Friday, February 26, 2010

Well, it used to be healthy (Chewy Granola Bars recipe)

I read a recipe for Homemade Chewy Granola Bars on the Frugal Family Fun Blog and thought they sounded good, but I didn't have most of the ingredients called for. Not even raisins. And I was a bit short on rolled oats. (Groceries tomorrow.)

But I did try them out, with the not-as-healthy ingredients that I did happen to have here--and they were still very good. I like the idea of the no-bake version; my baked bars have not always turned out so well, and these had a good texture--light and crispy, only a bit crumbly. FFFB also posted a followup to their original post, with other suggestions for variations.

This is what I did--we were going for sort of a S'Mores effect, especially with the crushed cereal. I think I remembered everything I put in them. A bit of peanut butter would have been good in the wet ingredients, but we were taking them to the community centre which is nut-free, so not this time.

Less-Healthy-but-Very-Tasty Chewy Granola Bars


2 cups oats (I had only about 1 2/3 cups)
1 cup Rice Krispies cereal
1 cup Quaker Corn Bran Squares Cereal
About 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips, divided
1 cup mini marshmallows
3/4 cup shredded coconut
2/3 cup brown sugar (or less--I found these pretty sweet)
1/4 cup honey
4 tbsp. margarine
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Prepare the dry ingredients as follows: Toast the rolled oats, dry, on a cookie sheet, for about 10 minutes (or less) at 400 degrees. Stir frequently and turn off the oven if they start to smell overdone. The reason you're toasting the rolled oats alone is because the bars are no-bake, and all the other dry ingredients don't need to be cooked.

Run the Corn Bran Squares through the food processor until they're broken up into smaller pieces. (Lacking this, you could whack them with something to break them up.)

In a large bowl, mix the broken-up Corn Bran Squares with all the other dry ingredients, including about a cup of the chocolate chips, except the rolled oats, which should still be toasting or at least keeping warm in the oven.

In a small sauce pan (non-stick is good if you use non-stick), combine the brown sugar, honey, margarine (or butter), and vanilla. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and it's all warmed through.

Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with waxed paper (I used a piece big enough to hang over the ends, to make removing the bars easier). Spray with non-stick spray or otherwise grease the waxed paper.

Mix the oats with the other dry ingredients and the wet mixture. Put the mixture into the prepared pan, using a wooden spoon or non-stick spatula. Even if you work quickly, you may find that the chocolate chips start to melt from the heat. If this happens and you want them to look more chocolate-chippy, press another half cup or so of chips into the top.

Take another piece of waxed paper and press the mixture down flat with it. Press down firmly to make sure the bars are well compacted. Let cool completely, about 2 hours; I put them in the freezer for the last half hour.

Cut into bars with a sharp knife.

A slight change to our book list

Ponytails, Crayons and I recently started reading The Adventures of Don Quixote, translated by J.M. Cohen and abridged by Olive Jones.

It started out all right--but a couple of chapters into it, I suddenly had to skip a whole section that was very very unsuitable for young maidens, and that jumped us right into a part about the nasty physical consequences of drinking homemade healing potions. Coming so soon after everyone's bout with a stomach virus, that was a bit more than we wanted to stomach.

We're going to start a new read-aloud on Monday.

Quote of the day

"I suppose one must make one's peace with cacophony."--Dr. Fugue (the piano teacher) on Arthur

A good book for a snowy day

Today there's so much snow here that you couldn't even see the front steps, much less walk down them. (Mama Squirrel fixed that--she's hoping for some packages, and anybody who's ever seen NFB's Special Delivery (a piece of animation for adults, not children) will know why you have to keep things clear for the mail carrier.

Anyway--if you're looking for snow books and your kids are a bit past The Snowy Day but maybe not ready for The Long Winter, here's a book that our Squirrelings enjoyed at that age: Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow. How could we not identify with a snow book that starts out with "Digging Out?" (The Oliver and Amanda books are structured like Frog and Toad, with four or five short stories in each one.)

And if you're really an expert on snow stories, you can always go back to our Carnival of Homeschooling: Snowed-In Edition, and see if you can identify the bits of books there. (Answers here.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's up with the CPSIA?

It's been a year, remember? And all that mandatory testing was supposed to be delayed for a year, remember?

Here's an update.

Felt food is fun

Felt food (for playing with, not for eating) seems to have gotten very popular lately.

You can buy it, of course.

But if you like to sew, there are lots of patterns online.

There are felt ravioli tutorials all over the place; here's one at One Inch World, along with one for farfalle (bowtie pasta).

A couple of other good links I've come across:

Helping Little Hands has been having a Felt Food Cook-Along. I especially like this banana.

Helping Little Hands also mentioned the list of felt foods in the sidebar at Felt-o-rama, including the Brown Bag Lunch at Skip to My Lou. (Yes, the bag is felt too.), and the original banana pattern at Just Stuff.

Also out of felt, but not "edible": Felt doll armchairs at One Inch World. Looks like lots of work, but they'd be a neat present for a little girl.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A ketchup kind of meal (What's for dinner?)

Dinner's from the freezer--we're low on fresh things.

Frozen cabbage rolls (a small package--they were on sale at Giant Tiger)
Frozen mini-sausages
Baked potatoes (last of the bag--they were getting soft)
Carrot sticks, sour cream, applesauce etc.
Fruity Oatmeal Muffins and Mango Freeze (recipes below)

Fruity Oatmeal Muffins, because the oven was already on at the right temperature:

2 scant cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup milk, swished with the bottom bits of two jars of peach and strawberry jam

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Correct flour if needed (I added a bit more.) Combine gently, scoop into muffin pan and bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Mango Freeze:

Part of a bag of frozen mango cubes (frozen fruit was on sale a couple of weeks ago)
3 small fruit yogurts

Run through the food processor until smooth and fluffed up. If you do this ahead of time, scoop into small dishes or one larger bowl and put back into the freezer until you want them.

George MacDonald on Making Things Better

From At The Back of the North Wind, which Crayons is reading with Mama Squirrel. The little boy Diamond is wakened in the night by the sounds of an inebriated neighbour and a crying baby, so he goes to see what he can do.
Now the way most people do when they see anything very miserable is to turn away from the sight, and try to forget it. But Diamond began as usual to try to destroy the misery....he knew he could do something to make the baby happy; for although he had only known one baby as yet, and although not one baby is the same as another, yet they are so very much alike in some things, and he knew that one baby so thoroughly, that he had good reason to believe he could do something for any other. I have known people who would have begun to fight the devil in a very different and a very stupid way. They would have begun by scolding the idiotic cabman; and next they would make his wife angry by saying it must be her fault as well as his, and by leaving ill-bred though well-meant shabby little books for them to read, which they were sure to hate the sight of; while all the time they would not have put out a finger to touch the wailing baby. But Diamond had him out of the cradle in a moment, set him up on his knee, and told him to look at the light. Now all the light there was came only from a lamp in the yard, and it was a very dingy and yellow light, for the glass of the lamp was dirty, and the gas was bad; but the light that came from it was, notwithstanding, as certainly light as if it had come from the sun itself, and the baby knew that, and smiled to it....

Better than lacing cards

I really like Filth Wizardry's idea for teaching young children embroidery. (And the giant needle threader is Genius.)

(Featured on Dollar Store Crafts.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's for supper? (Hold the tomatoes)

That subject line wasn't referring to throwing them--just eating them. To avoid the distress that pasta sauce causes to some Squirrels, Mama Squirrel made a spaghetti dinner tonight without tomato sauce. General recipe: brown a pound of ground chicken with chopped celery and mushrooms. Cook half a box, or a whole box, of spaghettini. Drain the pasta and put into the slow cooker. Top with the chicken-vegetable mixture, including all the pan juices. Season with pepper and oregano and add some cheese on top (we used uncoloured old Cheddar). Cook until the cheese is melted (if everything's already hot, it only takes an hour or so in the slow cooker). (If you'd rather put the whole thing in the oven, you can do that instead. Or just serve it immediately from the pan, if you're ready to eat. We weren't. We were busy shovelling snow.) Scoop it all out as is, or scoop the top part out into a serving bowl so that you can pull the pasta out separately.

If you don't want to dump everything in together and then have to unmix it afterwards, then just keep the pasta separate from the chicken and vegetables; cook it separately when you're ready to serve it.

We had this with the Hillbilly Housewife's Garlic Bread Sticks (leaving out the extra salt), carrot sticks, and sliced kiwi fruit for dessert.

Catching up--again

What's up with the Treehouse? (Did we find a new nest?)

No. But I'll be sure to mention it (preferably with fireworks) if we ever do.

What's the funniest website Mama Squirrel has come across lately?

Cake Wrecks, particularly this post which shows the dangers of following instructions a little too closely to the letter. But don't let your kids on there alone; some of the comments and photos aren't tasteful.

What is Mama Squirrel reading?

Non-school reading has been a bit slow lately other than a couple of Wendell Berry novels and a re-visit to Charlotte Mason's Home Education. However, Mama Squirrel has found that The Bible Reading Program for Slackers and Shirkers fits her reading style very well. (A PDF of the schedule is here.)

What is Crayons reading?

Every horse book she can find. She's also decorated her side of the Squirreling bedroom with horse colouring pages and all her horse toys. You would think almost a year after her Horse Party, she would have lost interest somewhat, but no. You might even think we actually had any horses around here.

What is The Apprentice looking forward to?

A Pi Day party. Pi Day is March 14th. Any guesses why?

How does Ponytails fool Mama Squirrel every time with those card tricks?

We just won't talk about that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What we did at co-op

(Click on the ship for more thoughts on co-ops; entries will be posted on Tuesday.)

(Followup to this post)

It turned out that a couple of the families with preschoolers were out with the same stomach virus that's been going around, and a couple of others are just away, so we had only five little ones today (ranging from ages two through six).

One of the moms (very bravely) read ALL the stories from Tell Me a Mitzi. (puff, pant)

Then we made clown puppets with plastic spoons, construction paper, tissue paper, markered faces, and odds and ends for trims. If you clip a spring clothespin on the bottom of the spoon handle, it gives the puppet a bit more height.

Then we read The Circus Baby, which is about clowns and a couple of misbehaving elephants.

Then they finished off the puppets.

And then they ate their snack and played in the gym.

The bigger kids had gym time, baked cookies, and started a new art unit about drawing comics. Usually both groups do music, but the music teacher was one of the ones not feeling well today.

Our co-op isn't big enough to have to be too formal--which is a good thing when the weather (and the viruses) can be unpredictable. It works for us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just read the story already

I was asked to do a story-and-craft session with the preschoolers at co-op tomorrow. I came across one book I liked, and thought I'd do a quick browse online to see if anyone had come up with fun activities to go with it. The book's been around for a long time, right? Some preschool teacher somewhere has probably used it for storytime.

This is the first thing that came up for it.

And that's why we homeschool.

(That also reminded me of the DHM's recent conversation with her young friend Blynken, where she refused to define a big word that she'd used. Sometimes we need more story, less explaining, right?)

P.S. I'm still deciding on a book. I'll let you know what I picked tomorrow.

Happy 5th Blogiversary to Us

And now the morning news with Mr. Koala (and his bag of milk)...

On February 18, 2005:

It was discovered that the tsunami resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake uncovered an ancient city near the coastal town of Mahabalipuram in India.

A man was arrested by Gardaí in the town of Passage West in County Cork, Ireland, after he was discovered attempting to burn sterling bank notes.

The UK Food Standards Agency orders the withdrawal of over 350 food products from sale following the discovery that a batch of chilli powder used to produce a batch of Worcestershire sauce subsequently used to produce processed foods was contaminated with the possibly carcinogenic dye Sudan I.

And we launched Dewey's Treehouse!

In the past five years we've had big messy snowstorms, big messy rainstorms, and one really big messy windstorm.

Our apple trees have gotten big enough to have real apples on them.

We've raked an awful lot of maple leaves.
We've also seen our Squirrelings grow much bigger, the Squirreling parents grow a few years older, and Dewey lose a little more of his nose. We've had some rocky times. We've had many reasons to give thanks.
We've won a Homeschool Blog Award, and some lovely reader-nominated ones.
We've made great blogging friends, even those we'll never meet in real life.

It's been a blast.

Photo credits: Mr. Fixit and Ponytails

Thirty Years Ago Today in Canadian History: He Took it Back

February 18, 1980

Canada - Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1919- defeats Joe Clark in the general election 146 seats to 103, with 32 for the NDP; wins majority government after nine months out of office; there are now no Liberal MPs west of Winnipeg. Only a few weeks earlier, Trudeau had announced he was retiring as Liberal Party leader.

Fifty Years Ago Today

February 18, 1960

Lake Tahoe California - Canadian team attends ceremonies as Vice President Richard M. Nixon opens the Eighth Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley; with 29 other nations and 665 competitors.

125 Years Ago Today in Literary History

February 18, 1885

USA - Mark Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Photo found here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent Devotions

This is a book we've had since the Apprentice was about Crayons' age. I remember going through it very faithfully one year in particular--I think it was nine or ten years ago--and making all the symbols, trying a lot of the recipes and crafts. I think we might still have some of our symbols in the bottom of a box of decorations--I'll have to pull the box out and see.

The only "funny" thing about this book is that there are no devotions or activities for the Sundays of Lent. If you follow it straight through ("Day 2," "Day 3," etc.), you'll wind up short. The reason? Sundays aren't technically part of Lent--they're "little Easters." So on Sundays, you're on your own. But I think that might work out all right here, because we usually skip family activities on Thursdays when the Apprentice is working.

Today's activity is supposed to be carving a bar of soap into the shape of a cross, a reminder that our sins were "washed away." We usually use liquid soap, so I was thinking about decorating the pump containers instead. We'll see how it goes--everybody is still feeling a bit tentative today after a couple of Very Yuck sick days.

For Ash Wednesday

Messages left in the ashes--from the Voskamp family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blog Cruise: Don't let the baby eat the lesson

The Review Crew question for this week is "How do you homeschool with children of multiple ages? How do you handle toddlers?" (Click on the ship to see more entries--they will be posted on Tuesday.)

Right now we have a middle schooler and a third grader--no toddlers or preschoolers. But I've been there too.

This year, we're using a modified version of Sue Patrick's Workbox system for the girls' individual work (including subjects with Mama Squirrel); each girl has a series of boxes or magazine files holding the work that's to be done next. We try to get together at least once, preferably twice during each school day for group readalouds and other activities. Since we don't have any "littles" who need to be constantly supervised, things usually go fairly smoothly. The girls don't do a lot of subjects together, but if there's something appropriate for both (like nature study) then we do it in "group time." I do try to streamline the amount of reading aloud I do, which means either asking the girls to read some of their own books, or just cutting back on the total number of readings we get done per day.

But school with little ones around? That's a different story. If you have toddlers (say 18-month-olds), about all I can say is be prepared for lots of noise, and try not to let them empty the bookshelves. We actually had to move school up to the (less-distracting) living room for awhile while one of the Squirrelings was in her See Me Empty Shelves phase. Some people use a toddler's nap time for serious school work, but at that point sometimes you feel like you need a nap yourself, so that doesn't always work. Just do whatever works--distract them, include them, use toys, get them to stay in a defined area, use a sibling babysitter for as long as a math lesson takes--and realize that, sooner or later, each of these little people is going to be part of the homeschool group too.

They absorb way more than you'd think, just being part of things (in our case, that included part of a Lauri puzzle and a speedily-intercepted meal of magnetic words. Our Cuisenaire rods also have teeth marks in them.) When Crayons was born and our midwife came over for a post-natal visit, she was a bit startled to hear preschooler Ponytails talking about Mozart and Vivaldi (she called him Baldy, but that's all right).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just for Crayons: Mama Squirrel's favourite horse story

Someone else has been thinking about the hard-to-find Pamela and the Blue Mare.

Catching up (and Happy St. Valentine's Day)

Last week wasn't a very bloggish week. The weather stayed mostly dry (around here, although not in a lot of other places!) and we did all the usual Squirrel stuff. Mr. Fixit has continued to work on cleaning out some of the dark recesses of the Tree, coming up with some of the most amazing stuff that had dropped down down down. He even managed to find our kids' harp which had gotten (for some reason) put up on one of the joists of the furnace room ceiling (where we keep kites, leaves for the dining table and things like that).

Mama Squirrel went to a church social and played Mennonite Golf, which you don't find mentioned online too much because its proper name is Ten Card Golf. It's one of those very social games like Uno or Cheat that you can learn in a few minutes (because it's easy for other people to help you if you don't have a clue what you're doing), and it can take all evening if you want it to. Although it was cards instead of marbles, it reminded me of the big wooden Aggravation boards that my own Grandpa Squirrel made maybe thirty years ago, much like these. I still have one of his boards, and remember long evenings spent eating snacks and playing "the marble game" with my grandparents and whoever else was around.

Crayons and Ponytails both used the sewing machine, Crayons for the first time by herself. Mama Squirrel helped her make a felt doll pillow and then a fabric book cover--Crayons sewed all the seams. Ponytails experimented with the fancy stitches that Mama Squirrel never has time for, and dressed up a dish towel with machine-embroidered scallops. (An afterthought about that...we have two volumes of a popular children's sewing machine series, which spends a lot of time having kids follow mazes on paper and do non-fabric crafts to get them used to the machine. Crayons and I read through the first book, but she was distinctly uninterested in anything that didn't actually involve "sewing something." The Real Thing. Mama Squirrel had no problem with that.)

We went to a library sale which wasn't at a library, it was at one of their "service buildings," which basically means a warehouse, and that's what it was--boxes of books all over the place, stacked up on racks and in big wobbly piles, with strollers blocking the aisles, toddlers running in between the boxes, and little kids crawling under the racks with parents calling things after them like "do you see any books on renovation under there?" We did find a few books, but it wasn't the sort of place where you wanted to stay very long.

Monday is the Family Day holiday in Ontario. We're not sure yet how we're going to spend it...stomach viruses are still making their way around this area and have criss-crossed through the Treehouse more than once, so we're keeping things open.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Today's must-read post

Reading Like a Grownup, at A Peaceful Day.

(But Jeanne--could I point out that, though it's beside your point of having adults read books that aren't written for children (notice I avoided saying "a---t books"--oops, I just did)--that the list of books you're reading with Jemimah--Swallows & Amazons etc.--is way more than a lot of today's kids are ever going to get? Seems to me that one of the best ways to get them to eventually move on to "grownup books" is to give them the foundation you're building now.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We know all about those Barbie Breaks

Baby Blues has been running a thread about homeschooling. Here's today's strip. You can click on "previous" to see the buildup to "we want Mom to homeschool us."

UPDATE October 2010: the link has changed. You can see the strip here instead.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We do make dinner, so there

I was so annoyed with that "nobody cooks" news story that I spent extra time cooking today. We got a good dinner and I probably won't even have to cook tomorrow night. Double stars.

What did we have?

Bread from the bread machine. A big pan of brownies, half of which went in the freezer for Valentine's Day. Apples.

1 slab of frozen Alaskan Pollock, baked in a casserole with some no-salt seasoning mix and margarine.

1 butternut squash, cut up, and 1 sweet potato, cut up, both put into another casserole with some water and baked along with the fish.

Half a can of pasta sauce, most of a bag of spinach (rinsed), a few mushrooms, and two zucchini (sliced thick), all put into a small casserole and baked along with the fish and squash and sweet potato, to make a sort of ratatouille.

Now this is the tricky part, or maybe not so much. About twenty minutes before we wanted to eat, I took the casserole of vegetables out and noticed that a) they were done and b) there was a lot of liquid from the pasta sauce and the vegetable juices. I drained off the liquid and put it in a pot on the stove, and added a drained/rinsed can of kidney beans and some ditali (small pasta rings), thinking I would just let that simmer and have it be minestrone for tomorrow. I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on the spinach/mushrooms/zucchini and kept it warm until everything else was done.

What actually happened, though, was that by the time we ate, the beans were warmed through and the pasta was done, and most of the liquid was absorbed too. So we just ate the beans/pasta along with the vegetables, and the fish, and your choice of squash/sweet potato, and the bread, and the brownies. If you didn't like something, you didn't have to take any.

And we do have leftovers, but that's fine too.

All in the attitude

Crayons and I are reading At the Back of the North Wind. The boy Diamond's father has had to find work in the city, which means moving to a small, shabby apartment over the mews where he parks his cab. Diamond, his mother and the new baby have been away staying with his aunt, and they are now arriving at their new home for the first time.
IT WAS late in the afternoon when Diamond and his mother and the baby reached London....when he got to the mews, he could not help being a little dismayed at first; and if he had never been to the back of the north wind, I am afraid he would have cried a little. But instead of that, he said to himself it was a fine thing all the old furniture was there. And instead of helping his mother to be miserable at the change, he began to find out all the advantages of the place; for every place has some advantages, and they are always better worth knowing than the disadvantages. Certainly the weather was depressing, for a thick, dull, persistent rain was falling by the time they reached home. But happily the weather is very changeable; and besides, there was a good fire burning in the room, which their neighbour with the drunken husband had attended to for them; and the tea-things were put out, and the kettle was boiling on the fire. And with a good fire, and tea and bread and butter, things cannot be said to be miserable.

We're forgetting what we knew

In today's news: more and more Canadians are depending more and more on packaged dinners.

Wow, like, who knew?

This is the part I didn't like:
"NPD analyst Joel Gregoire said most households see food in a practical utilitarian way and the economic downturn doesn't appear to have had a major impact on spending for packaged foods at the grocery store.

""What this tells me is that even in tough economic times, people really are still looking for convenience," he said in an interview.

""Just because times are getting tough doesn't mean we're all turning into Julia Childs and we're all learning how to cook.""
What's with the Julia Child snark? I don't do French cooking either, and I manage to get dinner on the table. Last night The Apprentice came home from school and, in a burst of creativity as well as sympathy for Mama Squirrel whose tail was dragging a bit, she offered to cook dinner. What did she make? Chicken breasts with paprika, mushroom and sour cream sauce (from the Beany Malone Cookbook); salad, and whole wheat toast triangles. All the Squirrelings liked it, and so did Mr. Fixit when he came home (much) later (he's had a couple of late nights at the office, dealing with phone systems and computer problems).

And that's from a girl who spends more time perusing chemistry textbooks and hair magazines than she does food blogs. Who needs to be Julia Child? We're just forgetting what we used to know, and those coming along behind are going to be even more clueless. Do we want a whole generation asking at what point we, figuratively, add the playdough? (Or worse--not wondering at all?)

We have slow cookers. We have microwaves. We have frying pans. Some of us even have pressure cookers. There are ways to get real food on the table. Keep trying; you don't have to be the French Chef.

Monday, February 08, 2010

You too, on the Crew?

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has announced some of its plans for next year--and they'll be looking for new crew members. Some of you have asked me how we got involved in this year's Crew, or how you can enlist your own family (because it really does become a family commitment); so here's what you need to know if you'd like to be considered.

How come your kids don't know that?

The Review Crew has started a sort of mini-carnival each week, with a homeschooling question to answer. The question for this week is "How do you know if your kids are keeping up with their peers?" (Click on the ship to see more entries--they will be posted on Tuesday.)
I guess you could rephrase that "How do you know they know what they're supposed to know?"

I've never worried much about that. First of all, it depends on who's making the list of what kids are supposed to know. Maybe their list isn't the same as mine, but who's to say that theirs is better, even if "they" might be the provincial government? Better for whom? I was never that interested in having standardized kids.

Second, even people who have gone through a whole education system have often missed something. Or a lot of things. How else to account for all those surveys that show how many of us don't know the most basic facts of geography, or physics, or about the Bible? I was reading something just this weekend from someone in New Mexico who kept having phone order takers insist that New Mexico wasn't a state. Someone else added that they'd had similar trouble living in Delaware.
Third, even if we do miss something, it's usually fairly easy to fill in or catch up. I may have posted before about Ponytails' teacher last year (when she was in public school) having a "thing" about graphing--it's not something we spend a lot of formal time on here, but it doesn't take a lot of time to explain. When The Apprentice started tenth-grade math in public high school, we had covered most of the elementary algebra topics at home (mostly using and a couple of library books), but again hadn't done much co-ordinate geometry. She knew the concepts as far as quadratic equations; just had somehow missed out on the "rise over run" part. But no big deal--have you ever known a high school course not to start with a quick review of last year's work? She caught up quickly and has gotten high marks in math ever since.
Finally, the Squirrelings (and most other homeschooled kids I know of) usually know about a lot of interesting things that aren't on the "standardized" list, or sometimes aren't even in the homeschool plan. Crayons just called me a few minutes ago to say that a whole bunch of chickadees were outside the window. She got all interested awhile back in John Haywood's Atlas of Past Times. (She's also one of the youngest kids I know who can tell you about "a master bedroom with an ensuite." Too much experience with open houses?) Ponytails' grade seven curriculum includes logic, money management, photography, nineteen-century world history, French verbs, and Plutarch's Life of Poplicola; but she's also following her own interests, right now mostly in things like design. She also made us ham and cheese crepes for lunch.
So do I ever get worried enough to look through the provincial standards and wonder if we're doing it wrong? Honestly, no--well, hardly ever. With Ponytails being home right now for one or maybe two more years before high school, yes, I did have a look through the middle school topics. I printed out the guidelines for French, and considered whether or not it would be worthwhile adjusting our history and science to include what the public schools were doing. (We decided not to.) But we were more interested in using this time to work on what Ponytails needs to work on. And what she's interested in. And what our homeschool curriculum suggests. That's more than good enough, in Mama Squirrel's opinion.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fun Gift: Valentine Strawberries (non-edible)

Old Days Old Ways has a neat craft idea: Valentine Strawberries from red print fabric scraps.

Math Mammoth (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week
Math Mammoth Home Page
Free Samples Download
Placement Tests
FAQ (including ordering information)

"Fully reproducible math workbooks
and worktexts for grades 1-12.
Incredibly affordable!"

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we would be trying out Maria Miller's Math Mammoth series with Crayons this term. We received both grade 3 books in the Light Blue Series (more specifics on the grade 3 books here), and I printed out the first chapter.

"The first chapter in this book deals with addition and subtraction strategies. The student does a lot of mental math, learns addition and subtraction terminology, touches on algebraic problems in the lesson about addition/subtraction connection, practices borrowing, and more."

What else do you do in Grade 3? "Then we tackle the multiplication concept in chapter 2. After that come multiplication tables in chapter 3, so multiplication does take a big part of book A. Then comes a chapter about clock and time (chapter 4) and a chapter about money (chapter 5).

"In part B, we study place value with thousands (chapter 6), then measuring and geometry (chapters 7 and 8), followed by division in chapter 9. In chapter 10, we study a little about multiplying bigger numbers, and finally in chapter 11, it is time for some introductory fraction and decimal topics."

Why do I like this so far? As I've said before, I like the three-year curriculum we've been using with Crayons, but in its final year it does get a bit esoteric with Fibonacci numbers, measurement, and graphing concepts--and I've felt that she really did need more work this year on basics. I wanted to be sure that those arithmetic "acorns" she'd stored up didn't get buried under a lot of other leaves and nuts--nice leaves and nuts, but not what she most needs right now.
It might be that Timmy-Tiptoes part of being a Squirrel: dropping those nuts down deep through the hole in the tree, but not being sure exactly what went down there, or how you're going to get them out again later.--previous Treehouse post
I also like the balance we're getting between a bit of "mom teaching time" and then a reasonable amount of problems for Crayons to do alone--this works very well with the way we like to learn here, and seems to go at about the right pace. I like the uncluttered feeling I get when we work through these pages--they're not fancy, but they offer enough variety to keep things interesting, and include self-checking activities like finding all the answers in a long line of numerals. (If the answer isn't in there, you did it wrong.)

"When you use these books as your only or main mathematics curriculum, they can be like a "framework", but you do have some liberty in organizing the study schedule....This curriculum aims to concentrate on a few major topics at a time and study them in depth....This is opposite to the continually spiraling step-by-step curricula in which each lesson typically is about a different topic from the previous or next lesson, and includes a lot of review problems from past topics. This does not mean that your child wouldn't need occasional review. However, when each major topic is presented in its own chapter, this gives you more freedom to plan the course of study and choose the review times yourself."

This works for us.

An important question for our family: do you need a colour printer? In the third-grade workbooks I downloaded, the colours do make the pages prettier; but they also seem to work fine in black and white. If you're looking for material for younger children, you might want to check out the samples for those years to see if you want them done in colour. [Update, October 2010: We printed out the 3B book in colour because it has several chapters about geometry, measurement etc. which use pictures of rulers, measuring cups and other things that show up better with different colours.]

What is Math Mammoth like in general?

Math Mammoth offers a whole array of downloadable workbooks, from full curriculum, to collections of worksheets on single topics. At first the different series may seem confusing, but the website pretty much explains the differences, for example, between the Blue and the Light Blue books. The Blue series is more remedial or supplemental; Light Blue is designed as a full, largely self-teaching curriculum for grades 1-5.

What is there for older students? Very glad you asked: check out the middle-school and high-school stuff here, including the Make-It-Real series of workbooks. "Make It Real Learning products are workbooks that contain activities or problem situations taken from real-life, with real data. Some examples of the situations are: cell phone plans, autism, population growth, cooking, borrowing money, credit cards, life spans, music downloads, etc. etc. Each activity-lesson starts with basics and goes into more in-depth and challenging evaluations and questions."

What does this cost? It all depends on how much you want to get at one time. You can get the whole Light Blue series, for example--that is, all five grades plus answer keys, a worksheet maker etc.--for US$99 as a download or $104 on CD. Prices of one year's Light Blue curriculum (including the support materials) vary slightly between the Math Mammoth page (it says there they are $29.50) and the Kagi store download page (it's listed there as $33.36). You can also order printed workbooks through General ordering information is here.

Final Take: Over the past few years, I've often noticed Math Mammoth's generosity in offering samples and prizes (I've won a couple of their other products myself), and their interest in working with homeschoolers. I think it's their flexibility that seems to make them a good choice for homeschooling--you can get what you need to start with, get more pages or more help if you need it, and even make up some of your own stuff with the support materials. There is no fancy encryption or stuff that makes printing limited or difficult. And the book we're using has been pretty much print-out-and-use--there's no big learning curve for the parent. I don't know how the materials for the upper years compare to other curricula, but I'd certainly include them in the possibilities for math in the years to come.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew Home Page. [2012 update: sorry, the reviews there have all been moved.]

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Homeschooling with Remaindered Books (Volume 2)

Last year I did a post about picking homeschool-friendly books out of the discount/overstock/remaindered book catalogue we get each month or so from Hampstead House Books in Thornhill, Ontario (near Toronto). I got their new catalogue today and thought there were enough good school-type books in there to do another post on finding non-traditional stuff to teach with. The inventory at HH Books changes all the time, and by the time I get this typed, some of the books may already be sold out; the point of the post is more just to show what kinds of things you could look for if you get catalogues from places like HH. It might also give you ideas for books to look for at the library.

Since HH isn't a homeschool catalogue and its books aren't marked by grade level, I'll do what I did last year and roughly divide things between littlest kids, grades 3-6, and grades 7+. The same warnings apply as always: I'm just looking at the catalogue, I'm not necessarily familiar with all these books, and if there's something inappropriate in one of them, it's not my fault. It's sometimes hard to tell, even if I can find better descriptions somewhere online.

Littlest Ones

The Klondike Cat, by Julie Lawson. Little Ballerina (about dancing in The Nutcracker). Whale. A Child's Treasury of Best-Loved Prayers.

Grades 3-6

Language skills: Winnie the Pooh: The Pooh Dictionary. Berlitz Kids Adventures with Nicholas: A Visit to Grandma (bilingual French/English story and CD).

Literature: Hiawatha and Megissogwon. Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World. Ramona the Brave. Boys and Girls of Bookland. Narnia Classic Editions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. The Complete Chronicles of Narnia (all in one volume). Pleasant Fieldmouse (strangely enough, that was in the catalogue I searched through last year). Dick Whittington and His Cat. 4-CD set of Prince Caspian, read by Lynn Redgrave.

Nature Study: The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

Geography: Idaa Trail: In the Steps of Our Ancestors. The Kingfisher Student Atlas of North America.

Sports History: The Kid Line (a hockey story).

Canadian History: Catherine Parr Traill: Backwoods Pioneer (preteen biography). Alexander Mackenzie (same bio series).

World History: CAstle: Medieval Days and Knights (pop-up and pull-out book by Robert Sabuda).

History of Technology: Oars, Sails and Steam, by Edwin Tunis. (That's a homeschool classic!)

Family History: The Art of the Family Tree Kit.

Art History: see the older level.

Art and Crafts: You Can Draw.

Music: see the older level.

Just for Fun: Puzzellations Magical Gardens. The Amazing Family Game Board Book.

Grades 7 and up

Language: Maximum French (CDs and CD-Rom). The Dictionary of Disagreeable English. Why do We Say It?

Literature: The Mouse Woman Trilogy (Haida legends retold by Christie Harris). The Complete James Herriot boxed set. The Dog in British Poetry. Boxed set of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera. The Lakeland Poets.

Nature: Timeless Wonders: A Fantastic Journey Through the World's Natural Beauties. Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America.

History of Technology: The Encyclopedia of Ships.

History of Science: Milestones of Science: The History of Humankind's Greatest Ideas.

Science Biography: Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Story of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist.

Geography: Maps of North America: The Unveiling of our Continent. Exploring Canada's National Parks. Spirit of the Polar Regions. Philip's Quick Reference World Atlas. Satellite World. Geographica: The Complete Illustrated Atlas of the World.

Canadian History: Haidi Gwaii: Journeys Through the Queen Charlotte Islands. Native Universe: Voices of Indian America. The Acadians.

Sports History: As the Puck Turns: A Personal Journey Through the World of Hockey.

World History: Historica, 1000 Years of Our lives and Times (this is huge, 576 pages). Atlas of World War II. (Lots more war books too.) Battles of the Medieval World. Simon Schama's A History of Brtain at the Edge of the World. William and Mary (biography). Ancient Rome: Voyages Through Time, by Peter Ackroyd. (That one might be suitable for younger readers as well.)

Art History: Inside the Vatican. Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting & Architecture. El Greco. Art Master Series: Durer, Raphael, Van Der Weyden.

Home Skills: First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats. Joey Green's Fix-it Magic. Joey Green's Gardening Magic. Make It Last: Over 1,000 Ingenious Ways to Extend the Life of Everything You Own. How to Zest A Lemon: Basic Cooking Techniques.

Physical Education: 6 Minute Morning Workout.

Art and Crafts: Decorating Eggs: 15 projects. Beautiful Crochet for Head, Hands and Feet. (Lots of other adult-level craft books.) Pop-up and 3-D Cards. Fleecie Dolls. Fleecie Pets. Painting Nature's Treasures. (Lots of books on painting and drawing.)

Music: Who's Afraid of Opera? Who's Afraid of Classical Music? The Complete Gilbert and Sullivan. Mozart: Letters & Manuscripts.

Are we going to order anything this month? Still thinking about it.

Beehive Reader (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

Beehive Reader 1: Description and customer reviews, ordering information
See inside the book
Correlation with All About Spelling
All About Spelling Home Page

If you've followed the TOS reviews here, you'll already know that we like the All About Spelling program, written by Marie Rippel.

Review Crew members recently received a copy of Beehive Reader 1, by Marie Rippel with Renée LaTulippe, which was written to correlate with All About Spelling (see the link above). The book, published in 2009 by Takeaway Press, has already won a Moonbeam Children's Book Award, and from the customer comments it sounds like it has been a hit with both young and older children. More readers and a teacher's guide are in production and should be available by the end of this year.

You don't need to be using All About Spelling to use the Beehive Reader 1 with a beginning or struggling reader; the stories are fun to read by themselves, not too babyish, and the black-and-white illustrations are appealing. Because it was designed to work with AAS lessons, the vocabulary isn't as limited as some of the old sight-word readers; but it's less hit and miss than some of the commercial beginning-reader books. Great attention has been paid to making the hardcover book beginning-reader-friendly: the paper is non-glare, the words have subtle underlining for those with tracking difficulties, and the line breaks try to make phrasing as natural as possible.

Crayons doesn't need a practice reader, but she enjoyed the stories anyway. Her favourite was "Frank Shrank." When I asked her about it, she practically recited the whole story back to me.

Cost: $19.95 from the publisher.

For more reviews of Beehive Reader 1 and All About Spelling, see the Review Crew home page.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This book was received free for review purposes. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Treehouse dinner: empty the freezer

What did we have for dinner tonight?

1 bag of ravioli (quick sale for $1 a bag), cooked and then heated in a casserole with some pre-cooked ground beef (from yesterday's dinner) and half a can of pasta sauce. Treehouse adaptation: by layering instead of stirring, those who don't like much tomato sauce could scoop their ravioli from the top.

Frozen peas (end of the bag)
Frozen french fries (end of the bag)
Reheated sweet potatoes

Pear and apple crisp made with a can of pears and four chopped apples, 1/2 cup of flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, sprinkle of cinnamon, 1 cup rolled oats, and 1 shredded wheat biscuit.

Math Tutor DVDs (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week
Math Tutor DVD Home Page
About Jason Gibson (the Math Tutor)
Sample clips to watch

From the website:

Math Tutor DVD offers Math Help via DVD tutorials in all subject areas.
What makes our video DVD tutorial content different?
- Money Back Guarantee!
- Taught through example problems.
- No boring lectures.
- Immediately helps with homework.
- Improves exam taking skills.
- In-depth, detailed courses.
- Courses are inexpensive.

- #1 Best Selling tutorial DVDs in their respective subjects!

We received two DVDs to review: "Young Minds--Numbers and Counting" and "The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor." Those links give you very thorough descriptions, screen shots, samples and so on.

Obviously "Numbers and Counting" wasn't something our own Squirrelings (grade three and up) could use...and Mama Squirrel has mixed feelings about letting baby Squirrels spend a lot of time watching people count things on a DVD, even with beautiful music and photography. It seems to her that little ones would do better learning to count real objects--cars in the parking lot, spoons for the table, acorns in the bowl and so on. However, this DVD has won several awards (and, according to the site, has appeared on the Rachael Ray show!), so obviously there are parents and educators who disagree. If you want "brighter baby" material to run on your DVD player, this is certainly eye-catching and well produced.

On the other hand, we really liked "The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor." It came at just the right time for our middle schooler who has been doing a lot of geometry but needed to review upper-elementary arithmetic. This is not hi-tech stuff; there's no music, no fish photography, no distraction: it's a teacher and a whiteboard. Ponytails whizzed through the first few lessons (operations with whole numbers and decimals) but found that the work on fractions, percents, and ratio and proportion was just what she needed. It took her about three weeks to get through the 15-lesson, 8-hour series.

As the website says, there is no abstract theory in these lessons. "Every section is taught entirely by example word problems which helps the students learn these skills in the most efficient way possible." Ponytails thought that Mr. Gibson explained things pretty well, especially the percents section, and the lessons went at a good pace. The one small thing that both she and Mr. Fixit (who watched some of the lessons with her) noticed was that there were several small errors, typos, verbal slips and so on that could have been fixed with a bit of editing. You knew he really meant to say "six minus six equals zero" instead of "six minus zero equals zero" or whatever it was, but it would have been less distracting if the errors had been caught beforehand.

Overall, we were pleased with this product, and think it's a good choice for review work. We'd consider purchasing the upper-level math or science DVDs if we have high-school-aged Squirrelings (at home or at public school) who need a boost. (You might also check the library for some of the titles.)

The Price: "The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor": List Price $34.99, Our Price [that is, from their website] $26.99. "Young Minds--Numbers and Counting": List Price $29.99, Our Price $19.99.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

FactsFirst (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

FactsFirst sign-in page
Ordering Page
Demo Page

"The factsfirst™ online math program builds math confidence and helps children develop instant recall of basic facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Children are engaged in performance-based learning through interactive, real-world scenarios that make math facts meaningful and fun....In just minutes a day, factsfirst enables children to build computational fluency to build a strong math foundation and to focus on higher-order problem solving skills."

What's this about? This has been one of Crayons' favourite math websites so far. It is distributed by Saxon Math, but was created by Skills Tutor. It's geared for younger children, and teaches only basic number facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). The cuteness and girl-friendly factors are high here: kids get a customizable avatar (you pick the clothes, you pick the hair etc.) who shows up in many of the lesson scenarios.

Ease of beginning: There are no pre-tests or required assessments; nothing to download here. You just sign in, create your avatar, and start the first lesson.

How it works: Students aren't expected to master many facts at once; when we started with addition, I was somewhat surprised that only two facts were taught in each story-type lesson. After each lesson, the student gets several minutes of drill (which, depending on your child's stamina and ability with the number pad, may be either a bit tedious or a bit frustrating), and then five minutes of "arcade time," which can also be used to work on the avatar. A warning: those five minutes go fast, and you can't freeze things while you look up game instructions or deal with other distractions. Some kids, especially at the beginning, might not be too happy if they feel they're getting "cheated" out of their five minutes of play.

After a few sessions with addition facts, I had Crayons switch to multiplication, which seemed more suitable for her grade level. You can decide which operation to work on each time you log in, and the computer keeps track of which facts you have completely mastered and which ones you still need some work on.

What does this cost? US$49.99 for a one-year household subscription (up to four children).

Final take: At first I was concerned that the fun/play image of the site outweighed the math learning; but considering the focus on mastery (including the fact matrix), and the proportion of drill time to game time, I'm reassured about that. In fact, as I said above, some children might even find the amount of drill required to earn arcade time to be too frustrating. However, Crayons says she really does like this program, and, if she had the choice, would like to continue with it.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew Home Page.

Dewey's Disclaimer: The trial membership for this product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling: What Matters Most

As For My House hosts this week, with a thoughtful theme that puts things in perspective.

What's Today?

Happy Groundhog Day!


Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Stuff CMers Like Edition

Welcome to the Groundhog's Day/Candlemas edition of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival! If Coffeemama had been hosting, she'd probably have made it the Winter Olympics Edition. But since I couldn't choose between them, I decided to make it the Stuff CMers Like Edition. A little of everything, and we'll start with the most thought-provoking education quote I read this week, from Wendell Berry's novel Hannah Coulter (review and excerpts here):
"[Danny and Lyda, a farming couple] wanted the children to study and learn and behave themselves reasonably well, but I don't think they felt any pressure from the future. I don't think they had the idea that they owed it to the children to send them to college.

"When the children got old enough to quit school, if they wanted to quit, they were allowed to do as their father had done....Every one of them seemed to have a perfect faith in the education they got ouside of school, which they didn't even call 'education.' Out of school, they learned what they evidently thought they needed most to know: to keep house, to raise a garden or a crop, to care for livestock, to break a mule or shoe one, to fix a motor and almost anything else, to hunt, fish, trap, preserve a hide, hive a swarm, cook or preserve anything edible, and to take pleasure in such things. To learn things they didn't know, they asked somebody or they read books....When they need to, they do a little custom work on the side, they trade and contrive and make do, getting by and prospering both at once. It doesn't seem to bother them that while they are making crops and meat and timber, other people are making only money...."
Lizzie presents School Update posted at A Dusty Frame.

Coffeemamma presents Winter Homeschooling, posted at A New Day.

The Holistic Homeschooler presents Year in Review: A Charlotte Mason Curriculum (and a thank you!).


Adventures On Beck's Bounty presents Daily Effort Of Education.

Apples and Jammies presents Just Do It.


Queen of Carrots presents "Teaching" Reading and Writing, posted at Introducing the World. "CM comments that a child may have taught himself to read and write before six, but that it shall been when and how he chooses. This post gives details of how I support my preschoolers' desire to read and write in a way that lays a good foundation for the future without pressuring them."

Our Crazy Adventures in autismland! presents Gotta love the zone! "This is what we are doing to work in our child's zone and help him to learn."


Sage Parnassus presents Motto (etymology: Italian, from Late Latin "muttum" - grunt!). "This post discusses CM and The Sacredness of Personality from Vol. 6, Chapter 4."


Sacred Appetite presents The habit of paying attention (or not) and the role of eating in forming it (or not). "One daily opportunity to teach children the habit of attention is at the table, where there a dozens of way to train them for better or worse."


Established Work presents A Broad Education--The Arts, featuring composer Jean Sibelius.


Dewey's Treehouse presents Who was Herr Cižek? A puzzle for CMers.


Jeanne presents Living geography, posted at A peaceful day.


The Holistic Homeschooler presents Charlotte Mason: All About the Books?.

Sage Parnassus presents Firsts (about beginning narration).


Here's a little more from "Danny and Lyda's school of parenting":
"The children were allowed to be as rowdy as they pleased as long as they were outdoors. And outdoors they had pretty much the run of the place, along with a regular zoo of cats and dogs, orphan calves and lambs, pet coons and squirrels and groundhogs. They followed the grownups around at work. They played with Danny's tools and whatever was cast off and lying around: old wheels or tires or inner tubes or rope or string or pieces of chain. When they went into the house they were expected to quiet down, 'for the sake of survival,' and they did. And that didn't mean that they sat in front of the television, either. It meant that they read or played quietly or went to sleep. The older ones helped with the younger ones. They played at work until they old enough to work, and then they worked. This is what Lyda and Danny expected of them, and this seems to have been what they expected of themselves."
Bugs, Knights, and Turkeys in the Yard presents Play the CM Way....


AnnieKate presents Winter Bird Study: Preparing for the Great Backyard Bird Count posted at Tea Time with Annie Kate.

Adventures On Beck's Bounty is also participating in the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.


The Mommy Earth presents October Nature Walk.
"[Danny] would follow Burley for hours, hunting or rambling in the woods, Burley saying almost nothing, Danny nothing at all. Danny grew up with the knowledge of the old economy of the natural world that, for nothing and for pleasure, yielded in its seasons game and fish and nuts and berries and herbs and marketable might say that Danny....gathered the woods and waters into his homelife as a robin gathers mud and straw into her nest."

In the Sparrow's Nest posted February Nature Notables. (Sorry we missed that one!)

That's the end of this edition of the CM Blog Carnival! Thanks, Jamie, for inviting us to host this time. The next edition will be hosted on February 16th at Established Work, and you can submit your posts here.

If you're into groundhogs

Wiarton Willie--our Ontario weatherhog.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Hey, I hadn't even thought of that angle (CPSIA)

If you can't MAKE yarn goods (like knitted hats) for children's use without having them tested etc. etc....

Then how are you even supposed to teach children under twelve to knit or sew or crochet or whatever in the first place? They're handling the tools. They're handling the textiles. That big bad ball of yarn has joined the criminal element.

Overlawyered explains more.

And I suppose it stands to reason that a lot of other handicrafts would be just as suspect--Scouts doing woodworking, kids using certain kinds of paints...even maybe some of those favourite craft-class recyclables...

The net pulls a little tighter.

Who was Herr Cižek? A puzzle for CMers

"Forms V and VI are asked to,––"Describe, with study in sepia, Corot's 'Evening.'" Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child's reverence for great work. We are shy in speaking of what we do in actual drawing since Herr Cizek came among us and shewed what great things children could do with scarcely any obvious teaching and but little suggestion. But probably such work is only to be done under the inspiration of an artist of unusual powers and I am writing for teachers who depend upon their children rather than upon themselves." --Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, page 216

Wikipedia says that Franz Cižek (12 June 1865 – 17 December 1946) "was an Austrian genre and portrait painter as well as a teacher and reformer of art education."

"Cizek regarded himself as a man liberating children from slavery to copying. Adult influences were banned from the Juvenile Art Class; Cizek considered that these were actually harmful. He did not allow pictures by adults although pictures by children were constantly displayed. His pupils were expected to rely only on their own memory and imagination."--from "Christmas: pictures by children, 1922 Special Collections featured item for December 2006" by Ruth Gooding, Cataloguer

Some of the children's Christmas-themed paintings are included in that link, and they're amazing.

Does that theory contradict the idea of having children do picture study of famous paintings by adults, and sometimes do quick memory sketches of them? Apparently not completely, since Miss Mason seemed impressed by what Cižek had brought to art education.

But she also seemed to be saying that our own limitations might force us to adopt a different approach to art instruction--possibly in the same way that a teaching parent who isn't fluent in French would have to approach lessons differently from a native speaker, or someone a little shy of the outdoors would do nature walks from a different perspective from a born naturalist. A symphony musician will likely depend less on commercial music education materials than someone who needs everything spelled out. I kind of like Miss Mason's thought here that "I am writing for teachers who depend upon their children rather than upon themselves." I think she's saying that we're not all going to be able to offer our children such a magical experience as classes with Herr Cižek. Or--we're not going to be able to treat ourselves to an education class with Charlotte Mason!

And some people take that as an argument against homeschooling at all. Shouldn't everything be taught by specialists, experts, people who have made each subject their life's joy?

As homeschoolers, we may sometimes lack live, right-here teachers; but the world of books, not to mention DVDs, television, radio and the Internet, is open to us. The world of creation speaks to each of our hearts, and those who have gone before have recorded their discoveries. Through all the varieties of recorded music, we can learn from the best performers of the last century. We have community-based opportunities of all kinds, if it's live experts we insist on; or, lacking that, we can do what Binky Barnes had the foresight to do before our family even had an Internet connection: email the experts. Politely, of course.

Nobody's an expert in everything. But curiosity and enthusiasm may make up for what we don't think we know enough about.

Homeschooling isn't always an ideal world.

But you know what we have? An idea world.

MathScore (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

MathScore Home Page
Quick Information Guide for Homeschoolers
Instant Demo Page
Free Trial

What is MathScore? "Math Practice and Assessment Online. Developed by MIT graduates, MathScore® is proven to raise math test scores through adaptive math practice. MathScore supports 1st grade through Algebra I."

At first glance: This isn't one of the entertainment-oriented, lots-of-sound math practice sites; it's more serious, more like "school" software. Although it does offer "trophies" and "rankings," they are not the focus of the program. It could be used as either a full curriculum or as a supplement. You subscribe for a certain amount of time; your students are registered by grade level, and when they sign in they receive a list of grade-appropriate topics to work on. Parents/teachers receive regular emails letting them know how their students are doing.

Crayons was originally signed up for Grade 3. Some of her topics included:

1. Copy Cat Preparation
2. Copy Cat (these are keyboarding drills to get students comfortable typing numbers quickly)
3. Fast Addition
4. Fast Addition Reverse
5. Fast Subtraction
6. Mixed Addition and Subtraction
7. Understanding Multiplication
8. Beginner Multiplication
9. Multiplication Facts Strategies
10. Fast Multiplication
11. Fast Multiplication Reverse

Ponytails' Grade 7 topics started with:

1. Copy Cat
2. Fast Addition
3. Fast Multiplication
4. Distributive Property
5. Greatest Common Factor
6. Least Common Multiple
7. Prime Factoring
8. Estimating Square Roots
9. Scientific Notation
10. Scientific Notation 2
11. Distance, Rate, and Time
12. Train Problems
13. Fraction Simplification
14. Fraction Addition

In spite of the wide variety of topics listed, there are suggested sequences and priorities, such as working on addition and multiplication facts. Each topic has short lessons, followed by online "worksheets." Older students can also take asssessments to see what they need most to work on.

Some useful features: "If you set the time zone offset to your time zone, when you analyze student progress, all dates will be reported in your time zone. If you set the state and we happen to support your state's standards, then our topics will explicitly align to your state's standards. If we don't, we'll default to California standards, which are highly acclaimed by many educational experts."

"If you click on a student's name, Edit Student Settings will allow you to modify the student's name, username, grade level, and password. It will also allow you to pad extra time for every problem the student does. The Progress By Grade feature gives you an excellent snapshot of a student's overall progress within a grade level."

How much does this cost?

First child: $14.95/month
Second child: $5/month
Each addition: $3.95/month

For the first two months, however, the first child only costs $9.95/month. And when you start your free trial, regardless of the number of student accounts you create, you get a half-month free trial. There are also other options including pre-paying for a certain number of months. You can "freeze" your account temporarily if you go on vacation or otherwise won't be using it for a length of time.

In Actual Practice: Crayons tried out the program briefly but didn't enjoy it, even when I adjusted the time allowed for her to answer. She complained that sometimes it didn't seem to be working properly, or "changed" the answers she typed in; I'm not sure what the problem was there. It just wasn't her favourite, so I let Ponytails do most of the testing.

Ponytails has been using MathScore a few times a week and thinks it's "okay." She enjoyed doing the assessment, but didn't find the regular lessons as interesting. She suggested that "more graphics" might make the program more appealing as well as more helpful. I don't think she meant just in the entertainment sense, but rather using graphics to demonstrate math concepts.

Final take: I think this might be a good option either for students who need some extra help, particularly on just a few topics, or as a self-teaching program for homeschoolers who for whatever reason don't want to use a traditional textbook.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew home page.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

Debra Bell's Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

We're going to kick off the Treehouse Review Week with a look at the latest edition of Debra Bell's Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, which is now published by Apologia Educational Ministries. (Sample chapter here. Table of contents here.) Apologia is no longer just a publisher of science texts; they've recently acquired publishing rights to this book along with (Christian-based) homeschool books by Diana Waring, the Clarksons, Inge P. Cannon, and more.

(1997 cover)
When we first moved into the Treehouse with a first grader (The Apprentice) and a new baby (Ponytails), the three of us set out one morning to explore the nearby stores. In a bookstore that since then has become one of our standbys, I saw and coveted the original version of The Ultimate Guide. My budget was very limited for homeschool books, but I knew that this was one I hadn't even seen in our fairly well stocked support group library. I took it home, read the whole thing, and blew everybody away at the next group meeting with what was probably the longest oral book report they'd ever heard outside of school. Sorry about that. But I did think "everybody" should read it!

Although it's been awhile since I read the original book (and then the next edition with the CD-Rom in it that we bought for the group library), I think I can still trace some of our early homeschool path to books and resources that Debra Bell mentioned...along with a genuine desire not to ever be like that shouldn't-be-homeschooling woman in chapter 6.

There are some changes to the book. The computer stuff is all updated. Certain books are now listed as out of print. But the table of contents is pretty much the same: there's a little bit of everything, from learning styles, to library book lists, to raising independent learners. The Bells are what you might call "eclectic Christian" homeschoolers--they favour a generous, real-book-based curriculum (making use of many public-library resources) and a flexible schedule that puts a fair amount of responsibility for getting the work done on the students' shoulders. A few reviews of previous editions have criticized specific aspects of the book, such as a recommendation of a particular textbook publisher (if you're going to use the textbook route--it's not specifically what the Bells did), or comments about dealing with learning challenges or on particular methods of discipline; or the fact that buyers didn't realize "how Christian" this book was going to be. To me that's like going to a homeschool workshop and leaving as soon as the speaker mentions spanking: just because you disagree with certain points doesn't mean that you're not going to get your money's worth overall. But on the other hand, it's good to know up front where the author is coming from.

If there's any limit to the book's usefulness to the "average" homeschooler, I'd say it's in its frequent emphasis on the essential role that co-ops and group classes played in the Bell children's education, particularly in their high school years. Where I live, that just ain't gonna happen; however, there are families here who do homeschool all the way through high school, and without formal co-ops. Canadians will, as usual, find some of the high school and college prep/application/transcript information of limited use, but the general information on high school ("How to do the hard stuff") is still helpful.

I also like the way that this book--in both old and new editions--often ends a topic or chapter by pointing you towards other resources--books on working at home, books about how to juggle several grades at once, books on homeschooling on a shoestring, books about Biblical arguments for homeschooling. Since no one book can cover everything in depth, it's nice to have suggestions of where we might go or who we might read to find out more. With the amount of effort that Debra Bell has obviously put into listing currently-available resources, I'll even excuse her for misspelling Ann Voskamp's name twice on page 298.

I'm not sure if this review is shorter or longer than my without-stopping-for-breath oral review. But I'm done now. You can go check it out for yourselves.

The Price: US$20 from the publisher.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew home page.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for review purposes. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.
Related Posts with Thumbnails