Friday, May 31, 2013

Do you ever wonder what's going through their minds?

I woke up in the morning and found this sweet sight.

Miss M's Bible, open on her desk by the window, verse after verse highlighted.

But wait, what's this?

Pull back a bit and take in the whole scene.

 A naked dolly and a toy gun.  Hmm…wonder what was going on? If only the fish could talk!

Do you ever find unusual scenes left by your kids?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Adventures in U.S. History Week 14

Week 13 of Adventures in U.S. History is earmarked for Thanksgiving. It is a stand-alone week that can be moved to an appropriate time of year.  Since we started our school year in February, we'll likely do Week 13, or Thanksgiving Week, as a finisher for our school year.

We "travelled" through a few more states this week!  Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina.  Miss M was a bit distraught that "Maryland" isn't pronounced Mary-land.  Miss M's favorite book about states in our basket book so far has been Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America by Lynne Cheney. (affiliate link)  The illustrations are fun and engaging and it's simply loaded with interesting facts about the states!

Our 50 States by Lynne Cheney

In science we learned about the American Robin, Black-Capped Chickadees, and Northern Orioles.  All three of which we have as regular backyard visitors.  We sat outside and listened carefully to identify the songs of these three birds.  Orioles have such loud voices!

Trying to sneak up on an American Robin.  It never works, but she always tries!
We had some Life Skills lessons this week…How to Wash the Dishes!  We may need more work in this area, but since Little Guy and Miss M were so enthusiastic, I didn't have the heart to stop or correct them much.  Next time, though, we're going to have a little chat about rinsing the dishes!

Congratulations to Miss M for completing Singapore Math 1B!  Beginning Week 15, she will be moving on to Singapore Math 2A.  It's always such a great feeling to complete a workbook, isn't it?  Even though Miss M was presented with some new concepts (multiplication, for one), we never ran into any rough patches.  Whether that is because Miss M picks up concepts easily or because the curriculum builds upon previous knowledge in an effective manner is unknown.  Either way, we're excited to move on to 2A!

The finale of our week was (finally!) getting to build the soda bottle bird feeder that came with our curriculum.  Everybody pitched in!

Daddy and Little Guy filling the soda bottle with birdseed.
Miss M screwing on the bird feeder lid.
And I hung it in a tree, ready for some feathered visitors!
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, so we're extending our "spring break" from one week to two.  Why?  Because we can!  Once the weather gets hot we won't want to be out in it as much, and because we're taking a break now we'll be able to hit the books with renewed vigor.  But don't worry, I have some fun activities planned that I'll share with you, so you won't have to miss my weekly updates too much!  Until then…

Enjoy your adventuring!

Our adventures from previous weeks:

The rest of our adventures:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: My Home School Grades

One thing every homeschool parent has to do, regardless of state regulations, is to keep records.  Even if your state doesn't require records to be kept or turned in, some day you might move, or your kids might attend a public or private school, or maybe they'll want to apply for college or a job.  Having good records gives you peace of mind that whatever the future holds, you'll be ready!

Figuring out the best way to keep track of your students' academic history can be frustrating and stressful.  Homeschool dad John Echols and homeschool graduate Jordan Shute figured that what homeschoolers need is an affordable, intuitive program to gather and manage records in a way that would be an accurate reflection of the homeschool education.  Together they created My Home School Grades.

My Home School Grades is a deceptively simple program that allows you to track courses, grades, and activities for all your students.  It's simple, but powerful!


  • Input and navigation are simple and intuitive
  • Track courses, credits, grades, dual enrollment, and extracurricular activities
  • Highly customizable to suit every family's needs
  • Works with any curriculum or lesson plan
  • Works with any internet web browser regardless of platform or device
  • Affordable!

Once price, one time!

The cost of a lifetime membership to My Home School Grades is only $49.99 and includes full access to the program, unlimited number of students, and all future updates and enhancements!  Now that's a great deal!!!

The introductory pricing has ended.  Please check the website for current pricing.  (It's still a good deal, especially now that they've rolled out even MORE great features!)

Tracking grades

Many homeschooling families don't hand out grades, at least, not in the traditional sense, because they recognize that grades don't necessarily equal learning.  Because of this, My Home School Grades was designed to use any sort of grading system: letters, decimals, fractions.  A whole course can be given a single grade or you can enter grades by assignment and the system will calculate for you.  Best of all (in my opinion), you can simply choose a pass/fail option and skip grades altogether!  This is the option I use for my kids.

Tracking activities

In addition to classes, credits, and grades, My Home School Grades can help you keep track of all the extracurricular activities your children participate in.  Community outreach, sports, scouting, field trips, math olympics; it can all be recorded quickly and easily.  If your phone or tablet can access the internet, chances are it can access the My Home School Grades web app so you can keep up-to-date while on the go!
I entered Miss M's participation in last week's spelling bee!  And I'm able to keep track of the field trips we've been on so far this year. It doesn't do to trust that sort of thing to memory. You other mamas know what I mean!

Easy to use

Setup is a breeze!  You never stall out wondering what to do next. Each step follows a natural, intuitive progression. Even though there are a lot of customizations available, it's all so easy to figure out!

You can upload a photo of your student, but I thought the default chalk drawings were just adorable!
  1. Add a student.
  2. Add a class.
  3. Enter grades.  (Rinse and repeat!)
  4. Generate a transcript.
It really is that easy!!


When generating a transcript, there are a few exciting customizations, my favorite of which is the ability to "hide" all the work done before a certain year.  For example, you've been schooling your child since Kindergarten and they're now ready to apply for college. You don't have to print a transcript listing everything they've done K-12.  Instead, you can hide everything before their Freshman year and you're left with just a high school transcript. Perfect!

Still in development

The developers of My Home School Grades have a few things still in the works.  Among them is a calendar reporting system that will report hours/days according to the requirements of your state. (Wow!)  They also want to integrate the ability to upload images and documents for a more accurate reflection of your home school experience.  How exciting to be able to upload a scan of your child's spelling bee certificate or a photo of their final-project-full-scale-diorama!  (You know, the one they worked so hard on but takes up an entire room and can't be kept for very long.)

I'm really excited about the future of this program -- and it's all included in the lifetime membership!

But you don't have to take my word for it.

Go sign up for a 14-day free trial -- no credit card needed!

Update: To try MHSG free for 3 days, use this code:
It will be good till the end of 2014.

Check out my honesty policy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Adventures in U.S. History Week 12

It was finally the week we've been waiting for…the start of our study of the 50 states!  Miss M has been anticipating this all along and has already memorized the states, their capitals, their shapes, and their locations, thanks mostly to the fun little game Stack the States.

When she's interested in something, there's pretty much no stopping her from learning about it!  We have a large map of the U.S. on the wall in our hallway and she spends a great deal of time looking at it, asking questions about the names of places or the legends on the map.  She's really enjoyed some of our book basket books on the states, but her especial favorite is United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds Their Stories, Their Glories. (affiliate link)

We are learning about the states in the chronological order of when they joined the union.  First was Delaware, aptly nicknamed First State, then Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Georgia.  Next week we'll learn about a few more.

We also got started on our study of birds that's going to span the course of several weeks.  To begin, we went outside and ran and ran and ran.  When Miss M was tired, we looked at Isaiah 40:31.

"Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
We discussed what it would be like to fly like an eagle.  Eagles don't need to expend much energy flapping their wings like other birds.  Once they get up, they can soar for a very long time using thermal updrafts.

Then we broke out a pair of binoculars and did some birdwatching!  We have been keeping a list of all the different birds we've seen and identified in our backyard.  We've seen

  • robins
  • blue jays
  • cardinals (a.k.a. redbirds)
  • blackbirds
  • sparrows
  • brown-headed cowbirds
  • ruby-throated hummingbirds
  • orioles
  • turkey vultures
  • hawks and
  • yellow tanagers

among others!  The orioles and blue jays are definitely the kids' favorites!  (And I've been having fun photographing them!)

An oriole robbing our hummingbird feeder.

Two blue jays seeking a juicy meal.

We ended our lessons a day early and spent Friday at Miss M's first spelling bee!  She joined the other 2nd grade homeschoolers and, though she's only 6 1/2, she held her own! By the time she got eliminated, they were spelling 3rd grade words.  She ended up getting 3rd place! (Only 1st and 2nd got recognition in the awards ceremony). Way to go, Miss M!!

On our weekly nature walk, Little Guy caught this pretty little butterfly called a Spring Azure.  The wind was gusting that day, so it didn't rest on him long before it was blown away.

One more week before we take a week off to rest and refresh ourselves before plunging back into our Adventures!

Our adventures from previous weeks:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Introducing Rocco the Rough-and-Tumble Wrestler

I've been commissioned by my 3 1/2 year old to make a life-sized doll to be his best friend and wrestling companion.

Life-sized doll face in progress.
Hubby is completely on board with this endeavor and issued strict instructions that the face not be too sweet.

Little Guy decided his new friend's name will be Rocco, "And I'm gonna be Troy!"  Where Rocco and Troy came from is anyone's guess.  The mind of a preschooler is a fabulous thing!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: The Waterproof Bible from Bardin & Marsee

"The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8, NLT).

We are assured that the words God has spoken and caused to be bound together in the volume we call the Bible will never cease to exist. That is not true, however, of a single printed volume of Scripture. Paper-and-ink Bibles can undergo some pretty serious abuse in their service to us.

In college, I carried my Bible everywhere I went. At first I had the thick teen devotional Bible I had used all through junior high and high school, but I soon set it aside in favor of a much slimmer volume that didn't take up as much space or weigh as much. I hadn't owned it very long when disaster struck. The reusable water bottle I also carried everywhere I went had the lid screwed on crookedly and when I tossed it in my backpack with everything else, it slowly leaked until the entire contents of my bag were soaked through! I was so upset that my nice new Bible was all warped afterwards! I sure could have used a Waterproof Bible!

The Story

Growing up in the city, Bobby Bardin didn't have much experience in the outdoors until middle school when he began backpacking with some guys from his church. He spent a lot of time in high school and college backpacking, whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, etc. But one thing that hardly ever made it with him on his trips was a Bible. He didn't want to risk ruining the thin paper pages when he was in the great outdoors. His friend Michael Marsee had similar experiences. As an on-mountain chaplain for a Christian camp, he would see Bibles get ruined in just 10-15 minutes of mountain-top worship.

These two friends got together and decided to produce a Bible that would withstand the rugged environments they enjoyed so much. Now they have a Bible that can go where they go without fuss or worry!

The Product

The Waterproof Bible is completely impervious to water, dries quickly, is made of durable synthetic paper, and even floats! You can write in it with ball point pen, pencil, or a dry highlighter.
(NOT an affiliate link)

It is available in five popular versions.

  • English Standard Version (ESV)
  • King James Version (KJV)
  • New King James Version (NKJV)
  • New International Version (NIV)
  • New Living Translation (NLT)

Each version is available as a full Bible for $44.95 or as a New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs for $24.95. With three different cover options: pink & brown floral, blue wave, and sportsman camouflage.  It can be purchased directly from the publisher or from your local Christian bookseller (find one here).

The Claim

"The WATERPROOF BIBLE© is printed on 100% plastic. This material is both waterproof and tear-resistant with normal use. This material is adversely affected by temperatures above 150° F. If the WATERPROOF BIBLE© freezes while wet, thaw before opening. This durable format can be dried with a towel or by standing it on its spine with the pages up. Water will cause the pages to adhere to one another, but once dry, they will return to their original condition. Petroleum products can cause the ink of the WATERPROOF BIBLE© to smear, so keep it away from all such products, including bug spray."

The Test

What better than a rainy spring day and a puddle full of sticky Missouri mud to put my Waterproof Bible to the test?

Or how about a warm bubbly bath with Miss M?

After the mud puddle I gave it a quick rinse in the sink; the mud vanished without a trace!

I squeezed water out of the binding and set it on the counter to dry.

The pages were all stuck together, but in less than 24 hours it had dried completely and I was able to fan through the pages like normal. It was as good as new! Impressive!

It really is waterproof! No weakening of pages or binding while wet. No warping of pages upon drying. The pages are slightly thicker than the traditional tissue-thin paper used in Bibles. These wouldn't be ripped by a single, solitary swipe from your infant or toddler (c'mon, Moms, you know what I'm talking about)!

I also tested the ability to write and highlight on its plastic pages. I was most skeptical about this, but true to the claims, I was able to write with ball-point pen, pencil, and dry highlighter.  The pen and pencil markings survived the dunking, but the dry highlighter was completely washed away.

Uses that Come to Mind

Now as much as I love the great outdoors, I'm not much into rugged outdoorsman type activities. We go camping now and then as a family, but nothing too wild and crazy. But that doesn't mean I don't have a bunch of scenarios in which I could use a waterproof Bible!

  • In a hot bath
  • Beside a pool
  • At the kitchen table
  • While baking (got a few minutes till that batch of cookies is done?)
  • In the car
  • In a diaper bag
  • In a purse
  • During the kids' swimming lessons
  • At the gym
  • On a picnic
  • To a baptism

Final Thoughts

  • This would make a fantastic graduation present! Or a gift for a new mom. Or a send-off gift for new missionaries (especially those going to tropical climes). Reading material for a lifeguard. Really, the possibilities are endless! 
  • I wish it were available in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) version since that is my version of choice. If it were, I'd buy one and make it my main Bible.
  • The print is so crisp and clear! Because the pages are thicker than an average Bible, there's not as much bleed-through of text from the pages behind where you're reading.
  • I understand some people like to carry just a copy of the New Testament, but I'm not one of them. I've been using the ESV New Testament (with Psalms and Proverbs) that I was given for this review and I miss being able to reference passages in the Old Testament!
  • I love, love, love the concept! And I think everyone should have a Waterproof Bible! How wonderful to have a Bible that is as durable as you yourself! Where you go, it can go too.

Check out my honesty policy.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: Ooka Island Adventure

What is Ooka Island?

Ooka Island is an adventurous computer game that teaches early literacy to kids from Pre-K to 2nd grade.  It's fun and engaging without making any sacrifices on the academic side of things.

"Upon arrival on Ooka Island, children customize their own online avatar and embark on a compelling 3D hero-mission to save the Ooka Elves! As young learners follow the Ooka Island Adventure, they travel on their own unique path created by Ooka Island's READirect learning algorithm.  This ensures that they are on the fastest track to reading success!"

A Bit of Backstory

Ooka Island is based on the work of Dr. Kay MacPhee who developed a successful program for struggling and reluctant readers in the 1990s.  Her program, then known as SpellRead, was the subject of many intensive studies because of its effectiveness, but it was quite expensive.  It became an exclusive product for either the poorest of the poor (by way of government subsidy) or the children of top executives.  Dr. MacPhee noticed a huge gap in the middle of people who would benefit from her program were it accessible to them.  With the development of new technology and the widespread availability of the internet, Dr. MacPhee has been able to bring the product of her years of research to a wider audience!

This short video describes how Dr. MacPhee teamed up with Jim Barber to create Ooka Island.

Teaching Kids to Read

The 80 hours of fun and games in Ooka Island makes use of Dr. Kay MacPhee's 30 years of research and experience.  The Eye-Ear Reading Method she developed teaches skill mastery in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension in a methodical way right from the very start of a child's literacy journey.

The child is guided through the Eye-Ear Reading Method by a learning algorithm called READirect.  This algorithm learns from your child, adapting to his or her strengths and weaknesses which keeps children working at a challenging pace without being overwhelmed.  The algorithm allows the game to guarantee mastery of prerequisite skills before presenting the child with a new skill to learn.

Online Progress Reporting

One thing I really appreciate about any educational game is the ability to log in and see what sorts of things my child is learning and to monitor the progress (or lack thereof) that is being made.  Ooka Island goes above and beyond in this area!  The Ooka Lighthouse is an extensive reporting portal for parents and educators.  There are many different reports:

  • The Report Card - provides a snapshot of progress in each foundational reading skill so trouble areas can be caught and reinforced early.
  • Reading Comprehension Report - provides a reading score for each book in the areas of comprehension, concept of word, and vocabulary.
  • Accuracy Analysis Report - provides a full breakdown of every question posed and responded to so you'll know right away which sounds your child is having trouble with.
  • Book Progress Report - provides the total number of books your child has read as well as the reading level he or she is currently working on.
  • Red Line / Blue Line Trend - plots a two-part chart of (1) the child's ability to comprehend what he or she is reading and (2) match the words he hears with what he sees.

Extra Goodies

As if the Ooka Island Adventure and Ooka Lighthouse weren't amazing enough on their own, there are a whole bunch of supplemental materials to bring the learning offline with items kids can actually lay their hands on!

  • Activity Pages - coloring pages that correspond to specific books in the Ooka Island Adventure.
  • Books - the book program has 95 leveled books (real paper-and-ink books, not more e-books)
  • Book Path - a printable chart for young readers to document their progress through the Ooka Island Adventure as well as take a sneak peek at the adventures that lie ahead
  • Reward Certificates - customizable certificates to present to young readers as they complete the three major levels of Ooka Island
  • Reward Books - free, downloadable books offered as a reward for completing a level and reaching the end of a portion of the book path
  • OokaTunes: Sing Along Songs app - eleven songs featured on Ooka Island in a free app for your iPhone or iPad! 


There are several pricing options to fit your needs.

  • Individual (1 child)
    • Monthly $12.95/month
    • Annually $124.95/year (a 20% savings)
  • Family (up to 4 children)
    • Monthly $19.95/month
    • Annually $149.95/year (a 37% savings)

There are also pricing options for schools that range from $10 (500+ students) to $20 (less than 30 students) per annual student license.
Click here for 30% off your Ooka Island purchase!
Expires June 1, 2013.

Our Adventures on Ooka Island

Although Miss M is the right age for Ooka Island, she already reads at a level well beyond its scope.  She dabbled in the game a little, but it really didn't hold her interest.  Little Guy, on the other hand, absolutely loves it!  It gives him something that is uniquely his and many days when Miss M and I are sitting at the kitchen table doing her lessons, he says, "I want to do school too! I'm going to Ooka Island!"

Ooka Island works well on our touch-screen computer.
He is only three and a half, so sometimes he gets frustrated at having to follow the Learning Flow (20 minutes of guided curricular play followed by 10 minutes of reading the new e-book before getting to the Free Play portion).  He'll often only play for a few minutes at a time.  But since the game saves his progress and location when he quits, it starts him up right back where he left off.  He's put in over 8 hours already!

He is so proud of his progress and should a guest enter our home, beware!  He's likely to drag you by the finger to his book path chart and show you just how many books he's "found" and read.

Little Guy counting his progress on the Book Path (yet again!)
My gift subscription (granted for the purposes of this review) will be expiring at the end of May and I am quite certain that I'll be purchasing an extension. I believe this program will give Little Guy a strong foundation in reading that will last him a lifetime!
Come make some new friends on Ooka Island!

Check out my honesty policy.