Archive | April 2013

Curriculum Review: Saxon Math (Early Elementary Grades)

Concept: Saxon Math teaches basic math principles such as counting, skip counting, telling time, number writing, addition, subtraction, and slowly builds on these skills daily to teach higher level math concepts.

How It Works: There are 130 daily lessons with a written assessment every 5th lesson and an oral assessment every 10th lesson. Lessons take approximately 30 minutes a day and include daily meeting activities such as calendar and weather. Each lesson includes a worksheet with side A and B to reinforce skills taught. Lessons are completely scripted and the teachers manual gives you daily lists of items needed for each lesson.

How We Used It: Initially we followed the lesson plan, doing everything listed in a lesson. Very quickly we realized that the pace of these lessons was way too slow for us and so we stopped doing the side B of worksheets and eventually went to doing two lessons each day. Initially we just picked up at the next grade level because our kids used this when they were in school. We got smart and used the placement tests that can be found on the link above for our last child and he tested into Math 1 when he was 4.

Concerns: Overall this curriculum was much to slow-paced and repetitive for our kids. I definitely recommend using the placement tests and starting your child where they place according to those results.

Recommendation: Despite our concerns, we do recommend this curriculum. It gives a great basis for higher-level math and you can switch seamlessly to other more challenging materials (such as A Beka). If your child struggles with math concepts or just isn’t advanced in math, Saxon is a great choice that will get them where they need to be without a lot of tears and fighting. Plus, if our child is more advanced in math you can easily double up lessons and move at a faster pace to cover more material in a short time. If you will be using this curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade we definitely recommend buying a math manipulatives set. If you are starting this material above First Grade I would suggest that you probably don’t need the manipulatives.

Saturday Project: Outdoor Shower

Outdoor showerWe live near the beach, so an outdoor shower has become a necessity. However, I wish we had put one in when we lived in Ohio. The amount of dirt, sand, and grass tracked into the house during the spring and summer was ridiculous, and it is worse when we factor in heading to the beach two to three times a week.

So, we are making an outdoor shower. This won’t be fancy. We aren’t setting it up for hot water (the showers at the beach are all cold water and that works just fine, especially on hot days). Because we are renting right now we aren’t doing anything that we can’t take with us. has great, simple instructions for building your own outdoor shower.

Curriculum Review: Apologia Exploring Creation Series

Concept: Through the use of text, journaling notebooks, and lab activities, Apologia Exploring Creation Series exposes elementary-ages students to Astronomy, Zoology, Anatomy, Physics, and Botany.

How It Works: Textbook reading is broken up into easy to manage sections and lesson plans are laid out for two 60 minute lessons each week. Lessons include reading, lab activities, and notebooking pages to allow students deeper understanding of the given topic. In student notebooking journals, students have the opportunity to write down facts they have learned, illustrate topics, and make books displaying newfound knowledge. Lab activities help students apply book knowledge to practical activities.

How We Used It: We used these lessons across grade levels and specifically taught Astronomy, Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day (Zoology 2), and Anatomy & Physiology. We actually did three 60 minute lessons each week, covering the same materials the curriculum plans attempt to cover in two days a week. We found that the extra time was needed for the kids to do the activities. On a given day, we read the textbook and did 2-3 activities relating to what we read.

Concerns: The materials and notebooking journal can be too advanced for younger elementary kids. There are now junior notebooking journals available, which I think would help when teaching across grade levels with younger elementary students. Anatomy & Physiology was laid out somewhat differently than the others we used in the series, and we did not prefer its style.

Recommendation: I recommend the Apologia Exploring Creation Science Series by Jeannie Fullbright. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed learning science with these materials and it was fairly easy to teach across grade levels. If you choose to do the lessons only two days per week, allowing up to 90 minutes to complete the lesson would be necessary. I highly recommend purchasing the lab kits available from These kits have the needed supplies for lab activities, broken down by lesson, and even include general supplies like paper and colored pencils.

Curriculum Review: Horizons Phonics & Reading

Concept: Using workbooks and readers, Horizons Phonics and Reading teaches phonics-based reading and decoding skills, beginning with letter sounds and going through digraphs and diphthongs.

How It Works: Each day has an activity relating to a specific phonetic sound (individual letters or combination blend sounds). The child does a workbook page (front and back) and reads a story that goes with the phonetic sound they are learning. Every 10 lessons there are reviews and assessments over previously learned materials.

How We Used It: We started with this program for Middle Child in 1st grade. We were thrilled with the easy-to-use workbooks that allowed even younger children to work independently. When we realized that First Born was struggling with spelling and some reading skills in 3rd grade, we went back and did the 2nd grade level of Horizons Phonics and Reading. Going through the 2nd grade course dramatically improved First Born’s reading and spelling abilities. Little Man will get the full benefit of the Horizons program as he is starting with the Kindergarten level after completing Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

Recommendation: Yes, we recommend Horizons Phonics & Reading. This curriculum gives a great background for phonics, especially blends, digraphs, and diphthongs, which really help unlock higher-level reading and spelling skills. At the end of the second grade  level our kids could read at well above second grade reading level.

Curriculum Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Concept: Using 100 simple lessons that require approximately 20 minutes a day you can teach your child to read and understand what they have read. This is a direct instruction method based on phonics and a phonetic alphabet.

How We Used It: I followed the script outlined in each lesson, saying word-for-word the teaching each lesson set out. While we continued reading books to our children, the child was not asked to do any reading beyond what was set out in each lesson (no reading books to themselves or us). We did one lesson per day for 100 school days, taking breaks for weekends, holidays, and school vacations.

We used this book for all three of our children. Two of them responded wonderfully and have learned to read using the methods outlined in 100 Easy Lessons. First Born and Little Man both used this method exclusively for learning to read and by the end of the 100 outlined lessons both could read and answer questions for Kindergarten and early 1st Grade level books (many of which are listed in the Now What? section of 100 Easy Lessons). First Born went through the book when she was 3. Little Man did it during his Pre-K year (ages 4-5). Our Middle Child, always wanting to be different, did not respond well at all to the lessons in 100 Easy Lessons. We tried it when she was 3 and she just wasn’t ready. We pulled it out again at four and she fought us every step of the way until we finally gave up using this with her. About 2 weeks after we stopped, Middle Child picked up a book and began reading. I still really have no idea how she actually learned to read!

Concerns: Because this material uses a phonetic alphabet to explain sounds, some children can have trouble transitioning from the phonetic alphabet to reading actual books. 100 Easy Lessons works from lesson 75 on to help with this transition, but I have noticed that wasn’t always as smooth as the book would like to you think. The writing lessons also assumes fine motor skills for a 5-6 year old. If you are using this book with younger children you may need to adjust your expectations of their ability to form letters.

Recommendation: Yes, we recommend this book as a great way to teach your child to read. While it won’t work for every child, (I have yet to find any magic curriculum that does) it is a good program with proven success. Pairing it with other phonics-based reading materials, such as Horizons Reading & Phonics Grades K-2, will also help to continue building reading skills.

TIP: If your child just isn’t “getting it”, put the book away for a few weeks or even months, especially if they are young. Learning to read is a process and if your child isn’t ready for it no materials or curriculum will change that. Wait a while and try again. Based on our family’s results, you will likely have success using this program.

Curriculum Review

I get a lot of questions about what curriculum we use, what we like, how we decided on what we use, and a plethora of other questions about curriculum. I am going to take some time over the next few weeks to give you honest reviews of curriculum we have used, some we liked and some we didn’t. I have not received any compensation for my reviews. I have purchased all products myself for use in our home school or they were handed down to me by trusted friends who wanted to share curriculum.While no one can predict what materials will work well for you home school situation and your children better than you, having reviews from others who have used products can help make decisions easier, especially for new home schoolers, or those changing grades or curriculum.

Getting Rid of Ants Without Chemical Bug Spray

White-VinegarWe were warned about all the ants in the spring when we moved to the south, but our first spring didn’t bring many ants. This year is warm and wet and things are different. We found ants walking around outside in February and sure enough, this weekend ants found their way into our kitchen. The only other place we have ever had ants in the house was in Taiwan. While I want the ants gone, I am not wild about using a chemical bug spray around our kitchen. So I began researching some alternatives. What I found was that one of my favorite products is great for repelling ants – vinegar!

It is no secret that I love to use vinegar as a natural way to clean. From bathrooms to conditioner, to mopping floors, vinegar is a great alternative to chemical cleaning products. But it can also help get rid of ants. You can wipe down counters and cabinets with a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water to keep ants away. (TIP: Be careful if you have granite because vinegar can scratch it.). This works because ants don’t like the smell. Plus ants use smell to track their trails. The vinegar will hide the smell of their trails and drive them away. You can also put this mixture in a spray bottle and use it inside and out to keep ants away.

Another tip is to draw a chalk line where you see ants entering your home. This is a natural ant repellant and ants won’t cross the chalk into your house.

20 Different Ways to Use Dawn

dawn_drillsergeant_163x117If you regularly read this blog, it is no secret that I love Dawn dishwashing soap. Just a couple small drops clean everything and remove grease yet it is safe enough to use around kids and pets. We buy Dawn in bulk from the warehouse club and that lasts us over a year. You can’t beat the cost of a couple drops of Dawn diluted to clean everything!

Family Balance Sheet recently posted 20 Different Ways to Use Original Blue Dawn. This list is just the tip of the iceberg for Dawn uses, but a great start. I use Dawn in homemade floor cleaner,  bathroom cleaner, granite cleaner, cleaning make up brushes, as ice packs, jewelry cleaner, to remove laundry stains, and for a variety of other cleaning applications around the house.