Tuesday, October 18, 2011

CurrClick - great site, great sale plus freebies!

I love CurrClick. If you haven't discovered this site yet, now is a great time to check it out. You can snag some great freebies and discover lots of great downloadable resources plus live classes and online learning clubs.
Trunk or Treat Sale

Friday, October 7, 2011

50% off at CurrClick!

CurrClick is a great site with lots of freebies and thousands of downloads available for a great price for all subject areas and grade levels. It's one of my "go to" sites. Right now is an "invitation only" sale. Use this link and the coupon code "appreciate" at checkout then download away!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Highlighting a great site - Education.com

If you have not yet found education.com, you should do it now. It's awesome. I've blogged about it before but wanted to bring it up again. There have been some minor changes - when you find something you like, it's added to your collections so it's easier to find things. I've used some of these worksheets as file folder games. There are tons of activities as well. Have fun!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Plans of Mice and Men (and moms)...

Once again, I spent some time this summer tweaking the school room and the basic plans for curriculum and schedule and such. I thought we were ready to move into the official school year. Apparently, Baker was not as ready as I though or maybe he is just being ornery. For the past two weeks, he has spent quite a bit of time on the laundry room stairs. The Lord really encouraged me the past few days with similar stories from other moms. I have spent quite a bit of time in prayer for me and for my son. As you can imagine, I have delayed getting this post up because I have been so worn out. All you mommas that school more than one child, my hat is off to you. To think about having a sibling around that Baker would feed off and vice versa, I'd probably throw in the towel. LOL!

Here are the pix of our spiffed up room. We found out that Baker is just slightly nearsighted so he now has a lamp on his desk since good lighting will help him see more clearly. I have built a break into the morning which seems to help us. We are continuing with the work box system. It has been such a tremendous blessing to us.

I am loving the "morning meeting" board that has his memory work, calendar, a critical thinking activity, visual art from our artist of the month and our We Choose Virtues card. It has made it easy for me to incorporate some of these things that I have and probably would continue to forget to do - namely, critical thinking and learning about the artist.

The art card that you see on the board is from the Usborne decks, "Famous Paintings" and "Impressionist Paintings". There is information about the artist and the style on the back of each card. It's a mini art course in a deck. Let me know if you want to order. We are loving them.

The We Choose Virtues card has been a great introduction to our curriculum. Right now we're doing one a week. The back of the card has a clear definition of the virtue and a verse. We review it every day. I downloaded the coloring book so we are making a book as we go. For every virtue, there is a color sheet followed by a page with the verse in cursive that he traces (I use abcteach.com to make those).  He even hugged his "book" to himself one day and said, "I love my virtues book!". Granted he was disobeying within a few minutes but now I know we are deliberately working towards better behavior. To purchase these materials for your family or church, use "AMY" at checkout to get $8 off the flash cards. The coloring book is $1. The teacher manual is now in a downloadable format for $4.99. The fridge poster is on sale and it's one our fridge so the material is in front of us all the time.

I love seeing your home school spots so please share!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Purposefully Teaching Virtues

I'm a big fan of the Duggars - not because they are from AR or because they are famous. As a matter of fact, I initially thought they were nuts. However, after watching the show and having the chance to cross paths and be a "friend for a season" with them, I am in awe and in a good way. I have read both books and have been convicted of several things. One is that I need to be more deliberate about discipleing my children in Godly character and virtues. Yelling at them to obey when I have hit the end of my rope has not led to long term change; imagine that. Any success I have had in teaching character has been mostly accidental. Just because my child can recite Bible verses doesn't mean that he is always acting as he should (for that matter, neither do I but that's another confession). I looked up many of the resources listed in the Duggar's book and while they work beautifully for their family, I just wasn't "feeling it".
In that wonderful, mysterious way that God works, I saw an little ad on Facebook one day for "We Choose Virtues" and fell in love. This creator had essentially brought virtues and character into a modern era. Each virtue is Biblical and clearly defined. The graphics are charming without being cheesy. That's when it dawned on me - I was expecting my son to learn what these virtues are by osmosis when what I should be doing first is defining them clearly and then correcting behavior. Well, duh! I should know better...(yes, I do have a teaching degree; why do you ask?)
Anyway, I kept visiting the web site and I just could not shake the "I should buy this" voice. So I did. After all, these are the real lessons of life. Math and science are great but Godly character is priceless and has eternal value!   I'm so happy to have found something affordable and appealing and Biblical to help bridge the gap from knowledge to application. I'll blog later on how this will be worked into our school day and life in general here at Chez Loften.
Visit the site. Fan "We Choose Virtues" on FB. Read their story. Pass the word on. When you're ready to buy, use the code "AMY" at checkout for an $8 discount on the flashcards. You'll be glad you did! I'm looking forward to a generation that will turn it's face to God and model virtues for the next one.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What I Use and Why - Curriculum

"Hi, I'm Amy and I'm a curriculum addict." I think it's the school teacher / book junkie / nerd combo that makes me such a fan of checking out curriculum and constantly supplementing with all kinds of things. I didn't have much freedom in this arena when I was a classroom teacher so this has been new territory for me and I have been having too much fun. I've lost lots and lots of sleep surfing and adding to my stockpile of web bookmarks and ideas. Truthfully, far more than I will be able to realistically implement. Maybe if I had full time household help so that all I had to do was teach and write...(moment to dream, please). OK, I'm back.

One thing that I have noticed that all home schooling mommas (and the occasional dad) do is to ask, "What are you using for (insert subject / topic / theme here)?" I love these discussions. I usually pick up all kinds of information that I might not have otherwise since it usually involves some sort of evaluation from an actual user - invaluable information to me. I actually dropped one publisher off my radar because of one of these conversations; how nice to do that BEFORE I invested any $$. I also feel no guilt because no matter how many rave reviews that any curriculum gets, it must work for your family. That's right - family. You have to take into account so many things - your child's preferred learning method, your teaching method, time required to prep and teach, budget and so on. When I found out that Singapore Math was going to require me to relearn how to add (just to get started), I said "no way". I knew that I didn't have the time (or the brain capacity) to teach this well. This is not a "dis" of Singapore; it gets rave reviews. I just know that realistically, it will not work for me as a teacher or for Baker who is more of a visual / hands-on learner. As a result, I felt comfortable investing in a different curriculum. The ultimate result will be the same - a working knowledge of math and numbers in general. The process of getting there will be much easier for both of us and maybe we can both have better attitudes about math! It's still work but it's not overwhelming for either of us.

One thing that I have really considered was to see how far I could get without purchasing actual books. There are endless resources on the web that you could teach and/or learn most anything with a computer, a good internet connection, a printer, paper, writing utensils and a library card. I found out rather quickly that doing this requires far more time than I have to devote to it unless my husband takes over all household chores or I give up sleeping. Neither of us is willing to make that sort of sacrifice. I have also found that I crave the security of an actual book to guide me; old school, yes, but that's how I roll. Again, this is a curriculum option for our family that works perfectly as far as budget but not at all in terms of time and teaching style.A few years from now, I might be able to go book free but not right now.

A disclaimer for this post: I'm reviewing just what we use right now. I'm not qualified as a curriculum specialist but I never seem to be short of opinions. In a personal conversation, I would share what I have rejected and why if you asked me but no need to do that here. Since I'm a planner / organizer by nature, I lean toward curriculum that has well organized materials which some of the more free spirits might see as stifling or boring. I am not receiving any sort of compensation for the purchase of any of these materials through this post. I provided the links as a courtesy so no worries if you don't buy through these links. Brad does Bible Study Fellowship with Baker so I haven't taught any specific Bible curriculum. He has lots of memory verses from BSF, Upward Sports, school group and church so we might go over those on any given day.
Update: I am now an affiliate with CurrClick and All About Spelling. Any click-y love you give me is appreciated. It helps fund my addiction - I mean supplies...

So, without further ado, the Loften Academy curriculum roll call...
Math U See
I can't say enough about this one. Baker went from dreading math to wanting to do it first. It's very hands-on and very visual. It builds a very strong base of the basics of the decimal 10 number system. The teacher's manual is very easy to follow and even has game suggestions. It also includes a DVD to assist you and your student(s). Don't let the black-and-white, utilitarian pages throw you. Baker doesn't even notice. He's too busy working and since he can be easily distracted by pictures, it has been a good thing. The program is leveled but is not tied to a specific grade so the student doesn't get upset that he's working below or above grade level; he won't know. You can move as fast or as slow as needed. There is plenty of practice opportunities in the books and on-line.
It is a bit on the pricey side. Thanks to a friend who loaned us their blocks set (since they don't need it right now) and finding teacher and student comb-bound sets for the level I wanted to start with on clearance on the site, the price for us to try this out was very reasonable.

All About Spelling
This is a new addition for us. So far, I'm very impressed. It incorporates every learning style, the teacher's manual is well-laid out and spelling and phonics are taught together, not separately. This has saved me a lot of planning time since I was going back and forth between books trying to coordinate this myself. Yippee! (I still haven't figured out why more publishers don't intertwine the spelling/phonics/reading programs but I digress.) There is a companion reading program called "All About Reading" but since Baker is already reading, it was suggested on the web site that I skip it so I did.  The basic starter supplies are meant to be used for many years; a big plus to me. I purchased the student and teacher manuals and kit as well as the magnets and cards box. I'm so glad that I did. The price came out to be about the same as the separate spelling and phonics programs that I ended up not being so impressed with after all. It is designed to move at the pace of the student and has plenty of review built in. This program is also labeled as levels not grades; again a great advantage when your child is working above or below their specific grade level. It also has a 1 year money back guarantee, lots of free reports and emails for additional advice and support.
FYI, it will work best with a magnetic chalk or white board that's about 2 feet long or so (measurements are in the teacher's guide) so the alphabet tiles can be lined up. I had one already that is a little smaller than suggested but it works fine for us.

Story of the World
There are quite a few history programs out there that are wonderful. This just happens to be the one that our classical education group uses. I really like it and so does Baker. I told my hubby that if I had learned history in this way, I would have found it much more interesting and more would have stuck with me through the years. I think the author does a great job of presenting the major religions in a balanced way. I feel this is important since as Christians, we need to be educated about all religions, not just Christianity. It's amazing how much those other religions have influenced cultures and history through the ages. The teacher's manual / activity book is well worth the extra money in my opinion. It gives recommendations for encyclopedias and literature suggestions, countless activities, maps, color sheets and on and on. I just found the chapter review cards in the back of the book that we will use to make a timeline on the school room wall. I wish I had found this sooner! I can imagine a whole time line wall that would be a multi-year project with Biblical figures, inventors, musicians and so on. There are activity suggestions for all ages which is great when schooling multiple levels together.
There are so many resources and activities that we can't do them all. It can be a bit overwhelming. The reading book is a lower reading level but the same authors have released higher level history texts which I'm tempted to get just for my own reading "pleasure" (o.k., really just so my son doesn't begin to show me up too soon). The focus is really on the political and religious side of history so very little comes up in the way of artists, musicians and so forth. These could be added in as you study those disciplines - which is really how the classical method is meant to be taught.

Handwriting Without Tears
This is a curriculum that was pre-chosen by our classical education group. And now the state of Arkansas will be using this in all public schools so we were just ahead of the game by a couple of years. I like it. I think it is well laid out and in an order that builds on the development of the writing strokes not alphabetical order like many programs do. The on-line and off-line support for this program is tremendous! It's reasonably priced and easy to teach. I think it's fun; Baker not so much. But, he is a boy and I have yet to see any boy that actually enjoys handwriting. Cursive is not introduced until 3rd grade so he has plenty of time to develop good printing habits. I know some students (girls, of course) that skipped a year and went to cursive early. That is not a problem with this program. One thing that is great is that there are instructions for left and right handers. Since I'm a lefty who was taught to angle my paper correctly, it was natural to me but I know that a lot of right-handed parents really struggle with teaching a lefty. (Just for the record, Baker is a right-hander even though Brad and I are both lefties; ironic, huh?)

Now you know my core curriculum for a classically educated 1st grader. Again, there is SO much great stuff out there and I have not had experience with most of it; that would be impossible. Please don't see this post as some sort of promotion or endorsement. If you have something that works for your family, then by all means keep it. Don't change just for the sake of change. There is NO SUCH THING as the "perfect" material. I just get asked often what I use and why and I know how much us home school mommas like to chat about such things. I'll cover some of the supplemental curriculum in a later post. I will also do a post on our new science curriculum when we begin using it in the fall. I'm excited about it and hoping it lives up to my expectations.

If you have a blog and have posted about curriculum, please share some linky love so I can check it out!

Monday, May 16, 2011

What She Did Right - Spiritual Parenting Lessons from Princess Diana

I must confess that I love, love, love weddings in general. One of my fantasy jobs would be to have the Kleinfeld Bridal of the South boutique. As you can imagine, I enjoyed all of the Royal Wedding hoopla. I caught a couple of programs on TLC (accidentally, I swear) that profile the princes. As I watched these shows, I noticed that one thing that comes up often is how Princess Diana was very deliberate in exposing her sons to real people of all classes. She wanted them to be aware of the world beyond the privileged one they were born into. Wow! That took guts. That took some deliberate planning. That took a humble heart on her part. The fruit of all that effort is two men who are very down to earth, who have done such things as serve in a homeless shelter, walked side by side with wounded soldiers for a fundraiser, visited orphanages full of children with AIDS, slept on the streets of London to experience a night of homelessness and Harry has even served on the field in Afghanistan. Now you're thinking, "So what? Those people might be a bit daft and most of those actions were probably for show." You're entitled to your opinion. Since you're reading this, you're now entitled to mine. LOL! Here it is...I think we are all a bit daft in our own way. And, personally, I don't know of anyone who has ever served on the field during war time "just for show". Neither of these men have lived a lifestyle that I agree with completely; I live by the moral code of Christianity which would be counter to some of their choices. So why, exactly, am I holding them up as examples? I'll tell ya.

I do remember bits and pieces of their upbringing over the years as different things made news but I didn't give it much thought then. As a mother, I started really thinking about it. I probably would have made very different choices - I think I would have chosen to shelter my children from danger, from unpleasantness, from lifestyles that I would have considered "beneath" them. As Diana exposed her children to such things, she was right there with them to help them process and navigate all that they saw. She became beloved world wide for this (and other things). She was not removed and hiding. She walked among the common folk, befriended many people in many classes and walks of life. What a contrast to her in-laws who had lived for generations removed from most of the world, living in imposing castles, isolated and protected. Notice that they commanded awe and respect but not love or admiration. People are drawn to those who will walk with them. Do you see where I'm going yet? Jesus, GOD HIMSELF, who could have commanded everything and lived above all chose to walk among us. He walked with sinners, He loved, He healed, He touched.

As parents, we should do this as well. Children NEED their parents to help guide and process and think about this world of contradictions that we live in. They NEED us to guide them in truth. They NEED us to help them build their spiritual armor so that they can stand for truth, for Christ, for love and grace.

I think too often parents, especially Christian parents, want to build a castle and keep their children inside it. We assume that we are in control, we should be protecting them from worldliness, from temptation, from pain and suffering and the best way to do that is to isolate them. Believe me when I tell you that I really do feel like doing that as well. When we were first coming to terms with my daughter's diagnosis of Down Syndrome, I had this overwhelming instinct to grab my children and my husband and run away to someplace that was perfect, where neither of them would suffer through all that this diagnosis might entail. But, I trust in a God that knows best and works everything for our good.

That doesn't mean that I'm hustling my precious babies to homeless shelters and leaving all of our worldly goods for the depths of Africa. We have not been called to do that - at least not right now and probably not ever. However, I am called to raise children who are willing to risk in the name of Christ. I need to be willing to risk and sacrifice for Him as well. I'm called, as an individual, to walk in the world but not be of it. I'm called to be humble as a lamb and wise as a serpent. I'm called to be a light for Christ and continually reflect Him to everyone regardless of their station in life. I'm called to serve. I'm called to teach my children with words and example about Christ. I need to step out of my comfort zone and take my children (as they are ready) with me. As I do these things, people will be drawn to God; they will wonder what makes our lives and our family unique and will want what we have.

Our children don't need isolation; they need to see and experience life, they need me and their daddy to help them process the difficult things in life and they need us to point them to Christ. When we do this, we are preparing them for life outside of our protective arms, we are teaching them about God and His love for the souls of people. We need to teach our children to see others as God sees them - lost people in need of a loving God. In this process, God will direct their hearts to the path that He has chosen for them and created them uniquely to do. This is a daily challenge. It's a holy tension that keeps us dependent on Christ. I look forward to seeing what God does with our children for Him. What a humbling, honorable work we do. God bless you in it.