Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Starfall Home Membership {review}

My daughter just turned five years old and is a delightful little student.  She is very precocious, and as a third child, she is always wanting to run with the big kids, including doing school with them.  When she was about two yeas old, and was infatuated with my iPad, I let her play on the free Starfall app from Starfall Education Foundation.  It was her special little school time, and in no time, she knew all of her letters and their primary sounds.  More recently though, we were given the opportunity to review The Starfall Home Membership so she was excited to have something familiar, but more varied and in-depth and appropriate for her skill level.  My three year old likes to join in on the fun sometimes as well!


Starfall began in 2002 as a place for children to have fun learning how to read.  It included a handful of books, videos and games.  Many people know about the free resources on Starfall.com, but The Starfall Home Membership allows your whole family to utilize one account to sign in and access all additional content.  Your account can be used by everyone with just one login, and it also works across mobile devices - Android, Kindle and iOS.  We have used our account on my MacBook Air, iPad Pro and a Kindle Fire.  All have worked with no issues!

Once I sign in with my account and authorize the device, I don't have to continuously sign in, which is a nice feature.  I can just open the website or app and let them play.  This is not a sequential or leveled program, so none of the activities are locked.  Children can play and learn anywhere, go back and forth between activities, and repeat anything as they wish.  I like that they have the freedom to enjoy the activities that are most developmentally appropriate and interesting to them.

Some of the activities that we have done include building CVC words, learning about the calendar, practicing measurements, listening to music and poetry, and so more!  I couldn't begin to tell you about all of the individual activities and skills covered, but there is quite the variety of interactive reading and math games.

The Short Vowel Word Machine lets the children switch out letters, to make new words.  Since Eleanor is right at the word family/CVC stage of learning to read, this is a good activity for her to see that connection, and how changing just one letter changes the sound and meaning of a word.

Starfall.com review

In other areas there are books that are read to to the child, and many of these are popular folk tales.  While it doesn't replace a physical book and snuggle time, it's a great activity for the child who just can't get enough of books and read-alongs.  I can tell the Goldilocks story a hundred times, but my three year old would still ask for it again.  Obviously, I like that this is one of the featured stories!  We can listen to Goldilocks while I'm working nearby.

In addition, there are many enrichment activities.  Eleanor was delighted to find the poem My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson in the poetry section.  The big kids had used this poem for memory work and recitation, so she was thrilled to have their poem in her program.  The poems are just one of the many activities under the 1st Grade Reading: Literature and Informational Text section.

Two other great sections there are the Art Gallery and Music sections.  There are short, informational readers that expose the children to classic works.  Since we do Picture Study and Composer Study in our homeschool, these are great little supplements when they happen to line up.

Starfall.com review

Another favorite area is The Starfall Sing-Along.  It's like a children's music app, where they can listen to nursery rhymes and songs.  These are songs like Baa Baa Black Sheep, Twinkle Twinkle, and The Wheels on the Bus.  Eleanor (5) and Eloise (3) love to sing contemporary music with their older siblings, so I sometimes forget that they need the simplicity and the literary value of  nursery rhymes and children's songs.  They both really enjoy this area!

Starfall.com review

In addition to all of the reading and literacy activities, Starfall also offers numerous math activities.  You can find easier activities like sorting buttons and coins, to place value games to division and fractions.  You can find skill-appropriate activities by clicking on the 1st/2nd grade buttons if your child is older.  These are great supplemental activities for any math curriculum, and a fun introduction for students just learning to explore numbers and measurements.

Starfall Parent-Teacher Center & Starfall Store
For the adults who are facilitating the learning, there is a comprehensive Parent-Teacher center.  It has the complete guide to using Starfall for each grade level.  For my Pre-K student, I can open one guide, while the Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade guides are split into ELA and Mathematics.  The guides cover which activities support which learning skills, as well as supplemental items from the store that correspond to the skill.  There is also a very thorough Resource center where you can print or create a variety of worksheets to use in your home.  The Starfall Store showcases the apps, books, CDs and other materials that complement their online program and their curriculum kits.  These resources would obviously allow you to use the program in a more systematic and purposeful way.

Final Thoughts
As a parent, I fully believe in the value of unstructured play, outdoor time and learning through real-life at this age.  However, I also recognize that we live in a society where technology is undoubtedly part of our lives, and that teaching our children how to responsibly use technology in moderation is important.  If I am going to allow electronics, I want to make sure the time is used wisely, so an engaging, educational resource is always a hit in our home.  As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I love that Starfall Education Foundation includes classic stories, nursery rhymes, songs, classical music, and art as part of their approach to literacy.  Their math activities are also play-based and fun for my preschooler.  I find it a very well-rounded online resource.  The Starfall Home Membership is $35/year for your entire family.  Overall, both of my preschoolers really enjoy the activities and I am happy to utilize it as part of their school a few times a week.

The Starfall Home Membership {Starfall Education Foundation Reviews}
This graphic contains my FTC statement.

©2011-2018 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mid-Year Update: AO Year 2

We are now coming to the halfway point in our first year with Ambleside Online!  It felt like the first term lasted forever, but I think that was because we switched in October and had both Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks in there.  I finally feel like we're making forward progress, a daily rhythm is falling into place, and the days are going much smoother.  I recently shared some of my thoughts on the curriculum as a whole, but now I wanted to go more in-depth about each year and how we're handing each subject and individual books.  I think I'll start with Year 2.

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For reference, Emory is a young 3rd grader and I chose Year 2 for the content, the challenge, and the ability to transition into independence sooner rather than later.  I believe we made the right choice.  He is very engaged with most of his books, loves the topics he s studying in history and science, and is still challenged by the literary 


This is my nature-loving kid, and he liked history, but didn't particularly love it last year.  This year, he loves it, and it seems that his history books and the subject as a whole now rival science for favorite books and subject!  I would not have guessed that coming into the program, but I am happy to report it!

I found Our Island Story Monarchy Timeline Cards online at one time, and I just printed and put them in his notebook, so he can reference.  (We aren't doing a timeline yet...shhh!)   For his notebook, I found some maps through the forum, and printed those for reference too.  Sometimes we'll pull out a drawing book and do a tutorial for a castle or a knight or something relevant to what we've been reading, and put that in his notebook as well.  I also have a Famous Figures from Medieval Times PDF coloring book, and he will do a coloring page from there occasionally.  It must have been a freebie in a homeschool bundle, as I cannot find it on their website.  I leave these types of activities up to him--I don't want to turn it into busywork, but it does give him some portfolio fodder.  I typically read the core books to him, though sometimes we buddy read, and sometimes I'll assign an easier chapter to him.  He's starting to make connections and loves hearing about famous people/events outside of his books!


Although The Little Duke is challenging, he likes it.  I read this one to him.  He's making a "booklet" of the main characters.  He draws a picture and then we write a few details (name, age, relation to other characters) which helps him keep his narrations straight too.  I saw this idea on the FB group page, I believe.  I think the book finally started to pick up pace at the end of term one and I'm starting to feel invested in the story!


This is one subject where I decided to combine the boys.  My Y4 would have been doing a Holling book anyway, and I already had the maps and guide from Beautiful Feet Books.  I decided to loosely combine the AO and BFB schedules.  My Y4 loves it, but my Y2 wasn't a fan of Tree in the Trail.  The map work leaves a lot to be desired; a smaller map probably would have been better.  We're just starting Seabird, so we'll see how that goes.  As for narrations, I randomly alternate.

From the very beginning, The Burgess Animal Book was declared as his favorite book.  He loves science and wants to be a zoologist or otherwise work with animals, so I knew he would enjoy it!  Though the mice chapters started to get to both of us!  He can read this one on his own if I need, but he prefers for me to read it because he likes to draw/color pictures of animals to go with it.  He likes to keep his field guide accessible when we read too, and of course we try to look up a video of the animals on YouTube to see them in action.  For his narrations, we will sometimes write facts on the back of his page.

(He went with the brown part of the gray-brown description, because the picture of the eastern mole looked brown in the field guide.)

Nature Study
I confess.  We're okay with the outdoor time and informal nature study, when weather appropriate.  Not so much the formal nature study and journaling.  I finally decided to buckle down, and I went through my files to find Exploring Nature with Children again.  Emory loved the idea of studying a new topic weekly, but I think we're going to come back inside and do our nature journaling.  While it would be idyllic to see my children sitting around the farm with their nature journals and watercolor pencils, creating lovely nature journal entries, it just doesn't happen that way.  I don't know how other families do it, but it is pure chaos if we try to do school or nature journals outside.  So inside it is.

Langauge Arts

We were doing separate cursive and copywork, and I'm going to continue creating simple cursive pages for him to practice.  However, I recently acquired Language Lessons for Children as a review item.  It is rooted in Charlotte Mason's methods, and for the most part, I like everything that is included.  This review is for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine website, but I'll try to get it over here eventually too.


He uses CTCMath (my review) for instruction, and Xtra Math to practice facts.  Both are short and sweet, and do the job.  He doesn't love math, but he doesn't hate it either.  He's just progressing at a steady pace, and I'm happy with that!

As a general rule, we like most of the literature selections.  I adored Understood Betsy, and his reaction to the treatment of little 'Lias broke my heart.  He declared with passion that he would be Lias's friend, and I knew he meant it!  We visited a church one time, and the "bus kids" (i.e. those from rough backgrounds) flocked to our boys - my husband and I realized it's because our boys never discriminated against them.  The book was just delightful all around for me though, and I'm looking forward to this book again with the girls.

For Pilgrim's Progress, I'm actually using Little Pilgrim's Progress, because I saw it mentioned on the website and we already had a copy.  This version is easy enough that he could read it himself, but I'm reading it aloud, because Elliott (Y4) has never heard it and he loves it too.  I typically ask Emory to narrate since it is his book, but because Elliott is fully invested in the story, I ask him sometimes too.

Now, he's not a fan of Parables From Nature, because as he put it "I thought it would be good because you said it had nature in it, but..." I think this book is also the most challenging, in terms of vocabulary and syntax, so we both fumble through this one a little.  During Term 2 he actually asked to drop it or replace it, so I might just switch to the modern paraphrase for the rest of the year, then pick back up with the original in Y3 and see if that makes a difference.

The newest book this term is The Wind in the Willows.  He remembers reading somewhere that this was a favorite book of Theodore Roosevelt, so he was interested in starting.  I like how this one gently ties into science, and I definitely prefer the generic names like Mole, Rat and Toad over all the silly names in Burgess that I can't always keep straight.  He took to saying Poop-Poop! for awhile, of course, and this is the first book he requests every day.  We do need 2-3 reading slots each week for this one because it can be wordy at times, but it's a fun read.
(An interesting article I came across on Kenneth Grahame.)


So these are elements listed on the Year 2 page that we aren't doing as written.

Bible - We are not using their schedule, as we already have readings and AWANA
Trial and Triumph - I just purchased to read through myself first, and I think we will do the alternate recommendation for church history.
Foreign Language - We have dabbled in Spanish, but I have been inconsistent with it.
Poetry/Shakespeare/Music - I've shared more about some of our enrichment activities already, since we do those as a family.
Physical Activity - When the weather is nice, we get our walks and outdoor play in; when the weather is not so nice I have them do some basic stuff indoors as brain breaks (stretches, jumping jacks, sit-ups, etc)
Art/Handicrafts - I'm working to include these more.  Right now we're finishing up the lessons we have from the ArtAchieve review before they expire, and I'm considering it an "all-in-one" for these categories.  He expressed interest in clay and pottery, so I'm going to figure out how to work that into our art/handicraft time slot next.
Co-Op - Not listed on AO of course, but it helps fulfill Art.  He also has a literature and science class. Then his free time in the gym gets some physical activity as well.

All that to say, Year 2 is going well.  There's always more we could be doing, but it's literally one new thing at a time for me right now.  I am happy with our homeschool.  The kids are learning, making connections.  Enjoying.

©2011-2018 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com

Saturday, February 17, 2018

2017-2018: Term 2 Enrichment Studies

We're just finishing up our second term of enrichments!  I was a little nervous about adding all this stuff in at the beginning of the year, but the kids really enjoy most of it!

Composer Study

Ludwig van Beethoven
I didn't use any extra books or try to turn it into a full study.  Right now, I just want it to be about appreciation, and maybe occasional recognition of a piece.  I typically stream through Alexa while we're cleaning, or sometimes over lunch if I'm not up to reading that day.

We did listen to a few Classics for Kids episodes, because I like that it gives a solid mix of biographical information and music appreciation, and we used a quote attributed to him for copywork occasionally.  For fun, we listened to Roll Over Beethoven!

Picture Study

Leonardo da Vinci
As soon as we did our first picture study this year the boys begged to study da Vinci so we could study the Mona Lisa!  I had him on the list anyway, because we were going to study him as a scientist (though that changed when we switched to AO), so I tried to read that book, but we didn't find it overly engaging, or necessary for the process.  Maybe in high school for an art history credit, but for now, it's like composers.  I'm going for appreciation and recognition.

We did occasionally look up an accompanying video on YouTube about a piece of art, since I just bought the extra art prints and not the full picture study portfolio.  We studied the most popular ones for one week, and then left some of the lesser-known-to-us prints up for two weeks.  We didn't necessarily study the second week (especially holiday weeks) but just reviewing the title and leaving it out for exposure.  We covered all eight prints again, and on the last week  I spread the prints out and called a title, and they chose to the correct one.  Quick and easy review!

Hymn Study
I had been following AO's recommendation of one hymn per month, but this was about the time I started choosing our own hymns.  During hymn time, I only play our monthly hymn and we look at the lyrics, but then I play various music in the background when I'm working in the kitchen or something, so they hear them all again anyway.

November - Amazing Grace
December - none (we practiced songs for Christmas program)
January - Nothing but the Blood of Jesus
February - I'll Fly Away

Folk Songs
I did decide to continue following AO'S Folk Song rotation for the most part.  I have no better method of choosing, and they offer a lot of variety!  Most of the kids usually enjoy the choices.

November - An Acre of Land
December - none (we practiced songs for Christmas program)
January - Funiculi Funicula (A Veggie Tales play on this song!)
February - Camptown Races (this was supposed to be March, but they heard it when I was previewing the next few months and begged to switch Feb. and March)

Shel Silverstein
A Light in the Attic
I have two of his books I picked up at a book sale, and just chose one for poet study.  The kids all enjoyed these.  It seems twaddly on the surface--they are wacky and ridiculous and impossible--which is what appeals to the kids!  At the same time, there were some nuances in there, some poems that really drove home some valid points about society, and I noticed the 11 year old commenting on some of them.  I might recommend him for kids who are against poetry for some reason, primarily because the humorous approach will appeal to the witty and sarcastic child, but I won't likely ever use him for a poet study again.

We didn't pick up where we left off with A Midsummer Night's Dream.  In fact, we took some time off, and it was near the end of  Term 2 when we started fresh with The Tempest.  Right now, I'm doing a retelling by Bruce Coville, and Emory LOVES it!  I want to try the full script next, maybe listening along on audio.  We'll see.

©2011-2018 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Peek into Our Homeschool: January 2018

Here I am, late again, posting our monthly wrap-up.  This is why I can't do a weekly one.  Oh well, I still want to get these memories down!  January is typically another busy month for us with birthdays and getting back into a routine with extracurriculars and our homeschool after the holiday break.

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In Our Homeschool 

Can I just say, I'm shocked, but pleasantly surprised with how well the kids have adjusted to the transition in curriculum and our new, somewhat "heavier" schedule.  I've found that we're doing so much more, but it's so much richer and we're getting more done in less time.  So Term 1 is finished, and we've moved into Term 2 (AO Years 2 and 4) and we'll be making a few adjustments and tweaks now that I know what works and what isn't the best fit.  I'll probably share a more detailed post about that though, because I could ramble quite a bit about books.

I'm also thrilled at how their attitudes have changed.  There is almost no procrastination or complaining anymore!  There are still some minor wrinkles to iron out, but I am overall very happy with the direction of things now!

CTCMath is still going very well, and I'm so glad we tried it out again!  This is another area where there is almost no complaining or whining anymore.  In fact, Elliott (who does well in math, but doesn't yet see he that could really excel in this area if he applied himself) used to put math off until the very end of the day, but now it's usually one of the first subjects he chooses.

Family Reads
Pinocchio, our lunchtime read, is FINALLY finished!  I will never, ever read this book aloud again.  We're continuing to read Shel Silverstein for poetry for a couple more weeks, and all four kids enjoy it.  It's silly and wild enough that even the 3 and 5 year old beg for me to read it every day!

Elliott finished reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after taking a break over Christmas.  He's read a few short stories since then, but has requested something "science-y" for a free read, so I'm adjusting his free reads and giving him some non-fiction for awhile.  He's been reading about the moon/space and earthquakes.

Emory read James Herriot's Treasury for Children (a Year 1 science book) because he is all about the animals.  His new mission is to read all of the animal books on the list, so he read from an animal encyclopedia while we waited on Mr. Popper's Penguins (a Y2 free read) to arrive via Amazon Prime.   Of course, I found my copy on the bookshelf a week later.


Folk Song - Funiculi Funicula  This is a fun catchy tune!  We used the English version, but I did make a point to listen to the original Italian, and the Veggie Tales parody.

Hymn - Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

Picture/Composer Study - We're still studying Leonardo da Vinci and Ludwig van Beethoven for a few more weeks.

Extracurriculars - AWANA started back up, but then we had a couple of weather cancellations.  Co-op is back in session too, and it's nice to get back into routine.

Also in our Life
As I mentioned, January is a busy birthday month for us.  The girls turned 3 and 5 this year!  We had some movie nights, and they had a special birthday lunch with their grandparents, and then we had a small family party.  It was a pony party with unicorn cupcakes.

January also ushers in real winter where we live.  We get four seasons, but as far as winter goes, it can be all over the place.  We've had one solid snow that was worth the effort of snow gear, and it was really the first year that Eloise has really enjoyed playing in the snow!

Day 1 - still snowing

Day 2 - Warmer, sunnier and so much fun!

Then there's Buddy.  He is very strong-willed and stubborn, but very smart.  The kids are enjoying training him!

©2011-2018 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.  http://www.moms-heart.com