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23 May 2017

The Typing Coach {Crew Review}

The Typing Coach

Typing skills are an essential tool these days, so I was pleased when we had a chance to review The Typing Coach Online Typing Course. Hero(10) has been showing more interest in learning computer skills, so the timing for us to try The Typing Coach year-long subscription was excellent.

The course is pretty straightforward. It's meant to be a 10 week course, but it's self-paced, so your student can do it as quickly or as slowly as they need to. I had my son take the pretest (he officially had zero skills to start), and we jumped in. The process is simple: there's a recording to listen to, and some typing to do. It starts with doing random letters on the home row, then as you progress through the lessons you add more letters and words. The idea is to help the student (or students: this  can be used by multiple people) learn to type by looking at printed reference material, and not at his hands or the screen.

It's a small gripe, but the process of setting up an account is annoyingly fussy. The requirements for what can be a user name and password are full of stiff security requirements, much more in line with what I would expect for sensitive identity information, rather than just logging into some online lessons. I would have liked to pick a simple password, so that my son can easily log in by himself. I was forced into a password that makes that a huge task for a kid that doesn't type fluently yet, full of numbers and special characters, so I have to come log him in every time. It seems like a small thing to even mention, but he ought to be able to log himself in, and needing to do it for him is an unnecessary hassle. However, once we got going things smoothed out quickly.

When you log in there is a menu that lets the user select the lesson they want. The lessons are progressive: each one builds on the lesson before it. So it's important to do them in order. You just click on the one you need to open it up, read a little, and press play. This is a very user-friendly format.

The lessons start with emphasis on posture and ergonomics, which I really appreciate: nobody wants repetitive motion injury from typing! They teach it early,  then review and remind regularly, both at the beginning of the other lessons, and also frequent quick reminders in middle of the lessons as well. It gets repetitive, but I think that's a good thing in this case.

The lessons are thorough, with plenty of practice in the lesson, and the option for unlimited repetition of the lessons, which is nice. I've let my son make the call as to when he feels he's ready to move to a new lesson, and he's chosen to take things pretty slowly, so he hasn't completed the course yet, though we have been working on it consistently. This is not surprising as he tends to be cautious and a little bit of a perfectionist; not a bad way to approach a typing course, really: taking the time to really master the skill is worth the time. The one issue is that, at 30 minutes, it's a long time for a kid to sit and focus on typing, however it's a simple thing to break it up into two sessions if your child's endurance runs out before the lesson does.

One nice side-effect of doing this program is that my reluctant writer has been doing quite a bit of creative writing during his free time. This means extra practice for typing, but it's also been good for some incidental spelling and usage practice, as well as the more holistic composition work that happens in doing that kind of project. I was really happy to see this happening, as it's very rare for this guy to write without being required to do so. It's not exactly a feature of the program, but it certainly makes me happy to see this kind of thing happening!

The program is largely independent; I log him in and he listens to the recordings and follows the directions. And, although he hasn't finished going through the whole course, he was commenting on how much he'd been able to do on his story project. When asked if he thought that it was helping already, he said, "Yes, definitely."After only three lessons (posture, the home row, and the top row), I could see that he was able to produce more on his story in less time than he had taken earlier. That's a win in my book.


To read more reviews on The Typing Coach, and to see how other families used it in their homeschool, please click the link below:

Click to read Crew Reviews






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22 May 2017

Thin Stix Review and Giveaway! {Crew Review}

Thin Stix by KwikStix
I don't think that I've used tempera paints since I was in kindergarten myself, so I really wasn't sure what to expect when we were given Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors to review. They're a hit! The Pencil Grip, Inc. has something cool here; my younger kids ask for them all the time. We love art, and I'm a proponent of art and drawing as an integral aspect of good science study, and while these are not fine point enough to do that kind of work with, tools that get my little ones drawing early and happily are a win in my book.

A review and giveaway of Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors by the Pencil Grip, Inc.Thin Stix work like a glue stick: you twist the bottom to get a little more of the paint stuff. It really feels more like using a marker, and in fact Peanut(4) usually calls them "paint-markers" which is an apt description. While they feel like markers in your hand, they act like paint on the paper, in that they are more opaque, and there's some slight texture to the strokes you make in the finished work. The colors are bright and beautiful, and they make it easy to enjoy working with the Thin Stix. Which my kids do -- especially the little princess.

A review and giveaway of Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors by the Pencil Grip, Inc.

The packaging says that it dries in 90 seconds, but I found that it's actually usually a fair amount faster than that: if you're putting on a single layer, it's close to instant. The kids carried these all over the house; they weren't supposed to, but they act like markers and that's how my kids reacted to them. I was a bit jumpy the first time I realized this was happening, but after a while it didn't bother me as much: they really aren't messy at all. We never had any marks accidentally show up on clothes or other things: just the paper. The one time it did get on a surface, she had been using a chair as a table, and in coloring clear to the edges, it got on the chair underneath, too. However, even though I didn't notice that it was there for a half hour or more, but it still wiped away so easily that I could hand Peanut a rag and have her easily wipe it up herself.

If you want to color over the previous layers (they're mostly opaque, so that works, particularly with the darker colors) then you'll want to give it a couple of seconds to dry before you put on the second layer, which is what I did when I was messing around and drew this ladybug. I did find that more than 3 layers gets a little messy, but the markers will write over a single layer pretty well.


Hero drew this cute Minecraft character with them.


When I did my dinosaur, I was a little surprised they didn't blend when I put grass around his feet; these dry quickly. I liked that, here, where I didn't really want the colors to mix, I could keep them separate, but I was able to get them to blend just a little if I layered the colors very quickly other times. I like having both options.



I think that these would really shine for making signs for youth group activities, bake sales, and the like: they're bright, bold, easy to use, and they work nicely for simple shapes and large letters. I just made this up quickly, but I bet that if you handed the teens in a youth group Thin Stix and asked them to make a sign for a fundraiser or other activity, they could come up with something really cute.





The Giveaway

Thin Stix by KwikStixThe Pencil Grip, Inc. has generously provided a second set of Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors to be sent to the lucky winner of a Giveaway! (Open to US residents only.) I think that your kids are going to love these as much as my kids do. You can enter twice if you want to, here's how:

1. Leave a comment saying what you plan to do with your Thin Stix if you are the winner. This is your first entry. Please leave an email address in the same comment so that I can contact you if you win, or if you prefer not to publish your email, leave it in a second comment and I will keep it private.

2. To enter a second time, share this giveaway on Facebook. Make sure to set your privacy so that I can come and visit you. Then bring a permalink to your post (click the timestamp right under your name, as shown in the picture, and it will bring up a page with just your post -- that's the address you want), and leave that link here in a separate comment. This will ensure that both your entries get counted. 



I will count up the total number of entries and choose one at random, using the random number generator at Random.org. I will announce the winner of the giveaway on Friday 26 May 2017. Good luck!!



To read more reviews on ThinStix, and to see how other families used it in their homeschool, please click the link below:

Click to read Crew Reviews






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17 May 2017

DIY Folksong Songbooks Tutorial

A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.

I've been trying for a while to figure out a way to improve our folksong study. I have a playlist, and using it we've become passingly familiar with our songs. But we don't really know the words. I tried printing the words for the day's song, but even when I keep the sheets and use them several times before they get lost, it feels like an inefficient, wasteful way of doing it.

Folksongs were on our list again today, and the problem was bugging me, when all the sudden it came to me: we can make little songbooks the way that I did with our easy readers. Those are quick and easy, and as an extra bonus, in addition to giving us a much more lasting method for keeping our songs together, if the kids help write the words in the books that will help them to remember.

Materials: 
1 sheet cardstock and 9-10 sheets printer paper per book
A sewing machine and thread
supplies for decorating(optional)
a ruler and pencil(optional


What you do:
Gather up your papers. I'm running low, so our covers are just cream colored, which ended up working out really well. I like to use 6-10 sheets of paper when I do these. I've done up to 12, but it gets really bulky, and I don't like it so thick for this method. 


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


Take your papers and cardstock, line them up carefully, and fold them in half.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


Open them back up and set them on your sewing machine, lining the needle up with the fold you made. It's usually easier to see this fold from the pages side of the pile, rather than the cover side of things. You want a line that you can see passably well, because this is going to be your stitching guide.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


Carefully sew down the fold. It's nice if it goes perfectly, but close enough is good enough. A surprisingly large amount of variation in the line still folds nicely.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.

Next, fold the booklets closed again, and clip the strings.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.

At this point, the booklet is done, and you can turn it into anything you want. Since we're making a folksongs book, I started getting the kids involved in the project. They wanted to use my washi tape and fancy markers and pens to do the decorating, which I said was fine. So they did their own covers.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


Because I plan to have Hero(10) write out his own lyrics, I quick penciled in some lines. These are quick and soft. He said that he'd like it better if I did it in pen next time, because these lines erased when he was fixing mistakes.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


I set a timer for 10 minutes, and had him work on his own lyrics. For the younger kids, I'll just write in the lyrics for them, so they can follow along in their own copy, and our collection will grow as we do more folksongs.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.

The kids want to have them covered in contact paper, which will make them much tougher and more long-lasting, which I think is a great idea.


A tutorial for making a DIY booklet to use as a folksong songbook, a homemade phonics reader, or a host of other homeschool projects.


Now, as we do our folksongs, the lyrics will accumulate in our books, and (I'm being optimistic when I had everyone label it "book 1") down the road we should have a little collection of them, which is a fun thing to contemplate. I think it will be an awesome way to integrate this into our family culture a little bit more.

12 May 2017

Quench Not the Spirit



In his first letter to the Thessalonian saints, Paul gives them instructions, including these verses:


Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Quench not the Spirit
Despise not prophesyings. 
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
-1 Thessalonians 5:16-21


I don't think that I've noticed anyone talking about not "quenching" the Spirit, but it makes sense: we compare the Spirit to a flame. In the ancient temple, the smoke from alter represented the Holy Spirit, burning away the sins of the people, represented by the sacrifices they brought. The candlestick that burned constantly in the Holy Place also represented the Holy Ghost -- to quench the candle put out the light that allowed them to see while they were in the Tabernacle. To quench the fire of the alter meant that the sacrifice was not burned away. Quenching the Spirit in our lives has serious consequences.

The interesting thing about this analogy of the Spirit to a fire is that the only thing we need to do for a fire to go out is... nothing. If you don't feed a fire, it slowly dies. To keep the Spirit's influence bright in our life, we need to be constantly doing the things that invite it, or it will dwindle and fade away. One of the best ways to invite the Spirit is to study the scriptures then act on their teachings. 


When our study efforts expand, so will the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives increase. Let us search the scriptures with pen in hand, making note of new insights and recording spiritual promptings. Thereafter, let us strive to apply what has been learned to our personal lives. The Spirit will quicken our inner selves; new understanding will come precept upon precept.
-Keith K. Hilbig, Quench Not the Spirit Which Quickens the Inner Man 


There is always a huge emphasis on scripture study in the counsel we receive, and April Conference was no exception; I felt like my notes were "read your scriptures, read your scriptures, be nice, read your scriptures..." and I think it can be easy to think of that as an end unto itself, when perhaps it's more like a gateway to additional blessings, including having our nagging concerns eventually resolve, and having greater access to the Holy Ghost in our lives --and with it, greater certainty in our lives.

“The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth. … Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”
-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, quoted by Douglas L. Callister, Seeking the Spirit of God


11 May 2017

Watching Our Birds

I've been working on improving our Nature Study, and we've been watching a number of videos from John Muir Laws to help us learn to be better observers. It's fun when the things that we've watched start to turn up naturally in the way that we look at things - in this case, just the birds that turn up around the house.

This Robin, for example. He turned up in our front yard, and the kids called me over to watch with him. We did a much better job of observing him - Hero spontaneously started using some of the techniques we've learned recently - and it was really cool to see how much more we could notice about him than what we did before.


We saw him run around the grass a while looking for food. They especially like the spots on his back, and thought that they look like a Creeper's face, so we dubbed him "Creepy". Which cracks me up, because he's so not creepy.


In addition to noticing his coloring, we also got to watch him eat, and (we think) mate -- with two different birds! And the kids were much more aware of the way that he moves: he was doing more running than the hopping that many of the other birds in our yard do. It was really interesting to watch both the bird, and also my kids as they applied the things that we've been talking about and learning over the past little while. I think that was my favorite part: seeing the growth that we're all having in this area right now.

Good stuff.

05 May 2017

Bullet Journal Update

It's been about six months since I started using a Bullet Journal, and I am still really loving it. I made it past the honeymoon phase, and into just everyday life, and it's incredibly helpful. In a conversation on the AO Facebook group I promised to share some pictures, and got some ideas for a tweak that I've known I needed to do, but struggled to know how to do it. So here's what I've got.

The book itself is nothing fancy: it's a regular composition book, decorated with scrapbook paper and washi tape, and covered in contact paper. I may get something with nicer paper next time... I may not. Putting the contact paper on it makes this book tough. I took this picture six months ago, when it was new, but it still looks almost as nice, even after six months of kicking around my house, being drug around in my purse and my backpack... it's remarkably tough. I've got another one that I did to be a scripture journal, and that one is actually about 3 years old, and still looks brand new. Composition books with contact paper on them are pretty sturdy, and for this book, that's really important. It's really pretty easy to cover them, and I think that the fact that it's pretty - and that I chose the papers, so I like them - makes it easier to keep track of. Using it makes me happy, therefore I lose it less.


Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

So, on the inside:

First, I have a basic month-at-a-glance planner page. Because I am studying Japanese, I do the days of the week in kanji, and after doing this for six months, I no longer have to think about what the word for Tuesday is, ever: I know them all, thoroughly. That, alone, is pretty awesome, and something that a bought planner could never do for me. It's the writing them out, over and over and over, then living in them that did it. On the lower right is a tracker that I use to try to take care of myself: to bed on time, drinking water, and stuff like that.



This monthly page is a pretty straight-forward planner type. I put in appointments and sometimes blog events - you can see the 5 Days of Books series that I did recently made it onto my calendar, since I was linking it up to a blog hop with the Homeschool Review Crew. All the usual calendar things: family visits, lessons, whatever has a time.


I also keep a 6 months at a glance page, for those things that you know are coming up well in advance. It's not something that I use a whole lot, but it is nice to have.





Henry B. Eyring gave that talk about looking for God's hand in his life, and what a blessing it has been for him and his family, so I like to have a page going for writing that stuff down. The biggest problem with this page is that I keep filling it up (God is good), and then I forget to make a new page for a while.



Related, but somewhat different, is a gratitude log: I just write down what I'm grateful for. I call this one "Singing Praises" because that's what they did during the Jaredite crossing: they sang praises. And that story has special meaning for me because of when Peanut was in the NICU. I want to remember to praise God in all the times, not just the good times, like the Jaredites did.



It was goals that got the whole thing going for me: I had a goal sheet on the fridge for a couple of years, but I gradually outgrew it, and needed something more. Probably 3/4 of what I'm tracking here is related to my own education somehow.



 In addition to the yearly goals, I've got goals and study projects that are tracked on a daily basis. This is great because then I can see what is doing well, and (more importantly) what is being neglected, and needs to come to the top of the heap.


Japanese and Welsh are large enough projects that they get their own charts, so that I can track the various things that I do to move those forward. A goal like "Learn to speak and read Japanese like a native speaker" is a enormous project, and I don't have an end date on that one, just things that I do regularly to push closer to that level of fluency. I don't care so much about when I "finish" (is it possible to finish something like that?), but I do care about doing certain measurable things that create progress. Those are the things I track: good goals are always measurable. I am far more fluent in Japanese than Welsh, so I can access more resources, and so that list is longer.

 


I also keep a list of the books that I've read this year. This makes me happy; it's the one arty page that I allowed myself in the book, and I love it. I love writing on it. Which helps me to make time for reading, which is not such an easy thing when you seldom get large chunks of time! But it's so important for teachers to feed themselves, too. You can't draw from an empty well. 


I've been using these daily lists, and they're good, but I get frustrated, because sometimes -frequently- I don't get it all done in a day, and I don't like spending time re-writing it onto another day. But some things are great: if I get behind on the laundry, I'm actually more likely to work on it again if I put it on my list. Same with the dishes. The banjo is pretty hit and miss. I'm trying out a new weekly spread, starting on Monday, and I'm pretty excited about it, so maybe I'll share that one another time; I don't know if it fits me well or not yet.


I always put "family work" on the kids' list of things they need to do, but then they come to me and say, "What's my family work?" uhh..... I dunno. But! I have a list. Two, actually. One is stuff that happens daily or near-daily. The other is jobs that happen intermittently. Both are very helpful for answering that question.





My menu planner page is a HUGE time saver. It used to take me hours of digging around Pinterest and moaning on Facebook to get a menu made. I hated doing it. I did it today in under 30 minutes, menu, list and all. It was fantastic. And I couldn't have done it without this page in my book: 


 Because I'm a member of the Homeschool Review Crew this year, one of the things I've agreed to is posting on my blog at least once a week. I track that in my book, too. And, to help me think up things to say, should that ever be a problem, I have a page where I track ideas for posts as well. Actually, there's a couple other pages that deal with Crew stuff, but I think these are enough to give the general idea. 





Six months into using the Bullet Journal, I'd have to say it's a solid success. More of my projects are getting attention more of the time. People sometimes ask me how I get everything done... this is it. It's all in my notebook, and I'd probably cry if I lost it. I think that the new weekly spreads are going to help me get a better handle on some of the homeschool work that we do on a loop schedule, so that the books that we are slowly reading will be done more consistently, and it should also help me do better with keeping my appointments actually in mind... I'm so very bad at that, even with a notebook to keep me on track. The nice thing is, when we bring our weaknesses to the Lord, He can make them strengths... even the one where we're perpetually a day late and a dollar short. And, for me, the Bullet Journal is definitely something that I think that He lead me to to help me with my ongoing struggle with disorganization.

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