Thursday, September 24, 2009

the things we do in the name of science



My kitchen smells like a fishmonger lives here, but the boy has a greater understanding of mollusks. That’s probably an even trade.

nutrition 101

Nutrition_10CDROM_cover.jpg picture by homeschoolcrew

Coupled with physical education (at co-op this semester), we are using parts of  Nutrition 101 as part of a PE/Health credit this year. We were provided with an e-book of this health curriculum as part of the TOS Crew. It is beautifully designed and full color, so a printed version would add a great deal if it is in your homeschool budget and you decide that this product is right for your family. (Please see my notes below.) (Currently, it is $99.95 for the book, $79.95 for a CD-ROM. Downloadable e-books are not currently offered for sale.)

I have been printing some of each unit for use as a health lesson. A variety of activities are suggested so you can choose what works best with the ages and learning styles of your children. The recipes are terrific, too, and I know my son was more interested in guacamole than he has ever been before.

Pros: First, the positive things about Nutrition 101. Again, the design is lovely. The material is quite comprehensive – providing enough to allow me to pick and choose what we include and what we leave out. The course covers the systems of the human body: brain/nervous, digestive, respiratory/olfactory/auditory/visual, skeletal/muscular, cardiovascular/immune, and endocrine/emotions. There are extensive appendices that add even more depth to the individual units and many healthy recipes. This program is ready to use, in a teacher- and student-friendly format. It is Christian-based. The boy is absorbing this material like crazy, something I credit in large part to the book’s visual appeal. (I know, I can’t let go of the great layout.)

Cons: The book has a fairly high number of typographical/grammar errors. I am told the authors are planning to correct this is future editions, but it is not an inexpensive book, so I do want to note that. Of greater concern to me, however, are things stated as fact that I am careful to label as the authors’ opinions. I have already found at least two sources that give me pause, as well as the repeated promotion of a product line, which in my opinion, is inappropriate in a teaching product. In my opinion, too much of the material in the appendices reads like promotion for this particular line of essential oils. You may agree with them wholeheartedly, but I think I would be remiss if I did not let you know that in advance. Though the authors seem to be Godly women with the best intentions, I encourage you to read this with a discerning eye, applying what is best for your family.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

nature friend magazine

NFMthumbnail.jpg picture by homeschoolcrew

Am I the only homeschool parent who didn’t know about this? When this was made available to the TOS Crew, many people sang its praises. I shrugged and had a blank stare. Nature Friend has actually been around since 1983 – I was a mere child in 1983 – and homeschool families have long held it in high regard. I am told the magazine has gone to 72 different countries during its run.

OK, even if you did know about Nature Friend, did you know the magazine now offers a study guide? We received the August and September issues and their study guides and were quite pleased. The boy enjoyed the abundance of activities, including crosswords, word searches, a “how to draw” segment in each issue, and an abundance of nature photography in all its circle of life glory. (Translation: Eww. But educational and entertaining, especially for 11-year-old boys.)

The study guide is $2 per month, in addition to the subscription price of $36. (See a sample here.) Study guides are actually inserts and are not sold separately from the magazine. The study guides really made the magazine for us. They include issue-specific activities and enrichment that allowed us to use the magazine as a learning tool, including creative writing and nature photography.

  • This is an ideal companion for nature studies. Especially if your homeschool has a classical bent, you will want to keep these from season to season as an unmatched nature journal resource.
  • For kids who aspire to be visual artists,writers or photographers, there are many opportunities for reader submissions.
  • The magazine is decidedly Christian (tag line: “Helping Families Explore the Wonder of God’s Creation”) and is completely family friendly.
  • The photography, writing and design are top-notch – and I have the occupational hazard of being overly critical of such things. :)

I hesitate to recommend an age range for Nature Friend. I actually found it just about perfect for my son’s age (sixth grade), but it certainly could be read to much younger children and has the added benefit of engaging photographs. It is not watered down, so it could be used effectively in homeschools with multiple grades.

And if you happen to curl up on the couch with an issue and a cup of coffee – well, I wouldn’t know anything about that.


Oh, the boy was excited about this one. StudyPod sent each member of the TOS Crew a sample of their book holder for review. It was an instant hit – so much so that I may need to get a second one for the girl (maybe this will help with her chronic back pain?). Aside from the fact that StudyPod looks like a book, has a cool pocket inside for extras (pens, cell phone, etc.), it is a freak of nature in its ability to hold very thick books (Harry Potter is supposed to fit – I haven’t tested that out, but I don’t doubt it). This is not strictly a homeschool item by any means, though it is great for kids who do their work on the floor, on the couch, in the car, etc. (You know who you are.) In fact, the student version is differentiated from the grown-up version (BookPod) only by color. (StudyPod is available in black, blue or pink. BookPod is available in more subtle black, gray or beige.)

Since this really is something you need to see to understand, click over for a video from StudyPod, or just watch the boy:







StudyPods are $19.95 each, or $16.95 each for two or more.

Friday, September 18, 2009




Tuesday, September 15, 2009

shoes: a cautionary tale


In my garage, yesterday.

And this validates 40 years of checking my shoes before sticking my feet inside.

I grew up in the swamps of South Carolina, where there are at least 497 poisonous species of arachnids, insects and reptiles. And they live in small dark places. Many actually claim unsuspecting tennis shoes as a their natural habitat. (Don’t doubt me. I am the Swamp Queen.) I live in the Upstate now, where (relatively) frigid winters prevent said predators from living here. (Swamp Queens don’t do so well in the winter either, just sayin’.)

What the critters here lack in venom, they make up for in size. When I first moved here, a spider kept me from reaching my car when it positioned itself accordingly in the garage. It was the size of a Jack Russell terrier. Camel crickets invade us every summer --- these are not the “lucky household legend” little black crickets. Truly, they have taken years off my life, leaping out in attack every summer.

So this Monk-like obsession I have with screening my tennis shoes? I stand fully validated. Don unchecked shoes at your own risk, people.

write with the best (and more from EDUDPS)

EDUDPS, Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services, sounds a little intimidating, right? No worries. Hiding behind that moniker are some wonderful homeschool programs. We were fortunate to be able to use and assess several of them as part of the TOS Crew.

  • Root and Fruits: This is a very comprehensive “stems” program that includes instructions for use with all ages. My daughter began learning Greek and Latin stems (or roots, as they were called when I was a kid) in sixth grade in public school. My son started in fourth grade, our first year of homeschooling. I truly believe that the introduction of Greek and Latin early and often is a key component of vocabulary building and I really think you can start at any age. Roots and Fruits includes games and activities for a variety of grade levels. The program also includes 205 of the most commonly tested words on the SAT and more than 1700 vocabulary words in all. I am convinced that learning stems is making my son a much better reader and a better thinker because he is able to discern so much more of what he reads. I think that is critical, especially for kids who do not have a natural tendency toward written language. (As of this writing, the program is $11.25 for the e-book, $17.48 for pages only, and $19.98 for comb binding.)
  • The Complete Career, College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers: This was fun! Sometimes I think my son misses out on little things in the public school experience (you know – bullying, drugs, peer pressure… just kidding, mostly). Anywho… My daughter completed career assessments beginning in sixth grade and continuing each year through tenth grade, I believe. My son finally had the chance with this program. I will say that this kid is an open book and the assessments in this program confirmed what I already knew about his learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and interests, but it was nice to get objective corroboration. This program can be a big help in middle and high school planning. If your child is excelling and has clear ideas about interests, possible college majors, etc., I don’t think this is critical by any means. If you aren’t sure of his or her learning styles and strengths, this might be a good place to start. (As of this writing, the program is $26.20 for the e-book and $30.95 for the soft cover edition.)
  • And now, my favorites: Write with the Best, Volumes 1 and 2. Ack! I can’t tell you how many writing programs I have tried. I feel like I have tried them all, really. My son doesn’t enjoy writing (oh, the irony!) and sees it as needless torture that he must endure before getting to history, math and science. While he still has days of frustration with this, he is writing wonderfully descriptive paragraphs with minimal complaint – they are good, complete paragraphs with vivid imagery. I can’t tell you what a breakthrough this is. The formula for this program is deceptively simple. Each unit begins with a passage of great writing. (There are nine units per volume – ten days per unit.) Each ten-day unit is broken down into bite-sized objectives that lead students to thoroughly (and painlessly!) analyze a passage of classic literature and then use lessons learned from that analysis to create their own work. It is simple but remarkably effective for my son. There are suggestions for using the program with different learning styles, as well as “how to” references for many types of writing. Volume One (descriptive writing) is recommended for grades 3 – 12 and it could easily cover an entire year of language and composition. Volume Two (expository and informative writing) is for grades 6 – 12. For older students, each volume could cover a semester. The program seems to be widely adaptable for ages and strengths. It is dead-on perfect for my reluctant writer. (As of this writing, Volume One is $14.95 for the e-book, $22.45 for pages only, and $24.95 for the pages in a three-ring binder. Volume Two is priced slightly higher.)


While I am so very pleased with my son’s progress with Write with the Best, I found the e-book delivery method was a challenge. As a homeschooler, I have downloaded many e-books and almost all have been in pdf format, often watermarked to deter copying/selling. Easy, peasy. EDUDPS uses pdfs that must be downloaded through a secure file viewer. Their customer service was wonderful, but I did find the download process difficult. Though we were emailed these products for review, if I had purchased them on my own, I definitely would have bought a printed copy and I would recommend that to others as well. WWTB, in particular, has been a tremendous asset in our homeschool, but the e-book restrictions almost kept me away. (And with the considerable length of WWTB, it is probably cheaper to buy the printed copy anyway.) YMMV.

Now, go write something wonderful.

Friday, September 11, 2009

we’re still here

This was published in October, 2001. I wrote it on Sept. 13. I can’t say it any better eight years later.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death….I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more" Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

As I write this, it has been a week of horrendous events in our country. It appears that thousands have died at the hands of terrorists, and that this is far from over.

Just hours after the attacks, I had lunch with my daughter at school. Terrified parents lined up to retrieve their children from class. I clenched my teeth as I left mine there to finish the school day.

So much has been lost: lives, families, and the innocence that our relatively young nation has enjoyed within these protected borders. How do you explain to an eight-year-old that this kind of evil exists? Here. Now. In our backyard.

I fear that I have missed some easy lessons in my life. But there have been some burning bushes that would not be overlooked. I want to scream those lessons to my children, to force them to listen. I pray that they hear me.

My friend, ravaged by cancer, taught me that tomorrow is not promised. She could face death head-on, if only she could know that her children would remember her. What would she leave them? What would my legacy be to my own children?

I was privileged, as strange as it sounds, to spend an afternoon with a convicted murderer as he waited to learn his fate. He cried as I held his hand. I learned that people are not always what they seem. Everyone is afraid of something.

I have stood in the house where Anne Frank hid from horrors that are beyond anything that I can imagine—even after the television images I have seen this week. The blackened windows could not dim the images of movie stars pasted to the walls. Children are children even when the wolf is at the door.

What will I tell my child about this tragedy? There is evil. There is hatred. There is good that triumphs in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. God is still God, and He is still in control, even when our tear-filled mortal eyes are blind to His presence. And there are still lessons to be learned. As Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

college prep genius

No, not me. I am not a college prep genius. In fact, the SAT is virtually unrecognizable from the one I took (many) years ago. Did you know there is a writing section now? I was robbed, I tell you. I could have used that to balance out the math portion. The math portion was my nemesis.

In any event, the girl is a high school junior this year and SAT prep is (or should be) on her brain. We were sent a copy of College Prep Genius’ Master the SAT Class for her to try out as she prepares for this giant everything-in-your-future-depends-on-it test. (OK, I am exaggerating.) We will have a review forthcoming, but for now, it’s a DVD/workbook/textbook set with a host of tips for maneuvering the questions. I have spent a lot of time looking at it and giving thanks that I never have to take that test again. (Or the LSAT – thank you, God, for sparing me the LSAT again.) The program also has an extensive scholarship resource section, which is most welcome. Most welcome. Acronyms are used throughout to help students learn tricks to answering questions in a way that will raise their SAT scores. Given her learning style, I think the acronyms of testing strategies (there are so many…) will be a good fit for her.

I’ll let you know…

Thursday, September 3, 2009

cookies for kimberly says the cookies and school supplies go to number 4. Kimberly, I am emailing you now. Enjoy!