. Reading is one of those things that my son easily loses his place in. Its no fun to read when you look away from the paper continually and then look back, only to realize you're lost. I was a fairly fast reader growing up; I'll never forget how much I dreaded classroom read-aloud time because I knew not everyone read so fast and I'd be sitting and waiting. I have to admit in times past, reading with my son, I have had that same feeling of exasperation again, not because his reading skills have upset me but because I am upset for him. I really like these frames and I think they will help him to become much more focused, and a much more efficient reader.
I really like the looks of quite a few of Heads Up Now's books. I'll probably be back to order from them at some point.

I have given away a few of the extra frames to friends to try. If you tried them with your children, I'd appreciate your commenting and telling me (and other readers) what you thought of the frames. I have other frames that we won't use for give-away also, so if you'd like some for your class or personal use, let me know. Thanks!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I love it when I have a plan!

I love it when I am briefly organized and have a plan. I always enjoy planning out our next school year. Sometimes I think I like the planning of it much more than actually trying to implement it, but oh well. It always looks so perfect and do-able on paper. I'm sure I'll be tweaking it all repeatedly before the first semester is over.

My plan for next year is to use Blessed is the Man for my oldest son, who will begin 9th grade. I have always loved unit studies but I get a little squeamish thinking about using them for high schooling. Nonetheless, it looks thorough and so we are going to give it a try for 9th grade. We'll add in a complete math program and be done there. In one year, if it is a failure, we'll switch to a correspondence course, online-schooling, or all video-schooling for him.

My two younger children will use Five in a Row together for at least one year. I'll beef it up a little for my 9 year old with additional reading, math, projects, and worksheets, whereas the 4 year old will use it for kindergarten with an addition of only some phonics.

I'd like to hear from those who have tried Blessed is the Man.
Off to search through my FIAR resources! Any local FIAR buddies want to do some activities together next year?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

update to Five in a Row, FIAR

I found this wonderful homeschooling site that I can't wait to stay up reading until 2 am!!!
Best of all, it has FREE resources for the Five in a Row books so you can add-in other materials if needed. This is just what I need for my 3rd grader to be able to do FIAR with my preschooler next year!!!! YAY! Not to mention all the other neat stuff. :)

Check it out ladies:

review of Math Tutor DVD series

Up tonight on Lynn's homeschooling product review....the MathTutorDVD.com Video Series! (applause) Okay, I know...cheesy intro. I just get tired of saying, "Today's review is about (fill in the blank)." Can't blame me for trying to liven things up a bit. ;)
Let me just get to the review (and if you find teaching mathematics difficult in any way, then reading this review will probably liven your perspective up A LOT).

I am NOT a math loving mom. If you have read ANY of my blogs you must know that. Okay, I like basic math fine, and every now and then a light bulb flicks on in my head on some more difficult grade level math problem, and suddenly I actually GET a concept, and then, for a mere moment, math looks a bit entertaining to me (*side note-I am glad I homeschool; maybe now I will finally learn all those things I didn't learn in public school!). Doesn't it feel good when you see that "ahhh" moment in your children when you know they've finally "gotten it"? But what about those times that they just don't...when no matter what you try, tears flow down little cheeks (or big cheeks) and self-esteem begins to plummet. Ever wish you could hire a really good tutor? Take a peek at what http://www.mathtutordvd.com/ has to offer.

Personally most math gives me the heebies. Anxiety disorder at its worst. Unrelenting flashbacks to that old green chalkboard in Algebra II...standing mortified, as snickers (or yawns) erupted from the mouths of my genius fellow-classmates, who were waiting on me to solve that crazy half letter-half numeric problem. It was kind of like the TV show "Name that tune" with all of the waiting (but none of the annoying elevator music). You know how the contestant stands there, mouth opened slightly, eyes shut tight, grasping desperately at straws for an answer that lies no where in his mind. Yep, that was me in parts of Algebra. And parts of Algebra II. And Geometry.

Now at age 35, I refuse to let my children feel that badly about any subject so long as I can help it. I have vowed to use whatever resources God has provided, even if it means switching curricula with each child, until I find their "fit". Above all else, I want to be certain they never feel nervous or anxious about math, such an important subject which builds upon itself as the years go by. So many kids like myself were passed through classes with C's; why not go for true mastery learning?

If you find your student lacking skills in any area of math, the Math Tutor DVD series can certainly help.

We have used two of the company's titles, Algebra II and Word Problems. My sons, ages 9 and 13, both went through the entire Word Problems video each day as a supplement to their regular math courses. I am glad they did because word problems can be an area where students get easily confused. I watched some of the episodes with them. While I can't say I was enthralled with the subject matter itself, I was excited to see the concepts explained so thoroughly. These videos are lengthy, about 8 hours worth of tutoring, if you will. The author and teacher, Jason Gibson, who holds both a BS and Masters Degrees, stands at a white board and works problems step-by-step, multiple times. It is like having a personal tutor come into your home. He is a very mild-mannered, calm man who makes you feel confident in the material you are learning.

My boys also took a few lessons in Algebra II. It was way beyond anything they have covered yet, so we'll save this one for later.

The videos are not a complete curriculum. Mr. Gibson assumes you have been taught the concepts listed at some point; he will simply go over them again in various ways to practice them and explain them differently. They are all for practice and review.

The problems in the videos progress in their level of difficulty. All the DVD's play in standard DVD players and in computers. The videos I received contained a combined total of 14 hours of in-depth instruction and there are 19 videos in the total product line. The average length of a course is 8 hours and the average cost of each course is about $27! Can you imagine spending only $27 for a personal tutorial lasting 8 hours?

The website at http://www.mathtutordvd.com/ has free clips from each course video. There is also a money back guarantee which certainly makes this series all the sweeter. MathTutor guarantees raised grades or your money back.

What I like most about this series is the thoroughness...this man leaves no stone unturned! Boy, when he covers it, he COVERS it and that's not a bad thing. I think I could grasp even some harder math concepts myself if I had had these videos to go along with my traditional programs in school. Those returning to college would also find these extremely useful for dusting out the mental cobwebs. These videos can be used to teach or refresh any age level.


homeschooling co-ops: gotta love 'em!

We SO enjoy our weekly Wednesday mornings at co-op. My kids like picking their classes each semester and being with someone new as a teacher. I like the fact they are having to sit under another Christian parent's feet and learn to obey someone besides mom! And I like getting to teach classes that my children might not enjoy. Our co-op is also a great way to get the kids into some classes that I might not feel capable of teaching well, such as high school level sciences.

Boy, our little preschool co-op class has really grown. We always have about 17 children, ages 2-5, for two hours. They are getting bored inside and I can't wait to get them back onto the playground to burn off steam! Come on, sunshine!

There is never a typical day at co-op either...coffee pots overflow onto floors...kids swing from trees in the survival skills class...preschoolers escape the room...special guests show up as pirates and teach them how to knots (so they can tie up their siblings later on at home, I'm guessing)...kids taste green eggs and ham...science experiments go awry...its just wild but so much fun.

For the next two days both of my sons get the excitement of day trips to hike, rappel and go caving with their survival class leaders and classmates. I am not sure which they are more excited about--the trips or the fact that we can count is as field trips/school days with no bookwork!

I thank God often for our local homeschool group and co-op. These moms and dads work hard to have so many fun and educational activities for their children. I cannot imagine not being part of it all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

review of Bible Story Songs: David

Bible Story Songs presents...DAVID: Shepherd, Psalmist, Soldier, King!

From the Bible Story Songs website:

"This delightful 1-hour length album is a compilation of new songs on David. Thirty-one new songs about the stories of David's training as a shepherd boy, his singing and psalming, his faithful service as a soldier, and his kingship. This is the 6th double-length album from Bible StorySongs, Inc.; a music company started by two grannies who discovered that kids can learn about the Bible easily and effectively by singing!"

This was an easy review to do.
I received the David cd, which is one of many this company produces, such as Moses and Matthew.
I have always used songs to teach preschoolers in our church, VBS, and with my own children. I also learn things easily if set to music and I like to buy all sorts of cd's with educational songs on them. How much time do we spend driving when we could be using a musical cd to sharpen our minds? My little girl enjoys playing in her room solo at times and will stay a bit longer if I let her play her cd's. So I like having useful, good-quality music on hand for her, and its even better if that music is taken from God's word! When we're children with minds like sponges, it is so much easier to "hide His word in our hearts". This one went straight into her collection and she has asked to listen to it often.

It has 31 songs sang by both children and adults. Before each song there will be a little snippet of information pertaining to the song or from the Bible story from which the song is derived. Some songs are originals while others follow familar tunes such as When Johnny Comes Marching Home. The ones I have listened to are simple, easy, and catchy tunes.

The thing I like best about this cd is the website resources that you can get to use with it. http://www.biblestorysongs.com/ has free lyrics for each of their cd's, plus sheet music, song books, puzzle books, projectable lyrics, and more. This would be an excellent way to use music with preschoolers or elementary students in a group setting like a homeschool co-op or church choir.

The costs for the David material are:

David e-Sheet Music - Order $9.99

Bundled Set - Order $16.99 David CD plus David e-Sheet Music

DAVID e-Transparencies FileAdobe PDF - Order $4.99


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

review of Homeschooling ABC's

Whether you are new to homeschooling, debating over homeschooling, or already fully immersed and needing some really helpful hints, tips, and links, we all need Homeschooling ABC's!

Homeschooling ABC's is 26 email "lessons" for parents involved in or about to become involved in homeschooling. Each week parents get a new lesson delivered to his or her inbox that will contain basic homeschooling tips, links to great sites, links to free products and curriculum, action plans, and wonderful advice that seems as if it is coming from veteran homeschool friends over a casual cup of coffee. :)

I SO looked forward to each new ABC. I have been homeschooling for about 8 years now but there is always room for improvement and wisdom. Homeschooling ABC's motivated me to think outside the box, try new ideas, and see clearly again just why I chose to homeschool in the first place. If it helped me after being involved in homeschooling for such a long period of time, I can't imagine how much it would've helped me had I been starting out! I spent countless hours searching the net for homeschooling information since way back in 1997 when I first began considering it. These emails contain all you need to know to get started in much less time. Not to mention that you'll get $200 worth of curricula which will be given to you over the course of the next 6 months after signing up for "classes".

Here are some of the topics you'll cover as you work your way through the alphabet:

  • Determine YOUR philosophy of education

  • Understand your children's learning styles

  • Learn the ins and outs of buying & selling curriculum

  • Find out how to get and stay organized

  • Learn how to teach multiple ages at the same time

  • Make the most of field trips

  • How to handle the "S" question - Socialization

  • How to start each day WELL and keep it going that way

  • Get hundreds of dollars of free curriculum

Homeschooling ABC's comes to us from husband and wife team Todd and Terri at http://www.knowledgequestmaps.com/. Some of you may already be familiar with other products from this wonderful site such as maps and the How It Really Happened history lessons.

You know what I would like if I were just setting my feet down on this homeschooling journey? A close friend to help me down the road with gentle nuggets of wisdom, exciting websites, and more. Or you could just buy me a subscription to Homeschooling ABC's! The cost to join the Homeschooling ABC's class is only $10 a month for the duration of 6 months. That's only $2.30 per class session.

Kudos to Todd and Terri for finding out what new homeschoolers need and helping them to succeed!


Monday, February 16, 2009

review of Math Mammoth

Let's talk about Math Mammoth. Math Mammoth is available at http://www.mathmammoth.com/. These are a series of inexpensive down loadable math workbooks for grades 3-8 and complete down loadable math curricula for grades 1-5. There are four series of these math e-books, written by Maria Miller, a math teacher. The series are Blue (math presented by TOPIC for grades 1-5), Light Blue (this is the complete set for grades 1-5), Golden (worksheets organized by grade for grades 3-8; not a complete text), and Green (worksheets for grades 3-8 organized by topic). Please note that there are no explanations in either the Green or Golden series, just problems.

The website goes into great detail about which item to use with your children. You can sign up to receive the Math Mammoth emails/newsletter and you'll get a bonus of 280 free worksheets and sample pages.

I got to download two products, the Golden series grade 7/pre-algebra set and the complete Light blue 3rd grade set. I really think these could be a very useful and cost-effective tool for homeschooling families. My only setback was I didn't have as long as I usually do the test the products extensively. Math texts are not something I want to skip around in so we began...where else? At the beginning, which is, as Maria sang in The Sound of Music, a very good place to start. Unfortunately we have only covered about 20 pages of the third grade book. There have been a couple of times where I wasn't sure what my son was supposed to do on a certain section of a page but overall, I felt the set would be worth the small investment. The sheets for this grade are grouped into little sections with plenty of practice work in each area. All your basic grade-level topics are covered in a mastery approach fashion, with plenty of emphasis on multiplication.

As for my older son, we tried to tie the Math Mammoth sheets in with our current ALEKS.com pre-algebra lessons and it made it very confusing for him. The ALEKS site doesn't necessarily present the material in the same order as the Math Mammoth site, and although I think I could look into the topics presented in each and try to correlate them, I simply didn't have sufficient time to do so.

I am no math whiz...ask me about history or language or spelling even, but not math. Ugh. So I always find the need for a very detailed explanation of each section or I cannot teach it to my children. In the older grades you get the worksheets and answer keys but no explanations. If I remember correctly, some of the author's material was originally written to coincide with tutoring sessions rather than as a complete stand-alone text. With both of us being weaker in math than other areas, I found within the first 2-3 days of use that the Golden and Green series would not be suitable for my oldest son alone, nor are they meant to be. But I am sure that if you have a child who just needs some additional practice (but already has a decent grasp on pre-algebra) these sheets would be great. Again, the prices for these products is outstanding for what you receive.
I hope that after my son has a thorough grasp of pre-algebra then we can return to the Math Mammoth sheets for review and drill work.

I would be more inclined to purchase this product for my younger son, for whom the complete set is available with explanations. :) The Blue series electronic books only cost between $2-5.50 each so it'd be pretty inexpensive to try. I would suggest getting the newsletter with the free pages/samples and then going from there into perhaps purchasing one of the Blue books to try.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

review of Five in a Row

This is an overall review of the Five in a Row products by Jane Claire Lambert. You can find more reviews of this product and others on the sidebar under TOS Crew. To see sample lessons, pricing, and all available FIAR products visit http://www.fiveinarow.com/

I have used Five in a Row vol.1-3 (FIAR), FIAR Vol. 4, the Christian Character supplements, the recipe book, and Beyond FIAR for years, on and off, and will be using all FIAR vol.1-4 as my daughter's main curriculum this upcoming year. I will also allow my third grader to use it with her by adding more "meat" to it to get it on his grade level. I have purchased Above and Beyond for my oldest but didn't use it because we jumped into Learning Adventures unit studies after leaving FIAR. I might pull it out as a nice summer supplement.

I was overjoyed to receive another copy of Vol. 3 from the Lambert family, which I plan to pass along to someone else via a contest on my blog here, just as soon as I figure out how to hold one. :) We have not used Before FIAR (ages 2-4) but I am sure my daughter would have enjoyed it if we had. We borrowed a copy of FIAR Holiday-Through the Seasons from our library and used it a few times around specific holidays.

Ahhh...where to begin? I have found this curriculum to be relaxed, enjoyable, highly educational, with little-prep time needed, low-cost, easy to implement, and it brought happiness and joy to my homeschooling! We started out our homeschool days with FIAR and only stopped using it due to my children's ages. It will be like greeting an old friend when we get back into it this fall with my four-year old!

The cover of FIAR volumes 1-4 all feature a soft painting of a family curled up in a comfy chair as a mother reads aloud. Even the family cat is listening! With 95% of the FIAR books and lessons we completed, that is exactly how we felt. I have never been so in love with a curriculum for the younger set. And goodness, we have used/tried a variety of books and supplies over the years, so I don't say that lightly.

Now that I've gushed over FIAR a little, let me explain to you how it works and how we used it for years as our base curriculum.

FIAR and its following volumes are unit studies based on wonderful children's literature. Books chosen for FIAR are often (perhaps always) award-winners with good moral messages. I found many of the books to be a bit old-fashioned and nostaligic.
There are about 55 lessons in vol. 1-4 (which is more than enough for the traditional 36-week school year). It is geared towards children ages 4-8 but you can modify it easily to be used with younger or older siblings. For example, using it with my older son I would require him to do dictation from our read-aloud (not mentioned in the book that I recall), penmanship, additional reading on the subjects we cover, additional worksheets and printables, and add in more math/grammer. Now before I scare you away from FIAR, this is NOT necessary when using it with the recommneded age levels. And finding additional resources can be done easily online under a Google search for worksheets. For an older preschooler, kindergartner, and possibly even a 1st grader, I'd say FIAR is really all you need. FIAR has a message board where parents share sites for additional free resources, because unit studies can work well when you combine all your students together using a little creativity. FIAR recently has added some new items such as digital products (I will be looking into those).

FIAR is very self-explanatory and easy for even the most sleep-deprived, frazzled homeschool mom to learn to use. It covers social studies, math, art, language, and science. You will need to add in additional math and phonics for your older student.

You won't need many unusual products to use FIAR (things like notebooks, index cards, etc. are called for); some basic art supplies are also needed/listed. *note-we really enjoyed the art with FIAR. My oldest son and I liked doing the lessons together, each of us sketching away the afternoon...

You will need the story books that correspond to each lesson. You will read the book once every day for five days; thus, FIVE IN A ROW. Many of these books were available from our local library or through ILL (Inter Library Loan). Others I bought used off EBay and Amazon, or at thrift stores/yard sales. Some we could not locate or were out of print and so we simply did without them and our program was not hindered in any way. With 55 lessons spread out between the four volumes, we didn't need every single book for a year's worth of studies. And you don't have to start with lesson 1 or even volume 1! You can begin with any of the basic FIAR volumes and cover them in any order. **I personally would suggest covering Volumes 1-3 before using vol. 4. It uses slightly harder books and is really aimed at ages 7-8. But again, that is only a suggestion. Your younger children might really enjoy it.

I bought the first three volumes very close together. That way I knew I had plenty of lessons to rotate through just in a case an occasional book was difficult to locate or was checked out. If you buy the correspsonding Bible Character books and the recipe book, you'd have a very well-rounded curriculum.

It is easy to tell at a glance what you need to do for the day. Mom reads directly from the manual, which is a combination teacher's edition and student book at once.

How it works: let me give you a sample of a typical day using vol. 3. for the lesson on the book Daniel's Duck.

I would have the book on hand. Together we'd read the book aloud.

Next I'd open the volume to the lesson and begin with a typical Monday, which is planned as social studies day (again, you can do a different subject on Monday. FIAR has the family focusing on one core area of learning per day, so Monday is social studies, Tuesdays are language, Wednesdays are art, etc.). I see five different social studies activites there. I can choose to do all five or only one or two. It all depends on the child's age and whether you want to savor it all now or save some activities and repeat the volumes again at a later date. I'll choose the first activity, which is to briefly go over the state of TN, where the story takes place at. This is followed by placing a Story Disk (found in the back of your book) on TN. This helps the child to learn geography and keep track of all the books you've read. It is also good for reviewing places you've been in your studies. The Story Disks in vol. 1-3 are unlaminated and ready-to-color by your children ( in vol. 4 you'll get the color, laminated Story Disks and the Christian Character supplements built right in. That is a great perk to using vol. 4!).

If I were aiming to complete the 4 hours per day law in our state, I might find that I need to complete more than one daily activity. I see another activity that looks good: listing all the aspects of country or cabin life shown in the book. This falls under observation, classifying skills, and penmanship, if the list is written.

On Wednesday for example, I would begin again by reading aloud the story, reviewing what we discussed on previous days. Then I'd pick an art activity. I see one that looks like fun...soap carving.

I would at this point add in my Bible study using the FIAR Christian Character Supplement for vol.3. Then finish my child's day using our math/phonics. THATS IT!

I found that reading the story each day followed by the Bible study, math/phonics, and a few FIAR activities usually filled 2-3 hours for my early elementary children. For the few years we used FIAR I never administered tests or felt overly stressed during school; yet amazingly enough, my children responded well to this study and I knew they were learning by the facts they often reiterated to me. Even years after use, my children would randomly recall facts from the books. Recently we were looking at a map of Manhattan Island and my kids recalled the story of the little red lighthouse that a bridge was built over. Another time a friend gave my middle son a set of model aircraft from olden days; my son immediately recognized one of the bi-planes from a former FIAR study.

I liked the way I could just pick it up and go, so long as I had the story book and the basic supply list on hand.

This curriculum is not for you or your child if:
  • your child does not like repetition, because you'll read the same book daily for five days

  • your are more confortable having your child work from worksheets or you feel the need to do lots of paperwork for "proof". FIAR often uses hands-on activities and discussion rather than book work.

  • you cannot access the books needed to complete the studies

FIAR might be for you if:

  • you want to try a relaxed, gentle approach to homeschooling

  • you want your children to love learning rather than dread schooling

  • you like good literature

  • your children enjoy being read to

  • your children learn well though repetition

  • you have multiple ages that might be able to work together

  • you don't have a lot of time to learn to use a new curriculum or you need something easy to use

I cannot recommend this curriculum enough. I'd love to hear from others who have used it.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday, Sunday

Today was nice, although it started out hectic with trying to get to church and Satan throwing small hurdles in front of us all the way. It was refreshing to hear our revival preacher and to see people lifting their hands to worship. Maybe we're not "dead" after all. Maybe we can be revived. Maybe I will soon be revived again.

It was especially nice to get away from the books, the computer, the to-do list and take a walk with the kids and animals in the sun....beautiful spring-like weather (only I saw it at a blur as our newest dog literally dragged me through the neighborhood). I haven't been jerked and yanked like that since we moved here years ago and trained our first dog to leash walk. Whew! I wish I could pay my sweet pastor and wife to jog him around the neighborhood as they go (Kari, if you are reading this, would you like a sweet, mildly stinky jogging partner about 2 days a week? :)).

It has been a blessed week actually. Everyone at home has been pleasant 99% of the time with very few threats from mom; we have had a good balance of busyness and rest; and I spoke with a few trusted friends about issues we were facing that made me very aware God is still there and still merciful. It was as if these conversations had all been planned by Him, as if these friends and I were planned to meet and chat and seek God's will together. I hope I was able to encourage them the way they encouraged me.

Meeting with some other homeschool moms for Bible study was especially nice this week. No one else can quite understand me like another homeschool mom. I needed that time with these women. I so look forward to seeing them again for another hour of study this Tuesday night.

By tomorrow morning, new review deadlines will come and school will be back in swing for another week. Winter is still upon us but soon spring will come. I look forward to more days like we had this weekend, porch-swing-kind-of-days with no hurry, no worry, fellowship, and reconnecting. Our weeks and even our Sundays aren't alway the day of rest we need. Sometimes we just need a little taste of a Mayberry Sunday afternoon.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

TOS Crew review of Write Shop Story Builders

Oh, we had fun with this one. I just don't do much creative writing with my kids. And that's sad, considering what a great communication skill writing is and how much I enjoyed it in school. We tried daily journaling a few years ago and soon quit. We get easily sidetracked by other new studies. Our unit studies have quite a few writing assignments built in but they can be sort of dull, especially for my third-grader. I had been thinking we needed to do a lot better with writing regularly and I needed an easy method to make writing fun again. Write Shop Story Builders was one of those free downloads that came, rather mysteriously, just in time. I got two of the programs to use; World of People and World of Animals, both by Kim Kautzer and Debra Oldar.

The concept behind Story Builders is very simple: a student from grades k-12 chooses at least 4 story cards to make a "story starter". You get two printable identical decks of cards with words on them. One deck will be in color and the other will be black and white so you can use whichever deck you choose to print. You cut the cards out after printing onto card stock (laminate beforehand if you want them to last longer). The words on them fall into categories such as characters, character traits, settings, and plots (it is suggested that you print the different categories onto colored paper for easy sorting later on. For example, print all the character trait cards on purple, all the plot cards on yellow, etc.). Store your card categories inside Ziploc bags, small jars, envelopes, whatever method works for you.

Now its time to use the sorted cards to write your story. There are six suggested ways to do this with children of writing age. You can try the Round Robin method, where each student takes four cards. You set a timer and each writes part of a story using the cards they have chosen to get the characters and plot started. When the timer goes off, have students trade papers and continue working on the story that is now in front of them. Do this swapping every 2-3 minutes for 4-6 rounds and then see the results you get. This one can make for some very silly stories that the kids love to hear aloud. Another neat method and one that we liked is the basic 4-card method with the daily add-a-card option. Children start by picking one card from each of the four categories. They use this to begin their story. Set a timer and have them write for 5 minutes or more, putting their pencils down as soon as it goes off. Then the next day they pick up where they left off, but first they add a new card from one of the categories, thus adding a new character or twist in the plot! Do this daily and at the end of the week you have your students tie up any loose ends and finish the story. This also makes for some imaginative creations.

There is even a narration option for using this curriculum with your non-reader. I haven't tried it yet but it looks easy to implement. My daughter, age 4, loves to read and would probably enjoy trying to make up her own stories this way.

My boys may never come to love writing the way I do, and they sometimes dread the subject. But I have to say that using these cards sure livens up your writing and really gets the child creating! We should teach children to write well and for the goal of getting grades, but whatever happened to children just writing for pleasure, to let thoughts flow freely onto paper without fear of dreaded grammatical error? That is the killer of pleasure writing---fearing those grammar errors. Most kids, it turns out, will actually enjoy the writing process if given the chance to explore it freely and not always for grades.

I think that must have happened with me. My mother taught me to love books early on. Then I must have had a teacher who encouraged me to write for fun. By 7th grade I was completing my own novels, some of them a whopping 30 pages, with all my friends as the main characters. I knew sometimes writing was for a grade but I didn't dread it or fear it, because I had grown to love it. And being an avid reader helped me to naturally pick up some grammar and that obviously helped. By my senior year I had gotten into a Creative Writing class with a dedicated, wonderful teacher, and happily worked for the school yearbook staff, produced a few more stories and poems for a school literary magazine, wrote some song lyrics, and the official prom poem. Small stuff yes, but big to me at the time. Later in life I was able to write my own wedding vows, heart-felt letters to loved ones, have a couple of short articles featured in homeschool books, and now, am enjoying blogging. None of this is said with the intent to brag because I feel there is always room for improvement, but rather to praise the fact that I was encouraged to pleasure-write as a child.

Writing is a necessary skill. We must be able to effectively communicate. And so often we stifle the creative process at such a young age by focusing on correct use of grammar and punctuation in our children's work. Use this curriculum and bring the joy back into writing. Be silly, be serious, but just write! There is room to improve the child's grammar later, after we have let him be free to write without interruption or criticism.

You can use Write Shop Story Builders World of Animals or World of People card decks for all grade levels. Interchange them for variety and chances are you'll never use the same story card combination twice, especially since more card decks are being made. Check them out at www.writeshop.com

Catchin' up is hard to do...

Whew. I am BEHIND. Never to see daylight again as I sit trapped at this computer desk, looking at the world through open blinds. There go the neighbors jogging...Hi Josh and Kari. That sunlight must feel good on your faces. There goes James, the chip truck man....toss me some chips, James; I need some munchies to get me through! And across the road is our sweet baby neighbor--I sigh thinking she'll be grown before I get over to visit her.

December was used up by a sick child. January went well until the last two weeks. That's when I had my first 6-day on and off migraine. Yay! Probably an analgesic rebound headache. Those are great fun. You think they're gone, that the meds have kicked in, and then BAM! Two hours later it's back, worse than ever. I spent most of a week coming out of hiding for a bit only to retreat a few hours later into a dark, quiet room...again. My kids lived on Ramen noodles and junk food. Thank goodness for a VERY responsible teenage son who can hold down the fort. Most of the time anyway...I don't think my younger two kids had baths the entire time! Blech! And my dogs never got fed, but they have survived and are rationing food lately. My old Granny Dog, Countess, takes her food bowl and sleeps on top of it, growling at Teddy Bear. She isn't so sure she won't fall upon hard times again.

Well, the snow came through and finally, my headache lifted and was gone! Thank you Lord! But during my headache pains I had literally overdosed on caffeine pills and caffeine-laden drinks to help ease the throbbing head-splitting pain. My body didn't respond well to all that Sundrop, so it decided now might be a good time for a little urinary tract infection-revenge. After 2 days of AZO pills with no real relief, I gave up and ordered some antibiotic, which I try not to rely too heavily upon. But its a good thing I had it on hand, because I needed it this past weekend when the sinus infection decided to move in. Three or four days on antibiotic and I finally think I am healed. I just hit 35 this year and that's a scary number to me; almost immediately I began to think my body had decided to fall apart!

During this time at home, our homeschool co-op held its annual International Night. I have never missed this! It is great fun and such a good learning experience. Each family picks a country to study for a few weeks and then they set up a display about that area and give a presentation. And most importantly, they bring ethnic dishes to taste. I like to eat; I like to try new things. Ok, I admit, its all about the potluck. :) By the time one of my conditions was better, we didn't have the time to finish studying and get our display and table ready.

Also during this time, almost every day for two weeks either the mail carrier drove up to the house with a package or the UPS man arrived. More homeschool products to review. An entire spelling curriculum...a reading curriculum...two unit study books...a new toy to play with...and on top of those items, three or four downloadable products came though my email. All these reviews can get very tricky when they fall back-to-back like this and are due at the same time. I worry about shoving aside our regular curriculum to try these new items. Will it cause gaps in our learning? Will we again be behind and have to hold summer school to catch up? Nick cannot afford to get behind. He is entering high school soon and I don't want him to be hindered in any way.

But then I stop, take a breath, and begin to see the Lord's hand in it. We weren't happy with our old spelling curriculum anyway, and now we have a new one. I really wanted the unit studies, too. The toy will be easy to use as will the Bible songs CD, and will keep our preschooler busy. Deadlines, yes, but these free products sure are a blessing. We may chug our old curriculum in favor of some of this new stuff if it works well. And I cannot forget the value of these free products; I have enough art curriculum for k-12, all FREE. Two nice Apologia science texts with tests and answer keys. A fun creative writing program. Lots of free e-books on every subject imaginable from homophones slavery to nutricion to Bible timelines. It IS worth it and being part of the TOS Crew is a huge blessing.

Catching up may be hard to do, but I have a new anthem...I will survive.