Saturday, October 31, 2009

Free Digital Holiday Supplement from The Old Schoolhouse

2009 Holiday Digital Supplement/Idea Book

I just downloaded the free Digital Holiday Supplement from the Old Schoolhouse Magazine, and it is a wonderful resource that I will use to plan our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. There are recipes, inexpensive and hand-made gift ideas, crafts ideas, decorating ideas, and much more. All the articles keep the budget-conscious family in mind, too.

You can get your free copy by clicking the icon above and following the directions you will find after being redirected.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Product Review: Amazing Bible Timeline

When I pulled the brightly-colored, well-organized, 37 x 45" Amazing Bible Timeline from its mailing carton, I thought writing this review would be a breeze. I could not have been more wrong. I do not recommend this product. If you would like to know why, please keep reading.

I liked what I saw at first glance. The charting of history begins at Creation in 4004 B.C. (approximately) Young earth. Creationism. B.C., not B.C.E. They had my attention.

A genealogy of Adam through Noah follows. Very interesting. After Noah, the timeline splits into three sections, one for each of his sons.

From there on, Shem's line is color-coded yellow, Ham's line is blue, and Japheth's is pink. This made it really easy to see which nations descended from which of the sons of Noah, something I found very interesting. Also, the spiral design allowed me to see what events were occurring simultaneously. For instance, according to the timeline, Samuel was the judge of Israel at the same time that Rameses III ruled Egypt while the Greeks and Trojans were waging war. A resource like this could be so helpful, except….

Before I had a chance to put the timeline to use or give it a really thorough inspection, I received an email from Bible Charts and Maps. The subject line said, "Wow! Let's Clear This Up Right Now". This email was sent to every Crew member assigned to review their Amazing Bible Timeline. It seems that a few of my crewmates noticed a few things on the timeline that I had not noticed at first glance, and the publishers wanted a chance to respond. That's only fair, so I read their email and was shocked by some of the accusations made against them and just as equally shocked by their response.

First, there appear to be references to the Book of Mormon within the body of the timeline. No LDS (Mormon) publications are listed in the timeline's bibliography, printed prominently in the top, center; however, Mormon 6:6, 10, and 11 (referring to the Book of Mormon) are printed as what appears to be footnotes within one square of the body of the timeline. Other crew members noted that the pre-Columbian America portion of the timeline seems to have an LDS-slant and pointed out references to the books of Daniel and Revelation that seem to indicate fulfilled prophecies, ones that I had never heard of before.

I also take issue with the listing of future events that are printed at the end of the timeline. Their inclusion of the millennial reign of Christ as a future event and the sequence of "last days" events as they present them does not mesh with my personal convictions. The sequencing and wording of this section caused more unrest in me and made me wonder whose interpretation was being represented.

Their original email has since been revised, and I no longer have access to it. It explained that the Book of Mormon references were left on the timeline unintentionally because the original films were destroyed in a shipping accident in 2000. They used the LDS version of the timeline to recreate the version I received and did not realize that the Book of Mormon footnotes were still there.

We are all human, and certainly, mistakes can be made. However, nine years seems like a very long time for such a significant error to remain unnoticed or uncorrected.

Many of the statements in the original response and the revised one only made me more skeptical. For instance, their response to "Why is there an LDS version of the timeline?" was the following:

This statement causes me to wonder how they define "Christian faiths" and what type of unity they are trying to promote. Because I am not a member of an LDS church and strongly disagree with many of its fundamental beliefs, I do not want to do business with a curriculum provider that would make that statement.

The bottom line is that I do hold to a particular faith and want to pass along a particular set of beliefs to my children. I do not feel confident, even after carefully considering the company's statements and spending hours researching, that the Amazing Bible Timeline shares my convictions. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience recommend this product.

The Amazing Bible Timeline sells for $29.97. Free timeline and map downloads come with each purchase and are available at their website.

I received one copy of the Amazing Bible Timeline for free to use for this review. All opinions expressed in the review are solely mine and are based on my experience with the product. I have received no other compensation for this review and have offered my honest, unbiased opinion. To read more about this product, please, click the icon below to be redirected to the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Product Review: Sue Patrick Workbox System

I try to write my product reviews as if I were sitting in my living room with a few of my closest homeschooling-mom friends, sipping coffee (or in my case chai tea) while discussing our latest curricular discoveries. Recently, I was given the Sue Patrick's Workbox System User's Guide ebook to review. The workbox system is currently all the rage in homeschool circles, so I imagine I have a friend or two who is curious about how this system works. If you want to know more, come on in to my cyber living room and pull up a chair. I will do my best to answer all your questions.

What is the Sue Patrick Workbox System?

Sue Patrick has devised a way to organize assignments and school materials so that students have everything they need to complete their lessons at their fingertips throughout the day. The system also helps the teacher create a schedule that students manage themselves. Using items like laminated cards, plastic shoe boxes, and Velcro strips, students have visual aids that move them from one task to the next with little to no help from Mom. As they complete one task, they consult their schedule strips and move to the next activities on their lists. Everything they need for each lesson is contained within a shoe box, and upon completion, everything is left in the same container, ready for Mom to grade.

Is the ebook helpful?

Sue Patrick is a very organized, thorough person, and so is her book. It provides everything you need to know to set up a successful workbox system, plus some. The book includes information on the benefits of homeschooling, adapting your curriculum to fit the workbox system, creating learning centers and folder games, modifying student assignments to make them more appealing to and usable by children, discipline, teaching life skills (such as typing and sequencing), and much more. She includes several color photographs of the components of the workbox system, including pictures of the system at various stages during the day. There are samples of all the forms needed to set up your daily schedule and the workbox system itself. After purchasing a book, it can be registered at Sue Patrick's website and all the necessary forms can be downloaded for free.

How involved is "workboxing" and what will it cost to set up a system in my homeschool?

The Sue Patrick Workbox System incorporates two components: the physical structure and an educational philosophy. The physical structure involves the actual set up which requires a number of materials and a good amount of printing, laminating, cutting, and attaching Velcro. I spent about $75 buying the materials needed for two sets of workboxes (one for each of my boys) and I worked for about 3 hours on the initial set up. The system is bulky, too. I had to get creative to find an area in my small house for two three-shelf racks (the book calls for 4-shelves). These things all bothered me at first, but as I used the system and had good results (I will write more about this in a minute), I decided it was worth the expense, time, and floor space.

The educational philosophy centers around developing a strong work ethic and initiative in children. The book is very specific about how and where the system is to be set up and how it is to be implemented. Sue Patrick strongly suggests that the system be followed exactly as she developed it. I have to be honest and say I did not do this. My educational philosophy, as well as my attitudes on student behavior, do not line up with hers 100 %. I also do not have an area in my house that would allow me to set the system up exactly as described. That's not to say that her advice should not be considered. She offers a lot of wisdom in her book; however, I had to make the system my own and refashion it to meet our needs.

With that said, virtually any curriculum can be used with the workbox system, and it has the potential to help families from one end of the philosophical spectrum to the other. The educational philosophy speaks more to student-ownership of learning than to a particular homeschool ideology. The workbox system could be used with most approaches, from classical to delight directed and anything in between.

However, because the Sue Patrick Workbox system stresses the science of teaching over the art, I imagine most homeschoolers not loving some of the ideas within the ebook or finding them applicable. I do recommend the ebook and that you give the science behind the workbox system some consideration. Then be an artful teacher and tweak it to suit your needs, style, and goals.

How did you use the workbox system?

We have used the workbox system for one month. During that time, I have started each day with a two-hour block for direct instruction, group work, and discussions. Lessons needing the most support from me or that require the boys and I work together, like our devotion time, catechism practice, new skills instruction, and read alouds, fit into this "meeting time". Then I organize all other school work, instrument practice, and chores into the workbox system and schedule strips. Each boy follows his own schedule strip and moves at his pace.

I allow my boys to decide the order in which they complete their workboxes and I allow them to help each other, collaborate, and ask me for assistance as often as needed. The prescribed component of the workbox system with which I took issue was behavior management, particularly her take on talking during the school day. She suggests that the school area be very quiet to allow for better concentration and that the teacher use non-verbal cues, specifically picture cards provided at her website, to manage the amount of talking that occurs. She also suggests that the amount of help each student may receive from Mom be limited and managed with picture cards.

Now, the Olive Plant house is far from perfect; however, I am comfortable with the amount of chatter going on around here and with the amount of time I spend helping my children during the school day. This aspect of her system brought to mind the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Therefore, I did not use these components of the workbox system.

Did the workbox system help you and your children?

Yes, it helped us in three ways.

First, both Orville and Wilbur salivated as they watched me assemble our system. Many components of the physical set-up are visually appealing which has been as motivating as the ebook promises it will be. Some of the work I place in the boxes are fun items, like crafting, lapbooking, puzzles, manipulatives, and games. The less "fun" stuff, like worksheets, has seemed more fun to the boys. Workboxes have had a "Tom-Sawyer effect" on my crew. Because their work is in a special box with color-coded tags, what they once considered a chore, they now consider a privilege.

Secondly, my type-B, stop-to-smell-the-roses-every-two-seconds child is completing his work in a timely manner. Previous to workboxes, my schedule had both boys working on the same subjects at the same time throughout the day. This kept me from having to rearrange the schedule everyday to accommodate group work or direct instruction. However, it also presented many situations in which my type-A jack rabbit would zip through his work and be finished before Mr. Type B had even begun.

I constantly had to pop into the classroom and remind Type B boy to move along with his work so that he would be ready for the upcoming group lesson, discussion time, or project. About a zillion times each day I had to ask, "Are you done yet?" or "How far along are you?". I had to constantly remind him to use his time wisely and frequently would stress out because we had <-----------------this many--------------------> things to do but <---this much---> time left to do them.

I now know what the problem was. I had the schedule in front of me and I understood the need for pacing our work so we could be done at a reasonable hour; however, Mr. Type B had no idea how much needed to be done and was blissfully content with taking all the time needed for the task at hand.

The workbox system has taught HIM how to manage HIS day. Because of the visual nature of the system, he can see exactly how much work remains. He can also see how much he has accomplished. I think he feels less bogged down because each time he gets to remove a tag from his schedule strip, he sees a little more of the light at the end of the tunnel. He also realizes that he does not have time to dawdle because he can see exactly what he must accomplish by 3 o'clock.

The third way workboxes have helped us is that it has made travelling with schoolwork really easy. My mother is disabled, and from time-to-time, she needs my help. When I need to spend the day at her house, I have been able to stack the workboxes one on top of the other inside a large Rubbermaid storage container. This allows me to head to her house at a moment's notice without scrambling to find and pack everything the boys need for school. All of the boys' boxes fit inside this container neatly. When we get to my mom's, I just unpack and set the boxes on her dining room table. The boys are able to complete their school day independently while I serve my dear mother.

Are there any cons to the workbox system?

Everything must be in place before your school day begins. On the one hand, this is great. There is no searching for scissors when you're trying to get a craft going. No jumping up in the middle of a lesson to go copy a worksheet. No more chickens in the drier. If you read my Plan-It School series, you know what I mean. On the other hand, it takes a good amount of time to refill the boxes for the next day, and I cannot refill them until every box has been completed. For me this was after everyone was in bed each night, a time that I want to unwind, not think about everything that has to be done tomorrow.

Most days, I was able to push past that mentality and remind myself that the evening work would make the next day run more smoothly. However, on those days that there's just one thing after another (and those days happen even for the most organized of us), finding time to get the workboxes prepared can be tough, if not impossible. If it doesn't get done, then school is a train wreck the next day, or I have to take the time to do it all before school begins which means we get a later start which mean everything is completely off all day. Once again, I had to modify the system to streamline the preparation.

I can imagine those with larger families would find preparing workboxes for each child, each and every day taxing. Don't let that discourage you though. I recommend you be innovative and find a way to make workboxing work for you. I'll write more about some of my modifications in a later post and suggest a few other blogs to visit where creative moms have made this system meet a variety of needs.

Will I continue to use the Workbox System now that my review is complete?

I will continue to use the workbox system with the modifications that work for us. I am thankful for the organization it has added to our homeschool and most especially for how it has helped and motivated Mr. Type B. Workboxes have made a world of difference for him, and I see him becoming more independent and confident as a result. For that, I give the Sue Patrick Workbox System two thumbs up.

You can buy the ebook that will set you on the path to organization at the Sue Patrick website for $19. I recommend you watch this video, too.

I enjoyed our little visit. I hope I answered all your questions, but if I over-looked something, feel free to ask your question as a comment.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of the Sue Patrick Workbox System ebook for free for the purpose of writing this review. I have received no other compensation. The opinions expressed in this review are based on my experience with the product and are mine solely. I have provided an honest critique of this product. For a second opinion (or as many as 124 more), please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog by clicking the icon below.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Product Review: Educaching

My thoughts about Educaching, a cross-curricular treasure hunt, can be summed up in one statement.

Why didn't I find this sooner?

The concept is ingenious. Educaching takes the widely-popular pastime, geocaching, a step further and provides all the instructions you need to set up a GPS-led treasure hunt that has your kids performing educational tasks along the way. A variety of hunt ideas are included, each of which puts skills from most subject areas into practice. Though I would not necessarily use it to introduce these skills, Educaching proved to be a fun way to integrate learning and give previously-mastered skills a real-world application.

Lesson Plans for 20 different hunts are included. These hunts are designed for students in 4th-8th grades and vary in difficulty. We completed four beginner-level hunts. There are also intermediate and advanced hunts for older students. The quality and thoroughness of the plans demonstrate the professionalism and experience of the author, Jason Hubbard.

Although the lessons are not written from a Christian worldview, there were no teachings that contradict the Bible. In other words… no evolution, Big Bang, etc. One lesson does involve art work based on Native American rain birds. The meaning behind the symbols is presented in a way that explains, but does not necessarily promote, the Native American belief system.

What most impressed me about Educaching was that it took me much less time to prepare for the hunts than I anticipated. The plans are very well written and easy to follow. I was able to gather everything needed for the four hunts we completed and hide the caches in about two hours. Set-up time would have been considerably less had we only completed one hunt.

Also important to me was that I had all the materials needed for all four hunts on-hand. I did not have to buy special containers or supplies. Rubbermaids and Tupperware held our caches. The items within were things like candles, candy, and clothing.

There are also instructions included for using your GPS receiver and ideas for teaching children how to use this technology. Forms are included to make your hunt easier and more profitable, like field sheets for recording data.

One difficulty I encountered was finding a location for our hunt. We live in-town and do not have a large enough yard to hide several containers far enough away from each other to be distinct on our GPS. Because I needed to set up when the children were not present, I felt uneasy about using public parks. I feared the caches might be tampered with or stolen while I traveled home and back again. I also needed to set up without the children around which meant I had to schedule this at a time when Dad was home.

However, it was worth the trouble because my children LOVED Educaching. They were able to complete the tasks with little difficulty. It took a few minutes to acquaint them with the technology, but once they figured it out, I had a hard time keeping up with them. The hunts kept them fully engaged. There were no opportunities for off-task behaviors. The motivation of wanting to find the cache kept them moving. Then when found, the task within made them really work and think. Once a task was complete, they were ready to head to the next cache.

In the course of an hour, they accomplished a lot, too. They inspected items and determined if they had undergone physical or chemical changes. They recorded information on charts and plotted points on a map. They measured length, calculated averages, solved word problems, made change, and determined a number of permutations. When we returned from the hunt to complete the suggested wrap-up discussions, the learning that had taken place was undeniable.

They really had FUN, too! When I asked them to rank Educaching on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being "no fun at all and I did not learn anything" and 10 being "best lesson ever- I had so much fun and learned a lot", Wilbur gave Educaching a perfect 10. Orville insisted that he be allowed to give it an 11.

Though not happy about donning one of the combinations of silly clothes created during one activity, Wilbur still gave Educaching a perfect 10!

Orville liked it all, even the silly clothes. He insisted on giving Educaching an 11!

I give it a 10, too! Admittedly, this was right up my educational-philosphy alley. I have made up treasure-hunt lessons for my children before, just sans GPS. I like to keep my boys active. I don't like to teach isolated skills and like to find real-world applications for as much as possible. If you like a more traditional approach to education, you probably will not like Educaching, though I still encourage you to give it a try. ;)


  • Detailed lesson plans

  • Instructions for using and teaching children to use a GPS

  • Printable forms (you can print only as needed)

  • Other than a hand-held GPS, requires common, household supplies

  • Easy to set-up

  • Covers a variety of topics

  • Integrates subjects

  • Provides real-world experience

  • Gives children the opportunity to apply what they learn

  • FUN!


  • Not homeschool-specific, requires some adapting

  • Can be difficult to find a place to hold your hunt

  • Most activities would be better with two or more groups of four (though not required)

  • Not written from a distinctly Christian worldview (though not anti-Christian in any way)

Overall, I think I have found a real treasure in Educaching and look forward to completing more of the activities with my boys. I plan to complete another Educaching hunt with my Mathletes Linkteam next month. Return soon for pictures from that event.

You can download Educaching samples here. The entire program can be purchased at their website for $32.00 plus shipping and handling.

Disclosure: I received one copy of Educaching for free in order to complete this review. I have received no other compensation. The opinions expressed in this review are solely mine and are my honest evaluation of the product based on my experience with it. Your experience with this product could be very different from mine. If you would like a second opinion (or as many 124 more), please click the icon below to be redirected to the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

Give-away: Southern Living Homestyle Cooking

Kathleen @ SouthForte Farms is hosting her first give-away. She is offering her readers the chance to win a copy of Southern Living Homestyle Cooking. This cookbook offers a variety of recipes, from simple to complex, and will, of course, add a little Southern-flare to your fare.

To enter, read Kathleen's post and then leave a comment. You can earn an extra entry by spreading the word via a blog post of your own. She is giving away one copy and will pick the winner next Thursday, 10-29-09.

Monday, October 19, 2009

HSBA Nominations

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!
It's that time again!

The Homeschool Blog Awards are accepting nominations starting today. This is your chance to nominate your favorite blogs for up to 25 different honors. The winner of each category will receive a great prize. The HSBA also gives your favorite blogs the opportunity to be introduced to new readers. I found a few of my favs while visiting the nominated blogs last year, and a few of you found me that way, too. If you have never participated before, don't be shy. Hop on over to The Post (click the icon above) and nominate your favs right away. It doesn't have to be Olive Plants, either. ;)

There are 25 different categories, and I have nominated 10 differen blogs. I am still considering who to nominate in a few categories.

Each blog needs three nominations per category to make the voting list. So my single nomination does not guarantee these blogs will be official nominees when the voting begins in two weeks. Here are the blogs I have chosen:

Best Live What You Believe: Kingdom Arrows
The author of this blog, Heather, knows what she believes and she lives it. Her dedication to serve Christ selflessly shows in her posts, particularly those she has written about her experiences teaching her dear daughter with auditory processing problems. Her level of commitment to her children's needs demonstrates her love for God.

Best Eclectic: Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Who doesn't love Kris's blog just for the name alone? She does a great job with hands-on, nature studies, unit studies, and keeping school interesting for her unsocialized crew. She describes herself as "classically eclectic", a label that fits us Olive Plants, too. Visiting her blog actually makes me feel a little less weird and a little more socialized.

Best Homemaking/Recipes: Mercy Every Morning
I get hungry every time I visit Christy's great blog. Since starting Weight Watchers I have had to avoid posts like Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole, Best Bean Soup, and especially Pumpkin Cookies. She is a great cook and is budget-conscious, too. I would nominate her for Best Thrifty, too, but the rules won't allow it.

Funniest: Rocks in My Drier
This blog makes me laugh. Every time.

Best Cyber-buddy: Blue House Academy
I have one of those inexplicable online friendships with Kellie. She and I have never met in person, yet I would go to bat for her. She is my most loyal reader and commenter, and I really like her blog, too. I think if we lived near each other, we would be best buds.

Best Curriculum Business: My Audio School
My friend, Molly, launched this new blog a few months ago. If you haven't visited yet, please, don't wait any longer! Go now! She has tons of free downloadable audio content. You can access about 20% without a membership. The subscription fee is $14.99 per year and allows you access to the entire site. It's a great deal and deserves this nod.

Best Variety: Heather's Blog
Heather writes on a variety of topics. Sometimes she shares the precious but hysterical conversations that take place between her preschool-aged twins. Other times she shares recipes, words of encouragement, home making ideas or teaching ideas. She's not new to teaching but is new to the world of homeschooling, so let's give her a warm welcome.

Best Nitty-Gritty: Raising Olives
Kimberly is a homeschooling mother of 9 who gives great, fluff-free advice. She has given me ideas for laundry management, multi-age (or in my case multi-level) homeschooling, organization, and many other aspects of home management. Her Not-Me-Monday posts are a riot and show just how down-to-earth she is too.

Best Homeschool Methods: Counter-cultural School (Classical)
Molly was last year's Best SUPERHomeschooler winner, and her counter-cultural school blog is a great resource for classical homeschoolers. Need I say more?

Best New Blog: SouthForte Farms
Kathleen launched her blog last month. Her posts offer great advice on homemaking, teaching, and child-training topics and are infused with witty humor. She can teach you just about anything about home management and make you laugh in the process! I was a Best New Blog nominee last year so I feel like I'm passing the baton to her and am happy to pass it to the blog that I think should win hands down. Last year, I was in 1st for a while but landed in 3rd. Here's hoping you do better than I did, Kathleen. Bon chance!

If you like these blogs as much as I do, head on over to the Post and fill out their new and improved, super-easy-to-use nomination form. Remember that a blog needs three nominations in each category to be in the running. Thanks!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not Me Monday: Things I Have Not Said or Sung Recently

Recently, I have not said, and I have especially not sung, any of the following:

Antibiotics make me sick.

Stop talking and get your discussion work done.

Did we get a picture of that for the blog?

What number are you on? (referring to workboxes)

(during Mathletes) Could you have a room with only two walls?

(Sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies) Now, listen to my story 'bout a man named John, a rich New Yorker living high-on-the-hog. Had Standard Oil, the only oil company. And that my friend is a monopoly. Rockefeller, that is. Rich man. Off Texas Tea.

No, I can't make a birthday cake for Wooly (the plush toy lamb).

(The next day) No, I won't make a birthday cake for Rosey (the plush toy robin).

(The day after that) No, I won't make a birthday cake for Teagan (the plush toy Towhee).

All I want for Christmas is a big mug of chai tea!

(to Michael) Did you move us while I was asleep? It's too cold to be Georgia? Can we move farther south?

What are you doing out of bed… again?

No, we did not get sick from singing about Germany. (emphasis on "Germ")

Yes, I took Wooly's temperature, too. He's normal.

Cleaning your floor does not mean shoving everything under the bed.

I don't know why Lichtenstein is so small. (pause for question) No, it's not because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs live there.

Stop talking about diarrhea and get back to work.

Yes, you must put on the funny yellow shirt. Mommy needs the picture for her blog.

Nope. Not ME... no way!

Friday, October 16, 2009

More about Mathletes

After posting, Mathletes Has Begun, I received a few questions about the program and wanted to pass on a little more information about the Math Olympiad and how I manage our Mathletes group.

For those of you interested in the Math Olympiad, it is a national program that is open to homeschoolers, and the enrollment deadline for the 2009-2010 school year has been extended to Oct.30. You cannot enroll individually, but must be sponsored by your local hsa or other homeschool group. I suggest calling the the folks at MOEMS (Math Olympiad for Elementary and Middle School) if you have any questions concerning your eligibility. I have called them several times with numerous questions, and they have always been helpful. I have not had to send them any official documentation of my local hsa's sponsorship. I did present the idea to my hsa board for approval before including our association information on the MOEMS registration form.

The Olympiad releases two five-question math exams each month, November through March. One test is for elementary students, 4th-6th; the other is for middle school, 6th-8th. 6th graders have the option of taking either exam. I have mine take the elementary exam. Some teams have all students, 4th-8th, take the middle school exam. There are a number of options. Their information pages explain in detail how the program works.

The cost per team (US, Canada, and Mexico) is $89 if you choose to receive the tests and report your scores online. If you wish to receive the tests/report via snail mail, the cost is $99 per team. If you want to receive an elementary test and a middle school test, you must register as two teams and pay two fees. I divide the membership fees by the number of students on the team and charge per student. With 7-12 members on the team each year, the cost has been around $15 per student.

The program is available to students outside the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. See the MOEMS site for more information.

The five exam problems are always challenging word problems, but I have seen a lot of growth in Orville, who is participating for the second year. The parents of the children on last year's team all gave me positive feedback on the program, and all but one signed up again this year. Each participant is guaranteed to receive a certificate of participation, and each team receives a trophy for the highest scoring member. There are other awards that can be earned as well. I also award my team members points for effort and points for correct answers. When a student earns 100 points, I present him this medal. This has motivated my team to try more problems and report to me on time each week.

The Olympiad only requires the once-per-month meeting for the purpose of taking the exams. However, most school-sponsored teams meet at least once per week for practices. That is why I added in the Problem of the Week component. By emailing the problems to my team members and allowing them to email their completed work to me, everyone involved is saved a lot of time. So, in a way, I do a virtual mathletes (hee, hee to my friend who asked this). Membership on the team I sponsor is limited to those who are members of my local hsa, though. Sorry.

The Math Forum is a paid membership site and well worth the $25 for a teacher-level membership. This level of membership gives me the rights to distribute problems to the team members who are not my children. If you are interested in incorporating a problem of the week into your school schedule, the individual membership costs $15 per year. There are other membership offers that include services like mentoring and feedback. They always offer multiple explanations of how to solve each problem and other helpful features like a grading rubric. It is a great site.

Math Counts also offers problems of the week for free. Answer keys are provided for their problems as well. However, I like The Math Forum more and find their features for teachers very helpful. The Math Counts Foundation also offers a national competition for middle schoolers, available in all 50 states. Since this is the first year that I have had middle schoolers on my team, we have not competed in Math Counts yet, but I have heard great things about it.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave them as a comment.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mathletes has begun.

Did you get a good look at that picture?

Look again.

What a big group I have!

Twelve kids may not seem like that large of a group, but for Mathletes, it is HUGE! The really exciting part is that there are 4th graders and 8th graders and everything-in-between graders on the team this year.

Each week I email three word problems to each participating family on Mondays. The level one problem is "easy". I would not have thought these problems were easy when I was in the 4th grade, but that's what the math folks say, so I'll go with it. The level two problems fall in the medium to difficult category; however, I did not see math like these problems until eighth grade. The level threes... well, OUCH!

Each member emails his or her answers to me on Fridays. I award each attempted problem one point. If a level one problem is correct, it earns an additional point. For each correct level two problem, I award two extra points, and I add three points for a correct level three.

I also give them one point per meeting they attend and one point per problem they attempt during each meeting. I give additional points for correct answers to these problems. 100 points= this gold medal.

We had our first monthly meeting last week. I divided the group into four teams and gave each team a sheet of five challenging word problems. They worked collaboratively to solve and when they arrived at the right answer to each problem, I told them one letter of a clue word. When they had solved all five problems correctly and had all the letters, they unscrambled the clue which revealed their prize was "candy". I find problems to give them here and here.

Next month, we will complete an Educaching activity. I will have lots to write afterward. They will also take the first Math Olympiad test. I believe the team will do very well this year as they are off to a great start!

Product Review: Sarah's Wish

As I read aloud the copy of Sarah's Wish I received for free, the boys and I were captivated from start to finish. We were left wanting more. In fact, it is Orville's wish to find the next books in the series, Sarah's Promise and Sarah's Escape, under the tree on Christmas morning.

The story is set in Ohio during the turbulent years that preceded the Civil War. Sarah, the lovable protagonist, is orphaned, and upon her mother's death, Sarah is left with huge secrets and responsibilities. While praying for her wish to come true and carrying on her mother's legacy, she learns many lessons about trust, honor, and respect. In the end, she learns that wish fulfillment is no reason for compromising one's convictions.

The author, Jim Baumgardner, writes vividly. Orville commented that he felt as though he was part of the action. In his mind, he became the characters in the book and could see his surroundings like a "movie playing in my head". The characters are so well developed that I felt as though they had become my friends, or enemies, depending on the circumstance.

Sarah is a role-model. She acts wisely for her age and trusts the Lord in difficult circumstances. The faith she demonstrates is encouraging and lives up to Mr. Baumgardner's description of the Sarah series when he says, "The books have been referred to as Christian fiction. I prefer to describe them as Young Adult fiction written by a Christian author. Sarah’s faith is important to her and she lives by it, but the books do not try to convert the reader to anything. The stories do teach Christian principals of living a good life and treating others as you would have them treat you."

Sarah has a number of good role models guiding her, too. Doc Baum is a kind-hearted man who has Sarah's best interests at heart. Granny, her caretaker, has a heart of gold and is a riot. She had us laughing so hard we thought our sides would split. There is a whole community of other interesting characters. Some are filled with compassion and good deeds, others with hatred and bigotry, yet none of their actions or words are excessive or inappropriate for young readers. Mr. Baumgardner keeps his audience in mind, and though he paints a vivid picture, he never paints it with words that young readers would be better off not reading or by infusing the story with questionable morality.

Mr. Baumgardner, who has been a delight to work with, wrote the Sarah books for his homeschooled grandchildren. His love and care shine through in his careful handling of difficult subjects. However, given the premise, an orphan who assists run-away slaves, some of the subject matter might be too mature for our youngest readers. For example, Sarah's mother dies in the first chapter. The scene is beautifully written and as a result is heart-wrenching. Though not graphic, the death scene evokes many emotions, and young children may not be mature enough to sort through the resulting feelings.

There is a slight nod to feminism as well. Sarah hopes to become a school teacher one day. When discussing her future, Granny advises her that "Ya can be what yer a mind to be, and the men cain't keep ya from it." Sarah's aspirations are not central to the story, and this is the only statement that hints at women asserting their independence from men. I thought it necessary to mention, however, for those who would find it contrary to their goals for their daughters.

Also, as with any book set during the years leading to the Civil War, there are tough issues to consider. Slavery, The Fugitive Slave Law, The Underground Railroad, and all associated moral dilemmas are front and center. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Sarah's Wish zeroes in on the atrocities of American slavery, and I do agree that America slavery was atrocious. However, all characters who are on the wrong side of the issues are portrayed as self-absorbed with an air of superiority while those on the right side are noble and heroic. The strong and contrasting protagonists and antagonists make for an interesting read; however, in my opinion, they also make for a one-dimensional representation of the time period.

With that said, if you think your children are mature enough to delve into these topics, Sarah's Wish could serve as a prompt for great discussion and further research on the time period, and it is an enjoyable read that promotes Christian character. I give Sarah's Wish two thumbs up and look forward to making Orville's wish come true. He isn't the only one who wants to read the next Sarah book. I want to see how her adventures continue and could use another dose of Granny's humor!

You can purchase Sarah's Wish for $9.99 at Sarah's Web. A code is included in the back of the book for a free audio download. There are no shipping and handling charges, and Mr. Baumgardner will autograph your copy. You can also purchase the other Sarah books or the Sarah's Wish audio book from the website.

Wondering if your opinion might differ from mine? It might, you know. Read a section of Sarah's Wish for yourself here or click here to read my crewmates' reviews.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nature Friend Magazine Update: Here's how you can save....

If you read my review of Nature Friend Magazine, you know that I am a huge fan of their magazine, but not a fan of their subscription price.

An email I received from our friends at Nature Friend gave me a reason to smile (and post this review update). There are two great ways that you can save on Nature Friend Magazine.

1. You can enter the coupon code BLOG93 to receive a $3.00 savings on a subscription through November 30, 2009.

2. You can purchase a year's worth of 2006, 2007, or 2008 issues. Each year's collection has been Smythe-sewn and bound into a hard cover. These are top-quality books, sure to last for years to come. Currently these volumes are being offered at 30% off. There are a limited number available, so the offer runs through November 30, 2009 or until supplies run out, which ever comes first. To get the discount, use the coupon code HBV30P.

Thank you to the good folks at Nature Friend Magazine for giving us this chance to save and enjoy their great magazine.

Oh, and they have another announcement, too. If you visit this page, you can read about an up-coming writing contest for ages 6-17. The winners will receive new binoculars or $35, the winner's choice.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Product Review: Guardian Angel Publishing

I received five free ebooks from Guardian Angel Publishing to review as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew. Two of the books were non-fiction teaching resources and the other three were fiction. The books differed greatly, as did our opinions of each; therefore, I will review each book separately.

Stubby's Destiny by Dixie Phillips, illustrated by Kim Sponaugle

Stubby, the donkey, learns a lesson that can best be summed up by Eph 2:10. He aspires to do things that he has determined are great but finds that Jesus has an ordained purpose for him that is greater than anything he imagined for himself. Stubby's job requires humility, but through his service, Jesus is glorified.

Everyone in my family enjoyed Stubby's Destiny and thought it taught a good and Biblical lesson. We thought the ending was a little predictable because the story is based on a very familiar Bible story. However, I can imagine younger children being surprised by what happens to Stubby, enjoying it much more than we did and learning a Bible lesson in the process.

The full-page illustrations added to our enjoyment. The artwork is very well done.

Each member of our family ranked Stubby's Destiny on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best book ever and 1 being the worst. Stubby received an average score of 8 from the Olive Plants family.

Earthquake! by Susan J. Berger, illustrated by Eugene Ruble

This book begins by explaining the science behind earthquakes. There are a number of good charts and pictures that we found helpful. "Factoids" are included on almost every page with interesting tidbits about earthquakes. One science experiment is included as well.

The book concludes with a very thorough section on preparedness. The advice included explains how to best protect yourself during an earthquake and how to create an earthquake plan, including what emergency supplies should be kept on-hand and how best to store them.

Earthquake! received an average score of 6 from us. My boys were a little scared by the topic (not by the presentation) which probably skewed their scores some.

Rainbow Sheep by Kim Chatel

This is a sweet, imaginative story in which the main character, Genevieve, interacts with a sad rainbow. In the end, the rainbow finds happiness, and Genevieve's flock becomes sheep of many colors.

Rainbow Sheep is well written and was enjoyed by every member of our family. The book is illustrated with photographs of felted scenes. These scenes added depth and warmth to the already touching story. We kept trying to stroke the pictures because they seemed so real and inviting. In addition, instructions for felting your own story illustrations are included.

Rainbow Sheep scored high with a 9.

The Sum of Our Parts: No Bones about It by Bill Kirk, illustrations by Eugene Ruble

This was our least favorite of the five books.

Each page contains an illustration of a particular bone or group of bones with a portion of a rhyme about the bone names . There is also a "factoid" included on each page. The factoids do not always directly relate to the illustrated bone. For instance on the page for the pelvis, the factoid is about the stirrup (the little bone inside the ear). They are not always that unrelated. However, the factoid is positioned on the page more predominately than the rhyme and caught my attention first. It took me some time to "clue into" the arrangement of the book and be able to follow it.

Once we worked past the initial confusion, we enjoyed the rhyme and thought it was a good way to learn the names of the bones and how they are connected.

In my opinion, the illustrations are a little odd. The bones themselves are sketched in a style that did not appeal to any member of my family. Additionally, each bone has a smiley face drawn on it. None of us thought this "worked", including my children. They commented that it looked a little scary.

We gave this book a very low score of 4.

Maybe We Are Flamingos by Safari Sue Thurman, illustrated by Kevin Collier

This was our favorite of the five. Okay, it's about birds which may have influenced them a little…. Nonetheless, Maybe We Are Flamingos is such a cute story with a great moral. It is filled with good, clean fun and humor. The joke within the story had my boys brainstorming alternate versions. That is difficult to explain in detail without giving away too much, but trust me, we were coming up with new ideas and laughing about it for days after our reading.

The moral of the story is a good one, too. Amidst the laughter, we also felt sympathy for the flamingos and cheered for their happy ending. The full-page, brightly-colored pictures were eye-catching and added to our enjoyment as well. We used our projector again to display this book on our living room wall.

Maybe We Are Flamingos was a winner with us, and we gave it a 9.5.

My overall impression of Guardian Angel Publishing is that they offer a wide variety of books that serve different purposes and that will appeal differently to each reader. I tended to like their fiction books more than the non-fiction. However, as their non-fiction publications pack a good amount of information into a relatively small book, you may find exactly what you need for a unit study or for further reading on a topic. Likewise, fiction and the creative slant given to the non-fiction books I reviewed leaves a lot of room for subjectivity. You may have a different experience with each book than we did.

All in all, I think they have a good selection and encourage you to check out Guardian Angel Publishing's website. Each downloadable ebook costs $5. The books are also available in CD and print formats. Prices vary; click the link to each individual title for more information.

You can also read what my crewmates had to say by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nature Friend Magazine

If you read Olive Plants regularly, you know that bird watching, nature studies, and journaling are staples in our homeschool. The free two-month subscription to Nature Friend Magazine that I received as a part of my participation on the TOS Homeschool Crew has been the perfect compliment to our studies of God's beautiful creation.

What first caught my attention was the photography. Exquisite! When each magazine arrived, the boys and I had to stop what we were doing and enjoy the oodles of photographs of birds, forest creatures, reptiles, and more. There are several half-page and full-page photographs (one issue even included a double-page spread) which were so vivid that we felt as though we were getting an up-close view of the real thing- a nature-lover's delight.

My boys also enjoyed the games and activities. They looked for hidden objects, went on a scavenger hunt, and completed crossword puzzles. They had a great time and learned a lot in the process.

Their favorite Nature Friend feature was the "You Can Draw" page. Each month readers are challenged to draw a particular plant or animal. In the issues we received, instructions were given on how to sketch a sunflower and a black bear. .

Readers may submit their drawings, and they may be featured in a later issue. Readers may also submit articles, questions, or picture captions which may be included in future issues as well. There were a number of articles, photographs, and drawings included in the issues we received that were the work of children. My boys enjoyed seeing and reading the work of kids their age which inspired them to work on submissions themselves.

Last but not least, I must mention the articles. Nature Friend
Magazine is filled with well-written, high-interest articles. They are written so that a child can understand them but are not "dumbed-down". Best of all, they are written from a creationist standpoint. Each magazine contains Bible quotes and statements that acknowledge God as Creator. Your children will learn science but not the anti-Biblical, evolutionary sort. Instead, they will be taught that "Thou hast created all things, and for THY pleasure they are and were created." Rev 4:11.

As an added bonus, my subscription included an accompanying study guide inside each issue. Within were additional games, questions and extension activities based on the articles. Further research is encouraged. There are also two bonus features contained in each study guide: lessons in creative writing using nature as a springboard and "The Photo Critique" which offers great nature photography tips.

A one-year subscription costs $36, or you can save by subscribing for 2 years and pay $68. The study guides cost an additional $2 per issue, or $24 per year. I would LOVE to continue our subscription but cannot afford to do so right now. I give the magazine itself two thumbs up and am going to add a third thumb to this review and point it downward for the subscription price. It pains me to do that because Nature Friend Magazine is such a high-quality publication, but I would love to see the cost come down so that it could be enjoyed by more families.

For more information on how you can subscribe to Nature Friend Magazine, visit their website.

Note: I have added an update here containing coupon codes for $3 off a subscription and a special offer on their hardbound volumes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Top Ten Orville Moments

Today is Orville's tenth birthday. It seems like just yesterday that I saw him for the first time via ultrasound. He kicked at the scope so hard that we could see the outline of his foot in the skin covering my tummy! The sonographer told me that day to prepare myself. "This one's a corker!" she said.

Over the course of ten years of motherhood, one thing has become apparent.

She was right.

In honor of my little corker turning double digits, I have compiled a list of his most interesting moments. His top ten moments to be exact. As you read, you'll laugh. You may cry, and you'll definitely understand why I love my life as the mother of a corker.

10. When I came home from the hospital with Wilbur, Orville was only 13 months old. He was not really talking yet, except to say "ma-ma" and "da-da" and "doh". We're still not sure what that was about. Nonetheless, "doh" was the phoneme of choice for quite some time. Despite his young age and limited vocabulary, he managed to coin a term for his baby brother. He would often go to wherever Wilbur was, lay his head on Wilbur's shoulder, and say "ahhhh". Anytime someone visited us, he would introduce himself as "doh" and his brother as "ahhhh".

I can hear him saying "ahhh" every time I look at this picture.

9. Around the time Wilbur was big enough to sit up, Orville would have him sit down in the "school" area of their bedroom. It was a place where I had created a few reading spots and had painted the lower half of the wall with chalkboard paint. Above this paint, I had placed alphabet decals. Orville would point to the "A" decal and say, "Wilbur, dis is A. It day, 'aaa'." Then Wilbur would repeat, "aaaaaaaaa." He would continue, "Wilbur, dis is B. It day, 'buh'." Wilbur echoed, "buh-buh-buh-buh-buh." And so on….

I am not sure if I taught Wilbur to read or if Orville did.

8. His first complete sentence was "Nohnie (what he calls my mother) house go now." His second complete sentence was "Car Gonic (Sonic) go now." You can see where his priorities were at this stage of his life.

Orville with his dear Nohnie

7. When he was three, he insisted on buying me the present pictured below for Mother's Day. I carried it proudly anywhere I went... until the strap mysteriously broke.

I had to edit this picture since the bikini-clad woman at the bottom breaks the Olive Plants rating standards. My apologies. Please keep in mind that he was only three!

6. When he was five years old, we took him to the movie theater on the opening day of The Polar Express. Every seat was occupied. At some point in the movie, a ghost turns to the audience and asks, "Do you believe in ghosts?" Orville took this question quite seriously. He jumped from his seat faster than his dad or I could react. He pointed toward the screen, looked that ghost squarely in the eyes, and proclaimed at the top of his lungs, "NO I DON'T!!!! But I do believe in the Holy Ghost. He is God and He is good!"


5. The next year we started bird watching. One day he came running into the kitchen yelling, "Mommy! I just saw a roadrunner!!" Because we live in Georgia, I doubted his spotting accuracy but went to the place where he had allegedly seen this bird and took a good look around. It was a brown thrasher, our state bird.

I can see how he might think that!

4. At seven-years-old, he recited Patrick Henry's infamous speech.

3. One day while at the library for story hour, the children's librarian asked, "What do mommies do?" Preschool-aged Orville promptly raised his hand. When called upon, he replied, "They cook good food and give lots of love." Can you guess his love languages?

I'll grow it, Mommy. You cook it!

2. On the day he was born, as I held him in my arms for the first time, he tried so hard to lift his head. He managed to raise it just enough to glance into my eyes for a second. I was already in love but that, my friends, sealed the deal.

1. Just last night, he fell into my arms and gave me a big squeeze followed by a kiss on the cheek. He definitely knows my love language.

Orville, everyday with you has been a wonderful adventure, from the moment you kicked at the scope during the ultrasound to the time last night that I received my last hug from a nine-year-old you.

I love you with all my heart and am blessed to be your mother.

Happy Birthday!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A 10th Birthday Bash

Orville's tenth birthday is tomorrow, but we celebrated with friends and family last Friday. We had planned an outdoor party at a local park, but the weather was questionable, prompting us to move the party to our church.

I made a cake (six cakes actually) to look like Big Ben. I guess the secret has been revealed. Orville's real name is indeed Ben. I drew a clock on the white frosting and set it for 10 o'clock. Ten candles were placed along the spire.

I placed this photo album on the gift table (which was filled and looked much nicer a few minutes after the picture was taken... silly me, I forgot to take a picture of it while it was covered in presents!). Inside the album were pictures of Ben from his ultrasound to his most recent school picture. On the cover, I hot glued a picture of him as a baby beside a recent picture of him. The caption says, "Ten Years with Ben".

As the guests arrived, I handed them a printed test. Only a teacher and his teacher wife would give a test at their son's birthday party. This test was comprised of ten questions all about Orville. His friends circled the answers they thought were correct to questions like "What is Orville's favorite color?" When everyone was finished, Orville and I revealed the correct answers. Everyone laughed at the silly answers we included on the test and cheered when they were correct.

After he and his friends demolished Big Ben, Orville opened his many presents. His sweet friends gave him candy, money, Audubon plush toys, Webkinz, board games, and Legos.

One of his youngest friends drew this picture for him. How precious!

One of the sweetest girls I have ever known crafted this easel for him. I love the gifts of little children... so simple, yet so full of love.

After a birthday dinner at Orville's favorite restaurant, we went to Papaw's and Nohnie's house for another party. Michael and I gave him this set of Play-Doh, convincing him that it was his BIG gift! Hee hee....

Wilbur gave him a Star Wars figure.

Papaw and Nohnie convinced him that this gift card was their BIG gift for him.

He also opened gifts from family and friends who live out-of-state, including a very generous gift from his paternal grandparents.

Nohnie had a lovely table set for him.

Nohnie baked a red velvet cake, per his request. Yes, we had more cake. Isn't that what birthdays are for, after all?
After we were sufficiently stuffed, we walked with him to my parents' office where we had his real BIG gift hidden...

A Piano Keyboard!
from Dad, Mom, Papaw, and Nohnie
Orville was thrilled to have a "piano" of his own to bring home.

Visit Olive Plants tomorrow as we will celebrate the actual big day with the
Top Ten Orville Moments.