09 10

17 October 2017

Pencil Grips and Safety Scissors {Crew Review}

The Pencil Grip, Inc.

For this review, we were given The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors and The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit both from The Pencil Grip, Inc. They have a number of preschool-oriented products; I reviewed their Thin Stix earlier this year.

When the scissors and pencil grips came, I got out the scissors first. Our reading curriculum has some activities that require cutting, but Peanut(4) hadn't realized they were cutting pages, so when I asked her to choose a page, she's never picked one of those before. She was delighted as soon as she realized she'd be cutting things out and building a hat; she loves that kind of thing. She loves the new scissors, too, because she thinks they are "girl scissors".

However, the guide makes them really awkward to use. I'd estimate that it at least doubled the time that it took her to do the cutting, compared to regular scissors. Getting the paper to line up with the scissors correctly is already a huge task for small hands, and that huge guide makes it much more difficult. My daughter really struggled with using them, and when she was cutting out her squares - a relatively simple task that she's been able to handle for a long time now - turning that last corner was extremely difficult. Also, her cuts were not as nice with the safety scissors: because it's so hard to control, it left a jagged edge, which is not her usual at all. I can't remember any of my kids ever cutting themselves with regular kid scissors, and certainly they've never done serious damage to themselves, so I feel like the big awkward guide, the yellow gizmo in between the handles that keeps them from coming open properly when you use it, it's all overkill on the "safety".

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors


You can see the contrast between how she handles her regular scissors vs. the safety scissors in this movie, where I had her use them both on a single project. She's working hard, and it's taking considerably longer than the regular ones, but with far less accuracy. After a few days, she didn't reach for these cool "girl scissors" anymore, and I don't blame her.







The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training KitThe second product that we were given to try out was the 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit. These are kind of cool. I was expecting them to be the small compact pencil grips that we used to buy at the school store for a quarter, but these are way cooler than that.

They're soft.
They're squooshy.
If you take them off the pencil and squeeze them, they almost double as a fidget toy -- but they don't even make annoying noises. And they seem to stand up to that kind of abuse pretty well. And also to the inevitable on-again-off-again can't leave it on the pencil goofiness of young children. Ours changed pencils a lot, but they didn't get misshapen. And they still fit tightly (but not too tight), even after all the abuse they've had.



You can use them in a particular order, to help train the very young, because they make it downright difficult to hold the pencil in the wrong way. I didn't worry about that because all my kids have passable pencil grips. And also these were all but snatched from my hands. Cool shapes. Bright colors. New toys... what's not to love?

They come on (cheap) pens, but we do all our work in pencil so I got rid of them. One of them died in the process (it just pulled right apart, pieces flew; one got lost, and I threw it away), but the grips are much better quality than the pens. My 7yo had a hard time keeping track of what side was "up", so I used a sharpie to give him a dot. It worked pretty well, it stayed on, and it didn't smear.



There might have been shenanigans. Possibly. Shocking, I know.
Who doesn't need three pencil grips on the same pencil?




I like the grips. I don't like the scissors at all. But the grips are fun, and I think they'd probably be useful if you have a child that needs help learning a good way to hold their pencils. If you want to see what other families in the Homeschool Review Crew thought of these products, click the banner:


http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/ultra-safe-safety-scissors-pencil-grip-training-kit-the-pencil-grip-inc-reviews/




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08 October 2017

The Family is Central: Central to Happiness



THIS POST IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES. I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO INTRODUCING YOU TO A COUPLE OF GUEST BLOGGERS, ALL OF THEM COMMENTING ON THE FAMILY PROCLAMATION, AROUND THE THEME: FAMILY IS CENTRAL.


The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children -- central to the Plan of Happiness. Families are a gift from God, designed to nurture and protect us here and now, and to fit us for life in His kingdom in the hereafter.


Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another. Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized. 

Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord. In such a family we study the scriptures and pray together. And we fix our focus on the temple. There we receive the highest blessings that God has in store for His faithful children.
-Russell M. Nelson, April 2008


When I think about our Father's plan, how we lived with Him, and then came to earth to receive a body, to be tested and to be challenged, and all the growth opportunities, the way that we are to live together in love, and when life ends, we are to have loved much and to weep for the loss of those who leave us, and return to Him again. When I think of all that, family is there in every aspect, every step of the way. Family reaches to the very heart of the Plan, so much so that if families fail the earth is cursed, and wasted at His coming.

One of my sisters has sheet music for a song, Keeping Sheep, that compares parenting to shepherding, and talks about all the voices that say that it's not important, it's expendable, it's beneath us. It's a beautiful song, and now that we've got kids, we can't sing that thing without bawling our eyes out. This is my favorite part:


So many voices say to me,
“A sheep-fold is no place to be.
Your time in there is dull and slow,
And lambs leave very little room for you to grow.”

Oh, If I ever start to stray,
Deceived by thoughts of greener pastures,
Remind me Lord, that keeping sheep
Will lead to happier ever-afters.
Will lead to happier ever-afters.


God works in plain and simple things. The small, the weak, the over-looked. These are His stock in trade. Like ordinary homes, and ordinary, tired parents. He speaks in a still, small voice, one that you have to actively pay attention to in order to hear. And the value of things that He asks us to do is often like that little voice: easy to overlook.

Children need their families. Not preschools, not fancy clothes, not Stuff in all its assorted forms. They need their parents, their time, their attention. Mine need me, and yours need you. Parenting is intense, and it can be really, really hard, and there's soooo many people who want to tell us that it's not really worthwhile. But when we find the heat of opposition is the hottest, that's where the best work for the Kingdom is done. Satan doesn't oppose the stuff that doesn't matter.

Families matter. The traditional family is key to our Father's plan for our happiness. 


03 October 2017

Easy Peasy Cursive {Crew Review}

Channie's Easy Peasy Cursive Workbook


We were given the Easy Peasy Cursive book, from Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks to review. These are simple and straightforward: notepads full of letters to practice. There is a page of letters to trace, a page of trace-then-write, and a page for writing independently for each letter. At the back of the book there is one page, front and back, for practicing words.

We follow Charlotte Mason's classical education philosophy, and she says this about practicing handwriting:


Set good copies before him, and see that he imitates his model dutifully: the writing lesson being not so many lines, or 'a copy'––that is, a page of writing––but a single line which is as exactly as possible a copy of the characters set. The child may have to write several lines before he succeeds in producing this.
-Charlotte Mason


I've found this to be good advice in the past, to focus on helping my kids to produce just a few beautiful letters, rather than going for a whole page. We've always started with letter formation first, then moved into words, and this workbook is great for the letter formation part of the process. It was no problem to use this book in a Charlotte Mason-friendly way: although the book is printed in a way that suggests that you could just sit down and write the whole page at a go, I chose to work on it line-by-line with him: we never work more than one line of any letter at a sitting. The large number of examples means that he's always got a beautiful sample to look at; it's just how I do it when I make up my own sheets. The first day I just opened it up to A, then let him choose what he wanted to for the second letter; he chose I. Completely open-and-go. I love that.

Finding a pen that works well for the pages was a little bit of a challenge: I felt like the  mechanical pencil that we happened to grab the first day wasn't a good choice: the dots that you trace are pretty dark and quite close together, and I felt like it was hard to see the pencil lines. We tried ballpoint pen, but ended up settling on a very fine line Sharpie. The pages are just a little slick, and the letters close together, so our Crayola markers were out of the question: the ink would smear, and it's hard to make beautiful letters when your ink is misbehaving. But the ballpoint pen was adequate (can you tell I'm a pen snob??), and the Sharpie worked out pretty well -- I was worried that it would bleed through the paper, but it's not too bad.

The one thing that I wish they had done differently with these is that I wish that they had included more words to practice, or several blank pages so that I can give him models to practice. But the book is almost entirely letters. And that's good, as far as it goes, but where the paper is so very specific, it would have been nice if they had allowed for more than just letter formation. 

As far as how I feel about these, I really want to like them. The idea is great, the slanted boxes to give spacing is brilliant -- and it should have been relatively familiar, because our Japanese also happens in boxes to get the spacing right, and Dragon(7) doesn't have any problems with that. But he's really struggling with this, in spite of having been excited to learn cursive when we got the book. It's not working very well at all: he can trace the letters, but when I ask him to draw his own, even right next to a model, immediately after tracing several, he just can't do it. I had him try a couple of things in his regular notebook, and it is just funky. That thing on the third line is a capital and lower case L, drawn immediately after practicing in the workbook. He's all over the place with it.


I suspect that the issue that Dragon finds cursive challenging, more than that the workbooks aren't a good system. While he hasn't completed all of the practice, I didn't anticipate that he should need that much repetition in order to be able to write with a model, rather than tracing.  My plan at this point is to put away cursive for six months or a year, and then revisit it, and see if it makes more sense to him. His printing is still a little bit unsteady, and we're working on things like consistently getting upper case letters out of the middle of words -- there are a couple of letters where he strongly prefers the capital, and will chose A over a every time, even in the middle of the word, if I let him. So I wonder if this book won't work better for him later on, after his printing is a little more consistent and his writing a little more mature in general. Maybe I should get a Quick & Neat Alphabet Pad, and see how he does with that.



If you want to read more reviews of Channie's Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks - there are a couple of titles the Crew is looking at- click the banner below.

http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/adventures-of-rush-revere-book-series-reviews/




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02 October 2017

Super Teacher Worksheets {Crew Review}

 Super Teacher Worksheets


We were given an Individual Membership from Super Teacher Worksheets for this review. It's a rather large database of worksheets for teachers and homeschoolers, so the first thing that I did was to browse around. The layout is nice, and it's easy to navigate. Because they are so large, they've created a "filing cabinet" feature, where you can save the worksheets that look interesting.

I browsed the math sheets first, since that is where I anticipate spending the most time. One thing that I noticed is that they have resources for multiple English speaking nation's currencies, not just the US Dollar. You can see a partial list of the topics they cover there on the left of this screenshot, as well as the list of currencies they can accommodate there in the center. I used several. Some of them are pretty ordinary "work the problems" pages. The one to the left is a cool one, where my son was supposed to find numbers that add to 10. This is an area that I have been wanting to have him do a little extra practice, beyond what is in our regular math program, so I was glad to see this sheet. He didn't really follow the directions very well, but it ended up working well anyway.




They have a nice variety of sheets, so I was able to find things that are good for all of the kids. Peanut(4) can work on number formation, and Dragon(7) on his math facts.



Dragon's math facts sheet is one that I especially like, because it's one that I generated, specifically targeted to where he needs to work. They have a nice interface, once again very user-friendly, and you can save the sheets you make. For him, I'm using the basic addition generator, but there is one for all 4 operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, in both basic  math facts and more advanced problems, as well as bingo cards, flash cards, abc order exercises, and some quiz generators. I did have some issues with generated worksheets printing incorrectly, without the final column, but since we are not using these as timed tests, it's not at all a big deal for my purposes. 

I especially like the variety of worksheets that Super Teacher has in the more advanced arithmetic. I recently switched the kids into MEP for their main math program. This transition has been very smooth for my younger kids, but Hero(11) is old enough that the differences in when things are taught is substantial, and we keep finding things that MEP assumes have been taught already that our old program had not yet addressed. Super Teacher Worksheets makes filling in these gaps easy. The most recent example was order of operations work. MEP had a short section that looks like a quick review of something covered earlier, but it was the first time that Hero and I had really discussed the standard order of operations, and he needed more than just a quick review to feel good about it. So I grabbed a couple of extra sheets from Super Teacher, and got him up to speed. Easy peasy.



One thing that I'm looking to include more of this year is logic puzzles for my oldest. Super Teacher Worksheets has quite a few topics that relate to this. Not all of them are exactly what I'm looking for, but there are some options that relate to that general idea. Each section has a listing, like this one, that shows the different types of worksheet they have for that category, which makes navigating the extensive collection quite easy.




Their "filing cabinet" where you can save worksheets that you want to be able to find again quickly is a really cool feature. It allowed me to spend some time early on picking out likely looking worksheets, and then come and print them at the time that I needed them without having to dig for them again. It's easy to tell what I'm looking at, without needing to click on every single worksheet, too, because they are labeled with their various categories and descriptions. This kind of efficiency is very important to me, as I find that time that I spend on the computer during the school day generally tends to slow us down and derail our schedule. The filing cabinet lets me just go in and print them out quickly and easily. It's a great feature.




I used mostly math worksheets, but in many ways I barely scratched the surface of what's actually available: they have phonics, handwriting (print and cursive), spelling lists, various literacy units, science units, social studies worksheets dealing with the 50 States, explorers, maps, Native Americans, timelines, history for the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, and a host of other things.

I suspect that there's something for just about everyone in this sizable database of worksheets. They've been quite useful for us.



If you want to read more reviews of Super Teacher Worksheets, and see what other Homeschool Review Crew families did with it, click the banner below.





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30 September 2017

Japanese Storytime



Miss Kitty(4) grabbed this book off the bookshelf for storytime tonight. These books are much more difficult - I have to have my phone handy for frequent dictionary checks, and once I know the words, I get to explain them to the kids. BUT. More and more I can put part of those explanations in Japanese (yay me!) and usually, with a little bit of pointing and pantomime, the kids can figure out what I'm telling them (yay them!). And the parts I can do in Japanese are growing. It's exciting.

There's so much good in that: my vocabulary is growing and my comfort level with speaking (at least to my kids) is growing. And, which they answer in English still probably 95% of the time when we do this, their receptive language, the Japanese they understand if they hear it, is also clearly growing. This is wonderful: receptive skills precede expressive skills in learning your native language, and I see no reason to expect that it would work any differently in an adopted language. Some exciting milestones happening here!

We didn't read the whole thing; dictionary checks and explanations were still too frequent to get very far in a single sitting. But we read about snow (on the other side of the window), snow that both fell and piled up over night. And we read about putting clothing on: socks and boots, scarves and mittens, and Miss Piglet's favorite coat. And we read about stepping into snow where your foot sinks right down and leaves behind footprints. Japanese has such a beautiful way of describing things. And -and this might be the best part of all- the kids protested when I stopped. Even with needing to pause to look things up, they were still really into it. And so I promised that I'd put it on the schedule for Monday during school.

Pretty darn awesome.

25 September 2017

Captain Bayley's Heir Audio Drama {Crew Review}

Captain Bayley's Heir


I was excited when I saw that there was to be a second review for Heirloom Audio Productions, because we enjoyed the first title that we did for them, In the Reign of Terror, was so much fun, and I was excited to listen to a second title, Captain Bayley's Heir, when we were given the opportunity. Captain Bayley's Heir is an audio drama on 2 CDs, and there is a downloadable study guide to go with with, which is part of their Live the Adventure Club. In addition to the study guide, the club has the soundtrack, extra activities, old time radio dramas, and a number of other features. Captain Bayley's Heir is based on a book of the same title, by G.A. Henty.

The main story is about Frank, a student at Westminster, who is falsely accused of theft, and of his adventures in leaving London for America and the American goldrush. In addition, there is also the tragic story of the missing daughter of Captain Bayley, Frank's uncle -- who is played by John Rhys Davies, and his voice is just delicious. Davies also played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, but here, where it's just his deep, rich voice, I think I like him even better.

The story sometimes gets intense: the wagon train, as many were, was attacked by Indians. I was really impressed with how this was handled in the story: the listener's sympathies automatically follow the main character, and he is appalled that they should be attacking and killing the settlers crossing the Great Plains. However, one of the experienced trailmen he is traveling with asks him some searching questions ending with, "What would you do, in their place?" Frank does not answer, but there is certainly food for thought there. (The study guide looks closely at this scene.) In the course of the attack, Frank kills one of the men that has attacked the wagons. This is also handled very well, allowing the listener to see the turmoil that it causes Frank, though without dwelling unduly on it. It's an intense scene. We have taught our children that self-defense is not only moral, but can be a moral imperative in certain instances. I think that it is good that they should meet some of the consequences of self-defense in the literature they are exposed to. Probably, hopefully, it will never come to that for them, but if not, then I want them to have a framework for coping with it, and literature like this can help to build it.

Immediately after the attack, the next scene is much more tranquil: that evening, just before bed, one of the men pulls out his harmonica (recently introduced from Germany, and all the rage), and plays Amazing Grace. Again, I love the way that this is handled: they credit their survival to God, and are grateful for His protection. They tell of the composer of the hymn, John Newton, who apparently was a slave ship captain prior to his conversion, and became a priest after. There's so much to love there: the way that the story shows God's care for Frank and his companions, the example of turning to God for protection and in gratitude, the story of a "wretch" -a slaver- rescued by Christ.

"You can't earn Grace, Frank. It's a gift."

Grace is a major theme of the story, and you see it all over the place: Captain Bayley learning from the experience with his daughter, and finding redemption from his early errors with her, to Frank learning to respect himself, and finding peace with God. That was a particularly interesting story thread, as Frank was innocent of the charges against him, but I think that underscores the healing power of Christ all the better.

As with In the Reign of Terror, there is an extensive study guide (38 pages), giving background information on G.A. Henty, helping with tricky vocabulary, and encouraging students to dig a little deeper into the book. There are sections for each chapter on "Listening Well", "Defining Words", and "Thinking Further". Additionally, there are "Expand Your Learning sections that give historical context to the story.


In some sections of "Thinking Further", I see terminology that makes me aware that these are probably written from a Protestant understanding of Christianity, but I don't think that it would be a problem at all to use this study guide to further teaching the Mormon (or other non-Protestant) understanding of Christian theology; they are great at asking questions without telling the student the "right answer" (something I always approve of), and at sticking to just suggesting verses in the Bible that are relevant, and letting the student work it out, rather than holding them by the hand and pulling them to the intended answers. These qualities make it more useful as a support to meaningful learning because they expect the student to act in their own learning, rather than anticipating that the teacher will be acting upon the students in giving them their wisdom. This also makes it extremely successful at being non-denominational, and thus useful to many different types of Christians.




We very much enjoyed Captain Bayley's Heir, and I can happily recommend it to my friends and readers. This was an excellent production.


If you want to read more reviews of Captain Bayley's Heir Audio Drama click the banner below.





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23 September 2017

LDSconf: The Women's Session

Put yourself in a place where you can feel God's love for you.
-Sharon Eubank


We need to continually deepen our knowledge of and obedience to our Heavenly Father.
-Neill F. Marriott


The Savior repairs the breach, or distance, between us and our Heavenly Father.
-Neill F. Marriott
"...the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound."
-Isaiah 30:26


"Thinking small about yourself does not serve us well; instead, it holds us back."
-Joy D. Jones
If you look at the scriptural uses of the word "meek" there is *never* any any justification for thinking small about ourselves: thinking ourselves small is NOT meekness. Meekness is turning to God, leaning on God, bringing Him our troubles, and realizing that our gifts and successes are from and through Him.


"God is your Father. He loves you!"
-Joy D. Jones
The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
-Romans 8:16


The path of discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the path of joy. It is the path of safety and peace.
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf



18 September 2017

Imagine... The Great Flood {Crew Review}

IMAGINE... The Great Flood


Books in the mail again; what fun! This time we were given Imagine. . .The Great Flood by Matt Koceich to review, which is published by Barbour Publishing. It's a short Biblical fiction book: 100 pages of largish type; I sat down and read it in an hour, and then gave it to Dragon(7) as a free read: he's required to read at least one chapter, but allowed to read as much more than that as he would like.

It's a cute story, about Corey, a modern boy. His family is moving to Florida, and he's very unhappy about it. His mom tries to teach him that God will care for their family, but it isn't really sinking in. Then Corey finds himself transported to the time immediately before the Flood, where he meets Shem, Ham, Japeth, Noah, and a whole bunch of animals -- and he meets Noah's family's enemies. Although it was such a short, easy book, I learned something new: in the story, the "Nephilim" are Noah's enemies. "Nephilim" is the Hebrew word for giants (see Strong's Concordance for Genesis 6:4, for example). They certainly made for formidable enemies in the story! Corey is captured by them at one point. In addition to a cute story, I liked that the author doesn't beat you over the head with moralizing about the application of the Bible story and principles to Corey's life. He trusts his story to be strong enough to teach without needing to beat you about the head and shoulders with his point -- and he's right to do so. The ending is satisfying and the point is strongly present without being preachy.

Dragon liked the book enough that at one point he fell asleep with it still in his bed, and I had to fish it out when it fell down by the wall the next time he needed to read it. It was never very hard to get him to work on reading it some more, and at one point he even told me that he was pacing himself so that the book didn't end too soon!

Dragon said: "I like all of the stuff even.  It's full of adventures, but at the same time, he's getting captured alot! He just got trapped in a cave, and he keeps on slipping and just falling down. I have a positive review."



If you want to read more reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew and their families of Imagine... The Great Flood by Matt Koceich, click the banner below.

http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/adventures-of-rush-revere-book-series-reviews/




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