Apologia Science lab set review

I'm not normally one to buy lab sets. My theory is that I can put my own together ("I'll do it mySELF!") for about the same price. However, as I read through the necessary lab materials for our upcoming Anatomy and Physiology study, I realized that the meager savings I might see by putting all together myself (and that was doubtful) was far outweighed by the hassle of putting it together myself. And, with a little bit of wiggle room in our curriculum budget this year, I splurged on a lab set.

I ordered through Christian Book Distributors as they usually seem to have the best prices in addition to the best selection. I did look around on Amazon.com, eBay, Half.com and a few other sites to see if anyone could beat CBD but they didn't. Amazon.com had a good price on the text book but the journal that accompanies it was about the same price and they didn't have the lab set. Nor did they have the sale price that CBD had so I went with CBD. (that being said, I earn no money from CBD but I do earn money from Amazon so I'll post the link to the Amazon item below. Full disclosure.)

The lab set for 'Exploring Creation with Anatomy' comes with everything you need for labs 1-13. Lab 14 requires no materials beyond paper and pencil. Some of these things most people have on hand but many of them are not common to a household. For instance, lab 4 requires an 'animal tooth'. Not something I have lying around the house, though The Boy is about ready to loose a few more teeth so I suppose we could have used those. Other items, while common, might require the purchase of a quantity in order to get the 1 or 2 of that item necessary for the lab. It seemed much easier to have someone else put this kit together!

Everything comes neatly packaged in a cardboard box.

Inside the box, right on top, is the itemized packing list. It lists everything for every lab.

Each lab is packaged individually, save for labs 9 & 10 and labs 12 & 13.

And each package has a list of contents. If an item needs to be used in a later lab, it is noted (SAVE) on the bag label. Very convenient!

And most items are labeled so as to avoid confusion (clear liquids look like clear liquids). So no sniffing or taste-testing (bad lab procedures!) are necessary.

I am beyond excited to get started on this curriculum. We did Apologia's Astronomy last year and, while it wasn't as hands-on as my children would have preferred, I loved how well-written, concise, and easy to follow the curriculum was. Having not only earned my degree in Kinesiology but also having taught this curriculum (at the high school level), I can't wait to share my love of this subject with my children. And it will tie in perfectly with The Girl's health unit - yep, THAT unit. Time to really dig into the changes she's going through and what it all means.

What science are you doing this year? Are you excited about it? Dreading it?


- hfs


A critical look - Part 1

I've been meaning to sit down and really take a long, hard look at homeschooling and how it's working for me. Not for my children; not for my family; for ME. And this isn't meant to be a selfish, whiny, or self-congratulatory post - I'm not looking for sympathy, praise, or anything of the like. I'm just looking to put some thoughts down on (virtual) paper.

First, I need to discuss our reasons for choosing to homeschool (and I can't remember if I've already done this). These are in no particular order.

~ Homeschooling fits well with our semi-nomadic, somewhat transient military lifestyle. At one point last year, we were looking at the possibility of living in three different locations in one school year. The idea of bouncing my children in and out of three schools in a 9-month period made my head hurt. If for no other reason than the sheer amount of paperwork associated with doing so! In all seriousness, I know how disruptive one move can be if it's made in the middle of a school year and we weren't willing to sacrifice our children's academic year because of my husband's career. (I'll add the caveat here: just like when you read your fortune from a fortune cookie, you add "in bed" to the end to make it funnier, the unwritten ending to everything I say here is "because we are blessed to be able to do so at this point in our lives. It is quite possible that I may have to go back to work and our children will go back to public school. They will be fine - we will make sure of that. But for now, I am able to stay home with them and educate them at home. None of this should be taken as a slight against parents who either are unable or choose not to homeschool.)

~ Homeschooling allows us to focus on what we feel is important. Traditionally, the 4th grade year is the year that students study state history. And that's wonderful if you are a lifetime resident of the state in which you live and you plan to live here for the forseeable future. Because (sadly) Hawaii was not going to be our lifetime home (not yet, at least), spending 4th grade studying Hawaiian history - while fascinating - was not to The Girl's benefit. Instead, we were able to spend it learning about ancient Rome, ancient China, Babylon, Egypt and the pharaohs, and so on. We read wonderful literature works that backed up our studies on the ancient civilizations. We took our time and dug into the things that fascinated us. We breezed through the things that we mastered and moved on to things that challenged us and interested us.

One of the things that frustrates me about those in academia (and in life, generally) is that we always think WE can do it better, therefore we reinvent the wheel ALL. THE. TIME. We don't stop to think that it IS possible that those that came before us might very well have done it right. So rather than have our children read the classics, we have them read drivel because we've designed it to be 'better'. Either that or we don't think they are capable of reading or understanding the classics in the first place, which is both wrong and disappointing.

And, while I believe that there is a time and a place for 'fluff reading', I prefer to rely heavily on the classics...because they did it better than I ever could.

~ Homeschooling minimizes the impact of negative influences seen in the public school system. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one to shelter my children. That doesn't do anyone any good and, in the end, it does a terrible disservice to my children. My children experience the world - good and bad - on a daily basis. We don't hide real life from them. But set foot in a middle school or high school today and show me ONE behavior you would want your children to emulate. I want my children to grow up capable of functioning in, and contributing to, society. Sitting in a room with 32 other 10 year old children will not help my children accomplish that. Going out into the world - interacting with people in a variety of different roles and locations and learning how to navigate the world as it is outside the walls of a school - will benefit my children more than sitting in a school building for 7.5 hours per day.

~ Homeschooling allows me to tailor my children's curriculum to fit their learning styles, likes, and interests. The Boy's biggest problem in math is that he does it all in his head. It comes to him naturally and he's already well ahead of his peers. But his listening skills are his weakness and he has trouble sitting still when being read to. The Girl has no trouble with words in any form - written, spoken, etc. She's well ahead in spelling and language but struggles with math. It doesn't come naturally to her and she has to really WORK at it. Thankfully for both of them, I am able to address not only their weaknesses but their strengths - something that is tough to do when you're juggling 30+ students who each have their own strengths and weaknesses (I've been there and done that...with 150 students. QUITE a challenge.)

Right now, The Girl is learning fractions. There is no better way to reinforce what she's learning than to bring her into the kitchen to help me cook and bake. The math skills she is acquiring are going to help her throughout the rest of her academic career but this is not necessarily something that a teacher in a school setting could actually do with a classroom of students. They could hand out worksheets and encourage parents to bring their children into the kitchen to help reinforce the lessons learned at school but nothing compares to the immediacy of going from the dining table (where we did our math lesson) to the kitchen counter right then and there to put those new skills to use and solidify the concept.

~ Homeschooling allows the teaching of critical thinking. It's tough to really develop the concept of critical thinking in a classroom. That's 30+ opinions and ideas to juggle. It's easier to resort to lower levels of learning - primarily the memorization of dates and facts. The perfect example is history. It is Presidents' Day weekend. A few short weeks ago, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. In a classroom, we might discuss the dates and events that surround these people we celebrate but rarely would you find an elementary school class engaged in a discussion as to the motives behind the actions of the people in the stories. Why did the KKK react so violently to the idea of blacks and whites having equal footing? What were the arguments for and against the Emancipation Proclamation and what were the opposing viewpoints with regard to the Civil War? Why do you think President Lincoln chose to draft the Emancipation Proclamation? What were the consequences if he had not? What would YOU have done? Do you think that Dr. King would have made a better (or quicker point) or seen a different degree of success in the Civil Rights movement had he allowed his followers to resort to violence? These questions can be posed in a classroom setting but a discussion like that takes time and time is not something teachers have a lot OF. So critical thinking gets the shaft, even though it's probably one of the most important skills to have in today's world.

~ I know my children. Better than anyone except maybe their father. I know what makes them tick. I know their weaknesses and their strengths. I know what they like and what they cannot stand. I know how far I can push them. And, yes, sometimes it is better if they learn from others. I do not think I am the ONLY person capable of teaching my children. But I do think I can do it best.

I also think that quality of the curricular options I have as a homeschool parent are light years beyond that of a school. I'd go back to teaching in a classroom TOMORROW if I could choose the curriculum. Some of what we see in classrooms is solid but most of it is crap. It's politically correct, aimed at the lowest common denominator, and screened by lawyers, rendering it pretty much devoid of life before it ever reaches a child's desk. But the options I have available to me (go check out the Rainbow Resource catalog if you doubt me) are astounding. And, like I've said before, I love our math curriculum so much that I think it should be required that all teacher education students complete every level of the curriculum (as though they were the student) before the ever set foot in a classroom of any kind. I feel pretty much the same way about our language and history curricula as well. I'm not saying our choices are the best or the only good ones out there - I'm just saying I love them.

And now I see that this post is going to be much longer than I anticipated so I'll wrap this up here and post Part 2 later this weekend.

- hfs


First, a reading list

We read. A lot. I know some families that read more than we do but not many. In this house, the books are only outnumbered by the Legos. And those don't count because they are SMALL! The library is one of our favorite places to go as is Barnes and Noble - the closest being 40 miles away (but we're willing to drive that far because we love Barnes and Noble!).

Closer to home, there is a wonderful used bookstore in the college town nearby, complete with bookstore cat! It smells of glue and book dust (the store, not the cat) and has old, well-worn chairs scattered throughout all of the nooks and crannies in the store. Such a wonderful place!

I had made a feeble attempt at keeping track of the books we read as supplements for science, history, geography, language, etc. during our first year of homeschooling and was quickly overwhelmed by it all. Now that we are 1/2 way through our second year (gasp! how did THAT happen??) I am trying again. I'm not going to do links right now as it's late and I'm beat. Maybe next time...

~ Ancient India by Virginia Schomp
~ Ancient India: A Journey Back in Time (DVD)
~ Usborn's Introduction To Asia
~ Magic Treehouse: Crazy Day With Cobras
~ MLK Jr. by Courtney Baker
~ The Life and Words of MLK Jr. by Ira Peck

~ Far Planets by Robin Kerrod
~ Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto by Giles Sparrow
~ The Way the Universe Works (DK Books)
~ Space: A Visual Encyclopedia (DK Books)
~ The Night Sky
~ Usborn's First Encyclopedia of Space
~ Basher Books: Astronomy
~ Handy Astronomy Answer Book by Charles Liu
~ Taking Back Astronomy by Jason Lisle

Read aloud:
~ Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
~ The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Girl's independent choices:
~ Geronimo Stilton books
~ Magic Tree House books
~ Calvin and Hobbes books
~ Big Nate books

The Boy's independent choices:
~ books about snakes (all by Gerholdt)
~ Snakes A to Z by Twist
~ DK Eyewitness books: Space Exploration
~ Space Rocket by Tim Furniss
~ Calvin and Hobbes books
~ Big Nate books

Next up: using the XBox Kinect as part of school!


- hfs



Chores. Allowance. Commission. Salary.

Lots of ideas out there when it comes to imparting responsibility to your children. We've tried several routes with varying degrees of success. We don't give allowance - that implies that you get money simply because you exist and that's not a belief that I care to foster in my children. You don't get something for nothing. We respect hard work and it is rewarded so any chore/money set up we've tried here has been more of a "commission" than anything else. I drank the Dave Ramsey Kool-Aid a long time ago and I wholeheartedly agree with his take on chores/money.

For the most part, and with minimal reminders, The Boy and The Girl are very good about keeping their rooms tidy, clearing their plates after dinner, cleaning up after themselves, etc. But finding a way/method to motivate them to shoulder a little more responsibility around the house has been challenging. And then I saw this: Fisher Kids. While it's great to have them help around the house, the responsibility for keeping track of their work and their pay usually fell to me and that didn't always work well. The biggest draw (for me) of this system is that the responsibility for keeping track of what they've done and what they've earned is THEIR responsibility. Not mine.

Just as an employee is responsible for clocking in and clocking out, The Boy and The Girl are responsible for keeping track of what chores they do, writing down how much they earned by doing said chores, etc. The only thing I have to be responsible for is having cash on hand (often an issue...I don't usually carry cash).

We just started this recently and so far, it's going well. In addition to their responsibilities as a part of this household (personal care, putting dirty laundry in the laundry room, putting away their clean laundry, clearing their plates after meals, tidying their rooms, etc.) they are expected to read for 20-30 minutes each day (above and beyond what is necessary for school) and do 2 chores. Most of the chores are pretty easy and only take 5-10 minutes. So they are quite do-able for a 7 and 10 year old.

The other thing I like about this system is that it teaches kids how to manage their money in that a percentage should go for 'giving', a percentage should go for 'saving', and the rest goes into 'spending'. We had a great talk about giving - why we give, to whom do we give, etc. They asked if they were able to choose to whom their money was given and the answer is most definitely. If you decide you want to give your money to Save The Whales, great. If you decide you want to give it all to a Salvation Army bell-ringer, wonderful. If you want to tithe at church, go right ahead. If you want to change things up, that's fine too. I had them each make a small list of places/organizations/entities to which they'd be interested in giving their money and we talked about each one.

Then we talked about saving and what kinds of things we save for: college, cars, trips to Hawaii, etc. We talked about the difference between long-term savings goals and short-term savings goals. We made lists of items that go in each. And then we talked about the fact that we don't take our money (the 'save' or the 'spend') and go looking for places to spend it. We don't walk into Target or Toys R Us with our money in our pocket and not have a specific item we plan to purchase. We tell our money where it goes, not the other way around. (this is good advice for me too...)

And there is math involved. I did my best to keep things to dollar and half-dollar amounts so that calculating percentages ('give', 'save', and 'spend') is relatively easy. The Girl is not quite done with division so we've not yet touched on percentages but calculating 10% ('give') is pretty easy and then doubling that for 20% ('save') isn't hard from there.

They love it thus far. They've always wanted to help around the house but never really knew what needed to be done and I failed at coming up with a way to set it up for them. And, after running a few numbers, I find that they are cheaper than a cleaning service! They are paid well for their work (I have high standards) and, while some parents might balk at what I pay them, the deal is that I will no longer buy toys for them upon request (I will still buy them birthday and Christmas presents as well as the occasional "I love you" gift but I will not bow to the "Can I just get one small toy?" when we're at a store). My answer now will be, "Of course you may get a small toy. How much money do you have? Figure out what toy you want and when we come back, you may bring your money and buy it."

The final thing that I like about this is that they WANT to help. I explained to them all of the things that Mommy and Daddy are responsible for in the course of a day and how much it helps for them to do these chores and earn their pay. I also explained to them that, while the money is great, their assistance around the house is something to take pride in. I like helping them tidy up their rooms from time to time and I tell them this. They like helping me around the house and it's nice to see it go both ways.

I am working to make sure this sticks!

- hfs


Aloha to the Sunflower State

Just a quick note to let everyone (all 3 of you!) know that we are still alive and kicking. Even though it's almost the end of September, we've not yet started our school year. The Army decided it was time for us to leave the Rock and move to the absolute center of the continental United States. The Sunflower state. About as far away from the ocean as is humanly possible while still being in the U.S. After 30+ days of visiting, traveling, and house-hunting, we are about settled in. Well, we have a house. No stuff to go IN it just yet but we have a house.

The wonderful thing about this move (well, there are MANY wonderful things about this move...and many not-so-wonderful things about this move but that's a different post for a different blog) is that, because we homeschool, we are not under the same time-constraints as public-schooled families. There was no rush to find a house in a "good school district" because we ARE the school district. And, if our house-hunting had gone on for months like it did when we moved to Hawaii in 2005, it would have been ok because we have our school books with us and could have started whenever we needed to. There was also little pressure to begin because both The Boy and The Girl are ahead in just about every subject.

So we will begin on October 3. The state we are living in requires that we register as a "non-accredited private school" and that we also name said "non-accredited private school" (or N.A.P.S., if you prefer). After much debate and some funny suggestions, we settled on the name "La'iki Puka Pa Academy". "La'iki Puka Pa" means "narrow gate" in Hawaiian. You can read Matthew 4:17 for the Biblical reference. I love that it combines both the biblical reference as well as Hawaiian words. And I love that no one at the DOE for this state will get what it means. I'm ok with that!

Once we get settled in our house and get internet set up, I'll post about our choices of curricula and how I see our upcoming year going.


- hfs


Curriculum Round-Up

So we wrapped up our school year at the end of May. In many ways, it was more successful than I had hoped. And in some ways, it left a lot to be desired. Being that this was our first year, my focus was mainly on the 3Rs. We didn't make it as far in history as I had hoped so we're going to have to dedicate some of our summer to getting caught up. But that's ok - history is a subject my children enjoy so it won't be hard to get through it.

The Girl has some math to get through as well - I'd like her to get through her 4th grade math (remember we started her off back in 3rd grade math to firm up her multiplication skills at the beginning of the year) so that she will be on grade level at the beginning of 5th grade in the fall. She has about 10 lessons left so we'll aim to do 1 per week to get her caught up and keep her math skills fresh throughout the summer.

Which leads me to my assessment of our curriculum choices for the year. Overall, I was pleased. And The Boy and The Girl were pleased.

1. First Language Lessons - This curriculum was probably my favorite of the entire year. I'm a grammar nazi so that predisposes me to liking this curriculum but I really enjoyed how EASY it was - for me and for my children. Both of them used it this year - The Boy working his way quickly through Level 1 and into Level 2 and the The Girl working through Level 4 (their last...sadly we will have to move on to a different language curriculum for her next year).
The lessons in the 1/2 book (Levels 1 and 2 were combined in this edition...Peace Hill Press has since separated them from what I recall) were short, sweet, and to the point. Lots of repetition - both in practice and in theory - helped cement the concepts in my son's mind (and mine...it's been a while since I had an English lesson!). Plenty of practical application and copywork as well which worked nicely for my son who is very much a hands-on learner. And the curriculum draws from works of literature that he is familiar with so that was a bonus as well! And, given the fact that he is a 1st grade boy, the short lessons worked well with his developing attention span. He especially enjoyed the lessons in which a picture is given and we get to dissect it, using the parts of speech being studied as our guidelines for discussion.
Level 4 was much more in-depth than level 1/2 but my daughter enjoyed the challenge. I grew up in a district that (as far as I can recall) did not teach sentence diagramming. FLL is HEAVY on sentence diagramming (not as heavy as Abeka, from what I understand, but heavy nonetheless) which helped her (and me) solidify her understanding of the various parts of speech being studied. I almost wish I had started her at Level 3 just so that we'd have one more year of FLL for her! There are plenty of practical applications in this level as well, including addressing an envelope properly, writing a proper thank-you note, an introduction to creative writing, summarizing, and reports, and contractions. This was one of the subjects she and I looked forward to each day. As a teacher, I appreciated the "script" that came in the teachers' edition - with no formal language instruction training, I was a little hesitant in this area. Even though I am strong in language, I'm not sure I know how to articulate that knowledge for my 9 year old. So that helped a LOT.

2. Writing With Ease - For The Boy, this curriculum was PERFECT! His penmanship was atrocious coming into first grade. Part of this was due to the fact that he was a 6 year old boy and part of that had to do with the fact that the district here starts kindergartners off having them write original sentences once they learn their letters. To expect a child to be able to master the motor skills of penmanship AND come up with original sentences and thoughts on their own at the same time is expecting a LOT of a 5 or 6 year old brain. The human brain is better at handling one thing at a time when it comes to development. That's why children who are learning how to walk will often regress in their verbal skills (or vice versa) - the brain compartmentalizes it's abilities, focusing it's energies on one thing at a time. And, not only do the schools here teach children these two skills concurrently, the expectations of quality are high from the get-go. Needless to say, Kindergarten was frustrating for The Boy in this area.
However, WWE separates penmanship and creative writing/original sentences. Each week, the focus is on a different piece of childrens' literature: two days of the week are copywork, one day involves the teacher reading a piece of the literature and having the child dictate a narrative of the passage, and the final day has the teacher read a different passage, the child dictate a narrative, and then the child is to copy the dictation. I found that The Boy's narratives were MUCH more detailed when he was dictating to me as opposed to being asked to write down his own narration. The most obvious example of how well this curriculum worked is the difference between his first few assignments and his final, year-end evaluation. His penmanship improved DRASTICALLY. I'm sure part of that was simply a part of his physical maturation but a part of it came from the ability to focus solely on his writing mechanics throughout this year.
WWE for The Girl was much more challenging than I had expected, especially for her. She is above average in her verbal and language abilities but this was a CHALLENGING curriculum. Her level combined original sentence construction/summarization/narration and dictation. And let me tell you, the dictation was significant in it's difficulty. So much so that we stopped doing it about 1/2 way through the first semester. I think, had we started off in Level 3, it wouldn't have been so difficult. She would have been more familiar with it and the length of the dictation pieces would have been less.
Our plan for next year is to actually have her start over with The Boy when he starts dictation as part of his WWE curriculum. Her confidence was shaken by her inability to keep up and I'd like to get her more comfortable with it so we're going to go slow, just like we did in math. I think the dictation exercises are INVALUABLE in life and I want her to gain this skill so we will make sure not to shy away from it.

3. Spelling Workout - Both of my children liked this curriculum, though it was The Boy that really enjoyed it and begged me to give him his completed workbook so that he could re-read the stories in each lesson. The lessons are short, the words are challenging without being too difficult, and the format (a newspaper format) was engaging. The Boy started off at the first grade level but the first 10-15 lessons were too easy for him so I would test him on the words before having him actually do the lesson. If he spelled them all correctly, we skipped that week's lesson. I did the same with The Girl - if she scored 100% on the pretest, she didn't have to complete the lesson. The fourth grade book was too easy for her so I bumped her up to the 5th grade book. The one thing that I didn't do this year that I will do next year is have them keep a spelling journal (a composition book) where they will write down the lesson's rule (each lesson has a rule that applies to the words in the lesson), take their pretest and final test, and write down the words they misspell for future reference.

4. Wordly Wise 3000 - I started this one during the second half of the year because I realized that my children didn't really have much in the way of vocabulary. I tried creating my own, based on our Science and History lessons but that just wasn't enough. The activities in WW3000 are varied enough to keep my son's attention (we broke each lesson in to 4 parts and completed it throughout the week but did not test on the words) and give him plenty of different contexts for each word. The workbook format allowed my daughter to work at her own pace and she tore through the book (again, I bumped her up a grade level because the fourth grade words were too easy) at her own pace.

5. Math-U-See - This is probably my second favorite curriculum of the year. Mr. Steve and his approach to math is incredibly simple and straightforward. His reliance on manipulatives helps my son get a grasp of the concept and gives my daughter something to "fall back on" in case she can't work it out in her head. My biggest complaint is that he sometimes moves too quickly in his lesson the DVD but that's the beauty of the DVD - we can pause it and rewind it. The Boy is getting ready to move into the third level (3rd grade - Gamma - multiplication) and I still have the DVD and instructor's guide. Obviously The Girl used up the majority of the worksheets and the tests but MUS offers the ability to generate additional worksheets on line so, rather than order a new student workbook, I will just generate worksheets for The Boy. Saves us some money!

6. Story of the World - We love history. LOVE. IT. And this curriculum is incredible. The text itself is a great read - a wonderful story of history and something that I'd have no trouble sitting on the couch and reading on a rainy afternoon. The activity guide that goes with it is in-depth, varied, and an incredible resource. I love the different literature suggestions offered for each lesson - selections that the kids can read on their own and selections that are better suited to be read aloud. The activities are varied in their complexity and the materials are pretty easy to find, using many household items. Sadly, this is one subject that was pushed aside in order to get through the 3Rs. We are hoping to make headway with it this summer and then be able to move into Volume 2 at the start of the next school year. We did not use the tests this year - I'm mainly interested in exposing them to the material at this point. They are both sponges and retain most of what interests them and ancient history definitely interests them!

7. Explode the Code - I grabbed this after The Boy ripped through his spelling in one semester. I didn't really feel like pushing him on to the second level (though, in hindsight, I could have and he would have loved it because he loves the Spelling Workout Curriculum) so I found Explode the Code. It was a nice accompaniment to his spelling and reinforced a LOT of the spelling rules that he had been taught in Spelling Workout. It's repetitive but easy enough for him to do completely on his own - something that I think is important for him to learn to do in small doses. So much of The Boy's curriculum (given the fact that he was in first grade) is teacher-involved so it was nice to have a few things that he could do independently.

8. Real Science 4 Kids (Chemistry) - We did this with our homeschool co-op and it went quite well. The curriculum is quite narrow in scope but there are dozens of experiments that allowed them to really get down and dirty with the subject matter. And what child (or adult, for that matter) doesn't enjoy blowing things up? Doing this subject with our co-op was great because the moms traded off teaching each lesson so the kids were able to experience different approaches to the same subject matter. And some of the moms enlisted the help of the older teens in performing some of the experiments which was a lot of fun! They dressed up as "mad scientists" and did all kinds of crazy experiments (think Mentos and Diet Coke, Alka Seltzer in a film canister, etc.). My only concern is that this subject was so narrow in scope and, as much as I liked it, I'm wondering if - at the lower elementary level - they should be doing something a bit more broad in scope.

9. Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) - This was another subject covered with our co-op and The Girl participated in this one. It was a great curriculum and it really pushed my daughter to develop her writing skills beyond what her normal language curriculum expected of her. The stories that she came up with were creative and really stretched her imagination. She learned alternatives to "banned words" (words like said, go, eat), descriptive words (-ly words), paragraph structure, openings, closings, and the like. Because this class was only held in the first half of the year, she did not make it through the level so we will be pickup up with it again in the fall as an add on to her regular language curriculum. I might have The Boy start coming up with his own stories to dictate to me as well.

10. Handwriting Without Tears - This one was really important for The Boy. His penmanship left a lot to be desired and this curriculum was a gentle way of helping him with it. The mechanics are presented in an incredibly straightforward fashion - so much so that I did not need to consult the teachers' manual other than when I first received it. The pages were engaging and easy enough for him to follow on his own - again allowing him to work independently. For The Girl, it was great practice for her developing cursive and she did so well that I don't think it's necessary to continue this with her next year.

11. Typing Instructor (online) - Another great program that both of my children were able to do independently! The set up is engaging, the skills are challenging but reasonable, and kids move on quickly enough so as to not lose interest. In this day and age, keyboarding/typing skills are as important - if not moreso - as penmanship and this program teaches them those skills easily. Both of my children enjoyed seeing what their goal (WPM) was and by how much they had exceeded that goal. What a fantastic motivator!

12. Pianimals - We were blessed to be offered FREE piano instruction by a friend of ours from church. She is a piano/keyboard player for one of the Praise and Worship teams at our church but is not trained as a music teacher. However, she has the heart of a teacher, her fundamentals are incredibly strong, and this curriculum is FANTASTIC! The progression is not only easy enough for a 5 year old to learn (though their hands are so small) but easy enough for ME to learn (I'm following along in the books with my children)! The Girl took to the piano instantly and has literally plowed through the books more quickly than any of us anticipated. Our friend had to stall with other books until the next level book arrived in the mail! The Boy is making solid, steady progress and I am excited to see him begin to love music. His listening skills (auditory learning) are weak and I really think that music instruction will help him in this area. We started lessons just shortly before we took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (he scored in the low end of the average range for listening skills when every other skill was far above average) so I am curious to see what his listening skills scores are next year after he's had a year of piano lessons.

13. Song School Latin - What an amazing little program! It's the basics of Latin - our first language - set to music. Such an easy way to remember things, especially when you're young! The worksheets that come with the CD are easy, engaging, and fun! My kids look forward to this subject every day and begged me to upload the music to their iPods. We listen to them in the car and sing some of them at night when they go to bed as their melodies are sometimes quite sweet.

14. Daily Geography - I didn't know until I put together our "Independent Folders" that either of my children would love Geography as much as they do! They dove into this and would literally gobble it up like it was Turkish Delight. The Boy, instead of completing a section per week, completed a section per DAY. Which necessitated me purchasing the next level of Daily Geography before the end of the first semester. But that's ok - he thoroughly enjoyed it, as did The Girl! During Christmas break and Spring break, we put their newfound map-reading skills to the test. We took off to the zoo one day and each of them had animals to which they were required to navigate using the zoo's map. I also introduced them to a map of our community and had them both help me navigate to go get ice cream! Their map-reading skills came in handy during Cub Scout camping trips and day camps as well!

So there you have my thoughts on our curriculum for the year. The Girl will be entering 5th grade in the fall and therefore, based on the classical education structure, will be entering the Logic phase of learning (The Boy remains in the Grammar stage) so there will be some changes necessary in The Girl's curriculum. I'm not yet sure if I plan to change anything for The Boy but I'll be looking into that this summer as we make plans for next year. I'll post more about that once I've made my decisions.

Right now, I'm off to enjoy some ice cream!


- hfs


Declaration of Independence

Did you know that there is a traveling version of the Declaration of Independence? Neither did I until a friend of mine sent me a link to a news story about it heading our way. It's only here for two days so we're hoping to go see it while it's in town.

This rare copy of the Declaration of Independence was one of approximately 200 copies printed on the night of July 4, 1776 by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap. As of 1989, only 24 copies of the Dunlap broadsides were known to exist, until a flea market shopper bought a framed painting for four dollars. While inspecting a tear in the painting, the owner discovered a folded Dunlap broadside behind it.

This 25th copy of the Dunlap broadside was authenticated by Sotheby’s and an independent expert.

In June 2000, producer Norman Lear and his wife Lyn purchased the document on Sotheby’s online auction for $8 million and formed the Declaration of Independence Road Trip. Lear’s goal for the ten-year, cross-country tour was to exhibit in all 50 States, bringing the “People’s Document” directly to Americans – especially young people – to inspire them to participate in civic activism, to exercise their rights and, above all, to vote.

What an incredible opportunity the Lear Foundation has provided to the American people. I was a senior in high school before I was able to get to Washington, D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence and here my 7 and 9 year old will get to see a copy before they are even out of grade school.


- hfs