Monthly Archives: November 2010


Just got back from the Swiss choir concert. (No, we’re not Swiss, but how we got involved in the choir is a story for another day.)

The three girls and I were supposed to sing a quartet, but Eldest fell ill between the before-concert rehearsal and the concert itself. Thankfully, one of the sopranos was able to fill in for her at the last minute, with just a short run-through of the song. Thanks so much, S.!

A cowboy band were the guest artists. You say, “What, a cowboy band? And a Swiss choir?” But there is a connection. Yodeling is common to both!

When dh sent Youngest to buy one of the band’s CDs, the leader so very kindly presented the CD to her as a gift. So even though it’s past bedtime, we’re listening to the CD at this very moment.

The Giant Schnauzer is very glad to have us home, and is being cute and playful (if a nearly-100 lb. dog can be said to be “cute”) and cuddly.

Well, g’night.

Whew. All those weeks of rehearsal. About two hours of concert. Amazing to think it’s over for the rest of the year.

Wisdom in Science Education

We’re just about finished with the Chemistry unit in our homeschool science class. Tonight was the unit review game, in a Jeopardy-like format where the students were divided into three teams and the parents cheered them all on.

One of the remarkable features of this class is that it is solidly based on Biblical principles. In our science explorations, we’re viewing Creation through the lens of Scripture. Part of the classtime and homework is devoted to Bible and character studies, and part is devoted to learning science, and the two go hand in hand.

Take chemistry, for example. The theme for the unit was “Ye are the salt of the earth.” We learned about all sorts of uses for and properties of salt (along with lots of other info, like memorizing the elements and their symbols, the order of the Periodic Table and properties of the different periods and groups, energy shells, ionization, atomic and molecular bonding, acid-base reactions, and more).

The “final Jeopardy” question asked the teams to name three properties of salt, and apply a spiritual analogy to each, and then to state how to “shine your light before all men.” The answers from all three teams were amazing, and showed that the students had learned a lot, both about the chemical properties of salt, and about the spiritual application of the lessons throughout the unit.

More about this later, if you’d like to hear more. (Just let me know in a comment.) It’s nearly midnight and I need to head off to bed. I’d been managing a regular bedtime, the past few days, but the coffee I drank tonight sort of threw me off.

Autumn Leaves, Portland style

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold…

I was dismayed to hear that Portland had instituted a new fee for sweeping leaves from the street. As if we had disposable money just lying around, waiting for another fee or tax to come along… (Oh, please! Please, tax me some more! I’m not paying enough! I have too much money! Please, take more! — Is there really anybody out there who would say that?)

Image: Sally Stoneking / Nature And Flower

Anyhow, someone sent me a link to an Oregonian article about the new leaf-removal fee, along with a link to an opt-out form. So if you’re getting hit by this new fee, there are options. You could actually take responsibility for your own leaves, imagine it, and not have to pay the city yet another fee. That’s provided the city accepts the form, of course.

Actually, leaves (depending on the type of tree) can make great compost. I’ve just been letting the leaves fall in the street this year, since I was going to be charged by the city anyway. In previous years, we’ve gathered all the leaves and put them on our compost pile.

Guess it’s time to get out the rake.

TOS Freebie: Get in the holiday spirit!

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is giving away a free digital edition filled with stories and ideas.

I’ve just glanced through, but I’m looking forward to perusing at a more leisurely pace later on in the day, when I take a break. There’s so much here!

There are articles, recipes, activity pages, holiday ideas and crafts, and that’s barely scratching the surface. The issue is 176 pages. You can read it on your computer, or download a PDF file. As you can see from the cover, this is a lushly illustrated, full-color issue.

It’s really easy to use the digital edition. You can click on any item in the Table of Contents and you’re instantly there.

Here’s the link: Free 2010 Holiday Digital Supplement from The Old Schoolhouse.


Field of birds!

Saw an egret, two herons, and a bald eagle (!) in a large, wet field as we were driving today. We’ve seen egrets and herons before, but this was the first eagle on the ground — they’ve always been flying or perched in a tree when we’ve seen them.

What fun!

TOS Crew: The Write Foundation

Mention “writing” to many of the homeschool moms I know, and you’ll see them turn pale. It’s one of those subjects that can cause you to question your ability to teach your own children at home, especially if you’ve never been much of a writer yourself.

Our writing instruction has consisted of copywork in the early years, along with oral narration, transitioning to written narration at about age ten. Informal writing has included blog entries and writing shared stories with online friends.

When the TOS Crew learned that we would be reviewing a writing curriculum said to be especially good for reluctant writers, I was excited. Among our three, one is a voracious reader and skilled writer, one is interested in writing but has trouble organizing thoughts, and the third is definitely reluctant, at least when it comes to formal writing. Blog posts? Yes. Exchanging ideas with other cat fans, even writing dialog and descriptions and scenes in a shared story? Yes. An assigned paragraph? Awww, Mom!

I carefully read through the descriptions of the levels on The Write Foundation website. At the website you can find information about the author, how the curriculum came to be written and used, testimonials, more detail on each level, sample lessons, and more.

There are three levels:

Sentence Writing (suggested ages 11-13)

Paragraph Writing (suggested ages 12-15)

Essay Writing (suggested ages 14-17)

Since Youngest (12)  is the Reluctant Writer mentioned above, and can write competent sentences both voluntarily and under duress, I elected to review Level 2: Paragraph Writing.

From the website description of Level 2:

  • Lesson plans formatted in an easy-to-follow system
  • Begins with steps to writing the basic paragraph
  • Improves sentence structure with basic grammar and figures of speech
  • Teaches different styles and techniques each week
  • Teaches the organizational process of ¬†brainstorming, outlining, rough draft and editing.
  • Progresses to writing two-, three-, and four-paragraph papers
  • Introduces the five-paragraph formal essay
  • Creative poetry writing
  • Guidelines, checklists and correct structure
  • 30 lessons with lesson plans for either a one- or two-year format

Daily work, 5 to 10 days per lesson

The lessons are designed to take about 1-1/2 hours per day, with some work done independently. The curriculum is teacher-intensive; this is not an independent-study program (but then, I can’t think of a writing curriculum that would be independent study…).

You present the material to your student, you work examples with your student, you grade your student’s work and go over the corrections together. You write together, and your student applies what was learned in writing independently. The program is flexible in that you can go through the material quickly or more slowly. Suggested 5-day and 10-day lesson plans are included in the introductory material.

This curriculum was written by a home educator, honed in a co-op setting (which shows in the structure and format — more about that in a minute) and is in the process of being adapted for private home use.

Maybe not fancy, but tried and tested

Physically, the materials aren’t fancy. You get a spiral-bound instruction manual, a packet of student workpages, and a CD. (We didn’t get a CD, but rather were given the opportunity to download the files from the CD. They now reside on my hard drive, and I need to back them up to a CD! …mental note to self. But let us not digress.)

According to the author, all you need to do to get started is to spend a couple of hours reading the instructions, and then start teaching. Step-by-step lesson plans are included, and the first lesson is devoted to setting up a student binder to keep track of assignments. Frankly, I found the curriculum easier to implement than I thought it would be. I was a little intimidated by all the ancillary files on the CD, the grading discussion (we’ve pretty much followed a “pass-fail” approach except in math which is easy to quantify), and the descriptions of the lessons in the lesson plans. The plans were easier to do than to read about, in other words.

Design reflects co-op use

The curriculum really shows its origins in its organization. Lessons are designed to take about an hour or two of concentrated work (done in one day), followed by several days of independent work on the student’s part. You’ll run across instructions to do part of an exercise together in class, and then have the students finish the exercise in small groups or with partners. If you’re teaching one person, well, that’s a pretty small group. You, the teacher, end up being the partner. Unless you want to count the dog, who sits in on every lesson, but never has much to contribute, besides the occasional snore. Some record-keeping forms included on the CD reflect larger class size than your typical family setting.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to teach writing to a co-op class, you’re all set. You just need to have the students’ families purchase the student materials. Copy permission is given within an individual family for personal family use, but not for an entire class.

The beauty of home instruction, of course, is that we don’t have to cram all the instruction into one day of the week. There’s a drawback to this kind of course at home, too — it’s too easy to let the daily writing get crowded out, unless I’m dealing with a highly motivated student. At present, Youngest isn’t quite ready for so much freedom (individual writing work). Somehow meeting Mom’s deadlines is not so pressing as having her stuff together for a co-op class. Accountability… I have to have a set time for writing every day (naturally “scheduled” people probably wouldn’t have this problem), and she’s happier to have quick feedback, than to store up all her work for a once weekly teaching session.

Creativity within structure

The format is formal, but creativity is nestled within the structure. For example, each lesson begins with Mind Benders (this is an additional purchase, by the way). Mind Benders are exercises in thinking logically, with the flavor of a game. I guess I’d liken it to chewable multi-vitamins; they taste good, and they provide something good for you. The author encourages you to emphasize high-interest topics and even silliness, as appropriate, to keep the process of learning writing fun and not drudgery.

Laying a foundation with an eye towards the future

Lessons are repetitive, laying a foundation of writing habits and learning to use writing tools. In a sense, it’s rather like drilling math facts. While repeating skills to achieve mastery, the lessons are also building upon each other. While emphasizing the importance of practice and repetition, the author also warns against making writing practice a tedious process.

(Side note: Middlest hates repetition. Even so, I’m considering going through this curriculum with her as well. She can write fluently, but her organization could use some, um, organizing, I guess you’d say. Unlike Youngest, she’ll probably be able to handle this course as it’s written, with a “mom” session once a week, followed by independent work.)

A few of the included concepts I’m glad for: grammar, poetry, and outlining. These are areas where our Language Arts has not been very systematic, up to this point. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the helpful writing checklists, that you build upon with your students as you progress through the lessons.

Customer support

The author started a yahoo group for people using The Write Foundation Curriculum. See more information here. It’s a handy place to get answers to your questions from the author herself, and from others using the curriculum.

Cost is $100 per level or $65 for half a level, plus tax and shipping.

To read more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of The Write Foundation, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were given The Write Foundation writing curriculum for personal family use and for review purposes. Our family received fifteen lessons of Level Two: Paragraph Writing. (There are thirty lessons total in Level Two.) No monetary compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Collectorz Book Collector

I have to admit that this home inventory cataloging software intimidated me at first, through no fault of its own, really, as it turned out to be intuitive and easy to use.

Members of the TOS Homeschool Crew were given Book Collector software, along with links to the online manual and forums. I had no trouble downloading, installing, and registering the software. Getting started was another matter — for me, anyhow, because of the way my visual perception works.

Quick digression that really isn’t a digression. I hate shopping. The reason I hate shopping is because when I’m presented with a lot of different colors, shapes, and sizes in my visual field, my brain starts to stutter. It’s as if I’m totally overwhelmed by the visual input.

The introductory screen for the Book Collector triggered that for me, and I ended up putting the software figuratively on the shelf for some time before I could bring myself to confront it.

Helpful “Getting Started” Info

I began by going to the link to the online manual, starting with “Welcome to Book Collector” in the list of links. It’s the very top link. Methodical, eh?

I took the virtual tour. I sidestepped the downloading and installing instructions as I’d already successfully charted those waters, and went directly to “Navigating the Main Screen,” “Adding and Editing Books,” and “Searching Your Database.”

Daringly I opened my Book Collector to try out what I saw in the instructional videos. Well, okay, I wasn’t really being daring — the videos had given my previously bewildered eyes a few anchors to grab onto, and once I knew what I was looking at, as well as how to manipulate the screen, the whole thing made sense.

I created my first Book Collector database and began typing in the title of my first book, Frog, the Horse that Knew No Master by S. P. Meek. I figured it would be a challenge: an out-of-print book with no ISBN.

Book Collector gave me a list of possible books to choose from, and there in the list, was my book!

Typing in book titles or ISBNs can get tedious when you have hundreds of books, so I invested in an inexpensive barcode scanner. This really streamlines the process for more recently published books that have ISBN barcodes on the back. As you add a book to the list, Book Collector gathers information on the book from the Internet (such as pricing and plot summary), and also allows you to mark the book as read or not yet read.

I could sit down here at the computer for hours, listing all the features. I’m just going to mention a few here. For more, go to the Collectorz website, check out the features — you can even download a free trial version that will allow you to enter up to 100 book titles.

Complete Inventory List

Once I get all our books entered, we’ll have a complete inventory list. It’s amazing; I never realized how many books we have! I like that I can create more than one database. I could enter all the books in the house into one humongous database, or I can split out our homeschooling books into a separate database. As a matter of fact, I have plans to catalog our sheet music, a daunting task, but not as hard as it might be, now that I have this handy tool.

In any event, I’m glad to have a list of all the books we own, for insurance purposes. I never thought of it before, but it makes sense, when books have been such a large investment for our family budget over the years.


Book Collector allows you to export book lists to an iPod or Palm device, giving you a portable list just perfect for shopping. (Have you ever bought a book twice because you didn’t remember owning it? I have.)

Visual options

You can look at your book collection either as a list of titles, or pictures of book covers. The latter option comes in really handy when you are looking for a particular title, or sending a child to locate a book.

Other products offers a number of cataloging products in addition to Book Collector, to help you keep track of games, comics, music, movies, mp3s, and photos.


Book Collector comes in a free version, as mentioned above, with a 100-book capacity. Book Collector Standard Edition is $29.95, and Book Collector Pro (the version I’m using) is $49.95. (You can see a comparison of the two at the Collectorz website. One feature of the Pro edition that I find really handy is the capacity to keep track of the books you’ve loaned out. I’m still exploring the rest!)

To read more TOS Crew opinions of Book Collector, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received a free download of Book Collector Pro for personal use and review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: IEW, here we come!

Members of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew are receiving various materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Our family’s package came today!

I unpacked it, now I need to look through it…

As Middlest is fond of saying, “Ooooo, shiny!”