Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: IXL


I grew up with math phobia. Math didn't come terribly easily for me, and as I got older, I became more and more intimidated by it. I believed, and many people do, that mathematical ability is something you're either born with, or you're not, (like green eyes, or left handedness.)

The truth is that while some people are naturally inclined toward math, even the rest of us can improve our skills through practice. (Sometimes lots of practice.)

One of my goals as a homeschooling parent is to make sure that the kids grow up with with a thorough understanding of basic math, and also the confidence to feel like they're able to learn.

I'm happy with the math curriculum we've chosen, but I've been feeling like maybe we could use a little more practice.

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we received a membership to IXL, which is a math practice website for students in pre-k through high school. The program offers several subscription options, including a monthly rate of $9.95, and a yearly rate of $79. (There is an additional upcharge for additional students, but it's nominal.) To say the kids love it would be an understatement. (They've actually been arguing a little over whose turn it was to practice.)

IXL Fees

The program is not a teaching program per se, but more of a review program. Students can practice specific skills, and receive immediate feedback. (A wrong answer results in an immediate correction, and an explanation.) There is a timer and a score displayed while the student practices, and although you can opt out of them, my kids really enjoyed the competitive aspect of beating the clock, and improving their score. Succesful completion of review lessons results in the student winning "medals," and "awards," which my kids also found highly motivating. 

IXL Awards and Games

I found a lot to love about this program too. Under the parent's profile, you'll find all sorts of useful reports to help assess how your student is doing, and what they've been working on. (I just checked L's reports, and found that he's practiced for a total of 8 hours and 4 minutes, and has mastered 41 skills so far.)

IXL Family Reports

To find out what other homeschooling families thought of this program, check out the linky on the Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: We were provided with a free subscription to this program in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman

Parenting is hard and wonderful.

Parenting a special needs child is undoubtably harder, but in some ways more wonderful, more poignant, once we get past our own expectations.

 We all basically start out in the same place. We expect to have a healthy, "normal" baby. We expect they'll hit all the milestones at the right times, (if not a little early,) that they'll run, and play, and make friends, and have basically the childhood we had, (except a little better.)

What happens when things don't go according to plan?

The Anti-Romantic Child chronicles one mom's journey down the bumpy road of special needs parenthood.

Priscilla Gilman was a new mom with a lot of lofty ideals about what children and childhood should be like. An English professor with a love of romantic poetry, she'd always imagined her child would would be a dreamer, a lover of nature, an explorer.

The child she had was different. Different than she'd planned for, different from herself, certainly different from the children in the poems. As he grows, she has to face and contend with her own expectations again and again.

As months and years go by, the family's life revolves around what to do for "Benj." He needs therapy, and a suitable preschool, and constant advocacy. As is often the case, the all encompassing task of trying to get everything just right for the special needs child leaves mom and dad sort of out in the rain. They have to make complicated decisions about their careers, their marriage, even where to live, in light of how Benj will be affected.

Priscilla's love of literature provides her with comfort and context during the ups and the downs. As many of us do with a favorite quote, or Bible verse, Priscilla finds herself returning to certain verses of poetry throughout her life, examining them from different angles, depending on where she's at.

It's a familiar story to those of us with special needs children, and it resonated deeply with me. When I read the part where she began her frantic online search to explain his odd behaviors, I could have been reading my own story. First you search the symptoms, then you get sucked into the forums, then you print out the check lists, and on and on.

I thought the story was a rare, balanced commentary on special needs parenting. It includes both the hard, terrifying parts, and the awesome, hard won victories.

I'd recommend this book to anyone, but if you have a child with special needs, particularly on the autistic spectrum, I think it will really speak to you.

Author, Priscilla Gilman.

If you'd like to find out more about Priscilla Gilman, you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Facebook page.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book in order to participate in this book tour. No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Suitcase Makeover

I recently picked up an old, ugly but functional suitcase at a neighbor's garage sale for 50 cents. I came home, cleaned it up, put the kids' off season clothes in it, and stuffed it under the bed.

The neighbor is apparently an Ebay seller that people regularly unload their junk on. She's carried over two more big 'ol ugly suitcases to me in the last couple of weeks. They do work nicely for storage. Also the price is certainly right.

Old suitcase, before painting.
I figured there must be a way to pretty them up.

I did a little googling, and ran across this awesome before and after on Instructables.

I had my husband pick up some pretty spray paint on one of his many trips to Home Depot, and got to work. I tried taping off the silver trim on the first suitcase. It was a fussy job, and in the end, it turned out sort of sloppy. (I'm going to pick up another can of that color paint, and paint the trim after all.)

For the second suitcase, I skipped the taping, and painted the whole thing. It looked much better, and took considerably less time.

Old suitcase, after painting.
It looks great. I'm going to be scavenging Goodwill from now on for more. We don't have a lot of "hidden storage," (closets and cabinets,) in our house, and these are functional and cute "visible," storage. This blue one has replaced an ugly plastic tote full of yarn in my bedroom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Dive Into Your Imagination

I mentioned in a previous post that the kids and I are working on a unit study about the ocean. As part of the TOS Review Crew, we were recently provided with some pretty fantastic curriculum to review called Who Lives in the Sea? by Dive Into Your Imagination.


Dive Into Your Imagination was created by Annie Crawley, (aka, "Ocean Annie," ) an underwater photographer, motivational speaker, and and dive instructor.


We were sent 2 products, the Who Lives in the Sea?  DVD, ($19.95, for ages 3-8, 45 minutes in length) and the accompanying curriculum guides ($69.95, for each individual PDF. ) On the website, you'll find several other DVDs, books, and other related merchandise, as well as to an option to buy the full set of printed curriculum guides for each DVD for $299. You'll also find coloring pages, and links to other resources and articles. It's a wealth of information.

The DVD was broken up into several topical sections, ("Let's Swim with Dolphins," " Turtles: Dinosaurs of the Sea," etc.) The sections are short, but full of beautiful, colorful footage, and cram packed with information. I doled out the sections one by one with my kiddos, so we could focus a little deeper on each topic, and take full advantage of the curriculum guides. The kids were begging to watch more. That says a lot.

The curriculum guides were unbelievable. (There were two, one for pre-k through k aged children, and another for grades 1-3.) Each was well over 300 pages long, and included DVD transcripts, lesson plans, worksheets, and many, many cross curricular activities for a fun, all inclusive unit study. I liked that there were a variety of learning styles represented in the activities. (You'll find there are plenty of hands on activities for wiggly kids like mine.) The PDF format is easy to read, and easy to print. The educator guides add immeasurably to the already fun, informative DVD.

I expect that when we finish our unit, the kids will have a deep, lasting knowledge base, and probably a lifelong interest in the ocean.

My only reservation about these products is that they're costly. Most homeschool families I know of are on a pretty tight budget, and these curriculum guides would represent a sizable chunk of our curriculum budget.
Annie is offering a fantastic promo to readers of TOS, and blog readers of the TOS Crew Members, though. If you order the Who Lives in the Sea? , What Makes a Fish a Fish? or Dive into Diversity DVDs, and mention that you are a homeschooler in the comment section of the order form, she will gift you the fantastic corresponding educator guides for free. That may be the best 20 bucks you'll spend this summer!

To find out what other homeschooling families thought of these products, check out the linky on the TOS Review Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free DVD and curriculum guides to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own. All prices are accurate at the time of this posting. 

Review: Fresh Produce Clothing

In the days before I had the kiddos, I did (now unthinkable,) stuff like wear uncomfortable shoes, and iron my clothes every day.

I like to think I've just become more practical. I know I may have to run after the kids, so I wear flip flops or sneakers most days. Fancy clothes don't really lend themselves to cooking, and cleaning, and playing.

I still like to look nice, though.

When I was contacted about reviewing an item from Fresh Produce clothing, I went to check out their wares online. (They also have brick and mortar stores, but none local for me.)  Their clothes are stylish, modern, modest, and easy to care for. They also offer a large range of sizes, from XS to 3X. I got to pick what I wanted, and honestly had a hard time narrowing it down to just one thing. They have gorgeous tunics, cute summery dresses, lots of other fun, spring clothing.

I finally selected the Cafe Wrap Dress, in black, (retail $69,) and waited anxiously for it to arrive.

When got here, I dropped everything, and tried it on, and found that it fit perfectly. I normally wear about a 4, and the XS (2-4) seemed true to size. It hits me at about knee length, and although it's a wrap dress, the skirt portion is sort of a wrap over a real skirt, so there's no danger of flashing anyone on a windy day. (Ahem, not that I've ever accidentally done that or anything.) It was also super cute and comfortable.

(My husband took this really awkward picture of me wearing it. What can I say? I've been sick, I'm not feeling very photogenic.)

I've put it in the permanent rotation, and probably wear it once a week. I get compliments on it wherever I wear it.

I've had some health issues come up (again,)  and got behind on posting about it. In the meantime, I've worn it and washed it at least ten times. It washes nicely, with no  fading and pilling, and as long as I hang it after I get it out of the dryer, there are virtually no wrinkles.

In short, it's pretty much the perfect spring dress.

If I could, I'd have a closet full of them, in different colors and patterns.

Whether you're looking for a fun beach dress, something to wear to a casual summer wedding, or just want to look cute kicking around the house this summer, Fresh Produce has you covered.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free dress, in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, May 25, 2012

We're Studying the Ocean

We're tying up some loose ends here in our homeschool. L is on track to finish up his first grade work in the next week or so, which is amazing, really, when I consider how much time I've spent sick this year. We'll take maybe a week off, and then dive into second grade, with V doing some preschool work as well.

In the meantime, we've started a unit on the ocean, which may take up the better part of the summer. We're landlocked, here in north Texas, but we've planned some field trips to the aquarium, the fish store, and maybe a fish market.

Our kitchen renovation is at that horrible stage where we have stuff all over the house, so I've moved us to the back porch for school, until the kitchen is done, or it gets too hot to tolerate, whichever comes first. (We have finally gotten the cabinets ordered, and we're hoping to finish up in the next month or so.)

I put up some ocean themed fabric over the windows for fun, and set up a little activity center with shells and shell identification books, among other things.

Ocean activity center.

Since we don't have a real beach, we fabricated a pretend one, shown here, with seashells and sand toys.

Sand box "beach."
We're relying heavily on the awesome DK Eyewitness books and movies, as well as another great DVD series which I'll be reviewing shortly.

As usual, Pinterest is bursting with cool ocean themed ideas. (You can check out my ocean themed Pinterest board here.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cleaning Supplies for a Four Year Old

I mentioned several posts ago that 4 year old V had become my little helper around the house.

I was recently inspired to put together a little cleaning basket for her and her brother, after browsing through a Montessori catalog. I knew they'd love having "their own" things to clean with, and although the Montessori materials are always lovely to look at, I figured I could come up with something serviceable for a lot less cash.

I ended up picking up most of the supplies at the dollar store.

Preschooler's cleaning basket.

Our basket includes the following items:
Spray bottles, filled mostly with water, and a little Dr Bronner's soap.
Several microfiber towels
A Squeegee (possibly her favorite tool)
Several microfiber dusters

We also have a child sized broom and dust pan.

L is still a pretty reluctant cleaner, but V is now volunteering to clean the kitchen table and the windows.(Score one for mom, since it had been uh, a while since I cleaned the windows.) She also sweeps with me every day.

She's feeling very proud of her contributions, and is learning real life skills. I've been guilty at times of underestimating what little kids could really do, but I stand corrected.