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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vocabulary/Spelling City

This is a review.

We had a chance to once again use a really fun on-line vocabulary and spelling program called VocabularySpellingCity.

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We had a chance to try this program out last year and really liked it.  I like it even more this time, because I found some different sections in the program that I hadn't found last time around!

Once again, the basics were the same.  We got a year long subscription to use with up to 5 students.  Since D-man is no longer officially homeschooled, I only have 4 kids that are in "school" and V-girl who is a wannabe.....but this program is K-12, so it pretty much has everyone covered.

Since we got to have access to the premium membership option, that included:

Vocabulary, writing, spelling, and language arts activities
Access to ALL games and interactive Flash Cards
Testing and grading
No commercial ads

So, the basic premise is this:

You log in as the parent, and either create a list of your child's spelling words, or pick from a list that has already been created.  You then assign them to the correct student.  At this point, you also pick the activities you want to use for them to work on their words throughout the week.....including tests for both vocabulary and spelling.  You can also choose a deadline or due date for their work. (I will show you the list of possible activities later.)

Honestly, I learned my lesson last time around and didn't even bother with creating a deadline for their work.....ever. 

Seriously, it was like the kids were following the same script.  They would blow through their weekly assignments in a day or two and then nag and pester me to go put in more work for them.   I followed the same script too, because I whined a little about it.  I was trying to unpack boxes and find my camera, you know?!?

This time I didn't create any personalized lists.  Last time, I created lists based on their language arts curriculum and their existing spelling words, or even from whatever reading material they were using at the time.

I didn't do that this time.  At all.  I just used what was already available on the site in their sample lists by age range section.  I was worried about not finding challenging enough words for A-girl, who is in 8th grade now.....but they had plenty of lists for her age range. 

I just headed over to the Teacher Resources page....under Useful Word Lists.  Already created for me were alphabetical lists that had challenging words like; asterisk, quixotic, homogenize, schism and turpitud.  And, remember, this isn't just a spelling is also vocabulary development, so A-girl will also know the definitions of these words when she is done.

Even V-girl got in on a little "Spelling City" time.  She begged and begged for" Spelling City".  I kept telling her she wasn't ready because she didn't know all her letters yet.  She argued with me that she knew enough and wanted to try.  So, I let her.

I assigned her the words from the sample list by grade level section for beginners.  She worked on "at" words.  You know, like cat, bat, sat, mat.  Seriously, the child got pretty good. She is still learning that she has to actually listen and pay attention when the word is being said, but other than that, she has done surprisingly well with this, even though she is only 4.

There was one thing that none of the kids liked in this program. It is one of the games that I thought they would find really fun, but I was wrong.  It is called Hang is like Hangman.

They hate it.  They find it frustrating and annoying.  So, I have stopped assigning that one.  There are plenty of other choices for assignments, (see below) so it isn't a big deal.  Sorry it ended up kind of blurry....


If you want to try VocabularySpellingCity, you can get an annual premium membership for $29.99.  That will give you access for up to five students.  There is a free option, but you don't have access to a lot of the more fun games that you get with the premium membership. 


We really like using "Spelling City" again.  I was really glad to be able to find the sample lists because it made it much easier on me during the move, not to have to input my own lists like I did last time.  (And, bonus, there are enough for all school year, so I don't have to even change my plans for the rest of the year!)

I like the option to be able to create my own lists, if I have the time, but I like LOVE that there are lists already there for when I don't have the time.  There is a little bit of a learning curve in this program....for the parent, not the student.....but, it isn't bad.  And, the more you figure out how to navigate in the site, the more you will love it.  Well, that is how it has been for me, anyway.

There are quite a few free resources available on VocabularySpellingCity too, if you want to wander around the site a bit before you commit.  But, for the price, and the fact that you can have up to 5 students using this program, it is a great deal.

Check out what other TOS reviewers thought of VocabularySpellingCity.

A Quick....But Messy Peak....

Okay, since I have found my camera, I am going to show you a few things at our new place.  Fair warning, I did not stage my pictures....which means, I didn't clean first.

So, there is stuff on the table and counters, but you can get the general idea.  These are my "before" pictures it will make for a much more dramatic reveal, right?

The kitchen (that I don't actually hate as much as I expected to...although I do still hate the flat top electric stove!):

You can see it is actually a pretty large space.  The island in the center is actual Rainman's old dresser that we are using for storage and another work surface.  It is too narrow, but I love having deep drawers for my Tupperware and baking supplies.  On my wish list is a larger island with an actual countertop. 

"After" plans include:

Taking down the wallpaper border.
Painting the shiny cupboards
Painting the walls.
Eventually getting a much bigger island to work on.

Another view of the kitchen which shows my great windows looking into the backyard.  The white cabinet that has our microwave on it came from a built in closet we had at our Minnesota house (we ripped that out when we put in the lockers).  The plaid curtains have already come down and the kitchen already looks lighter and brighter.

Dining Room:

Again, you will see the border (that is coming down as we speak)

The lighting is a little screwy. Sorry.  You can see the sun porch behind A-girl.  This is right off the kitchen....

A close up of the border and hunter green wall.

Here is a quick picture of the sun porch (with my garage sale IKEA couch and chair that was found for $50!):

We love the swingset and you can also see we have a fire pit!  So excited!  We have already had one bonfire and roasted marshmallows on wire hangers. 

I will show you more later. I am off to remove wallpaper border!!!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bridgeway Academy

This is a review.

We got the chance to try a really neat class via Bridgeway Academy.

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A-man attended a life labs class once a week for eight weeks (although the usual length is 9 weeks).  This particular class tied in with the Magic Treehouse book two called The Knight at Dawn and specifically covered the Middle Ages.  He learned all about castles and knights and ladies.  All the stuff that an eight year old boy eats up!  The actual book was discussed much, but was more of a kick off point for discussing the class and the students were asked to read the book at the first class.

This class was in a different format than other on-line classes we have tried.  This was an actual "class".  One teacher, multiple the same time.  We took the class via Jigsaw Meetings.   All we needed was our computer, a webcam and a microphone. 

One thing that impressed me (and scared me a little) up front was that this class had an actual syllabus. Like a real, true, you are in real school now.....syllabus.  For a class designed for 1st through 5th graders. See?  Scary, yet quite impressive.

A-man loved this class.  I could tell from his demeanor around the house on class days that he felt like a pretty cool guy.  And, from the fact that he would brag to anyone who happened to be around that he had "class" at 1:15, so they would need to clear out.

This class ended up happening right in the middle of our move.  So, yes, we did miss some classes.  More than we wanted.  One time we just spaced out and forgot about on our closing day.  The two others were because of our computer/internet issues we had once we moved in.  But, Ms. Thomas, his teacher was super sweet about our missing. 

The great thing for us was that they had videotaped past classes (which didn't always exactly line up with what A-man's class discussed - but were close enough and at least gave us an idea of what he had missed).  So, once we got our computer/internet back, he was able to watch the ones he had missed and get the homework assignments to work on.

A-man really got a lot of out of this class.  Which he should have, because Ms. Thomas really crammed a lot of information in.  She had a lot of pictures, maps, videos, and slides that she used to make her points about different aspects of life in the Middle Ages, from the fighting and wars, to castle life, to what the different classes of people ate.

I don't think A-man thought this next point was as cool as his mom and dad did, but, he was in class with other students from all over the world, literally.  He had classmates from Kansas, Alaska, and even one that lives in Germany. that cool, or what?

So, now, for details on how the class ran.  Each week we got an e-mail "inviting" us to log in to the scheduled class.   Ms. Thomas always had some sort of....I guess I will call it a lecture.... for the students.  But, she sprinkled it with lots of questions. It was very much a class....with give and take from teacher and students.

On our end of Jigsaw Meetings, we were seeing a divided screen with; her face, a screen with her slides or presentation, a screen where the students can answer questions, and a sidebar where they can type live questions during her lecture.  But, what she is seeing is all of her students.  So, she could tell if someone raised their hand and wanted to ask a question. (If my camera hadn't been lost for the last month or so, I would have taken a picture so you could see for yourself!)

Ms. Thomas would call on that student and them give them access to speak to the whole class.  On our end, there is a little onscreen button that you click on to talk.  Sometimes, it was a little hard to hear or understand the other students questions, but, Ms. Thomas always seemed to be able to get the gyst of what they were trying to ask and would go on to explain the answer.  I am not sure if this was a typical class for her, but these students seemed to have a lot of questions (sometimes on topic....sometimes slightly off topic).  She always handled it well and really seemed able to address their questions.  I don't think I ever heard her say, "I don't know" to a question the students asked. 

Also, not sure if this was typical of just this class, but most weeks class went over time because the kids seemed to be getting into it and would ask a bunch of questions at the end.  Ms. Thomas was always patient and never, in my opinion, made anyone feel dumb or that they were slowing down the class by asking questions.

Their final homework assignment is to design a castle.  They can use any medium....Legos, cardboard, Tinker Toys, they can draw or paint I, or even use some sort of computer program.  A-man has worked on many versions of his throughout the class.  I haven't seen what his final project is, so I am curious to see what he turns in.  I suspect it is made with boxes though because we have about 100,000 for him to choose from.

Overall, this class was a big success with us.  A-man learned new stuff, was excited about his classtime, worked hard after class researching and do his homework assignments, and just overall had a fun time learning about knights and castles! 

A-man was a bit fidgety during the classes...I often wondered what Ms. Thomas thought about him shifting and changing the camera angles (he even wore his Captain America costume - complete with mask - to class one day)....but she never said anything.  It did make me wonder if she was looking at a whole screen full of fidgety homeschoolers who aren't used to sitting still for a whole hour.

There are quite a few different Life Labs classes on different subjects and for different age groups available.  Go take a look around and see if any fit a need or hole that you have in your schooling this year. 

If you would like to have your child take this class through Bridgeway Academy, the class will last 9 weeks long and the cost is $145. 

Go and see what the other TOS Reviewers thought of their classes through Bridgeway.  There were classes on Essay writing as well as Marine Biology, in addition to the Magic Treehouse class. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Found It!!!!

After almost  month of being lost, my children have finally come through and found my camera!

I had already offered them a trip to Berry Mango's in exchange for finding it.

But, apparently, the threat of not letting them carve their pumpkins until my camera was found, was a much more effective threat!

They all decided to look around one more time.

A-girl and V-girl found it in the trunk of our van...buried under various things. 

It must have been in a bag that was tossed in the van and then fallen out when we unpacked.  I am surprised that with everything we have hauled back there since the move that it wasn't stepped on and broken.

But, it still works - albeit not great - it was on its last legs before it was lost.  So, I am still going to be saving up my pennies for a new one.

But, I have a camera again!

Now I can take pictures of the new place and show you some of the rooms.  I haven't let myself start any of my projects yet, because I wanted to take "before" shots.  So, today after school....and after we clean up a bit, I will be taking "before" shots like there is no tomorrow.

I can't wait to get started on some projects....some need some more thought and more Pinterest research, but I am so excited to be able to make this house ours...with my colors!!!

Pictures to come!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story

This is a review.

Okay, is the title of this book not just super cute or what?

Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story is a juvenile fiction book written by Annie Tipton.

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It is published by Barbour Publishing.

Barbour Publishing used to be known as Book Bargains back in the 80's and primarily was a remainder book seller and now has transitioned into a full blown Christian publisher.

This book is an adorable, fun, funny book that we read as a read aloud at bedtime.  The recommended age level for this book was ages 8 to 12.  But, I read it to the kids from ages 4 up to 13.  Honestly, I loved this book too.  It was very cleverly written and had, to me, a very true voice of the main character, Emma Jean , aka EJ.  The book goes back and forth between getting a glimpse at EJ's diary entries and "normal" chapters explaining what is happening in EJ's life. 

EJ Payne is ten.  Her mom is a teacher and her dad is a pastor.  She lives in a small town in Wisconsin and thinks her town is booooooring.  I remember thinking the little country "town" that I grew up in was boring too and nothing good ever happened there.  (I got a kick of  the fact that her parents went to my neck of the woods......Minneapolis......for an overnight stay for their anniversary.) 

My little kids are enjoying this book, even if some of it goes over their heads.  They especially enjoy the parts of the book where EJ gets caught up in her imagination and acts out things like being a racecar driver or astronaut or beekeeper. (I have a fun time reading it in the dramatic voice of a narrator or sports commentator.)  If your child was going to read this to themselves, I would point out the different fonts to help them understand what is happening.  For example, EJ's diary entries have their own font written on lined paper, EJ's imaginary adventures are chronicled in italics and the "normal" chapters are just in regular type font. 

I didn't love some of the language (not swearing...just mean words) and the way that EJ talks, especially to her brother.  But, this book wasn't designed for my little is for kids 8 and older....who, I hope, would understand that it isn't okay to talk mean to your siblings....I hope....  Sometimes I would stop in my reading to say something about the fact that I hope they wouldn't talk like that to their siblings.  Sometimes they would interrupt me and say something like, "that wasn't very nice, was it, mom?"  And, if I am truthful, my kids sometimes talk to each other that way too.  :(

That one issue aside.  This is a great book.  I love how the parents (especially the mom) interacts with EJ and lets her be her....while gently encouraging and guiding her to make the right choices.  And, at times, the kids laughed out loud at EJ's misadventures.

Like I said, it was written in a very real voice.  The chapters made everyone seem human with their ups and downs and misunderstandings and EJ sounded like what a spunky, don't always think before you act, 10 year old would sound like.

Some of the parts of the book happen at school....which, for us, as homeschoolers.....the kids don't know what is real and what isn't.  But, for me, as a former public schooler, some of the hallway conversations and mean girl stuff rang very true.  But, the good stuff rang true too.  The true friendships with the select few that accepted you and your quirks....even if they didn't fully understand you....or even if they weren't anything like you. 

There are some lessons in the book, just in case you don't want your kids to just read for the sake of reading.  Lessons about being kind and helpful, even if it isn't appreciated.  Lessons about not judging someone because they are grumpy.  Lessons that there is always more to someone's story than what is presented to the world.  Lessons about trying new things. 

This is a "Christian" book, but even if I weren't a Christian, I don't think I would have felt like I was being preached too or anything.  Like my own life, it is just a natural part of our everyday life and activities.  You know?

We aren't quite done with the book yet, because it was one of those things that was temporarily misplaced during the whole "let's move twice" deal we had going on here.  (My camera and my calendar are still missing in action.) If I had my camera, I would have shown you the really cute illustrations that went with the beginning of each chapter....but, I can't.

If your kids are old enough for Facebook, there is an EJ Payne Facebook page where they is information on speaking engagements by the author, Annie Tipton as well as contests and other things related to Diary of a Real Payne. 

Book 2 in the series is coming in March 2014 and is called Church Camp Chaos.  We can't wait for that one...especially me....who has many fond memories of my days at Red Rock family camp at Camp Koronis in northern Minnesota!

If you would like to get this book, you can get it on sale for $4.49 right now. 

Take a look at what other TOS Reviewers thought about Annie Tipton's Diary of a Real Payne

Monday, October 21, 2013

Okay....I Think I Am Back In Action

We have moved.

We have had out of state company.

We have unpacked 98% of our boxes.

We have had internet troubles.

We have had computer crashes.

We have been able to recover our computer.

We have had in half crash again.

We attended of our first (and possibly last) Homeowner's Associate Meeting.  Yes, I am now in one of "those" neighborhoods.

We are loving our new house.

It felt like "home" right away...even when it was a total mess.

I have not been able to find 3 important things since we moved.

  • Our family calendar
  • My TOS Review notebook
  • My camera
We have figured out a new calendar and just hope that we haven't forgotten anything that was written in our old one.

I have started a new TOS Review notebook with my deadlines, etc.

I have not figured anything out for my missing camera.  I had wanted to take true before pictures when the house was empty....but that didn't happen.

Now I am waiting to starting ripping off wallpaper border and paint until I can get intermediate before pictures with my stuff in the shot.

I have offered my children  a trip to Berry Mango's a frozen yogurt place down here if they can find my camera.....nothing yet....I will keep you posted though.  

In the meantime, I am looking around Pinterest in any free time I get gathering ideas for redecorating our new home.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

YWAM - Jim Elliot - One Great Purpose

This is a review.

I know....what is YWAM, will be your first question.  Well, it is a publishing company and YWAM stands for Youth With a Mission, an international missionary organization of Christians from many denominations dedicated to presenting Jesus Christ to this generation.

YWAM has focused its efforts in three main areas:
1. Training and equipping believers for their part in fulfilling the Great
Commission (Matthew 28:19)
2. Personal evangelism
3. Mercy ministry (medical and relief work).

They obviously have lots of books, but we got a chance to review one from the Christian Heroes Then and Now series, called Jim Elliot: One Great Purpose. We also got to use the Jim Elliot Unit Study Guide alongside the book.  We got both in e-book, PDF format.  (In retrospect, I wish I could have gotten them in hardback.  I keep trying to be a hip happening device user for reading...but I keep going back to the fact that I like to hold a book and turn the pages myself.  Oh well.) 

We have used other books in the Christian Heroes Then and Now series in our schooling. They are well written books about real people and how they dedicated their lives and talents to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I like these books because they sort of cut to the chase.  In this instance, the book is about 190 pages long .  They cover a long time span of someone's life, their thought processes, their journey, their work, but sort of gives you the highlights of how they got to the place they did in life, along the way.

This particular book is a hard one and has a suggested age of 10+......I think, because Jim Elliot gave his life for his work.  Literally.  He and his companion missionaries were killed by the very people they were going to witness to in Ecuador.  But, as God can do, he can work all things for good.  Because of their sacrifice, many people have now heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The book details Jim's life, his studies, his frustrations, his questioning of whether he was hearing God's call, the delays that kept him from Ecuador and ultimately chronicles his death at the hands of the Huaoroni people in Ecuador. 

It also gives a true look at all of the work behind the scenes that goes into heading out on the mission field.  You don't just wake up one day and decide to head out....and then head out.  There is a lot of stuff that goes on in the background before you go anywhere. 

These books give you a sense of being there and seeing and hearing and even feeling what the subject of the book is feeling.  Whether it be confusion, rain, fear, get the sense of what Jim was feeling.

I think this was an eye opener for my kids that people really and truly died for Jesus....recently...not just in the long distant past.  You know? 

The companion study guide gives you a chance to dig deeper into lots of things like geography and scripture memorization, but also:

  • Student Explorations - essay writing, creative writing, hands-on projects, audio/visual projects, arts/crafts
  • Social Studies - reproducible maps, geography, terms/vocabulary, journey tracking, critical thinking
  • Bible Study - scripture memorization, devotional application, spiritual concepts
  • Community Links - meaningful field trips, guest speakers, service projects
  • Related Themes to Explore - missions, current events, life skills, math, government, science
  • Bibliography or Related Resources - books, movies, documentaries, magazine articles, websites
  • Culminating Event - project displays, cultural food, music, and activities, oral presentations

  • There are review questions, maps of Ecuador, vocabulary words all included in the study guide.  You get the idea....lots of stuff to do.

    I will be honest and tell you because of our move, we really only did some of the geography portions of the study guide and a little bit with some of the discussion about spiritual concepts and life application.  We kept it very simple.  Had it not been such a busy time for us, we could easily have really jumped in a lot deeper into the other things covered in the study guide and done a lot of hands on projects..

    Like the others in the Christian Heroes Then and Now series, this is a fascinating read all by itself.....even if you never touch the study guide.  But, you could do a whole unit study along with the book and learn a lot about Ecuador

    If you want to check out one of YWAM's products, but especially the Jim Elliot book that we used, you can get a "real" book for just $6.99.  It is also available in Nook and Kindle versions, if that is what you prefer.  If you want the additional Jim Elliot Curriculum Study Guide, that is  $7.49. 

    Find out what the other TOS  reviewers thought of the Jim Elliot book/study guide or the book/study guide on George Washington. Some of them did a lot of really cool activities from the study guides that we didn't have time for. 

    I highly recommend the Christian Heroes Then and Now series books and study guides, but especially the one on Jim Elliot.