Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: My Bar Mitzvah Tutors

I can't believe that in 13 months Ben and Shira will have their Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony and will be officially teens.  How did this happen?  Just over thirteen years ago, I was single, living in South Africa and never for a moment thought I'd be the mom to the world's most marvelous twins and planning a Bar Mitzvah.

At the start of this school year, the kids started their Bar/Bat Mitzvah prep with an online Hebrew school, My Bar Mitzvah Tutors, and we could not be happier with our choice to skip the local Hebrew schools and go with Dani from My Bar Mitzvah Tutors.  

The kids adore their classes with Dani.  She's one of those rare adults who brings an energy of child-like wonder to her classes whilst still imparting serious information. 

I love listening to my kids' classes with her.  I hear excited voices, laughter and joy.  What better way to learn about your heritage?  I hear so many children and parents complain bitterly about their children's Hebrew schools and I keep on asking why they continue with those schools?  The answers are always, "Because that's what our parents did and that's what our community does!"

People, it's time to break out of the molds.  If the local Hebrew schools are not offering you what you want, don't use them!  I highly recommend Dani and her crew of tutors for Hebrew school.  You don't have to worry about discipline problems because it's just Dani and your kid/s.  There is no wasted time because Dani teaches at your child's speed. It doesn't matter if your child learns quickly or slowly, the class progresses at your child's speed.

Dani is sneaky about testing the children's information retention.  Instead of giving them tests, she plays "Jewpardy" with the kids.  Ben and Shira just love playing this game (I think it is because it brings out the competitive spirit in them)

As a homeschooling mom, I really appreciate the homework that Dani gives the kids. It does not involve pages and pages of worksheets, instead, she asks the kids to answer questions that require thought and understanding of the material.

Over the years I have homeschooled my children, I've looked at many programs for teaching Hebrew. I have to say that the program that Dani and her sister developed is the best I have  yet seen. 

She starts off teaching a few Hebrew letters and their sounds. Then the children are given a story to read (a funny story about a boy and a dragon) where the newly learned Hebrew letters replace the English sounds they represent.  This allows the children to practice the Hebrew while reading a language  they've mastered.  It made the entire process of learning a new alphabet completely painless.

As a family, we thoroughly appreciate Dani's weekly D'var Torah that she offers in both audio podcast and written form.

If you are on the fence about putting your kids in a brick and mortar Hebrew school, give My Bar Mitzvah Tutors a try.  You can schedule Hebrew school to fit your schedule.  You don't have to schlep the kids during rush hour and then wait two hours for them to finish, because the class happens in your home at a time convenient to you.  Your child doesn't have to spend years and years in Hebrew school because with one-on-one tutoring, learning happens much, much faster.  Instead of bad memories of wasted time in Hebrew school, your child will have joyful memories of learning with a teacher who is passionate about her subject and who imparts that passion with every lesson.

One of the best things, to me, about using My Bar Mitzvah Tutors is that they help you plan your Bar Mitzvah ceremony.  We're going to be doing ours in Israel and the good folks are going to help us plan the entire trip. I'm always happy to elicit help from people who have done this many times before.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Homeschooling Your Gifted Child - Links for my talk at the 2013 VA Homeschoolers' Conference

In an attempt to save trees and to make it easier to use links, I am posting my speaker's notes here on my blog.  If you have questions, please contact me through the email link on this page

Testing
I highly recommend Dr. J.D. Ball from EVMS for neuropsychological testing.  He understands the challenges of testing gifted children and is very accepting of homeschooling.  He may be able to recommend neuropsychologists in other areas of Virginia.  This testing is expensive and most insurances don't pay for it, however, if you suspect learning disabilities, this is the type of testing you need to do.

To have relatively inexpensive testing done that just tells you if your child is gifted or not, I recommend you do the testing through the Johns Hopkins CTY program.  Here is an overview of the tests they offer.

Talented and Gifted Course and Curriculum offerings
Email me if you have any programs you like that aren't on this list, and I'll add them.

  1. Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth - online programs and summer schools
  2. William & Mary: Center for Gifted Education - Saturday and summer school
  3. Center for Talent Development - NorthWestern University
  4. Duke TIP
  5. Stanford's EPGY 
  6. SIG at Princeton
  7. The Davidson Institute - programs and support for children and families with profoundly gifted children
  8. Splash and Spark at MIT 
  9. Splash programs around the country
  10. The Lukeion Project - academically rigorous programs in Latin, Greek and the Classics for children working at high school level
  11. Online G3 - accelerated and engaging online humanities humanities courses for gifted children
  12. Athena's Advanced Academy - age appropriate activities with high level content for gifted children
  13. Royal Fireworks Press - the world's largest publisher of books for gifted children
  14. Michael Clay Thompson - a language arts program specifically designed for the gifted child
  15. Shelagh Gallagher - problem-based, learning units
  16. Dr. Dave Purvis  - science teaching manuals
  17. Problemoids Math Challenge
  18. The Art of Problem Solving - math textbooks and online classes
  19. List of online math classes for gifted children
  20. Coursera - free online college level classes
  21. Udacity - free online college level classes
  22. eIMACS  - online, interactive math and science classes
  23. ChemWOOT - Chemistry worldwide online olympiad training
  24. Galileo Education
  25. Moving Beyond the Page - Literature-based curriculum for gifted children (however, look at this program before you buy because I've heard of more than one instance where the grade level is too low for GT children)
  26. eGifted - online classes for gifted children
  27. The VHS Collaborative - online classes for gifted middle schoolers
  28. Stanford's Online High School

Finding Support 
  1. Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
  2. The TAG Project - home of TAGMAX, an e-list for parents of gifted homeschoolers
  3. Yahoo Groups for gifted homeschoolers
Storytellers to whom we loved to listen
  1. Jim Weiss - storyteller for the thinking family and favorite of homeschoolers everywhere
  2. Bobby Norfolk - Emmy award winner teller of folktales
  3. Diane Ferlatte - her retelling of Aesop's fables is simply marvelous
  4. Jay O'Callahan - he provides educator notes and ideas to go along with his stories
  5. Odds Bodkin - he has some great stories for your dinosaur lover (and plenty more besides)
  6. Willy Claflin - his crazy Maynard Moose had my kids rolling on the floor
  7. Morris Gleitzman - very funny Australian who reads his own books. We purchased his books from Audible.com
  8. Geoffrey T. Williams - my son adored his stories about jet planes, the solar system, the barrier reef and more
  9. Robert Munsch - he offers free downloads of him telling all his stories.  Have your beginning reader read along as Mr Munsch tells his stories.  They are a scream, young and old will enjoy them.
Sources for Audiobooks
  1. Full Cast Audio - everything by this recording studio is absolutely delightful.  Their recordings of Bruce Coville's books are a knee-slapping, belly-laughing pleasure to listen to
  2. Audible.com - this is now my primary source for audiobooks.  I particularly like that if you don't like a book you've purchased from them, you can return it for a full refund, up to a year after you purchased it.
  3. Most local libraries offer CDs or MP3's you can borrow.
  4. Naxos Audiobooks - great renditions of junior classics, mythology and Shakespeare
Streaming video
  1. Netflix
  2. Hulu
  3. Top Documentary Films
  4. YouTube
  5. Discovery Education Streaming - look at The Homeschool Buyers Co-op for a deal on this.
Language Arts programs we've used
  1. Our experience with Shurley English.  My updated comment is that I believe this is a spectacular program, but only for one year. It is too repetitive for a GT child to remain interested in it for more than one year.  
  2. Some thoughts on Michael Clay Thompson's LA program - I love his vocabulary and writing program, hate his grammar program (that's primarily because I do not have a good enough grounding in grammar and find he expects the teacher to have a strong grammar background)
  3. My children are currently studying grammar and diagramming with Regan Barr at The Lukeion Project.   I highly recommend their very rigorous Barbarian Diagrammarian course
  4. My kids are doing The Witty Wordsmith with Lukeion this fall. I expect great things from the course (based on our previous experience with Luekeion)
  5. I highly recommend  Membean for vocabulary development for GT children 6th grade and up.  You can read my review over at the VA Homeschoolers' website.
History
I only have experience with two history programs. My kids started off with The Story of the World in first grade and I hated it, not because the information was bad, but because I hated having to prep for all the activities. We switched to  History at Our House  in 2nd grade and haven't looked back.  Scott Powell is the perfect teacher for gifted children as he helps train them to make connections and has high expectations of them.  You can find a review I wrote a few years ago here (my review is on the last page and I used the name, "Shez")

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hebrew School and Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring.

I suppose it is in my nature to buck the the system. Choosing to homeschool the chicks is just one activity in a long trend of activities that aren't exactly in the mainstream.

Look at how I met and married Marc. When we met online, I was living in Johannesburg and he was living in Virginia. Within 3 months of meeting online (with 6 weeks of meeting face to face), we were married and 6 weeks later I was living in the US. Hardly anyone we knew approved of our speedy and unconventional marriage, yet here we are, nearly 13 years later, as happy as the proverbial (non-kosher) clams.

The lastest way we're bucking convention is by having Ben and Shira do their Bar/Bat Mitzvah training online with a tutor (instead of them going to a local shul).

We were ecstatic to discover My BarMitzvah Tutors.

Every Friday morning at 9a.m., Ben and Shira log onto Skype to meet with Rabbi Dani where they learn Hebrew, Jewish History, Torah and in another year will start Bar/Bat Mitzvah prep.

Ben was initially very distressed to have yet another female teacher and I had to drag him, kicking and screaming, to his first lesson. Within minutes, Dani had charmed him and Ben's been loving his lessons with her ever since.

My BarMitzvah Tutors have a fascinating method for teaching Hebrew. Dani teaches the children a few Hebrew letters at a time and then has them read a story where English letters have been substituted by the Hebrew letters they already know. For example, they learned the Hebrew letters, "aleph, bet and vet" during their first lesson. They then read a story where every "a, b and v" had been replaced by the Hebrew letters they had learned. The kids are finding this methodology a cake walk and are loving learning Hebrew.

Dani has also started teaching them Torah and started right at the beginning.

I supplement Dani's teaching by teaching the children the weekly parsha each Friday morning. I've been using a combination of G-dcast's videos and curriculum and various books I own. G-dcast provides a free video each week that highlights part of that week's parsha. This week's Parsha is Parsha Re'eh. We watch the video and then follow the discussion points provided by the lesson plans I purchased from them.



After we return from our vacation to South Africa in October, the kids will also be doing group online classes with Totally Online. Ben will finally have the male teacher he so desperately desires (by male, read, lacking in estrogen)

These classes are very different from the classes they do with My Bar Mitzvah Tutors. These classes contain more children than just my two, are a combination of live and video lessons, include online activities for homework and concentrate strongly on what it means to be a Jew.

They cover such topics as:
1 What Does It Mean To Be Bar/Bat Mitzvah
2 Taking Responsibility For Who I Am & For What I Do
3 Free Will & The Struggle To Do What Is Right
4 Free Will – How To take Charge…Of Yourself”
5 Is There A G-d & What’s the Difference
6 The Five Levels of Pleasure
7 Who Are The Jews & What Is Our Role
8 Why The Jews? A Look At Anti-Semitism
9 Tikun Olam – Repairing The World
10 The Power of One – Making A Difference
11 Jewish Leadership
12 Communication – How To Get My Parents To Do What I Want!
13 Self Esteem & Peer Pressure
14 The Jewish View of Love and Dating
15 Words That Hurt & Words That Heal
16 Shabbos – it is more than a day off
17 Kosher – Food For The Body & Food For the Soul
18 What’s In A Jewish Name?
19 God’s Favorite Mitzvah
20 Israel – In A Nutshell

Since Ben and Shira have a philosophical bent, I think they will really enjoy these classes. They've enjoyed the videos we've watched from that program. I hope the program lives up to its promise.



We're going to hold the Barmie/Battie in Israel. Our family will spend a week, or three, touring Israel and hopefully by the end of it, our children will have a deep understanding of their roots and culture and will be firmly bonded with the land of Israel. It's my hope that the kids will find this a deeply meaningful experience.

Back in the saddle

After an hiatus of over 2 years, I've decided to start blogging again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reading Comprehension



I received a review copy of Jacob's Ladder from Prufrock Press a few months ago and started using it immediately. This is the first time that Ben has enjoyed a comprehension program. He and Shira ask to do Jacob's Ladder and are upset if it isn't included in a day's schedule.

So what is Jacob's Ladder?
Jacob's Ladder is a supplemental reading program that implements targeted readings from short stories, poetry, and nonfiction sources. With this program, students engage in an inquiry process that moves from lower order to higher order thinking skills. Starting with basic literary understanding, students learn to critically analyze text by determining implications and consequences, generalizations, main ideas, and/or creative synthesis.


Jacob's Ladder uses "ladders" to guide the children. Ladder A teaches the children how to draw implications and consequences from their reading. For example, the children read a story about a young boy whose father forced him to shoot a blue heron against the boy's wishes. The story goes on to deal with the what happened after the shooting and how the relationship between the boy and his father changed. Ladder A starts by asking the children to list the five most important events of the story in order. Then it asks why the boy receives a camera for his birthday at the end of the story. (this is because the father finally realizes that the son prefers shooting with film and not bullets). Finally, the children are asked to predict how the story would have been different had any one of 4 different events happened.

Ben and Shira love this final part of ladder A. They like to engage in "what if" scenarios.

Ladder B teaches children to make generalizations from the details in the readings. In the story I discuss when talking about Ladder A, Ladder B starts off by asking the children, "What are the reasons for Jon's father wanting to kill the heron?" and "What are Jon's reasons for not wanting to kill the heron.". They are then asked to classify their answers into positive and negative reasons. Finally they are asked to make generalizations about the following based on the story: a) Hunting, b) People who like to hunt, and c) People who don't like to hunt.

Ladder C focuses on themes. Children start by identifying settings and characters and then make inferences about the literary situation. In the story about Androcles and the Lion Ladder C starts off by asking: "How would you describe Androcles? Support your answer with evidence from the text."

It then goes on to ask, "Why doesn't the LIon eat Androcles? Did it surprise you that the Lion spared him? Why or why not?. Finally it asks the child to write a moral for the fable and to explain why her moral is appropriate, providing evidence from the text.

The final ladder, ladder D, focuses on creative synthesis by leading students through paraphrasing and summarizing activities. In Androcles and the Lion, Ladder D starts off by asking the children to rewrite the following quotation in their own words: "But as soon as he came near to Androcles he recognized his friend, and fawned upon him, and licked his hands like a friendly dog. The Emperor, surprised at this, summoned Androcles to him, who told him the whole story, whereupon the slave was pardoned and freed, and the Lion let loose to his native forest."

Then the children are asked to write the main idea of the fable from Androcles, supporting their answers from the text.

Finally the children synthesize this all by writing another fable about the main idea they identified for this fable, using characters, settings and a plot of their own choice.

Ladders A and D are Ben and Shira's favorite ladders. I should mention that not all ladders are done for each reading.

I find that Jacob's Ladder is easy to use and thoroughly enjoy how it helps light a spark in my children. They truly do not consider working on Jacob's Ladder to be school work, for them, this is a treat. This is in such stark contrast from the reading comprehension programs of my day. I used to be bored out of my mind. Many of the current programs I've seen mimic the ones of my youth and are simply multiple choice questions about facts within the story. Jacob's Ladder is an entirely different animal. It engages higher order thinking and takes the children far beyond the texts they are reading.

This is a good training ground for when the children finally enter the great literary debate when they read the Great Books of the Western World.

This is the first comprehension program that I've seen that I can wholeheartedly recommend. While it's targeted at gifted children, I think that all children will enjoy this program as you can guide the answers as deeply or as shallowly as you wish. If you have children, how like mine, love to engage in philosophizing, this is definitely a program they would enjoy.

The Carnival of Homeschooling

Welcome to this week's edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Compiling this carnival has been a welcome break from the remodeling we are doing. Homeschooling and writing about homeschoolers is so soothing to me compared to making all the choices about countertops, granite, faucets etc, that I have been making.

I am truly thankful that I scheduled the remodeling to be done from May to August. I can't imagine being stuck in the house with remodeling during winter. My brain is so fried by all the decorating choices I have been making that I could not come up with a theme for this carnival, so instead of having a theme, I broke the posts up into topics and have placed pics of my delightful offspring at random spots within the copy. We start this topic off with posts that recap this last school year.

Recapping the 2009/2010 school year.

Co-ops play a large part in the lives of many homeschoolers and summer is often the time when we analyze how well the co-op worked for us during the preceding year and what we want from the co-op for the following year.

IMG_3784
These children were having fun pretending to be horses and charioteers at our co-op during their Aeneid class.

Homeschool Dad shares a video of that recaps his family's co-op experiences for the year. His video shows what a great experience a co-op can be.
My family attends the Homeschool Out of the Box co-op where my children took an awe inspiring literature class. Lydia, of Little Blue School taught the Aeneid to children from the age of 4 to about 13. (not all at the same time of course, she taught an enrichment class to the little ones and then had academic track classes for the older children). The children took part in gladiator games, chariot races and learned the Roman virtues. My favorite part of the entire endeavor was listening to the children recite the first 14 lines of the Aeneid in Latin.

Here are all the children singing some of the Aeneid in Latin.





Katherine of No fighting, no biting. speaks about her family's piano recital.

Home Economics.

Home economics is a topic near and dear to my heart. I believe that too many parents, homeschooling or not, do not give their children sufficient skills in running/caring for a home, cooking and needlecraft. It's good to see homeschoolers blogging about how they are going about teaching their children to be self-sufficient within their homes.

Mrs. White of The Legacy of Home has started an ambitious project with her 15 year, daughter. For the next 60 days, they are hand-sewing an apron a day. She sees this as a seamstress apprenticeship for her daughter. Visit her page to see links to her sewing and Facebook pages.

Mrs. White, you have my fullest admiration. Hand-sewing, when a machine is available, takes more patience and fortitude than I have. You are giving your daughter a great gift.

Roscommon Acres finds that homemade birthday cakes make celebrating birthdays much more special. The Thinking Mother teacher's her 10 year old son to make chicken fajitas.

Teachable Moments

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that it sensitizes parents to teaching moments.

I lived in the states for a few years before I realized the real purpose of Memorial Day. I never even gave the holiday a thought and if I did, I just thought of it as the official start to summer vacations. I was mortified when I finally realized that it was a holiday memorializing all those members of the armed forces who have given their lives to protect our freedoms.

Jessica of Teachable Moments found this Memorial Day particularly poignant as her brother is preparing for war with a group of young marines.

Summer Schooling

What are you doing this summer? Do you take the entire year off, or do you school year round? Perhaps you do something else?
IMG_3025

I Capture the Rowhouse is taking a break from regular schooling and is studying movies.
I hope that this will be a little bit of the science of movies, a little bit of art and a little bit of culture. Classic films are cultural reference points the same way that plays, music, and other works of art are. However, I’m also hoping this unit will add a little more media literacy to my kids’ lives. We already talk about commercials and the way that things are sold. However, I think there’s more to media literacy than that. I’m hoping to work on Mushroom and BalletBoy’s ability to talk about how moving images, music and story can make us feel certain ways and how that works.

Charlotte Mason

Living Charlotte Mason in California gives details on how to run a Charlotte Mason study group. I found this blog post to be immensely useful as I've never been sure how to go about doing something like this. I like how her study group encompasses art, science and foreign languages.

Book Reviews

Kris of At Home Science reviews "Finding Darwin's God", a book that attempts to reconcile religion and evolution.
Evolution, Creationism, Microevolution, Intelligent Design, Materialism, Science and Religion...where does one begin to understand what all controversy is about? Start with Kenneth Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God.

Kenneth Miller is a Catholic cell biologist that clearly explains all of these subjects. He begins by taking us through the volumes of evidence supporting Evolution, including the scientific meaning of "theory" that is often misused by opponents of Evolution. He then gives the details of Creationism, Microevolution-only, and Intelligent Design, describing not only where these proposals are wrong based on the scientific evidence, but also where they are philosophically insufficient to explain God's relationship to His creation.


Alasandra reviews, "Love in a Time of Homeschooling".
Her experience with homeschooling seems very different then mine. Maybe it was because they knew it was only for one year. Also because she still had two children in public school her family didn't enjoy the same amount of flexibility that most homeschool families enjoy. At first it seemed as if what they were really doing was "school at home" although toward the end they did seem to grasp the freedom homeschooling allows and the creativity that can spring from it. I actually found the rest of the book slow going and didn't enjoy it as much as the first few chapters.

Homeschooling Creatively.

One of the reasons I homeschool is for the flexibility it affords me in how, what and when I teach my children.

Her Own Copy discusses how she has successfully used Journal writing with her reluctant writer.

Henry Cate of Why Homeschooling compares the time that is wasted in schooling out of the home vs. schooling in the home. Unlike Henry, our children do not go from the breakfast table into school. Our children go from bed to school. I only make breakfast about an hour into their school day. Lest you think I am a totally evil mom, my kids decided to do school this way. They wake up and start doing their assigned schoolwork. They often start school between 6 and 6:30am. I take my time getting, make breakfast for all of us and then we start with mommy instruction.
Shira doing a history lesson
Dwarves and Blokus discusses how a simple computer game Dwarf Fortress lead to huge amounts of learning. Her son started learning Python, magma flows and much more.

Quirky Mamademonstrates how she uses post card swaps to teach geography to her preschoolers.

Let's Play Math has written a brilliant post on 5th grade Hobbit Math. I can't wait to give my kids her worksheet on decimals, ratios and percents as it is written around "The Hobbit".

Little Blue School discusses why you should teach your child to write a novel.
In encouraging a child to write a novel, you're not just asking them to produce a book. You're promoting several important benefits in their education, and in their development as a person. Writing a novel, for kids and teens, really has very little to do with the final product, you see. While their books are fantastic and we love to read them, the true purpose of writing at this age is not to create the Next Big Book that will bring the publishing industry to its knees. It's all about the process, and kids learn much from the process of writing a novel.



My entry in this carnival is my review of Prufrock Press' reading comprehension program, Jacob's Ladder. I give this program a wholehearted thumbs up. It makes teaching fun (for my children at least). We all thoroughly enjoy working with this program.

Summer Reading Programs

Beverly Hernandez is one again running a Summer Reading Club for Homeschoolers.
The 12th Annual Summer Reading Club begins today! Get those library cards out! The purpose of the Summer Reading Club is to encourage students to read for pleasure, help the reluctant reader along and reward them for their efforts. Get your kids signed up and reading all summer long.


The Homeschool Buyers Co-op is giving away an iPad and 12, $15 Amazon gift certificates in their summer reading program.

Parenting

Home Spun Juggling ruminates on testing and testing anxiety.

Rational Jenn discusses kids and money. In the first post she talks about her stance on kids and money and in the second she gives an update on how allowances are working for her family.
Explaining about financial constraints, and how to make purchases based on your values, has been really beneficial, for the most part. One of the things I'm doing these days is planning our dinner menu for the week in advance and then buying according to my list and plan. This helps me stick with eating right and keeps our grocery budget in balance, too. So when we're at the store and one of them asks to buy something, I feel free to say "No, I don't think I'll buy that today. I have enough money to buy the things on my list, but no extra money for extras today." Or when trying to make a purchasing decision, I'll speak out loud and often enlist their assistance:

Living Charlotte Mason in California discusses the differences between two graduation ceremonies she attended and how different teh homeschooled children were compared to the public schooled children.
This day was the perfect reminder to me to think about the other things. To remember the countless hours I've spent with my children doing so much more than school. To think about the relationship we've developed with one another. To remember the victories and triumphs we have shared.

Parenting Squad discusses the topic of behavior contracts with teens.

Freebies

We end this carnival with two freebies.

Linda Dobson is giving away approximately 20 years of copies of Home Education Magazine.
Here’s the deal. These issues have been kept in a filing cabinet inside a closet. I have them all out, but I apologize that I just don’t have time to go through them to confirm how complete, or even when they begin. I did see 1986 in there somewhere…which would mean we’re talking well over twenty years worth of timeless information, resources, and personal stories that can help anybody get started homeschooling, or support anyone who is already on the journey!

iPad Weekly reviews a free app: This Day in History.
The application’s one and only feature is providing 4-10 historical events that happened on any specific day of the year. The application defaults to the current date. For example, Today (June 4th), Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, was born on 1808. The Dutch West India Company was chartered in 1621 and King George V was born in 1865.

This ends the this Carnival of Homeschooling. Why not share your blog posts and ideas in the next carnival. You can post your entries here

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Having fun with language arts

This has been a good week in our homeschool. I decided to start slowing down because of the beautiful Spring weather and to concentrate on one subject a week. We do some of the others but not every day and only as the mood takes us. I find that Spring is the hardest season in which to do school, so we take it easy every Spring. We enjoy the warm weather before it becomes too hot and humid.

This week we concentrated on Language Arts. I dislike that term. Why Language Arts? Why not just grammar, literature, creative writing etc.? Anyway, be that it may, we did a lot of work with Shurley English. The kids were really enjoying the grammar part of Shurley this week. We ended up doing 3 chapters instead of the single one we normally do each week.

This was the week we wrote poetry. I have never heard so much giggling as I did while the children were writing their poems.
Archie
Larger than Hershey and looks funny,
Very short ears and large tummy.
Likes running, playing and walks,
Balls and sometimes sock.
He likes balls but not crates,
and has been neutered so he has no mates.
~ Ben, age 9

We spent hours reading poetry. Jack Prelutsky had us rolling on the floor.

I think they read Poetry Speaks to Children so may times that they know it by heart.

Shurley English had an exercise where the children had to write a personality poem based on a particular outline. These are some of the ones the kids wrote:

Shira,
Temperamental, funny.
Very tall, long hair,
Reading, riding, writing, sleeping ,walking,
Congenial.
~ Ben, age 9

Shira
Brainy, careful,
Grey eyes, tall figure.
Horses, watermelon, friends, family, peace and quiet.
Lovable.
~ Shira, age 9

Mom
Demanding, brainy,
Tall figure, stern grey eyes.
Teaching, reading, Facebook, e-mail, mothering.
Kind
~ Shira age 9

Dad
Cheerful, clever.
Brown eyes, charcoal hair.
Parenting, reading, technology, astronomy, Wagner.
Lovable.
~ Shira, age 9

Notice how differently Ben sees Shira from the way she sees herself?

They wrote a lot of limericks. I think the worse they were, the more the kids laughed. This is the only one that survived in print.

There once was a king of Parcheesi,
He always forgot his sneezy.
Snot few wild
and hit a child,
He said it was very easy.
~ Ben, age 9

Much to Shira's delight, we worked through a bunch of exercises in Prufrock Press's reading comprehension program, Jacob's Ladder. I'll write more about this program in another post. Suffice to say that it is streets ahead of any other comprehension program I've seen. It's not a check the box program. It has the children thinking beyond the story.

One of our favorite online stores is Mindware. The kids love their building toys and adore their puzzle books. This week they were having fun with Word Winks. Each book contains over 300 visual verbal puzzles.

I'm embarrassed to admit that my children are better at these puzzles than I am.

I was tickled pink when Ben made one for "No one left behind".

No 1 left behind

Children, Charity and Geography

The children have recently started earning wages. They start each week off with 500 pennies. They can increase this money be doing any number of activities that we're trying to get the children to do. Currently these are things like personal hygiene (why is this so difficult for children?), kindness to others, not being bossy in certain situations, putting dishes into the dishwasher, feeding the dogs and taking out the trash.

They can also lose pennies by not doing something that is part of what they are expected to do to earn their 500 pennies. Currently these are things like switching off lights, keeping their bedrooms tidy, not leaving shoes and coats everywhere. Sometimes we provide incentives for things they should be doing but aren't doing as this works so much better than taking things away from them. As the activity becomes habitual, I start reducing the size of the incentive and then let it drop and make it part of the set wages.

At the end of every week they divvy up their wages. Twenty percent goes to long term savings, 10% to charity and they get to keep the rest.

The children have opted to use their charity money in an interesting way. Instead of just handing it over to a charity, they are using it to provide micro loans to business people in developing countries. They use Kiva.org to do this.

I am a huge fan of Kiva's. I like how they empower people to earn better livings and how they do not do handouts. Every person who receives a micro loan is expected to repay it over a set time that is agreed upon, loan by loan.

What this means is that the money you lend out is repaid and you can lend it out again. This way you make a difference in many more people's lives than if you just gave handouts.

Kiva personalizes the site by listing all the people who are asking for loans. You know what country they are in, who the local lending partner is (and their track record), why they want the loan, a little bit of history about the person and their track record in repaying loans if they have had any loans before.

The loans are also sorted by sector, so you can choose to make loans in agriculture, manufacturing, retail etc.


Born in 1957, Mrs. Hanu AWOUDJA is married and mother to five children. Her income-generating activity is the production and sale of cassava flour. She is requesting this loan in order to stock up on cassava from farmers in her town, so that she can increase her production capacity, income and profits.



Delgertuya is 39 years old and a widow who lives with her two children in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. She and her family live together in a ger, the traditional Mongolian nomadic tent. She operates a grocery store in her yard. Delgertuya has been operating this business since 2006 and has built a stable operation over the past four years.

However, her husband passed away and she was left to raise her two children. At that time it was hard for her to continue her work, but she has since worked diligently to grow her business to its current successful position. Her grocery store is in a good location and her business is stable. Delgertuya has been planning to purchase large amounts of products for her store to increase her sales. She is a very hard-working person and says, “I would like to expand my grocery store and to open a supermarket in future.” She is requesting a loan to increase her inventory.

Important Information About This Loan
About Credit Mongol:
Credit Mongol’s mission is to contribute to the prosperity of Mongols by providing diversified financial services to micro-loan and small and medium enterprise (SME) clients and to become the best-performing company in micro-loan and SME financing in Mongolia.


Ben and Shira spend hours going through all the loan requests before they decide on who they want to lend money to. The beauty of Kiva is that you can make loans as small as $25. If a person requests a loan of say $800, they might receive funding from 32 different people.

Kiva sends out updates from the field so throughout the loan period you hear about how the people who received your loans are doing, how the country is faring and what factors are influencing the loan holder's business.

It's amazing what the process of choosing who to lend to and reading the follow up emails does for the children's geography. They have been looking the countries up in maps and on the globe and are starting to realize what charmed lives they lead.

If you are looking for a charity to support, I highly recommend Kiva.org.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Neat idea for Mother's Day

I'm no fan of fabricated events. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, etc. make me shake my head. Such a performance is made over a single day. Heaven forbid someone forgets to send cards or flowers. All of a sudden, this lack means that you aren't loved. I read Facebook and email lists on these days and wonder how a single Hallmark holiday can take on such importance. To me, it's the day-to-day living that shows love and respect. We shouldn't need a special day to show this, especially if our year-round actions don't say this.

That said, StoryCorps has launched a book, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, in time for Mother's Day that really appeals to me.
In Mom, Dave Isay, StoryCorps founder and editor of the bestselling book, Listening Is an Act of Love, presents a celebration of American mothers from all walks of life and experiences. Selected from StoryCorps’ extensive archive of interviews, Mom presents the wisdom that has been passed from mothers to their children in StoryCorps’ recording booths across the country.




This book doesn't harp on the actions of a single day, instead it shows how mothers throughout the country and decades have inspired their children through their longterm acts of love.

You can read interviews such as this one between Jerry Johnson and his mother Carrie Conley who raised 6 children as a single mother.

StoryCorps is offering a a free gift card to add to the book (if you buy it, that is) to truly give the gift of listening. The card entitles you to record an interview between you and your mother, inspired by the StoryCorps interviews in the book. The simple act of interviewing a loved one is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give and a wonderful way to show someone you care.

I think this is a really neat Mother's Day gift.

I'm fascinated by StoryCorps.
StoryCorps is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on our Listen pages. The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.


I love the idea of setting Ben and Shira a project to interview family members for posterity. I tried to have them do this two years ago but they were still too young. I think now is the time to float this idea again. They have such diverse stories in their heritage, ones that deserve to be remembered.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Arts Bash winners

I want to dedicate this post to homeschool parents. You are giving your children the most incredible gift. The gift of having the time to follow their passions. The entries in the Book Arts Bash were "knock your socks off" good. I doubt that children who are rushed to within an inch of their lives could have written novels of this calibre. It makes me so proud to be part of this creative and incredible community.

Kindergarten and First Grade:

Winner:
A Big Problem by Brianna T.
Runners up:
Adventures of Big D and BMC by Emma W.
Zoo With A Strange Zookeeper by Vivian L.

Second and Third Grade:

Winner:
The Adventures of Blue Flame the Heroic Giant Squid-Fighting Hero by Sage M.
Runners Up:
Ruby, A Twisting Tale by Emilie M.
Mittens the Cat by Melea von T.

Fourth and Fifth Grade:

Winner:
1 by Nicci M.
Runners up:
One Girl Revolution by Sadie Z.
Blaze by Alexandra S.

Sixth Grade:

Winner:
The Princess by Lena G.
Runners up:
Becoming Callie by Lena G.
Trixie by Lydia A.

Seventh Grade:

Winner:
Happy Ending is a Place by Mandy H.
Runners up:
Violet Fire by Bryn B.
Kite by Hannah S.

Eighth Grade:

Winner:
Hollin by Garrett R.
Runners up:
Common Animals by Thomas B.
Little Angel by Adayla S.

Ninth Grade:

Winner:
Why I Missed the Second Set by Rose C.
Runners up:
Untitled by Larissa S.
Tales of the Humbats: The Seventh Piece by Raven M.

Tenth Grade:

Winner:
Children of the Stars by Holden M.
Runners up:
Shattering Darkness by Vienna H.
The Scouser Cap by Emily V.

Eleventh Grade:

Winner:
Cadence by Scout G.
Runners up:
Vengeance: 25 cents by Kathleen M.
Don't Look Down by Tanya S

Twelfth Grade:

Winner:
If Pearls Could Sing by Pamela C.
Runners up:
Broken Things by Emily D.
Falling Night by Anna W.


Big thank you to our generous sponsors:

Dreambox: Visit Dreambox for an incredible interactive math curriculum for kids from preschool through third grade. For kindergarten math, Dreambox is unparalleled in fun and pedagogical value. Check out the free trial and see what you think!

Shurley Grammar: A grammar curriculum that takes your child from first through seventh grade, using drills and jingles to teach writing skills (and also reading skills!) along the way. A trusted name in home education, Shurley will not steer you wrong.

Classical Academic Press: If you're contemplating teaching Latin or Greek in your homeschool, you definitely need this system. With audio, video, fun activities, and online Latin games, as well as standard workbooks and quizzes, anyone can teach Latin.

Prufrock Press: Parents of gifted children often have difficulty finding work that will challenge their kids' abilities while still being fun. Prufrock's gifted education materials are a godsend. Kids see them as a treat!

Explode the Code: Many of us have used Explode the Code workbooks with our kids and enjoyed the progressive phonics curriculum. Now Explode the Code has launched an online version, taking their reading education to a whole new level.

Can you help us by republishing the results and sponsor links on your blog, supporting homeschooled writers and this novel-writing contest? Please email us or leave a comment to let us know you can help. We need twenty blogs to participate. Would you donate a post on yours?

You can use this text file to copy and paste into your blog editing software. Right click to download.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Son of a gun!

Ben obviously misheard this urban legend:
An urban legend sometimes states that a story reported in the October 7, 1864 The American Medical Weekly about a woman impregnated by a bullet that went through a soldier's scrotum and into her abdomen was the origin of the term "son of a gun." The story about the woman was a joke written by Dr. Legrand G. Capers; some people who read the weekly failed to realize that the story was a joke and reported it as true.

In Ben's retelling, the bullet ricochets off the soldier's knee and then enters the woman's abdomen, making her pregnant.

Ben was full of outrage that anyone could believe anything so ludicrous as any fool knows that there is no way a bullet can ricochet off a knee.

Oh, to be young, earnest and innocent again.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bite-Size Physics

I am pleased to announce that my search for an upper elementary school/middle school physics program is over. The winner of this long and frustrating competition is Science Jim's program, Bite-Size Physics.



He's taken high school physics and made is accessible to elementary aged children. Some of the lessons contain math, but those are optional. Leaving the math lessons out does not detract from the program.

So why am I in love with this program?

Each lesson is written up in a friendly, easy to use format. I don't have to search through the net and the library for supporting information. What you see, is what you need. Each concept is backed up by easy to do, fool proof, experiments. You don't need specialized equipment.

As an example, in the first chapter, he explains what the scientific method is and then he has the children do experiments to practice the essential five steps of the scientific method. My kids think his mnemonic is hilarious - "Orange Hippos Take Classes Regularly". The first experiment is titled, "The Diabolical Diaper Dilemma". You need a disposable diaper, water, a large bowl or sink, a measuring cup and two people, to carry out this experiment. He carefully walks the students through the entire process.

His script has the children doubled over with laughter. I love that. Laughter and learning go well together. For me, the best part is that I can use the script without having to decipher it into plain English.

The second experiment is called, "Drops on a penny (A.K.A. Underwater Presidents). The goal of this experiment is to work out how many drops of water a penny can hold by using the scientific method.

After a third, fun and interesting experiment, he recaps the essential points and then there is a quiz.

Many of the experiments are supported by videos featuring Science Jim doing the experiment.

The program covers: The scientific method, mechanics, friction, energy, sound, atoms, static electricity and thermal energy.

I'll keep you updated but for right now, I am as happy as a clam. This is a plug and play program that is funny, academically rigorous, and very easy to use.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dreambox, an adaptive math curriculum

As you are no doubt aware, math is a great love of mine. Another great love is adaptive curricula. I love the idea of using computer programs to help teach our children. Computer programs allow our children to receive many, many more positive reinforcements while learning than they can do with real live people.

I try to approximate this instant positive reinforcement by marking each math problem as it is done. My kids do a problem, then we check it. That way they get the immediate positive feedback on a job well done or they get immediate correction before they have the opportunity to make the same mistake over and over again. Now that my kids are older, this is easier for me to do, however, when they were just starting out with math/arithmetic, it was much, much harder for me to do as they were at such different levels.

I had the same problem when they were learning to read but managed to solve it by using an adaptive computer based curriculum called, Reading Horizons at Home. Using a computer based program allowed me to do two things. I could gainfully occupy one twin while I was doing intensive, one-on-one work with the other. The combination of mom taught phonics and the computer program worked a charm.

How I wish that Dreambox had been available when Ben and Shira were doing K-3rd grade math. Lydia has been raving about Dreambox for quite a while, so a few weeks ago I signed up for a free trial to see for myself what the big excitement was.

Oh, my goodness, this is a great program. It addresses one of the bugbears I have with so many math curricula for the wee ones. It addresses number sense. The children who use this program are not only learning how to count, but they are developing a really good sense of how the various numbers relate to each other. This makes math so much easier later on.

I was pleased to see that Dreambox teaches the children how to add mentally the same way I taught my children. My kids were adding double and triple digit numbers mentally long before they learned how to do it on paper. Place value can be a difficult concept to teach children and unless they understand place value, adding multiple digit numbers on paper can be tricky. It's much easier to teach children the mental tricks.

I like how everything in the program has a learning component (even the games) and how all learning has a fun component. Ben and Shira spent a good few hours working through Dreambox and pronounced it to be a good program. Ben, in particular would have benefited from this program as fine motor skills came to him later than to Shira. He spent far too many hours being frustrated by his difficulty in getting what was in his mind onto paper. In retrospect, this difficulty was a blessing because it forced me to do a lot of mental arithmetic with the kids and to devise systems that made it easier for him. However, it would have been so much easier for all of us if we'd had a computer based program of this calibre available to us.

I would also have appreciated being able to give intensive practice on Dreambox to one child while working with the other. You have no idea how many issues we had for a while as a result of my twins asynchronous math and reading development. I had to keep them well out of earshot of each other during instruction as the twin who struggled with a concept in comparison to the other would give up learning and think s/he was stupid. I am so glad those days are over.

I know this program is geared to the K-3 crowd, but I think it is also perfectly suited to gifted preschoolers. These youngsters are often hamstrung by their inability to put pen to paper effectively. Dreambox allows these gifted youngsters to feed their inquiring minds without being held back by their physical development.

I want to thank Dreambox for being a sponsor of this year's Book Arts Bash for without sponsors, our homeschooled novelists would not have a forum to showcase their work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Math over the last 8 months.

Math is one of those subjects where I am never totally happy with just one curriculum. This is probably why we work out of up to half a dozen at any one time.

Until early this school year, our core curriculum was Professor B Math. I'm a fan of mastery curricula like this one. Prof B tells stories to teach his math and I found when Shira was younger, she needed the extra verbal cues. This program stresses understanding the concepts and mastering them. I still use it to teach some subjects. I moved away from it as my core program when we hit a roadblock with long division. For some reason, Shira could not grasp it using his explanations.

She had become so worked up over the issue that when we moved to Singapore Math I did not start at long division. Instead I started in Book 3B which was well below what Ben and Shira had been doing, but because it uses different methods and includes those great word problems, I thought it would be good to work through it.

This was one of the best decisions I ever made. Shira's confidence sky-rocketed because she was finding all the work easy. I appreciated all the word problems and the Singapore methodology for solving them. I think it's really neat that children this age are given the tools to solve word problems without using algebraic equations (which is how I would have solved most of them).

One fine day, about 2 months into Singapore Math (we were now in one of the 4's, can't remember which one), Ben and Shira put some math problems up on the board for each other. Ben gave Shira a long division problem. I was floored when Shira calmly completed the problem correctly.

I find this often happens. I hit a brick wall, move away from the issue and a while later the children show me that they've internalized the issue.

I then decided to start teaching the children fractions and used a combination of Professor B Math and Jump Math.

I discovered Jump Math after reading a piece on the Ashoka Foundation. This foundation, that keeps a rather low profile, funds social entrepreneurs.

One recipient of their grants is a Canadian, Dr. John Mighton, who is convinced that every child can master true mathematics.

Thanks to his Ashoka grant, Mighton is able to provide his math curriculum for free. (you have to register, at no cost to you, in order to see and download the teachers' guides). I fell in love with his methodology while using his introductory unit to fractions.. His approach is much like Kumon's in that it builds up in very tiny increments. He's broken each concept into tiny components and teaches them so that they slowly build on each other. Before you know it, the children have mastered quite large concepts with no pain whatsoever. I initially worried that it might be too boring for my math driven kids, but happily it wasn't. They breeze through the easy stuff and love his meaty challenges. I've found that every concept I've taught using Jump Math has been painless for the kids.

You can't go wrong with this curriculum, especially since it's free.

We supplemented with Life of Fred: Fractions. I've been reading about this program for years so I thought I'd give it a bash. Life of Fred: Fractions should definitely not be used as your children's first exposure to fractions. The instruction is too light and will leave a newbie confused. Use it to cement the concepts you've already taught. The story is engaging and fun and the children love doing it, once they already know how to work with fractions.

I also bought Funny & Fabulous Fraction Stories by Dan Greenberg. My kids say that you should not waste your money and repeat my mistake. They found it trite and annoying.

Currently, my children's favorite part of math is geometry. This is thanks to Prufrock Press's book, Hands-On Geometry: Constructions With a Straightedge and Compass. The kids beg to do this every morning before we do any other schoolwork.

I've been really happy seeing how the children have taken their math lessons from this book and are using them in art. Both children have been making fabulous geometric pictures (of course, now that I want to show you one, I can't find any).

I've promised the children that once we've finished with this book that we will move on to Drawing Stars and Building Polyhedra.

Ben is itching to start constructing three dimensional shapes.

My plan is to use this book together with Jump Math's geometry is level 6. Ben is itching to work with transformations, rotations and reflections. He's been reading ahead and has started making isoparametric drawings and mat plans. I can't say that this is going to be a treat for me to teach as I really struggle with rotating 3D items, but Ben (and I think Shira) are going to love it. Both children have far better spacial abilities than I do. This is all new work to me. I never did stuff like this in school.

I nearly forgot to talk about the Fibonacci unit we did. We used, Fascinating Fibonaccis: Mystery and Magic in Numbers and it's workbook, Fibonacci Fun: Fascinating Activities With Intriguing Numbers. We did this when we were in a particularly stressful period and I did not want to tax the children's minds. It served its purpose. The kids enjoyed it, learned a little and weren't mentally taxed.

I know that I could use just one of Singapore, Prof B or Jump Math as a core, but I enjoy how they each approach math very differently. I find that it's good for my kids to learn how to do things many different ways.

My plan for next year is to continue combing these three programs and add in enrichment from Prufrock Press titles. (We've not had a dud from them. Shira particularly likes their books on analogies and Poetry a la Carte.)

However, these plans may go awry as another mathy mom has been talking to me about Math-U-See. Both of us had written it off as we don't like manipulatives, but she's been testing it and is loving how it teaches algebra. This means that Math-U-See is on my horizon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Learning Latin is Fun!

"Learning Latin is fun!" are words I hear multiple times a week from my 8 year old twins. This is in such marked contrast from what I heard from my peers in high school. They all hated it. I never got the chance to hate it as my father insisted that since I was offered a choice between typing and Latin that I had to do typing. He felt that typing would stand me in greater stead as an adult than Latin would. Knowing how to touch type is a huge boon to me, however, I have always felt shortchanged that I spent 2 years learning to type when I could have been learning Latin. I started teaching my children to type last August and my daughter is already typing 50 w.p.m. with 98% accuracy. If an 8 year old can do that in half a year, why was I, as a teen, subjected to typing lessons for 2 full years?

As luck would have it, I have been given a second chance because I homeschool my children. Prior to starting homeschooling I read copiously about different educational philosophies. I realized that a rigorous, hierarchical, neo-classical education fit our philosophy and needs. Learning Latin became a must. I faced a barrage of naysayers though as many people I know feel that Latin is a dead language and that I will just be wasting my time teaching my children Latin. I'll let Classical Academic Press respond to that objection.
Well Latin isn’t dead after all, it lives on in the mouths of all of us who speak English, as half of our English words are derived from Latin. For those who speak French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian or Portuguese (the “Romance” languages), 90% of the vocabulary comes from Latin. These Romance languages are actually forms of Latin that have evolved over the centuries in various regions with some interaction from other local tongues. As you might guess, studying Latin is fantastic preparation for the Romance languages! Studying Latin is one of the easiest ways to become fluent not just in one but in several Romance languages. There are other good reasons to study Latin, cited below:

1. Studying Latin prepares a student to master English and the Romance languages. Students of Latin, for example, typically score the highest on tests on English vocabulary!

2. Latin prepares a student for several important professions that are steeped in Latin or English words derived from Latin. Examples: law, medicine, science, music, theology, philosophy, literature.

3. Latin enables a student to have improved access to English literature prior to 1950 which is replete with references and citations in Latin. As well, the history of art and architecture is replete with Latin. Monuments and art all over the world are frequently graced with Latin.

4. Latin enables a student to more fully understand and appreciate the Roman empire which has had profound and continuing effect on western civilization.

5. Latin enables a student to enjoy some of the most influential literature the world has known in the original language. Learning Latin well enough to read original Latin works is attainable and imparts great satisfaction and enjoyment.

6.The study of Latin is an ongoing study in linguistic puzzle-solving that generally helps students to become close and careful readers and writers. Many believe it also hones the mental faculties generally. One well-known cancer researcher asked what best prepared him for a life of medical research. His response: “Studying Latin and Greek as a child.”

I think you can see why studying Latin is a way of doing advance study in several subjects simultaneously. This is why we regard it as a master subject—it is a subject that like a tool enables one to master other things, other subjects. It is no wonder that it has been a required subject in schools for centuries.

I found that choosing a Latin program was especially tough. I looked at "Latin is not so Tough" and found it too lack lustre. In the beginning book I looked at no grammar was taught, only vocabulary.

Minimus was cute, the kids loved the story, but I struggled with the pronunciations as a neophyte. I also found that it was too lightweight.

I discovered Latin for Children at a HEAV conference.



I was hooked, even before starting to use it with my kids. I really like how it works from parts to whole, how it is very systematic. Learning the pronunciation is a cinch with Latin for Children. The program comes with a CD that contains chants for all the vocabulary learned. Each week my children learn 10 new vocabulary words and have them well memorized within one lesson thanks to the chants. Declinations and conjugations are all set to chants which makes it so much easier for the children to keep them in their memories.

In addition to the lessons being in the primers, you can purchase a DVD with the author teaching the lessons. We watch the DVD lesson on day one and then I teach the lesson again on day two. This works well for us.

I have lost all my fear over teaching Latin thanks to this program. A Latin neophyte, like me, can easily teach using this program. I learn alongside my children without them realizing that my Latin knowledge is on a par with theirs.

My children's vocabulary has increased dramatically despite the fact that we have only completed 21 lessons in Primer A. After we've learned each lesson's vocabulary, we work on derivatives. Whenever my children ask me for a word's meaning, I have them first think if it might be a derivative of a Latin word they know, and then I send them off to the dictionary. It's heartening to see how their faces light up when they realize they can work out an unfamiliar words' meanings on their own.

Latin practice is also fun at Headventure Land. Headventure Land is Classical Academic Press' practice website. Here the children can play games that quiz vocabulary, read short books in Latin and watch movies in Latin. The movies are my children's favorite.

We supplement our Latin studies with Latin Clash Cards and a weekly Latin Club.

The Latin Club, run by my good friend, Lydia, is one of the highlights of my children's week. Here they spend an hour laughing, learning and competing. It's fun to watch how a little competition inspires the children to greater diligence in memorizing their declinations and conjugations.

Latin for Children covers three years of Latin with Primers A, B and C. Once your children have completed these three primers they move into Latin Alive!. Classical Academic Press has currently only published the first in the series but I hear that the second is due out at any time. By the time my children read this level all the books in the series will have been published.

Once the children have finished Latin Alive! they will be ready for Wheelock's Latin, a college text.

An added advantage of Latin for Children is that it dovetails perfectly with Shurley English, the English program I am using in our homeschool.

As a homeschooler who is firmly committed to ensuring that my children are good writers, i'd like to thank Classical Academic Press for sponsoring the Book Arts Bash.

Shurley English - A Success Story for Our Family.



This is the time of year where I review all our curricula. I thought that, this year, I'd write up my reviews and post them on my blog.

We started off our homeschool journey using "First Language Lessons" by Jessie Wise. My kids and I are still trying to work out why people rave about it on TWTM boards as it bored us to tears. My children would beg me not to subject them to any more First Language Lessons torture. I finally gave it up as a bad job.

I then started thinking that teaching grammar formally was not necessary as I never learned formal grammar and I speak and write far better than average. However, as we progressed in our study of Latin using Latin for Children, I realized that I was shortchanging our children by not formally teaching them grammar.

I looked at many grammar programs but discovered that my lack of formal grammar knowledge was a huge problem for me as almost all of them presupposed a basic knowledge on the part of the teacher. Since Latin for Children was written to dovetail with Shurley English, I decided to have a look at the program.

I'm the first to admit that my first look at the teacher's manual nearly had me in tears. It looked so complicated and difficult to master that I nearly put the book back onto the shelf. It was only the high recommendation that the program received from Classical Academic Press, the publishers of "Latin for Children", and my dear friend Andrea, that gave me pause to re-look at the program.

A closer look made me realize that this program does not presuppose that the teacher has any grammar or writing knowledge. So, despite my misgivings, I bought the program.

It took me about 2 weeks to get into my stride with this program, but after that it was plain sailing. Now, we all love using Shurley English.

I love how it is a complete grammar and writing program. When you use Shurley English you do not need to buy separate grammar and writing curricula.

One of the strengths of this program is that all the parts of speech are taught using jingles. You start each lesson by singing all the jingles you've learned to date. My kids just love singing the jingles and will often ask to sing them more than once.

"This little noun, floating around,
names a person, place, or thing.
With a nick-nack-paddy-whack,
these are English rules.
Isn't language fun and cool?"

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun.
An adjective asks, "What kind? Which one? How many?"
To find an adjective: Go, Ask, Get.
Where do I go? To a noun or pronoun.
What do I ask? What kind? Which one? How many?
What do I get? An ADJECTIVE! (clap) (clap)
That's What!

I find my kids singing these jingles under their breathe when they are unsure of how to to work out the parts of speech in a particular sentence.

I have a very math driven son who really struggled with First Language Lessons. Ben needs to be able to reduce everything to a pattern or system. Shurley English does just that. You are given a "question and answer flow" to use for every sentence that you mark up. It makes working out the various parts of speech so much easier for the children (and mom).

Ben, in particular, loves that he can now see the pattern and he happily marks up his sentences. In fact, my kids love doing this so much that they do not like that they only get three sentences a day from Shurley to mark up. I have to make up more for them every day.

Another huge benefit is that the program is structured to give immediate feedback to the children as they work through a lesson. The children identify the parts of speech in a sentence and then I immediately go through it with them. This allows for immediate correction of mistakes and hopefully they learn not to make this mistake the next time.

I've transferred this concept to our math lessons. We mark each math problem as they do it. They love the immediate feedback and I've found that their skills progress at a rate of knots compared to when they did the same number of problems but only had them checked once they'd done them all. By giving feedback immediately after each problem, the children never repeat the same mistake over and over again. When they repeat the same mistake over and over, they learn the mistake and then you have to spend much more time rewiring their brains as they learn the correction.

Both my kids love how Shurley teaches writing. They like that they are taught a basic skeleton for each form of writing they do. The Shurley method appeals to both my math driven son and my verbal, arty daughter. They both appreciate being able to see a system and then to make it their own by adding their own creative touches. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly my children's writing improved once we started using Shurley English.

Every week I have my children write two or three paragraphs answering questions based on the previous week's history lessons. I was ecstatic to see how much my children's writing of these paragraphs improved once they did Shurley's lessons on how to write paragraphs. I'm always happy to see skill transference.

I'm in love with their editing and revising charts for writing. Nothing is left to chance. The children are taught, step-by-step, how to revise and edit their writing.

I initially thought that the exercise Shurley gives the children in sentence construction was pretty lame. That only lasted until I saw how much my children enjoyed it. Yesterday I had children jumping up and down with excitement because I wrote one of these up on the board. It's difficult to explain what you do, but I'll give it a bash.

You write the parts of speech labels for a sentence on the board. For example, A Adj SN A Vt Adv V P PPA OP. The children then write up a sentence that follows that format. For this sentence it could be, "The beautiful girl threw the ball to her dog."

That's not the fun part though. Once this sentence is written the children have to change words using one antonym, one word change and one or more synonyms. So, the sentence could turn into, "The rotund boy tossed a fish to his feline." My kids do one serious sentence and one silly sentence each time. I find that it is a great way to bring humor into our school day.

Little do the children realize that they are learning how to revise their writing when they practice this little exercise.

I've heard homeschoolers say that they don't use Shurley because it is too scripted. I like the scripts because it leaves nothing to chance. I know exactly what to teach and how to teach it to my children. That said, I will often read the lesson and then use my own words to teach it. If you are a script hater, please do not let this put you off this program. The benefits to you and your child far outweigh this minor irritation. See research on the benefits of using Shurley English.

I have no doubt that children who are taught English using Shurley English will turn into strong readers and writers. Schools in Athens, GA are finding that Shurley English is causing a dramatic improvement in language arts scores. Here's an article on this here.

Mrs. Shurley is a great supporter of homeschooling and a promoter of writing in the young. Thank you Mrs. Shurley for sponsoring the Book Arts Bash, a writing competition that celebrates our homeschool writers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Birthday cupcake


Birthday cupcake
Originally uploaded by Sherene Silverberg
Thank you Shira for my birthday cupcake. The sparkler candles started falling over and nearly created a fire.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Arts Bash

Entries are pouring in for this year's Book Arts Bash. I've been glancing at the synopses am in in awe of the imaginations of our young homeschoolers. I was expecting to be drowning in fantasy like we were last year. Not so this year, we have novels set in medieval Japan, on the DC metro, and in orphanages. There are angst filled teen love stories, girls disguised as boy hockey players and pen pal guinea pigs.

It's going to be such fun reading all the creative submissions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm envious

Marc and I often talk about how we'd dearly love to both be at home all the time with the children. Unfortunately Marc has to spend his days at the local hospital. Pathology is not a field that allows for working from home and fitting work into your life schedule.

I am always envious of families who have managed to organize their lives in a way that allows both parents to be home and to be actively involved in their children's homeschooling.

This means that I am exceedingly envious of the Berry family. Jon and Julia have an enviable homeschooling set up. Jon works from home running a successful web hosting business that allows him to be intimately involved with his children's education.

Sometimes I feel sorry for poor Jon. He's generally the parent who brings their children to park day. Just imagine the single male amongst a host of knitting, crocheting and kibbitzing moms. He's made of stern stuff. Jon takes everything in his stride. Sometimes he interacts with us, sometimes he's on his phone doing business, all the time calm and collected.

Jon, being the generous, homeschooling committed, business owner he is, hadGreen Olive Tree sponsor the G.U.E.S.S. Homeschooling Science Fair.

This web hosting company provides all kinds of server management, virtual server solutions, and dedicated servers. If you need complicated internet stuff, they are your answer. Don't go with a big company that treats you like a number -- Green Olive Tree's customer service is unparalleled and their record is spotless. Even if you're just looking for reliable web hosting, and you don't want to pay a lot of money, how about this: $25 a year for web hosting for a personal site. That's wicked cheap. Find out more about their web hosting plans and prices here.

If you're reading this and you appreciate their support of our science fair, their support of their kids, and their involvement in the community, please follow their Twitter feed and fan them on Facebook. These are good people, doing a great job raising their children and making an exceptional business out of hard work and excellent service.