Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring Organizational Projects

We had a bout of warmer weather over the last few days, and I took advantage of time off from our homeschooling to embrace some spring organizational projects around the house. 

First I used a portion of each day to catch up on household chores.  Things had really gotten away from me recently with all our outside appointments, and it was really wearing on my comfort level!  So I did a lot of general tidying, putting things where they go, gave everything a good vacuum, emptied trash cans, and mopped.

Then I took one look at the inside of my fridge and realized it irked me every time I opened the door.  Ugh!  Such a mess.  Ever since we got this new fridge, I’ve been annoyed by the lack of adjustable shelving.  It makes it so hard to see what’s in the back of the fridge, and because of that, a lot of things get overlooked.  I don’t like to waste food, and I don’t have the space to have two opened jars of the same thing in different spots in the fridge, so I decided that was going to be my first big reorganization project.  I took a look inside and decided that shallow baskets were just the thing it needed.  I didn’t want to pay big bucks for proper clear refrigerator baskets, because it’s downright ridiculous to spend $10-$15 on a plastic fridge basket…I mean, come on…it’s still plastic!  So I went over to Dollar Tree and looked around at all of the wonderful selection of baskets they had on hand.  There were lots of styles, shapes, and sizes to choose from.  I picked a variety of different ones that I thought might work and was pleased to have only spent a few dollars on the lot of them.

I came home and emptied a shelf at a time and gave it a good cleaning.  Then I started organizing the jars and containers in baskets and sizing up how they fit together on the shelves.  It actually worked out quite well!  Then came the deli drawer and the fruit and veggie drawers.  I even had baskets that worked inside of the drawers!  And oh, my!  It was so wonderful to be able to open a produce drawer and actually be able to visually see what goodies were in there instead of staring at green-tinted product bags with unknown contents from the grocery store!  And in the deli drawer, I sorted deli meats and cheeses in separate baskets so it’s easy to locate what you’re after.  It was a total transformation!  I found myself opening the fridge door even when I didn’t need anything, just so I could admire how it all turned out!  LOL.  I haven’t tackled the contents of the door shelves yet, but I’ll come back to that later this week.

My next project was to figure out what to do with my abundance of spices for the kitchen.  I cook a lot…three meals a day, almost entirely from scratch…for 5 people.  I try new recipes almost daily.  That calls for a large variety of spices!  I had them stashed in baskets in my pantry cabinets, the cabinet beside the stove, as well as a full McCormick spice rack on my kitchen wall.  I prefer to store my spices alphabetically so I can locate them quickly, but as my collection grew, I had only the most common ones in the actual spice rack, and they rest were in disarray in the cabinets.  I really wanted to fix that!  So after hunting around, I found a cheap little metal 6-tier spice rack that holds 48 spice jars on ebay for around $25.  I ordered that and waited for it to arrive.

Next up, I spent the majority of my Saturday dragging every single thing in our shed out into the yard.  I mowed it first, of course!  LOL.  This was quite a feat for little old me…I’m a petite person, and some of my husband’s tools and building materials were quite large and heavy, like sections of countertop and the like!  I managed to get the shed completely emptied, and then I swept the shelves and the floor completely.  Then I went and got my hubby to come and make a “keep” pile of anything that was his so I would know what I could throw out and assess what needed to go back into the shed at some point.  I went through my homeschool curriculum, as well, and threw out anything that had gotten water damaged or that I knew I’d never use.  All of the important books were already sorted into storage tubs by grade level, but they’d been stacked in no particular order, and the sheer weight of them on top of each other was damaging the bins and lids.  While the shed was empty, we slid it back onto its foundation, realizing it had shifted forward a few inches over time.  Then once I figured out what all needed to go back in the shed, I grabbed my teenage son for his brawn power and had him go to Lowe’s with me to pick out some heavy duty shelving that could support the weight of all of those storage bins of books.  We brought those home, and he and my husband assembled them for me.  Then I began the work of dragging all the good stuff back into the shed and getting it sorted on the shelving.  Wow!  It turned out so well!  The shed went from “hey, I can’t take two steps into this room without falling over something” and “hey, I have no idea what the heck is piled in here!” to “hey, this shed is so tidy and almost empty compared to before!”  That was quite significant progress, and a little effort at proper organization of what we needed to keep really went a long way to turning an unusable pile of “stuff” into an awesome storage facility.  All of my curriculum is stack on the shelving in grade level order so it’s easy to find what I need when I need it.  The last thing to roll into the shed was the mower.  All done!  And it looks fabulous.  Honestly, I can hardly believe it’s the same shed.

While the fellas were doing their part of the deal, I took the opportunity to weed out one of my three square food gardens, and I got that all prepped and ready for spring planting.  I covered it with a tarp to keep the weeds out until April, and I’ll get back to the other two gardens as I have time…probably next weekend.  I also picked up a new set of gardening hand tools while I was at Lowe’s.  Now I’m all set!

And while they were assembling the shelving for the shed, the mail came and delivered my new spice rack that I’d ordered earlier in the week.  I went inside and assembled it and pulled out all of my spices.  I alphabetized them on the floor, and when my husband came back inside, he got it mounted on the wall for me in the kitchen, and then I set to work lining all the shelves with my spice collection.  I still have plenty of oversized bottles and refills in the cabinets, but all of my regular spices are represented on the spice racks now.  It’s so awesome to have them all right there where I need them and in alphabetical order so I can spot them quickly.  Yay!

So all in all, I’m very pleased with all the progress I made this week!  I also took care of household things like paying bills and getting an oil change and state inspection done on my van.  It was definitely a productive week off!  We also managed to get out one morning with our friends and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air at the zoo.  That was so nice!  And we enjoyed some ice cream before heading home, so that was a nice treat for me and the kids.  It’s always nice spending time with our good friends!

Tomorrow is back to homeschooling for us.  Unfortunately, the pump on my 2-year old dishwasher quit working yesterday, so I had to wash everything by hand today.  Considering how many dishes I make in a day with all that cooking, that’s going to add considerable time to my already busy schedule, so I hope either Steve can fix it, or I can get a repairman out for a reasonable rate to work on it.  Ugh.  It’s always something!

Here’s to another great week ahead! Smile

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thinking About CAT Testing

It’s February, so it’s almost time for spring standardized achievement testing.  We always administer the California Achievement Test (CAT5) at home in late April.  In fact, I usually would have pre-ordered our tests by now, but I’m thinking of trying a different format this year.

My youngest is currently being evaluated by his pediatrician for ADHD, as his hyperactivity and distractibility have sharply increased over the last couple of years.  It’s making our school work take forever, and it really made standardized testing a very stressful experience last year. 

He talks basically non-stop, and he talked, sang, fidgeted, and got up and down during testing last year over and over again.  It makes it difficult to finish the test within the allotted time for each section.

Family Learning Organization

So this spring, I may switch from the paper CAT5 I usually get from Family Learning Organization and try out the same test in an online, untimed format from Academic Excellence.  The website says the untimed version is for students needing testing accommodations.  We definitely need that! 

Academic Excellence

I read through the VA Homeschool Statute regarding special needs requirements for testing accommodations, and I contacted the Home Education Association of Virginia (HEAV) to see how their testing specialist interpreted the statute.  She seems to think I can go head and use the untimed online CAT5 without an IEP, ISP, or any other documentation regarding the need for testing accommodations.  Apparently, documentation requirements are determined by the test provider, so I probably just need to contact Academic Excellence and verify what they require before ordering.

Home Educators Association of Virginia

I know a lot of people who have used the test just to reduce test anxiety in their kids, but I wanted to be sure I was complying with the statute before I proceeded.

Anyway, it looks like it should work out for us just fine.  There are additional perks, as well.  Once I purchase the test, it doesn’t expire, so I could buy it now and use it in April.  Because it’s untimed, I can break it up over however many days and blocks of time as I see fit, and once we’re done with it, it is graded instantaneously, and I can download the results myself.  It’s also much less expensive than the paper test I usually order, and I won’t have any postage expenses to return it.  And what’s more, it happens to be on sale right now…there’s a coupon code on their website that saves an additional $5 per test, making it only $20 each!

So I think I’m about ready to go ahead and order it.  I knew I needed to do something different this year.  This child is making me crazy with his lack of concentration!

Wish us luck!

Monday, February 20, 2017

REVIEW: HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Greece by Home School in the Woods

After our first experience with this series studying Ancient Egypt, we were very much looking forward to reviewing HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Greece by Home School in the Woods.


This in-depth study of Ancient Greece is part of the HISTORY Through the Ages Project Passport World History Study series. 

There are currently four studies in the series.  Aside from Ancient Greece, you may also choose from Ancient Egypt, The Middle Ages, and the Renaissance & Reformation.  In addition, a new study is set to be released in 2018 that focuses on Ancient Rome.

This history study is great for kids who enjoy hands-on learning.  It includes opportunities for creative writing, over a dozen lapbook projects, craft cards for a dozen 3-D projects, a file folder game, a scrapbook timeline, eight dramatized audio tours, and more!

The study includes 25 “stops” that can be completed in 8-12 weeks if you are doing a focused unit study of the material, or over a longer period of time if you are using it as supplemental material.

This versatile study of Ancient Greece is available as a downloadable product for just $33.95, or on a CD for just $34.95.

Take a look at a video of what Project Passport is all about and view a sample lesson from the Ancient Greece history study.  For a specific list of the topics covered in this study, check out the Scope & Sequence.  This study is recommended for students in grades 3-8.

The main supplies needed for the printable elements are white and colored printer paper, white and colored cardstock to go in your printer, scissors, and quality glue sticks!



I can’t say enough about the quality of the materials in the Project Passport series, as well as from Home School in the Woods in general.  Everything is so thoughtfully created, and the finished product is truly a keepsake for years to come.

This history study of Ancient Greece is no different!  As my 12-year old daughter, Haylee, and I printed and assembled the various scrapbook items in the study, we shared them with the rest of the family.  My husband was so impressed with how everything turns out so nicely, and I think it’s really cool the way so many elements are highly interactive.  It definitely adds to the interest level for the kids.

Since we’re currently studying a different time period in history for school, we decided to use Fridays (our days off from school) to work on this study of Ancient Greece.  Haylee chose it because she loves everything about the Olympic games, which ties right in with this study!  We chose to complete one stop per week, which means this study will last us 25 weeks.  If you’re doing a more focused study of the time period, you can certainly complete it more quickly by working on it more than once a week as we did.  But each stop seemed to take us about a solid hour or slightly more of work time, and we pre-printed everything for 5 weeks of study in advance.  If you are prepping materials as you go, it will take a bit longer than that.

There’s a printable travel itinerary that helps us stay on track with each stop along the way.  It outlines each assignment and gives step-by-step instructions for both the printing and assembling of the items.  It also give additional tidbits of related information from time to time.  We began each stop by reading aloud about 3 pages of historical information pertaining to our stop for the week, which is broken out neatly into topic areas.  Then we moved on to the assignments on the travel itinerary for that stop.


Our first stop involved a lot of initial setup, so that took longer than the subsequent stops.  Because we have worked on the Ancient Egypt study in the past, we already had a passport and luggage created.  One of the neat things about this series is that once those items are made, you can add your passport stamps and journal entries to them every time you complete another Project Passport history study.  We also created a teacher’s binder for my read-aloud information and itineraries, and I also stored all of the printed materials (which I made up ahead of time) behind each stop’s information in there.  Then we made Haylee’s Scrapbook of Sights.  This is where all of the completed keepsakes are stored.  Think of this as the student’s binder.  We created the timeline and placed it in the scrapbook, as well as some initial work on the first two printable maps of Aegean Civilizations and the Greek World.  We also read an overview of the country of Greece, its earliest days, and its civilizations.

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At our second stop, we learned about additional people groups and the Dark Age.  We added additional timeline figures (which I printed on sticker paper for easy placement on the timeline), added more titles to our maps, and created a Postcard Rack to go in the scrapbook.  This rack would hold all of the postcards that Haylee would read and decorate throughout the study.  We also created the keepsake newspaper called the Greek Weekly, and Haylee wrote her first two articles for that.  We stored it in the pocket of her scrapbook, as it will be added to many times in future stops.  We also created an interactive family tree booklet detailing information about Helen and His Sons.  This was our first lapbook element, which is stored in a ziploc baggie until all of the elements of the lapbook are finished and we’re ready to assemble it.

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Our third stop focused on the Archaic Period.  Here, we learned about the formation of city-states and Greek colonization, with a focus on Corinth and Thebes.  Personally, I found this fascinating and very timely, because our adult bible study class at church is currently studying Corinthians!  I must admit that it gave me greater understanding of the culture of the Corinthian people, and I shared some of my newfound perspective with my fellow church members.  This stop involved adding more timeline figures (including Haylee’s beloved Olympic Games!), completing an ad and an article for the newspaper, doing more map work, and then creating a really cool set of Greek columns in the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian architectural styles for comparison.  There columns were 3-dimensional but stored nicely in the scrapbook, and we thought they were really neat!

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At the fourth stop, we learned about Greek leadership, from kings and oligarchies to tyrannies and democracies.  We learned about the relationships between the Greek city-states and their colonies, and how it eventually led to the demise of the era of city-states.  We added some timeline figures, made another postcard, and created an awesome and interactive 3-D page about the various types of government in Greece.  Each element had an image that “popped up” when you opened the flap for each type of government, and it gave a concise summary of what that government entailed.  That turned out pretty cool!

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Our fifth and final stop during the review period had us learning all about Athens.  We read about the fall of its kings, its laws, the rise of tyrants, its democracy, and the Golden Age of Athens.  We added more timeline figures, did an article and an advertisement for the newspaper, decorated another postcard, did more map work, and then spent most of our time creating an extensive scrapbook page on the grandeur of Athens.  It included 12 interactive elements about the finer developments in Athens, such as its philosophers, its art and architecture, its notable people of government, its drama, its trade, and its navy.  Each element on the page was a matchbook that opened to reveal important information on each topic, all on one nicely presented and concise information page.


This is as far as we got during the review period, but we’ve already learned a lot! The whole time we were adding completed pages to the scrapbook, I kept thinking to myself what a wonderful teaching tool that even the final product will be for my younger son when he begins studying ancient history!  All the facts and summaries, the timeline, and the maps will all be in the completed scrapbook and will not only be a keepsake for Haylee, but will also be a wonderful learning resource for her brother!  And that works out perfectly, because he’s not creative the way my daughter is, and he wouldn’t enjoy the assembly of the parts, but he would definitely benefit from perusing the completed scrapbook!  It’s a much more interesting way to learn than just reading a textbook, for sure.

This is such a flexible teaching tool.  My daughter enjoys coloring and decorating things, but not so much the cutting and assembling.  So knowing that ahead of time, I was able to do a lot of the prep work and leave the artistic things for her to do.  If you have a more hands-on child who enjoys putting things together, then there will be even more for them to do.  But however it works out, this is a great project to work on together. 

There is a LOT of information to be absorbed through this study.  The text portion of each stop conveys a lot of important facts, and then the hands-on assignments help solidify the learning in a meaningful way.  I can definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a unique and in-depth unit study on Ancient Greece!  And included in the materials is a list of additional resources that you can use to add even more to the study if you so desire.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and the other Project Passport history studies from Home School in the Woods by clicking the banner below.

Monday, February 13, 2017

February Freebies

I wouldn’t let February pass by without giving you a great list of freebies, so here they are.

Image result for krispy kreme

If you stop by your local Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on any of the remaining days of this month and purchase any cup of their two new Arabica (“smooth” or “rich”) coffees, you’ll get a FREE original glazed doughnut to go with it.

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Don’t forget the ongoing promotion for users of the 7-11 Rewards app…you can get a FREE small Slurpee every Saturday this month when you scan the app.

Image result for aspca

The ASPCA is offering a FREE Pet Safety Pack.  It includes a decal that lets emergency personnel know that you have pets in your home, as well as a refrigerator magnet with the phone number to call when your pet has consumed something harmful.

Image result for yankee candle

If you’re planning to purchase any large classic, jar, or tumbler candle at Yankee Candle, then take advantage of their coupon for Buy 1 Get One Free until Feb. 20th.

Image result for national parks

On February 20th, celebrate President’s Day by visiting one of these 400 national parks for FREE!  Over 25% of those parks normally charge an admission fee, so take advantage of this special day!

Image result for jazzercise girlforce

If you have a young lady in your house between the ages of 16 and 21, they can take advantage of the Jazzercise GirlForce program and take some free classes!

Image result for try hockey for free day

If you have a sports-minded child ages 4-9 who would like to try out hockey, they can try it for FREE at over 300 nationwide locations on February 25th.  For my locals, we have participating facilities in Chesapeake and Newport News.  Find your local facility and click on it to register for this event.  A limited amount of free equipment will be available at each location for the children to use, so sign up now!

That’s it for now!  Enjoy your freebies.  Smile

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REVIEW: Times Alive by Times Tables the Fun Way (City Creek Press)

My 3rd grader, Holden, had the fun of reviewing Times Alive by Times Tables the Fun Way (City Creek Press).


Times Alive is a program that provides online lessons with animated songs and stories to learn times tables the fun way!

This program is designed to be used on one computer at a time, but multiple students can use it on a single computer, and it will track their individual progress.

An internet connection is required since it’s done online, and it works with all operating systems.  If you have a flash simulator on an iPad, you can also use it on that device, but it will not store progress.

This program is available for an initial $6.95 setup fee and a monthly fee of just $9.95.



This program is so easy to use.  Once I set up our account and logged in, I was able to see the an overview of the lesson plans, and Holden began by taking the timed pre-test, which we could compare later to see how he did once he’s finished the program.  Holden got them all right, but the time it took for him to calculate the answers was the thing we were trying to improve…that automatic recall that we all strive to achieve.

There are a total of 18 lessons, which can easily be completed with just a one-month subscription, making this a very affordable program.  We’ve tried a similar program in the past, but it didn’t cover all of the multiplication facts the way this one does.  Also, I found that Times Alive has been more memorable for my 9-year old son, who has really struggled to recall his times tables up to this time.

In fact, as Holden worked on the program a couple of times per week, I would hear him say out loud things like “Oh, I remember this story…,” and he would proceed to tell me the multiplication fact from his quick recall of the associated story or song from the program. 

I also really liked that it had a number of built-in reviews called “progress checks.”  That’s when I could really see that he was retaining the math facts he’d learned in earlier lessons. 

And each time he finished a session and wanted to stop for the day, the program would use my computer’s “cookies” to remember his progress for the next time.  This is important to note, because if you have your computer’s security features set to clear your cookies automatically, you will lose your stored data that shows your progress.

I loved being able to let him work on the program by himself without any help from me.  He’s easily distracted, so setting him up to do it independently was the best way to keep him focused.  I would peek in at him periodically and see that he was truly enjoying the entertaining elements of the program, like the animated stories and very catchy songs, which he began to sing as a recalled the facts down the road.  That was nice to see!  After all, if it wasn’t memorable, then he’d just be stuck looking up the answers on a multiplication table all over again, and that’s the habit we’re trying to break by using this colorful, interactive program.

I haven’t been getting any complaints from Holden about using this program, either.  Even though he works on it after his regular school work is done, he seems to really enjoy it, and he often does more lessons than I assign for him to do before he realizes he’s still going!  That’s what I like to see!

The bottom line is that Times Alive has been a fun and entertaining way to gain quick recall of multiplication facts, and nothing we’ve tried so far has really stuck in Holden’s brain the way this program seems to be sticking with him.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of finding that one special thing that “clicks” for your child.  We seem to have found just that with Times Alive!

We have a 3-month subscription, so although he’s wrapping up the final lessons in about a month’s time, I plan to have him repeat the program at least one more time for reinforcement of the material.  Each lesson takes only a few minutes, and he’s been doing several lessons at a time without needing a huge time commitment to work on it, so it will be easy to keep working in the lessons a second time over the next few weeks to really cement his recall of the math facts.

If you have a child who is struggling to memorize their multiplication tables, then this might just be the right solution for you!  Give it a try, and I think you’ll be pleased.  I even found myself singing along to some of the catchy tunes!

Take a look at what other Crew members have to say about Times Alive by clicking the banner below.