Thursday, November 25, 2010

SpellingCity and workbook options

The turkey's in the oven, dh is ahead of schedule on the food prep, and I actually have some spare time.... to tell you about! I have explored many MANY spelling websites, because when we first started homeschooling I had no idea what curriculum to use, and I was hoping I could find a website that was worked well enough that we wouldn't need to purchase a curriculum. And after trying out everything I could find, there is no doubt in my mind that SpellingCity is the best there is on the net - that is, the best there is for free or cheap, which was what I was looking for.

The website is well-designed, visually engaging for kids, and easy to navigate. The website is not cluttered up with ads, like so many others (though there are a few low-profile ads that you probably won't even notice). The primary "teaching" activity teaches one word at a time, spelling through and displaying each letter one at a time while it says the letter out loud. This method is great for kids who have a disconnect between their "eyes and ears", or have difficulty tracking the letters in a word as they sound it out. But that's not why I love it so much. What I love are the games and the customizable lists. You can enter in your own words, either individually or in batch-entry for bigger lists, and then set your child free to play several fun and effective spelling games with just those words. Your child can also do the "teach me" spelling activity with your custom words, or even take a regular test on that list. Additional noteworthy features include several sets of ready-to-go word lists for each grade level in various types of groupings, and fun games activities that quiz you on vocab and writing skills.

Because I tend to need something more tangible to guide my teaching, we opted not to use SpellingCity as a primary curriculum. We do rely on it heavily, though, for practice sessions on trouble-spot words, and for those times when I'm short on time and want to have the computer give him his test. I find consistently that ds9 retains difficult-to-spell words VERY WELL after having some time to play with those words on SpellingCity. Love it!!

So, now you want to know what primary spelling curriculum I DO use, don't you? :) Okay, here goes. There are many different approaches to spelling - literature based, spelling-vocab combo, chanting, handwriting, application through sentence writing, sequential spelling, etc. The method I decided on is phonics-based, and the two workbooks that I thought just nailed this method, were by BJU press, and Purposeful Design. With both, each word list emphasizes one main phonics group or spelling rule, and teaches helpful new info about the phonics group or rule whenever applicable. Both workbooks also incorporate a variety of fun activities designed to grow visually familiar with the words, and mentally familiar with the spelling rule or letter combos. Ultimately we picked the Purposeful Design workbook for this year, but it was a close call.

Note on spelling rules - there are MANY websites out there that provide useful info on spelling rules. If your child has a question about spelling, such as when the letter c makes a hard sound vs. a soft sound, simply do a google search for your question, and behold the wealth of information. I have not yet found a SINGLE website that comprehensively covers all the spelling rules out there - I have an easier time searching for spelling rules on an individual basis, as needed. But rest assured, if I do, I will surely let you know. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Geography memory songs

It's been a busy day, so I'm going to share a couple short and simple discoveries with you. Firstly, Wakko's states and capitols song. Ds9 and I learned this over the summer, and had a BLAST doing it. And yes, he now knows the capital for every state off the top of his head - it indeed worked! And see how adorable! Learning is best done when a kid is having fun, yes? :)

Second, is a simple U.S. states memory song, without capitals. Ds9 did this with his class last year before we started homeschooling, so I can't take credit for the discovery. But the format of this memory song is very effective, in that the song takes you across the northern, southern, and eastern borders of the U.S., and then fills in the remaining "middle". This format makes it very easy for navigation, and ds9 has no trouble finding his way around the U.S. map. The memory song his class used can be sampled and purchased here (note that each of the 4 song sections must be purchased separately). It's a little cheesy, but most memory songs are, and you have to remember that most of the time your child will be singing them alone or with you, and not necessarily with the annoying background music. :) Here is a video of a 3-yr-old child singing 2 of the U.S. border songs in their entirety, as well as a handful of songs naming the countries on various continents - adorable! All of the songs this little cutie sings are available from the same company, and can all be purchased here. Ds9 and I will be working on some of those world-country songs this year for sure. If you listen to the whole video, you'll see they also have their own "states and capitols" song, but I maintain that Wakko's song is WAY COOLER. :D So there.

It might be a few days before you hear from me again. Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving week, everyone!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kids devotions & Bible translation

For those of you who do, or would like to do, a Bible study or devotion time as part of your school day, I have a couple of discoveries for you today. First up is the daily devotions for kids at I first discovered these when my ds was about 7, and thought they were a little old for him, but now at 9, they're just perfect - and probably would be good for several more years. The devotions are very well-balanced, with scriptural truths, life application lessons, and thought-provoking questions. They're also interesting enough to hold attention, and even come with an optional audio track for those that need help reading, or just are better at learning with their ears instead of eyes. The rest of the site is delightful as well, and includes a "stuff to do" section, where kids can ask a theological question, submit a prayer request, send e-cards, "meet" a missionary, or print out coloring pages. There's also a Kids4Truth "club", much like AWANA, which could be done small-scale at home. The K4T club tends to focus less on memorizing verses, and more on teaching kids basic Christian apologetics through dialog with parents/teachers. Neat stuff all around!

Discovery #2 is my FAVORITE Bible translation EVER: the International Children's Bible. It is a complete "thought for thought" Bible translation (same type as the NIV), with each and every verse translated into a 3rd grade vernacular. Unlike most children's Bibles, it is not a paraphrased translation or a storybook. And unlike most "grown-up" Bibles, there are no fancy or "churchy" words in this Bible that you wouldn't find yourself using in everyday conversations. Instead there are crisp, clear, and to-the point sentences, making it the easiest to understand Bible I've ever read, for adults and kids alike. This Bible just says it like it is. A great example is Psalm 1:1, usually memorized as "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Now compare to this: "Happy is the person who doesn't listen to the wicked. He doesn't go where sinners go. He doesn't do what bad people do. He loves the Lord's teachings. He thinks those teachings day and night." Yay, it makes sense!! I highly recommend this Bible for any child old enough to start memorizing verses, to help them understand what they're memorizing, as well as for adults to read when they're just reading the Bible to read it and grasp the content, not necessarily for in-depth study.

Like other translations, the ICB Bible is available in many styles. I have the stylish Mary Jane Bible, and I bought a Treasure Chest Bible for my ds9. The ICB is also available in a really awesome ILLUSTRATED version, with complete verse-by-verse text cunningly integrated into "comic-book style" pages. See for yourself - thanks to Neely Press, select Bible books are now available for viewing online in their complete text with illustrations, for free! To purchase the illustrated ICB, you can buy individual OT books online, or buy the complete NT as one book.

I know there's many other WONDERFUL options out there - if you have a kids Bible study or book or website that you love, please comment and share it with me!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Housework and kid chores

Well, it may seem a little strange to begin my first post on a "homeschooling" blog by talking about housework... But the thing is, I've just spent a day and a half working on setting up this blog. And you all know what happens to the house when it's neglected for a day and a half. Oh, yes. It doesn't take long, does it?! *sigh* And since it's what I happen to be thinking of at the moment, my housework finding are what I will first share with you. Plus, I figure, part of homeschooling is the seemingly impossible task of juggling everyday home maintenance when so much of your time is taken up with your kiddos. So there. :)

I use the software program Let's Clean Up to keep track of my chores. I have an awful memory and attention span, and can't a) remember when I last did any of the hundred+ chores on my duty roster, b) remember how often they should be done, nor c) figure out which chores need my immediate attention in the visual noise of a messy home. The Lets Clean Up software relieves me of all of these burdens - I LOVE IT. Every morning I simply print out a list of what chores need to be done that day, check them off when they're done, and check the boxes on the software at the end of the day to update. Voila! - one less thing to have to think about in my already overactive mind! :D

There's also an ADORABLE program for kids that's quite similar, called My Reward Board. Delightfully fun interactive graphics let kids drag animated smiley faces onto their own little chore chart, which then whoop and holler with encouragement at each completed chore. Bonus features include the ability to earn points for chores and spend those points on "coupons" for things like special family outings and movie nights and such. Love it!! I'd say this program is good for preschool through probably 4th grade - it's quite versatile!

Both software programs are around $15 each and have a free trial period to see if they'll work for you.

Last but not least, I RECOMMEND HIRING A HOUSEKEEPER for a once-a-week helping hand. This was my gift to myself when I decided to take on the monstrous task of homeschooling, and one of the BEST DECISIONS I made! Do not, for a second, think that you "should" be capable of "doing it all". If you CAN, great! But if you can't, then you're not alone, and don't think of yourself as a failure for getting a helping hand. Think of it as just another "tool" or "resource" in your homeschool toolbox - something to make the job just a little more manageable.

...NOW... off to print my own chore list and get busy! zooooooooooooooooom....