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Wednesday, June 21


STEAMworld Learning

Summer is a great time for homeschooling with more flexibility and fun!  We incorporate many games and activities into the school year, but still try to remain true to our curriculum at the same time.  When summer rolls around, we look for ways to continue learning from a different vantage point.

When I stumbled across STEAMworld, and realized that it combined most of the core subjects, plus art, I knew that this was something we wanted to try!  (Quick brush-up:  STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math.)  The box comes with everything you need – and I do mean everything – to complete a series of projects about the featured country.  Not having to hunt up supplies?  Fantastic!

We decided to try out Morocco, based on the art projects featured.  The box came with all of the supplies needed for math, science, art, and engineering, plus an activity book and country scrapbook.  If you’ve wanted to try unit studies, this subscription is a great way to put your feet in the water – and they’ve done all the hard work of pulling everything together for you.

Depending on your personal style, the box could take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or two to complete.  We like to dive into our unit studies, and so completed the box in two school days.

Our school is very history & geography centered, so we began by reading through the scrapbook and watching a few YouTube videos on Morocco.  We also Google-Earthed our way through Morocco.  If you’ve never done this, it’s a fascinating way to vicariously visit a country!

From there, we started on the activity book.  I like that each subject has a hands-on project for applying the concepts once they have been taught.  We supplemented this with spur-of-the-moment YouTube videos that the boys found to explore the concepts – particularly energy – further.  They also looked up some real-world examples of the Moroccan tiles and patterns.

Above : Weaving sticks & making catapults

Science and technology are areas that the boys are very interested in, but mom is simply proficient at, so the STEAMworld boxes are wonderful for giving me a jumping off point.  They provide ideas for hands-on projects in the areas that the boys want to study, but in ways that tie in with the things I am better at teaching.  Because they are engaging, too, they promote further study on the topics.  (And this could go the other way, too, if you are more science-focused, but want to incorporate geography into your units.)

Overall, the box was a hit with the boys.  It’s a little disappointing to find that there are currently only two more countries available, but the company says that they are creating more as we speak, so I foresee greater options in the future.  I like that they offer both one-month and three-month subscription choices.  Finally, I LOVE that they provide the Duo Kit option. 

What’s the Duo Kit?  It’s a kit of extra consumable supplies for all of the projects in the activity book.  Each box comes with literature and supplies for one student.  If you have more than one student, however, and want each child to have his own supplies, you simply need a Duo Kit for the child – rather than a whole other box.  And it’s affordable.

Above : Art projects from the Morocco box

Just the Facts :
  • Site : STEAMworld
  • Ages : 4th – 8th grade  (flexible enough to tailor to other aged children)
  • Cost :  $39.95 / month – shipped to you 
    • $99 / 3-month subscription
    • $9.95 for Duo Kit

Included in the Morocco Activity Book.....

We received this month of STEAM World in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are our own, and we present both the good and the bad.

Tuesday, June 20

Cultural Cooking : Greek

One place the children have always wanted to visit is Greece!  We spend a lot of time studying Ancient Greece, the philosophers, the arts, and the politicians....and sometimes we even top it off with a Greek meal!  Καλή σας όρεξη (Enjoy!)

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • olive oil (as needed)
  • 1 lb lean ground beef (or can use ground lamb)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic 
  • 1(8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • Cheese Sauce
    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 
    • 2 tablespoons flour
    • 1 cup half-and-half cream
    • 1 egg
    • 1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese 

  1. Grease a 9 x 9-inch baking pan although you could use a 13 x 9 pan using a smaller pan will result in a thicker casserole.
  2. Peel the eggplants then slice 1/4-inch thick (a little thicker won't hurt).
  3. Brush cookie sheet with olive oil.
  4. Coat each side of sliced eggplant with olive oil then season slices with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Place the eggplant slices on cookie sheet; broil under the broiler until brown; turn and broil the other side, brushing with oil if needed; repeat with all eggplant slices.
  6. In the bottom of the prepared baking dish arrange half of the eggplant slices.
  7. In a large skillet, combine beef and onions; cook stirring until the beef is no longer pink and the onions are soft; drain fat.
  8. Add in the garlic, tomato sauce, oregano, 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper to taste; pour mixture over eggplant slices.
  9. Arrange the remaining eggplant slices over the beef mixture.
  10. Melt the butter in a separate saucepan, whisk in flour, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste; gradually stir in half and half or milk, cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly.
  11. In a small bowl, beat egg; stir in some of the hot sauce, then add egg to sauce mixture, mix well; add in Parmesan cheese, and stir again.
  12. Pour the cheese sauce over mixture in baking dish.
  13. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes.
  14. Cut into squares.

  • ½ onion, in chunks
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp sea salt

  1. Place the onion in a food processor, and process until finely chopped. Scoop the onions onto the center of a towel, gather up the ends of the towel, and squeeze out the liquid from the onions. Place the onions into a mixing bowl along with the lamb and beef. Season with the garlic, oregano, cumin, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, and salt. Mix well with your hands until well combined. Cover, and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  3. Place the meat mixture into the food processor, and pulse for about a minute until finely chopped and the mixture feels tacky. Pack the meat mixture into a 7x4 inch loaf pan, making sure there are no air pockets. Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place the loaf pan on the towel, inside the roasting pan, and place into the preheated oven. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the loaf pan.
  4. Bake until the gyro meat is no longer pink in the center, and the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) on a meat thermometer, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Pour off any accumulated fat, and allow to cool slightly before slicing thinly and serving.

  • 1 lb phyllo pastry, thawed if frozen
  • 1 cup butter, melted at room temp
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1⁄2 cup water
  • 1⁄4 cup lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup honey

  1. Preheat oven to 325. Layer half of the sheets of phyllo one sheet at a time, in a greased 11x7x2 baking pan, brushing each sheet evenly with butter and folding ends over if necessary to fit into pan.
  2. Keep unused sheets covered with plastic wrap while assembling baklava to prevent drying.
  3. Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar and cinnamon; stir in walnuts.
  4. Sprinkle nut mixture evenly over buttered phyllo in pan.
  5. Layer remaining phyllo, one sheet at a time, over nut mixture, brushing each sheet evenly with butter.
  6. Cut diagonally into squares, cutting completely through all layers.
  7. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and golden, about one hour.
  8. Combine remaining sugar, the water, lemon juice and honey in small saucepan; cook and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.
  9. Heat to boiling; pour evenly over hot baklava.
  10. Let stand loosely covered 8 hours or overnight.

Monday, June 19

I Got My Game On (Trace Adkins)

This is part one of a two-part series.  Come back to learn about our favorite printable games and how to store and organize games so that they don't take over the house!

When school gets to be too much, we put it away and spend a day playing board games.  Games are a great way to reinforce what you’re teaching, as well as teach social and life skills.  There are so many options, no matter the age level, and most importantly, the kids won’t realize they’re learning!

Some of the social skills involved in board games include : communication, turn taking, sharing, waiting, encouragement, and healthy competition.  It’s a good way to learn that your luck can change in a roll of the dice, so don’t ever give up and just keep trying your best, because your next turn might be your lucky move!

Some of our favorite board games are :
  • Monopoly.  This classic game teaches about math and finances. Monopoly is also an incredible powerful mechanism for introducing students to the art of negotiation…and, in our house, how not to get taken!  It’s a great game for tailoring to age level, and you can continue to add financial lessons as they progress.  As an added bonus, if you’re really passionate about your alma mater or favorite TV show, it probably has its own version of the game!
  • Clue.  Has there ever been a better murder mystery game for the elementary / middle school set?  It teaches logic, organization, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
  • Scrabble.  Another classic, this one works with spelling and vocabulary.  It seems that people are either really good, or really bad, at this game, and in our family it’s about a fifty-fifty split.  Therefore, we usually pair up on evenly matched teams.  Also, when a parental figure plays a word the kids don’t know, they get to practice their dictionary skills!
  • Risk.  It covers world geography, politics, and relationships.  Everyone tries to build an army, protect their territory, and conquer the world – and for my ancient history loving kids, this is their idea of a perfect game.  Not only do you have to conquer the world, but you have to weigh the odds, plan contingency plans, and form alliances to help you pull it all off…
  • Chess.  It’s like a real-life game of war, possibly even more so than Risk…thinking ahead, on multiple courses of action, strategic planning, and competition.  Honestly, it’s not my favorite game, but one of our sons adores playing, and always wins.  We all have our strengths…which is something else we learn as we play!

But what are we really learning???
  • Learning can be FUN.  So, maybe they aren’t consciously learning this one, but they’ll be able to see all of the real-life applications of the lessons they’ve meticulously plucked away at…as they quickly add up the dice in their head, or shuffle out bank notes from the ‘bank.’
  • Turn-taking.  Even littles can practice patience and wait their turn for Chutes & Ladders or Hi-Ho the Cherry-O.  And this is a real world skill….as anyone who’s waited in line at Walmart will attest to…
  • Math skills – particularly arithmetic.  Not every board game requires this, but the vast majority involve rolling dice, adding up those dice (or multiplying), and proceeding with the game based on the answer. 
  • Strategy.  Younger games don’t involve this one as much, but Chess and Risk are good examples of games that require you to develop one or more long-term strategies.  Thinking ahead is a skill that will develop with practice.
  • Decision-making.  Even with a good strategy, sometimes you have to cut your losses.  Learning how to decide when and what to cut, and what criteria help make that decision, are skills that translate to both career and relationships – it’s about risk and benefit.
  • Grace.  This is a skill that most people aren’t born with…we have to be taught, and then have opportunities to practice it.  Both winning and losing should be handled with grace, but human nature doesn’t work that way.  It’s important, as parents, for us to demonstrate this grace and help kids distinguish between healthy competition and a personal attack.

Wednesday, June 7

MarshMedia Review

Health Education Products for K-8 {MarshMedia }

Remember back in school, when they would separate the boys and the girls into different classrooms and you would spend a week on ‘health education?’  The videos that you watched probably came from this company – MarshMedia.  They produce health education videos for elementary and middle schoolers – and now they’re expanding into the homeschool market, so you’ll have access to the same materials that the schools do.

The first thing I want to address is ‘using the same materials as the public schools.’  I realize this goes against the homeschooling grain, but these are well-made, informative, basic videos that, while not being outright religious, are not in any way inappropriate for the Christian household.  They are straightforward with a Joe Friday approach.  (For you younger folks, that’s Dragnet : “Just the facts, ma’am.”)
Their videos cover many relevant topics, including health, puberty, safety, nutrition, hygiene, and more.  There is even a video in their collection about what to do during a school shooting.  Granted, that’s not one most homeschool families would need, but it could be used as a jumping off point for what to do if you’re in the mall / Walmart / Disney World and someone opens fire.  …..and isn’t it just a little sad that we even have to discuss this with our five year olds today?  I digress.

MarshMedia is opening up their video collection to homeschoolers – they will be able to subscribe on a month to month basis to the entire collection of videos.  Each one is only 10 to 15 minutes long, so it would be feasible to watch every single one in a month, if you were inclined to do so. 

There are videos geared specifically toward boys, specifically toward gears, and for both genders.  We opted only to watch the ones geared toward boys during our month.  As a mom who knows little to nothing about actually experiencing boyhood puberty, it was nice to let someone (or the video, in this case) else take the lead on teaching them the things they need to know. 

Here are some of the highlights we found :
  • Meet the New You for Boys – This is an introduction to puberty for younger students who are not ready to learn about reproduction, but who should be aware of changes that may begin to occur soon.  This video is geared toward elementary school, and its visual nature made it easy to understand.  (And by visual, I mean drawings, not real photographs.)  Since children are going through puberty considerably earlier than when we were kids, I like that they’ve made one at this young level.
  • Growing Up : Boys – This video was geared toward 5th-7th graders, but it seemed to be more toward upper elementary school to us.  My husband watched this one with the boys, more to answer any residual questions they may have (there were none, of course), and he agreed that it seemed aimed a bit lower than middle school.  It covers puberty, hygiene, self-esteem, and the basics of reproduction.  This video set off some very interesting conversations about tree and animal reproduction on the farm…
  • I Know How to Act – This video focuses on social behaviors, including friendship, dating, leadership, and other social behaviors.  It features students from a typical classroom alongside students with special needs, and helps each group to better understand the other’s actions.  One thing I would have like to see more emphasis on is the digital world which has swept up our youngsters, and how to navigate it.  However, maybe this is one that is currently in production.  If not, they should definitely make a Part II to this video that focuses on social media.  (hint hint)
  • A Boy’s Guide to Growing Up – This video was designed for the boy with special needs, specifically for children with mild to moderate disabilities.  As a mom of one with special needs, I really appreciate that they’ve made a line of videos for these children.  Students with disabilities still need to learn and understand the nuances of growing up, but it can be difficult to break it down in a way that is clear and developmentally-appropriate.  The videos do just that.  You can see their entire special needs collection here.
Health Education Products for K-8 {MarshMedia }
Just the Facts :
  • Various videos aimed at separate genders and separate age groups, from Kindergarten to 8th grade
  • Videos for special needs children
  • For short attention spans - only 10-15 minutes each
  • Available as a subscription on a month to month basis
  • Streamed directly from online
  • Also available in Spanish
See what others are saying about MarshMedia at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
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Tuesday, June 6

K5 Learning Review

K5 Learning

The end of the year is a good time to take stock of skills learned during the previous school year.  What is your student #winning at?  What might s/he need a little extra help with?  Enter K5Learning – it’s an online reading and math enrichment program for elementary-aged students.  It is intended to be a supplemental program and would be perfect for summer school tutoring.  And may I just say - you have to love any program that starts every single lesson with jokes!!

K5 Learning addresses three key areas :
  • Reading has tutorials and activities covering phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.
  • Math has lessons, exercises, and games, including numbers and operations, geometry, measurement, time, money, algebraic thinking, and data analysis.
  • Spelling is a simple spelling and vocabulary program, featuring adaptive instruction, automatic word generation, and a 150,000+ word database.

The first thing you’ll want to complete when logging on for your free trial is the assessment test.  The parent will receive a detailed report from this assessment, as well as periodic progress reports on your child’s performance within the program components.  The student will begin tutorials based on level of assessment.  So, if he’s reading at a 4th grade level, but doing math at a 1st grade level, he’ll be placed into first grade math and fourth grade reading for the games, exercises, and lessons.  For the most part, we found the assessment to fall right as expected.

However, as the parent, you have the option of requesting a different level for your child.  If the lessons are too easy (or too hard), the program can be incredibly frustrating and your student may just want to give up.  (Ask me how I know…)  K5Learning has it set up so that you can request a change in level – which we did in the math.  Our math program used different terminology than what was used on the assessment test, and so he scored much lower than was necessarily accurate.
Speaking of math, you must remember that this is a supplemental program.  Without background instruction on the concepts, the student won’t succeed.  This program isn’t designed to teach, but rather to offer more practice and drill.  Remember math fact drills?  They don’t really do those in school anymore, and it’s hurting our children.  This program will help with that….and it even does its best to make math drills fun.  (But life just isn’t always fun, now is it?)

It was the spelling portion of the program that really caused our family fits.  I like the concept of it – basic spelling and vocabulary drill.  If the word is spelled correctly, it goes away; if it’s spelled incorrectly, it keeps turning up like a bad penny until the student gets it right.  This is not what gave us issue though.  (To understand the next part, you have to remember that our youngest has special needs – particularly, speech and hearing issues. )  The computer says the word aloud, and the student it supposed to spell it.  There is no spelling list to study, and you have no idea what words might be used, so there’s not really any context to work from.  We eventually found where you could see a definition of the word, and a  picture, which was the only way either of us (mom included) were able to deduce what was being said.  I’m not sure what sort of voice generator the people at K5Learning used, but you really cannot understand the vast majority of the words being spoken…and that makes them hard to spell.

Eventually, I figured out how to input our current spelling list into the student portal so that we knew exactly which words would be selected from – and that helped a great deal with his understanding, and thus being able to spell them.   Once he was able to get through one successful sitting with the spelling program, his (and mom’s) opinion of this program changed dramatically.  We had finally worked through the kinks with both spelling and math (no real issues with reading, but then again, that’s the component we used the least).  It sounds like a lot, but it really only took us about three days to work through the kinks.  I just want you to know about them, so they won’t take you off guard and so that you have an idea of how to work around them.

One final thing to mention is the worksheets.  The program offers several tailored worksheets, based on your student’s assessment and current performance for extra hands-on / writing practice.  These are suggested at the bottom of the dashboard whenever you log in (after completing one lesson in both reading and math).  You also have the option of searching for worksheets to cover a particular topic.  They are neatly organized and easy to navigate, and there seem to be ample options for all grades (K-5).

To sum, this program seems to offer something that’s missing from today’s school setting (and I’m just as much at fault in our homeschool) – and that’s drill.  Math drill, spelling drill, reading comprehension drill.  Everyone wants something new and flashy, but by glossing over the skills and moving forward, we’re forgetting that those elementary school basics are the building blocks for success later on.  If you have an 8th grader that never fully mastered their multiplication tables, they’re going to struggle with advanced math, no matter how well they understand the basic concepts.  However, if they can whip out the basic arithmetic portion of those advanced calculations, they’ll have it made!

To get a better idea and see for yourself, check out the free sample lessons here.   The samples cover a broad range of topics so that the company can show you all the different ways they help students practice skills.  While you’re there, you should try out the two-week FREE TRIAL.  Two weeks is plenty of time to explore the site fully and determine whether it’s a good fit for your student(s).

See what others are saying about K5Learning at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

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