Thursday, June 26, 2014

Adding free audiobooks to my collection

I love books. I love free. So of course, the library ranks high on the list of things I also love.

My library participates in the "Freegal Music" program. I am allowed to download 3 titles per week of mp3 files that I get to keep. Forever! WHAT!

Some libraries also have an additional free streaming option.

My kids enjoy listening to audio stories in the van or in the living room. We've borrowed some from the library, but I want to build our collection.

I see there are a lot of Jim Weiss albums available for download, so I'm going to pick some that I think my kids would enjoy. Right now, I'm getting his American Tall Tales.

Even though I "only" get 3 mp3 files per week, that still can exceed 30 minutes of stories, depending on length.

Wanted to mention this in case you weren't aware of Freegal. YAY!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kindergarten math: Several possibilities, narrowed down to 1

I've been researching math programs for the elementary level, and I've been fortunate to get my hands on teacher's manuals and workbooks for several programs, thanks to my local mathy friend (hi, you-know-who-you-are! :D).

I evaluated:
  • Math-U-See Alpha
  • RightStart Mathematics level A, both 1st ed. and 2nd ed.
  • Life of Fred Apples
  • Miquon red and green, plus teacher's notebook
  • Math Mammoth (I own the digital files for levels 1-6)
  • Singapore workbook levels 1A and 1B

Long story short, I'm planning to purchase RightStart math 2nd edition to use as Johnny's kindergarten program.

If we need to switch things up midyear, I'll pull from Math Mammoth. I also like Life of Fred as a break or supplement. 

If that's all you care to know, then ok! If you're wanting more of my thoughts, here we go:

Before looking at math programs, I wanted to step back and think about what my overall goals were for my children. Educational philosophy, teaching and learning methods, etc. I lean Charlotte Mason, and I have tremendous respect for Ruth Beechick's ideas. 

I want my children to have a solid understanding of math concepts, rather than simply memorizing things without knowing how to apply what they've learned.

I want it to be enjoyable for my children if at all possible, and if not possible, then at least not something tear-inducing.

As far as time commitment, I am willing to put in the one-on-one time with each child at the elementary level for sure. I view this foundational time kind of like the effort and instruction it's taking to teach Johnny to read. Sure, he can do Starfall on his own, or maybe I could hand him a workbook and tell him to have at it.

But him reading aloud to me (and me paying attention to the words, too) and teaching him various phonetic nuances is important. Same with math. This is worth the effort.

As far as cost, I'm willing to pay for a solid program. Bonus points if it can be used with my girls with minimal additional purchases such as workbooks. Bonus points if I can sell it all later for a decent price.

Ideally, I will use one program throughout the elementary years. Of course, if we've given reasonable time to a program and it's just plain not working, we will switch. But I hope we can stick with the program, since each curriculum has its own scope and sequence. 

I'm really, really impressed with what I see from RightStart. It's recommended on (as is Math-U-See). The 2nd edition especially seems teacher-friendly in its layout.

RS has an extensive kit of manipulatives and it mainly uses a special abacus. Their abacus has a group of 5 yellow beads and a group of 5 blue beads to help the child quickly see quantities of 5 (and 10). The author wants children to group and instantly see quantities, rather than counting.

Rather than the maniuplatives being "extra," to me they seem quite instructive and useful. Not fluff. 

Also, RS uses a lot of games for reinforcement. It likens games to worksheet drills. Rather than doing a worksheet, your child can do a game for 15 minutes and have more understanding and more fun. The program does use worksheets, but not a lot. 

Some folks use the RS games only, rather than the full RS program. You can do that; in fact the RS site says you can purchase the game instruction book and various cards and use it as a supplement to any math program.

Overall, to me it seems very thorough and fitting what I'm seeking.


I was glad to view several segments on the Alpha DVD and look through the teacher's manual. My kids watched the video along with me and got some things out of it. The parent may view the DVD alone as a tool to help them teach their child, or the child may view the DVD along with the parent. Before viewing, I didn't realize that you didn't *have* to let your child watch the DVD.

I wish Steve the teacher paused for a little longer when he asked questions. There was a child audience (not pictured) that would say answers right away, which is nice...but I would need to be really fast with the pause button to give my kids a chance to think.

The teacher's manual just didn't excite me. Though the MUS rods are a helpful tool, they are the only manipulative used in this program as far as I know. Personally, I like the abacus more. My math-enabling friend found a rock-bottom deal on MUS rods at a used curriculum sale so I'm glad to own a set in case we'd like to use them.

It also seemed that with Alpha, there wasn't as much variety in the lessons as with RightStart. 

Life of Fred

I personally love this concept. It's an entertaining story based around a 5-year-old math professor (!) who uses math concepts in his everyday life. Short chapters, then a few problems to solve. The author insists it's a complete program but many on the internet disagree, since there are so few practice opportunities.

It isn't clear to me if you are to go through the first 4 elementary level books at a certain pace and then repeat, or go more slowly. I think you could do either.

I read the first 2 chapters to Johnny and the rest of the Apples book to myself. The next day, I asked if he wanted to do more, and he didn't. He said it was hard for him to see the math in the stories. Interesting.

I can see how many details could be a little distracting to a child. Perhaps they are so into the storyline that they are missing the math concepts?

It might work better in a few months for him. I can see using it as our summer math in the future. More low-key, but still learning/reinforcing concepts.

My library doesn't have the series, so I submitted it as a suggestion for the shelves. They apparently thought I wanted the title via interlibrary loan. Nope, not quite. It's nice to know I can get it that way in the future (or my friend -- hi, friend! :D ).

I'll file this away for later and if it seems like it's worth a try, I'll borrow it again and buy the series if it seems like it will be a good fit.


I borrowed the annotations book and two of the workbooks to look over. I was a bit confused and slightly overwhelmed. Some people on the internet feel the same, but supposedly if you stick with it it can be a good program.

That may be the case, but I decided that since I like RightStart so much (and it goes a few levels past Miquon) that I didn't need to look into it further. Johnny really, really likes the idea of RightStart so I think we'll just go that route. Miquon is super-inexpensive on Rainbow Resource.

The "discovery" method is intriguing, but I perceived it to be even more teacher-intensive than RightStart. I would need to buy a workbook for my own to create an answer key. In doing so, it would help me learn the Miquon approach. It also seemed like I would need to do some prepwork ahead of time for lessons.

If I'm devoting a 30-minute time block to math, I'd rather just DO MATH than prepwork. It looks like with RS, I can gather the materials and just follow along the teacher's manual. Also, some people consider Miquon to be a supplement to another program. Other people use it as their main thing.

Math Mammoth

I bought the entire light blue digital series when it was on super sale. It's 1st-6th grade math, all worktexts. You may print the pages, or have your child do it on the computer or tablet.

This is a worktext (worksheets with instruction on the page/within so no separate teacher's manual). There are instructions for making your own games to reinforce concepts. I like what I see with the approach and I'm not sure how I'll implement it just yet. Perhaps a summer math, or subbing it in when we want a break from RightStart, such as if we hit a wall.

I could print the entire thing in black & white for around $10-13 per worktext (and there are 2 for the 1st grade level). But some pages do need to be in color for things such as patterns, so I could selectively print those pages at home, I guess. Or again, have Johnny do it on the computer. At this point, I'm not sure how I feel about computer math at this age.

So. I've been watching message boards and eBay for a deal on the 2nd edition manual and I'm coming up short. Also watching promos from Mardel, but their high-value coupons restrict RightStart. Aw, man.

I wanted to mention, while I'm planning on using RightStart as our main program, and adding in Math Mammoth and Life of Fred -- RightStart doesn't need a supplement. Math Mammoth doesn't need a supplement, either. They are both complete and thorough and can stand alone.

I just like the idea of using both and making adjustments for each child depending on where he or she is at with math. I don't need to follow either curriculum to the letter;  they are my tools and we will use them to help us. 

Also, I cannot overstate the value of seeing a curriculum in person. Samples are helpful, but they only go so far. Because my friend was willing to lend me some materials to look through, I saved money and time.

Let's see where we are a year from now!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

More Lego fun

Over the weekend, Vivie, Amelia and I went to the mall and visited both the Disney Store and the Lego store. FUN. I haven't been to a mall for...1.5 years? 2 years? I don't know.

At the Lego store, we made 6 minifigures and filled a small bucket from the pick-a-brick wall. There's an art to filling the bucket to get as many pieces as you possibly can.

For instance, I knew Johnny wanted to make more cars. So I got him some wheels. Rather than toss the wheels in the bucket, I put the inner piece inside each wheel. No empty space! And I arranged them carefully.

I got an assortment of interesting pieces and ended up with 133 pieces for the $8 or $9 that the bucket cost. If I didn't have two little girls with me and thought it through a little more, I think I could have fit even more.

For instance, there's a space in the lid that I could have jammed a few pieces in.

So anyway. So fun! He's totally loving his eBay sets and now the extra pieces we have. A good investment. And, they've both been really good about keeping pieces on the lid or tray and putting them away when they're finished.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The beginning of the Lego era in our home

When Johnny turned 1, he got Mega Bloks. When he was 3ish (I can't remember if it was 2.5ish or 3ish), he got Duplo. Both were big hits.

Now, he's around 5.5. I got him his first Lego sets and he is totally in love.

I bought two $5 kits over the weekend -- a 3-in-1 bulldozer sorta thing, and a 3-in-1 helicopter set. He has assembled and disassembled the combinations many times already, proudly and happily and wanting to send pictures of his creations to my sister, who he admires for her Lego prowess.

So, a few days ago I ordered some Lego Freestyle on eBay. I ordered the same kit that my sister left behind at my parent's house, the one that we play with when we visit (set #1796 if you are curious). I like the open-ended pieces and also the trees, wheels, windows and miscellany that make Lego even more fun. They don't seem to make sets like that anymore. Seems like now, it's either a plain box of bricks with no fun add-ons, or a set that makes a specific thing. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I am new to this.

Though he seems to enjoy following the instructions to make a specific thing, I think making your own creations is important and fun. Hopefully he will enjoy the open-ended bricks, too.

As my Lego-enthusiast friend Beth advised me back in October when I was first contemplating adding Lego to our home, she said to lay down the law when it comes to keeping pieces in one place. NOT all over the house.

For one thing, who wants itty bitty bricks all over the place to step on? And two, I have a baybay. She is in the "eat all the things!" stage. Ugh.

I bought an under-the-bed container to store the freestyle bricks, and I'm using a repurposed scrapbooking storage container thing (no separate compartments) for his specific sets. I put each set in a ziplock, along with the instructions. He uses the lid as a playing surface to hold the set pieces. So far, so good.

I think if those pieces ever enter the fray, they will never escape. I've stressed the importance to him, that if he wants to make his helicopter according to the instructions, he must keep those pieces separate. But hey, if he wants to mix it up, that's his choice.

I'm excited to see where the Lego era takes us.

Gosh, kids are fun. And this is such a fun age!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer break and inital thoughts on this fall

As I mentioned last post, we're going to pause My Father's World kindergarten for two months this summer and take a little break.

Part of it has to do with where I see Johnny's kindergarten year this fall going. Come August when the public school kids are back in the classrooms, I'll call Johnny a kindergartner.

In my state, he's still young enough that he doesn't legally need to do formal schooling (that will come next year at 1st grade, when he's 6 turning 7).

We will still do some structured learning, and I'm working on a plan of what that might look like.

With regard to MFWK, I considered continuing this summer and then starting Heart of Dakota's kindergarten level in the fall. I have a used copy of the teacher's manual and many materials. Recently, I took a closer look at what we'd actually do and I just don't think it's a good fit for J.

Heart of Dakota -- Little Hearts for His Glory (kindergarten) thoughts

HOD initially appealed to me because it's Charlotte Mason-y, and you can also choose your own math, phonics and handwriting programs. I like the freedom of moving forward at my own pace per subject.

But there are some things within that I don't think will be a good fit.

I don't think he'll like the rhymes in motion activities. Any time we do a cutesy song with hand motions, he doesn't really want to participate. Vivienne likes it, but she's 3. Maybe he feels it's too babyish. Bummer.

I'm not excited about what I'm seeing with the science text or activities.

We aren't doing Singapore Math (as far as I know...but probably not) and so we can skip the activities in the teacher's manual.

A lot of the hands-on craft activities, I just felt...meh.

I'm not too sure about the history within. Part of it uses the Bible (which I like) and then it also uses History for Little Pilgrims and another book later on. I need to give these a closer look. It might indeed be a good intro to history at an age-appropriate level.

So, what *would* I use HOD for, if I moved ahead with it? Well maybe the Bible memory verses and associated activities, maybe the history, maybe the Thomas Burgess read-alouds. I've heard mixed reactions on the Burgess stories, so we'll just have to give it a shot to see how we like it.

I'm not sure if those minimal things would be worth using the guide at all. Again, I just need to take a closer look at the materials. Perhaps I'll use part of the guide, or perhaps doing our own thing will give us some more freedom.

Back to MFWK...

So since I'm underwhelmed with HOD for kindergarten, now I need to step back and figure out how we can use MFWK.

Waaay back, I considered using MFWK for his entire K year, rather than starting ahead of it like we did. I'm glad we did start it because I can see more clearly how the program works and what I like and don't like.

I like:

- The unit themes. Just right for this age. Fun to explore different aspects of God's creation through books, crafts, activities, etc.
- The Bible lessons are kind of different. They're linked to the week's unit theme, so rather than reading through the Bible, it is kind of a topical lesson instead. This is a pro and a con. I do think the lessons are very well suited for this age.

We aren't using:

- The phonics. I should have just started this program back when Johnny was showing an interest in learning initial blends. But since I waited, he is way past all of the phonics in this level. The creators of the program say you can indeed use it for readers, but it would have been a better bang for our buck if we used those phonics activities and lessons, I think. Oh well. Now I know for my daughters.

- Up until this unit, We did the math and handwriting worksheets. They are fine. But perhaps I want to just save them for Vivienne.

- We aren't using several worksheets each unit, involving picture cards, a drawing activity and I think one other thing.

- We aren't using the Cuisinaire rods activities, though I should pull them out again to see if Johnny has an interest.

How we can use MFWK this fall:

I still really enjoy the unit themes, though I wonder if we'll get tired of it mid-program. There are a few weeks of farm animals and a few weeks of wild animals. I might smush those together.

I enjoy the Bible lessons and discussions that come with.

Some of the hands-on science and craft activities are fun and engaging.

We have 19 units of MFWK left, and less if I combine.

I can perhaps follow the pace of roughly one per week starting this fall, and we'll wrap up in winter/early spring. Or I can stretch it to roughly 1.5-2 weeks per unit to cover August - May or June. I think I'll just have to decide later on.

Right now, I'm thinking through my goals for Johnny's kindergarten year. That's a separate post. Once I really nail that down, I think it would be more appropriate to then figure out how curriculum can fit those needs, rather than the other way 'round.

This summer ...

I hope to make regular trips to the library and participate in the summer reading program. There's a class or activity roughly each week or more frequently and I'd like to attend plenty of those.

I hope to make several visits to the Children's Museum and Zoo, both of which we have memberships. Also, other museums, parks, berry farms, etc.

Playing outdoors as much as possible, especially in the mornings before the heat of the day. Johnny needs kicked outside sometimes, and will complain that it's too hot, too windy, too cold, too whatever. No. You are a kid. You need to play outside!

I plan to continue having Johnny read aloud, again as part of the summer reading program and also just for fun. He's been asking for more Bob Books and we'll use those, and regular books, too. I do think I'll continue moving through All About Reading level 1. Just as it feels right; no schedule.

I'm looking forward to these summer days! I know that we could just keep on going, or perhaps with just a short break. But I feel like you're only 5 during the summer oh I dunno. ONCE. Time to enjoy. It's not like you can stop a kid from learning :).

MFWK unit 7 - Us

We started Unit 7 of My Father's World kindergarten on May 29.

This unit, we are learning about "us" and more specifically, our five senses.

Day 1 - Touch

We did a quick activity where I grabbed two cloth bags (any opaque container would work), two bandanas and quickly put an assortment of objects inside each bag. I blindfolded J & V and gave them a bag. They reached in and took out a thing at a time and tried to describe the texture and name the object.


We read a few library books on senses and specifically touch. While J and I were reading on the couch, Vivie was set up at the table playing with a container of beans and some counting bears.

Amelia was having a tough morning. Maybe more teeth coming? Dunno. She played on the floor for a little while, but it was clear she needed a nap. So I wrapped her in my Storch and let J and V watch the Magic School Bus "smell" episode.

We rounded out the rest of the days, devoting one day per sense. Both Johnny and Vivie enjoyed being blindfolded to guess sounds, scents, things they were touching. Later today, we'll do some taste-testing.

For this unit, we read a lot of library books as usual. Some people struggle with making it to the library often enough to grab enough books on each unit. So far, it has been going well for us. I typically reserve some titles ahead of time and they're all ready for me on the hold shelf. If I have time, I browse for more. My library has a 3-week lending period, so I could get books for up to 3 units at a time if I was really pressed, and renew whatever I could as needed.

We also watched a few relevant episodes on the Magic School Bus. My kids love that series. It's available on Netflix streaming right now.

I skipped the worksheets this week. Lately, I've only been having Johnny do the math and handwriting sheet. I'm going to have to evaluate whether I want him to keep on doing the MFWK sheets or something else.

We've been doing MFWK ever since the beginning of March, minus a week when we were on vacation in April and a few days here and there. It has been going well, but I'm ready for a break.

More on that to come.

Rolling cart for the library!

What in the world? Why are my photos not rotating properly? This was fine in the photo program I used to resize. Sorry. Just turn your head.

EEE! I have been wanting a crate-on-wheels for awhile, and finally got one. I bought it online at Rainbow Resource, but after my purchase I have also spotted them at office supply stores and craft stores.

I hope it lasts a long time. And I hope it hauls a metric ton of books before it conks out on me.

Children's books can be large and heavy. I used to take a few tote bags, but come on. I GOT THREE KIDZ.

Last week during the preschool story hour, I got to test out my new crate.

It folds up compactly, and has a long, telescoping handle. Comes with some stabilizer bar things for the sides.

It worked well, and we've used it for a second trip already.

And bonus? It fits in a nook in my laundry room. So now, all of our library books can live in that crate instead of in tote bags.

<3 libraries.