Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Opportunity and News

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of reviewing products for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.
Review Crew
Over that time, I have learned much more about the home education materials around and had the opportunity to use some of these in my own home. This year, we are using several products that either I have reviewed or that have been recommended in the reviews of other Crew members.

Now there is an opportunity for home education bloggers to join the team. Details are available at the Schoolhouse Crew blog. My time with the Crew has been great. The leadership is supportive; there is a helpful members' forum; the opportunity to learn more about blogging and of course, the reviews of some excellent products.

Sadly though, I have decided not to reapply for the 2015 Crew. Middle Son is preparing for UK exams which means that he has to use set UK books so not a time for him to be involved in reviews. Younger Daughter is making progress with the resources we are using at present and for a variety of reasons, I am not too keen to have to leave these to try review curricular materials at present. Books are fine but I'm less keen to swap major subject resources.

Life has also become busier with an increasingly frail, elderly Grandma living with us. So, after the next few weeks, when I have three up coming reviews, there will be no Schoolhouse Reviews. I plan to keep a beady eye on the Schoolhouse Crew site as it is such an excellent source of information.

Do think about applying if you are a blogger. I've loved my time with the Crew and if my circumstances were different would gladly be part of the 2015 team!

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Monday, 20 October 2014

Middlebury Interactive Spanish-a review

Spanish has many advantages for us: a useful language which the children can have the opportunity to speak with friends at church and elsewhere and a language which is phonetically less complicated than many. My younger two children have had a little exposure to Spanish from friends and a little formal learning. This seemed a suitable time to extend this so I was pleased to have the opportunity to  review Middlebury Interactive Languages.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive have on-line courses in four languages:

The courses have different levels. We reviewed the K-2 course which is the equivalent to year 1 to year 3 in the UK. The other language courses start with grade 3-5 work.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
We received a login which took us to a welcome page. From this page, we were able to access the lessons. There are usually six lessons per unit around a theme: greetings, numbers, family, colours, school and review. These six units make up a semester when used twice a week. In the semester there are 35 lessons. There are two semesters available to purchase. I reviewed the first semester. This assumes no prior knowledge of Spanish.

A typical lesson would include an introduction with a learning objective e.g. I can name different colours. I can name my favourite colour. This might be followed by a picture. When the child clicks on the picture, the appropriate Spanish word is said.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

This is followed by a story in Spanish using an immersive approach.

and then a story re-cap where the child has to listen for the words which they are learning, for example, the words for colours. This is followed by more exercises to practice the words using interactive screens. As in this example, these are often related to the story which the child has heard.

 Finally, the child says and records the word and can compare their pronunciation to that of the actor on the programme. Other lessons might include songs, worksheets short videos about the culture and an end of unit test. The cultural videos include topics such as pinatas, family blankets and school uniforms and buses. These have accompanying quizzes. At the end of each unit is an explanation and translation of the whole of the story.

There is a separate gradebook section with scores from quizzes.

Middlebury recommend that Elementary children use the programme twice or three times per week.

The activities and story are accompanied by colourful graphics.

I used this course with Younger Daughter aged eight. She had done some Spanish before so was familiar with most of the vocabulary for the first few units. I felt that this was helpful revision for her. Sadly, Younger Daughter was not keen on the programme mainly because she found the immersion Spanish of the story frustrating. She felt that the only words for which an explanation was given were those that she already knew and not the main portion of the story which was a mystery to her. The explanation of the story in lesson 6 of each unit was helpful but was too late to avoid her frustration.

Although Younger Daughter was not keen on the course, overall, I think that the Middlebury Interactive K-2 Spanish is a helpful introduction to Spanish. Her younger brother, aged five, enjoyed watching the videos and perhaps, it would have been better to have used the course with him. The advantages of this course is that it is simple to use even for a parent with very little Spanish, it is both visual and auditory, it includes information about the culture and real Spanish stories appropriate for younger children.

Middlebury Interactive costs $119 (about £73.58 currently) per semester.

To learn more about Middlebury Interactive:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middlebury-Interactive-Languages/141015515949753
Twitter: http://twitter.com/MiddInteractive
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/middinteractive/
Google +: https://plus.google.com/b/110371351490550861545/110371351490550861545/posts

For further reviews, please visit the TOS Crew blog.

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

October Inspiration

Our September was sunny and warm: a real Indian summer but with October, autumn has arrived and the sunset time of the year.

In the midst of what is undoubtedly a busy season, I was challenged by this article from Jess Connell, Are you a "Mommy Martyr"?  Thank you to Kondwani of Home Education Novice for pointing out this blog.

It is easy to feel that learning always has to be fun. Often it is and should be but somethings just have to be learned. Learning about the discipline of work is one of those things. This article at Lextin Academy points out why homeschooling doesn't have to be fun all the time.

Claire, at Angelicscalliwags has been outlining her plans for the school year. The posts are well worth reading for ideas. Having a busy five year old, I was particularly interested in her plans for her five year old.

Sometime ago I reviewed Simonetta Carr's book on Lady Jane Grey from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. Ossett Christian Bookshop currently  has a special offer on this series and is selling the books at £9.99 while stocks last.

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Bringing history to life

A couple of years ago, we spent a muddy Saturday watching the 1066 reenactment. The site was so muddy that only one of the six who went failed to fall over. No, I wasn't the one standing. Despite this and the fact that the Saxons and Normans have nothing to do with our current history, there were pleas to go again. Delight-directed learning-can't turn this down! So we went to the annual reenactment of the Battle of Hastings which is held by English Heritage on the weekend closest to the date of the Battle (14th October 1066- 948 years ago today!)

The mud was not so deep and we were better prepared so this year, the score was only one fall out of seven.

The Saxons preparing to fight.

The Norman cavalry. The Saxons didn't use horses.

Norman arrows

The Norman archers

Ultimately, the Saxons lost as their line of shields broke rank when the Normans feigned retreat.
The last stand of the Saxon standard-the white man on a red background.

The Abbey said to have been built by William the Conqueror as penance for the blood shed. It is said that the altar was over the spot where Harold was killed. 

Interestingly, there is some suggestion that this place, Senlac Hill in Battle, isn't the actual site of the Battle. Still, reenactments are a fascinating way of understanding a little more about what happened. There was strong support for the Saxons so we would have had to disappear rapidly if this had been the actual battle.

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Friday, 10 October 2014

Teaching younger children about the First World War

In this centenary year, it seems important for children to know a bit about the First World War. I had some concerns about this as wars are unpleasant and I didn't want to traumatise my children. These are some resources that I have used, or plan to use, with my younger two, aged 5 and 7, and some comments on these. There are plenty of other information sources about the First World War: many of these are not suitable for younger children. I also realise that opinions on what is and isn't suitable vary so do check for yourself. I have usually allowed talk about numbers of deaths and injuries but not graphic details.

Family resources
  • Family memories. My husband and I are fairly "elderly" parents to our two younger children and my husband's parents were in their mid-thirties when he was born. This means that one of the children's grandmothers was born within a few years of the First World War. Her father fought in the War and she can tell family stories from that time. Of course, many children of early primary age will have much younger grandparents but there may be great-grandparents who have First World War stories to tell.
  • Family diaries. We have two very different diaries from different sides of the family which cover the First World War. One is of a nurse who looked after the War wounded and the other of a man who had sons at the Front. I have been reading one of these to the children. They have been interested in comments about early cars and tractors as well as about the War.
  • Family photos. 
Local resources
  • There are war memorials in almost every parish in the country. 
These aren't formal textbooks. 

  • Mailing May by Michael O Tunnell. This picture book is set in the US in early 1914 before the start of the War and well before the US entered. However, it does set the scene of the times for younger children even if most children weren't sent on the train as a parcel. This is based on a true story.
  • Where the poppies grow by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey is again suitable for younger children.
    My five year old loved this book which is written to the same rhyme as This is the house Jack built. The story line covers two friends who grow up together and then go to fight together. During the battle, one saves the life of the other. There is plenty to discuss from this book but it is presented in a gentle way. This would probably be the book that I would choose to use with little ones.
  • War Game by Michael Foreman is another picture book but do read before sharing with sensitive children.
  • The book is dedicated to the four dead uncles of the author who died in the First World War and who also share the same names as the young men in the book. The book covers the trenches and the 1914 Christmas Day truce but also ends with the death of one of the young soldiers. A beautiful and thought provoking book.

  •  Letters to Henrietta by Nell Marshall is a book of family letters along with detail about the War. Probably a book to dip into with younger children.
  • War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is a famous chapter book about Joey, a horse who went to war. I preread this before letting my daughter listen to an audio version. Please note that some of the horse's carers and riders die but Joey himself survives. I had thought that I would take my daughter to the play of this book but this is for 10+ only. I am told that with the sound effects this is much more dramatic.

  • Poetry
    There is, of course, a plethora of First World War poetry. 
    Particularly suitable for this age group are
    Please note that I do not endorse other material on these websites.

    • BBC Schools Primary resources has a section on the First World War.  This includes detail about everyday life for a child, at the time.
    • The Bible Society has interesting pages about Christians during the War.
    • World War One Photos has photos, poetry and recordings for songs. Please preview before using with young children. 
    The Royal British Legion produces an educational pack with DVDs including one with First World War clips. This is free to home educators. Please note that some of the other DVDs are marked as not suitable for young children. The First World War section should also be previewed. We found the DVD clip of the Battle of the Somme was quite disturbing.

    Please do let me know about other resources that you have used to explain the First World War to younger children.

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    Wednesday, 8 October 2014

    The Great History of Britain

    It isn't easy to find a history book for younger children which looks at history chronologically so I was delighted to be able to review The Great History of Britain by Anne and Paul Fryer.

    As a home educator, I'm not constrained by the National Curriculum. It had always seemed sensible to approach history chronologically and we, like many other home educators, had tried to do this. I was pleased to note that in the latest version of the National Curriculum, the Government has also come over to this approach!

    Anyway, we've used various books but a real lack has been an up to date  history of Britain for younger children. Anne and Paul Fryer have plugged this gap with their 371 page book. The book starts in Roman times and each chapter edges forward; ending with Modern Britain including a discussion of the European Union and the Channel Tunnel. Each page is illustrated with a relevant black and white drawing and the font is large making the book accessible to children. In terms of age, the book is aimed at primary ages. I read it aloud to my five and seven year olds. The five year old listened to parts but my seven year old loved this book and began to request it for her bedtime story.

    The sections are short enough to be read to quite young children but its clear, uncondescending presentation makes the book suitable for a quick read for adults or teenagers who want an overview of the chronology of British history.

    Many history books for children seem to be written from a secular humanist point of view and contain statements implying that religion is something that was only relevant to earlier times. This book doesn't do this, for example, in its coverage of the Armada, it states

    Queen Elizabeth was delighted at the failure of the Armada. She had a special medal created which had an inscription on it which said "God blew and they were scattered".

    This book does not have an overtly religious stance but comes across as respectful to Christians and the issues and concerns which been important to Christians in the history of Britain.

    The Great History of Britain is going to be something that we refer to again and again.I would highly recommend this for all families with children of primary age whether they home educate or not. I liked the book enough that I have ordered another copy to give as a  gift for an upcoming occasion.

    The Great History of Britain is available on Amazon priced at £8.86 as a soft cover and £4.15 as a Kindle download.

    A trailer for the book is available.

    I understand that it is hoped to produce an accompanying activity book. 

    I was provided with a copy of The Great History of Britain for the purpose of this review. I was not obliged to give a positive review. The views expressed are mine and those of my children.

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    Saturday, 4 October 2014

    Sufficient Grace

    Sorry to have been missing in action most of the week. Some weeks are just more busy and challenging than others. This week has been one of the more challenging variety: illness and health issues for various family members; working out how to home educate around two hospital appointments in one day; Eldest Son going back to university plus the usual struggling and failing to keep up with housework and gardening. The feeling of never doing enough yet always being busy. 

    In such a week, I have to go back to one of my favourite Bible verses where the Lord says to Paul

    My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 
    2 Corinthians 12 verse 9

    This week, I have been teaching the children this hymn which fits with just this verse.

     How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    Is laid for your faith in God's excellent Word!
    What more can be said than to you God hath said,
    To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
     "Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
    For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
    I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
    Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
     "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
    For I will be near thee, thy troubles to bless,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
     "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
     "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
    I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
    That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
    I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake."
    From Rippon's selection

    On the way back from the university trip