Friday, December 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: First Snow Angel Ever!

This is a couple days late, but my daughter saw snow for the first time yesterday. She made her first snow angel this afternoon.
 



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BookCrash Review: The Littlest Christmas Kitten Written by Leona Novy Jackson

My daughter's interest in cats and kittens has sparked this year with the arrival of a stray cat at our front door. I jumped on the chance to review The Littlest Christmas Kitten when BookCrash offered the book title as part of their book review program, because my daughter and I both adore cats. I am also a Christmas book collector so I was curious about the message in this book.

Book Description 
This 32-page hardcover children's book was written by Leona (Lee) Novy Jackson and illustrated by Kelly Dupre. It is a sweet and simple story about a lost kitten with a curious streak. A mother cat searches for her lost kitten as the restlessness and excitement of the animals in the stable begin to rise. A feeling of expectation and wonder was definitely in the air. By the end of the evening, the Savior is born and angels sing praises. The author reveals the location of the kitten, but you'll have to read the book to find out more.

My First Thoughts
The Christian message is an attempt to speak to our hearts about the real reason we should celebrate Christmas which is the birth of Christ. It helps us recognize that it isn't about gifts, decorations, or any other holiday-related tradition. The story also has an underlying message about how a lost soul can be found through the miraculous events surrounded by the birth of Jesus. It encourages the reader to not give up on the important things in life that you hold dear to your heart. This retelling of the Christmas story brings the stable animals of the night to life. The illustrator brilliantly captured the emotions and feelings of the animals presented in the story with her distinctive and creative illustrations while utilizing a minimal amount of color.

Overall Opinion
The book was delightful. It may not be on my top ten list of books to read every Christmas, but it is still worth reading for entertainment purposes. The unique perspective of the book still reinforces the true meaning of Christmas. It teaches us to spread the good news of hope and peace during the holiday season.

The book is written from a cat's perspective or point of view. I had a difficult time connecting to the story and felt the plot was a little far-fetched or unrealistic at times. There's always the possibility that cats were present that Holy night and the author incorporated the event into the story with her imagination and style.  

I really appreciated the description, history, and origin behind several familiar Christmas symbols at the back of the book. The Christmas symbols described in the book consist of the stable, manger, Christmas star, nativity scene, Christmas trees, Christmas lights and candles, holly, candy canes, advent wreath, and gifts. The book also includes an entry about cats which seemed out-of-place amid the more popular Christmas Christian symbols. The cat blurb discusses the importance of keeping long-term commitments when purchasing a kitten. The author also explain the hazards during Christmas time and the precautions you should take if you own a cat. Furthermore, she  states the reason why cats purr on Christmas Eve. She even tells the reader that the legend has been passed down throughout many cat families.

Price
Images Unlimited Publishing Books $16.00
Amazon $12.90

Recommendation
I recommend this book for children ages 4-7 years old. It would be a good Christmas gift for ANY cat lover or individual looking to add a unique book to their Christmas collection. Sunday school teachers may want to consider reading aloud "The Littlest Christmas Kitten" to their students. The children may gain a better understanding of the Nativity story from a cat's perspective and I know many children who love cats!

Disclosure or Disclaimer of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR Title 16, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: SchoolhouseTeachers.com Yearly Membership

I've been spending the last two weeks exploring and reviewing the SchoolhouseTeachers.com website with my seven year old daughter. I received a Yearly Membership as my first homeschool product to review as part of The Old Schoolhouse Review team. I'm happy to be back on the crew this year after taking a year off! This resource is overwhelmingly AMAZING! There's a wealth of Christian homeschool curricula and information right at your fingertips. Before I begin, please click on any screenshot graphic to enlarge as you read my review.
SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

Product Description
SchoolhouseTeachers.com is an online learning product which consists of online classes and downloadable, printable resources for over 50 subjects. It's a membership curricula website containing over 100 courses taught by more than 25 fantastic, knowledgeable teachers who are considered leading experts in their field including but not limited to Diana Waring, Amy Puetz, Brenda Ellis, Bonnie Rose Hudson, Sharon Gibson, Terri Johnson, Beth Gordon, Michelle Miller, and Kim Kautzer. Their lessons are straightforward, simple, and easily understood.

When first visiting the website, you'll notice that it is broken down into several core sections. There are many links within each section which are organized into meaningful, relevant categories. The main tabs are Home, Teachers, Pre-K and Elementary, Middle and High School, Family and For Parents, Dallies, Resources, and Course Offerings.

All course content is available for your use 24/7 covering a wide range of topics with courses that may last a couple weeks to a full year. You have access to both current and archived lessons. The content available with a membership provides resources for ALL ages and grades from preschool through high school. The sections are divided by grade level ranges such as Lower Elementary, Middle School, and High School. The content also address all learning styles and many homeschool methods. Material presented can be modified or adapted to meet your needs.

I easily accessed the material on my MAC OS X 10.9.4 computer without additional equipment. I did need access to the free Adobe Reader for PDF formatted printables. I also needed the ability to hear and watch videos for some subjects.

The subscription includes the popular Schoolhouse Planners and access to the online record keeping website called Applecore. These two tools will help families organize their homeschool year. There are many other resources and articles available for homeschool parents as well including a "Joy in the Morning" devotional. Please understand that there's no way I can possibly tell you about EVERYTHING available through this website in one review.

My First Thoughts
There are an outstanding number of high-quality resources at SchoolhouseTeachers.com to utilize in your homeschool. The website is constantly updating and adding new material on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This means that you are sure to discover something NEW quite often as you explore the website. Every click of the mouse reveals a useful, surprise resource.

The website is fairly easy to navigate. You may want to watch the site tour video first which introduces the website features before exploring it on your own. It'll help you understand and find particular information easier and quicker. There's also an introductory video about Schoolhouse.Teachers.com you can watch.

How We Used Our Membership
I haven't had adequate time to utilize ALL of the material available on the SchoolhousTeachers.com membership website within the two-week review period, because of the overwhelming amount of resources contained in one location. We used the resources for a variety of reasons depending on the subject. This tool was used during brain breaks from regular lessons, as time fillers, to fill in learning gaps, as extracurriculars, and also as a supplement to our current studies. I love the fact that video lessons can be watched anywhere you have Internet and can access the website. I did search for holiday resources to use this month.

The website was used both together and separately depending on the subject and resource. I read aloud composer and artist biographies. She would often watch videos independently while I worked nearby. If lessons required a mini lesson, then I taught the material first. I loved that I didn't have to do all the planning - it was already done for me and required very little prep.

Furthermore, SchoolhouseTeachers.com can be used as a complete, one stop full curriculum resource for the entire family at an affordable price compared to the cost of purchasing separate curricula for each individual student. I'm not sure I could do this, but I know of several people who have done this.

Our Experiences
I focused most of my attention on the resources available for elementary-aged children, family content, or parental resources. I want to share with you a few of our favorites so far.

Pre-K and Elementary
Art
One subject that often gets forgotten in our house even though it is one that my daughter enjoys tremendously is Art. SchoolhouseTeachers.com has a resource available called Art Techniques taught by Brenda Ellis. This month Alyssa used holiday-themed decorations and objects to set-up a still life project. Then, she painted her still life using an assortment of tempera paint colors. The paint smudged on her Christmas Angel but she still had a blast painting!

Spanish
Alyssa truly enjoyed this resource. The course outline consists of thirty-four weekly lessons. Each lesson follows a two-week cycle beginning with a short video lesson. We started with the first lesson at the very beginning of the course. The lessons were taught by Carol Henderson. Her pronunciation was clear and visual aids added to the lessons. We printed out the lesson handouts and watched the videos together so that I could help with pronunciation. The handouts were stored in a 3-ring folder. They were in a simple chart format and listed new vocabulary terms. So far, the lessons have been in a "repeat after me" format. Since I have a degree in Spanish, I usually go over the terms prior to the lesson. My daughter uses the handout to quiz her father when chatting on the phone. 
Lesson 1 Handout
(Vowel Pronunciation)

Simple "Vowel U" Visual Aid
Lapbooking
I visited the Archived Lapbooking lessons and found lapbooking printables for the book, The Gift of the Magi. We read this book last night so I printed off several pieces for today's literature work to use with our version of the book. I appreciate that the lapbook pieces cover reading strategies (making inferences) and literary elements such as plot, character, theme, mood, irony etc.


Hooked On Science
Categorized hands-on science experiments can be viewed through links as part of your membership. The science lessons and experiments are taught by Jason Lindsey. You can also view a list of supplies ahead of time and step-by-step instructions in your experiment guide. The pinecone experiment from December was neat and we just happen to have the supplies on hand! This experiment can easily be set-up at home. I did notice that many of the archived videos weren't available to view. 


Sewing
My daughter really wanted to try the sewing lessons, but we assumed a sewing machine was needed after viewing one of the lessons. Unfortunately, we don't own a sewing machine and I didn't have time to click through each link to check. I wish there was a way to indicate whether the lesson was sewing by hand (HS) or sewing machine (SM). 

Schoolhouse Dailies

SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review
This section includes grammar, math, writing, copywork exercises, puzzles, writing lessons, organizational tips, spelling practice divided by grade level ranges, history facts, and so much more. This was by far my favorite section to explore. You will definitely be amazed by the number of resources available in this area! The lessons are short and sweet. You will see a snapshot of the page below.
Everyday Organization
(Numbered Organizational Tips)
This Day in History
This section includes information based on historical events that occurred each day in history. My daughter was fascinated with the facts that she learned. This is a great way to sneak a little extra history into your day. Printable resources are included as well which can easily be used to supplement a topical study.

Everyday Copywork
New material is found every Monday. I printed out several manuscript and cursive writing pages so that Alyssa could practice her handwriting skills. She learned how to form all the letters in cursive this year, but we needed practice sheets and I couldn't afford another cursive curricula book. This section provided an immediate solution to our needs. The best part about it was that they had seasonal exercises based on The First Christmas story by Janice Green which was a book I recently finished reviewing. My daughter was able to practice penmanship while focusing on the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
The First Christmas Story Copywork Pages
"No Room" Manuscript Copywork
"The Birth of Jesus" Manuscript Copywork
Week 54 Christmas Carol Copywork

Daily Grammar
I was thrilled when I came across the Daily Grammar section! We started with the first lesson from the 3rd-4th grade sequence. My daughter reviewed the capitalization rules referring to God and the Bible, initials, titles of respect, book titles, and names of specific proper nouns. The section even includes quizzes to check for mastery.

Ditch the Desk 
This section contains fun topical hands-on weekly or monthly units to share with your children giving them a break from routine desk work. We dived into the Candy Cane unit study created by Jennifer Holden since Christmas is right around the corner. The unit study consists of Language Arts, Writing, Math, Science, and History topics. My daughter researched and read about the history behind the candy cane legend. She also created several patterned candy canes using pom poms one day and paper strips.

Another unit we recently started exploring was about Saint Nicholas. My daughter received a book about St. Nicholas as an early Christmas gift which sparked an interest in studying his life. Alyssa learned the history behind who St. Nicholas was, answered comprehension questions, responded to writing prompts, and created care packages for individuals in need (homeless bags for individuals in San Antonio). An overview of the unit can be seen in the snapshot.

The space unit is next on our list to explore! Interesting activities such as creating a solar system and taking a solar walk are included in this unit. 

Everyday Games
My daughter and I both enjoy taking a break after her independent seat work to play a game. The Everyday Games section has become one of those "go to" resources for me when searching for a quick brain break activity to do. It gives us a little break in the daily routine. The fun, educational games are different from those we've used in the past. I can't wait to see what new games appear this year. I am hoping for more games to be available for older elementary aged children covering topics such as equivalent and mixed fractions, place value to the trillions, multi-step word problems, money, and elapsed time. We had a blast playing the games below. We used two Christmas colored pencils to add a touch of seasonal bliss.
Winter Word Search
Roll and Color: 3 Digit Numbers

Everyday Astronomy
After our Christmas vacation and trip, I definitely plan on implementing the resources in this section. We are studying astronomy this year and this would be a FABULOUS supplemental resource! I can't wait to implement the lessons and try the hands-on activities.


There were a handful of appetizing astronomy recipes to make, field trip information to read, and a constellation mini unit to complete. 

Everyday Easels
Imagine my surprise . . . when exploring the Everyday Easels section I found a 5-day lesson related to the topic titled, "Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake." My daughter recently learned about Daniel Boone in her spelling curriculum. I showed her the oil painting, read about the artist, and learned more about Daniel Boone's life. I LOVED how the lessons were easily integrated into our daily lessons for that particular week. The best part was that we could cover one art lesson a day, because her spelling curricula covered Daniel Boone over a five-day time period. The other art lessons also focus on one art piece created by well-known, popular artists.     



Resources
Schoolhouse Expo Recordings 
Are you needing a little encouragement or homeschool advice? Listen to the Expo recordings at your convenience wherever and whenever you have access and service. Be ready for inspirational ideas and solid homeschool advice. The Exploring Earth and Sky recording was quite informative.  

Schoolhouse Planners
The planners were my absolute favorite feature of the membership! These are hands-down the BEST, most complete planners and I'm not saying that just because I'm on the crew. The cost of the planners alone makes the yearly cost more worthwhile.

Five different grade and need-based planners are included as part of your membership: Big Planner, Primary Planner, Intermediate Planner, High School Planner, and the Special Needs Planner. The planner pages contain teaching tips, schedule helps, planning pages, informative articles, lesson plans, tables, charts, and much much more.

One of my favorite features from the primary planner was the weekly planning pages which were customizable. There was even a mini Continent and Ocean unit in the planner which included a Blubber Gloves experiment. I remember this experiment from my teaching days and we always had fun doing it. 

Menu Features
There are so many wonderful recipes for you to try in this section! The recipes are divided by the months of the year and one recipe is given for each day of the month. I wish the recipes were categorized by type of food or meal. I visited the December and January section in hopes to find soup or winter recipes, but I found several new recipes to try. The recipes I am most interested in from the January menu are Mexican Cornbread, Black Bean Soup, and Baked Oatmeal.

Everyday Composers
Everyday Composers include biographies, links to listen to songs, reference material, and activities related to one particular composer. Three composers are posted in the current lessons section at this time. We don't always have time to focus on music appreciation with Alyssa's daily piano lessons and practice time, but these tools provide for a quick study.

Copybooks
There are theme-based copybooks offered including topics such as money, gardening, french songs, and more. The membership also offers monthly bonus ebooks. The longer you are a member, the more ebooks you'll gain access to over time.

Family and For Parents
Nature and Outdoors
First, I must say that we don't get out enough to enjoy the great outdoors so when I came across this resource I was thrilled. We plan on heading outside more since the weather is cooler in Texas and these lessons will be a tremendous help. I have a strong desire to do nature study units, but don't always have the time to create the studies. The SchoolhouseTeachers.com website has planned lessons that encourage us to explore and observe our environment. The weekly lessons are organized by themes or topics. Check out the screenshot below to see just a few of the topics covered in the course outline.

We started with Unit 3 which covers Animal Tracks. Erin Dean was the creator of the nature study and outdoor units. Alyssa was very observant as we took a nature walk in between core subjects. We didn't have to go too far before noticing animal tracks. We found deer and cat tracks on the porch and on the property. There's a good chance that we also found hog and raccoon prints. She learned how to use a camera in order to take photographs of animal tracks, identified the animals who left tracks, and will eventually create a nature journal to store her photographs and observations. 
Cat Track on Table Outside

We are taking a trip to New York soon. I plan on utilizing Unit 10 which covers "Cold Winter Weather" as seen below during our vacation. It'll be a great way to introduce and expose my daughter to winter weather she's never seen before.

Guitar
The guitar lessons taught by Jerry Jennings seem too complicated for my daughter who is a beginner guitarist with no background knowledge. However, she was willing to give the lessons a try. She began exploring the parts of her guitar and attempted a few chords. The screenshot below describes information about the guitar course.

Overall Opinions
We absolutely LOVED having access to this comprehensive website! We found the material to be valuable and to be extremely helpful in teaching extracurriculars we don't always have time to teach in our homeschool day. The ASL Adventure videos were too fast for Alyssa and the guitar lessons didn't capture her attention as much as I had hoped.

SchoolhouseTeachers.com has been a wonderful addition to our homeschool year so far. I look forward to further exploring the website and utilizing the material to supplement our current curricula or unit studies. I will pick and choose several subjects and topics to explore this year. I am also thrilled about having the opportunity to use this resource during our Christmas vacation. We'll be traveling to another state and I won't be able to drag all our curricula with us. I want us to do light schooling during the break.

I appreciate that as a member, we also have exclusive discounts for a variety of homeschool products and access to digital back issues of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (creators of Schoolhouseteachers.com).

The only thing that I disliked about this membership is that I could literally spend HOURS exploring the internet-based homeschool resources. I don't always have a lot of time to spare or the ink to print out resources that I wish to use. I definitely plan on using their Master Course Checklist and planning sheets to make my time more productive.

Recommendations
I HIGHLY recommend this impressive resource to ALL frugal homeschool families (newbies and veterans) with children of ALL ages. Parents who also work with their child after school could benefit from using the SchoolhouseTeachers.com website. One membership covers the needs of your entire family with one price. You could easily create lesson plans for all subjects for the entire year using this resource if desired.
SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

Price
A Yearly Membership normally costs $12.95 per month or you can purchase a yearly membership for a rate of $139 which automatically renews each year. That's a 10% discount if you choose to pay yearly!

However . . . SchoolhouseTeachers.com is offering sale prices through Christmas Day until 11:59 pm ET. You can take 50% off the Yearly Membership paying only $64.26 per year or if you prefer you can take 40% off the monthly membership prices which means you'll pay ONLY $7.77/month. If you join at these rates and maintain a continuous membership, then you can keep the rate forever. This is definitely a steal of a deal considering the content available!
SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

You can also cancel your membership any time (if desired). You can make payments using a credit card or through Paypal. If you register for the Welcome Basket, then you'll have access to the website for a 30-day trial period (for new members only).

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Additional Reviews
Other members on the Schoolhouse Review Crew Team have been reviewing the SchoolhouseTeachers.com website. Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read about their experiences.
SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

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