Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Draw. Write. Now. Book Review!

I first saw these books this past year at a homeschooling convention and thought my daughter would love them! Draw. Write. Now. is a series of eight books that teach kids how to draw while also giving them interesting facts to copy in their best handwriting!

The grades it's geared toward is first to second, but I also have a fifth grader and an eighth grader who've enjoyed some of the drawings (like the ones in book two teaching them to draw Columbus's ships).

One of my favorite things about this series is that it has gotten my daughter interested in something in school.  She has struggled with enjoying her school time since she was in kindergarten regardless of what we did.  But with this book, she actually asks to work on it and likes it!

When I got the books home, I knew I needed somewhere to put all of her drawings so I got on Pinterest to see if anyone had made any notebooking pages related to them.  Sure enough, there they were!  Here's a link for you to get your own free pages: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/DrawWriteNowPrintables.html

The great thing about these free printables is that you can print a copy that has blank spaces to fill in each word or you can print one that has the words available to trace! So no matter where your child is with writing, they can work on these pages.

I really don't have a bad word to add about these books.  They get two thumbs up from me and my daughter! We'll be using them again next year as a fun supplement to her day.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Alpha-Phonics Curriculum Review!



This past September I was approached by a member of the Alpha-Phonics team and asked to do a review of Alpha-Phonics.  Knowing that I have a child that is close to the right age and readiness level to start learning how to read, I decided to go ahead and do it.

I received the package just days after agreeing to do the review.  In it, I found the following:

- Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers with free CD-Rom
- Alpha-Phonics and How to Tutor Guide Book
- Alpha-Phonics Companion Readers

While I received the above items in exchange for an honest review, no money changed hands.  I am not being paid to provide this review but am simply giving my honest thoughts on it.

Let's start with describing my youngest son, who is working through this program. He is an average four year old boy in that he has a pretty short attention span, bounces all around the house, loves being outside and playing in the dirt with his neighbor friend more than anything, and is generally disinterested in learning many new concepts unless they are presented in a VERY fun way.  However, he is very gifted in his ability to learn letters and their sounds.

I say that he is gifted in this area because I never taught him any of the letters or their sounds prior to his telling me about them between the ages of two and three.  He is not gifted in any other area that I have found, but this one is "his thing." He is just good at it and that's awesome!

Because of this gift, I figured that teaching him to read, no matter what the method, would be pretty easy no matter his age so we started as soon as the books came.  They arrived on a Thursday morning and we started our first lesson that afternoon.  Lesson 1 consists of two-letter words beginning with the letter a.  He breezed through that lesson without an issue.

Because lesson 1 was so easy, I figured lesson 2 would be just as easy on Friday.  I was wrong.  He didn't seem to understand the addition of a third sound.  So we practiced the words from lesson 1 again, hung up some flash cards of the words from lesson 1, and talked about lesson 2 for awhile before finishing up for the day.  It wasn't as successful as day 1, but the lessons were short and to the point and even held his interest.

On Saturday and Sunday Little Man showed Daddy how he could read his flash card words.  Daddy was properly impressed by this new found skill and praised him for his efforts. Little Man was happy.  Lesson 1 remained successful.

By Monday, I was ready to try some new things to get lesson 2 to click.  We tried using alphabet puzzle pieces, magnet letters, a white board, and even the computer to make the words.  After a few more days of that it was finally clicking! This method seemed to be working!







Fast forward several months and we are up to lesson 17.  I have taken it very slowly as Little Man needs the time to grasp a concept before moving on too quickly.  But isn't that the beauty of homeschooling?  

Months into this program, I feel like I can give a good, solid review of it.  First, the positive things about it:

1. The pages are very black and white, to the point.  This means that there isn't a lot of distraction going on and you can feel free to add as much as you want to it.  We like doing games and using magnets or puzzle letters to practice the words.

2. The back of the book has a teacher's guide to help you know what to say and what to do with each lesson should you need it.

3. The lessons progress at a good pace, adding letters and sounds slowly so that your student isn't overwhelmed by the process. Of course, by lesson thirteen, there are multiple sentences to be read in that one lesson so it may benefit your child to split it up over a few days.

4. The accompanying readers are a decent length and utilize the lessons taught pretty well.  There's a new reader for every few lessons so your student can practice reading it for fluency before moving on. However, some of them don't seem to make a lot of sense (the first one is called Silly Sentences and the pages don't seem related to one another at all). Little Man wasn't a huge fan of them but we aren't really "reader" people either.

5. The Companion Workbook shown above has practice pages for your student to practice their handwriting and their new reading skills.  It also contains some spelling rules, which is nice.

6. The lessons can be done as quickly or as slowly as you'd like.  So if you have a wiggly kid, you can get some practice in fast and if your child is having a lot of fun with reading, they can keep going.

The negatives:

1. The CD that came with the program is like jumping into the '80s.  The graphics are simplistic and the way it works, it just isn't that entertaining.  I wouldn't buy that as is.  It needs some major revamping.  It'd be awesome if that CD were games to accompany the program, something that the kids could have as a reward for finishing their lesson.  I'm thinking games like Starfall, Word World games on PBS kids, and Super Why games on PBS kids.  

2. The video that came with the program to explain how to use it was also very old-feeling.  It skipped a lot too. I believe this video is the same one available for free on their website (which is also in need of a good update).

3. I know a lot of people like to introduce their kids to the "weird-looking letters" like this: g  and  a.  But they cause some confusion.

4. The cover of the phonics book is old-looking too.  Most people are drawn to new books and programs by the cover and if you're one of those people, you'll never get past the plain cover.  It could use an update.  (But you shouldn't let it stop you! The lessons inside are actually very good!)


So all in all, Alpha Phonics has proven to be a great program for our family.  It's gotten my four year old reading with very little complaint from him.  We've added lots of fun games to his reading time (we like "Games for Reading" by Peggy Kaye, but there are others out there as well) and used actual wooden letters for a more hands-on experience.  He was reading the first BOB book to me after just a couple of lessons.  My biggest complaint about it is the dated quality of the video, CD, and website. If you're looking for a simple, straight-forward approach to reading lessons, this may just be what you're looking for.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Free Charlotte Mason/Living Books/Hands-on History Curriculum: Early American History Term two of three

Below you'll find my rewrite of term two of Early American History. This term uses History of US book 3 alongside George Washington's World.  You can click the link below to get the full term:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1QxG4LMyj4USWFmTF8tRUtOS1U/edit?usp=sharing


Monday, October 14, 2013

Free Charlotte Mason/Living Books/Hands-on History Curriculum: Year One, Term Three

I'm finally done with Ancient Rome! Keep in mind that I've not actually gone through this with my kidlets yet, so there may be some things that will get changed in the future.  There are also not as many activities in this term as I'd like.  I'll add more as I have time and as I find them.

The link:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1QxG4LMyj4Ud18xZTdUZ3BmNGM/edit?usp=sharing

Let me know if you have any trouble or comments, or even any suggestions! Thanks!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Math-U-See Curriculum Review!

Up until a few years ago, my older boys were in public school.  I always thought I'd homeschool when my oldest was under five years old but when I tried to teach him his letters and numbers, we struggled.  It scared me and so I put him in school figuring I could bring him home later if I still felt like I should homeschool. For many reasons I think public school was a mistake for him but either way it's what happened.

When he came home, he was confused and behind in math.  We tried other curricula after one failed for him in public school, including Life of Fred (which is still fun to him but doesn't make enough sense for him to use it exclusively) and some others.  He was still not getting fractions.  By seventh grade, he was really behind in math and I got him evaluated.  Dyscalculia was his diagnosis (which is a math learning disability). So now what?

I decided to try Math-U-See because I'd heard so many great things about it. It started out easy and slow which was perfect for him.  He slowly picked up the fractions concepts and continued to progress as the school year went on.  In fact, after starting Epsilon in December of last year, he was finished with it and UNDERSTOOD IT by May of this year! It was amazing! After trying and failing with at least three other programs, he was really "getting" fractions.

I've heard complaints about the MUS videos but I have to say, Mr. Demme makes sense to all of my kids! We typically watch together and I'll clear up or review anything they didn't understand.

This year I have a fifth grader who is amazing at math in Epsilon, a second grader who's hesitant with math in Beta, and an eighth grader who had always struggled with math who's already halfway through Zeta in the middle of October. At this point I've used each level (except Gamma) with at least one of my kids from Primer through Zeta.

Here's a summary of my thoughts on it:

The negatives:

- Math-U-See doesn't progress in the typical public school way.  They usually focus on one major concept and introduce some other things slowly.  If you stick with it from Primer through Zeta though, you'll have covered the same things as others using a different program by the time you reach Pre-Algebra.
- MUS introduces some algebraic concepts throughout each level which was sometimes confusing to my more math-challenged children.  However it was also helpful to start it very slowly with a problem here and there.
- Sometimes using the manipulatives makes the concept harder to teach, such as in long division in the Delta level. However, to get the most out of the program, you really need to have their manipulatives.
- MUS has updated to include some Common Core pages since I bought these items last year.  But I understand that the new student books still work with the older teacher's guides and DVDs (I haven't tried it to know for sure).

The positives:

- Each lesson in each level is worked on until the student masters the concept.  If you use the "systematic review" pages, these concepts get reviewed repeatedly even across levels (there were fraction problems in an early Zeta level lesson a few weeks ago for example).
- The manipulatives are awesome for hands-on, kinesthetic learners.
- The same concept can be explained in multiple ways so that your student can understand.  Mr. Demme often gives several methods to do the same thing (such as the three different methods he uses for adding fractions in lesson eight of Epsilon).
- You can adjust the speed at which new concepts are introduced according to your own individual student's needs.
- A DVD is available for each level that includes each lesson. You can decide to use it or not. The same lesson is also explained in the teacher's guide if you prefer teaching the new concepts yourself.
- All lesson pages and test pages have the answers given in the back of the teacher's guide.
- The MUS website has activity pages and drill pages available for free.  Plus you can make extra practice pages for many levels and many lessons on their site for free as well.

Hopefully some of you find this helpful! I plan to continue using Math-U-See for all of my children for the foreseeable future.  We're very happy with it overall and have found it very effective.  If you use MUS, tell me what you think in the comments below! :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Mommy Writer's REVISED Early American History Plans! Term one of three

We're a few weeks into our new year here at our house and I've started up with our year 3 plans.  And I am not thrilled with them so they are under revision!  The original plans will stay in place for now on posts from April 16-18th of this year.  However, I will be replacing the quick links on the right side with the new plans as I finish them.

Today, I'm posting the revised plans for year 3, term 1.  I have decided to remove Story of the World as one of the planned family readings and focus instead on History of US with LOTS of projects and videos and extra readings.  It was just too much to try to study all at the same time and I want these plans to have an American History focus.

Here's the new link for term 1 of Early American History:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1QxG4LMyj4UZF9GUXdCMnpBTzg/edit?usp=sharing

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Baby Love

I don't know if many of you are aware of this, but I have a novel published through SynergEbooks.  It's available on their website as well as several others, including, of course, Amazon.

Here's a link to those who are interested in checking it out:

http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Love-ebook/dp/B002SB8RUO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1375561964&sr=1-1&keywords=baby+love+kristi+stokes