Archive | May 2013

Curriculum Review: A Beka Math (intermediate)

Concept: Over 170 lesson per grade level, A Beka Math grades 4-6 teaches the four basic operations through introductions to geometry and algebra, with lessons on fractions, decimals, factoring, and multi-digit operations.

How It Works: A Beka math uses daily lessons with speed drills and weekly tests or quizzes to take your child from addition to pre-algebra. Each lesson has board work, oral and flash card drills, timed speed drill, and the introduction of a new concept or review for tests and quizzes. Test are given every 10 lessons, with a quiz on the 5th lesson between tests. Student workbooks have teaching boxes that introduce the concept, as well as problems designed to reinforce what was learned that day and review previous lessons. Optional problems and “homework” are included.

How We Used It: Generally we followed the lesson plan. We did not purchase the additional concept cards as the concepts are given in the student workbook. We found that for kids who excel in math, A Beka was still on the easy side and at times we did two lessons per day. Generally we skipped the green supplemental problems and the homework unless a child was struggling with a particular concept. We did the daily speed drills and review of facts to solidify quick recall.

Concerns: Even though A Beka is said to be at least one grade level above traditional math curriculum we still found it to be fairly easy. Our math nerds were able to essentially teach themselves just by reading the concept boxes in their workbooks. We found that the material was lacking practical (story) problems, offering only two per day. Because of this, we began supplementing with Challenging Word Problems from Singapore Math. We found that the word problems for Singapore ran about 1 grade level ahead of A Beka math.

Recommendation: We recommend A Beka Math for students who are functioning above grade level in math or easily understand math. We do not recommend this if your student struggles with math.

No-Poo: Alternative to Traditional Shampoo

White-VinegarI don’t shampoo my hair. I know. You are thinking I must be crazy. But it is true. I haven’t shampooed my hair in over 2 years. While we were living in Taiwan a friend introduced me to the idea of using an alternative method to clean and condition my hair. Skeptical at first, I decided to give it a try. After all, I was living in a place where, just by the fact that I have curl hair and light skin, people stared at me on the street. If it was a total disaster I just wouldn’t take pictures of myself during my experiment. That was over 2 years ago and I am so glad I made the switch. Not only does this save me money, but my hair is actually healthier and growing faster than ever before. So the big secret… baking soda and vinegar. Yep, I wash my hair with baking soda and vinegar. It saves me a lot of money in shampoo and conditioner costs, as well baking_soda4x3___484x363as in styling product costs. I have very curly hair (my stylist described it as “ethnic” but actually I am just got all the Irish genes in the family). Using baking soda and vinegar to cleanse and condition my hair has actually reduced the frizz and lets me us much less mousse or spray gel to get the style I want, which saves money.

So, how do you do this? The “recipe” is simple. Keep a plastic measuring cup in the shower. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to 1 cup of water. (For those science nerds like myself, this will produce an alkaline solution that also results in cooler water than what you put in). Pour that over your head and massage into your scalp just like you do for shampoo. I usually comb through tangles at this stage too. Rinse with water. Then add 1 tablespoon of vinegar (you can use any type but I tend to prefer cider vinegar) to 1 cup of water. Pour this over your head and comb through. (Again for you science geeks, the vinegar neutralizes the pH of your head because it is acidic and you turned your hair basic with the baking soda). Rise. Dry and style as usual.

A few tips: I keep baking soda in an air & water tight canister in the shower and vinegar in a reused creamer bottle. I don’t actually measure 1 tablespoon, but just estimate.

To really save money you can buy vinegar and baking soda in bulk at warehouse clubs. I have a 15lb. bag of baking soda!

WARNING: Be prepared for a week to 10 days of crazy hair. Shampoos strip away your scalps oil, causing it to produce more. While your head adjusts to your new cleansing routine, there will be a few days of crazy, frizzy, and/or oily hair. So don’t start this right before a wedding or family picture! Once your head realizes that it doesn’t need so much oil, things will level out and your hair will start having shine and strength you never had before. Try to avoid styling products the first week or two (invest in a good ball cap!).

Our kids use this too. First Born has always had dry scalp. When she started using baking soda and vinegar her dry, itchy scalp cleared up and no more flakes were seen. She briefly went back to shampoos when we moved back to the US because there were so many available but decided to turn back to this routine because her hair was healthier and it eliminated her dry scalp problem.

Chicken Parmesan Casserole

I am always on the lookout for new, easier ways to do make dinner and I was very pleased when I found this recipe for Chicken Parmesan chicken-parmesan-casserole1Casserole from OurPinterestingSummer.wordpress.com. It was a huge hit.

A few changes we tried:

  1. Serving it over pasta
  2. Cutting the chicken used to 1-2 large pieces (cubed) to save money
  3. Skip the sauce in a jar and make your own (try one of these tomato sauce recipes)
  4. Make your own breadcrumbs with Italian seasonings to use instead of croutons
  5. We only did one layer of cheese with breadcrumbs on top. That filed the pan I was using.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

DSCN3010This weekend our family experienced our first PCS (military term for when someone is reassigned to a different base) loss. Our best family friends are moving across the country. This family is in our LifeGroup and is just “that family” for us where all the parents and all the kids get along and enjoy being together.  For our kids, this was their first (of what I am sure will be many) PCS loss. For us it has usually been us moving away to an exciting new adventure, leaving friends behind. This first time of having friends move away is proving tough. As we drove home from the going away party at the beach our car was fill of silent tears and reflective hearts. While we had been preparing our kids (and ourselves) for our friends moving away, that final goodbye proved to be more difficult that we expected. Middle Child is taking it exceptionally hard as she is losing not one, but two great friends as this family leaves.

All this got me thinking about ways to help my kids deal with this, and the subsequent moving of friends that being attached to a military base will bring. How can we help them separate and grieve properly? Last night, talking to Middle Child as she worked through her feelings I was reminded once again that Jesus knows how we feel. He saw all His friends run away and even deny Him at the end. Jesus understands feeling lonely. And He can bring the comfort and solace our soul’s need.

So today I am giving the kids a little more grace, encouraging them to be patient with each other. Ephesians 4:26 reminds us to “be angry but do not sin.” The order of the day around our house is “be sad, but do not sin.” Remember to love on your kids and your friends!

Saturday Project: File Cabinet to Garage Storage

Finished-CabinetI am always looking for ways to get more storage that isn’t built in and can be moved with us. I especially love projects that turn something cheap and junky into something cool. I was positively giddy when I came across this project on Trash to Treasure blog (tttreasure.com). Check out these great instructions for turning an old metal file cabinet into great garage storage!

Pause Before You Pounce

pbypsidebarI am totally guilty of yelling more than I should. I have  a certain way I like things done, and when it doesn’t happen I can pounce if I am not very careful. God is really working on this in me (if it gets done well, does it really matter how it got done?). Recently I signed up for the 5 day Pause Before You Pounce challenge from Karen Ehman (author of Let It Go). This great devotional gives scripture to memorize (Be angry but do not sin – Eph. 4:26) and anecdotal encouragement for what Karen calls “mama mouth”. I highly recommend all moms and wives sign up and take this 5 day challenge!

Curriculum Review: The Story of The World

Concept: As though telling a story, this world history curriculum moves elementary students from ancient times to the modern age over the course of four years. Supplemental activities and tests are available to encourage retention of material and assess progress.

How It Works: Each week you read through the story book, which gives students insight into the historical time period and culture you are studying. Each chapter is divided into two sections, allowing you to break up reading with review questions. The activities book provides review questions and guides for narration exercises. The activity book also includes map work pages and instructions for students. The back of the activity book has masters of all the map work and coloring pages. The activity book also includes supplemental activities and research you can do to increase student learning and retention.

How We Used It: We have used this program various ways depending on the age our girls were at the time. Initially I read the chapters out loud and guided the girls through the review questions and map work. Coloring pages were done during free time. As the girls got older they started reading the chapters on their own, with me going over review questions and map work with them. We also introduced tests when the girls were in intermediate grades. Some weeks we covered two chapters a week, and other times one, depending on the rest of the kids coursework. We rarely did the supplemental activities and projects, as I felt they were often too involved for what we were trying to accomplish. We do supplement learning with the History Speaks series for branches of government and important documents in American history as we read through the last two volumes of The Story of The World, taking a break from STOW to learn more about America.

Concerns: The curriculum information says it is for 1-4 for read aloud, and 5-8 if they read it on their own. While that is true, the activity pages are clearly for first and second graders. By third grade the girls were bored with the pages. The stories are too much like stories for older kids.

Recommendation: We recommend this curriculum for grades 1-4. After grade 4 we suggest supplementing with more challenging activities for students. We recommend not using the tests until at least second grade, and possibly waiting until third or fourth grade to begin testing. This world history curriculum lays a good foundation for further study in junior high and high school.

 

Saturday Project: Beach Umbrella Stand

Umbrella Stand 1We live near the beach so from May through September we spend much of our weekends enjoying the sand and surf. A beach umbrella is a must-have and we have learned from locals a better way to keep it up in the winds…making your own umbrella stand with a PVC pipe. It is less expensive than commercial stands and works better. Here is how:

Supply List:

  • Umbrella stand 2PVC Pipe with wider diameter than your umbrella poll
  • Hack saw

Simply cut the PVC pipe in half on a an angle. It is that easy!

Umbrella stand 3Push the angle end into the sand and stick your umbrella in it to enjoy shade at the beach.

 

 

Curriculum Review: Shurley English

Concept: Based on grade level, Shurley English teaches grammar and writing skills by starting with simple sentences through teaching your child how to write 5 paragraph essays and narratives.

How It Works: Shurley English comes as a basic kit with Teacher’s Manual, Student Workbook, and Jingle CD. Each lesson is completely scripted, giving the home-school parent the exact words to stay to teach grammar and writing to their student. Each lesson is paired with jingles to help students remember the various parts of speech and basic grammar and writing rules. Each year starts out teaching the basic concepts, so you can start this program at any age/grade level. About the 4th week/chapter, students begin getting writing assignments, and older students will have two a week in addition to a weekly test. Shurley also incorporates weekly vocabulary words (8) to teach synonyms and antonyms, which help students improve writing skills. In addition to the kid books, you can add in vocabulary and literature selection books, as well as a practice book with all the sentences students have to classify.

How We Used It: For the younger grades we pretty much followed the script, doing jingles daily and reading the teaching text to give the kids a good base. As they got older, we found that the jingles became boring (because they already knew it) and we stopped using those after a couple of years. Additionally, because each year starts out with teaching the same basic ideas (just more quickly as students progress to higher grade levels) we began doing the first 1-3 chapters all the first week. We did all the writing assignments until the end chapters, which incorporate thank you cards and friendly letters. These we do at different times during the year, as appropriate (say after birthdays). After a few years, generally my kids just read the references in their workbooks that go with what they are learning and then do the activities. At this point (4th and 6th grades) Shurley requires very little teaching from me.

Concerns: The jingles get very boring and are not interesting to older kids. Two writing assignments each week can seem like a lot, especially to students who are not as interested in English (like my house full of math geeks).

Recommendation: We highly recommend Shurley English. While there are flaws with the system, in the end, the grammar and writing basis that this gives students is excellent, and that is the goal of English curriculum. In our opinion the grammar and writing preparation found in Shurley can’t be beaten. We also recommend purchasing the practice booklet as it saves time and hassle in the daily classification of sentences. The vocabulary madness books were too easy and just busy work, so we say skip those. If you aren’t using another reading curriculum, the literature selections are a great way to expose kids to prose and poetry at their grade level.

Chocolate Chip Blondies

exps10578_GAC1115479C157Middle Child just turned 9 and, in classic middle child form, wanted to be sure she had something different from the other kids (who chose matching M&M cakes) asked for something chocolate chip and not a cake. After looking at and trying a variety of recipes, I settled on this one for Chocolate Chip Blondies. These were a huge hit! Enjoy!