Friday, August 28, 2015

Dig-It! Games ( A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

The Dog Days of summer were in full swing when we were selected to review a one year subscription for Mayan Mysteries, a interactive online game from Dig-It! Games, the perfect way to spend time indoors while the temperatures outside were soaring into the 116's and it was just too hot to go outside.  Garrett loves anything that includes the words "interactive" and "electronics" so this turned out to be a great way for the two of us to spend time together inside the cool AC.

Mayan Mysteries is a browser based puzzle game designed for children 11 years or older. Players are part of a team of investigators who are trying to learn who is looting archaeological sites and stealing artifacts.  This is accomplished by reading materials that present A LOT of information regarding the Mayan culture and using this information to answer trivia questions and solve puzzles to find clues to solve the mystery.

Answer Correctly to Avoid being caught by the Looters

This game relies heavily on reading skills and is designed for grades 5-9, which is a bit older than my children are.  We were still able to enjoy the game however, it just meant that I was unable to allow Garrett to play alone and instead would have to read much of the text to him.  However,much of the information provided was still interesting enough to hold his attention so that he could answer questions correctly.  Topics are revisited throughout the game to reinforce what has been learned. 

Various activities are also distributed throughout the game allowing players to practice various reasoning and problem solving skills. These activities also allow players to use math and deductive reasoning as they try to deduce the best tool to dig up an artifact, design an irrigation system that supplies water to each area needed or total payments made and owed using the Mayan money system.

One aspect of the game that Garrett enjoyed (that proved to be surprising) was the Mayan math.  It took the two of us a bit of time to figure out what was going on but once we did, this proved to be one of Garrett's favorite activities to do in the game.  On the other side of the spectrum, Garrett did not seem to enjoy the Map activities involved in the game and this proved to be a great challenge for him. This may be because of the fact he is much younger than the recommended target age for the game and is not a reflection of the game itself.

Game play is estimated to be roughly 9+ hours of play. Luckily, since we were given a 1 year subscription, we were not rushed through the game and Garrett is able to take his time with it.  The reading is challenging for his age which means that we are concentrating more on smaller pieces of information and understanding those pieces.

One thing I really enjoyed about this game was that there is a button on each reading page in which you can have the text read aloud.  This proved a saving grace for us when trying to pronounce many of the city names or the names of prominent Mayan kings.

Overall, we are enjoying this game and will probably play it through at least a second time so Garrett has the opportunity to review the information as well as to reinforce the skills he's learned from the various activities.   I can easily see this game being used as an interactive unit study for history in a homeschool setting.  It's a great educational game but I would hold to the recommended ages provided by the developer when considering it for younger students. I do hope that DigIt! Games will develop more games along the same lines for learning about other cultures in the future.

Dig-It! Games can be found on the following social media platforms:  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Dig-It! Games Review

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

The Junior

Public school started last week and as always, the second week of school means School Pictures for my oldest.  I couldn't help but be completely amazed at how much this girl has grown. I also have come to the realization that the days are numbered with how much longer she will be here with us before she goes out into the world on her own.   She's turned into such a beautiful young woman but I can't help but think it was almost yesterday she was a tiny baby coming home from the hospital.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Big Trees

The Big Trees

Don't forget to link up your own Wordless Wednesday post over at Life at Rossmont. Click on the button below :)

Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Alpha Omega Publications ( A Schoolhouse Crew Review )

My son struggles with reading.  I've mentioned before that out of all our studies, reading is probably the one thing he loathes more than anything.  I'm willing to take some of the blame on this as I wasn't truly prepared to teach him phonics properly.  This is the reason I was thrilled to be given the chance to review Horizons 2nd Grade Phonics & Reading Set from Alpha Omega Publications.  I stressed out about the fact that while Garrett was ahead in most subjects, he was quickly falling behind in reading and I was hoping that maybe this would be our salvation to helping words and reading click for him.

What We Received

The 2nd Grade Phonics and Reading Set includes everything needed for this curriculum in one box. This includes a 380 page Teachers Guide, two leveled Readers and  two consumable Student Workbooks.

The two student workbooks contain over 160 various activities that cover phonics, spelling rules and vocabulary.  Tests are also included following every 10th activity.  Activities cover a full range of scope and sequence to help build language proficiency.  A full listing of all Scope and Sequence covered within the workbooks can be found at Alpha Omega Publication's website.
The workbooks are designed with perforated pages so that they can be removed from the workbook and placed in a 3 ring binder after being punched with a hole punch.

The two readers work together with the workbooks. After your student finishes the daily lesson in their phonics workbook, they can then use the skills learned to read the reading assignment that matches with the corresponding activity. All activities as well as the matching reading is color coded and labeled to make it easy to find the corresponding lesson/reading each day.

Samples from the Reader books

The Teachers Guide is truly a useful addition to the set. It includes set by step instructions paired with each activity for the entire curriculum. It breaks down each concept and gives advice and tips in regards to not only teaching the lessons but to also assess and identify if your child is learning these concepts.

How We Used It

Horizons Phonics and Reading is ready to go right out of the box, no special preparations needed. This was very fortunate for me as the kids wanted to start it almost as soon as we received it.  We had to wait roughly a week to get started, however, as I did order a second set of student workbooks so that Ashleigh could use the curriculum as well.  (Workbooks are sold individually from the Alpha Omega Publications website).

We tried to do 1 lesson each day and found this to be an acceptable pace for the kids. Each day we would start our lessons with our daily drill, followed by doing our lesson from Horizons.  So far, I have yet to have the kids complain about having to do the workbook and they both seem to enjoy the activities.

Getting Started With Lesson 1

What I Thought

We did find the reading a bit trying for Garrett who quickly got frustrated with it. However, as time went by I noticed he wasn't having as much difficulty (although, he still balks when he sees a longer page of reading).  I have had no issues getting him to read or sound out many of the words in the activities.

Rules on the White Board
I found the teachers guide to be an invaluable resource with this curriculum.  Many times the pictures can be a bit confusing and the guide is there to take any doubts away. Example: a picture of a bed with an arrow pointing to it could be blanket or a quilt, yet the teachers guide quickly lets you know the word they are looking for is cover.

Each subsequent lesson builds off the previous lesson as well as introduces a new concept.  I found many times writing the new rules on the whiteboard for the kids to have to reference helped them to learn each new concept (example: Spell the /k/ sound with k if the sound comes before e,i, or y. Spell the /k/ sound with c if it comes before a,o,u or any consonant).

I really liked that the workbooks have the three line writing guides to help the kids with proper letter formation. Because of this, Garrett has really taken great care in trying to keep his letters where they should be and it has improved his handwriting overall - an added bonus.  I also like that the activities switch up what they ask the students to do which keeps my kids from getting complacent and automatically doing the same thing over and over. By having separate instructions for each activity in the lesson, they have to actually stop and read the instructions to find out what is being asked of them.

Another thing that I am enjoying about this curriculum is that there are guided questions in the Teacher's guide in regards to the reading assignment.  These questions give us a great platform to discuss characters, settings, cause and effect and other story elements in regards to what we are reading.  I also like that the reading books both focus on classic literature; Book 1 mainly focuses on the novel Robinson Crusoe while Book 2 focuses primarily on A Little Princess.  Both books also include a scattering of nursery rhymes, poetry, and other writings.

We did not take the pages out of the books as both Ashleigh and Garrett did not want to do that.  They both enjoy having the book intact and they are able to turn immediately to the lesson we need to do.  I can see how for some kids, having the pages removed would work well but my kids are just picky like that.

Overall, I found this to be a wonderful curriculum and I feel I was very blessed to have had the opportunity to try it with my own children.  I do feel that this just might be the tool we needed to help Garrett catch up on his reading and I appreciate that Alpha Omega Publications has made a phonics/reading curriculum that even someone as inept as myself can teach him.  I can honestly say I expect other Alpha Omega Publication products will be in my purchasing future, starting with the Grade 3 Phonics and Reading set.

Alpha Omega Publications can be found on the following social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and Instagram.

While I only reviewed the 2nd Grade Phonics and Reading set, other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had the opportunity to review other Alpha Omega Publication products for Grades K-2, including Math, Penmanship, Health and Physical Education.  Click over to read their reviews on these wonderful products.

Alpha Omega Review

Monday, August 17, 2015

Garden Update - August

The heat of August is in full swing and much of our garden is coming to an end as we prepare for October where we will be planting fall/winter plants.  When we started our garden in February, it was more of an experiment then anything else as the kids were studying basic botany and I wanted to try our hand at gardening.  Through the process we realized we made a number of mistakes that we will correct but overall, I would have to say that the garden was a success and is something we will continue with for the future.

The onions we planted in Feb have finally gotten big enough to harvest.  One mistake we made was planting them a bit too close together and so a few are smaller than others as they were crowded. Next spring we will plant two rows and space them further apart to allow them to grow to their full potential.  The necks on these onions were flopped over so I went ahead and harvested them. They will be cleaned and cured for storing.

We weren't sure how our tomatoes were going to do over the course of our vacation, especially with the high heats that we have had (it's 105 today) but all plants have done really well.  The solar fire plant really took off these last few weeks and it has started to produce some really nice sized tomatoes.  The Purple Cherokees are finally starting to produce as well but the Big Boy hasn't produced anything at all. I'm not too worried about the Big Boy as it was a plant that I bought from Walmart but the other three plants were grown from seeds and seem to be much better plants.   Once the hot summer temperatures begin to cool off, I will be thinning out these plants and start the process of sapping, staking and making these plants grow vertical.  I will probably also start cutting and rooting plants from the Solar Fire to add addition plants to the garden next year.

It's almost time for us to begin the harvest of the Brussels Sprouts that Ashleigh wanted to grow.  We prefer our sprouts to be smaller as they are less woody that way and the bottom sprouts are about the right size.  This will also allow for the sprouts on the upper portion of the plant to grow larger.


We will probably not continue keeping sprouts in our garden as they are extremely large plants and our garden area is on the smaller side.

I had pretty much forgotten that I had planted a cucumber vine and was very surprised to see that we have a few cucumbers growing at the moment.  I had thought that the plant had died (from being too close to the Brussels sprouts).

Originally we had planted three pepper plants, however, one of them was too close to the Sprout plants and suffered because of it. However, the other two plants have done really well in producing and we are having to go out and pick peppers a few times a week.

Plans for the future

Right now, my husband and I are in discussions as to how we're going to proceed with the garden.  We're in the process of ordering bulbs and seeds to start for the fall/winter which will include garlic, collards, kale, zucchini, turnips, leeks, lima beans, peas, possibly asparagus, herbs and of course the tomatoes.  We're also talking about renting a tiller and actually tilling the soil to expand our garden to a much bigger plot of land to prepare for the spring.  We've decided to stick to buying mail order heirloom seeds as opposed to plants/seeds from Walmart or the Home Depot as we seemed to have had much better luck with them. We are also thinking about trying to grow potatoes in a large container to see how that goes.

Fall Garden Layout

We learned a lot from this first garden and will be making many adjustments for the future.  As far as we know, we are the only people here on base who have successfully grown a garden from seeds in ground and we have no doubt that this is because we prepared the ground first by adding manure, topsoil and other nutrient rich elements to the soil before trying to plant. (Others on base have only been able to grow in raised bed gardens).  We also learned that the soil is way too rocky for slender varieties of carrots and will instead be planting thicker/shorter varieties such as oxhearts.

One thing we will be doing is setting up a permanent irrigation system for watering, most likely by running trickle hoses through the garden and staking them in ground to deliver water directly to the roots.  This seems to be the ideal situation for watering in this dry/hot climate.

Way too many flowers in the garden. 
Another mistake we made was planting flowers inside the garden.  They grew so fast and took over a large amount of space that the strawberries were competing for sunlight.  However, we still want the flowers in proximity as they bring essential insects and hummingbirds to the garden. I will be removing the flowers and instead planting them along the back border of the garden against the fence.

This garden post is participating in the Garden Party Linkup.  If you'd like to participate yourself, head over to either FinchnWren or Homemaking Organized and link up your posting.   Instructions are below or can be found on either blog's page :)

Garden Party Linky

Join the Garden Party Link up!

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Here’s how:
  • Look for the blue “Add your link” button and click that
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2015 Curriculum Overview

Our school year has already started and we're two weeks into 2nd grade with both Ash and Garrett so I thought I would share what curriculums we are currently using.

Math - CTC online Mathematics (Grade 1 and 2) - We started using this for a review for and will continue to use it.  We are about halfway though the Grade 1 curriculum and will be switching over to 2nd Grade most likely in December.  We're also working our way through A Beka Arithmetic Levels 1 and 2.

English/Language Arts - Horizons Reading and Phonics Grade 2 and BJU English 2 Writing and Grammar, and IEW's Writing Lessons in Structure and Style: Bible Heroes.  Literature selections will be Tales from the Odyssey (Books 1 and 2), Because of Winn-Dixie,  Stone Fox, The Cat of Bubestes  and The Phantom Tollbooth.

Science - Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy followed with Apologia's Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the 5th Day.

History:  Mystery of History Volume 1: Creation to the Resurrection will be our main history text while also introducing American History with A Beka's  My America and My World (Grade 1) and Our America (Grade 2). We are also currently doing a unit study while reading from Youth With A Mission's HEROES OF HISTORY Captain John Smith: A Foothold in the New World.


Art:  Tuesdays - Madcap Logic's Creativity Express Online  Thursdays- Artistic Pursuits as well as World's Greatest Artists Vol 1 Study from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

Foreign Language - French:  We will be using both Middlebury Interactive Languages Elementary French 1 for Grades K-1 as well as the French Essentials course through as well as using Duolingo for French for practice.

Music:  Music Theory 1 from as well as World's Greatest Composers from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

Bible:  In addition to the studies presented by Mystery of History, we will also be doing Calvary Curriculum's 325 Studies through the Bible Children's Curriculum.

Friday, August 14, 2015

One of the Biggest Perks of Homeschooling

Today (Friday) was the final day of the 5 days of the Back to School Blog Hop. If you've been following my posts this week, then you might have wondered where my 5th post was. As it is, it's nearly 10:30pm as I am writing this but hey, it's still Friday, right?

But, it's going to make a great point about one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling, something that you just can't do if you're kids are in public schools.

Monday, we decided we were going to use the last few days of my oldest daughter's summer break to go do something together as a family. She had been in Texas since our Disney World Trip last month and we went and picked her up at the Los Angeles Airport on Tuesday.   On Wednesday morning, we packed up the car and headed out for a 3.5 Hr drive to the Sequoia National Forest for a few days of camping.

Wednesday, Thursday and Today were spent hiking at an elevation of 5,200 feet while observing the huge Sequoia and Jeffery Pines, learning about the Sequoia trees and watching wildlife in its natural habitat.  We got up close to deer, chipmunks, stellar jays, hawks, and even a few black bears. We brought a telescope and watched the Perseid Meteor shower since we had a completely dark sky.  We hiked to a few creeks and watched fish, looked at waterfalls, discovered how slippery algae makes rocks and discussed how being at a higher altitude makes for lower temperatures then at lower altitudes.  We then headed over to General Grant Grove to learn about one of the largest and oldest trees in our country.

Many times we were able to tie lessons that we have had on various subjects to the different observations and discoveries that we were able to make while having a great time as a family.

And that is why homeschooling is such a wonderful thing.

You see, when you're in control of your children's education, you know exactly what they have been learning and are easily able to tie those things into everyday experiences.  You're also to pack up and go at a moments notice to head out to do those types of fun activities whenever the opportunity arises without being tied down to an attendance record being kept by the public school system.

In the course of three days, we were able to tie in lessons to astronomy, botany, biology, mathematics, history and even English/Reading (by having the kids read the various warning signs that we came across).  Hiking and swimming easily tied into Physical Education requirements.  Setting up our camping area and learning the reason why all foods had to be stored in the bear boxes were tied into survival skills.  We were having fun while the kids were learning in a real life environment that could not touch those learned in a classroom/textbook situation.

Homeschooling means the freedom.  The world is literally your classroom, all you have to do is get out there and explore. Learning is possible from the smallest excursion.  Whether it's a day trip to the closest park or tide pools, a camping trip to a National forest or a week long trip to Boston or Washington DC. You'll be amazed by the educational value that surrounds you no matter where you go.

This week we were able to make memories as a family but we did much more than that.  The kids were able to learn first hand in a full immersion experience rather than just reading about it in a book.

And that, my friend, is one of the biggest perks of homeschooling.

I hope you've enjoyed the various posts of all the contributors participating in the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.  I hope you found inspiration, advice and information to help you have a wonderful school year.   Here's some more great participants to end our blog hop - go check them out and have a Great Year!! :)

Crystal @ Crystal Starr
Shawna @ Tenacity Divine
Carol @ Home Sweet Life
Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning 
                                          Leah Courtney @ As We Walk Along the Road


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