Oct 18, 2017

Schoolhouse Review Crew: The Pencil Grip

The last few weeks we have been reviewing some fun products from one of our favorite companies, The Pencil Grip, Inc. They sent us The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit and a pair of The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors.

In The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit, there were three different grips. This product was the reason we asked to be on this review. My son, Nate, has always had trouble with handwriting. He has other issues, too, that all seem to point to a specific diagnosis, but that isn't really relevant here. His handwriting is the problem that we feel the need to solve. He and I have worked very hard for many years in an attempt to make his writing readable. Very little has ever worked.

The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit


The most progress we have ever made has been with the Pencil Grip. We received three grips, 

  • the Crossover Grip, which is meant to be used with adult supervision to begin teaching/correcting the grip. It is the green one pictured above with a "superhero cape" to provide structure and reinforce the correct positioning
  • the Pinch Grip, which is the transitional one, of course. It is the red one pictured above and only has a partial covering for the fingers. 
  • the Pencil Grip is the third step. It is the blue one pictured above and provides guidance for positioning. 


They are all made of silicone and are roughly an inch in length. They all fit easily over all of his pens and pencils.   I simply let him choose the one he felt most comfortable using, which was the Pencil Grip. He knows how he is supposed to hold his pencil, but has a hard time actually doing it without the Grip.


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Below are some samples of his writing with and without the Grip. First, his name with (the top one) and without (the bottom one), in print. I can't see an incredible difference, honestly, but his print has never been a huge concern of mine.

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Next, his cursive sample. You can see in the top picture (without the Grip) all the letters are the same size, wildly slanted in many directions, and very messy. The bottom picture, (with the Grip) has letters that are appropriately sized, correctly formed, stand mostly upright. 

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His handwriting is still not perfect or beautiful, but I do enjoy being able to read it without a translation! More importantly, he prefers how his writing looks with the Grip. It also makes it easier on his hand when he writes. He has a lot more stamina when using the Grip.

All in all, we really love it!


We also enjoyed playing with The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors. A long time ago, I saw scissors similar to these and paid about fifty cents a pair for them. My kids were not impressed. They said they were hard to use. They were also too dull to cut paper. So I got rid of them.

But the expression, "You get what you pay for" is so often very true! These scissors are amazing and fun and quite usable.

The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors



As you can see, the little three year old that I babysit had a great time cutting during school one day. It took me about three seconds to show him how to slide the paper inside the plastic guard and he spent about thirty minutes cutting that paper into little slivers. I didn't have to hover over him because he isn't about to pinch his finger with the guard there!


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See that happy smile?

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He has already used scissors before, so we didn't use the training lever, which forces the scissors to automatically separate after being squeezed together. But I had my big kids try it and it worked for them quite well.

These are a great pair of first scissors for your little ones!



Ultra Safe Safety Scissors & Pencil Grip Training Kit {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

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Oct 10, 2017

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Brinkman Adventures

We have been enjoying the experience of reviewing the audio series put out by Brinkman Adventures. This is a radio show produced by a large, Christian, family who cleverly mix real life and creative licence in these engaging stories. Inspired by true events, Brinkman Adventures Season 4 tells of the experiences of many different missionaries from all around the world.
Although you can buy all the seasons on CDs, we received them as an MP3 download and listened to them all off my computer.
Brinkman Adventures
There are twelve episodes in Season 4 and that means twelve exciting stories about God's protection and guidance. The tales are either experienced by or told to various members of the Brinkman family. Each episode lasts about half an hour, so we would listen to a couple at a sitting.
One of our favorite stories is Heart Song, the tale of a Russian pastor imprisoned for his sharing his faith in God. Demitri decides to teach his son about Jesus and before he knows it the whole neighborhood shows up to listen as well! The government official sternly forbids him from preaching any more, but he does not obey. Demitri is thrown into prison in horrible conditions. His cell is freezing and filthy. He is regularly beaten, but that does not keep him from writing on scraps of paper as much Scripture as he can. Nor does it keep him from singing his Heart Song, a song of praise to the Lord. In order to get him to recant, he is told his wife is dead and his son has been taken by the state. However, he miraculously hears his family praying for him, so he stands strong. When he is punished, the entire prison starts to sing his Heart Song. It is an inspiring story of praise to God.
Another favorite was Crises in the Congo. In this story, Kate Brinkman and her dad, Jack, go to the Congo to help show the Jesus movie to a remote village. Kate is also planning on blogging about the experience for their missionary supporters. They encounter much opposition to their plans, including a hungry hippopotamus! Kate powers through these trials, determined to achieve her objective, but at the end of the adventure, realizes that sometimes roadblocks are not always meant to be knocked over, but that sometimes God puts stuff in our way to get our attention to other things. She understands that God wants us to love on all the people around us, not just the ones that meet our agenda. As a planner, this story made me really stop and think.
My own personal top favorite story was a short folk-tale told within the bigger story The Crashed Kitchen. 
This was the story of a servant to an African king who told the king that God's ways are always perfect. He doesn't make mistakes. 
Then one day the king and the servant went on a hunting trip. The king was attacked by a wild animal. The servant was able to drive the animal off, but not before the king lost a finger. The king was furious! He had the servant thrown into prison because God had not kept him safe from the wild animal. All the way to prison, the servant kept proclaiming, "God is good. He does not make mistakes."
Soon after, the king went on another trip. This time he was captured by another tribe that intended to sacrifice him to their gods. Before they got to him to the altar, however, they realized he was missing him a finger. Since he was not "complete" he was not a good sacrifice, so they let him go.
Immediately upon his return home, the king released his servant. "Indeed, God does not make mistakes! If I had not lost my finger, I would have lost my life! However, I still do not understand... if God is good and His ways are perfect, why did he allow me to throw you in jail?"
The servant replied, "God is good. His ways are perfect and He does not make mistakes. If I had not been in prison, I would have gone with you on your trip. I would have been sacrificed because I have all my fingers!"
Brinkman Adventures Season 4 is full of such stories that declare the goodness, the faithfulness and the power of God. 
We all immensely enjoyed the entire season and have listened to some of them several times already. We highly recommend them.
I do, however, wish that they were a little easier to follow. There are a lot of kids in the Brinkman family. Not only could I not keep them straight, I couldn't figure out how many there were, how old they are or how to distinguish one from another. It was hard to keep up with who was talking. There were also a few times when the transition from one scene to another was hard to catch. I think a little more narration and maybe a character list would be great!
But if you are just listening for the missionary stories, then nothing could be better. These are incredible stories that will inspire your whole family!
Brinkman Adventures Season 4
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Oct 8, 2017

Regatta

Our local homeschool group has recently starting having a fun social get-together once a month for the 9 to 11 year old crowd. Last week we had a boat regatta. The kids were asked to make a boat and then we met at a park with a playa lake and they got to show off and sail their creations.

Abbie did not make her own boat. She sweet-talked her older sister into making it for her. Honestly, she didn't have to talk very hard. Kaytie loves creating! I think she did a great job and made a cute little boat.


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Daniel, on the other hand, took it very seriously and not only built a boat but he also added a motor. He used parts and pieces from the computer he recently took apart, and made a working motor and propeller. 

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Abbie got an Honorable Mention for her boat. 

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Daniel won the Engineering Award for his!

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More importantly, they both had a really good time!

Oct 3, 2017

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Super Teacher Worksheets

We are not the type of homeschoolers that does well with workbooks. We lean hard in the CM direction and prefer our education to be "alive". However, we do love a good worksheet/ printable/ puzzle/ game on paper. And our favorite place to get those? Super Teacher Worksheets. The past few weeks we have been reviewing an Individual Membership.

 Super Teacher Worksheets

This membership is a yearlong, online subscription that gives us access to all the printable resources on the site.

And there are a ton of these resources!!! These site is an awesome place for supplemental work for any and all of your study topics. Here is a list of the main topics.
  • math 
  • reading and writing
  • phonics and early literacy
  • handwriting
  • grammar
  • spelling lists
  • chapter books
  • science
  • social studies
  • holidays
  • puzzles and brain teasers
  • teacher helpers
  • preK and Kindergarten

Each of those topics has dozens of subtopics for all ages. Does your child need a little extra practice finding the area of triangle? Writing a paragraph? Discriminating between adverbs and adjectives? Learning state capitals? Reading comprehension? Phonics? Map work? Shapes, numbers or letters? Do you want special sheets for holidays? Super Teacher Worksheets has something for all of these and more. 


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Simply organized into categories that you can access with one click, the thousands of worksheets are viewable online in an individual PDF. So you know exactly what you are getting before you print. Answer keys are available in each PDF file. I generally don't print those, but they sure are nice when you don't want to figure out the answer to all those word problems yourself!

The worksheets come in many forms. There are games, puzzles, cut and paste, coloring pages, color by number (where you find the number by solving the math problem), riddles to solve, stories, and some are even your typical fill in the blank.

I want to explain a little how the site works, and figured it would be easier if you could see what I'm talking about. On the left side of the screen is the super long list of all the topics. You can click on the "more..." link and go to the list of all the subtopics. Or if you can see the subtopic you know you want you can just click on it and go straight to it. Eventually, you get to the individual page links that you see on the right of the picture below. Here you can see the title and a brief description of the worksheet. At the bottom is the suggested grade level if there is one. Some of the sheets are not grade-specific.

The blue buttons underneath the description give you additional information. For example, if there is a Spanish or a Canadian version, or if there is both a color and a black and white option. The button on the very end, with the picture of the file folder is for when you want to keep track of this specific worksheet. Clicking on that button will put the file in your "File Cabinet". So when you want it again, you don't have to search, you just go to your File Cabinet, and it's right there.

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The File Cabinet is also where the worksheets you make yourself are kept. Because that is one of the coolest parts of this site. It has a worksheet generator. You can use it to create

  • math sheets
  • flash cards 
  • bingo games
  • ABC order lists
  • word search, crossword, word scrambler, and missing letter puzzles
  • multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer quizzes
  • newsletters
  • calendars
All of them custom made to use the information you need. And they are easily kept in your File Cabinet. Mine are still there from when we had an account years ago.


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This site is super easy to use. I just sat down and clicked on links that related to topics we are currently doing until I found something that I wanted to use. I quickly printed them off and then handed them to the kids. It was really that easy.

Abbie enjoyed this site the most because there were so many fun pages that went along with her science topic this year: zoology. Her favorite was the cut and paste vertebrae sort that is pictured above.

We also practiced some mapping skills, math facts, and Spanish knowledge. It was cool that I could print the sheets in Spanish and hand them to the teenagers to figure out!

Even the three-year-old that we babysit got to use some pages! I printed him off some alphabet coloring sheets and he had a blast coloring and talking about all the stuff in his picture that started with his special letter.


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Super Teacher Worksheets is truly one of my favorite websites. There is a little something for everyone and I love the generator so much! My kids love the fun that is added to their school day. It's truly a win for everyone!

Super Teacher Worksheets
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Sep 29, 2017

Six Weeks Report

This week was our sixth week of school this year. It has been quite a ride! I expected high school to be different, but I did not expect it to be so hard!

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One thing that made it really hard was that all of our outside of the house/ with other people activities had a staggering start. I know a lot of people prefer this, but it made it so hard for us to establish a routine! We need predictability and just as soon as we got used to our life something else needed to be added in. It made it hard for all of us. It would have been easier to adjust if it had all just hit us at once.

A couple weeks in, we made some changes and then a couple weeks later we made some more. Weeks five and six were manageable, so I think we finally have the schedule and routine where we need it.


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For the 5th and 6th graders, doing every subject every day was just not working. I really don't know why I thought it would! Due to our full out of the house schedule, we have a small window of time to get school done every day. This means fewer subjects. Their school day now looks like this:

MathUSee
Fix-It grammar
All About Spelling
Mystery of History (we do this as a group in Morning School)
Bible Study Guide for All Ages (they do half a lesson a day)
science (Abbie is doing Easy Peasy Zoology and Daniel is doing a random sampling of various stuffs for Geology)
Literature (which is a fancy name for read a chapter of a book)
various review items they are working on

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Then they alternate
Spanish (Duolingo)
Let's Go Geography
with
IEW  homework
Tech (Daniel is doing CompuScholar and Abbie is working in Scratch)


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Daniel also does Visual Latin two days a week.

It takes them roughly three hours to  do the above list. Sometimes they dawdle through math and it takes them longer. They are doing well with each of their subjects. Everything but their Technology, Spanish, Geography and Science are continuation of what we did last year so they have the method down. It helps so much when the kids know what is expected of them.


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For Kaytie, in 9th grade, I didn't make a lot of changes. I just lightened my expectations on Thursday because that is the day that we lose a huge chunk of our mornings to Biology class. It really just means that she does more work the other three days of the week so she doesn't have to do it on Thursday.
Her schedule now looks like this:

MathUSee Algebra 1
Around the World in 180 Days
Power in Your Hands
Fix It Grammar
Read my British lit booklist and write
Bible journaling
Biology homework
Spanish 2 homework
Speech homework
various review items she is working on

She will earn 7.5 credits this year because she is also earning a PE credit from soccer and an elective singing in the homeschool choir.

The only things she is really struggling with are math (because she will always struggle with math), Power in Your Hands (it's an accountability issue that we are still working on) and getting all her Biology homework turned in on time.

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For Nate, we just dropped some subjects. I realized that I had insanely given him way too many high school expectations for an 8th grader.

His schedule now looks like this:

MathUSee Algebra 1
Around the World in 180 Days (he works on this one day a week)
Fix It Grammar
All About Spelling (he has only a few weeks left of the last level)
Read literature and type short narrations
Biology homework
Spanish 2 homework
IEW homework
CompuScholar
various review items he is working on

He will earn 5 high school credits this year.

He is doing well with all his work except getting his homework turned in on time. One of the big reasons we are out-sourcing some high school is so they can get used to other teacher's expectations. It has been a great learning experience for them!


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This last week we got everything done every day and before lunch most days, so I am hopeful that this schedule is actually going to work for us.

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Sep 27, 2017

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Worthy Kids

Abbie, my nine year old daughter has been enjoying our latest review... the first two books in a series called The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls from Worthy Kids/ Ideals.

We received The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: The Beginning (Book #1) and The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls: Race to the Ark (Book #2).


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These books are the story of Mary and Peter. They are ten and nine years old, respectively, and the story begins when they (and their dog Hank) are left with their Uncle Solomon while their parents go to Africa for a month.

Uncle Solomon is an interesting old man with an interesting old house full of interesting old stuff. Mary, Peter and Hank soon discover a basket of scrolls which mysteriously transport them through time. All the way back to the beginning of time, to be exact. They arrive in the darkness and void before Creation. They immediately meet Michael, the archangel, who gives them a list of rules to follow. One: they have to solve the scroll in seven days. Two: they can't tell anyone they are from the future. Three: they can't try to change the past.

Over the next few days, they witness Creation and try to solve the mystery of the scroll. They also meet Satan who tries to stop them.

As you can imagine, Peter and Mary do solve the scroll and return home to Uncle Solomon who tells them "the rest of the story".


The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls

In Race to the Ark, Peter, Mary and Hank are taken once again into the distant past. This time they find themselves in a city full of mean, cranky people. They are bullied by a couple of boys and a wolf. 

After they narrowly escape, they meet Michael again. They ask him why he didn't help them with the bullies, and he points out the ways that God was helping them. He reminds them that God is always with them. He then gives them three rules. The same three rules from the first book. Solve the scroll in seven days. Don't tell anyone they are from the future. Don't try to change the past.

The next day, the kids follow a herd of animals to the Ark where they meet Noah and his family. They help load the animals onto the Ark. Over the next few days, they help cook, tend animals, and learn about how much Noah's family trusts God. 

Right before the flood, the kids return to the city to buy a hinge and are caught by the Dark Ruler. Once again Michael rescues them. In the nick of time before they are drowned by flood waters, they solve the scroll's message and return home. 

Once again, at home, Uncle Solomon pulls out his Bible and tells them "the rest of the story". 


The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls


These stories are written for emerging readers ages six to nine. My ten year old solid reader devoured them quickly and easily. My older kids picked them up and read them as well. I browsed through them for the purpose of this review.

For the most part I liked them. The story line was simple and uncomplicated which is perfect for the intended age. The message of God's care of us was clear. The black-and-white, simply-drawn illustrations are cute and clean-cut, a perfect fit for the story. The kids were courageous and innovative. They were good role models. The books are fun stories of Biblical fiction about the beginnings of the world. And I love Biblical fiction.

However, I dislike when basic facts are misrepresented in Biblical fiction. Jubal and Tubal-Cain are called Noah's brothers in Race to the Ark. While their fathers do share a name, Jubal and Tubal-Cain are descendants of  Cain while Noah is a descendant of Seth. Trivial perhaps, but still something that bothered me.

Abbie's opinion:
I like them a lot! I wish there were more details in the story. I like it because it shows how the kids learn to trust God. 

I think it was a little below her reading level, but still a great read for her. All in all, these are good books for kids just starting to read chapter books and maybe a little beyond early chapter books.


The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls. {WorthyKids/Ideals Reviews}




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