Sunday, July 29, 2012 (Review)

Have you heard of  Well, if you haven’t and you’re a homeschooling family, go there NOW!  There is so much content, I honestly believe you could homeschool your child completely from this site.  That is not an exaggeration.  Here is the list of subjects with daily lesson plans offered:
  • ·         Career Exploration
  • ·         Chemistry
  • ·         College Choice Guidance
  • ·         Economics
  • ·         Figures in History
  • ·         Filmmaking
  • ·         Geography
  • ·         High School Math
  • ·         History
  • ·         Home Economics
  • ·         Lapbooking
  • ·         Literature
  • ·         Special Needs
  • ·         Technology
  • ·         Writing has gathered some of the most well-known and well-loved homeschool curriculum authors as contributors!  Diana Waring (Diana Waring Presents), Terri Johnson (Knowledge Quest), Malia Russell (, Andy Harris (Technology) and the list goes on and on.

The Schoolhouse Dailies section of the site offers even more content.  These currently include Ditch the Desk-Hands On Activities, Summer Olympics, Summer Shakespeare, Daily Math, Daily Grammar, Daily Writing, Everyday Easels, Everyday Explorers, and more!  

I TOLD you there was a ton of stuff here to explore!

Every time I log on, I find new content, and that excites me as I head into a new school year!  I will tell you that one of my favorite parts of the site is the Daily Extras—Ditch the Desk feature.  Here’s an example of what Abbey and I did one day, based on a lesson plan from this section of the site.  

We baked a batch of brownies together, let them cool and then did the following activities with them:
  • ·         Cut 1/3 of the pan into 1-inch squares.
  • ·         Estimated how many 1-inch squares we could get out of the entire pan.
  • ·         Learned how to figure perimeter and area of the cut area, and then of the entire pan.
  • ·         Re-read The Three Little Pigs in preparation for the next steps of the differences in building a house.
  •        Read in Matthew 24 about the importance of building your spiritual house on the Rock.
  •        Took the cut squares, ready-made frosting, and spaghetti noodles and allowed her to use her engineering skills to build the most-sturdy house she could. 
·         It got terribly messy, but man, did she have fun! She had no idea how much math we snuck in that day!

But wait---there’s more!  At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, becoming a full member of allows you have three, different, FREE Schoolhouse Planners, access to Schoolhouse Library with summer reading lists, teacher lesson archives, and more! Here’s some of the newest additions:

Want to take a look risk free? Check out the sample pages. Like what you see? You can join now for only $1 for the first month.  Keep your membership going for only $5.95 a month and cancel at any time! Where else can you find this much content for that price? 

If it’s out there, I have yet to find it. 

 Find out what other bloggers have to say about here.
 **I was offered a full-year membership to in exchange for this review. No other compensation was given.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mastering Essential Math Skills (Review)

This is my very first review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew Team. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing team of bloggers!  

My first review features a great math program called Mastering Essential Math Skills.  It is a program written by Richard W. Fisher, who has over twenty years of teaching experience. He designed these books to help students become algebra-ready in less than one year. 

 I received two books: Mastering Essential Math Skills: Book One for Grades 4 -5 plus the accompanying DVD and Mastering Essential Math Skills: Geometry.   They are recommended for grades 4 -5 but, in my opinion, could be used for advanced 3rd graders or struggling 6th graders as well.

Here’s my first impression:  The workbooks are not fancy.  They are straightforward with no pretty pictures dressing up each page.  I thought this would be a negative for my lover-of-pink-things nine-year-old daughter, but she was fine with it! She was focused on the problems and didn’t seem to notice what wasn’t there.  

Each worksheet has a review section, two speed-drills wheels, the new concept practice section and one word problem.  Notice there are only 10 problems in the new material section on each page.  Fisher believes that the student does not need more problems than that if they know the new material.  He believes, instead, that the student should move on to a new concept once they have mastered each level. 

The speed drills wheel is meant for you, the teacher, to insert a function sign and number in the middle of the circle.  For example, if you insert "+2" in the middle of the circle, your student is to add two to each number in the circle and put the answer in the space provided.  This should be a timed drill for warm-up.  I really like this, as it offers some great mental math practice.  

He then suggests that your students work on the review section and then watch the DVD for the new material, or if you choose not to purchase the DVD, you can then teach the new concept at this point.

Fisher is a no fluff, get-straight-to-the-point kind of teacher.  The DVD includes an introductory teaching session by Fisher himself for each new concept.  Each lesson has him briefly talking directly to the students, “Be sure to have your notebook and two pencils ready to go. Always come to class prepared.”  The screen flips to a whiteboard, where your student will see only the problem itself being worked out.  They are to copy along with him as he writes on the whiteboard.   

After a very quick, five-minute lesson, he tells them to work the problems in the book, remembering “the right side is the right way”, meaning always work from the right side of the problem to the left for an accurate answer.    He then ends his lesson, your student pauses the DVD, and gets to work in the workbook itself. 

My daughter is nine years old, a rising fourth grader, and not a lover of math.  When I told her we were going to be doing this new math program, she was less than happy.   For her first lesson, I had her get a notebook and pencil and sit in from on the computer and follow along to his lecture.  Fisher moves through each session very quickly, and Abbey had a hard time copying the problems down as fast as he did.  To avoid the frustration, I allowed her to pause the DVD and continue once she had caught up.  By the third lesson, she no longer had to pause the DVD, as she had learned to copy faster and keep up with him.  She had adapted and overcome, and was really quite proud of herself.  I saw her self-esteem improve in just a short time. 

While this program calls for twenty minutes a day, I was unsure if that meant my daughter should be through with her lesson in twenty minutes, or that I should only allow her to work for twenty minutes on the new concept.  Because I didn’t want her getting too frustrated, I chose the latter.  While she would be very close to finishing each day after that time, there was only one day that she was able to completely finish the worksheet.   That being said, in just one week’s time I saw her computation speed increase tremendously.  Repetition and review, along with the new concepts building upon one another, made her stay sharp and improve.  

One of the best features of the book for my daughter was the fact that the solutions to all of the new concept problems were in the back of the book.  This created a self-correcting system for her.  She would work her problems and then quickly look in the back of the book to see if she got them right or wrong. She absolutely loved this aspect of the program!

Book One: Grades 4 -5 covers the following concepts:
  • Whole numbers
  • Fractions
  • Decimals
  • Percentages
  • Integers
  • Geometry
  • Charts and graphs
  • Problem solving
  • Ratio and proportions
  • Probability and statistics
  • Number theory and algebra
  • Graphing on number lines and coordinate systems.

The subtitle to Math Essentials is “20 minutes a day to success.”  I love Richard Fisher’s teaching system and I would recommend this math program to anyone looking for a straightforward math curriculum that rapidly builds upon each mastered concept. 
Mastering Essential Math Skills for Grades 4 -5 can be ordered here for $15.95 for the workbook only; $33.95 for the workbook plus the instructional DVD.  Mastering Essential Math Skills Geometry is available for $11.95 per workbook. 

· To see what other Schoolhouse Crew Review Members thought of this same product, click here.

   ***Disclosure: I received this product free of charge in exchange for writing and posting this review. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Daughter, My Friend

Somewhere along the way, my daughter became my friend. 

It wasn’t always that way.  Goodness knows, it wasn’t.  Our journey has been a crazy, beautiful, dramatic, heart-wrenching ride.  My firstborn child, Hannah Beth became my entire life when she was born to me in a small Army hospital in Germany some 22 years ago.  

I often tell the story of when we took her to her three-month, well-baby checkup and the doctor was concerned that she wasn’t lifting her head well when he lay her on her tummy.  Looking concerned, he asked me, “Do you put her down on her tummy and let her play a lot?”  Dumbfounded, I said, “You mean you’re supposed to put them down???”  I was a new mama, alone in a foreign country, with no one but her daddy to tell me how to parent, and he was as clueless as me.   I just held her everywhere I went and for every household chore I did.  Needless to say, I forced myself to put her down more after that and she turned out just fine. 

She was five years old when her daddy and I divorced.  She took it very hard.  One day, not long after we had divorced, Hannah came into the kitchen where I was cooking, dragging her bulging suitcase behind her.  When I asked her where she was going, she broke down sobbing, saying, “I’m going to live with Daddy. I miss him so much.”  I knelt down and held her and we cried together.  All these years later, it absolutely breaks my heart to think about that moment.  

Not too long ago, when packing up some of her things to take to her new house, I found an old diary of hers.  She was fifteen years old, some ten years after the divorce, when she had made this entry: “Of all the things I wish for, I wish for Mama and Daddy to be married again.”   

What an awful, painful toll divorce takes on our children, no matter what their age.

That divorce affected many things, not the least of which were her teenage years here with me and her stepdad.  Always having a way out, another parent to run to, made disciplining her a tough assignment for us.  It didn’t stop us from trying, and it didn’t stop her from resisting.  Affection from her was non-existent.  Never a cuddle-bug to begin with, she pulled away even more.  We use to tease her: 'If you wanted a hug from Hannah, she had to pencil you into her planner.'  

I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep over Hannah and the ways I felt like I had failed her.  I thought if my own flesh and blood could spew such hatred from her lips at me, that surely I had failed.   My faith was all that kept me going.  I knew God had her in His grip and that she, too, was leaning on Him even when she wasn’t leaning on me.   And even through the tough stuff, she would often confide in me about the serious issues in her life, and that gave me some hope that one day things would be okay.

After graduating from high school, she made a few really dumb decisions (don’t we all at age 18?) and took some wrong turns.  At that point, though, I had stopped preaching at her about every little thing and I had decided that enough rope to hang her herself may be what she needed in order to learn the hard lessons.  I refused to be the devil’s advocate and berate her for her choices, as my own mother had done to me, so I just listened a lot and prayed even harder.  I never stopped loving her and I know she knew that.  When she finally hit rock bottom and realized she needed to change,  she called for help and Michael and I immediately responded.  We met her where she was and wrapped our love around her.

That was a turning point in our relationship.  

Gradually she began to speak to me with a different level of respect, with a different tone in her voice, and with a contrite heart.  A couple of years later, she met a wonderful man and they started a beautiful family together.   As she continued to mature, she started commenting on her younger brother’s disrespect for me. She started telling him to stop resisting the boundaries at our house and to just accept them as what was best.   I had heard rumors that one day your children may admit that you were right about your parenting, and it happened! It really happened!! 

And, oh my goodness, you should see how much she loves that little baby boy of hers!  No scheduling of affection needed for him.  She liberally showers him with hugs and kisses and takes joy in everything he does!  It is so awesome to watch.  She is making sure that he knows who his Savior is and I know she will raise him in the church and make sure he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.   As someone who never thought I would even live long enough to see my grandchildren, I really cannot adequately express how happy that makes me. 

I love being friends with Hannah. She is truly one of the best listeners I know.  She never acts like she is thinking of her response before I finish talking. She is listening. And that makes a beautiful friend and that makes a friend beautiful.  

In my own life, I know God the Father anguished over my rebellion, too. As I started a downward cycle of sin, I ran as far away from him as I could, thinking I knew what was best.  Leaving the church, resisting His word, drowning out His voice and pushing away His love—I just wanted to make my own choices and desires and forget about others. I was numb and lost.  

Running  straight through His boundaries for me,  I hit rock bottom.  But like the good Father He is, He met me right in the middle of my ugly mess and brought me out of that deep, miry clay and wrapped His love around me. It took me a little while to fully understand the depth of mercy He bestowed on me, or to recognize all that He truly saved me from, but I learned to know (that I know that I know that I know) His ways were lovely and His truth set me free.  

Oh, and by the way, He and I became pretty good friends along the way, too. 

“Did ever saint find this Friend forsake him?
  No, not one! no, not one!
Or sinner find that He would not take him?
  No, not one! no, not one!”  [There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus]



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