Saturday, August 31, 2013

Compassion International Blog Month 2013! Please Join Us!!

September marks the beginning of  Compassion International's Blog Month 2013. What exactly is Blog Month you may be wondering?  Well, it's a time when bloggers join together with weekly writing assignments to help spread the word about children in poverty and the wonderful ministry of child sponsorship. The goal is to have at least 3,160 children sponsored through our blogs.

If you have a blog (that's the only requirement), won't you join the Compassion Blogger's Network and help us blog for a cause? Even if you don't have a blog at this moment, you are welcome to create one and join in on this wonderful ministry and help release children from poverty.

If you participate, there is a chance you may win a spot on a 2014 Blog Trip to meet and help children we are blogging for! How amazing would that be?!

~ Hope

Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekly Highlights ~ Changing Spelling Programs, a Butterfly's Wing, Drums, a Birthday...


 Our week began with a fun discovery by our seven year old, Ryan. He found a tiger swallowtail's bottom wing on our deck. He asked to look at it under the microscope! We all took turns looking at its scales and were in agreement that it reminded us of snake skin. God's creation is amazing!

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We've had our microscope for almost two years. It was a Christmas present. I researched so many and finally decided on this BARSKA Monocular Compound Microscope. It's super easy to use, and we've been pleased. I especially like the 360 head rotation. It's makes taking turns looking at the specimen super easy between the four of us. I looked just now on Amazon and it's selling for a much better price than what we paid two years ago!

To take the pic on the right, I just put my iPhone camera over the eye piece and moved it around until the specimen was clearly in view.
Later in the day, Ryan found this awesome dancing rainbow on our whiteboard - our fish tank is directly above with a window behind it! He snapped this amazing (non-filtered) picture.

Jonathan found a walking stick on our front porch. He discovered its feet can attach to nearly any surface - including human skin! Don't worry, it doesn't hurt.

Another Reason I Love Homeschooling - Flexibility

My dad stopped by this week, and we ate breakfast with him at Cracker Barrel! His job involves a lot of travel. So even though he lives in another state, we still get to see him once every month or two as he passes through. Thankfully, our schedule is flexible.

What I am Reading  

During Caraline's piano lessons, I began re-reading The Ministry of Motherhood. I love all of Sally Clarkson's books. I am grateful she shares her wisdom with us!

Compassion International

Those who know me well, know that my heart is with children in poverty. I've been checking our Compassion International site daily for the moment we would be come correspondent sponsors for a a new friend.  When we logged in Wednesday morning, fourteen year old Mesfin from Ethiopia was on our sponsorship page!!! We wrote to him immediately using Compassion's email letter writing tool. We included a couple of family photos - dogs, too! We spent the rest of the morning researching Ethiopia in depth and the school Mesfin is attending through Compassion. Our hearts are filled with complete joy to be Mesfin's new friends!
Caraline's Favorite Book this Week
Caraline decided to re-read How to Train Your Dragon. She began reading it around 5 one evening and finished the next morning before 10. Yes, I let her finish her book before beginning formal lessons.

And, The Presidential Game arrived in the mail this week! ~ review to follow in a few weeks.
We love to play board and games like Chess, Checkers, Uno, and Sum Swamp just to name a few.


We have a drummer in the family! Ryan loves drum lessons and his teacher, Phil. (Phil is the drummer for Makeshift Jukebox - check them out!) Ryan needed to get a big boy set of drums. When he was four or five, he got a junior drum set for Christmas. He's out grown it now, but this used set we found will last him until college or even after! ~ Little brother now has the junior set in his room.

Later that night, I found my sweet boy polishing his new-to-him drums. I didn't even ask him, too. I just smiled when I walked into his room. Ryan didn't know I was behind him. He's certainly growing up.

Switching Spelling Programs for Ryan

What we had been using for Spelling just wasn't working for my little guy. He was thriving, but it wasn't as easy as I'd have liked for it be. It worked beautifully for his older sister. She's a fabulous speller, but what works for one isn't always going to work for another.

Don't be afraid to try something else.

We'll I'm happy to announce we've found our fit -  All About Spelling. I love it, but most importantly Ryan LOVES it! We've been using AAS for a couple of weeks now, and we are already on lesson 18 in Level 1. We'll be done with the whole book in just a few more weeks. I can tell he is a better reader because of it, too! It's Orton-Gillingham based, (You already know I'm a big fan of this method!) which is a multisensory approach for dyslexic children. I don't think Ryan is dyslexic, but the multisensory approach with rules explained is absolutely his cup of tea. I chatted with another homeschool mommy today, and she ordered this set for her struggling speller, too. I am anxiously awaiting her thoughts!

 I have a banner on my sidebar that takes you to a couple of fabulous FREE spelling (and reading) teaching tips downloads.


Whole Wheat Brownies!!! We made this super easy recipe that Caraline picked out this week. It was Deeelicious!! Thanks to our sweet friends at Lara's Place and a Cup of Grace for giving us the cookbook (years ago!) with this yummy recipe!

Birthday Girl!
Sandy turned one on August 29!! You can read her rescue story here. We took her to PetSmart and bought a few birthday surprises, including a "birthday" Pup Pie.

The day we met..

Big difference from the day we took her home, isn't it. This vet office had been her home since she was six weeks old.

Guppy Babies!
Can you see them? They are mostly in the top right hand corner of the nursery. There are seven!

And the kids began Awana Wednesday night - one of their favorite things to do! And they had their first Jiu-Jitsu lesson. They loved Coach Jorge and throughout the week I would find little ones practicing "the alligator" - so cute!!

And our review for one of our favorite homeschool resources went live this week!

OK, that's the major highlights from this week. Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy you are here!

~ Hope

We are linking our Weekly Highlights with our friends at Homegrown Learners' Collage Friday and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-Up.
Homegrown Learners.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Homeschool Spanish Academy ~ A Schoolhouse Review

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Our second grader and fourth grader have been taking online Spanish classes together with a live teacher in Guatemala. How super, super cool is that?! The name of the program is Homeschool Spanish Academy. This online school has been such a fun way to explore Spanish and my children are learning by leaps and bounds! (If you've been following me on Facebook or Twitter you already know how much we love it!)

Here is an quick overview of the program:

Our little ones are taking classes under the Early Language1A curriculum for ages five to eight. (HSA offers classes for age five through adult.) Since our oldest is nine and youngest is seven, I chose the class that targets the younger of the two. Ryan, our seven year old, hasn't had any formal Spanish lessons. Caraline has had some, but it's been a while. So, the first few classes were a little easier for Caraline. The material is challenging, and Ryan is doing an excellent job being the brand new Spanish student. He participates in class, and he is retaining so much information! This level has been an excellent fit for both of them!

What you will need for class (from the HSA website):
  1.  An internet connection
  2. Skype* installed on your computer
  3. Skype compatible computer headset with microphone (We use the built in microphone and speakers on our computer. ~ Hope)
  4. Webcam (recommended)
*Skype is a free download, the world leader in internet telephony, and allows you to talk and learn online

Scheduling classes that fit our schedule is so easy!

I schedule our lessons according to what is convenient for us. We are not held to a certain day or time. So, for example, our class doesn't always have to meet on Mondays from 1:30 - 2:00. It can if we wish, but scheduling is totally flexible. And, as long as a cancellation is made twenty-four hours before our class is scheduled to begin, we can reschedule. - There are tutorials available for how to schedule classes, cancel classes, and so much more on their website. It really is a simple process. We are also free to choose the instructor of our choice for each lesson, as long as they have an open time slot that works for our schedule. Before the first class, a tech support call is made via telephone and Skype to make sure technically everything  is ready to go for class. Our tech support call lasted maybe five minutes.

What a lesson is like:

About ten minutes before our class, I make sure everything is ready to go on the computer and log into our Skype account. And right on time, we are video called over our computer via Skype. We answer our call and the kids begin their twenty-five minute lesson.

(Once, our doorbell rang a few minutes before class, and  we all got totally wrapped up in visiting with our friend. Time slipped away, and I forgot our lesson! Thankfully, our instructor called our home phone and within five minutes of our scheduled start time we were online and ready to go! Our friend sat quietly and listened in on the lesson. She was impressed!)

The children attending class via Skipe with Senora Rosa.

The kids are able to see and speak to their teacher face-to-face and their teacher can see and speak to them - in real time. Along with speaking face-to-face to teach the children, the instructor also goes through PDF slides that are shown on screen. She is able to highlight portions of the PDF being taught, also. That same PDF is available later in the day, under assignments (in a special, log in area) on the Homeschool Spanish Academy website as a download for me. An email is sent as notification when the PDF is ready to view. I use the PDF for oral review work during the week and we usually go over lessons from previous weeks, too.  Lessons tend to build upon themselves, so review of previous lessons is seamlessly incorporated into the new lesson.
An example of what the live PDF portion of the lesson looks like.

What my log in area under Classes looks like. The menu options are Home, Assignments, My Planner, Schedule, Registration. Reports and Feedback are empty menus for us.

I always sit where I can see the screen and listen in on the classes, which is recommended for the younger students. I love that their teacher can meticulously tell via Skype when the children have a mispronunciation (for example, pronouncing the silent h) and practices with them in a very gentle manner. Our teacher's English and Spanish pronunciations are also very clear and easy to understand. The lessons are personal, too. We wanted to know how to properly pronounce a Spanish friend's name (Naidely) and our instructor happily obliged.

Pricing for one student:

Pricing for paired students (paired students must be within three grade levels of each other):
 They do offer a FREE sample class!
Final thoughts:

From Caraline (9):
The thought of being able to one day speak and write to our sponsored friends Melany and Naidely, who live in Ecuador, gives me encouragement to try hard to learn Spanish. I think it is neat that our teacher in Guatemala is so much closer than we are to Ecuador! So far, I've learned greetings, a lot of fruits, vegetables, and numbers. My teacher is patient and kind. I love that she is live over our computer. It is fun when Senora Rosa asks us questions. Her name is easy to say, also.

From Ryan (7): 
My classes are great! My teacher is really cool.

My thoughts:
I love everything about Homeschool Spanish Academy. My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting the founders at a Homeschool Expo this summer. Hearing their mission and how the company began was truly heart warming.

I also love that the teachers keep detailed notes and if we happen to need to schedule a class with a different instructor, that person can take the next class over with no problem. In fact, the schedules were fairly open and we could book about a week in advance when we began our sessions. Now, we have to book about six weeks in advance. To accommodate this increase in demand, a new teacher is being added to the roster as well as a temporary teacher that has previous experience working with Homeschool Spanish Academy.

My kids are interested in Spanish, interested in learning more about Guatemala, and they adore their instructor and count her as a friend. We will certainly continue our classes with Homeschool Spanish Academy!



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Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekly Highlights ~ Field Trip to Nashville, A Lost Dog and New Friends

We needed a little break. Nashville is a place we've been wanting to take the kids for quite some time. Daddy had work to do there, and we were able to hitch a ride.

Our First Day:

Inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. There are lots of beautiful plants, fish and ducks inside the hotel. You can even take a boat ride inside this huge place.
In the adjoining mall, we had a unique meal at the Aquarium Restaurant. Jonathan was in heaven. He loved the ocean creatures - especially the shovel nose guitar fish. I caught his amazement in the picture below at the moment he discovered the guitar fish had tiny little teeth. Next time we are in Nashville, I am going to schedule a behind the scenes tour with their marine biologist.
Our next stop was Dave & Busters for a little bit of silly fun!
And our night ended with a carriage ride in Downtown Nashville. Our guide, Kenny, is a history buff and he shared a lot of his knowledge with us. It was a nice little stroll through downtown and around the State Capital.
Day Two

 Began like this:

 At 4:21 am central time, a neighbor called my cell phone to tell me he had our Betsy. My heart dropped. He placed her into our fenced in back yard with access to a doggy door (so they can come inside a doggy safe room in our house). I called our pet sitter's mom - they live next door - to ask if her son would check to see if Sandy was still at home. She was NOT! Caraline (she was the only little one awake) and I prayed and prayed. After nearly four hours of searching by their sweet, amazingly wonderful family (and being late to school and work) Sandy was found SAFE by their son! ~ Just as I was preparing to leave Nashville with the kids to go home to search for her. Thankfully, we have fabulous neighbors and answered prayers. ....Sandy has never tried to escape before....

After all of that ~ still so thankful it ended on a happy note~

The kids swam in the indoor pool for a couple of hours and then we set out for the Nashville Zoo. After about an hour, the sun appeared and there was no more rain!
Unseen New World: Creatures of the Americas was by far the favorite exhibit for everyone! The bats, the caimans, the snakes, poison frogs, fish and sea horses were huge hits. We walked the whole exhibit three times! - Wonderful geography lesson as we looked for each animal's native home on the maps in front of the individual exhibits.

The kids spent forty-five minutes playing with the goats. The hay was really messing with my allergies, so I stepped outside the fence and just watched my kids lovingly enjoy the other little kids.
We explored for three hours and only saw 2/3 of the zoo. We were hungry and tired so we called it a day. On the way out, Jonathan spotted a skink running along the pathway and had a total meltdown when 1. He couldn't catch it and 2. I told him he wasn't allowed to catch anything inside a zoo!

We found the nearest Chick-fil-a drive through, filled our bellies and then noticed we were only a mile from  President Andrew Jackson's home. I asked the kids if they were up for one more adventure and they said sure - as long as it was outside and they could run free a little.

So, we made our way to The Hermitage.
They ran the paths leading to the home and a explored Rachel's beautiful garden. We got there only an hour before closing. So we didn't have a lot of time to explore the premises. We did however take a quick tour inside the home. I warned the docents that I had tired children. They were fabulous at keeping their attention and filling us with lots of interesting and fun facts. I just hate we didn't get to explore the entire premises. Even if they'd stayed open longer it wouldn't have mattered. We were pooped! It is definitely on our must do again list! Oh, and as we were walking back along the path we saw a buck with velvet antlers and a doe frolicking through the meadow. It was so sweet!
New Friends from Across the Ocean

That night, the kids went down to the pool and swam for three hours - until the pool closed. (I don't know where they found the extra energy.)  They met two new friends from the UK. All five had the most fun swimming together and playing games! Addresses and sweet hugs were exchanged at the end of the night. They are looking forward to being pen pals and Skyping, too. In fact, Caraline has already written their first letter. We just need to take it to the post office!

Day Three - On the Way Home

We rode horses at a stable just outside of Nashville. Our guide, Casey, was fabulous ~even though our ride was postponed an hour due to thunder and was cut short by thirty minutes because of another booking. The owners called during our ride to make sure Casey would be back at the barn on time for the next group. The owners didn't come out to offer us a discount for our shortened ride, but we still gave Casey a nice tip. He let us trot. So, I can't really complain too much.
We made it home in time for me to jump into another vehicle and meet everyone for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We ran into a super special friend to our family that we don't get to see often. And, immediately after eating I left for an Awana leader meeting.

At Home:
The boys were having a few problems - I'll call it focusing - our first morning back to our regular studies. That's when I am intentional about praying together and then dragging out the Lego, building blocks and puzzles while taking some time to just read aloud.  After our decompressing time, Ryan asked to read from our Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day, Apologia Science book and to color a picture of a sea turtle and shark. If my kids ever ask to learn about something specific, I do my best to never turn them down.

One of Ryan's coloring pages. He cut it out, too. Then Daddy helped with an experiment. They tested the temperature in the shade and in full sun and compared the two. And related those findings to cold blooded creatures.

Caraline had piano lessons today since we missed our regular piano lesson day because of our trip. She LOVES piano lessons! Ryan has his second drum lesson tomorrow. I hope he continues to enjoy his lessons, too.

I talked to my old Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instructor and signed the kids up for classes! They begin next week. Awana starts next week and co-op starts two weeks after that. Our afternoons/evenings are about to become much busier.


We are linking our Weekly Highlights with our friends at Homegrown Learners' Collage Friday and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-Up.
Homegrown Learners.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Weekly Highlights ~ Showing Compassion, Changing our Reading Plan and Lots of Nature

August 5 - 16

I began writing our Weekly Highlights last Sunday and instead it turned into a post about one way we try to be the hands and feet of Jesus - something that is so dear to my heart.

I'm just now getting back to writing our Homeschool Weekly Highlights...please do take a look at the above post, though and share your thoughts.

The Trouble with Reading: 

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Our oldest asked to learn to read at three. By the time she was three and a half, she was sounding out words and reading whole words on her own. Reading came easily to her. She's always read way above grade level. She's also a pretty good speller.

Our middle child is second grade now and he is about on grade level, no where near where his sister was in second grade, though. He's my logical thinker. My engineer minded child. The "inconsistent" rules for English throws him for a loop. It took him forever to read "was" as  /wus/ and not /wahs/.  There are so many examples of where English is troublesome for him.  

I felt like a kindred spirit when I met Denise Eide at her booth at the Southeastern Homeschool Convention in Atlanta a few weeks ago.  She encountered the same reading issues with a couple of her children as I have with Ryan. She was telling our story. I bought one of her lectures on CD before leaving that day. You can actually listen to a similar talk for free on The Logic of English website. I've also been reading her book, Understanding the Logic of English.

So, as I'm teaching our new kindergartner to read, I am pulling my second grader in to "help" me teach.  We are starting from the beginning, and I think this approach will be great for the both of them. It's been two weeks and I can already see an improvement in my second grader.

I'm using a blended sight and sound approach from curriculum I already own (from a review I did last fall) IEW's PAL - Reading and Writing. I am pulling in what I'm learning from Denise Eide's book and her YouTube videos about Orton-Gillingham, (the method also used in All About Spelling which is a part of the PAL-Writing package).

So, when we are reading from my second grader's reading books and we come across a troublesome word, I use the Understanding the Logic of English approach for explaining the phonogram rules. We are also using the Logic of English Phonogram iPad app, too. I want to give this method a few more weeks try; I don't want to have to buying a different curriculum, but we've all been there....Essentials: Logic of English might be on our bookshelf by Christmas.

Our kindergartner's  first spelling test with Primary Arts of  Language. I said the letter sounds and he "spelled" them: short a, c and short o. He made short o into Mr. Potato Head and drew a spiky head, too. I think it's really cute. 

Read Alouds

The Blue Fairy Book (free Kindle download). This is a title that comes up time and time again when searching for quality books to read aloud to your kids. It's also available on the free audio site, LibriVox. We have the LibriVox free app and listened to Rumpelstiltskin, Toads and Diamonds and Prince Darling from The Blue Fairy Book over breakfast this week!

We finished Book I of Tales of the Kingdom trilogy. This is absolutely a family favorite. There's dragons, knights, a princess, a king and so many more wonderful characters. There is danger and characters that struggle doing the right thing... It's a coming-of-age story of personal growth. It's fabulous. We began book two of the series this week. I can't count how many hours the kids have spent pretending they were characters from this book.

We are also reading Adventures of Pinocchio (free Kindle version). This is deep. Don't think of the Disney version. It's sparked many great discussions. All three of our family reading choices are wonderful character building stories.

Caraline (fourth grade) and I began reading Beautiful Girlhood this week. Another book dealing with character development, manners and personal growth.

Math Update:

We've been a Saxon Math family from the start. All three are doing great with it. Ryan, our second grader will even tell you math is his favorite subject. Caraline is independently working on Saxon 5/4. I just check her answers each day. I'm sure that will change in the next few weeks, as she encounters new concepts. For Jonathan, Saxon Math K is just fun. We play with manipulatives in each lesson.

Sandy is Home!
On the ride home from obedience school.

We got our girl, Sandy, back from obedience school. She was there for ten days. She hasn't graduated, yet. We still have some work to do.


For Wordless Wednesday, I posted lots of pictures from a walk through our favorite nature area. Here's a video, too.

We had a few more nature surprises in our own backyard!

Jonathan found a toad! Ryan found the biggest earthworm ever crawling through the mud in our back yard. Our earthworm measured 10 1/2 inches stretched out a bit.

Interesting Art

Daddy traveled to Phoenix, Az. last week and brought back each little one a clay ocarina. Caraline's got accidentally bumped out of her hand, and it shattered on our wood floor. She spent hours piecing it back together and gluing it ever so carefully. I wish I had taken a picture of the mound of tiny fragments.

Our refrigerator bit the dust. Having to buy a new fridge sorta put me in a mood for a little while. That was also the same day I realized Sandy's manners are still lacking.She jumped up on Ryan and scratched his bare chest. My precious aunt's stage four cancer surgery was only a day away and another friend was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer, while another friend's husband is having a tough go with melanoma and another dear friend is recovering from colon cancer surgery. I can't imagine what these dear ones are going through. I do know nothing is impossible for our God.

This Friday we basically took the day off. Ryan had his first drum lesson, and then we all went to the movies. We watched Disney's Planes. It was so super cute and fit nicely into our geography study. The rest of the day we enjoyed the unseasonably cool weather.

Big Field Trip to Nashville
We are planning a quick trip to Nashville soon. We've been schooling for six weeks and are in need of a nice break. Any ideas for things to do while we are there - this will be our first trip to Nashville since having kids!


We are linking our Weekly Highlights with our friends at Homegrown Learners' Collage Friday, Weird,Unsocialized Homeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Mother's Journal.


Homegrown Learners.

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