Category Archives: Homeschool Resources

History Cycle Year 1 Resources (1st Grade)

This year as Ian went through 1st grade we began our four year history cycle, covering the time from Creation through the Roman Empire.  At first I tried to settle on a “spine” to provide structure for our year, but eventually I decided that for this first time through it was more important to me to give Ian a general feel for each time period and people group we studied.  I ended up turning more to “living books” and videos that helped him get a sense of what was going on in each time and place. We also kept a notebook of the things we learned about (though I must admit we slacked on that as the months went by).

I’ve come across a lot of great resource lists for older students, but at times I found it challenging to find age-appropriate books and videos for a 1st grader, so I thought I’d look back over our year and put together a list of some of the things I discovered that work well for younger students.  (Includes affiliate links.)

History Cycle 1

Year-Long Resources We Drew From Selectively:

Primeval History (Including Creation, the Flood, Dinosaurs, and Early Civilizations)

Books

P1030511

Videos

Notebooking Resources

Ancient Egypt

Books

Videos

Other

God’s People/Ancient Israel

Books

Videos

  • Joseph: King of Dreams
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat While the cover of the DVD touts it as the “classic family musical,” THIS IS ONE TO KEEP THE REMOTE HANDY ON!  We completely skipped the scene with Potiphar’s wife because the costumes were so inappropriate.  There were a few other scenes that had some questionable costuming as well but I let them pass because it wasn’t as obvious and Ian didn’t seem to notice.  It’s really too bad, because the music itself is very family friendly (with the exception of Potiphar’s wife saying, “Come and lie with me, love,” but since that’s pretty much what the Bible records, I’m not going to complain).
  • Wars of Humanity combo pack and Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled from Shatterpoint Entertainment

Ancient Greece

Books

Videos

Notebooking Resources

Greece Lapbook 1

Roman Empire

Books

Videos

  • Friends and Heroes (animated series; 3 seasons, covering early Christians in Alexandria, Jerusalem, and finally Rome, A.D. 69-71, including the siege and fall of Jerusalem;includes Bible stories in each episode)
  • The Perpetua Story (from the Torchlighters series, about an early Christian martyr)
  • Polycarp and Perpetua, (documentary about two early Christian martyrs, not necessarily written for children, but contained many dramatizations and kept Ian’s attention)

If I come across other resources that are good for this age, I’ll add them to the list.  If you have some favorites that eluded us, please tell us about them in the comments!

Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story (DVD Review for the Crew)

Looking for a place to find inspiring movies to entertain your family?  I recently learned about FishFlix.com, a company dedicated to providing families with quality Christian entertainment, when they offered us a chance to review the DVD Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story, part of a series about famous Christians throughout history.

FishFlix

About FishFlix.com

FishFlix.com was started by a Turkish Christian named Dr. Enis Sakirgil after he helped produce a film about the Apostle Paul as a way of letting western Christians know about the rich biblical history of his home country.  Turkey is one of the nations least reached with the gospel, so when Dr. Sakirgil and his family immigrated to the United States, he began selling the film (Apostle Paul and the Earliest Churches) online, as well as other Christian movies, as a way of helping a radio ministry back in Turkey.  FishFlix.com is currently based in Mora, Minnesota, and the company’s goal is to “glorify God though amazing customer service, quality Christian content, creating honorable jobs, and expanding the Kingdom of God in Turkey.”

FishFlix.com offers a wide selection of Christian and family-friendly movies of many different types, and all orders over $35 have free shipping.  By purchasing movies from FishFlix.com, you can help support their vision of ministry while providing quality entertainment for your family.

About Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story

john wesley_zpsuzhewumnMembers of the Schoolhouse Review Crew were offered several different DVD selections from FishFlix.com.  Our family was excited to receive Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story, part of a series from the Christian History Institute designed for children ages 8-12 (though my 3, 5, and 7-year olds have enjoyed all the episodes we’ve seen).  We have already used several of the Torchlighters videos about heroes of the faith as part of our school experience, but this was the first time my children had ever heard about John Wesley.

The 30 minute video starts with a dramatic scene in which young John Wesley is saved from a fire in his family home.  As his parents praise God for sparing their son, they tell John that God must have a very special purpose for his life. John grows up doing his best to prove himself worthy of his rescue that memorable night.

At university, he and his friends form a “Holy Club,”  supporting and encouraging one another in practicing prayer, fasting, Bible study, and other habits of righteousness.  He and his brother Charles even travel from England to America to preach the gospel, but they are frustrated by the lack of fruit from their labors. Eventually they are both led to a fuller understanding of God’s grace, and it radically transforms their lives and ministries.  When he is rejected from many churches after telling people that they are all sinners in need of God’s grace, he begins preaching in the fields, readily accepted by people who have no doubt as to their own wretchedness.  He even preaches to a mob trying to kill him.  Many people receive his message of God’s love, and the rest of his life is spent serving the Lord by spreading the good news of His love for all people.

In addition to the main video, the DVD also includes several helpful bonus features.  There is a 51 minute documentary about the beginning of the Methodist movement that arose from John Wesley’s ministry.  There are also study guides that you can access by opening the DVD-ROM on your computer.  (They are also available to download from the Torchlighters website.)  While these resources are a little beyond my children right now, they are definitely something we will revisit as they get older and we study church history in more depth.

Our Thoughts

The dramatic beginning captured my children’s attention right away.  I imagine some sensitive children might be bothered by the scenes involving the fire and the shipwreck, but for us it just added to the excitement of the story.

I loved the beautiful message of salvation by grace.  After years of righteous living, trying to prove himself worthy of God’s salvation as a child, John learns that he cannot earn his way into heaven.  I think that is such an important lesson for all of us, but especially for children who grow up in Christian homes who may be tempted to trust in their good behavior and righteous choices as proof of their salvation.  This is definitely a message I will want to revisit many times as my children grow up, and I’m thankful for this DVD as a way to help instill in my children an understanding that they can never earn God’s salvation but only receive it as a gift given freely in love.

I’m so glad to know about FishFlix.com, and we’ll certainly be looking to them in the future when seeking to purchase Christian DVDs.  I love that I can help support the spread of the kingdom of God in Turkey by purchasing through them, especially when it’s something our family would be buying anyway.  Be sure to click on the banner below to see what other Crew members thought of this DVD and many others available from FishFlix.com!

FishFlix.com Review
Crew Disclaimer

Knights and Nobles Unit Study (Crew Review)

Homeschool Legacy
If you follow my blog regularly, you’re probably already aware that we spent our last four weeks of school going through a Knights and Nobles unit study.  It’s one of the “Once-A-Week Unit Studies” from Homeschool Legacy, and we were blessed with the chance to review it as a fun way to finish up our school year learning more about one of Ian’s favorite subjects.

 

P1050664x

Ian pulled out lots of his favorite books to go along with our study.

 

About Homeschool Legacy’s Once-A-Week Unit Studies

The Once-A-Week Unit Studies are designed to provide a break during your typical homeschool week with a day to focus on the topic being studied.  Aside from the reading suggestions, which are intended to be used each day, all the activities can be done in a single day, providing a break from your regular curriculum to have fun learning about a specific topic.  The studies are even designed to help Boy Scouts and American Heritage girls meet the requirements for specific merit badges. (Boy Scouts can earn their Art Merit Badge by completing the activities in Knights and Nobles).

There is no prep work required apart from gathering materials and library books (and even the library lists are designed to be as easy to use as possible, arranged numerically by Dewey decimal numbers.)  Simply add the family read-aloud and some free read choices to your school week during the four days you work on your regular curriculum, and then on your chosen day, pick up the unit study and work through the activities, which cover Bible, history, literature, science, art, and various other subjects.  The whole family can work together on unit study day, as they are designed for grades 2-12 (and younger learners can easily tag along).

About Knights and Nobles

knightsandnobles 300x400_zpsqs8o7v6q
Knights and Nobles is available as a paperback book or as a “Grab-N-Go” download from the Homeschool Legacy website.  I received the downloadable 40-page ebook that contains everything needed for a 4-week unit study (with an optional 5th week).

Each week focuses on a different aspect of life in the middle ages and includes a passage of Scripture for family devotions, as well as a novel for the family read aloud (and numerous suggestions for free reading related to the week’s topic).

Week 1: Castles

Learn about how castles (and cathedrals) were designed and built and have a family night playing games popular back in the middle ages.

IMG_20150408_195321x

Week 2: Kings and Queens

This week covers topics like King Arthur, illuminated manuscripts, and the tradition behind “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”

Week 3: Knights

Archery, catapults, coats of arms, and chivalry are all discussed in this week on knights.

P1050662x

Week 4: Life on a Manor

Learn about the different jobs people did to help keep a manor running and what life was like for those who lived there.

An optional fifth week involves preparing a traditional medieval feast.

Our Experience

Ian has always been fascinated by the subject of knights and castles, so we were really excited to get a chance to review this unit study, especially because we’ll be covering the middle ages next year in our history cycle.  Ian’s at the young end of the target age range, just finishing up first grade, so there were a few things we adapted to make it work for our family (like the design for the catapult), but for the most part we were able to follow the study as written.

P1050638x
My favorite part of Knights and Nobles was the use of classic literature for the family read-alouds.  We did well with the first two weeks (The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli and The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla), but the others (The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle and Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray Vining)  were much longer and seemed more appropriate for older students, so I didn’t even attempt them because I knew it would take us far more than a week to get through each of them.  Instead, we read other stories about King Arthur and used other free-read books throughout those weeks.

There were many helpful free-read suggestions given, and I just printed out the pages with the book lists to take with us to the library.  (I found some of the Dewey decimal numbers were slightly different at our library after looking for books I knew must be there but had to look up after not finding them under the given number.)  Even if we could find every specific book listed, just being in the right section led us to lots of books from which to choose.  I just made one trip to the library and got everything we needed right at the beginning.  Then I set out the books on each topic at the beginning of the week.

I really appreciated the suggestions for being intentional about including dad in what the family is learning.  It was hard not to draw him in, since so much of our family life revolved around the unit study during those four weeks.  We left our basket of related books out in the living room so he was asked to read from them almost every night. The unit study had great suggestions for family movie/game nights.  We even managed a family field trip to Medieval Times to watch knights competing in a tournament.  It got all of us excited about starting up our history lessons when we go back to school in a few months.

P1050659x
If you want to see more about what Knights and Nobles looked like for our family, check out the last four Weekly Wrap-Ups from our 2014-15 school year.  Also, be sure visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew site to see what my fellow Crew members thought of this unit study and many of the others available from Homeschool Legacy.

Full collection 600x795_zpsu4wlggmw
 

Wordsbright Review
Crew Disclaimer

S is for Smiling Sunrise (Crew Book Review)

Sunrise Review
With so many alphabet books out there, how do you begin to pick which one to read with your preschooler?  S is for Smiling Sunrise by Vick Wadhwa, the first publication from WordsBright, seeks to stand out from the crowd with a unique approach to the ABCs.

About the Book

Rather than using a typical simple phonetic “A is for apple” approach, S is for Smiling Sunrise focuses on positive concepts of goodness, beauty and wonder.  Each letter has its own page in the hardcover book, complete with colorful, eye-catching illustrations and a rhyme to elaborate on the focus word.

001x
On the WordsBright website there is a free downloadable mp3 with the words of the entire book set to music (using the tune of the “Alphabet Song”).  The website also has two free teacher’s guides available to download with tips for using the book with children in Pre-K and K to 3.  The guide for younger children is fairly short but has helpful suggestions for using the book in a way that grows with your child.  The guide for older children is much more involved, with further explanation, discussion questions, vocabulary, and activity ideas related to each letter and its concept.  (For example, on “J is for Jewelry,” there are suggestions for exploring the idea of inner beauty versus outer beauty, the difference between dreams and goals, an activity of making a necklace or bracelet, etc.)

Our Experience

We try to choose books for our family that glorify God and help our children get to know Him better, and while S is for Smiling Sunrise never mentions God or spiritual matters specifically, many of the concepts it touches on lend themselves to discussions about how God is the ultimate source of beauty and goodness.  Arianna (age 3) loved reading through the book with me and often went back to it to flip through the pages and look at the pictures on her own.  Her attention span isn’t always capable of going through each page in its entirety, but we followed the suggestion in the teacher’s guide to just read the headline words at first.  If she’s really in a cuddly mood I can usually get through the rhymes on about half the letters, but it’s helpful to have the shorter option available.

Though the book is intended to be sung to the tune of the alphabet song, rhythmic purists such as myself might find that difficult.  The rhythm of the words varies from letter to letter, so if you want to be able to sing as you read, it’s really helpful to listen to the song ahead of time so you know which words to draw out or hurry through.  (In other words, it’s not as precise as an old hymn where there’s one syllable per note and even unfamiliar verses are easy to sing because they stick with that structure.)  Of course, you can just improvise and it will work equally well.  The musical side of me found this slightly frustrating as I tried to sing through the book, but I know most people aren’t so particular, so the song could be a fun tool for them.  Since some of the rhymes were a bit of a stretch as well, I opted to just read the words as prose without attempting to fit them into any sort of rhythm and enjoyed the book much more that way.

All in all I’d say S is for Smiling Sunrise is a cute book with admirable intentions and fun, colorful pictures that capture my little ones’ attention.

 

Wordsbright Review
Crew Disclaimer

Wrapping Up Week 36 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
Hallelujah, we crossed the finish line for our school year!  Granted, we sort of crawled across on our hands and knees, but we made it.  I’m not even going to let myself feel guilty about the fact that our last week consisted only of Ian’s online math work (xtramath.org, Mathletics, and La La Logic) and a few books to finish up our Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy, for two basic reasons.

  1. I’ve spent years in traditional elementary classrooms, both as a student and a teacher.  I guarantee that more learning happened this week in our home than gets accomplished in 99% of classrooms during the last week of school.
  2. Even when we’re officially on a break, plenty of learning happens simply because of the environment in our home.  For example, today (the first official day of summer break, and a Saturday to boot), Ian wanted to break out our Young Scientists Set and work on experiments from our final remaining kit.  I know there will be plenty of learning going on during our summer break, so who cares if we had a light last week of school, right?

I know most families still have a few (or several weeks) left, so take a deep breath and remember that the end is in sight!  (And when our family dives back into school in July, you can smile to yourself knowing that you’ve still got a few more weeks to relax.)

Here’s to the first day of our summer holiday!

IMG_20150502_155708x
 

Upcoming Reviews

We’ll still be reviewing several products through our summer “break.”  Watch for these reviews in the next few weeks!

La La Logic (Crew Review)

LaLaLogic Collage
As our third preschooler, Arianna usually ends up with her brothers’ educational hand-me-downs, so I was excited to get the chance to review a new product with her.  La La Logic‘s Preschool Curriculum focuses on developing critical thinking skills, and we had barely started using it before I was wishing I had had it for my older boys a few years ago!

What is it?

La La Logic’s curriculum is intended for children ages 3-6.  Rather than focusing on academic skills such as reading and arithmetic like many other preschool programs, La La Logic concentrates on developing cognitive skills such as problem solving and logic, seeing these as the building blocks needed for future learning.  By focusing on areas like visual-spatial recognition, working memory, attention, and fluid reasoning, children’s capacity for learning is increased and they will be more prepared for the academic tasks ahead of them, whether their future lies in homeschooling or a traditional classroom setting.

There are two main components to the La La Logic curriculum:

  • The online “Brain Challenges” are essentially computer activities modeled after questions found on children’s IQ tests.  Each week’s brain challenge contains several puzzles or games for the child to work through.

La La Logic Review

  • Additional offline activities are provided in the weekly lesson plans.  These downloadable files typically include a worksheet of some sort (with practice in writing, drawing, cutting, classifying, etc.) and extension activities. 
    La La Logic Review
    In the lessons we went through, the offline portion usually consisted of a story with suggestions for related enrichment activities such as science experiments, poetry, copywork, or artist’s study. (“Use an internet search engine to find ‘Claude Monet water lilies images’. Ask your child to describe one of the paintings and how it makes him/her feel. Be sure to take time to observe the colors and the brush strokes. Invite your child to paint a scene inspired by Monet.” — from Week 5)

The two parts of the program function independently, so it’s possible to use either one without the other.  If you only want to use the online activities, you can just use the “Continuous Brain Challenge Mode,” which allows the child to work through all the online activities without interruption, rather than breaking them up by weeks.

There are 100 weeks of lessons (20 sets of 5 weeks each), increasing in difficulty as the child progresses.  For older children who could use more of a challenge, it is recommended to do 2 weeks at the same time, with activities from one week in the morning and those from the other in the afternoon.

Our Experience

Our desktop computer with a regular mouse is down, so I started out all the kids on my laptop, which proved challenging for Arianna.  I helped her with the mouse and she did okay on everything except activities that required her to drag.  Thankfully, the program also works great on tablets, so I switched her over to our Kindle Fire and she found it much easier.

P1050596x

At first, I tried using both parts of the curriculum as intended, week by week.  I printed the lesson plans and put them in a binder in page protectors.  The checklists and many of the worksheets can be filled out with a dry erase marker to be reused with the next child to save printing costs.  Arianna had trouble with some of the cutting worksheets, so I saved the pieces Elijah cut (or cut a new set for her myself) and tucked them in the page protectors so she could do the activities multiple times.

P1050603x
Eventually, however, we ended up just using the online portion of the program, which is fabulous on its own. I ended up using it with all three older kids, each in slightly different ways:

  • Arianna (age 3) was the main user of the program. She begged me every morning to let her get on the Kindle Fire to do it.  She definitely benefited from the way it is set up to use one week at a time, with repeated exposure to the same set of games.  I had her stick with the week’s activities, showing her how to do each one the first day, and then being there to assist if she needed help when she repeated those activities throughout the rest of the week.  She enjoyed the offline activities, though as I mentioned before, she had a little trouble with some of the ones that required cutting.
  • Elijah (age 5) wasn’t necessarily challenged by any of the activities the way Arianna was, but he definitely enjoyed them regardless.  Elijah is my “thinker,” and he loved the logic behind the online puzzles.  The offline activities we tried were all really easy for him, but he eagerly participated in them.  He didn’t need the repetition like Arianna, so after the second week I let him start checking off each week as being “completed” as soon as he had gone through it once.
  • Ian (age 7) is older than the target audience for La La Logic, but he saw what the younger kids were doing and wanted a turn.  I only had him do the online Brain Challenges, and he completed two weeks worth of activities each day as part of his regular math routine.  He found the program easy, but he looked forward to it each day.  (I could have just had him use the “Continuous Brain Challenge Mode,” but I liked having a defined set of activities for him to work through each day.)

My Thoughts on La La Logic

La La Logic was pure learning fun.  I loved that there were no penalties for wrong answers, no scores to distract my perfectionist (who will do a math lesson as many times as it takes to get 100%), and no competition between kids.  It was just a fun time for them to stretch their brains a little bit while solving puzzles.

As I’ve mentioned before, as the mother of many I am much more inclined to buy products I can use with multiple children over the years.  So one of my favorite things about La La Logic is that it has a lifetime membership which allows you to track the progress for up to five children.  There’s no rushing to try to get through all the lessons before a subscription expires so the program is very flexible.  At only a $29 one-time cost per family, La La Logic is a great investment for families with preschool aged students.  The online content alone is well worth the price, but with the offline enrichment activities included as well, this is a incredible value, especially since it can be used with multiple children as they become ready.

The only improvement I would suggest would be a way to print out the offline activities all at once (or at least in larger sections), rather than just week by week.  I would have been more inclined to continue using that part of the program if such an option had been available.

I was really impressed with the care that went into preparing each activity in La La Logic’s Preschool Curriculum (both online and offline) and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in helping their preschool aged child develop critical thinking skills.  This is one of my favorite preschool products out of everything we’ve used over the years!

La La Logic Review
Crew Disclaimer

Wrapping Up Week 35 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
The end is so close we can taste it!  This week Ian finished up Level B of Spelling You See, so he gets to take a break until we start second grade in July.  Since he completed the first grade work in Mathletics already, I let him choose what he wanted to do for math each day, and he alternated between Mathletics and GPALOVEMATH.  He’ll work on 2nd grade lessons in both of those until I settle on what we’ll officially use next year.  The bulk of our week, however, was spent on the Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 3: Knights

This week our focus was on knights, a subject that has long interested Ian.  He enjoyed everything we did this week as part of the unit study.

P1050662x

Books

We already have so many books about knights, I didn’t bother trying to hunt down most of the free reads suggested in Knights and Nobles at the library.

The favorite book for both boys was Imagine You’re a Knight by Phillip Steele.  It has several projects included, such as constructing a knight’s helmet, and knight and horse paper dolls.  Ian had already completed the projects when Grandma first brought the book home from England last year, but there are little pockets to keep them in, so both he and Elijah enjoyed getting them out again and playing with them.  The book also is packed with information and fascinating illustrations.

P1050664x
Other picture books we read this week were Young Lancelot by Robert D. San Souci and The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brien.  Our chapter book was The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla.  Ian and I took two weeks to read through it together, and we both really enjoyed the story.  I was unfamiliar with Bulla until I saw his books suggested on the Ambleside Online site as beginning chapter books.  While this book was easy enough for Ian to read, it was so well written that it didn’t feel awkward for me to read aloud (as I’ve noticed with other easy chapter books).  It was such a good story, Ian wanted to read more after we finished, so I encouraged him to start another book on his own.  (I put several ofBulla’s books on his Kindle.)

Videos

For a fun taste of the medieval period we watched Disney’s The Prince and the Pauper, and then later in the week we watched the rest of the episodes that are listed with it on Netflix (Pied Piper, Old King Cole, A Knight for a Day, and Ye Olden Days).  We also watched The Sword in the Stone now that we’d finished reading some Arthur stories.

Extras

At some point in the past I had bought a Knights Sticker Pack, so we pulled those out and the boys had fun creating sticker scenes (there were two sets in the pack).  Arianna had already used up one set of the similar Princess Sticker Pack, but thankfully we still had one more so she had some sticker fun as well.  It was a fun way to include the younger ones in our study.

P1050666

Upcoming Reviews

Watch for reviews on these products in the next few weeks!

Wrapping Up Week 34 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
You know those weeks where it feels impossible to get anything done?  Yeah, that was our week.   Between a funeral, a dentist appointment, a field trip, and rehearsal for the year-end performance in our homeschool music program (on top of our usual ballet and swimming lessons), we didn’t make it through nearly as much as I had planned.  We were supposed to finish up with Spelling You See, but we’ll have to stretch it out one more week. Ian did finish the first grade lessons in Mathletics and moved on to second grade, and we read several books for our Knights and Nobles unit study from Homeschool Legacy.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 2: Kings and Queens

We had actually done some of the Week 2 activities from Knights and Nobles last week, which helped us not be completely behind when the chaos of our week took over.  During the school hours we squeezed in at home this week we mostly focused on books and videos.

Books

http://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51B3T3EY0KL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960I wasn’t sure we could make it through the suggested family read aloud for this week, but I did want to cover some of the stories about King Arthur, so I searched the library for some easier alternatives.  We read Young Arthur by Robert D. San Souci.  Through this beautifully illustrated picture book, Ian learned about Arthur’s childhood, Merlin, the sword in the stone, and Excalibur.  Some of the story was familiar from watching Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, but it helped reinforce that these stories exist outside of that context.  We talked about how stories about Arthur have been told for centuries.

We also started The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla.  This chapter book is easy enough for Ian to read on his own, though it’s more than he usually tackles.  I chose to trade off reading with him so he doesn’t develop a distaste for it.  (This is actually a read-aloud scheduled for next week, but I wanted to take a little more time with it so we could go through it together.)

Videos

Everyone enjoyed watching the Reading Rainbow episode “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which LeVar visits a Renaissance Faire and learns about medieval life.

We didn’t get to the suggested family movie (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) during the week, but I’m hoping for a chance at some point this weekend (though we’ll be watching an animated version of the story instead just because we already have it).

Extras

The highlight of our week was definitely the field trip to Medieval Times with our homeschool group.  We left the two younger children at a friend’s house and took the older boys for a fun lunchtime performance, complete with a tournament between competing knights.  We don’t join a lot of field trips these days, but since this one happened to fall in the middle of our unit study, we couldn’t pass it up!

P1050659x

Upcoming Reviews

We’ll still be we checking out new products even through our summer break, so watch for these reviews soon!

Wrapping Up Week 33 (2014-15)

weekly wrap-up
 What better way to spend the last four weeks of Ian’s first grade year than doing a unit study about the Middle Ages?  This week the only “regular” school work I required of him was Spelling You See (we took a few months off from this in the fall, but now he’s almost to the end of Level B), and his daily math work on the computer.  Ian went a little crazy in Mathletics this week, earning a whopping 3500 points as he pushed himself to finish up the four main categories in the 1st grade program (usually I require 1000 points each week).  He’ll easily finish in the first few days of next week and then we’ll move on to the second grade program since I like to have him do math year-round.

Aside from spelling and math, however, everything we did revolved around the suggestions from Knights and Nobles from Homeschool Legacy.  While I followed the main theme of the week, we found plenty of rabbit trails to follow as things captured Ian’s interest or as I wanted to expand a bit on things we read.

“Knights and Nobles” Week 1: Castles

Although this week was mostly about castles, there were also suggestions for learning about the cathedrals built in medieval times, which I expanded into a mini-study on aspects of religious life at the time.

Books

Our main literature focus this week was the Newbery Medal winning book The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli.  It’s the story of Robin, a 14th century boy who over comes his personal fears and weakness, showing great courage and becomes a hero.  The first part of the book takes place at a monastery, and there were references to things like the scriptorium, chanting, and the various offices the monks observed throughout the day and night, which lead to several discussions.  Spinning off from these topics, we read Illuminations by Jonathan Hunt and Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson as well as leading into our study of cathedrals toward the end of the week.

P1050635x
“Knights and Nobles” has a great list of reading suggestions, so I set out a basket with all the options I found for free reading (both from our family collection and the local library), and let Ian go through them mostly on his own.  He’s already looked through Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle many times before, so I made sure I read it with him this time so he wouldn’t miss any of the detailed information. He enjoyed reading Castles by Stephanie Turnbull on his own as well as looking at some the pictures in some of the more advanced books.

P1050630x

Videos

After reading Castle by David Macaulay, we watched the video based on the book, which I found at our library.  I thought they were going to cover mostly the same material, but they were actually more complementary than similar. I wouldn’t have wanted to choose one over the other.

After unsuccessfully searching for the DVD of Cathedral at several of our local libraries, it finally occurred to me to check YouTube, and sure enough, there it was, along with several other PBS specials based on David Macaulay’s books.  (I wish I’d known about Pyramid and Roman City earlier this year!)

Actually, turned out well that the library didn’t have Cathedral, because it prompted me to check out another option, Building the Great Cathedrals, which turned out to be fascinating and informative.  Elijah is especially interested in building design, and he gladly joined Ian and I for this part of our schoolwork.  We enjoyed this DVD so much I considered purchasing it for our family library, but then I realized it’s available for free streaming through Amazon Prime.

51RQpguY-ML._SY300_
Watching the movies about cathedrals (and reading David Macaulay’s book Cathedral) led to many discussions about different aspects about the buildings: flying buttresses, different kinds of arches, gargoyles, stained glass, and church bells, so we ended the week with a family movie night watching Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which gave Ian a fun opportunity to point out to Daddy all the things he’d learned.

Extras

Several times throughout the week I put on various CD’s with music from the medieval time period.  I wish I’d thought to get some some instrumental CDs from the library, but I have few recordings of Gregorian chant and medieval motets and carols that gave us a sense of the time period as well.

Ian really wanted to build a catapult after all our reading.  There are instructions included for later in this unit, but they required several things we don’t have around the house and I really didn’t want to have to buy anything, so I found a simple alternative using popsicle sticks and rubber bands at Little Bins for Little Hands.  At first he wanted to attempt the more complex version on that page, but it started turning into Mom’s catapult, so I told him he needed to go back to the simple one.  Even then, we had to make some adjustments because we only had notched craft sticks, which kept breaking.  Eventually we tried Tegu planks, which worked well.  All Ian’s hard work was rewarded with some marshmallow boulders to launch.

P1050638x
Ian spent most of his free inside hours this week playing with the Playmobil castle he got for his birthday three years ago.  While he’s always enjoyed it, he seemed to take his play to a new level this week after everything we learned about.  I’m glad he still has so much fun with it, and I was thankful for the many quiet hours of play it provided this week!

IMG_20150408_195321x

Upcoming Reviews

We’ll still be we checking out new products through our even summer break, so watch for these reviews soon!

GPALOVEMATH (Crew Review)

 GPALOVEMATH
As more of our children approach school age, I’m realizing the importance of fostering as much independence as possible when it comes to homeschooling so that I’m available to help whomever needs it at the moment.  Math has been one subject where that seems feasible, so we were excited to get a chance to review GPALOVEMATH, an online math program from GPA LEARN.

About GPALOVEMATH

GPALOVEMATH offers a complete web-based math curriculum for grades K-5.  Because the entire program is online, it can be accessed from both computers and tablets (though recent Kindle Fire updates have created incompatibility issues that are currently being addressed).

Lessons

There are over 150 lessons for each grade, so at a pace of 4-5 lessons per week, a student can complete a grade in about 10 months.  Each grade level has a particular “Learning Coach” who helps guide students through their lessons.  Both my boys have been going through the 1st grade course, so their Learning Coach is Pi the Penguin.

Learning Coaches
Each lesson consists of three parts:  Instruction, Practice, and Quiz.  In the Instruction section, the Learning Coach guides the student through the content of the lesson.  The student clicks through slides while listening to their Coach read aloud the words at the bottom of each one.Screenshot (11)

The Practice section gives the student a chance to work through problems without being scored.  They have three “life lines” available if they need help, and once they give an answer they are told whether or not it is correct.

Screenshot (12)

The final section is the Quiz, which consists of 10 questions.  Students enter their answers but don’t know whether or not they were correct until after the entire quiz has been completed.  They are awarded badges and earn points based on how many correct answers they gave.  It’s not necessary to complete the Instruction and Practice sections first, so if the student feels like they can answer the questions without going through those, they are free to jump straight to the quiz.

Screenshot (14)

Other Features

In addition to the lessons, GPALOVEMATH offers an  “Engage” section, a private social network that allows the child to interact with parents and preapproved friends online.  I don’t feel our children are ready to use the computer in this way, so we didn’t utilize this feature at all.

Screenshot (15)

My boys’ favorite feature was the “Motivate” section.  When we first created their accounts, I was able to set up a list of rewards which would be awarded after a set number of lessons.  (The more rewards I selected, the more often they were given.)  The rewards included things like extra screen time, baking cookies with Mom, getting to choose what’s for dinner, having a parent complete one of their chores… you get the picture.   In addition to these automatic rewards, students can use the points they earn after completing lessons to “purchase” rewards (which then wait for approval from the parent).  In addition to things around the house, there are even opportunities to use their points toward gift cards (available in limited quantities, but with new ones available every so often).  Talk about motivation!

Screenshot (16)

Our Experience with GPALOVEMATH

When I first created our accounts, I was worried that the program was going to be overwhelming.  It took a while to set up the rewards list (there were SO many things to choose from, and I was nervous about choosing the preselected option without knowing exactly what was included), and then I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the Engage part of the website and whether or not it was necessary and/or desirable for our family.

Once we finally settled into the lessons, however, things flowed smoothly and the boys were both able to work pretty independently.  The only time my involvement was required was when they had selected a reward and needed it approved.  Other than that, they pretty much just worked through their lessons on their own while I watched on the TV hooked up to our laptop to make sure they were understanding.

Ian realized right away that the first grade lessons were pretty easy for him, and he skipped right to the quiz on almost every lesson.  At the time I couldn’t find an easy way to change his grade level, so I just left him in first and figured he’d solidify his foundational skills.  (When we initially began the program, each grade level was purchased separately.  However it has now been updated so that each user has access to ALL the grade levels, which has made it much simpler to adjust.  This was a GREAT change that makes the program so much more user-friendly.)

Even without going through the Instruction and Practice sections, both boys usually found the questions fairly self-explanatory.  Occasionally we ran into problems where even I couldn’t figure out what the questions was really asking for.  (Elijah called me over when he was confused by a question that read, “Select the set that matches.”  “Matches WHAT?” he asked.  I couldn’t figure out either, and my guess ended up being the only wrong answer he got on that quiz.  We also ran across one problem that marked a correct answer as incorrect.  I emailed customer service with screenshots, and they emailed me the next day to let me know they had fixed the problem.

Aside from those minor glitches, the only real frustration we had was the appearance of the Learn screen.  Each grade level has 3 “paths,” which allows the student some flexibility in choosing what lesson they want to work on.  Once they complete a lesson, a new one unlocks.  Ian had been working for a couple weeks and his screen never seemed to change from what it had looked like after the first few lessons.  I couldn’t figure out why it always looked like this, even when I knew he had completed several lessons:

Screenshot (9)

Eventually I realized that there were arrows on the left side of each “path,” and once we clicked on those we could reveal all the lessons he had completed.Screenshot (10)

I wish this view were available automatically, because it was discouraging for him to open up the Learn section each time and never see any apparent progress.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with GPALOVEMATH.  The boys loved earning rewards, and I appreciate both the thoroughness of the program and the independence it allows.  We plan to continue using it as our primary math curriculum at least until the end of this school year.

GPA Learn Review
Crew Disclaimer

« Older Entries