Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Best Homeschool Review Crew Products 2017

One of my favorite things about the Homeschool Review Crew is taking time at the end of the year to look back over the amazing products we have reviewed and loved.  Every year, the crew members are asked to vote in a variety of categories, the votes are tallied, and the Blue Ribbons are awarded!  I didn't vote in a few categories because I didn't review something in that subject (foreign language) or I don't have children in that age range (high school) so you won't see those represented in my post, but you WILL find them among the winners and in the posts of my fellow crew members who are also sharing their "favorites" this week!

I reviewed 30-some products this year, and we enjoyed almost everything, but these are our overall favorites.  In no particular order . . .

ArtAchieve is a fun art program that teaches children to draw and explore artistic concepts using real art from around the world as the basis for the lessons.  It's self-paced and a great way to explore different mediums with guided instruction.  You can expand into unit studies for the country represented by the art, or you can use this program as a supplement to your geography program.  There's really so many ways to use it.

The Pencil Grip, Inc
This year I have reviewed Thin Stix 6 pack and their Creativity Pack - which has metalix and neon colors too!  These are fun, easy to use, dry quickly, and are relatively mess-free, making them great for last minute projects or preschool art.  They are a staple in our home, and a favorite of everyone, particularly my two and four year olds!
Winner - Kid's Choice

We also reviewed their safety scissors and pencil grips this year.

I was unsure about reviewing a math program (I usually only review supplements) but I was surprised with the results of CTCMath!  We tried it a few years ago, and it wasn't a huge hit at the time, so I was thrilled with my oldest son's response.  He does well in math, but "hates" it.  Both of my elementary age kids use it as their core math, and my 4 year old uses the K level on and off as well!
Winner - Favorite Math Curriculum 

Heirloom Audio
This company has been turning G.A. Henty's historical fiction books into audio dramas, and they are truly a great listening and learning experience.  This year we reviewed In the Reign of Terror (about the French Revolution) and Captain Bayley's Heir (American West) and they're fantastic as always!  They also include a study guide, which make them a great tool for in-depth studies.
Winner - Favorite Audio Book or Audio Drama (Captain Bayley's Heir)

Let's Go Geography
Let's Go Geography is a fun K-4 geography program that includes videos, mapping, craft ideas, coloring pages and note booking pages.  You can pick and choose activities based on your needs and the ages of your children, and it is suitable for a classroom or co-op environment as well.  It's very flexible, and enjoyable.  While it's a full geography program, we now use it as more of a supplement, but it's great for that use too because you can 'pick and choose' the order of studies.
Winner - Favorite Social Studies

Let's Go Geography

Super Teacher Worksheets
Super Teacher Worksheets is a resource for homeschool parents and teachers.  I'm not usually a worksheet person, but there are some wonderful treasures here.  I use it as a supplement for just about every subject, but I really love their labeled and blank maps for map drills.

Brinkman Adventures
We have reviewed these in the past - this year we reviewed Brinkman Adventures Season 4.  These are missionary stories told through radio dramas that are appropriate for the entire family.
Winner - Favorite Christian Education Supplement

Reading Eggs
We received a subscription to Reading Eggs and Math Seeds and Eleanor really enjoys playing on them!  It's a great supplemental tool for Pre-K and early elementary.  There are sections of the website for younger (pre-reading) and older students (comprehension) as well.  She still asks for this often.
Winner - Favorite Reading Curriculum, Favorite Preschool Product, Best Online Resource

So there you have it.  Our overall favorites!  Obviously we enjoyed many more products that we reviewed, and we voted for many of them in different categories, but I just couldn't list everything.  Then of course there are plenty of winners we didn't review this year.  So be sure to check out the FULL list of winners on the crew's website!

Homeschool Review Crew Favorite Products for 2017

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ambleside Online Year 2 - The Transition

When making the transition to Ambleside Online, I didn't want to spend much time planning, or I'd spend too much time following rabbit trails and we'd never get started, but I did need to figure out placement.  Ambleside Online uses quality living books, but they are advanced, thus the years do not correspond to grade levels.  Additionally, the years continue to increase in workload, difficulty and mature themes, so from what I could find on the website and forum, it is common practice to often place a child a year or two below their current grade level.  The objective is to find a year that is challenging without being overwhelming.

Ambleside Online Year 2
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Emory is a 3rd grader and is doing great, but he is still "young" for his grade (late summer birthday) so I needed to take all of this into consideration.  After looking over the content from two years below to two years above his grade level, to look how how the material progresses, I felt confident that Year 2 was a great choice for him.  I knew he would love the content and could mature steadily with the curriculum.  I would have two years to prepare him for the jump to Y4, and since he's not doing phonics/reading instruction (which is often assumed of a Y2 student) that time is freed up to have him work towards more independence in his school work.  (From what I've read, everything Y7+ is high school level, so I'm not worried if we only get through Y11, but there are also plans to do three upper levels in two years, if desired.  This is a well-thought out curriculum!)

I'm trying to do minimal changes to the curriculum, and what changes I have made are not a reflection on the quality of the curriculum, rather they are just for practicality or personal reasons.

We will continue to do our own readings and AWANA

I want to trust the process so to speak, with the history streams, so I am mostly leaving the history as-is.  I am removing Trial and Triumph for now, though I'm thinking of putting both boys on the same schedule for this book soon enough.  If not, we'll use AO's alternate recommendation to cover the material in later years.  (We have, however, done some missionary stories with The Brinkman Adventures, which the kids love.  They want to do other seasons!)

We were already planning to use Geography through Literature from Beautiful Feet Books, so I'm using the BFB guide for the geography elements.  I already have their nice maps, and this way I have a tad bit more guidance on the mapping. I've been following the reading schedule in the BFB guide instead of the AO schedule, which puts us on pace to finish one book per term.  We'll see how that goes.

The geography concepts to be taught conversationally aren't entirely new to Emory, so I'm not going to worry about "teaching" them for now, though I'm thinking we might just read through the recommended books as a family eventually anyway.

My little naturalist was thrilled to find out he has an entire year of animals for science!  He doesn't always find it enough though, and he often begs to add a chapter from Burgess Bird Book.  We had already started that book with our Learning About Birds adventure, and since it was also a Y1 science, I don't mind to occasionally add a bird chapter if we only have one Animal chapter for the week.

This is the area with the most tweaking.

Shakespeare - We were already doing our own thing with both boys, so I'm just continuing with that for now.
Pilgrim's Progress - I already owned Little Pilgrim's Progress, and I am reading that to both boys.
Poetry - We were already doing this as a family, so we'll continue that way, at least for this year.  We were already doing A.A. Milne first term before switching, and are now on Shel Silverstein.
Parables from Nature - As is!
Novels - Following the schedule for this one!

Free Reads
I am pulling his independent reading mostly from Years 1 and 2 free reads.  I'm also using some of these free reads for our lunchtime readings, since Eleanor (4) is with us.

So far this has worked well.  He has some books that are easier, some that are right on level, and some that are challenging and stretching him.  It has been really good for him!

In addition to the delightful feast of core subjects from AO, he also does the following:
  • Copywork and cursive practice
  • Recitation with Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization
  • Math with CTC and Xtra Math
  • Foreign Language - Spanish
  • Player Sloyd - we're just starting!
  • Fine Arts - See the Light (drawing), picture study, composer, folk song, and hymn
  • Nature Study - we do the study; we're still working on the journaling
  • AWANA, Sunday School, Junior Church 
  • CO-OP with Art, Literature and Science classes
I'm still working on slowly adding a few more elements and fine tuning the process, but so far I am really happy with the changes!  

©2011-2017 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Transitioning to Ambleside Online

I always hear that there are times when the best laid homeschool plans get tossed out the window.  It finally happened to us this year.  I've been known to change a thing or two throughout the year, but I don't think I've ever made such drastic changes as I did in October.  Initially I had a relaxed, CM inspired year planned, but things just weren't moving forward in a productive way.  In reality, the curriculum I had chosen uses living books, but the guide was not CM.  I'm just not in a season where I have the time or desire to adapt it to fit our needs for two different ages, but I do have the desire to be more authentic to the philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason.

Transitioning to Ambleside Online
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I also realized that I needed to separate my 3rd and 5th grader--not just for the age/maturity difference, but also because I was tired of the goofing off at the table together, or the bickering, or the constant comparisons.  After careful consideration and prayer, I felt drawn to Ambleside Online.  It would allow us to still do a few subjects together, but also to separate them more overall, giving them their own stuff.  Having your own math and language arts is one thing.  Having your own stories, your own connection with books, with living ideas, something to delight in.  I can already tell that it is a completely different experience!

I actually found Ambleside Online (AO) early in our homeschooling journey.  We did Year 0 (Preschool/K) and fully intended to use AO straight through.  We started Year 1 but we just couldn't find our rhythm.  In hindsight, I should have just waited a few months or a year, as was suggested in the depths of their never-ending website.  (I kid you not, you will never stop following rabbit trails on that website-there so many resources!)

Over the years, I have come back to Ambleside Online, considering it on and off, and I almost made the decision to switch this summer when researching curriculum.  I just couldn't commit to separating the boys, because I still had that "keep them together for as long as possible" mentality.  However, after starting up this fall, I knew it was time.  As I said, they needed their space.  We were about 8 weeks in when I finally felt convinced to just drop almost everything and change gears.  It was time.

Ambleside Online years do not correlate to standard grade level.  Their levels are more advanced, and after perusing the website and forum, it seems a common recommendation to start a transitioning student a year or two below their grade level.  This gives them time to become familiar with the CM method, living books, etc.  The objective is to find a year that will challenge them, without overwhelming them.

For a 3rd and 5th grader, that meant I basically needed to look through years 1-6, looking at where to place them now and ahead to see how things progress.  I decided to place Emory (3rd grade) in Year 2 and Elliott (5th) in Year 4.  This seemed like a good place for both of them, considering the workload, the content of the books, and their personal needs.  I plan to write more about their individual years soon, and I will probably expand more on my placement decisions there.  Overall, I feel this was the right decision for both boys.

I am making a few small adaptions* to the curriculum, but most of those are related to combining the boys in a few books, not because of the curriculum itself.

  • Bible - We are continuing our own readings and AWANA 
  • Trial and Triumph - I am dropping Trial and Triumph from both schedules for now, and will likely use AO's alternate recommendation to cover church history in later years.  (We are however, doing modern missionary stories with Brinkman Adventures.)
  • Pilgrim's Progress - I moved this from the Y2 schedule to a family read-aloud, and we're actually using Little Pilgrim's Progress because I already owned it.  I'm thinking we'll tackle the original as a family later, perhaps when the girls cycle through.
  • Geography - I've combined both boys in Year 2 geography - this gets Elliott through more of the Holling C. Holling books and lets them do a core subject together still.  I have the guide and large maps from Beautiful Feet Books, so I've actually been following their reading schedule, which would put me on pace to do one book per term.  We'll see how that goes.  
  • Shakespeare - I'm kind of doing my own thing with this still since we'd already started; it's more of a mishmash between the ideas of a Y2 and Y4 approach.  (I think it's more in the style of Simply Charlotte Mason's Shakespeare recommendations.)
  • Free Reads - I'm pulling various books from the lower levels of AO for family reading material.  This way the books are more appropriate for the girls listening in, and the older kids don't miss these great books.  

  • *The Ambleside Online is a beautiful and thorough Charlotte Mason curriculum.  These "tweaks" I have made are for my family's unique situation, and are not a reflection of the quality of AO, nor are they endorsed or specifically recommended by the AO advisory.  I do not want to take anything away from the dedication and hard work of the AO advisory.

    What do we think?
    We started the second week of October, so we're 5 weeks in now.  The first few weeks were a struggle to find our balance and rhythm, but we're making huge strides, and Elliott specifically is much more comfortable with the books.  (He doing more independently than Emory.)  My biggest challenge is juggling so many books and keeping up with their history streams (I remember none of this stuff from my public school days!) and they distract each other during geography.  So we may make some changes there.  However, it is getting easier!

    As I said, I plan to share more about the boys thoughts and our experiences with the individual years as we progress through the curriculum.

    ©2011-2017 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.