Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Maestro Classics "The Nutcracker"

'The Nutcracker' has always been a favorite in our home. The girls really enjoy the music in it, and we have even gone to see it performed in person. Since we love Christmas music, it is not unusual to hear 'The Nutcracker' being played year round in our house. We have reviewed "stories in music" CD's from Maestro Classics before, so when I learned they were releasing a new CD of The Nutcracker I was very excited to have the privilege to review it, because I knew the girls would absolutely love it! Even better is the fact that veteran storyteller Jim Weiss is the author and narrator on the CD. We enjoy his distinctive voice and own many stories on CD that have been read or performed by him.

About Maestro Classics: This company marries classic stories with fine classical music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and turns them into entertaining and educational CD's for children. They have an entire lineup of great stories complete with listening samples on their website. Each CD comes with a small study guide included, that teaches the listener about the music, and some background to the story. There are also expanded curriculum guides that can be downloaded for free from the website, to allow the parent to use the CD as a basis for a unit study.

About The Nutcracker: Nearly everyone know the classic children's story of young Clara being given a toy nutcracker on Christmas Eve, and the ensuing adventure when he comes alive and joins Clara and the other toys for a night of wonderful escapades. Is it a dream? Does it really happen? Those are the questions that keep this story alive and fitting for children.

About this CD: The CD is about one hour long, and features the story of the Nutcracker told by Jim Weiss. His narration is fantastic - very easy to listen to and enjoy. All the classic favorite Nutcracker songs are played in order. I noticed that some of the longer pieces were shortened to allow the story to be told in an hour, but I felt this actually enhanced the quality of the story, because the music flowed smoothly and did not feel too long at all. (In person, the Nutcracker can feel very long at times!) I actually enjoyed it much better with it being shortened to an hour, because I was able to enjoy all our favorite and familiar snippets of the music - Maestro makes sure those are still played.

About the study guide: The 24 page study guide that is included in the CD case is very informative. All the scenes are listed in order so the children can follow along and see what is coming next. I noticed that it also helped my girls to identify the actual names of their favorite songs more efficiently. There are also several pages that expand on the contents of the CD, such as the history of ballet, an informative study of the harp, and a short biography of Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, the composer of 'The Nutcracker'. Also included are a few word games for the children, using words and phrases descriptive of the story.

About the Curriculum Guide: We downloaded the free curriculum guide and looked it over, but have not used it for further study yet. It is a ten page list of extra resources to study to really explore not only the Nutcracker, but to incorporate it into a fun part of your home school day. There are ideas to explore in History, Geography, Math, Science, Language Arts, Art, and Music - all related to something heard in the story.

What do we think? My girls absolutely LOVED listening to this CD! I think I have heard it played just about every day since we received it. Their familiarity and love of the music from Nutcracker made this story very appealing. Listening to this story on CD has helped them to fully understand and appreciate the story line. I didn't realize that they never fully grasped the story of Nutcracker, even though I have taken them to see it in person. It took listening to this story on CD for them to understand completely what was going on from start to finish. I am very glad that they had the opportunity to experience this CD, and that they have a greater appreciation for the story now. The music on the CD is so well done, that I can see this CD being a family favorite for many years to come. The quality is absolutely amazing!  I think this CD would make a great Christmas gift for children.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Apologia Ultimate Homeschool Planner

It has taken me many years of homeschooling to fine tune my daily planning system. I have tried and rejected probably dozens of planners, and always approach a new planner with a great deal of skepticism. Since I have finally found a system that works for me, I decided to give up on trying new ones, but since I am a huge fan of Apologia Educational Ministries, I felt that it would be worth my while to review The Ultimate Homeschool Planner when the opportunity was made available to me.

About the Ultimate Homeschool Planner:  This planner is more than just a spiral bound book for daily lesson plans. It actually contains training for goal setting, home school organization, and planning for both short and long term. The planner itself is a 9x12 spiral bound book that is about an inch thick. It has a heavy duty plastic cover (comes in yellow, orange, or blue) with inside pockets to hold loose papers or receipts.

I found the pockets handy to keep receipts and papers to be filed.

What makes this planner different? The first few pages lay out the plan of instructions for using the planning system and making it a successful part of your home school. What I found very helpful was the Biblical principles woven into the instructions - special statements that directed the user to pray over their schedule, seek Godly counsel over decisions, and build time into their family's weekly schedule to honor the Lord. It truly is a planning SYSTEM, not just a PLANNER.

How does the planning system work? There are several ways to plan both long and short term goals, and to track how well those goals are being met. First, the user is directed to spend a day planning out broad goals and priorities for the entire year. Next, those goals are broken down into monthly planning sessions, where the user breaks them down into a manageable schedule. The user is then directed to spend about half an hour per week tweaking their weekly plan, tracking schoolwork for each child, planning around appointments and commitments for the week, and evaluating priorities. Finally, the last step is holding a short planning session with each child at the start of the week, and then a week-in-review session at the close of the week, to measure success and prioritize for the future.

What do the pages look like that allow you to work this system? First of all, there are NO dates already marked, so this planner can be started at any time. The user fills in their own dates. I find this to be extremely helpful. There are calendars included all the way up to 2023 which allows for more long term planning than I am even capable of right now!

The annual pages can record goals by month or day, and can be used to write major life events. The monthly planning pages allow the user to write in dates and get a big picture view of the entire month. 

I started in on January already!

There are 48 weeks worth of weekly pages. Each week covers a two page spread, and is a series of blocks that can be customized to the household. The blocks are in rows and columns of six across and six down, so whether the user is planning by student, subject, or day, they will have the flexibility to customize their weekly plan to suit their needs.

My weekly plan

At the end of the book, there is a high school planning guide that allows you to sketch out a plan for each semester of grades 8-12. There are also resources for discovering your child's learning style, and for recording such things as ideas and reading lists for each student. Field trip records can be kept in one section, and there are also places to record memories of each week, such as answers to prayer and family funnies/memorable moments.There is an emphasis on creating goals for your family, not just academic goals, but also spiritual ones as well. The weekly planning page has room to record your family's outreach projects and special prayer requests.

What I like about this planner: This planner is so much more than a place to record assignments, "to-do lists" or school attendance. I really like the fact that it is designed to be a way of life, encouraging families to reach their potential in such a wide variety of areas. There are so many creative pages that have really pushed me to think about my priorities, and actually have a plan written to set and reach goals, not just have wishful thinking. 

How this planner has affected me: Though I have not actually planned out an entire year or even a month yet, I have slowly started implementing the goal setting and achievement principles into my thinking and home school planning. There are some subtle ways that this planner has changed the way I go about interacting with my children and their schoolwork. We have always been a family of list makers, but using some of these principles to have a 'meeting' and foster more independence in my children has been a positive result of this planner entering our home school. I look forward to continuing with this planner into 2016, as I close out the year with my current planner. My hope and prayer is that the spiritual emphasis of this planner will help me to be more focused on the spiritual nature of our homeschooling experience. 

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Homeschooling High School: Tackling the Challenge

Throughout this series, I've written about some of our favorite high school programs and resources, and I've also tried to cover some of the challenging aspects, such as planning.  Today I want to address what I perceive to be one of the biggest challenges of homeschooling a high school student, and that is overcoming your own fears and intimidation as a parent.

As I work through high school with my children, one of the questions I am asked most often is "How do you get through all the challenging high school subjects?" People seem generally intimidated by what children must know these days in order to keep the edge in their studies or move on to college work. My first thought is that if a student is taught how to think for themselves, and how to study, that meeting the challenges of life and secondary studies will come as a natural progression, and a challenge that can be faced head on and overcome.

Even students who are adept at critical thinking will often need some extra instruction, though, so here are a few thoughts I would like to expound upon for parents who are considering homeschooling high school yet feeling a little intimidated by the challenges it will bring.

Own the Challenge

Yes - own it. Consider that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" and put God first in all that you do. Embrace the promise of James that states "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally."  Now that doesn't mean that God has promised you a sudden understanding of Calculus, but it does reflect the fact that God does care about such matters, and will gladly lead and direct the parent who is seeking His direction. God can equip a parent to finish what they start, including homeschooling a child all the way through graduation.

Live Balanced

While we shouldn't get bogged down when experiencing failures and trials, neither should we indulge in extreme highs over our successful achievements. Teach your high schooler to have balance and live steady. Teach them faithfulness and good character. Expect greatness, and equip them to pursue it. A teenager will naturally have mood swings and often will experience dramatic highs and lows. Don't react off their emotions, but be a buffer, responding with a steady and quiet mood, to show them an example. One day they will love math, but the next day they might hate it. It doesn't mean that you should toss the curriculum out the window and start fresh. It may just be that they have to adjust their expectations, and learn that life has ups and downs, but a faithful student will learn to deal with it and approach life on an even keel.

Get Out the Binoculars

It's time to study the big picture. Most of the studies and activities done during high school should be filling the student's life with experiences and interests to draw from for their future. It's time to be serious about studies, and fulfill the academic expectations necessary for graduation and post high school life.

Build Memories

High school only lasts four very short years. During that time your student will transition from an awkward junior high 'nerd' to a responsible adult who likes to sit around and solve the world's problems at midnight when you are bone tired from your day. Take every opportunity that you can to build memories. Have those late night talks. Pick your high schooler's brain, and throw out interesting questions to them to discover what they're thinking about. Share your own personal values and beliefs and in the process, you will reinforce theirs. Don't be so hard on the educational aspect of high school that you forget to have fun. Volunteer together for a cause that you believe in. Enter into their world of interests and establish yourself as a pillar.

Spend Money

Yep - you are not going to escape homeschooling high school without spending, so just budget it in and accept it for what it is. Student's interests will grow. You may find yourself doing some traveling, buying materials, or paying extra for tutoring or lessons. That's not even counting all that you will spend for multiple SAT tests and college applications! And then they will decide to obtain certification in CPR, scuba diving, or some other obscure field of interest, and you'll need to pay for that as well! Perhaps they will get their pilot's license! With homeschooling a high school student, there is almost no end to the possibilities.

Don't Have Angst Over Mistakes

Mistakes are inevitable. They will hate a program that you thought would be the perfect fit, or they will have to repeat a program that they should have passed the first time. It happens. Don't stress over lost time or money, but instead take away whatever lesson you can from it, and use mistakes as an opportunity to teach your child how to overcome them in life, and turn them into good. As they mature, they will make plenty of their own. Better that they make some while still in a supportive environment, where the mistakes are typically not so devastating, so they can learn how to work through them. Actually, allowing mistakes to happen and problem solving it together with your teenager is one of the best training methods to build a parent-teen relationship. Re-evaluate, re-adjust, and move on, but don't let mistakes define your identity.

Build Your Student

It is much more important to build lives than to repair and undo poor training. Take the time to invest in your high school student. Use positive reinforcement and reassurance to help build their character and establish a good self-image. Praise character and virtue over personality and superficial traits.

Seek Out Help As Needed

Don't frustrate your teen by allowing them to struggle through situations where help is available, and would be.....helpful! If they need tutoring in a specific subject, then demonstrate the value you place on their work by hiring a tutor, or finding an expert in that field to mentor them through it. In our family, we have been very blessed that I am strong in English and History, while my husband is completely a math and Science guy. It has really balanced out our home school, where the students have been able to receive the necessary help in every subject. When extra assistance was necessary, such as hiring an SAT coach, we went ahead and 'did what we had to do' to build a successful home school program.

Remember, most importantly, that you CAN DO THIS! You, as a parent, know that child better than anyone else. You can tailor a high school home education that will equip them to be a success in this life, and fulfill God's purpose and plan for them, all while building a strong relationship. One day, they will be all grown up, and you will realize that not only are you the parent, but now you are also a friend!

Copyright 2012-2015 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A Fall Walk

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Review: Brookdale House Fun Spanish

Spanish has become a very popular second language in our household. Kelly has enjoyed several programs we have used, and is always looking for new ways to learn and practice Spanish. When the opportunity came along to review The Fun Spanish Level One from Brookdale House, we were excited to check it out and use it!

About Brookdale House: This company has an entire lineup of Charlotte Mason style home school curriculum resources, for elementary age students. There are no set grade levels, and a variety of topics to choose from,  including History, Geography, Writing, and of course, the Spanish program we tried out. The emphasis of their curriculum is copywork.

About The Fun Spanish: This course, Level One, uses a variety of vocabulary words to teach basic grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations, and prepositions of elementary Spanish.  The program consists of seventeen lessons.The time it takes to complete the program is up to the parent and student. By doing one lesson per week, it can be finished in one semester or  a lesson can be stretched out over two weeks and fill an entire school year.

How the program works: We received the 218 page e-book, printed the lesson pages, and placed them in a 3 ring binder. We began with the grammar and pronunciation review guides at the beginning of the book. Thankfully, we already have some Spanish experience so it was not difficult to decipher the words and vocabulary that were listed.

A lesson can be accomplished over one week's time by following the schedule in the book. Each lesson is about 10-12 pages long and has multiple vocabulary words. Nouns and verbs are matched together to create fun, silly, and memorable phrases, which help the student remember the meaning of the words, and enjoy building silly sentences. By following the lesson plan, words are reviewed carefully throughout the entire lesson, and each day builds on the previously learned concepts. On the last day of the lesson, there is time built in to go back and review prior words and sentences.

Each lesson consists of the following activities:
  • Verb conjugation
  • New vocabulary words
  • Translation practice (a sentence written in English that the student says in Spanish)
  • A Spanish sentence to copy and illustrate (these are typically silly combinations!)
  • Review
There are four models, or sections to each lesson. While they follow the same steps, each one contains a different set of words and a silly sentence, and they are meant to be done separately during the first four days of the week. The fifth day reviews all the words and sentences for the week, and creatively uses them together.

An example of Spanish sentences for the student to read and translate.

Translating a silly sentence

Illustrating the translated sentence

How we used Fun Spanish: I printed the lessons and started to work with Kelly on them, but soon saw that she was very capable of working independently on this. We would start off by going over the grammar and vocabulary at the beginning, but Kelly was able to complete the rest of the lesson on her own. Because she enjoyed it so much, she worked through the material at a much faster pace than what the schedule called for, and was completing several lessons per week. Since she was retaining the information, I allowed her to work at her own pace. Her older sisters, who have more Spanish experience, helped her with any pronunciation that she was unsure of, and made sure she was putting things together properly.

What we thought of Fun Spanish:  As I said, Kelly was familiar with many of the vocabulary words, and greatly enjoyed doing these lessons as copy work! She felt that translating sentences from Spanish to English was a very important and advanced task, and enjoyed this style of learning much better than just learning and memorizing lists of vocabulary words. I felt that because she was actually using the words in sentences, she remembered them much better. I loved hearing her laugh over the silly sentences that she had to translate, copy, and then illustrate. Since Kelly is at the older end of the spectrum for using this resource, I think she found it a bit easier, but that was a good thing because she immensely enjoyed the program. I feel like the copy work has given her great practice in forming proper Spanish sentences, and laid a good foundation for more advanced Spanish studies in her future.

Wish list: If I could add one thing to this program, it would be a downloadable audio file or audio CD with the proper pronunciation of the vocabulary words and sentences. While we were able to get some assistance from a knowledgeable source, if we did not have that luxury, I'm sure we would have been saying some of the words incorrectly. Though Kelly would have known how to spell and write them, she would not have recognized some of the words when hearing them. 

What a fun and productive way to enjoy learning Spanish!

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Field Trip: Hiking to the Eternal Flame

We are very blessed to have some really neat nature trails very close to our home. Recently, we went on a short hike to the Eternal Flame in Chestnut Ridge Park, in Orchard Park.

It was a gorgeous Fall day, and plenty of people were there enjoying the walk.

The Eternal Flame is a series of cracks in a shale rock gorge, where harmless natural gas leaks up from the earth. Most of the gas springs are below the surface of the creek, where if you observe closely, you can see tiny bubbles in the shallow water. There is one large fissure situated in the middle of a waterfall though, that has an amazing site. As the gas hits the air, a flame glows brightly in a small cove behind the trickling waterfall. It is an amazing site to see, and well worth the 3/4 mile trek down the side of the gorge, and across the creek bed, to get to the end of the trail.

Enjoying a peaceful walk down the creek bed heading towards the Flame at the end of the trail.

Looking up the sides of the gorge from below.

Approaching the Flame, and admiring the waterfall.

The Flame is visible in the cove behind the waterfall.

A closer view of the Flame.

The hike back up the side of the gorge is moderately strenuous. We were grateful that boy scouts keep up the trail and have built in some stairs on the steepest parts of the trail for use by hikers.

After taking the customary pictures of the flame, and exploring the surroundings, we headed over to the top of the big hill at Chestnut Ridge Park to take a beautiful Fall picture of the downtown skyline. In the distance, Lake Erie can even be seen, along with the windmills on the shoreline.

Looking out over Buffalo from the top of the hill at Chestnut Ridge Park.

I am looking forward to making this trip again. It is a 1 1/2 mile round trip hike, and can be done by children and adults alike.The gorge is lovely! You won't regret this hike!

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Review: When Calls The Heart

From the time I was a teenager, I have always enjoyed the writings of Janette Oke. I read the series of "When Calls The Heart" many years ago, and have fond memories of it. Once it was set to film, the girls and I have enjoyed watching it together. Poor dad gets really left out - he is completely outnumbered when it comes to selecting movie watching choices! He can frequently be overheard saying, "Not another chick flick!"

When the opportunity came to review this newer movie in the series, we were eager to watch it and give our opinions. I have previously reviewed a movie from and we discovered FishFlix to be a family-oriented, Christian company that sincerely cares about providing moral, educational, and Christian world view movies for families. For this review, we received When Calls the Heart, Heart of the Family, an 88 minute long movie that is the third in a series of ten DVD's from Season two of this made-for-television show.

About This is a Christian, family owned online media source that seeks to provide quality Christian viewing materials for families. They have a very large variety of subject matter available and offer many opportunities for discounts, including free shipping for a purchase over $35. The site offers real reviews from other families who have purchased and watched the movies that are being sold.

Our experience with 'When Calls The Heart': I was at a slight disadvantage when watching this because I have not seen the other parts of this series. The story line is spread out over ten DVD's, so pulling out number three to watch left me trying to figure out relationships and history between the characters. My girls watched it together with me, and were able to pause the movie and bring me up to speed on most of it though.

The story line follows a young lady named Elizabeth, the Mountie, Jack, who clearly has strong feelings for her, and a few other characters living parallel lives. There are some endearing moments, such as when Elizabeth is caring for two small children and is able to calm the fears of one not knowing that Jack is watching and loving her all the more because of it. There is the adventure of Jack's duties as a law officer taking him into harm's way to deal with a counterfeiting ring. Basically, the movie highlights the strong emotions that life and relationships bring.

While we all enjoyed this movie, we did think it ended abruptly and awkwardly, and there seemed to be several scenes that didn't really fit the plot or story line. We had a hard time connecting the meaning of them into the whole story, but I also feel as though they might make more sense in the big picture of the entire series.

The movie was clean and moral, and had an old-fashioned Western feel to it, which we enjoyed. It wasn't completely free of kissing, but it did not have any swearing or violence, or things that would make me reject it for my family. I felt it was something we could sit and watch and enjoy together, and the girls enjoyed it quite a bit.

Age recommendation: This movie would be appropriate for all ages, but the story line would likely best be enjoyed by young teens to adults. My ten year old watched it and was able to follow along.

Final Thoughts: I am so thankful for a company like FishFlix that will make families and Christian values their priority and dedicate their entire product line to selling media that will enhance the values we are trying to teach our children. We will definitely be supporting this company more in the future and I hope you will too!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Flower Dissection

We combined a few Biology Labs together and did a flower dissection, identifying all the parts of the flower, as well as a bean & pea dissection identifying their unique characteristics.  Here are a few neat pics.....enjoy!

The chart showing each flower part to find.

Moving on to beans and peas - loved seeing the tiny "plants" inside!

Copyright 2012-2015 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.


Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont