Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – September 14th-20th

School is well under way for everyone I know!  How’s it going for your family?


For art, Holden got to pick out an old matchbox car and roll the wheels in different colors of poster paint.  I took a little video to show you how much fun it was.

I gave him a pad of easel paper, and he drove the car all over it to create his masterpiece!  He loved this, and his sister joined in before it was all through!


My dogs got another BarkBox in the mail.  This one was pretty cool!


They got a rope pull toy with tennis balls and streamers on either end.  Lilly, my big lab, chewed off one of the tennis balls before the day was over, but she had lots of fun with it!  And then the dogs played tug of war plenty after that.  Even Steve had fun tugging with her!  They also got some wonderful-smelling pieces of bacon, a duck chew stick, some sweet potato chips, and a crinkly squeaky toy.  The dogs loved everything, though Lilly had to warm up to the sweet potato chips!  LOL


Friday brought us to Talk Like a Pirate Day!  So we printed out a starter kit for pirate gear from the Krispy Kreme website and made hooks, eye patches, and flags, and then we picked Hayden up at school and headed off to Krispy Kreme!


Here we are with our pile of 4 dozen donuts!  You got that right…one dozen free glazed doughnuts for every person dressed like a pirate!


Don’t worry…we didn’t eat them all ourselves!  We kept one dozen for us, and then we took a dozen the next morning to share with each of the kids’ soccer teams at their 2-hour practice.  They were a big hit with everyone!  ARGH!  :)

On Saturday morning, I took Hayden out to Chesapeake for his first cross-country invitational competition.  He was running in the B-race along with his best friend, Antonio Perez.  Here they are, just a tad nervous, right before their race!


I waited at the finish line and caught Hayden in the photo just as he crossed the finish line!  As you can see, his finishing time for 3.1 miles was 24 minutes 54 seconds.  He was very proud of that, because his goal was to do it in about 28 minutes.  They did great!  His friend, Antonio, finished just a few seconds behind him.  They kept each other paced.


Great job, Green Run!  Then we were off to catch the remainder of the 2-hour soccer practice that was already underway.  It was a busy day!  He was pretty exhausted by that night.


I’ve been so busy running the kids around to all these practices and events that my head is starting to spin!  I really dislike being overscheduled.  I hate feeling like there’s never time to just sit down and take a breath.  I guess it will be this way until November when both cross-country and soccer seasons come to an end.  It can’t go by fast enough for me! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

REVIEW: Fix-It! Grammar: The Nose Tree (Book 1) Teacher’s Manual and Student Book by Institute for Excellence in Writing

Haylee and I had the great pleasure of reviewing Fix-It! Grammar: The Nose Tree (Book 1) Teacher’s Manual and Student Book by Institute for Excellence in Writing.



IEW offers a whole series of Fix It! Grammar books to suit the level of the student’s ability from third grade and up.  There are currently 6 books from which to choose.

The Fix-It! Grammar series allows your student to read just one line of text each day and mark it for specific parts of speech that are covered one at a time in weekly lessons.  Each sentence features a word or phrase to be defined by the student in its context, then he or she adds the correct end punctuation and copies the text over into a notebook.  As each day’s work is completed, the student is adding collectively to an ongoing story that is the theme of the book. 

It’s highly recommended that you use their free placement test to determine the correct starting placement.  You can also view the webinar to see how the product works.

We used The Nose Tree (Book 1), for grades 3-12.  You can view samples here:

Both books are sturdy, spiral-bound, softcover books.  The teacher’s manual can be purchased for just $19, and the student book is available for $15.



The Nose Tree contains 33 weeks of lessons with assignments 4 days per week.  This works well with our regular school schedule.  I love that the format is predictable and consistent each week so that both the student and the teacher know just what they’ll be doing each day.  Haylee is 10, and I think that’s a good quality in curriculum for kids this age.

The layout is easy to follow, and it’s all explained clearly in the introduction of both the teacher’s and student’s books.  On day 1 ofDSCF2229 each week, the student is introduced to a grammar concept or part of speech.  Sturdy cardstock cards are located in the back of the student book and can be cut out as helpful reminders of the new material for the student to use when needed.  These can be easily stored in a ziplock bag as the student progresses so they are always available for handy reference.  Haylee really liked using them to refresh her understanding as she worked.  Then the student reads the sentence of the day from the story of the Nose Tree.  One word or phrase in the sentence will be bolded, and the student must look up the contextual meaning in the dictionary and copy that definition into a separate notebook.  Then they mark the given parts of speech or clauses that have been learned so far in the sentence (and eventually begin to make corrections).  The teacher’s manual provides the answers for the given text.  It also offers explanations on areas that may have stumped the student and gives notations of more advanced concepts the student may or may not already understand.  Then the student adds the correct punctuation to the end of the sentence.  After discussing their work with the teacher, the student then copies the completed sentence into a separate notebook, noting when new paragraphs begin and being sure to indent accordingly. 

On days 2-4, the student repeats the process of defining the vocabulary word or phrase, marking the sentence and correct end punctuation, and then copying the sentence into their notebook right where the left off the day before.  In this way, the student is rewriting the complete story of The Nose Tree over time and will have the entire story in their notebook by the end of the school year.

Before we sDSCF2230tarted, Haylee wasn’t that enthusiastic about doing a grammar review.  She was willing to try it only because she does enjoy editing.  But as soon as we’d completed the first lesson, she immediately became enthusiastic about the program.  In fact, a couple of weeks into the work, she proclaimed that it was so much fun that she wanted to continue it for the rest of the school year!  I can’t tell you how huge that is for her.  She has never enjoyed grammar work.  And she almost never wants to add extra work to her school year or continue any core curriculum after the review period has ended.  So this was truly a big deal and demonstrated how much she liked it.

So we know that it’s fun for the student, but is it effective?  YES!  I could steadily see progress throughout the 5 weeks of work we completed.  She was getting better at identifying the parts of speech and clauses, and she was picking up and retaining the information from week to week.  She readily used the cards to remind herself of the material, and I noticed her referencing the reminders printed at the top of her pages in the student book to make sure she was identifying everything correctly.  I’ m SO proud of her!  She has truly embraced this program like no grammar program before it. 

As the teacher, I love the little tips and tricks it gives you to teach the student so they can more readily identify the correct parts of speech.  For instance, for nouns, it recommended the student to insert either “the” or a number word in front of anything they thought was a noun to see if it made sense and passed that noun test.  That really helped her.  After she learned about articles, it had her use the articles as flags to find the nouns to which they pointed.  In the teacher’s manual, it sometimes had extra little questions to pose to the student about the sentence, as well, that helped verify their understanding of the concepts.  I had a sense that the whole program was well thought-out, and it was so easy to administer, teach, and use.  It’s just a small tidbit of work each day that’s totally manageable for both the teacher and the student, yet the collective work does a great job of building on the learning and sticking in the student’s mind.  It’s meant to take up only 15 minutes of your time each day.  That’s something everyone can do!

One of the things that Haylee liked about it the most was the opportunity to go back and re-read the story from her notebook ea

ch day to get just a bit more of the story than she had before.  She got very animated at times and read the parts with different voices.  She loved it and couldn’t wait to see what happened next in the story!  I think that’s one of the unique things about this program…that underlying story is almost like a reward for completing each lesson.  I even recorded Haylee reading the first 5 weeks of the story that’s she’s completed so far so you can get an idea of what the story is about. 

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this program, and I can definitely see myself purchasing the next book to use next year, as well.  One great thing about it is that once you’ve purchased the book once, you get access to download and print additional copies of the student book at home.  This means you only have to purchase each book once, and you can re-print the student book as needed for additional students in your home.  So it’s a great investment for me, as I’ll be able to use the program again for my younger son when the time comes without incurring any additional cost to reuse it.  That’s an awesome value!

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and other books in the Fix It! Grammar series by clicking the banner below.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – September 7th-13th

Things really got busy for us this week, and most of our activities came up at the last minute!  Isn’t that sometimes how the best things develop?  Sometimes it’s the unplanned activities that you remember most.


The fall weather is beginning to set in, and what better way to enjoy it than to go outside and grill up some dinner?  I just replaced the heat diffuser bars in my Weber gas grill, so I was anxious to try it out.  I’d been experiencing a hot spot because my old metal bars had broken apart, leaving a big hole where the flames could come through and burn my food.


I picked up some really-bad-for-you half-pound bacon cheddar Angus burgers marked down at Kroger, so I grabbed some for dinner.  Man, this was probably the best burger I’ve ever tasted, but it was way too much food for me!  There was no way I could finish it.  It was fabulous, though!


We were so fortunate to be invited to join a bunch of other homeschool families to attend a Nickelodeon National Day of Play at the Adventure Park located at the Virginia Aquarium.  The manager let everyone in for FREE!  And Nickelodeon was filming the kids for the commercials campaigning for kids to get outdoors and play.

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So watch Nickelodeon in the coming weeks to see if one of the kids shows up in a commercial!  We had such an incredible time.  The park normally charges about $76/person for admission to climb in their various courses way up in the trees, so this was an amazing opportunity to do this with Haylee and Holden at no cost.  Holden was a natural and was soon off adventuring ahead of me on the courses for his age group.  Haylee, on the other hand, was terrified out of her mind!  She literally had to be taken down in the middle of the first course by staff members with a ladder and harness.  Crazy stuff!  Poor girl…she was literally frozen with fear.  Hopefully, she can overcome it at some point in the future, but she was really gung-ho for the training zipline on the ground.  She spent the whole afternoon just doing that over and over again!  I’m glad she still had fun.  Holden and I did both purple courses, one of them twice, and then tackled the Labyrinth together.  We had a fabulous time! 

Special thanks to the Adventure Park for allowing everyone to climb for free that day, special thanks to my friend Gina Nall for inviting us to participate, and special thanks to Samantha Ewing for putting it all together for everybody. 

We had so much fun that I told Steve I think we should go there in the evening together for our 20th wedding anniversary coming up on November 5th.  Wouldn’t that be a blast?  We’ve been trying to think of something special to do, and I think that would be a real bonding experience we’d remember for a long time.  Then we could try the more difficult courses with the huge ziplines.  I’d love that, and I think Steve would, too!

Then we went straight to Hayden’s school to pick him up from cross-country practice, and we all zoomed off to soccer practice!


Needless to say, we were quite exhausted after many hours of climbing followed by an hour of soccer practice, but Haylee and I then rushed home and managed to bathe, change, and eat in 10 minutes…a miracle for two girls, I know.  Then we picked up Val and her girls and Micka and her son and headed off to Regent University for a play.


We got to see The Glass Menagerie.  It was a really great performance, and it was Haylee’s first time going to see a play.  We all had a wonderful evening and had lots of lively discussion about the characters on the way home.  Special thanks to my friend, Holly Harrell, who gave us her extra tickets so we could go.  It was a very special evening!


This was the most exciting week we’ve had in a long time.  I can’t remember one day being quite so busy as that, but it was something special we’ll talk about for a while to come.

What special activities have you done with your family lately? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – August 31st – September 6th

Public School is now in session in Virginia! 


To finish off our Labor Day Weekend, we spent another afternoon on the last day of summer bowling after church.  As if we didn’t have enough fun yesterday, we returned to play much better than the day before.


Here is my best game ever!  That felt pretty darn good, I must say.  I went on to actually beat Steve once, as well.  That was even better! LOL


Here’s Hayden on the first day of school, the day after Labor Day.  I told him I needed to snap a picture as he got out.  He was a good sport the first time, but when I told him I thought he blinked and needed to do it again, you see the face I got!


LOL.  It turned out he hadn’t blinked after all, but it was worth it just to have him give me that look!  :)  He was really excited to be getting back to school.  He’s looking forward to another great year at Green Run Collegiate School.


In our homeschool, we were starting week 8, just as Hayden was starting day 1.  Because we’re back to getting up at 6 AM, we’re on a more regimented schedule with our homeschool, too, so that we can pick Hayden up at either 2:10 PM when school lets out or at 4:30 PM when he finishes cross-country practice.  So in that way, it feels like the first day of school for us, too!


Here’s the assortment of books I’m reading with Holden right now.  Owls in the Family is one that’s new to Sonlight’s Core B since I last did it with Haylee, and we’re really enjoying it.  Since I do all of the cores 3 times over by the time all the kids go through them, I really look forward to the upgrading each time so I can get at least a few new books in the mix.

I have to say that our homeschool day has gone much smoother this week with everyone on a consistent routine.  It hasn’t been bad at all!


As a result of finishing early, I was able to take the kids to Hunt Club Farm before Hayden got out of school so that Haylee and Holden could enjoy chasing and catching some chickens in the chicken coop! 

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That’s their favorite activity to do at the farm, for sure.  It was really hot on this particular day, as evidenced by their red faces, so we not only had slushes from Sonic on the way there, but we went out for ice cream once we picked up Hayden and his best friend, Antonio, from school.


That’s a wrap!  Not a bad beginning to the school year at all.  Hayden had a great week, though it took them the whole week to finally issue lockers, and our homeschool got into a nice rhythm. 

How well did your school year kick off?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back to School Deals @ Dollar Tree

Don’t forget that it’s the perfect time of year to stop in your local Dollar Tree’s teacher’s corner for some hard-to-beat deals on some handy items for your homeschool.

Do you use a lot of posters in your classroom?  It can be difficult to store them without damage, and those professional poster-storage items you can get at teacher stores and office supply stores are certainly costly.  Instead, stop in your Dollar Tree and get one of those rigid tri-fold presentation boards that kids use for displaying their science projects in school.  They are actually the ideal size for holding your assortment of classroom posters!  I just stack the posters inside the tri-fold board and then slip the whole thing behind my kids’ workboxes out of sight.  It would fit nicely behind a cabinet or other piece of furniture, as well.  Dollar Tree doesn’t carry them all year, so now is the time to get one for just $1.

They also have plenty of large, plain white as well as colored sheets of poster board for an array of projects you might have going on in your homeschool.  They are only 50 cents/sheet!

Do your elementary and middle school kids like file folder games?  They can be a lot of fun and a nice way to review and practice particular concepts across your curriculum.  This year, Dollar Tree has some really colorful, well-made file folder games ready for you to use…no prep work is needed on your part.  Isn’t that just the way we like it?

If you like to make your own games, there are plenty of supplies there to make it easier, like dice, library pockets that are handy for holding game pieces and trivia cards, and even pre-made spinners.

Are you teaching calendar skills to your early elementary students, or do you want a large, easy-to-read calendar to display in your classroom?  This is the time to pick up one of the many styles of calendar kits that Dollar Tree has to offer.  You can make them durable and long-lasting by picking up a cheap roll of clear contact paper (they sell small rolls at Dollar Tree and larger ones at Dollar General or Office Max) and using that to laminate the calendar itself and all of the month, date, and holiday tags.  Then pick up some packs of Velcro dots and attach them to the calendar squares and to the backs of the date and holiday tags so you can easily shift the dates and holidays around from month to month.  I punched two holes in my month tags and hung them from stick-on hooks (also purchased at Dollar Tree) above my calendar so I can switch it out each month.  I’ve had mine mounted on our hall closet door for many years, and I have never had to replace any of it.  I write appointments and field trips on the tags with dry erase marker so the kids can easily see what we have coming up.

Dollar Tree also has neat little incentive charts and stickers that you can use for tracking whether or not your children are completing their chores or school assignments each day.  This year, they also have little wristbands they can wear as rewards instead of stickers.  I’m always open to new ways to reward my kids for staying on task with their school work, and they love the recognition.

They also have sheets of foam board.  This has innumerous uses…just think out of the box.  I cut one in half, taped the two pieces together on one side only to create a foldable hinge, punched a hole in the bottom center of each half, and tied them together there with a length of cord.  When you stand this up with the string opened, it creates a stable tabletop easel.  You can pin things to it like student helpers, charts, mini posters, or even pocket charts.  I pinned one of the $1 pocket charts from Target’s Dollar Spot to it and used it with little cards for matTeaching Tree Assorted Reproducible Worksheets, 38-ct. Packsching, sorting, and spelling games for my youngest.  When he was a preschooler, I made little card sets by cutting apart the bulletin board strips they sell at Dollar Tree.  I had some for colors, shapes, and similar preschool skills. 

I also spotted some great new workbooks for K-3, but especially for grades 4-6.  I picked up a few on history, geography, and science for Haylee to use this year and next.

If you are teaching your children how to write checks, they even sell little practice checkbooks at Dollar Tree.  They also sell little plastic cash drawers with plastic coins in them that you can use to teach your children about counting money and making change.

There are so many great resources and materials there for the homeschool teacher in you!  Take a harder look the next time you’re there.

Happy shopping, and good luck with your back-to-school plans!

If you have unique ideas on how to use Dollar Tree items to teach in your homeschool, or if you’ve spotted something new there that makes teaching easier for you, please share in the comments!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – August 24th – 30th

August is now at an end.  Say it isn’t so!  Next week means Hayden goes back to school, and unfortunately, this week meant we were all scheduled to be off together having all kinds of fun, but instead were holed up at home with the plague!  Thanks, Steve, for bringing back that gift from Michigan.  :(


I was shopping at a thrift store early in the week and stumbled upon this beautiful American Kennel Club dog bed for just $7 in like-new condition!


Needless to say, Teenie was immediately in love with it, and she has taken to crashing hard on it every chance she gets!  She’s such an spoiled and pampered princess.  This bed’s swirly softness is like no other bed I’ve ever bought.  It suits her to a T!


I sent Hayden out to mow the lawn and then ran out to get milk before I had to take him to his school for Cross-Country practice. When I came home, he greeted me in the driveway and said he’d done something really, really bad to the house.  I said it was time to go, and maybe he shouldn’t tell me, but he said he had to.


He said he was mowing and came upon a large stick that was in the way, so instead of moving it, he picked it up and tried to hurtle it over my 2-story house.  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense in a teenager’s brain, apparently.  Needless to say, he fell short and instead, smashed a giant hole in my bedroom window!  It cracked all the way to the bottom.  Sheesh!  I was pretty darn hoppin’ mad, obviously.  We custom-ordered our windows about 14 years ago.  This is a fixed picture window.  Thankfully, it’s double-pane, and the stick only broke the outer pane.  But that means we have to get this fixed ASAP before it rains and starts building up water between the panes. 

I swear, it’s always something.  I really needed something else completely unnecessary to spend money on.  Good move.  :(


Steve decided to take Hayden and Holden to a Green Run High School football game on Friday night, so I decided to take Haylee to the movies.


We had dinner and saw The Purge: Anarchy at Cinema Cafe.  We’d recently rented the first one to watch, so she was excited to see it.  It had a much better storyline than the first one and actually had some good teachable moments in it.  We had good discussions on the way home about the importance of letting go of vengeful feelings and such.  We had a fun girls’ night!


Now that we were all emerging from our fog of illness, we decided to get out on our final weekend before public school begins and do some family activities.  We opted for the final weekend of summer bowling at AMF!  The kids bowl free, and I’d paid $40 for a parent pass, but I only went once this summer, and Steve hadn’t gone at all.  I managed to get used bowling shoes for all of us big people, so I just had to pay shoe rental fees on the two youngest.

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We got to play 3 games, and we had so much fun that we’re thinking about going back on Sunday after church!  I’m always happy if I can break 100, and I did that on the first game at least, so I was happy.  We all had a blast.  It didn’t do my injured Achilles tendon any favors, but I managed to hobble on and off the alley, one way or another. LOL


On Saturday afternoon, the used XBox 360 E that I got off Ebay finally arrived.  They forgot to ship us the 2 games and the Kinect that was supposed to come with it, but they promised to ship it next week.  $150 shipped wasn’t too bad for all that!  It’s only a year old.


The kids and Steve were pretty excited.  We decided to switch systems since it appears most of the 3rd party game companies will not be coming out with new games for the Wii U any more.  Disappointing, to say the least.  They got it all hooked up, and the boys took a trip to Cash Converters and Gamestop to find a couple of games to get them started.  They loved it!


There are only a couple of days of fun left to our Labor Day weekend, and I hope we can make the most of it.  What did you do for this final celebration of summer?

Monday, September 1, 2014

FREE Website for Practicing Math Skills, Grades 1-6

I found a great self-grading website for practicing math skills for students in grades 1-6.  It’s at Houghton Mifflin’s Education Place

Students get immediate feedback and scoring.  It’s very easy to use, and there are lots of practice test questions and brain teasers to choose from!