Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Peterson Directed Handwriting Cursive

Are you looking for a new handwriting curriculum? Looking for something unique and innovative? Tired of the "same old" workbook style handwriting program? I would like to invite you to consider Peterson Directed Handwriting curriculum.

My oldest son is a left handed writer and struggles with cursive so I was excited to hear that I was going to be able to review this product as part of the TOS Crew. After an online meeting with other TOS crew members and the contact at Peterson Directed Handwriting I was excited to try this new curriculum and teaching approach with my son.

To begin this new handwriting curriculum I first had to teach my son how to hold his pencil according to the Peterson method. With his pointer finger and thumb only on the pencil and the other three fingers laying relaxed off to the side we began the formal instruction of this unique handwriting approach.

The Peterson Directed Cursive Handwriting approach is unique in that it does not begin with teaching students to write their cursive letters small and within the lines. Rather, the Peterson Directed Handwriting method initially instructs students to write big and flowing letter across the handwriting page. The goal of this approach is to get the child to relax their hand and their hand movement as they write. Having learned the "formal" way to write cursive already, my son struggled with this step. A flowing and relaxed hand movement did not come easy for him. Eventually though, with lots of practice he is steadily improving in this aspect of the curriculum.

Having for the most part mastered the relaxed hand movement portion of this curriculum we moved on to the letter formation. Peterson encourages students to talk through their hand movements to help further reinforce their learning until it becomes memorized. Repeating words that correspond to the hand movements encourages kids to focus on what they are doing and assimilate better what their hand is actually doing on the paper. For example, "round top, sharp bottom" is repeated over and over again until the hand motion becomes fluid and relaxed. Again, my son initially struggled with this step of the curriculum because it was not something he was accustomed to doing when he wrote. After some time and encouragement he over came the silly "talking to myself" feeling and realized that it was getting easier and his movements were better the more he practiced.

Initially the Peterson Directed Handwriting method encourages large hand motions. However, as the curriculum progresses hand movements become smaller and smaller until the letters resemble a more typical cursive letter. As our contact at Peterson Directed Handwriting pointed out, this method can be especially effective for left handed writers because it allows for a freer hand movement across the page. As the left handed writer begins to improve with this method their letters eventually look like typical cursive letters but the path taken to get there is more accommodating for the sometimes awkward left handed writer.

When purchasing Peterson Directed Handwriting for your homeschool you have a few options. You can buy the basic kit which according the the Peterson Directed Handwriting website includes the Teacher Handbook, Position Guides, Student Text and Pencil or Pen that are specific for the level ordered. This version does not contain the Animated Letter Cards CD. You can also choose from the complete kit contains all of the materials in the Basic Version along with the Animated Letter Cards CD ROM. If you want to acquire materials to work with children at different levels, you would need to order only one Complete Kit. Order the Basic Kit for the other children to avoid duplication of the animations CD. You may also choose the ebook version of this curriculum if you would like to save the time and cost of shipping. This option allows you to print as many practice pages as your little heart desires.

Cursive Individual License $19.95

Additionally, you have the option of purchasing one-on-one assistance from their support staff to help you to most effectively use this curriculum.

This curriculum was provided to me free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion about this product.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

I can not homeschool without my Mac

The title says it all! Well, I suppose I could homeschool without my Mac if I had to but I would need to seek some serious counseling if that ever happened.

I rely on my computer and the internet for so many things in our daily homeschool routine. From researching lessons, printing worksheets, and learning about a wide variety of topics; our computer is invaluable. Our homeschooling style is mainly unit study based. I really try to incorporate as many subjects as possible when we are learning about a broad topic. My Mac helps me find resources, information, music, and pictures on our study subject. Having a computer easily accessible also gives us the flexibility to learn about something on a whim when our interest is piqued.

For example, earlier this week while reviewing Sing-A-Lingo my kids and I found ourselves off on a Spanish language YouTube tangent. What first started out as watching a YouTube video on the Sing-A-Lingo website quickly morphed into an impromptu Spanish language lesson using music videos. My kids gain so much enjoyment end enrichment from watching educational YouTube videos. In total, I think we watched 10 or more short Spanish language singing videos during our spur-of-the-moment lesson. We sang, laughed, and learned all on a whim sitting in front of our Mac.

My computer also helps me to keep the cost of homeschooling down. Networking with other homeschool friends through the internet and also when searching on my own, I am able to come across a plethora of free or low cost educational resources that I would not otherwise have access to if it were not for my handy little Mac. Curriculum can get expensive as veteran homeschoolers will tell you. However, with a computer and the internet virtually free homeschooling is possible. The amount of free homeschool resources, worksheets, and complete curriculum sources on the internet these days is boggling. Sometimes I consider writing my own worksheet or resources then I stumble across something similar or even better than what I would have created on the internet for free. No need to reinvent the wheel, use someone else's free resources!

Lastly, having a computer in our homeschool adds another fun but educational resource in my bag of tricks when teaching my kids. Online educational games augment what my boys are learning with pencil and paper. The computer however, adds an element of excitement and fun to their learning. Whether it is a math multiplication math quiz, online educational game, or basic word processing, everything seems to be more enjoyable for my kids when it is done on the computer. Even my 3 year old is getting in on the educational value derived from the computer. She loves typic random letters in Word. I've have been able to turn this love of typing into a mini lesson to help her learn the alphabet. The possibilities for learning on the computer are endless.

Not homeschool related, but a bonus to having a Mac is the lack of viruses and corrupt files. About 5 years ago we switched to Mac from the ever popular PC. I was hesitant at first, but now I will never go back. The first Macs we bought 5 years ago are running strong and virus free, just like the first ay we took them out of the box. Not many PC users can say that about their computers.

You can read other great TOS Blog Cruise posts this week about using technology in your homeschool;

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Buenas Noches, Amigos by Sing-A-Lingo

As a homeschooler and Spanish speaker I am always on the lookout for educational Spanish items that I can use to teach my kids Spanish in a fun and entertaining manner. As a Mama Buzz reviewer I was recently afforded the opportunity to review Buenas Noches, Amigos by Sing-A-Lingo. I was excited about this opportunity because my children love songs  and I was looking forward to incorporating this love with learning Spanish.

Included with the Buenas Noches, Amigos booklet is the download of the 2 songs included in the book; Buenas Noches (Goodnight) and Burbujas (Bubbles).

Once I downloaded both of the songs I set to sing them with my kids. My youngest two children, ages 3 and 5 grew up speaking Spanish. However, my oldest aged 9 was not exposed to the language at an early age so as a result struggles with the accent and pronunciation. As soon as I started the music my kids all quickly gathered around the computer from the various spots in the house that they were playing. With book in hand the four of us set off to enjoy singing, learning, and listening to both songs. During the first day we listened to the songs and read along with the book my kids must have requested repeating it all over again twenty or more times. Needless to say, by the end of that session we had the words to both songs memorized.

Because both of the songs included in this booklet are bed time songs I wanted to include them in our regular evening routine. So in addition to the typical songs I sing my children before bed I included at least one and more often both songs by request of my children. Over the course of the few weeks I have had to review this product I have noticed my children's pronunciation improve, especially for the longer and harder words. I should note that after a few days of singing these songs I reviewed what they both meant in English so that my kids, especially my oldest, could begin to assimilate the meaning of the songs rather than simply repeating without internalizing the meaning.

Overall, my kids and I continue to thoroughly enjoy Buenas Noches, Amigos by Sing-A-Lingo. Our only complaint is that there are not more songs included in this book because we enjoy singing and looking at the wonderfully whimsical illustrations in the booklet so much. I know my kids and I will continue to enjoy this product for many years to come. Be sure and check out the rest of the Sing-A-Lingo product line which includes products for Spanish and English language learners.

In addition to the songs in the booklet my children and I also enjoyed this Sing-A-Lingo video, I hope your kids enjoy it too.

Buenas Noches, Amigos  can be purchased for $9.99 plus S+H.

Sing-A-Lingo provided me a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Christian reasons to homeschool

With many public schools around the country starting school this week the talk within the homeschool community has been mostly about why we all choose to homeschool. I have already talked about some of my reasons for homeschooling and over the past year those reasons have grown and intensified. Having said that though, the start of the school year has me thinking about why Christians should homeschool. Controversial yes, but nonetheless important.

For he issued his laws to Jacob;
  he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them-
even the children not yet born-
and they in turn will teach their own children.
Psalm 78:5-6

Public school children are gone from home anywhere from 6 to 9 hours or more 5 days a week; every week for 9.5 months save scant vacation time. On average publicly schooled children spend over 16,000 hours during their lifetime in a classroom. This figure does not include preschool or kindergarten hours. Tack on another 2-3,000 hours to the already staggering 16,000 hour average for these younger years of school. What are they learning in those precious hours spent away from home? Most will argue that math, reading, writing, and history are included in the standard public school curriculum. But what about the arts, physical education, foreign language, music, and music appreciation? Budget cuts have slashed these subjects long ago. In all the time that children spend within the confining walls of a public school institution they are lucky if they get a solid education in 4 core subjects. Yep, all that time and they are only scratching the surface of 4 whole subjects. 

Along with being crammed into an over crowded classroom, children are learning a whole host of other "lovely" things from their peers. Curse words, bloody knuckles game, stealing, cheating, lying, name calling, disrespect, and low self-esteem are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of all the influences kids come home from school with today. How do I know this? I was once a public school Mom too. I have walked both sides of the education street. I was also a public schooled child. 

When the public schooled child gets home from school their school day does not end. As if 7 hours at school was not enough, they now have to do untold hours of homework because the public school teacher can not get all that she needs accomplished within those 6-9 hours of each school day. Tack on 2-3 hours of homework to an already long day of school and that poor child has been in "school" mode for 10 hours or more. Then after homework it is dinner, chores, and bedtime. As I see it, two things are missing from the public school child's average school day; play time and time with their family. Based on the average day, the biggest influence in a public school child's life is the school. Their classmates, peers, and teachers have more influence in their lives than their own parents. Heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Now some of you might be thinking, "well I send my child to a private school so none of this applies to me." Think again. Yes, your child might be getting a slightly better education than their public school counterparts but is it all it should be? Your child is still gone from home for an incredible amount of time. Time that you could be spending with your children teaching and training them to live according to the Word of God and be productive educated members of society. They are also more influenced by school than by their own family.

In my experience as a public school parent, I spent more time un-doing what my children's friends had taught them at school than I did actually teaching them to grow and mature as young Christians. When we first enrolled our oldest in public school my husband and I were weak in our faith. We were new born-again Christians and had not yet considered what God wanted for us in the way for educating our children. As we began to grow in His word and teachings we quickly discovered the error in our ways. No wonder our life was chaos, we were not following His teachings.

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, 
a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. 
He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; 
rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deut 8:3

If you believe in the Bible as the true and perfect word of our Heavenly Father and your children are not educated at home then they are not living by the word of the Lord. Public and privately schooled children live by the word of society. Sure they might go to church, they memorize bible verses, and act sweet at home. What they see, hear, learn, and talk about at school is beyond your control. I can guarantee that they are not living by and hearing the word of the Lord at school. Based on recent news they might even be learning about world history from an anti-American and anti-Christian point of view.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud 
and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. 
Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all 
we need for our enjoyment.
1 Tim 6:17

So why should Christians homeschool their children? 

Children are blessings from God and should be trained in His word. I will teach you about God's power. I will not conceal anything concerning the Almighty. (Job 27:11) Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. (Psalm 34:11) Your precious children were given to you by God. They are yours to teach. God did not intend for them to be shuttled out the door of your home every morning to be "taught". 

Your children are your commission, your responsibility, and yours to teach. God have you the tools to teach your children all that they need to know in life. Time with your children is precious, every minute they spend at public school is time flushed down the toilet. You can never get that time back. It is gone forever. Just as God gave Bezalel and Oholiab the ability to teach others their skills (Exo. 35:34) so too has God given you the ability to teach your own children. You have the skills to teach your children how to read, write, comprehend math, learn history, the arts, and languages. And even if you struggle in one subject area or another, there is a wealth of resources available for your use from others who are more "skilled" in their craft.

Removing your children from public (or private) schools removes the influence of others from their impressionable lives. Our children are sponges. They soak up all that is around them. Every morsel of moisture is wicked into their minds and stored for all time. They soak up every word, attitude, and statement of fact that they hear. What are your children hearing in their public schools? I can guarantee it is not what God wants them to hear and learn. 

And you must love your God with all your heart, 
all your soul, and all your strength.
 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly 
to these commands that I am giving you today. 
Repeat them again and again to your children. 
Talk about them when you are at home and
 when you are on the road, 
when you are going to bed and
 when you are getting up. 
Deut. 6:4-7

Lastly, so much of the time spent in public school is wasted. Time flushed down the toilet spent inefficiently. Time your child can never regain. Time that was given to them by God and was not used in the manner God intended it to be spent. It is a little known fact outside of the homeschool community, but most homeschool children start their day shortly after breakfast and are finished before lunchtime. Homeschooled elementary age children typically spend 2-4 hours doing school work compared to the 6-9 hours public and private school children spend at school. What do homeschool children do with the rest of their day? Anything and everything. The sky is the limit. Many choose to pursue a hobby, delve into an instrument, volunteer in their community, or simply have fun and be a kid. Children need free time to be imaginative. They need the freedom to play and explore. Children become restless and disruptive when they are forced to sit for hours on end. Homeschooling allows kids to be kids. Homeschool families can be found in their community. Field trip opportunities abound across the country. Homeschool students and their families are afforded the opportunity to enjoy their educational field trip events because they are not limited by the public school clock.

If you are a public or private school Christian parent and God has laid the idea of homeschooling on your heart, I pray that you will listen to your Heavenly Father and consider His will for your family. He knows what is best for you and your children. He will provide everything you need to make homeschool happen in your family. I will discuss the financial cost of homeschooling in another article, but suffice to say it should not be a limiting factor in your decision to follow God's will for you and your children.

Still doubting that homeschool is God's will for your family? Seek out the truth for yourself in His word. The truth will make itself known.

And please, oh please, don't ever use "socialization" as an excuse for public education. And please, even if you do not choose to follow God's will for your family and homeschool, do not ever ask a homeschooler about "socializing their kids". I will leave this discussion for another article, but I can guarantee to you that my homeschooled kids are better socialized with a wider variety of people than your public and private schooled kids. My kids live, grow, and learn in society. Public school children socialize with a very small group of children their own age which by definition is not a wide array of socialization.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Watermelon Rind Jelly

I know what you are thinking. . .watermelon rind jelly should be green. How can the jelly shown be watermelon rind? I will get into that shortly.

First I want to give you the recipe I used.

4 cups of chopped pale watermelon rind (cut off dark green outer rind)
4 cups of sugar
1/2 tsp powder ginger
3T lemon juice
1 pkg (2 oz) powder pectin
Green food coloring (optional)

Makes approximately 2 pints per batch. I made a quadruple batch and ended up with 9 pints and 1 smaller refrigerator jar (jelly jar size).

Blend chopped pale green watermelon rind to a puree. Transfer to a large pot or stock pot. Add sugar, ginger, and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil. Let simmer 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure you do not burn the bottom. Meanwhile, clean and sterilize your canning jars in a hot water bath. Add green food coloring if you prefer. Add one drop at a time to achieve desired color. Add powdered pectin and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat once pectin has dissolved. Burning the pectin will render it useless. Skim foam from the top of sauce. Spoon hot jelly mix into hot and sterile jars. Seal with rings and lids. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

As with most things. . .I improvised based on what I had and what I wanted for the end product. When preparing the watermelon rinds I did not cut off the little bit of pink fruit that remains when chopping watermelon. This added to the pink color of my jelly. Also, I was short 1 package of pectin in my quadruple batch. In it's place I added 1 box of sugar free strawberry jello mix.  I typically make my jams with jello mix so I do not anticipate this to be a problem in this jelly. The strawberry jello also added to the bright red color of my jelly. With that said, I quite like the color the resulted from my recipe deviations. In subsequent recipes I think I will reduce the sugar content by 1 cup. The taste tests of this batch of jelly was quite sweet. Sweeter than I prefer. I know my kids will love it, but in the future I will only add 3 cups of sugar per batch of this jelly. Lastly, I did not process these in a hot water bath. Shame on me I know. I do not hot water bath my other jam and jelly recipes so I know these jars will be just fine. Also, 9 pints do not fit in a standard water bath pot so to save time, water, and energy I decided to go with what I am used to; not processing my jellies.

Please let me know if you try this recipe. . .I'd love to read about your experiences.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Taking communion with my kids

My experience at church tonight will be one that I will never forget.

Our recent move to the midwest has prompted a change in our church routine. When living in CA we subscribed to the typical "send your kids off to Sunday school" mantra. After praying about that choice for our family we have decided to no longer send our kids to Sunday school when we attend our church service. I knew this would change the dynamics of our church worship time. I expected more disruptions and less concentration on the message our pastor was preaching. I never expected the amazing blessing that would be bestowed upon me early on in our family worship experience.

Tonight I felt the hand of Our Heavenly Father move through me.  Shortly before communion as my 3 year old daughter sat beside me I quietly explained to her what was going to happen during communion. She in turn asked me why. So I explained to her the reason we take communion and what we as Christians need to do before taking communion. What she said next shocked and touched me to my core. She asked to pray with me to ask Jesus into her heart. Yes, I know she is only 3 and I fully expect to pray this prayer with her again as she gets older. But nonetheless, she asked and we prayed. I held back the tears of joy as I prayed quietly there in church with my sweet and precious little girl.

As I reflect back upon this evening I am filled with the joy of overwhelming blessings afforded my family tonight. The religious teaching moments with my boys and the acceptance of Christ by my daughter would have not been possible if they had been ushered off to Sunday school. Admittedly, I had my doubts about family church time because my children are not accustomed to sitting still for an hour during church. But God has shown me very early on in our family church experience that this is the right decision for my family.

Do you worship as a family or do you prefer quiet time without your children during your church service?
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Corn Pancakes

Here in Iowa the sweet corn is being harvested and country corner farm stands are over flowing with this beautiful and tasty vegetable. In my home, it never fails that we have a few ears of corn leftover form dinner. In the past, these precious ears would usually go to waste because corn does not reheat very well. When thinking about what to do with these leftovers I thought about the corn casserole I cook during the holiday season. Why not take a similar recipe and make it into pancakes? Viola! My kids loved these treats this morning with fresh local honey drizzled over them.

Leftover Corn Pancakes

1 box (6.5oz) cornbread mix
1.5 cups leftover corn
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1T vegetable oil (or non-stick pan spray)

In a medium bowl, combine cornbread mix, egg, and milk. Let stand 5 minutes. Put oil (or pan spray) in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop pancake mix into hot pan and cook like typical pancakes. Serve warm with honey or maple syrup. Enjoy!

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