Friday, March 27, 2015

Random Five on Friday March 26th

1. I think we've skipped right over Spring and hit Summer. I still think it's far too cold to get in the pool, but two of my brave kids had their inaugural swim yesterday afternoon.

2. I just finished the latest baby blanket. For some reason I keep picking striped patterns to crochet. I forget how much I dislike weaving in all the loose ends that stripes create. (I wish I could share a picture, but it's a big surprise.)

3. According to HomeSchool Office, we are 78% of the way done with our school year.

4. Recently, we put our entire iTunes library (including a bunch of songs imported from CDs) on an old iPod. I set it to shuffle and put it in my car. There's just no telling what sort of song is going to come up next. I had to quickly turn down the volume when I went through the gate at the base last week. I didn't want the security forces to laugh at us listening to "Survivor" as sung by the Chipettes.

5. Last Sunday morning I completed my third half-marathon. For anyone that's keeping score, the tally now stands at Cristi -- 4, Diabetes -- 0.

If you'd like to join the Random 5 on Friday fun, you can either click on the cute birdhouse button below or visit The Pebble Pond.

The Pebble Pond

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

HomeSchool Office by Lord Heritage {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

It's a really good thing that we don't live in a state with strict record-keeping requirements for homeschool families. I've tried various methods of keeping records, but I struggle to keep up with any of them. I grade assignments nearly every day so that my children can correct their mistakes right away. I date the corners of finished pages, but I don't typically record grades in a grade book or anything.

I should also confess that I also struggle with homeschool planning. We start our homeschool year in late summer, sometime around the time the local schools go back to school. We finish in the spring, again roughly around the time schools are finished for the year. In the middle, we take roughly the same amount of breaks (but not always at the same times). For curriculum, we generally just move at a steady pace and hope we finish before summer break.

I was intrigued when I saw HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage. HomeSchool Office is a web-based organizational program with tools to help plan, schedule, and manage crazy homeschool days.

I should admit up front that I struggled with this program for quite some time. Honestly, if I hadn't committed to writing a thorough review of the program, I wouldn't have stuck with it long enough to conquer the steep learning curve. Thankfully the more I work with the program, the easier it gets to use.

I'm thankful for Lord Heritage's clear step-by-step instructions for starting out the program. Even better, these instructions automatically open in a separate browser tab so that I can easily switch between the help screen and what I was trying to do.

I started by inputing some basic information. Some of the information will only be used if I chose to use the reports function, either just to have a summary of our school information or to create create reports cards/transcripts.

I then planned out our school year. I went back through my calendar and through Lauren's daily notebook to recreate what we had done so far this year. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that we are now 78% of the way done with our school year. Even better, I found out that we can take three mental health days and still complete 180 days of school by the time our local schools dismiss for summer break.

My next step was to set up subjects for each student and then create lessons. The subjects part was a lot easier than the lesson part. I started with what I thought would be an easy set of lessons -- Lauren's American History. She's using an online program that has 160 lessons. Unfortunately, there's not way to have HomeSchool Office automatically create lessons numbered 1 through 160. I need to input each one separately. I then entered the names of her Math U See lessons. After entering the names of the 30 math lessons, I realized that I really needed to be thinking in terms of daily lessons or assignments, not the bigger divisions used in that program. Each of the 30 lessons takes multiple days to complete and has multiple practice pages. Each practice page needs to be entered separately so that they can be scheduled nicely throughout the year.



My big struggle with lesson planning on HomeSchool Office is that there are some subjects that I don't plan in advance. For instance, I read aloud to Lauren nearly every school day. I don't pick the books until just a few days before we start them, and I never really know how long it will take us to get through each one. Perhaps I could just enter the books as lessons after we complete each one. I'd need to do the same thing with the books that she reads to me each day.

After planning the lessons, I could move on to planning our weeks. The beauty of using an electronic program really shines when it came to combining lessons plans with my weekly schedule. I set up my weeks with which subjects would take place each day. The computer automatically repeats those subjects for each week of the school year. It also automatically assigns a lesson to each school day. If I want to, I can assign a specific time for each subject. Since we don't stick to a strict time schedule, I've chosen to simply mark them as "all day" activities.

The remainder of this week:
(When I hover over a subject, the specific assignment will show. On Thursday, Lauren will do the Factors lesson for math.)

HomeSchool Office then allows you to keep records of how you (and your students) successfully completed your carefully laid plans. It tracks attendance in either hours or days. One nice feature about the attendance is that the default setting is to mark the child as present for each assigned school day. That means that I'd only have to remember to change the attendance setting if we have an unscheduled day off or sick day.

Grades can be entered either as a percentage, a letter grade, or a description. From what I can tell, however, the type of grade is set for each child and not for each individual subject. Also, I was not able to find a way to easily match a grade with a specific lesson. The grades are labeled by date and by what you name them (Test 1, Worksheet 23A, etc).

Assuming that I've kept up with inputting all the lessons, attendance, and grades for the year, generating a report should be quite simple. I could even use HomeSchool Office to create a High School transcript suitable for college applications. I love the idea of being able to quickly create a transcript, but I know that I'd have to do a lot of data entry to recreate Addison's first 2.5 years (nearly 3) years of High School work in HomeSchool Office.

Overall, I felt the navigation of this program was a bit clunky. As I work through various tasks, I see all sorts of options that don't pertain to me. While I appreciate knowing that I can add extra notes in various places and categorize things in different ways, it doesn't always make sense to me. It has also taken me quite some time to figure out how to navigate to different specific areas. For instance, if I want to change (or add to) a lesson plan, I need to navigate to the specific subject in the planning area, then click edit, and then find the button that takes me to the lessons.

With that said, now that I've figured out the basics of this program, it's far less daunting than it first seemed. It gives me a way to keep the attendance records I'll need after we move to a state with more homeschool regulations and helps me see where we are in terms of finishing our curriculum by the end of each school year. If I start this summer (before Brennan starts High School), I can keep up with his classes and grades so that his transcript would be easy to create and update.

HomeSchool Office costs $79 per year. Since the program is all online based, it does not require any specific computer operating system. In addition, I successfully used it on multiple internet browsers (Safari, Firefox, and Chrome) without any issues. It also works on mobile devices. It was more convenient to enter lesson plans on a regular computer, but I could mark completed lessons on either my iPhone or iPad.

HomeSchool Office Review

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©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Friday, March 20, 2015

34 Weeks of Clean: Bathrooms

In this morning's 34 Weeks of Cleaning post, Michele wondered if any of us are still sticking with the challenge after facing the bathrooms last week.

I actually didn't mind this week's chores. Cleaning bathrooms isn't my favorite thing to do, but it's not really that hard. For me, it didn't even involve much mental effort in terms of purging or organizing.

I started with the easy bathroom. We have a tiny half-bath off of the entryway area downstairs. It's perfectly simple -- no countertop to clutter, no under the sink storage, not even a medicine cabinet hidden behind the mirror. I took down the glass globes on the light fixture and put them in the kitchen sink to soak. I scrubbed the toilet and sink, put the light fixture back together, wiped the floor, and finished the whole thing in about half an hour.

The upstairs bathroom is bigger and took quite a bit longer. The rug and the shower curtain went into the washer (and then took forever to dry). I thought about replacing the shower liner, but decided that I'd wait until we move this summer to get a new one. There was only a little bit of sorting and purging to do in this bathroom. Mostly I just needed to scrub all the little areas that sometimes get overlooked -- inside the medicine cabinets, the edges of the bathtub/shower, etc. Later, Addison noticed that I had cleaned out underneath one of the cabinets, and she sorted through some of her things that had gathered under her sink.

I did uncover one potential problem brewing. The towel rack was wobbling a bit when I wiped it off so I unscrewed it. It turns out that the holes holding it in place were far too big. They were either drilled too large when the rack was installed or they've loosened over the years of kids hanging up their towels (and perhaps from using the towels without taking them off the rack). As sad as I am to see the holes in the wall right now, I'm grateful that we uncovered the problem now. It would've been a bigger pain if the rack had fallen down right as we were moving out this summer.

If you'd like to join me with the challenges, you can find Michele's posts on her Family, Faith, and Fridays blog, on the Facebook page, or by clicking the button below. She posts a new challenge every Friday and will also be hosting a weekly link-up for any other bloggers who are brave enough to share pictures of their progress. There is also a prize basket giveaway with entries earned by blogging or posting pictures on her blog's FB wall.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring Roses {Wordless Wednesday}

PhotobucketWordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Easy Green Salad for St. Patrick's Day

Last weekend, I asked a friend what I could bring to a get together at her house. When she sent back a text saying "fruit," Lauren and I headed to the Commissary to see what looked good.

We found an idea that was just perfect for the weekend before St. Patricks Day.

1 honeydew melon
3 Granny Smith apples
1/2 lb green grapes
4 kiwi

Cut the honeydew into small chunks, dice the apples, and halve the grapes. I cut the kiwi into thick slices and then quartered them. Mix in a bowl and serve.

For some reason (the acidity of the kiwi?), the apples didn't ever turn brown. The leftovers looked nearly as good tonight as they did when I made it Saturday.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Editor in Chief (Critical Thinking Company) -- Schoolhouse Crew Review

For years I've drooled over the catalogs I received from The Critical Thinking Co. I used a lot of their products when my children were in preschool and Kindergarten, but I haven't added many of their books to our homeschool in the past few years.

I was interested in seeing how Lauren did with Editor in Chief Level 1. Editor in Chief teaches twelve lessons in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. Topics covered include content, capitalization, adjectives, adverbs, confused word pairs, verbs, agreement, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences.

Instead of using traditional fill-in-the-blank or labeling activities, Editor in Chief teaches all of these skills in the context of editing passages. The student searches through a passage to find (and correct) a specific number of errors. As an optional follow-up assignment, the student rewrites the passage correctly.

Editor in Chief Level 1 claims to be for grades 4-5. Lauren is only a third grader, but she has had a lot of grammar instruction in the past. In fact, part of the reason I looked at this book is because she enjoyed grammar activities that required her to find the mistake in a sentence. I thought that she would enjoy proofreading a passage instead of looking at isolated sentences.

I like the way that Editor in Chief divides up the errors so that the student is only focusing on one particular grammar concept at a time. For instance, the first section focused only on content errors. The student is told that the picture and the corresponding caption is correct. When they read the passage, they are looking for discrepancies between the two. At this point in the book, they are not looking for missing punctuation, spelling errors, or any other grammar mistake. They are simply looking to make sure the passage contains correct information.

Unfortunately, later lessons had a broader focus than what I had hoped for. The lesson on punctuation included all the rules for periods, commas, quotations, apostrophes, parentheses, colons, semicolons, and hyphens at the same time.

Lauren struggled more with the passages than I expected her to, and eventually we started working together on the assignments. She needed quite a bit of help just reading the passage. I later used an online readability score assessment to determine the reading level of the text. One of the first passages had an average grade level equivalent of 7th grade. No wonder she was struggling to read and correct the paragraph. I checked five passages from various locations in the book, and only one of them had a reading level in the target 4th to 5th grade range. (It scored a 5.9 grade equivalent.)

When I chose to review Editor in Chief, I wanted grammar to be our nemesis, not reading skills. I'm going to hold on to this book and try it again in a few years. I'd prefer the reading assignments to be at (or even a bit below) her reading level so that she's only working on finding the errors in the passages.

I would definitely recommend that you take your child's reading level into account before choosing this grammar workbook. A child with advanced reading skills might do well with it in fourth or fifth grade, but many other students would be better served by waiting a few years before attempting it.

Editor in Chief Level 1 is a 132 page soft-cover workbook which costs $19.99. It includes 69 lessons and a complete answer key. The Critical Thinking Co. offers three levels of Editor in Chief as well as two Editor in Chief Beginner levels.

Critical Thinking Company Review

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©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

34 Weeks of Clean Update: Formal Living Room, Books, and Entryway

Even though I haven't posted a 34 Weeks of Clean update in a few weeks, I have been cleaning. I'm even becoming slightly obsessed with making sure my dishes are all washed before I go to bed at night (and after breakfast in the morning).

Our cleaning assignment for week 8 was the formal living room with casual family rooms being saved for another week. Our extra family room serves as an office area, but I counted it for the challenge. Thankfully, it was still quite well organized from when we took down the Christmas decorations in week 1. I dusted everything in the room, wiped down the baseboards, and cleaned the blinds. A warm afternoon in February meant that I could clean the windows both inside and out.

Week nine's challenge was to look at all the books in our house. I took several boxes of books to church for an upcoming yard sale. There are now some empty spots on the downstairs bookshelves. (Actually, the first picture of a bookshelf is bothering me because the shelves don't look balanced anymore. I foresee a bit of reorganizing in the very near future.) I'm still working on looking through the shelves in the school area. I know they have some not-very-popular books mixed in among the well-loved favorites.

Last week's spring cleaning was the front entryway. I went out black widow hunting late one night, and then swept all the webs away the next day.

Cleaning the entryway also meant cleaning on the inside. This shelf sits just inside the door and serves as a collecting spot for things I don't want to forget. Apparently, I had gathered quite a stack of items that I didn't want to take back to Target the next time I went shopping. I returned everything on the shelves a couple hours after I read Michele's entryway challenge. There are still a few things gathering on the shelves, but I'm happy as long as they aren't overflowing.

The 34 Weeks of Clean challenge for week 11 is bathrooms. I think I'll be doing more scrubbing and less organizing this week.

If you'd like to join me with the challenges, you can find Michele's posts on her Family, Faith, and Fridays blog, on the Facebook page, or by clicking the button below. She posts a new challenge every Friday and will also be hosting a weekly link-up for any other bloggers who are brave enough to share pictures of their progress. Just this week she announced a prize basket giveaway with entries earned by blogging or posting pictures on her blog's FB wall.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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