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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Trees Have Hearts

Recently I was given the opportunity to read and review The Trees Have Hearts by Mrs.D. It should be noted now that Mrs.D's native tongue is not English. Upon eagerly scanning the contents I was immediately stuck by the large, beautiful images throughout. 

Since no good review of a children's book can be written without a child's input I asked my two to sit and listen as I read it to them. My kids love stories and were very happy to oblige.

As we started reading I was first struck at the abundance of figurative language. The book is steeped in it. It almost came off heavy handed as we began. However as we read further into the story though I quickly discovered that this was the writers style and it was indeed clever. The imagery the author uses allows the reader/audience to develop a stronger imaginative view of the characters in the story. 

The Trees Have Hearts has won the Mom's Choice Award and for good reason. The story is endearing and entertaining. In it she weaves a tale of a little girl and her relationship to the three trees in her yard. Indeed it had my kids laughing at spots and awing in others. Good storytelling draws the reader in. We were sunk into this book from start to finish wanting to know what happened next. It's a great coming of age story for younger children.

For more information about this great book by Mrs.D or other works by this author:

Note: If you are an author of children's books or young adult novels I would be happy to review them for you. 

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not All Tea and Crumpets. Weekly Recap.

This was our first week back. Let me start by saying it definitely did NOT go as to plan. 

Day one: Monday was a smashing success. How could it not be with wrapped school supplies waiting for the kids. Followed by an art class that ran incredibly long. Instead of being an hour and half it took until 2 in the afternoon. By the time we came home I realized it was pointless to do any other learning. Thankfully our fun book order was waiting for us.

Day two: What a nightmare! Trying to get the kids back into the book routine and fighting their antics for most of the day. Both ended up with homework. Which translated into a miserable evening of complaining. Boy was I happy to see the end of Tuesday!

Day three: I woke up ill. I tried getting up to see if I could push through the weakness I was feeling. But after finding myself standing in the kitchen staring blankly at things for five minutes I decided to give up. I went to bed. The kids were utter angels all day. Gee I think it had to do with the fact that they didn't have book work. Hmm.

Day four: Home Ec rules supremes. Frosting cupcakes and hosting a tea party for a farewell to friends. We made frozen grapes, finger sandwiches, cupcakes, and lemonade. We cleaned and tidied before the guests arrived. And of course everyone had fun eating and playing all afternoon. 

Day five: Which is tomorrow. I am scheduled to go and discuss upcoming art projects with the kids instructor. I have so many ideas. I need to pare it down a bit. The kids are also required to finish any unfinished school work. Believe it or not they do like to procrastinate. 

It's been a challenging week overall. It definitely did NOT go according to plan but I am learning on this journey that that's okay. Learning to let go of the control isn't always easy. It would seem like this year is going to full ups and downs. My biggest goal will be to get my daughter to actually do her classwork/homework on time. 

Be sure to tune in next week for a recap of week two!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School Smarty Pants. GIVEAWAY!

Today was our first scheduled back to school day at home. It was expected to have some bumps in the road. Nothing prepared me for the enjoyment of being back in the 'class'. Perhaps it was the fact that we used the classroom for only a brief time in the morning. It may have been the kids elation at opening their back to school 'gifts'. I wrapped up all the new school supplies and made sure I added a couple of cute things in there also. 

Our first order of business after classroom time was to get going to our first 'art class'. The kids stenciled on a couple of their binders and spent time with friends. 

By the time visiting with friends and art was over it was already the middle of the afternoon! So we wandered home having swords fights with our umbrellas as the rain had stopped a couple of hours earlier. Good thing too as we all are in varying stages of the first cold of the season. As we neared our house I said to the kids...you know what would finish this first day up really nicely?..what?..If our book order arrived. I had bought a whole slew of books for our library here at home from Book Outlet. I had been adding to my one day maybe shopping list. You know the kind when you shop online and just click add to cart for fun. The kind that  you just hope maybe one day you can really afford. Well finally after months of adding to this list I took the plunge! 

It really was a great finish to a wonderful day one of many for the coming year.

We wanted to celebrate our back to school day by offering our readers a chance to win a book for themselves!

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reclaiming Your Classroom Space.

Scroll to bottom of page to add your classroom posts!

Tomorrow is our first day back to classes. I have been working over time to reclaim the classroom from the mess it had become. You may recall my earlier post about the mess 'Classroom Devastation.'

Well even if you didn't read the post I would like to take you on a virtual tour through ours!

This is my teacher nook. It's meant to be where I sit and mark work etc..it's also a snuggle corner. Half the time the kids just want to get a hug and hang out. I have the 'Homeworkopoly' board on the wall opposite. Note the ridiculous sized bookshelf? We made it last summer its 14 feet long. Hard to fill it up...well not really. It's actually hard to find decent bookends. Seems they are all made to be cute and not very functional. Which means...toss em and get more books!

This is the kids desk area. Each desk has history. My father crafted them years ago for a man here in town who ran a barbershop. Over the years he made several pieces for the man who just passed this past year. He actually left a note saying that my father's family could have the pieces back from his estate if we wanted. I love the story. I love the look of them. It worked out that they also matched my old sideboard where we have a stereo set up for class cd's.

One of the biggest issues I have had with making our space really functional is the storage of binders. I tried bookends...well you can fill in how well that worked. So this year we invested in some prefab cubbies. The kids and I put them together it makes everything look so tidy. I wonder how many hours before that changes?

So one the wall opposing the kids desks I splurged on a bigger whiteboard. I still have the other two smaller ones for assignments and practice work. However I found writing long answers or notes on small boards was just to irritating. Below the board is a shelf I got free at the end of someones driveway the other year. Yes I love to be frugal too. I painted it white and the kids have all the soft covered workbooks in it. To the left of the whiteboard I purchased a world map that is adhesive. So fun that it's also dry erase. I can see it's going to be very functional during geography class. Above and below I laminated a couple of posters.

Our classroom is actually our finished basement. So underneath the stairs in a door to a junk hole cubby...well that's what I refer to it as. Hubby has a bunch of tools and other 'goodies' parked in there. The other door if you can read my french sign is the downstairs washroom. I have a french poster I made up to help with two irregular verbs and a wall chart opposite to show the kids the order of the classes for the days.

We have a classroom pet guinea pig but he's very unphotogenic and doesn't sit long enough to be photographed. Also our computer area was in a bit of disarray as it also homes our record player for classical music studies. All in all I am looking forward to tomorrow and the first day back to school for all of us!

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Creating a Buzz in Your Gardens.

Every year we work diligently on our gardens to make them more self sufficient and to bring in a variety of pollinators. This year is the first year I feel very successful. Some of the more delicate plant varieties have died and stronger more resilient plants have taken their place. The effect has been tremendous.

Not a quiet moment all season! The bees and butterflies seem to love all the new plantings. Of course we can't brag without telling you what there is. We have blue vervain, which seems to like to sow itself readily, as well as coneflowers, liatris, peonies, bergamont, thistle, bachelors buttons, weigla, black eyed susans, creeping thyme, false spirea, sweet cecily, and more. The yard is alive with so many pollinators I could likely count six species of bees at any one time. It's interesting that the one pictured above is  very small. Not the typical large bumblebee.

With school around the corner and the gardening season heading into fall it's nice to note all the activity and life continuing in the great outdoors.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Teach Listening Skills to Children.

When one reads the title they may think this is about being an attentive listener when an adult or other authority figure is speaking. Although that is a good trait to have it is ultimately a by product of being an good listener to begin with. You can be both but learning to truly listen to a speaker in this busy world we live in is a skill that is fading fast. Just take one look at the clicky clack of the texting buttons and other technology.

When people have to set rules that no cell phone is allowed at the table it becomes clear that listening is falling by the wayside in favor of a more isolated world. Why should we care? Well firstly because human interaction is vital to maintaining healthy relationships and secondly because all of this not listening is leading to isolation. In particular our youth are suffering.

Raising our children to value each other and those who come into their life is vital to real world relationships. So how can we have our children listen? What magic do we need to perform? It's very simple. Take the time to turn it all off regularly yourself. Take the time to focus solely on those people in your life who are in need of your love and guidance. Your children can learn by your example. It's sounds too simple. How often though have you found yourself immersed in your day to day tasks and notice suddenly that a child has asked a question and you just um humm'd at them? How often do we ourselves let technology or other things draw our own attentiveness away from what's truly important. What message is that sending?

Turn to face the speaker. Shut out other noises and thoughts. Listen with your mind and heart to what they are saying. It may not sound that important but children feel deeply about what they are saying and sharing. You are now showing them that you truly care and it is sending not only a message of love and understanding but one that they are important. Which of course they are. Don't jump in with your opinions right away. Try to understand fully what they are getting at. This isn't always that easy when you have them screaming at you because they are angry with a sibling.

Sometimes children don't want us to critique their conversations or hear friendly advice. More often than not people, children, included just want to be heard. Remember back to the days of them being babies and crying frantically for no apparent reason? Then you discovered they just wanted to be held. Children sometimes need that same reassurance but in a new more mature way. They want to be heard and understood as individuals. So I guess where I am going with this is that by being a better more empathetic listener yourself you are showing your children how to listen to others as well.
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Classical Composers Monthly Review and GIVEAWAY!

Recently I was given the opportunity to review for free two products from Classical Composer's Monthly. This is a online company run by a homeschooling family in the US. The mother has spent large portions of time finding what has worked and not worked for teaching her six children. So the units they offer are prepared with children in mind. Each one is carefully put together using age appropriate materials found from around the internet.

Why is this useful if you can do it yourself? It's the time saving format that is terrific here. Instead of spending a large portion of your time hunting down books, materials, and information to cover the topics offered a simple one time fee to her Classical Composer's Monthly will give you lifetime access to her units. Let's face it as homeschooling families we are busy enough without adding to it by having to research every shred of information for ourselves. So if we can save time in one area of study great!

Classical Composer's Monthly gave me the option of picking two of their product lines to review. I choose Famous Inventors because we always like to learn the history behind the inventions and Fine Arts 1.

Fine Arts 1, I thought was needed to expose the kids to some of the famous pieces of art and their creators. In this unit there are several printable pages depicting various artists work and each page has a summary of the work. Now I don't know if you took art history in school. I did hoping it would be fun. I was wrong it was very dry and uninteresting. Facts, dates, yadda yadda yawn. This method however is quite ingenious and teaches art with a more subtle approach. Simply post these pages around the home. Anywhere really. As the kids pass by they are naturally drawn to the images and the brief summaries about the works. In this way they read the information, see the work, and learn. Simple, yet effective. I love it!

The Famous Inventors study I was given to preview all twelve inventors at once. They covered 12 inventors both ancient and modern day. The inventors pages show a variety of informational formats. The pages are biographical in nature as well as covering experiments, fun sheets, and video lessons. She also has included links to other resource materials you may find useful should you choose to explore those.

Get 5 Freebies graphic

Since this is an online format she is using I would like to add that it is clearly laid out and simple to navigate through the source materials she has included. You can choose from a wide variety of units, famous inventors, great scientists, great works of art, composers 1, composers 2, composers and artists collection 3, Renaissance artists, great artists, fine arts 1, fine arts 2, and much more. If I had to say anything negative about either of the collections I looked at it would be that I would like to see more worksheet or notebooking pages included for each inventor.

What you are purchasing from them is a deal for under $15 per unit. You get hundreds of hours of work which is going to save you personally a lot of time. Be sure to check out her wonderful units at Classical Composer's Monthly.

Note: I was not paid in anyway to write this review. I did recieve the materials for free to review. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own and in no way were influenced by anyone. We are affiliated to Classical Composer's Monthly which means we may recieve small compensation if you click on their links and make a purchase.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

How To Enhance Your Learning Environment One Element At A Time `Part Two

While working in our classroom I find it imperative that my kids have some stimulation. After all year after year my kids are in the same general area of our home learning. They need to have a changing landscape to keep them from become bored by their surroundings. That's why I look for engaging ideas to add in to our school year.

One of these ideas has evolved over the past six years into what it is today. If you have spent any amount of time online I am sure you have run into many quotations that give you pause to think. Quotes are meant to inspire, encourage, and stimulate deeper philosophical thinking.

I used them originally as little printed signs around the classroom. I found the kids reading and questioning what they read. Making them think deeper. It was great except for the fact that is was using up a lot of paper and ink.

So along came my new idea. A small decorative whiteboard I picked up at a bargain store locally. Each day or week, I like to do it daily, the quote can be changed out for a new one.

Our inspirational quotation board is the first thing the kids see when they enter our classroom each day for lessons.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

How To Enhance Your Learning Environment One Element At A Time.

 I am deep into the cleaning of our classroom and readying it for our back to school start on August 25th. All winter I pour over Pinterest coming up with new ideas to incorporate into our learning environment. Ways to either improve learning, our moods, or just organize things better.

An idea I stumbled across was "Homeworkopoly" (Thanks Teacher.Net for making this available). Now I don't know about you or how you homeschool but I do know my kids. If given a choice they would sit in front of the work and dawdle until the time was up. Not that they don't like learning they just haven't learned time constraints yet. As such many a lesson would be unfinished if I didn't make them finish it in the 'off' hours of the day. This usually results in a lot of complaining and pouting and yes even tears on occasion. So anything to make it more pleasurable for all would be great. So in come "Homeworkopoly" completely free to download. It was designed to be used in a regular classroom setting but I tweaked ours to work just fine in the homeschool setting.

All the parts are free to download and print here. I chose to laminate the board pieces to make it easier to maintain. I then glue gunned them to a sheet of bristol board. It was tricky locating the correct order and spacing. I ended up running back and forth between the table and the computer to double check it was all in the right order. It didn't take the entire sheet of bristol board either so I trimmed the excess off.

After that I used the blank community chest and chance cards and filled them in with fun things to do, or chores, treat options, get off the bus, or out of homework options. Since there is no money in this game I came up with the idea that the kids can have one piece of gum as they pass payday. I also printed up all the rules so I can post them on the wall for the kids to read so we don't have to keep going over the rules. Using two folded over baggies glued to the board to store the cards in is a way to keep them from going missing in between game plays. After I cut out blanks and glued them to the outside of the baggies so the cards could be stored backwards so there isn't any cheating by picking out a special card.

I am hoping adding this element to our learning environment will make doing homework a tad less painful and give the kids something to work toward.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Homeschoolers Are From Earth! Really!

You know as I sit here erasing and rewriting what I wanted to say. I realize it's been said before. The endless questions we are faced with as homeschoolers when one discovers we choose homeschool. It's astounding to me that people and by people I mean everyday folk, feel it's okay to question our choices.

I realize homeschooling is novel to some. I realize maybe some people have got questions. What I wish they would realize is that I am out living my life and that questions no matter how well meaning are invasive.

I would never think to walk up to a stranger or their children and ask them random questions about their personal choices. "So like why are you choosing THAT shampoo?"

I can hope that with the rise of homeschooling in Canada and throughout North America people would realize we are all the same.
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

From Tree to Table - Apple Butter the Easy Method

So we have been living in this house for a number of years and our apple tree has never been as laden with fruit as it is this year. Partly because we had a really nasty spring last year which made the poor tree loose all but one bud. The trauma caused it to bloom out of every possible area and make more fruit then we can use. Generally this old apple tree starts losing it's apples in mid July. This year everything is a bit late and it's just started to heavily rain apples on us. Also the weather has been so harsh that the appleworms just aren't here like they normally are. This is presenting us with a rare combination and opportunity to take advantage of.

So having read several posts on making apple butter in the slow cooker I decided to give it a go. I normally use the oven method but this looked so simple it was needing to be tested. The kids and I hauled out the extension ladder and got picking. The apples are low in sugar still making them very tart but still good for this job.

Please note that jars should be sterilized before filling them. There's nothing like the aroma of fresh made apple butter to make one think of fall time. It may be mid summer but it's blowing and chilly here today. As I get our classroom ready to start back to school fall is heavy on my mind. 
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Classroom Devastation!

If you knew me you would know I like to have an orderly home....you wouldn't be able to tell that from this picture. Sigh..we've been off school since mid-May. I have had little reason to go to our classroom or back craftroom which are both found downstairs. So it's become a dumping ground for those items that should be put away but weren't.

The bookshelves are in a state of disarray as the kids pull out books to read but rarely return them in the same fashion. It's embarrassing. So why then would I share this with you? Because this is real. This is the reality of homeschooling. Once bookwork is finished and outdoor life comes into play the house can and will invariably fall apart.

Currently we are rearranging our classroom and I purchased that lovely large whiteboard pictured. I had been using two small whiteboards but found it hard to write continuously on the smaller surfaces. I think I am going to use the old ones for assignment boards, one for each child.

I have posters to print and laminate. A homework monopoly game to make, mount, and prepare. School lesson planning to start and complete for all our subjects. Kids aren't the only ones who need review. I forgot where we were when we decided summer needed our attention more. I know we were three weeks into the next grade.

 I should probably check the batteries in my megaphone. Yes I use it! It's amazing how fast kids will come to class if you holler through one of those. It's also great for getting their attention when unruly and not listening....which isn't that often...okay maybe never but I should still have it at the ready.
 Our supplies also need organizing and I have surprises to prepare for my two students as well.

I did find last year that binders are great for holding information but also a real pain for stacking or standing on pretty much any surface. So still to source some sort of cubicles for their books before we begin. Yes it sounds like a lot to accomplish. Did I mention I am hoping to start back to school in one week? I have my work cut out for me. Be sure to pop back by to see our progress on our classroom!
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Art Not Just Fun

We have always done visual arts at home even before starting to homeschool. My parents are artists so it came naturally to me. This year as the leader of our local homeschool group I wanted to see more added to our schedule that enriched the group. I was really lucky I stopped in a local workshop that opened up. I met a fantastic woman whose dream it is to bring local artisans and children together.
My son mixing paint for his frog stepping stone.

We have set up some classes for fall with the hopes of taking in more over the course of the year. However...I had someone ask 'will they learn any real skills'. Now perhaps it was because they don't know me that well or perhaps it's was their wording, or their view of visual arts. Either way it kind of shocked me. Visual arts is one of the most under appreciated classes. It's not about the kids doing whatever they want, laughing, and making a giant mess. Yes sometimes that does happen. Visual arts is kinsthetic learning at it's finest.

My daughter 'kissing' her turtle stepping stone.
Kids learn some very real skills by being hands on. If you look at toddlers beginning to use scissors they are learning fine motor skills. As they age they are learning other things as well. How to correctly use a paintbrush and clean up, the uses of various mediums, and to solve problems. Artistic terminology is learned and thus vocabulary is expanded. Mediums are explored and talents are uncovered. How to express oneself comes through in their art. Sharing their art children can learn public speaking, how to handle positive criticism, and take praise in a modest way. Through art they can learn history, culture, and essentially the world. I could go on. Needless to say we place a high value on learning art here and are really looking forward to getting back to it now that our school year is approaching. 

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Overwhelmed Before the School Year Begins?

Well here it is August and I know I have to organize the classroom. I also have to find a viable planner to lay out all our school lesson plans at least by the month so I don't end up with it as a weekly chore. No pressure...but if that wasn't enough to keep me busy I also am planning on having two events per month set up for our local homeschool group which I started the other year.

Thankfully I just met a wonderful woman who runs a local arts and crafts store who has connections throughout the city. Which is going to be immensely helpful in relieving me of finding a lot of contacts from scratch. Yay! The kids have signed up for a new club that is starting in the fall on Friday nights called Quest Kids Club. They also have Friday swim classes coming up. My plan is to make Friday mornings all about finishing our weekday lessons that weren't completed and then the rest of the day will be classes.

To further add to my plate I just started up with my Regal business again. I want to get back to the gym three times a week although I am not sure how that's going to be squeezed in. And well it just generally is starting to feel overwhelming.

What do you do to make that feeling less scary? How do you control the voice in your head that is telling you it's too much?

Well for me I think I am just going to have to realize that it all doesn't have to happen overnight. After all Rome wasn't built in a day. And with homeschooling I have to realize that you can't make IT happen all the time when you like. Being able to roll with the changes to our schedules and lives is part of it. Being able to say it's okay I didn't accomplish a, b, or even c today, but there is always tomorrow and that's alright.

Feelings of being overwhelmed are just that feelings. Take a deep breath, remember to breathe, and start on something to move in the right direction of where you want to be.

So tomorrow is a new day and new tasks shall be accomplished.
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Friday, August 8, 2014

For Better or Worse.

I am coming to the conclusion I can't stop it's in my gene's. I grew up with a pair of do it yourselfers and married one too. I am going to be honest here when I moved out as a younger person I would skip school to rearrange and redecorate my apartment.  I think I probably should have been listening to that and become a interior designer or something. Well fast forward a long way or rather a few short, very , very brief years to now. We've been living in our home for ten years and I can't stop. Something is always in a state of half finished or I am spending my time daydreaming about what I want to work on next. So while the cat's away....my hubby is working out of town currently. I broke out the paint.

 I decided I was tired  of looking at my 1980's oak cabinet's. You know the kind with the overly dark wood grain. So out came the Benjamin Moore folks and I enlisted my helpful minions aka my wonderful children. I bit the bullet as they say. With their help..well mostly my son's, my daughter is more of a hands off type..we removed the hardware. That was no small feat as I am not a fan of using screwdrivers. Then I set to work painting. Two coats of white, alkyd paint on everything.

 The next part was scary. I looked at the pristine white doors and pondered should I take that next step. I am either going to love it or hate it. I opened the brown paint and got my rag. Dipping the rag I ran around the doors willy nilly. And voila. Ugh...the white doors! That was my initial reaction. I was thinking perhaps I should just repaint them all white. I mean I bought two gallons of paint and only  used one. But it took so much work to do in the first place. I really didn't want to. So I let them dry and mounted them. I am now adjusting.

 Our counter top needs replacing so I don't have the full effect just yet. I did paint the walls a light green, a shade lighter then our dining room wainscot. It looks fresher, lighter and more relaxed. But I am not sure whether I love it or hate it. That's the woes of big jobs. Sometimes you do something irreversible like painting cabinetry and it's a bomb. Other times it works out in your favor. Either way I know with my genetic do it yourself gene I will likely be changing it in another few years anyway. So for now I think I will adjust and hope my hubby likes it more than my daughter does. She pulls no punches that one. "Mom I don't like it". "Well thanks for your honesty." But maybe next time wait until Mommy has cleaned the paint off her face." Sigh.
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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Essential Skills Advantage- A Look at Their Site.

Note/Disclaimer: I was not compensated to write the following review. It is unbiased as I am in no way affiliated with the company. Please note all the content of the review is solely my opinion based on my experience with the website.

Recently I was given the opportunity to review Essential Skills Advantage curriculum and website. Created by teachers and educators the content of the site aligns with most curriculae. For more than ten years ESA has been in schools across North America. With over 300, 000 students using the site demand for their business to become more accessible has led them to create a fully optimized site for home educators. As an aside for my Canadian readers this program is being used in every Province and meets the educational standards in Canada. The company is also located right here in Toronto, Ontario. Good to know. But what can I tell you from my experience with their site?


 I found the site had terrific graphics. Often other educational sites are out of date feeling. So this was a nice change. Overall Essential Skills Advantage has a clean and well laid out site which makes a difference when the students are required to navigate it. After signing in the students can choose the assignments from a wide array of learning activities. Each grade level k-6 has literally thousands of activities for the student to practice and master. The reading comprehension passages were challenging enough for my two students. My daughter in particular appreciated the highlighted difficult words as she is still improving her reading skills. If she clicked on the highlighted word the computer would read the word for her.

 I really want to say if there was anything negative about this site it was that students had to sign in multiple times to access learning material. This slows things down especially if you imagine how often a student may misplace their sign in information. That said each activity is clearly laid out with small animation type rewards for accomplishing the work correctly. Some people may find that a distraction. However this site has had a high rate of success at engaging those who have autism spectrum disorders.

 Another really helpful feature is the parent portal that organizes all the lessons and activities for your child. Each lesson is tracked to see the overall progress your child is making in a particular area of study. If you still aren't impressed you can check the program out for yourself as sign up is free and gives you limited access to the site. Should you decide to sign up it's $9.99 a month per student. ESA can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and their Blog.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Walking Down the Jammy Lane.

I had a wonderful childhood blessed to live off the grid before off the grid was cool. It was even before solar panels came out--not that I am trying to date myself or anything...Well my mother was a gardener and preserver of food extraordinaire. She would make jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, ketchups, chutneys all summer long to store for our winter food supply. Which sounds awesome until you consider that all of the produce had to be grown by us. It meant she spent a large portion of her summer in the garden weeding and taking care of those crops. That left her little time for berry picking. That oh so fun task was assigned to us kids. At the time I hated it. Who wants to give up frolicking in the sun and playing in the mud to go pick berries. Wild strawberries are piddly and to get enough to make jam was an all day affair. Chokecherries were somewhat easier and only needed to be plucked off the trees. Thankfully saskatoon berries were so small in quantity that we never need pick them. Raspberries though we without a doubt the most worrisome berry to pick. We had to pick them in the bush or along roadsides. That meant watching out for bears. And the plants are riddled with tiny 'prickles' as they are known. Just a lot of sweating and worrying about the bears. Not fun at all save the few snuck into our mouths.
But for all the tedious work of picking them the jam making sessions were glorious. As a child I could sit on the counter and watch my mom skim the jam for hours. That skimmed jam was mine! The aroma of raspberry jam was and still is my favorite. So after picking our own berries the other day I made some jam. Delicious aroma of boiling jam in the kitchen brings so many wonderful memories flooding back. This winter a nice stock of raspberry jam for eating on toast or baking is ours for the having. 
PS for those who are wondering I just use the recipe that comes with the pectin. It's so simple you can make jam in less than an hour.
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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Daytripping Again -Northern Style.

Not feeling entirely like yanking out the giant canoe we still wanted to have some water fun. The other year geocaching we found this great spot on Lake Huron where names were carved into the rocky outcroppings dating back to the 1940's! When we went last year there were numerous types of native berries bearing fruit which was a yummy treat. So we piled into the truck with all the gear we needed and away we went. It's about an hour to get there from here but worth it. A lone dock juts out into the water and not a soul in sight other then one water boarder. Which incidently was pretty cool to see someone braving the deep standing on nothing more then a board.
The kids had picked up an inflatable boat for cheap at Walmart and so it was inflated and tethered-we didn't want to swim out to rescue them should they get swept away with the current. Although the weather was warm, the water was like ice. My feet actually turned red after being submerged for less than a minute. And yes that's my girly pink fishing rod in the picture above. The kids dubbed the boat 'the Phoenix'-they like their myths.

So after getting the knack of the oars to direct them around they started to argue over who got to 'captain' the boat. Seems like the kids just like to bicker a lot lately. I am hoping it's a phase. So out popped my son in a huff and my daughter decided to drift around while he attempted to swim in the icy water.

We wandered the rocks to find some blueberries ripening. There's nothing quite like a wild blueberry so tiny and sweet. After we all had our fill of the sun we jetted off to the pick your own raspberry farm for some very HOT picking. The berries were thickly hanging on the plants this year. Such a strange sight to see people still picking strawberries when the raspberries and blueberries are coming on.

Be sure to tune in to our next article about 'Walking Down the Jammy Lane.'

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Friday, August 1, 2014

How You Can Learn From Geoboxing--Installment Two

As promised yesterday we wanted to share with you what we included in our Geo Box swap with a Louisiana family. Our box included:
  • Frito's corm chips which are hard enough to come by in our city let alone the country.
  • a bottle of maple syrup--nothing says Canadian then pure maple syrup dripping over hot pancakes aka flapjacks.
  • two postcards depicting animals from Ontario
  • freshly picked pinecones
  • driftwood from the shore of Lake Superior
  • rocks from Lake Superior
  • two bits of Amethyst--our provincial official stone
  • two pencils
  • a moose pen--I am pretty sure they don't have moose in Louisiana
  • maple candy
  • a twig whistle
  • birch bark--they used to make canoes out of that stuff! Amazing it's tough but I have a hard time imaging a whole canoe out of it.
  • keychains
  • stickers
  • brochures
  • information and printouts on Ontario
  • A small book on animal tracks in Ontario
  • a little viewfinder camera depicting the Parliament buildings, polar bears, the CN tower and a few other strictly Canadian things.
We had a fun time finding great things to add to our box. We look forward to doing another sometime and learning in a fun way about their neck of the woods in return. Thanks again to Jenny Morris for being the brains behind her great swap site for homeschooler's. 
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