Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The 7 Minute Life-a review

If, like me, you constantly struggle with time management then there is a great attraction in having a new planner to help.  The 7 Minute Life's aim is to prioritize, organize and simplify your life.
7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review
 In order to achieve this, a 90 day planner is used-The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner.
The planner is a spiral bound book protected by transparent protective covers measuring 7.3" by 8.5" (about 19cm x 22.5cm).
The Company helpfully produced a video which explains more about using the planner. This video takes about 12 minutes but there are shorter videos explaining about individual components of the planner. 

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner is designed for adults trying to organise life at work and at home. 

Before using the Planner on a daily basis, I worked on some of the tasks at the start of the book. Please note that this part of using the Planner takes more than 7 minutes. Once the Planner is up and running, planning for a new day only takes around 7 minutes but the initial work does take a little longer. I discovered that the more effort that I put into this, the better the Planner worked for me. These tasks included 
  • prioritisng aspects of life such as faith, relationships, tradition, success and a whole long list of other parts of life.
  •  writing down a purpose in life.
  •  a page about what is loved about work, strengths and "high value activities."
  • mental clutter list-those things that never get done or cause clutter and stress.
  • 90 day goals including breaking these down into actions.
  • life goals
  • lists for unfinished work and home tasks
  • 7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review
  • home repair contact list
  • grocery list
  • address book pages
  • annual, 90 and monthly calendar.
  • meeting planner.
It is important to at least start to fill these in before going onto the daily planner. I found the 90 day goal list and pages of lists of unfinished tasks particularly useful whereas the life goals page was a bit overwhelming. I don't know exactly what God wants me to do for the rest of my life so it felt difficult to fill in this section.

The daily progress report is a double page spread for each day. The picture below is of the left hand side.

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review
The right hand side has space for
  • appointments
  • thank you notes
  • voice mail and notes
The aim is to spend 7 minutes a day planning the next day and, in particular, five things that will be done before 11am in order to further aims.

How did this work for me?
  • It was helpful to make a list of things that had been nagging me or I had put off doing.
  • Thinking through my purpose in life and 90 goals was helpful. I think that I have been more organised about winter wardrobes and it has lead to me planning an educational trip which might otherwise not have happened.
  • The unfinished tasks list was usually sadly full but pulling five out did mean that I tackled some otherwise neglected jobs.
  • This planner seems to have been primarily designed for the business world and not for home educating mothers. I have virtually no voice mails but many emails. I didn't write these into the voice mail column as dealing with them direct seemed more efficient. Again, I didn't list my daily contacts: I didn't quite see the point as a home educating mother. Perhaps, I could have put them down as a prayer list. 
  • Working through five tasks before 11am worked reasonably well during the holidays but once we started back with our home education timetable, this became difficult. Either, I put items on the list which tend to happen anyway: make the children's breakfast, start home educating for the day (a bit before 11am-I hope!), open the door for the carer, make Grandma's breakfast, put the washing on etc. Not really much point writing these, however, if I wrote in items that I really wanted to sort out, there just wasn't time in these hours. Five before 11pm might work better while we are home educating.
  • It was helpful to have a reminder to write thank you notes.
  • I used the space for notes on a fair few days. It was helpful to have this space to start planning out ideas and saved mislaid sheets of paper.
Overall, I found that having to work through aims and goals was helpful but the planner would be even more useful if it could be customised for home educators.

The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner costs $24.95 ( which currently is about £15.33).
7 Minute Life is on various social media. 
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/The7MinuteLife

Twitter - https://twitter.com/allyson7minutes

Pinterest - http://www.pinterest.com/the7minutelife/

Google+ - https://plus.google.com/+AllysonLewis7/posts

You Tube - https://www.youtube.com/user/AllysonLewis
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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

September Inspiration

We have now started back into our home education routine. Having a not back to school week away was fun though and even educational.

This article is about a family who are taking a year off to explore the UK. The children are going to have a year of road schooling. I don't think that we are ever likely to do this and at £20000 for the year with no income coming in, it isn't cheap! The family have a website, Do Try this at Home, with a blog and outside ideas including frugal meals for eating outside. 

I'm not a great speller. I still remember getting the lowest mark in the spelling test that my English teacher in form III(2) sprung on us with no warning. Sadly, some of my children have inherited my spelling ability so I was interested to see a post on spelling tests by This Reading Mama. In addition, to explaining why she doesn't give spelling tests, there is a really helpful section on teaching spelling.

In the midst of the First World War commemorations, I wanted to read some poetry to the children and came across a poem of Raymond Briggs called Aunties. I heard it read by Michael Morpurgo but it is written in this preview of a book that I haven't read. This poem is definitely worth reading and something that I have shared with my children. I still remember my parents' unmarried aunts, with affection; they would have been similar age to Raymond Brigg's aunties.

Over the next few weeks,planned posts include First World War educational resources and reading aloud plus reviews of Middlebury Interactive Languages and The Great History of Britain.

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Saturday, 6 September 2014

Not back to school: On the Welsh borders

While Facebook has been full of pictures of children going back to school, we have been away on the Welsh borders. Yes, I'm going to pay for this on Monday when there is over a week's worth of washing, starting back to our more formal home education and doubtless a few other things as well.

Still the Welsh borders are worth a day of hard work.

Sunsets and night walks. We saw bats and heard owls.

There were castles.

Stokesay Castle

The older Ludlow Castle with is turrets and winding stairs. Youngest Son kept finding new passages and stairs.

and a priory at Much Wenlock. This is a gem and a place that I hadn't seen before. It must have been magnificent in its Medieval completeness.

Of course, there was plenty of outside time:

walking in streams and on Offa's Dyke.

We had evenings of games, eating outside or sitting around the woodburning stove. I  am thankful for a break and for the beauties of creation and beginning to feel energised for the start of the new term. A worthwhile, not back to school week!

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Archie's War Scrapbook

Finding books about the First World War for younger children hasn't been easy. I would like my five and seven year olds to know about the War but I don't want to traumatise them. There also seem to be fewer children's books about the First World War than the Second World War. 

Archie's War Scrapbook: The First World War 1914-1918 by Marcia Williams is one of the few books about the First World War for younger children. I am grateful to Sherry at Semicolon blog for this recommendation.

This book is written as a scrapbook by the fictional Alfie who was conveniently given the scrapbook for his tenth birthday in April 1914. It is filled in in scrapbook style with cartoons, copies of pieces from newspapers and letters. The letters are sometimes in envelopes and are made to look authentic: one even has a "grease" stain from bully beef. 

Alfie lives in the East End of London and whilst the book mainly covers what happens at home, in England, the happenings abroad are covered with details in cartoon form at the bottom of each page, in newspaper cuttings and letters. Using this format an amazing amount is covered including changing attitudes to the war, recruitment, conscription, war deaths, war injuries including "shell shock", women going to work, attitude to Germans, life in the country, rationing and food shortages, Zepplins, bombing and the end of the War.

Overall, this is a helpful book which deals with the realities of war in a way that is interesting for younger children but unlikely to cause nightmares. I am planning to use this with my children, and have already read it aloud to them. However, I do have a few caveats: there is one lavatorial reference-to urinating out of the window at night due to fear of the Germans (I can imagine a 10 year old boy writing this!), occasional language that I would prefer my children not to use, for example, the reference to German spies in this caption and a reference to Archie's dog as a ghost dog on the back cover. 

I am hoping to post about other First World War resources that we are planning to use, in the next few weeks. Do let me know about any books about the First World War for children. I do have a short list but would love to add to this.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Essential Skills Advantage-a review

In this house, there are two early readers who need to practice reading skills so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Essential Skills Advantage.
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Essential Skills Advantage is an on-line reading curriculum
Essential Skills Advantage Review
for children from year one to year seven (K to 6 for those in the US).
Basic requirements are a computer with internet access, Java script enabled and flash player 10 or higher. Speakers need to be on and turned up. At present, it is not possible to use iPad or android tablets.
To access the programme, I was sent a user name and password both for myself and each of the children using Essential Skills Advantage (ESA). There was also a quick access student URL so that they could access the site quickly and not via the parent portal. 

Once on the site there are a range of choices divided into 
  • Complete reading for grades K to 3 (equivalent to years 1 to 4).
  • Fun with Spelling 1-3
  • Reading comprehension 4-6
  • Vocabulary builder 4-6
  • Spell Master grades 4-6
  • Grammar grades 3-5
  • Spelling stumpers 1-5 and 5-9

My children concentrated on Complete Reading for grade 1 (Youngest Son) and Complete Reading for Grade 2 (Younger Daughter). The Complete Reading sections come with an Activity guide for parents. The Complete Reading starts with practice on phonics. This work is around games, for example in grade 1 there is a section about the short vowel sounds with 84 games.

There are also sections for long vowel sounds, blends
 and digraphs. There are three other major sections in Complete Reading
  • sight words
  • grammar
  • reading
The sections are not of equal length. The grammar section for grade one is short and around capitalisation, ending sentences and commas in dates and lists. Younger Daughter did some work on capitalisation in the grammar section for grade 2. 
 The reading section has 75 short stories with questions. 

The parent portal has a "My students" section where marks can be seen as well as the date and time the activity was completed.

What did we think?
Youngest Son was enthusiastic about ESA. He enjoyed the activities and only needed minor help. We both struggled with accent when mat and man sounded similar but this was an isolated occurrence. It also took us both a while to understand the game Word Families. Were we meant to click on all the letters or just the first letter? 
Younger Daughter has reached the phase where she has had so much phonics practice that it is difficult to be full of enthusiasm. However, she was able to work on the grade two section independently.  
I found the programme easy to use. There is background noise of birds' tweeting which I found rather irritating. It wasn't really possible to turn this off as the sound is needed for the activities. Apart from this, it was useful for the children to re-enforce their skills. The programme is large and seems complete in terms of being able to practice many aspects of reading but it is for practice not initial teaching. That was fine for me and I like the idea of having something that can provide re-enforcement. 

I reviewed Premium Membership. This costs $9.99 ( at present about £6.03) per student per month. However, ESA are giving a generous discount of 50% to readers who subscribe until 1st October. To obtain the discount use the code TOS50. The 50% discount applies as long as anyone using this code remains a member.
Free membership is also available. This is sponsored so there are adverts visible and does not have the full range of features. In particular, it doesn't have individual child log in or the features which allow parents to track progress. To see a chart with the differences between the two types of membership, please go to this page.

 ESA is a large programme which provides helpful reading practice: recommended.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

City Hall in the rain

City Hall is the building from which London is governed by the Mayor and Assemby and home to the Greater London Authority. We were able to visit, with a group of other home educators, on a very rainy day. In fact, it was so wet that it rained inside and outside City Hall which did, sadly, mean that we couldn't see the upper levels.

City Hall is close to Tower Bridge. Being true Londoners, we went on the bus. Thanks to Middle Son and Google, we arrived much earlier than I expected, in the pouring rain. Just an aside, but I have found that Google is much better for route planning than the Transport for London website.

City Hall from Tower Bridge.

We stumbled upon some Book Benches.
 Clarice Bean

Through the Looking Glass

How to train your Dragon

Dr Seuss

Maybe me, maybe the rain but the only one of these books for which I can find any enthusiasm is War Horse. Younger Daughter has just listened to War Horse, as an audio book, so this was a particularly happy find.

On to City Hall, I was delighted to find that Youngest Son was allowed into the trip. I had thought that he was too young which wouldn't have been a problem except for the deluge. My backstop plan, given the weather, was to go to HMS Belfast but we are saving that for another time!

Our guide to City Hall was obviously a London enthusiast and full of fascinating facts.

We were able to see the Assembly Chamber. The tables where the Mayor and Assembly members sit had been removed due to the rain (inside as well as out). 
Floor of the Chamber

Looking up from the Assembly Chamber. Sadly we weren't able to go up the walkway due to the rain. 

While we were in the Assembly Chamber, Tower Bridge opened.

City Hall is opposite the Gerkin which was also designed by Norman Foster. Compare the windows with those in City Hall.  The Gerkin is the torpedo shaped building on the left.

Downstairs, there is a large scale map of London.

Just in case anyone else would like to visit, City Hall is due to be open on Saturday 20th September as part of the London Open House Event.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

UberSmart Math Facts-a review

Knowing simple number facts is an important skill but one that takes time to learn. Younger Daughter is learning more multiplication tables in this coming year so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review UberSmart Math Facts
UberSmart Math Facts Review
from UberSmart Software.

UberSmart Math Facts is a downloadable piece of software for Windows. Please note that it does not work on Macs. It is aimed for children from year one to year seven (US K to 6) but would also be helpful for older students who need to work on number facts. We used the new version 4.0 which is available from 1st September. The download was easy and problem free. It is possible to register multiple students. I registered four students, including myself, but the programme was mainly used by Younger Daughter.

We started with the test section which initially works through counting skills. This is part of the beginner test. Younger Daughter managed this easily so went onto the keyboard skills section which looks at the time it takes to input numbers. The test stopped at this stage as her inputting skills were too slow. This meant that the programme suggested that she spent time practising inputting numbers. Neither Younger Daughter nor I were happy about this as we had hoped that she would get to work on her number facts and plan to address typing separately.  Interestingly, I took the mastery test and although my inputting skills were said to be slow, I was allowed onto the rest of the test. I had struggled with the method suggested of putting in numbers but went back to my usual practice. The latter portion of the test said that my answers were far faster than the cutoff. The latter part of the test goes through the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). The questions are simple and do not appear to cover addition beyond 20 or multiplication beyond 12.

Younger Daughter did practice her number inputting initially but we discovered that we could go onto the number fact tests despite this problem. Within the practice section, there is a choice of beginner or intermediate. The beginners include dot cards 

UberSmart Math Facts Review
and keyboard entry
UberSmart Math Facts Review
and intermediate has one section: flash cards.

UberSmart Math Facts Review

We didn't use the Learn tab. This shows the cards for different sums with a "show" button to give the answer.

The Compete section allows scores to be ranked against other users' scores around the world.

The Report section details the progress of students and would be particularly helpful for children using this independently. I tended to be with my daughter whilst she worked on the programme so didn't use this much. Once term starts again, this will be a useful tool!

In addition, to the downloadable UberSmart Software, UberSmart Math Facts also has some helpful free sheets for practising the four operations.

It is possible to set different ranges of tables up to 20X. We didn't work with the higher tables.

What did we think?
Younger Daughter didn't particularly enjoy this programme for two reasons: getting stuck on the initial test with her inputting time and she found the programme quite plain.
I think that this is a useful workhorse. I doubt that we would use this programme daily over the next academic year but use it sometimes as part of our daily tables practice. The downloadable sheets are another part of this daily practice but with a variety of methods.
The cost is a one off $24.95 (about £15.05 at the time of writing). However, there is a special code for 30% off the new version, valid until 30th September. The code is v4 Early Bird and should be entered  on the purchase page. 

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