This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Friday, October 30

Cave Song (Pretty Vicious)

Not far from Hershey, PA are the Indian Echo Caverns.  We've been to a few different caverns on our journeys, and these are pretty small in comparison, but if you're in the area they are definitely worth an afternoon stop!!   
In 1929, Mr. John Beiber (no relation to Justin, our guide told us) opened the caverns to the public, with the paths and gravel added for safety.  It is dark, chilly, and damp, and often eerie inside, with tales by our guide about dragons and zombies.
So we learned that the first visitors of the caverns were….wait for it….Indians.  After that it was the French fur-trappers.  They were hanging out in the caves, building fires, staying dry and waiting for animals to be caught in their traps.  That was back in the 17th and 18th centuries.  We also saw carved messages that were put there before the Civil War.  (The message in the photo is dated June 1858.)
Throughout the tour, we saw unique "natural architecture," learned about the animals that call this area home, and learned about a man named William Wilson.  For nineteen years (1802–1821) the caverns were the home of William Wilson, known as the Pennsylvania Hermit.  Following his sister's death, Wilson withdrew from society and wandered westward across southeastern Pennsylvania, settling in the caverns in 1802.  He died underground in 1821.  A little creepy...

Life Underground unit :

Make Stalactites and Stalagmites

Supplies :
  • Two glass jars
  • A saucer
  • Woolen thread
  • Either baking soda, washing soda or Epsom salts
Instructions :
  1. Fill both jars with hot water. Dissolve as much soda as you can into each one.
  2. Place the two jars in a warm place and put the saucer between them.
  3. Twist several strands of woolen thread together before dipping the ends into the jars and letting the middle of the thread hang down above the saucer. The ends can be weighed down with various small, heavy objects to keep them in the jars.
  4. The two solutions should creep along the thread until they reach the middle and then drip down onto the saucer.
  5. Watch what happens to the experiment over then next few days.
  6. Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished.
What's happening?
Over a few days the dripping water will leave behind the baking soda, forming a tiny stalactite (which forms from the roof) and stalagmite (which forms from the ground). With enough time these may eventually join to create a single column. Stalactites and stalagmites are columns of stone which form in underground caves. They are made from minerals dissolved in rainwater that slowly drips from the roofs and walls of caves.

Thursday, October 29

One of Us (Joan Osborne)

Don't catch a "mood cold" this holiday season!  
I know, I's only the end of October.  Halloween is two days away.  But who can honestly say that they haven't already given thought to the Thanksgiving - Christmas - New Year marathon on the horizon?  It's a time of joy and a time of family...and it's a time of stress.  I don't know about you, but my goal this year is to have a little less frustration, and a little more vacation.

Emotions are contagious.  Just like the flu, you can catch a 'mood cold.'  But there's no vaccine for this one...just the knowledge alone will help you to prevent from catching one.  And maybe from spreading your own.  We all have that one family member that spreads misery around the holidays like a bad sneeze.  Heck, we've all been that person at least once.  Misery loves company after all.

But so does SUNSHINE!  I want to tell you about my son.  If you've ever met him, then you know that you cannot leave his presence in a bad mood.  He emits sunshine the way teenage boys emit body odor.  It's wonderful!  (See his complete backstory here.)

Yes, he has a whole host of issues, and we're forever off to one specialist or another.  But the child was bathed in the sunshine of the Spirit...our ""normal"" son could really take a lesson.  And he spreads it a disease....but one that you desperately want to catch.  He'll give it to a stranger at the grocery store.  He'll give it to a family member through the phone.  He shares it with me thousands of times each day.  He'll pretty much share it with anyone except his brother!

If you've got something going on, it can be hard to be cheerful during the holidays.  Let those around you know that you need some extra help, or understanding.  Try reaching outside yourself and helping those around you, too.  It seems counter-intuitive, but something like the RACK Program will actually boost your own mood!  And you never know how your actions will affect the stranger you meet out on the street.

And if you have sunshine to spread - go for it!  Sing loudly - whether you're in the shower or in the mall.  Give out hugs the way people do Halloween candy.  Smile at the stranger next to you.  Sure, he may thing you're a nut, but at least you'll be a happy nut!

Emotions Unit (for kids)

Wednesday, October 28

Future's So Bright (Timbuk 3)

So……glass half-full, or half-empty?  Personally, I prefer to just pick it up and take a deep swig without giving it too much thought.

Did you know?
  • optimism seems to have consistent benefits for people regardless of demographic factors such as income level or overall health status.
  • Pessimistic men are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than the most optimistic men, even after taking other risk factors into account.
  • Optimism appears to protect the heart and circulation — and it’s heartening to learn that it can have similar benefits for overall health.
  • It is possible that optimists enjoy better health and longer lives than pessimists because they lead healthier lifestyles, build stronger social support networks, and get better medical care.

Take it to the Next Level

Show someone else how to be more optimistic (....when you teach, you perfect the skill yourself!)
  • Think positive thoughts about yourself and others.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way. Each person has unique and special talents that are to be valued.
  • Try to find the good in every situation, even at difficult moments.
  • When facing a challenge, focus on achieving a positive outcome, rather than expecting defeat.
  • Explore your own beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, whether they are philosophical or religious.
  • Strive to improve your physical health through exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits and hygiene. The better you feel, the brighter your outlook will be.
  • Challenge your mind every day by learning something new, including learning about yourself and your family history.

Tuesday, October 27

Maestro Classics Review : The Nutcracker

We love the Nutcracker!  What started as a quest to get the kids into more cultural settings, quickly turned into a holiday tradition.  We love to go see the ballet, and one that we’re eagerly anticipating already (even though, yes, it isn’t Halloween yet).   So when afforded the chance to preview Maestro Classics new cd, The Nutcracker, our family jumped at it!  The icing on the cake is that it’s narrated by Jim Weiss, one of the boys’ favorite audio book narrators.  Merry {early} Christmas to us!

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, ...Clara receives a nutcracker for Christmas, and wonderful things begin to happen.   There’s the battle with the Mouse King, the nutcracker magically transforming into a handsome prince, the trip to the kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and finally the question the next morning of whether it was all Clara's dream.  Was it?

The cd is a 58-minute version which includes both Act 1 and 2 (full condensed score) - music from every scene in the ballet - not just the Nutcracker Suite version, which is mostly Act II dances.  This child-friendly adaptation of the complete ballet score is given a beautiful retelling of the story by Jim Weiss, America's premiere storyteller.  It is, without a doubt, the perfect preparation for any child going to The Nutcracker ballet this holiday season. 

Maestro Classics was started to help parents and children better understand and enjoy symphonic music.  They combine the performance of symphony music with narrations, ranging from classical children’s stories to historical tidbits about the authors and composers.  Their end goal is to create musical performances that will appeal to audiences of all ages.

The performances on their cds feature the London Philharmonic Orchestra performances, sing-a-longs, about the music, about the author or composer, and more.  These compositions are geared toward children ages 5 to 12, but are truly entertainment for the entire family. 

As we drove through Tennessee listening to the Nutcracker, we frequently had to turn up the volume because we were “playing our instruments” right along with the music, and singing along loudly!  We had to stop the music occasionally and reminisce about a memory from Christmases past.  Also, at one pit stop, we had to take a moment to re-enact the Moroccan Dance, which had just finished playing!

When you purchase a Maestro Classics cd, you have the option of a digital recording or physical cd.  Every cd (digital or physical) includes a small activity book that contains the history and background of the music, words to the sing-a-long songs, information about the composer’s life, puzzles, and more.

If you’re listening to The Nutcracker at home, instead of in the car, try some of these great hands-on ideas to get you into the holiday mood!
Maestro Classics Review
See what others are saying about Maestro Classics over at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Sunday, October 25

Ultimate Homeschool Planner : Review

As we kicked off our new school year, we had the opportunity to review the Ultimate Homeschool Planner from Apologia Educational Ministries.  It’s not just a homeschool planner, it’s a life planner!  This planner guides the homeschooling parent in a holistic way. Homeschooling is about education and curriculum, but it’s even more about life, love and preparing our children for their future.

At a glance :

  • Pocket folders on the outside cover– These are a great storage area for shopping lists, ticket stubs, reminder notes, and (on one occasion) a cd of x-rays that I almost forgot to give the doctor!
  • At a glance 4 year calendar– Easy to reference future dates help with long-term planning.
  • User’s Guide–  This gives directions on how to get the most from the planner.  It's a one-time read, but worth going through, especially if you're not a planner by nature.
  • One Year Planning Grid–  Here is an area to get a feel for the year as a whole.  This makes it easy to pencil in days for vacations, semester ends, and other major plans, so you can make sure you get enough days of schooling in.  Since our travel dates vary and change, we always use pencil here!
  • Student Goal Setter– Here is a blank space for writing student goals, whether they are education or personal.
  • Pre-Planning Guides– With this, you can set priorities to glance back at during planning.
  • Monthly “At a Glance” Planner–  Like the year-long planning grid, here you can get a feel for the month as a whole, to see where busy times are coming up.
  • Weekly Planner–  This has room for multiple children, and it's the main area you’ll use weekly to write in assignments and notes.  On the weekly planning grid, I listed the days of the week across the top and the members of our family down the side.  I also named one row “blog” to keep track of blogging due dates.  Another row is named "homestead" to pencil in chores that need to be done only occasionally, depending on the season.  It’s really helped me keep on top of our busy schedule, something that can be difficult to do when we’re headed in multiple directions.
  • Records:  This area has spots for grades, reading lists, and extracurricular activities.  It's a place to record all that you are doing for and with each child.
  • Teaching Tips– Here you'll find a helpful section on personality types and learning styles, and how to work with the different types.
  • High School Planning Guide– Even if you don’t need this yet, it’s worth looking over to be prepared.
  • Year in Review- This is a space to write about the year’s accomplishments...we haven't used it yet.
  • Scripture passages and quotations on every page– These offer small bits of encouragement and know, for the days you want to drown yourself in twelve cups of coffee, or chocolate, or a nap.
 Extra thoughts :  

  • I love the fact that the calendars are undated, so you can make use of the Ultimate Homeschool Planner no matter when you begin and end your school year.
  • It’s only an inch thick, even with all of that information!
  • Check it out for’s a preview of the 48-week daily planner for up to six children:  Ultimate Planner Sample

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
See what others are saying about the Ultimate Homeschool Planner over at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Friday, October 23

IEW Resource Package : Review

Based here in Oklahoma, The Institute for Excellence in Writing is the company to look toward for your composition needs!  We recently discovered a few more of their resources, however, including the Teaching with Games SetTimeline of Classics and A Word Write Now.  While the last one is specifically for writing, the other two have been fantastic surprises to add to our everyday classroom.  I'm going to put them in order, based on our family favorites.

Teaching with Games makes it simple to use games to teach and review concepts in any subject area.  This book includes many original games, and the DVD workshop demonstrates how to quickly and easily adapt the games to any subject, grade level, and number of players.  Add some fun to your curriculum and watch your kids love learning!

This was hands-down our favorite new resource!  We printed out several of the games, and the youngest helped to cut and laminate them.  If you don't already have a laminator, you'll want to pick one up to use with these games, because your family will want to play them repeatedly!
We spent our Fun Fridays playing games to reinforce concepts learned during the week.  We had been learning about the Revolutionary War, so we used Revolutionary War Jeopardy.  I varied the point system based on age, and they got to keep the cards they won.  At the end, we had a couple of cards that no one was able to answer, and so I know what we need to work a bit more on.  This game is great because you can re-create it for any subject...and the competition really gets their brains going!
Two of their favorite subjects from last year were rocks & minerals and Ancient Egypt, so we decided to try out some games to review those topics as well.  For Ancient Egypt, we played a matching memory game, where they had to find the description and the object it described from a pile of face-down cards.  For rocks & minerals, I read a description aloud and the first to name it's mineral won the card.  Of those two, matching memory was the decided favorite.
We also reviewed world geography with the continents game.  The youngest sat on the floor to match which geographical locations went with the continent, while I challenged the oldest to do it without looking at the cards (which I had color-coded, and he had figured that out).  For North America, they had to put the feature in it's correct location on the continent.
Overall, these games were a hit!  They reinforced information (I'm not sure I'd use them to introduce material) and we got to play for Fun Friday!  If you'd like to pick them up, the two DVDs & one CD-ROM run for a total of 130 minutes and contain many of the sample games for your use.  The spiral-bound book has the games and directions for each.

The Timeline of Classics is broken down into four parts:  The Ancients, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance and Reformation, and The Modern World.  These line up perfectly with curricula such as Story of the World and Biblioplan (among others).  Each section has charts that are presented in four columns, each listing "description or time period," title, author, and level.  Levels are represented by E (elementary), M (middle school), and H (high school).  Descriptions are brief, and note key ideas, era, and location.

This resource saved me a lot of time, since I didn’t have to research what books would make good supplements for the unit we are studying.  It also indicates videos and audio books that fit each era.  They are in chronological order within the era, making it easy to know exactly which book to check out next.  We started putting stars next to the ones we have read, and will probably continue to do this as we moved through the different eras.  For now, most of our stars are next to (E) books, but the kids love reading, and I look forward to the day when everything is starred!  *Note – we may switch from stars to dates, to use this as a school record.*
In spite of blending perfect with the classical style, Timeline of Classics can be used with any curriculum or teaching style.  It is very flexible, and if you start recording things as you read them, you’ll have a ‘transcript’ of sorts to document your studies. 

This resource can be purchased in PDF version or as a physical, spiral-bound book.  Since the copyright allows for duplicating the pages for personal use, all you have to do is highlight the books to be read, and your student has his/her reading list for the year!

This book contains fascinating words to spice up any writing - your children's or your own!  IEW has compiled a thesaurus that is appropriate for even the youngest of children to use in their writing, but still quite helpful for older students and adults.  The back of the book also includes a glossary of literary terms and devices, which is helpful in teaching.

This is a fantastic resource!  We are just now beginning to work on writing (better late than never!) and my children continually use the same words over and over again.  Therefore, we focused mainly on the descriptive words – these are words that Andrew Pudewa refers to as “Dress Ups” – in our daily writings.  These “Dress Ups” are used to make writing more interesting, to attract readers, and to pull readers into the story.
Essentially, this is a thesaurus, but it’s arranged thematically, making it much easier for younger children to use.  Children will also appreciate the vivid colors and easy-to-turn-spiral-bound pages.  
The book includes these three themes, each broken down into several pages of sub-themes :
  • Character Traits (what a person is like, or how they feel)
  • Describing Words (colors, quantity, quality, etc)
  • Movement & the Senses (descriptive tastes, sounds, etc)

IEW Review
See what others are saying about Institute for Excellence in Writing over at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!