Monday, May 16, 2011

WonderMaps - TOS

Homeschoolers know that even though there are a lot of products on the market that are very useful for teaching, there are still holes out there that need to be addressed with new products. Foreign languages are still hard to teach without a tutor or live class.  High school science is a bear if you do not want to use Apologia.  And history can be overwhelming, because there are different viewpoints and textbook makers that like to alter history to fit state standards.

We have found foreign language classes (currently Spanish, Greek, and Sign Language) to go along with the Latin program we do at home.  Science is a bit of a mish mash of textbooks, non-fiction readings, software, and hands-on science clubs.  History is covered with a series of books, documentaries, and field trips.

But one of the most frustrating parts of history to teach is the visual part.  The parts where battles are discussed or when land had different political lines than it does now, or even how a river made all the difference in a group of people's lives.

I have spent hours looking for maps that will illustrate what I am trying to explain so that these things will stick in the head of my visual children.  And the most frustrating part is, after you have spent hours finding maps and altering them for your purposes, it often takes only minutes for the information to be learned and you are ready to move on to the next map, the one that you still need to spend a lot of time preparing.

Bright Ideas Press has come up with a product that helps to fill in this particular hole --WonderMaps.

This software is filled with nothing but customizable maps. Over 350 of them covering the World, the US, Historical Maps, and Thematic Maps.

  • The World - includes a list of countries, along with a list of regions/continents
  • The US -  maps for each state, US territories, 10 regions, and a full country map
  • Historical Maps - 38 Ancients Maps, 28 Middle Ages Maps, and 25 Renaissance Maps
  • Thematic Maps - maps grouped in themes -- Biblical Maps, Chinese Dynasties, Native Americans, Explorers, American History, World Wars, and 20th Century Treaties

With each map you can zoom in or out and add or take away layers.

I love the layer part.  I did not realize how many rivers surrounded us until I took the other layers off our state map.  I also love the black and white layer to save on printer ink.   And as a visual person, the layers feature allows me to get the most out of this software, adding and subtracting details until I have just what I need, and more importantly, nothing that I don't need.

Instead of using this software for formal schoolwork, we tend to sit at the computer and pull up the maps for whatever our interest was at that moment, including Revolutionary War battles, the location of Samoa (which we heard on NPR wants to change its time to jump across the International Date Line) and the area in Australia where one of our favorite TV shows takes place. 

This software is the best I have seen in allowing you to make a map your own.  It is not perfect, as it is definitely from a US stand point (no other country but the US has its own history section, for instance), and at times it cannot get as detailed as you like (it has limits on how many small towns/cities will show up or information about the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines).  So while it it is very useful for US history, it has its limits with geography and detailed history from other vantages.

Included is also a teacher's guide, filled with ideas on how to use WonderMaps beyond the obvious.

This software is available for $49.95 and runs on Adobe Reader, a free download.  There is also a 6 minute tutorial that gives you a good overview of what WonderMaps is all about. And if you read The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, keep your eyes peeled for a 20% off coupon code located in the magazine.

If you have the money available, I would consider this software a good investment.  It is one of those items you can use for multiple children for years and years, no matter the curriculum used.   That allows it to pay for itself, not only in usefulness, but in the amount of time it gives you back today, and also by extending your life expectancy due to stress reduction.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Greek 'n' Stuff - TOS

It is well into April, and one of the things I often hear from my homeschooling friends is how they feel like they are running out of time to get everything done that they had wanted to do.  Homeschooling parents want to give their children an excellent education, and sometimes there is just not enough time in the day, let alone the year, to do it all.

Because of this, things get pushed aside.  Math and reading get done, but history, science, and everything else can get shoved aside, especially when you hit a rough patch with one of the big two.  And by the time a parent covers the important stuff with all of their children, it can be so easy to say, I will get to that tomorrow.  But tomorrow doesn't come.

Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek by Greek 'n' Stuff is designed for the overbooked homeschool.  It is an extremely gentle approach to learning a foreign language - in this case, Biblical Greek.

I was provided with the Level Three Worktext, Worktext Answer Key, the pronunciation CD.  I turned the materials over to Dragonette and let her go.

The program is designed for the student to do one page each day along with practicing flash cards that you can buy or that the student makes.  The book starts off with the alphabet, accents and breathing marks and progresses into words, accusative case, present active tense, genitive case, third person, nominative case, sentences, and dative case.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to do this program.  A page a day is an easy way to add language to your homeschool.

Dragonette, 14, was excited to try this program.  She enjoys languages of all type and worked through the book quicker than one page a day.  She mastered the Greek alphabet in 2 days and moved into vocabulary quickly.  She made her own flashcards and hung them at the end of her bed where she could constantly review the cards.

But as a word and language person, she had some struggles with this program.  Accent rules are not covered until level 4, but she felt she needed the rules in level 3 to help her remember why an accent was where it was in each word.  She was also frustrated with how slowly vocabulary was introduced in the book. 

However, this program introduced her to Greek and she is now signed up to take a high school level Greek class in the fall.  It has given her a jump start on her class, as she knows the alphabet and some vocabulary, along with some of the things you expect to find in Greek, like accents and breathing marks.

I would recommend this program if you are looking for an easy, gradual course into Biblical Greek.  It would work well with younger children, for an older child that wants to try out a new alphabet/language before they jump into a fast moving high school course, or any child that likes a gentle, methodical approach to a language.

Greek 'n' Stuff offers 8 levels of Hey Andrew along with 6 levels of Latin's Not so Tough, 2 levels of Greek for those who speak French, and Bible Study materials.

If you are interested in this curriculum, you can visit the Greek 'n' Stuff  webpage and click on the "more info" link for each level.  You can read these descriptions and take quizzes to determine which level might be best for your student to start with.

Prices vary, so I have provided the price list for level 3 to give you an idea of the program's cost. We found the minimum you need is the Student Workbook and an Answer Key. The Pronunciation CD or cassette is helpful and covers 2 levels of the program. 

Greek Level Three Student Workbook ($21.95)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Answers Only" Answer Key ($4.00)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Full Text" Answer Key ($21.95)  More Info
Greek Level Three Quizzes/Exams ($5.50)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Flashcards on a Ring" ($8.00)  More Info
Pronunciation CD for Greek Levels Three and Four ($10.00)  More Info
Pronunciation Cassette Tape for Greek Levels Three and Four ($8.00)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Short" Set ($39.45)  More Info
Greek Level Three "Full" Set ($57.40)  More Info
Bible Copybook - The Gospel of John ($25.95)  More Info
Sheet Music for The Greek Alphabet Song ($2.95)  More Info
Set of five (5) Koiné Greek Alphabet Bookmarks ($6.00)  More Info

Friday, April 22, 2011

See the Light Art Class - TOS

Any subject you do not feel comfortable with is hard to teach.  This is the subject you usually spend money on, especially if it is a core subject, so that not only do your kids get a solid education, but also so your kids can develop their own phobias instead of just picking up yours where you left off.

With that in mind, See the Light has developed a set of 9 DVD's that covers Art for parents who do not feel comfortable teaching this subject.  Hosted by Pat Knepley, a Children's ministry director who is also degreed in art and art instruction, 36 lessons are covered (4 per DVD) and it seems the material covered would equate to a beginning art class.

I was provided with the first DVD, which covers lessons 1-4 with a bonus lesson for a chalk drawing.

Tools of the Trade - This lessons covers what materials you will need throughout the entire program.  The tools range from a #2 pencil and paper, to pastels, a charcoal pencil and a kneaded eraser.  All of these thing are easily found at a craft store.

It All Starts With a Line - You learn how to grip your pencil, how to draw straight vs curved lines and by changing how hard you press changes the darkness of your lines.

Contours and Compositions - How to place you picture on the page is covered along with how different mediums make different lines and effects.

Drawing What You See - This lesson covers drawing a shoe and what you should look and think about as you do it.

Chalk It Easy Chalk Art- You draw a detailed scenery picture in chalk with a hidden glowing part visible with a black light.

My children are 10 and 14 and they were very frustrated with this program.  Both of them found the lessons to be extremely slow, with lots of talking and very little drawing.  And each lesson was tied to a Bible verse or lesson, but Dragonette felt there were forced connections between the art and the Bible lesson. I realize that some programs start out slow and end up fantastic, but since I did not have access to more of the program I do not know if that applies here.  The descriptions of later lessons sound interesting, but if I had to base my decision on whether to buy this program based on the first four lessons, I would not.  From what we have seen, this program would be more appropriate for 3 - 6 year olds if they do not mind sitting and listening instead of doing.

The bonus chalk lesson was very fast paced, but it was very much a "do exactly what I do and don't ask questions" kind of lesson.  While you ended up with a cool picture, you never learned why she did what she did to apply the techniques to other pictures.

You don't have to take my word on what is in the lessons.  The first three are available on the website for you to watch, along with the chalk lesson, or you can request the same DVD that I received

If you find you like the style of these videos, See The Light has a $10 monthly subscription where 4 lessons are unlocked for you to watch each month or in a bundle of DVD's for $99, along with videos that tie into Easter and Christmas and a store with some of the more unusual art supplies you might need.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Write Foundation Lessons 16-30

I was given The Write Foundation's Essay Writing Lesson 1-15 to review for TOS.  The author, Rebecca Celsor, then offered the second half of the curriculum, Lessons 16-30, for use and review.  She completed a major edit of her curriculum and was eager to share the changes.

Just like I did for the first half, I received a set of student worksheets ready to be put into a binder and a spiral bound teacher's manual that has instructions for use, answers for the worksheets, a step-by-step guide for each lesson, and an assignment page that sums up that week's work.

Lesson 16-30 are much more on par with the level of curriculum that Dragonette is ready for.  It includes 5-paragraph essays; how to set up, research, and execute research papers with works cited; and timed essays.

Since the edit, the instructions in the the teacher's manual are more clearly written and the typographical errors are gone.  Some of this may be that I am more familiar with how the program works going into it, as this is a complex program.  But nonetheless, the explanations are much more organized and are arranged to be more pleasing to the eye and therefore much more easily searched and reviewed.  

While this is still a Christian-based program, it no longer hits you over the head in religious rhetoric, and for that I am truly grateful.  The examples in lessons 16-30 are everyday sentences and adding in Biblical references and topics is much more easily adjusted to your personal needs.

I like the way this curriculum takes you step by step through essays and research papers.  This can be a tough topic to teach because it often has to be broken down for a student which can lead to a lot of frustration for the teacher/parent.  Breaking things into small steps is something this curriculum does well.  I was able to use the steps and apply them to the topics Dragonette needed to write about in her literature curriculum.  The two curricula dove-tailed together very nicely.

The timed writing in this program has been valuable, too.  The ACT and SAT tests now have writing components, as do many AP tests.  This is a skill that is often overlooked in many subjects written for homeschoolers.

If the first 15 lessons of this curriculum have been edited to a product similar to the last 15 lessons, this curriculum is now worth a serious look.  If you are teaching a co-op it gives you a good framework for a class.  It can be used at home, but as with most curricula, it moves a bit slowly for us in places.  But we were able to skip thorough things that we needed to easily.

The price has also been adjusted with this curriculum.  It is no longer sold in stores, so the writer was able to adjust the price to a more family friendly amount.

Chose from Sentence, Paragraph, or Essay Level. Three different packages are available from the The Write Foundation for each level:

Curriculum Package 1: Lessons Complete 1-30  $69.95 + tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 1 – 15
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 16 – 30
            Student Worksheets Full Set Lessons 1 – 30
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Curriculum Package 2: Lessons 1-15   $39.95 +  tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 1 – 15  
            Student Worksheets Lessons 1 – 15
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Curriculum Package 3: Lessons 16-30  $39.95 + tax and/or shipping. 
            Spiral Instruction Manual Lessons 16 – 30 
            Student Worksheets Lessons 16 – 30  
            Essay Additional Resources (download to your computer immediately after purchase) 

Instruction Manuals Only are available separately for a cost of $29.95 each for Lessons 1-15 or 16-30 + tax and/or shipping.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Latin for Children - TOS

If you have looked at the About Me section to the right, you will know that I am a long time homeschooler who is always looking for great curriculum.  Usually I have to modify curriculum to work for my family, but every now and again, I stumble upon a product that is perfect just the way it is.  Latin for Children by Classical Academic Press is my latest find.

I will start off by saying, I know no Latin.  I took French in high school.  While I always like to learn new things, in practicality, I don't really have the time to take on an entirely new subject just for the heck of it.  Dragonette chose Spanish for her language and I am able to farm her out into classes fairly easily.  But Flower is my science child and when she learned that Latin is the language of science, she decided that was the language for her. Period.

Most places do not start teaching Latin until high school.  And many Latin curricula out there assume the teacher has Latin experience.  We run into this kind of problem fairly often, where the curriculum does not want to be thorough enough to teach, and when it tries, it is so watered down that it is nearly worthless to us.

I am very impressed with how much information is covered in each lesson of Latin for Children.  Not only is it not watered down, but it is designed for kids to do on their own with no help needed from mom.  And it is repetitive enough to cement the language, but that repetitiveness is so well hidden in the fun activities that I never ever hear "we already did this!"

The first decision we had to make was Ecclesiastical or Classical pronunciation.  Each is explained and available to listen to on the DVD's and CD's that came with the set we received.  I let Flower make the choice and she chose Classical because Dr. Perrin explained Classical pronunciation is used most in high school and college classes.

From the first lesson, verbs are conjugated and verb tenses, nouns, and the Latin roots of English are introduced.  Singular and plural come up in lesson two and lesson three covers noun declensions. Lesson four covers case and by lesson five you are reviewing ten verbs, thirty nouns, and derivatives.  By chapter 15 you add in the history reader for practice in reading Latin.  After completing Primer A, your child has learned 240 of the most frequently occurring words in Latin
Let me just say right here, Classical Academic Press, the makers of Latin for Children, gets it.  They take a hard subject, jump right in, and teach.  It is rigorous.  It is fun.  The kid loves it.  And Mom doesn't have to do a thing.

A few people have made comments to me about why bother to learn Latin since it is considered a dead language.  As I said, the original reason Flower become interested was Latin's use in science.  I was interested because I knew it would help with vocabulary words, and since she is a visual learner, the more pictures she could create the stronger her vocabulary would become.  But what I didn't expect was the amount of grammar terms and uses she would learn.  Since we have not done a lot of formal grammar past nouns, verb, adjectives and adverbs, this was a most welcome side effect of Latin.   I think she will have a much easier time with English grammar.

Included in the Mastery Bundle is:
  • a softbound textbook that is made to be written in
  • a softbound activity book with games and puzzles that is also made to be written in
  • an answer key for the text book (activity book has the answers in the back)
  • a Latin History Reader (corresponds with lessons starting at about Chapter 15)
  • 3 DVD's and 2 chant CD's (starring Dr. Christopher Parrin and a group of kids)
We worked out a schedule that allows Flower to complete a chapter a week.  There are 32 chapters, so even with breaks, she can complete Primer A in one year.

 - watch DVD
 - read first two text pages
 - start text worksheets

 - finish text worksheets
 - start pages in Activity Book

 - finish Activity pages

 - do Quiz in Text

The chants that are introduced on the DVD are also on the CD.  Flower listens to the chant CD whenever she has a chance, so I didn't put them on the schedule.  This schedule has worked well for her and she always willingly sits down to do Latin.

After Primer A, Flower will be able to continue in Latin using Primer B and Primer C.  And I don't have to worry about this subject for about 2 more years!

Classical Academic Press also has products for Greek and Spanish in their "for Children" line. which is marketed for 3rd to 5th grade.  Older children would also enjoy this line, if Dragonette is to be believed.  Even as an 8th grader, Dragonette is a bit jealous of all the puzzles and games that Flower gets to do.

If you think your child is a bit old or even a bit young for the "for Children" line, Classical Academic Press also offers Song School Latin and Song School Greek for kids K-2 and Latin Alive for kids 6th-12th grade.

Classical Academic Press doesn't stop here.  On their website, they have an entire free area for kids devoted to videos, stories, and games to help with retention called Headventure Land.  On the Free Page they have errata posted, along with flash cards, free mp3's, coloring pages, and articles to help you make good choices for your family.

The homeschooling world has a lot of curriculum options for Christian homeschoolers.  But I have friends that are Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist, and they have a hard time finding curriculum that they feel is appropriate for their children.  As a Christian, I even have trouble with a lot of curriculum out there, as it becomes more of a preaching tool than a teaching tool.  But I am happy to say, at least in the Latin for Children Primer A, the only biblical references I have seen have treated the Bible as a piece of literature, quoted like any other book.  I would feel good about recommending this curriculum to non-Christians.

You can buy Latin for Children by the piece, in a Basic Bundle for $76.95 (text, answers and DVD/CD set) or as a Mastery Bundle for $99.95.  I recommend the Mastery Bundle, because it includes not only the pieces in the Basic Bundle, but the pieces that make this program so fun (activity book and reader).

Samples for each component are available on the website.  Just click on each individual piece to find the sample link.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

English Is Not My First Langauge

I was born in America and attended school in a Midwest farming community.  My parents and their parents and on and so forth for generations were born in the United States.  My genetic makeup includes ancestors from England, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and two of my grandmas from way back were American Indians from different tribes.  Professions and class structures of my ancestors are as varied as a mayor, an indentured servant, and a family of pioneers that battled with Native Americans over land in Pennsylvania.

I am about as red-blooded American as you can get.  And I am Yankee to boot.  But English is not my first language.

I have to translate every word and sound that comes into my ears into my native tongue and re-translate to give you an answer in English.  And I didn't even know I was doing it, or better yet, that everyone else didn't do it, until I was in my 30's.

I am a visual learner.  That means I think in Pictures.  Every word I hear has an associated image.  So every time a word goes into my ear, I have to translate it into my native tongue, Pictures.  For me to relay a word back to you, I have to form an image, find its matching English word, and then speak.

Sometime I can do this quickly without a lot of conscious thought, because some words and phrases are used so often in English.  But when I am tired or uncomfortable, such as in a room full of people, the translation slows to a crawl and I find it so much easier to remain silent.  Math is difficult because my images often do not apply to a math setting.  Analyzing literature is an agony of words, words, words without a lot of meaning (aka pictures).  Let's not even discuss spelling and the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Instead, I have developed my own arsenal of skills. 

I can manipulate images in my head and go back to just about anywhere I have ever visited once, from only memory.  Drawing blueprints from any angle is easy and I can pack a car more efficiently than anyone else in the house.  I can often eyeball a measurement, whether for building or cooking, and be dead on.

My husband, however, is a native English speaker.  Frustration used to reign supreme in our house whenever we would work on a project together.  How could he not see what I meant!  And one day, I discovered that was the problem.  He really could not see what I meant.

The day I discovered English was not my native language was a wonderful day.  It was the day I started to really understand who I was.

Today, my husband and I work well together.  I draw the pictures he talks about, and we work at it till Pictures and English are precisely aligned.  He now understands my need to say things a variety of ways until my English matches his English, and he is more than patient in repeating something until I have fully translated it.  I understand why he cannot always understand my English and why illustrations are so invaluable in our communications.  He is no longer self-conscious about delving into writing Pictures for me and doesn't tune me out when I need to talk a problem out in English.

Dragonette is an amazing hybrid and is a native speaker of English and Pictures although some subjects go over better in one language than another.  Flower is definitely a native Picture speaker, so I have worked hard to help her become a nearly native speaker of English too, so she doesn't repeat the learning curve her mother had to endure.

I spent so many years thinking there was something wrong with me because I could not think on my feet, but I realize now that I was trying to do the wrong kind of thinking on my feet.  If only I had know that Pictures, not English, was my first language, I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak and dents to my self-esteem.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Odd man out...again

When Dragonette was two, she spontaneously started reading.  By the time she was four, not only was she a voracious reader, she knew the names and locations of the body's organs and the planets in order.  I suspected public school would not work for her even though we lived in a highly regarded school district and began researching private schools in the area.  During my research, I stumbled onto the idea of homeschooling, a concept that I had never heard of before.

The more I read, the more I knew this was the only option if I was to keep my happy little girl a happy little girl.  There is nothing like shoving a love of learning into a square box to create dissonance and discord.

My husband was completely on board and trusted my instincts.  My mother was happy as long as her grandchild was happy and thriving.  My oldest friend's weak protest included me giving up my life, but he, a childless man, did not understand I had done that the day I decided to have a child.

In the first few years, I read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling: books, articles, email lists, websites.  I learned about homeschooling philosophies, organization, curriculum approaches and how the library was my best friend.  Even though I became well versed in homeschooling and learned how to best fit teaching with how Dragonette and Flower learned, I still had two main obstacles: a lack of any kind of support system outside my home bubble, and a secret worry that I was ruining my child's life.

In the small Ohio town we lived in when I started my homeschool journey, we stuck out like sore thumbs.  Most people loved the school district because it was very well regarded. Of the locals that did homeschool, most began their homeschooling journey due to a child's disability.  We were also transplants to the area, didn't follow a school at home philosophy, or do school in the morning. (Dragonette is most decidedly a night person.)  Talk about a quadruple whammy!

I am sure this lack of support played into my concerns over whether or not I was ruining my children's lives.  It is hard to be a pioneer and back-to-school time was always the worst.  But over time and with repetition, I slowly learned my children would excel despite me.

When we relocated to North Carolina, instantly we found a wonderful homeschooling community with people from all over the world. They brought different ideas and experiences with them and it was truly a breath of fresh air from that small suffocating Ohio town. I finally had no worries about ruining my children's futures and had friends around who didn't think my brand of weirdness was all that strange.

But lately, I have been feeling like the odd man out once again.  High school has either begun or is on the horizon for many in my children's peer group.  Parents are facing new fears on how to educate their children and I myself went through another worry time, similar to the one I went through a decade ago.  I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling high school and what colleges look for.  Eventually the worry subsided and I knew we were still on the right path for our family.

But kids we know are dropping like flies, being sent in droves to the infamous brick and mortar school.  The ones that are left don't go to the park anymore to meet up, and mornings are only for school work.  Play time is not allowed unless it is academic in nature and there are no teen groups that meet our needs and no field trips.  Our well loved support group where we found so many friends is now extremely bottom heavy, with parents of three year olds joining and prospering.  While I am glad there is such a strong support network for them that was never available to me, I am melancholy for the old days.

I know how to make a transcript, design courses, and facilitate my children's learning.  Entering school when they are excelling at home makes no sense, so we have no reason not to homeschool through high school.  But like we started this journey, it looks like we will make it to our destination alone.