Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Hewitt Homeschooling

My daughter Gesserine has Down syndrome so expressing herself has been an issue we have had to address on a daily basis. While her reading and comprehension are really tremendous, explaining what she wants to say is quite the challenge for her. That is why we have not done a lot of written reports. However, I love the approach that Hewitt Homeschooling has in their My First Report curriculum so I was thrilled to review one their products again.

My First Reports will help teach your child how to put their research on to paper. In your package you will have all the materials you need. Each theme has several categories inside and you get to choose to do as many or as few of them as you like. For the purpose of my review Gesserine chose My First Report: Outdoor Activities for the focus of her research.

Inside you will find the pages for each of the categories you are to cover. On each page they have several questions to give your child an idea about what to discuss as well as vocabulary words they will want to focus on. I will use hiking as our example on here, as that appears to be the one that Gess enjoyed the most. Here is how she answered those questions.

In the back of the book they have everything you need to turn these into unit studies. As well as learning about outdoor activities you can also throw in some Bible, History/Geography/Social Studies, Reading, Language, Math, Science/Health, Physical Education, Music, Art, as well as go on field trips. There is so much here you could make each page last quite awhile or complete about one a week as recommended. Below you can see Gess doing a Language activity which was coming up with rhyming words from our study. That was great for her speech therapy as well!

For the actual report they have three sizes of lined paper with or without a space for a picture. The lines come in 5/8-inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/8 inch. We used the 1/2 inch for Gess' paper and chose to have her draw a picture. Here is the text of her report, if you can read it.

One of the books she read about hiking talked about doing warm up exercises before you go. Since she wrote her report before our field trip she chose to draw herself exercising.

 After we got back from hiking I had her draw another one. You can see from our photograph what inspired this drawing! She told me the plant was poison ivy. She read about that and talks about it quite a bit but thankfully we never saw any.

Besides hiking, My First Report: Outdoor Activities also has her studying about camping, fishing, and biking though she hasn't written reports for all of them yet. Once school officially starts back up we will dig into some of the others topics. The entire list for this unit includes: Hiking, Camping, Sport Fishing, Hunting, Climbing, Horseback Riding, Cycling, Playgrounds, Roller Sports, Playing in Water, Playing on Water, and Cold Weather Activities.

My First Reports are for grades 1-4 but they are also good for remedial work for higher grades which is how we used them. With Gess' special needs these are en excellent tool to help her think about what she needs to say. The topics had her really excited and she would just sit and tell me all about them. She would tell me about how to wear my pants when hiking, what to pack for a camping trip, and how to stay safe when riding a bike. However, when she sits down to write about them she struggles. That is why having these reports to guide her was very beneficial. The questions helped her to focus on what she might want to say. I did have to help her learn how to structure her paragraphs as that is not covered in the content. I had her first say what she wanted to write and then we wrote that down. Later we went back and placed her thoughts in order and came up with the opening and closing sentence.

After all that we had the joy of experiencing her very first hiking trip. Field trips are so much fun and this particular category lends itself well to that aspect! I think Gess will continue to be an avid hiker. Thanks to My First Report: Outdoor Activities for getting her interested in it!

My First Report: Outdoor Activities sells for $8.95 and comes with the 12 topics I listed above. In the past we have used Large Mammals and Plants and really liked them too. To learn more about My First Reports as well as other curriculum offered by Hewitt Homeschooling visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Classroom is Ready!

While we won't be starting school for several more weeks, I have been working on getting our workspace organized. I am still looking into to ordering a few more items for our curriculum and soon I will post about what we are doing. We are starting middle school (6th grade) this year, so I am very anxious to see what changes that will bring!  For now, here is a look at our workspace. It is small, but it gets the job done!

Monday, July 21, 2014

First Hiking Trip

Gess has been studying outdoor activities for a product I will be sharing soon. One of the activities she focused on was hiking. She really got into reading about it and studying it. Her enthusiasm for hiking and camping had her packing backpacks several times a week.  One day I went to brush my teeth and couldn't find my tooth brush or the tooth paste. That is because they were in her room with all her other camping and hiking gear!

She just couldn't stop talking about hiking. She was constantly telling me about poison ivy, how to avoid ticks, and what I needed in my first aid kit. We started by making sure we had all the appropriate hiking gear. We put our First Aid kit in a zip-lock bag so we could fit easily in a fanny pack or backpack.

Then we headed out to the lake. They have a 1 mile nature trail there with signs to help you learn about the animals, plants, and trees that grow in the area. We were sure to read each and every one. The trail itself was listed as moderate since the terrain was a tad rough in spots and it did have you climbing uphill. It really had the feel of a hiking trail and Gess thoroughly enjoyed it. I know we will be doing more hiking in the future!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: HomeSchoolPiano

Adding music to a homeschool experience is always a treat but somewhat hard to implement. Unless the parent knows how to play an instrument they need to find other outlets for their children to try to learn. HomeSchoolPiano is offering a solution that will allow your students to learn piano in their own home. While Gess takes private lessons, with her special needs I thought she could use some extra help at home so I wanted to give this a try.

For the purpose of our review we received the HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books.

This package includes lifetime access to the entire program for up to 5 students, video instructions that can be streamed online and are also downloaded for offline use, workbooks in PDF form, and interactive quizzes which are a great way to see how well the student is following along.

These lessons start with the very basics with what they call CorePiano. These lessons are for those who have never taken piano before and do not know much at all about music. They cover the musical alphabet, the notes of the piano, high and low notes, finger numbers, five finger scale and even how to sit at the piano. They also had one lesson about the grab technique which was a new one to us. I really love how he explained how to grab at the keys when you play, which made it easier to move on to the next key. It was really helpful.

Other than the grab technique we did not do any more of these lessons as we already have the basics down. After CorePiano there are 3 levels of Lesson Books. We played a bit with Lesson 2 to see where Gess was since she has some piano background, but it was clear he was moving too fast so we started back at Book 1. Each book is divided into units so we went ahead and started at unit 1 since his teaching method is different than what she is used to.

He presents each lesson in 6 steps. Techinque, Rhythm, Ear Training, Reading, Song, and Improvisation.

Each lesson starts with video instruction where he sits in front of the piano and explains the lesson. Sometimes you play along with him, other times you just listen. He will go over the workbook sheets that correspond and explain how to play them as well as demonstrate them for you.

While you can watch the video on your computer it also functions well on a tablet and smart phone. We have a generic tablet that often has trouble viewing lots of things but I was glad to see that it worked really well with this program. I was impressed. Here is Gess using that during one of her lessons.

The Rhythm, Ear Training, and Reading Music lessons also have interactive quizzes which I thought were helpful. You had to recognize which bar of music was actually played, match the rhythm to the notes, identify the music notes and other things like that. Gess enjoyed this part of the lesson.  I really liked that you could take it again and improve your score if you missed any.  That was important to Gess as she hates not getting a perfect score.  Of course it is also important that the child get the concept accurately.

As a parent you can go in and see your child's progress. They will tell you which lessons are complete and any scores given on the quizzes. Make sure they are logged on their own user to track this information. When we first got it I was using only mine until I figured out how to add a student so this does not show that she watched the first video, even though she did.

We would do one lesson a week viewing it and then spending the rest of the week practicing what was taught. You can move faster or slower, depending on your own needs. I was also going to try to learn the piano myself and did play around with a few lessons but I am not disciplined enough to stay with it, especially this summer.  While we have had some fun stuff going on, we have also had some minor surgeries we have helped our parents through. With that in mind you do have to have the discipline to do these lessons on a regular basis. I would place a high priority on it during their school day which is easier to do in the fall than it is in the summer when things are so busy.

While I liked his teaching method and online quizzes I did not really like the implementation of the lessons. The gentleman is friendly enough and enjoyable to listen to but he is definitely talking to someone who has a grasp on the material. He goes too quickly for our needs and sometimes makes mistakes or presents things in a way that is confusing. I got to the point where Gess only watched his video away from the piano and then went to practice afterwards so it wouldn't confuse her as much. That did seem to help. There are two examples that really stood out to explain what I mean.

The first one is where he is teaching rhythm.  He will say it, then play it, and then have you play it with him. One time he said it, but played it wrong. He realized it and mentions that, but since this is a recorded lesson you would think they would do it again until they got it right. It was distracting for me, as well as Gess.

Then another time he was going over rhythm and teaching how to find the upbeats. He goes through the entire sheet saying the rhythm with you but he doesn't always say it like it is on the sheet.  For example he would have this rhythm.

But instead of saying what you see on paper, "Dah dee ba Dah. Dah dee ba Dah." He left out the first Dah and said, "Dah  de ba (). Dah dee ba Dah."  After he has done all of the examples (or at least most of them) he then explains why he didn't say that first Dah. Since it is attached to the ba with the line you could just hold the ba instead. That is information that would have better been nentioned at the beginning, not end of the lesson. I spent the entire time trying to figure out if I had the right worksheet or not thinking the book had an error.

I realize we all make mistakes, but as I said before, since these are recorded lessons I would expect those mistakes to be corrected before publishing it. It really made it difficult for me to concentrate. If you can get past that he is engaging enough to listen to and does explain what you need to know, but I am not sure if he is quite kid friendly enough. I would definitely recommend this for older students.

I ended up watching them with Gess and then slowly going over it with her myself. I actually love how he teaches rhythm and that is where Gess needs the most work and his technique seems to be good. Gess does seem to be improving in that area. His encouragement for improvisation is helpful as well. In one lesson he recommended changing sounds on the keyboard if you have one, just to make it more interesting while you practice. Here is Gess doing that while trying to keep the right rhythm.

The best part about it is that you can pay one fee and own it for life and teach 5 students at a time.  Knowing that large homeschooling families might struggle to afford private lessons for all their kids, this is one way to do it economically. They do offer a sample lesson and I recommend checking it out if you think this might work for you.

HomeSchoolPiano is for all ages.

Success Package - One payment of $299: This includes unlimited life-time access along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students.

Payment Plan - Payments of $99.97 per month for three months: This includes unlimited life-time access along with all bonuses (downloads, jam tracks, sheet music) for up to 5 students.

To learn more visit the HomeSchoolPiano website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below. 

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Free Friday: TOS Magazine July - August Edition

The newest July-August edition of the The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is now out!

This is available at  www.TOSApps.com or www.TOSMagazine.com.  Check out the articles available this month, there is something for everyone.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sports Camp

The UW Sports Camp team came to our church again this year.  They do an amazing job and it is much more fun than a typical VBS. While the kids focus on sports, or drama if they aren't athletic, they learn principles of team work that fit in perfectly with their bible lesson.  This year we learned about Moses and how he stuck with God's "Game Plan" even though it didn't look like it would go well.  Making bricks without straw, this didn't seem to be a good plan, but in the end, God proved right.  Their bible verse was Jeremiah 29:11-12.

For I know the plans I have for you" — this is the Lord's declaration — "plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
Gess chose soccer this year instead of Cheer-leading. That was way too loud and intense for her last year. Her coach was from Zimbabwe!  It was so exciting to have an opportunity for her to learn not just from someone who knows soccer but who is also from another country. Soon after camp was over she got all excited when she found Zimbabwe on the map. She just loved Coach Nash!

Here a few pics of the last day!

Daddy helped this day too. Here we are during worship and song time.

I got to stay in doors and help with drama. These girls were so much fun and did a great job!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Flag Fruit Pizza

Gess helped me make this yummy dessert for our church 4th of July picnic. I thought I would share.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Moving Beyond the Page

Moving Beyond the Page is a complete and comprehensive secular homeschool curriculum that is very hands-on. They offer material that intertwines and works together so you can use their products to have all of your subjects in sync. For the purpose of my review I was given products from both Language Arts and Science.

Language Arts Package - The Family Under the Bridge - This came with an online curriculum guide and the physical copies of the books Punctuation Celebration and The Family Under the Bridge.

Science Package - Dirt and Plants - This came with the physical curriculum guide and the physical copies of the books Dirt: Jump into Science and Experiments with Plants.

I will start by telling you about the The Family Under the Bridge. The book was really great to read together. It is an endearing story about the experiences of a family in France that ends up homeless and the relationship they build with another man who is living under the bridge.

The curriculum guide has lessons for each chapter as well as a pre-reading lesson and a final project. There is a list of reading and materials, a summary of skills, how to use the guide, review sheet, student activity pages, and question pages.

The questions come in both a printable format and as an interactive PDF. We preferred to answer the questions on the computer rather than on a printable page. This allowed my daughter to type in the answers on the computer rather than having to write it all out. With her special needs it is sometimes easier that way. The only problem with doing that is you open it from within the teacher's guide which already has the answers so you have to be sure to close out of that before the student uses them. At first I didn't do that and I caught Gess trying to look at the answers once!

There are only about five to eight questions for each chapter but they are really good and get the child thinking. They not only have to answer what happened, but really think about why. For instance there is a question about why you think the mother says she is not "really" a tramp, the term used in the book for homeless people. It also asks why Notre Dame, which is a famous church, might be serving a meal for the homeless on Christmas Eve. These are good questions to consider.

While the questions got you thinking about the story the activities helped you to really get engaged in it. We learned about the economic cycle, France, Gypsies, fashion, punctuation, churches, charity, poems, and culture.  Sometimes the activities were printable worksheets. Other times you had to look information up elsewhere. There were activities to create books, houses, and other items. Gess and her daddy built the most beautiful house out of legos. For some reason I didn't manage to get a photo of it.

The punctuation activities used both worksheets and the Punctuation Celebration book that you received.

It was full of colorful artwork and poems that described what each type of punctuation was for. For instance the quotation marks poem says:

"Quotation Marks"
Quotation marks come two by two.
Use two before, two when you're through.
Enclosed are words said by another, 
Like, "Clean this messy room!" yelled Mother.
"Fourscore and seven years ago..."
Who said those words?
I'll be you know!

I really liked that even though this is a secular program they used the work of the church and the holiday of Christmas to teach about what churches do and what the holiday is about. There are suggested activities for what to do if your family goes to a church or synagogue and what to study if you do not. Both encourage learning how churches try to help the community. This part was easy for us to do as our church is involved with our local homeless shelter and Gess has been there many times helping me deliver supplies.

I felt this study was really well done. The questions and activities were thoughtful and Gess walked away from it knowing so much more than if she had just read the story and answered a few questions. She even has a better understanding of how economics work which makes her stop and think a little more whenever she spends money.

Of course her favorite was the science study because that is her favorite subject and since there were lots of hands-on activities and experiments, she had a blast. We chose Dirt and Plants because she has really been into planting things. Once I caught her pulling dandelions out of the ground and trying to plant them in a flower pot. While that didn't work out for her, this study really helped to teach her why. 

The physical guide has all the information you need to teach the lesson including a list of materials you need and the vocabulary words you will be learning. The required books were included in the package. They were a really nice addition to the study. Each unit begins by listing the Big Idea, Facts and Definitions, Skills, and Materials needed for the teacher. Then it gives a small introduction. From there it jumps into the activities that the student is to do. These range from answering questions to doing experiments.

The worksheets will often have fill in the blank questions or ones that require cutting and gluing the answers into place. They give these a fun feel to them and Gess never seemed to treat this as work.

The experiments and hands-on activities were both fun and informative. The first one she did was from the book Dirt.

At the end of the book it gives you an activity to do and the curriculum guide recommends dong this or other activities. Here Gess had to grow grass in a bottle.

Later the guide had her planting 4 of the same plants and altering the amount of light and water each one received. We decided to focus only on the light and maybe do the amount of water another time.  We planted 4 flowers and placed them in four different areas that got varying degrees of light.  We had to move her outdoor plant from a cup to a pot because we had so much rain it was drowning in that little cup.

At the end of two weeks we could see that those with light grew much better than those with little or no light.

Gess really loved the new vocabulary words she learned such as herbaceous and deciduous. Now as we pass trees on the street she will start talking about them.  With her speech sometimes being hard to understand one time it took us awhile to realize she was trying to tell us that a certain tree was deciduous. That really confused her grandmother but when we figured it out, it really impressed me. It let me know she was retaining the information she learned! The hands-on activities play a key role in that.  We did so many other projects and experiments I just didn't have the time or ability to put them all on here!

My only problem with the science unit was that I didn't feel like the guide gave enough information or explanation about the topic. They would give a brief explanation and then have you read the supplemental books with it but since one book was about experiments it didn't explain the concept as well as I would have liked. I wished that the curriculum guide would start by fully explaining the concept and have the other books and activities supplement rather than teach it. It would have made it a little easier to both teach and to learn.

These are just two of many units that Moving Beyond the Page offers to its families. They are made to work in unison with each other so you will find suggestions for which literature unit to use with the various science and social studies. We didn't follow those suggestions and simply chose units that interested us.

Each unit is only supposed to take about 3 to 4 weeks, but we usually stretch it out a bit longer since my daughter has special needs. We took about 6 weeks to complete them.  As you can see, if you use this for your entire homeschool curriculum it could start to become a bit costly but it will cover everything you need, though you do have to purchase your math separately. I think they make a nice supplement which is what we use them for. Now that Gess is getting older having literature guides is helpful to me so I may use more of those in the future.

The Language Arts Package - The Family Under the Bridge - is for ages 7-9 and comes with a curriculum guide and the physical copies of the books Punctuation Celebration and The Family Under the Bridge.

The online curriculum guide package sells for $25.91
The physical curriculum guide package sells for $29.97

The Science Package - Dirt and Plants - is for ages 8-10 and comes with a curriculum guide and the physical copies of the books Dirt: Jump into Science and Experiments with Plants.

The online curriculum guide package sells for $26.83
The physical curriculum guide package sells for $30.89

Last year we studied Tornado for literature and The Land for science. They were also lots of fun.

To learn more about their other units in language arts, science, and social studies visit their website where you will find all the titles they have to offer. I am sure there will be something here that your family will love. They also have a great Sample Center where you can see samples of both the physical and online versions of the lessons. And as always, be sure to check out the other Schoolhouse Reviews by clicking on the banner below.

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