One Word 2016

Last year here at West Word Blog, we focused our minds on one word - the Word.  I had wanted to teach myself to always turn to the Word in anything.

About mid year I started suffering from panic attacks.  My doctor and I discussed options and she said I could medicate, but she wanted me to attempt to go without if I was okay.  I could have hugged her.  Medication isn't always the answer and I am so thankful I have a doctor that is not an eager beaver with meds. 

I turned to God's Word, with the help of Elyse M. Fitzpatrick's books, and I can honestly say that I can cope.  The attacks are far fewer and when they do come they are short lived. 

This year I want to further renew myself.  Any broken relationships, ill feelings, lingering anger, forgiveness.  I pray it is all washed clean and renewed with a right spirit.

Blessings to all in the new year!  <3

Road Trip with Kids: Audio Books Part 2

As Christmas approaches and family's dash through the snow to Grandma's house, I plan to make spirits bright with more audio books.

We've now used audio books as our long car ride survival plan for over a year and the kids beg to hear one to pass the time.  (they are not allowed electronics).  Usually I do this via my phone app, Overdrive and hook up to our car via Bluetooth, but some are not available through our library so we own them.

Our current favorites we have listened to:

The Nutcracker by Maestro Classics.  This gem will provide you with an hour of entertainment by professional storyteller, Jim Weiss. 

This audio production by Listening Library will provide you will 10 (yes ten) hours and 45 mins of entertainment with a full cast featuring Redwall author, Brian Jacques.  This adventure story is a true gem, and even had my husband asking for more. 
The Saturdays is the first story in the Melendy Quartet.  It is a story of four children, the Melendy's and their adventures.  This was a favorite with my eldest (who's 8), he asked to hear all the books from this series.  This book is 4 hrs of listening.

I grew up with Disney's Jungle Book so listening to the 5 hr long audio version of the actual book was entertaining just for the great differences in the stories.

Paddle to the Sea (58 mins) was a good listen.  It's a little wooden canoe, carved by a boy, that journey's from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a great book to listen to for a "living book" geography and history lesson.  (although, this Michigan gal was disappointed the reader pronounced Mackinac wrong, lol.)

What are your favorites stories to listen to as a family?


Our Christmas Book Favorites

The kids look forward to each year when we bring our Christmas books out of storage.  They each have their favorites they scoop up right away as the exclaim, "Oh!  I thought I'd never see this again!"  So dramatic, but yet shows how much they cherish their holiday books.
Here are the West kids' favorite pics for Christmas:

Dinosaur vs. Santa by Bob Shea

This cute little board book series stars a ferocious little dino who is always battling something.  The library.  Bedtime.  Mommy.  And now he takes on Santa.  This is fun for all ages.

Santa's Stuck by Rhonda Gowler Greene

Santa gets a little too ambitious with his sweets in this hilarious little book and ends up stuck in the chimney.  The story and illustrations reminded me of a mix between Jan Brett's illustrating style (picture within a picture) and the fairy tale "The Gigantic Turnip" - with the role of "turnip" played by Santa.  :)

The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

The Nutcracker needs no introduction.  This is a new favorite for us to read over and over.  The illustrations are just lovely in Susan Jeffers book and we like the book retold by AnnMarie Anderson.

The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup

This story is sure to be a favorite with so many boys and girls.  A young boy and his mother are making gingerbread cookies to leave for Santa but Captain Cookie is just to dear for young Jim to leave on the plate so he takes him to bed.  Captain Cookie comes to life as soon as Jim falls asleep and sets out to save his crew from the awful cannibal named Santa Claus.

Room for a Little One:  A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell

The illustrations in this book are just so whimsical and lovely.  The lines on each page are short and so sweet, making this a nice read for the youngest little listeners.

The Mouse Before Christmas by Michael Garland

This twist on "The Night Before Christmas" is my eldest's current favorite.  Mouse is gathering cookies on his plate when Santa arrives.  He wants to peek inside Santa's sack and ends up falling in and going on a sleigh ride with the jolly old elf.

The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry

This sweet book was my childhood favorite, wrapped up in memories of sitting on Grandma's lap as we scratched and sniffed our way through a Christmas of the past. 

What are your favorite Christmas books?


Thoughtful Stocking Stuffers {or small gifts} for Kids

We are making our list and checking it twice for the upcoming holiday season.  Here in the West Word house we get 3 gifts a piece plus a stocking.  I try to make our stockings be mostly meaningful/educational toys.  Something with a purpose other to be at the bottom of the toy bin one month after Christmas.

Our list this year:

Maestro Classics is at the top of our list.  The kids and I recently reviewed The Nutcracker and we all fell so in love with these stories set to music.  These are great to take along on those long car rides to visit family.  Check them out on Friday for a not to be missed sale!!  (We'll be scooping up Peter and the Wolf and The Story of Swan Lake.)

Any kid enjoys a fun pencil to help get their work done.   Our eldest will be finding "super trained & stealthy" ninjas in his stocking.  The little lady will be getting Unravels.  These crayons peel away to reveal hidden riddles and jokes.  So fun for a our new reader!  Both of these can be found in store at places similar to Mastermind Toys or Chapters !ndigo.  They are also found on Amazon.

Little books are so books fit so nicely into stockings - and they are an excellent take-along for long car rides.  This year our science lover will be getting Human Body, while little brother will find Cars in his stocking.  These are found in many retail stores and on Amazon.

Toobs by Safari Ltd. are so fun for imaginative play.  You can search Safari's website for a store near you.  I am so excited for our avid dinosaur lover to find dino skulls in his stocking!  (Our cat lover will of course be finding cats in her stocking).  We found our Toobs are Mastermind Toys and once at a museum!  They are also on Amazon, but if you're in Canada you're better off finding a retailer.

Padraig is a maker of the best slippers my child was ever gifted - 8 years ago!  They are still around and are now worn by our 3rd child.  These slippers are pricey, but so well made and long lasting.  They are made of sheepskin and wool.  A wonderful gift for baby's first Christmas!!  Padraig offers a very nice store locater to find a seller near you.

If you have a little lady (or lad!) that loves dolls, consider buying little adorable cloth diapers!  Three years ago we purchased from Baby Doll Diapers by Missy  and we have yet to be disappointed in our little doll diapers.

Winter is such a long season to endure, I think especially for homeschoolers being cooped up together all day all season.  Help get the wiggles out with Slap SHOTZ when it is too cold to safely go outside and play hockey!  (We found ours at Chapters !ndigo)

Sumoku is a fun game that can easily fit into the stocking of an older kid (8+).  Other fun games to fit in stockings would be
  • Rory's Story Cubes Mix.  We are going to get Enchanted for the girlie and Prehistoric for the big bro.  When mixed I think it'll be so fun for them!
  • Bananagrams sells cute games for the younger crew, like Pairs and Pears.
  • Kandoole Extreme would be fun for an older kid.
And that concludes our thoughts so far!  What are you thinking of stuffing your stockings with?

Blue Ribbon Awards 2015

My first year on the TOS Review Crew has came to an end and soon we will be gearing up for another year!  It has just all went by so incredibly fast!

The Crew has voted for our favorite products in many categories.  Being in Canada I don't get a chance to review as many product as the others, but we've personally been blessed with about 23 of great products.  Of the ones I have had a chance to review, my top 5 favorites would have to be:

1) Maesto Classics - I just loved this audio story set to classic music!  We've listened to this no less than 5 times already.

2)  Successful Homeschooling Made Easy - this was something I was not excited to review and it ended up being a favorite.  The advice and helps found in this e-course are invaluable!

3)  Cursive Logic - this program is so wonderful in teaching children how to write in a simple and quick way.  This has been tremendously helpful in our school with our reluctant writer.

4)  Homeschool Legacy -  This is something I wouldn't have thought to get for us.  Our bird study was so much fun and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with this study

5)  LaLaLogic - this preschool curriculum is so fun and multi-sensory.  It is just brilliant.  I loved it so much that we went ahead and bought her poetry book for kids.

6) SmartKidz Media - I know I said top 5 but I have to squeeze this one in too.  This website is so wonderful and we use it so often.  My eldest especially loves it.

7) - let's just go ahead and ignore that I said top 5 because I can't leave without mentioning this company.  I am so grateful for being introduced to this Christian movie company!  We're buying some more kids dvds for stocking stuffers.

8)  Middlebury Interactive Languages - Emma (age 5) is still going strong on learning French.  She loves her lessons and often big brother joins.  Whenever we have company Emma shares her new language knowledge - I just love it!

The kids' top favorites:

Connor's most favorite this year was Homeschool in the Woods.  He had such a blast and it works so well with someone that likes learn in many ways- audio, visual, hands on. 

Emma's favorite was Maestro Classics.  Seriously such a good company.  We are going to purchase more of the stories and gift one to a family friend for Christmas.

To see who won the Blue Ribbons click the banner below and also be sure to visit the crew's blogs to see their own personal favorites which could be different than the overall winners.
2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards

Multi-level Bible study lessons {a TOS review}

Grapevine Studies Review
Last year the kids and I briefly used GrapeVine Studies as part of our bible study lesson.  I had only purchased one unit with 10 lessons and when it was over my oldest was upset because he wanted "more stick figure learning."  When the opportunity came up to review GrapeVine Studies the kids were so excited!
We received an eBook of Birth of Jesus:  Multi-Level (also available in a hard copy book).  We received the eBooks for Multi-Level (ages 7 and up) and Traceable (ages 3-6) as well as the Teacher eBook.

What is GrapeVine Studies?

GrapeVine Studies is a bible curriculum and study tool, that helps students learn God's Word and memorize scripture by reading the Bible and then drawing what they've learned in colored stick figures.  Choices are for either topical (Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Moses, Birth of Jesus, and Resurrection)or chronological studies from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

There are a lot of choices for topics, and 5 levels to choose from, which can seem overwhelming, but the GrapeVine website is very well done and offers many visual "helps" to get you started.  For starters, there is a very nice 20 page catalog you can download for free and read about each item offered.  If you want something quicker to help your decision making, there are a couple handy charts.

Grapevine Studies Review
click to view larger
More about the Topical eBook, Birth of Jesus: Multi-Level

The Birth of Jesus takes students on a journey to know and understand the events that surround Jesus' birth, beginning with Mary in Nazareth, and the journey that takes her from Nazareth and back again, with Joseph and the Messiah. 
Things needed that are not included in the eBooks:
  • Bible
  • colored pencils for students
  • dry erase board
  • dry erase markets in 8 colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black and brown)
  • Bible dictionary

The students learn by listening to a Bible passage, then drawing stick figures that show the story they've just heard.  The lesson is completed with a review, scripture memorization and a question/answer session.

Included in the study is mapping of the journey and vocabulary words that students are asked to look up in a Bible dictionary.

The Teacher book has thorough notes of what is being covered in each lesson.  These notes may be read aloud or you can use your own wording for discussion.  Also included are the fully drawn stick figure stories, in color, to be drawn by the teacher and copied by the student.

How we used this in our Homeschool

This Bible study can be used as a daily lesson or a weekly (once a week) lesson.   We used it as a daily study.  Because I have the eBook version, I downloaded the Teacher eBook onto our iPad so that I could open in iBooks as a portable, printer free, way to teach the lessons.  For the kids' books, I printed and hole punched what they would need and put it in a folder so that they everything stayed together and they could keep it after the lessons were complete.

The study begins with a timeline overview of the entire study before starting with the lessons.

Here is what Day 2 looked like for us:

We used this with an 8 year old using the Multi-Level student eBook and a 5 year old using the Traceable Student eBook

The study begins with "The Announcement".  I read from Matthew 1:1, 17, and we discuss using the teacher prompts and then we draw our first stick figures.  I write 5 vocabulary words on our chalkboard and we look them up in our bible dictionary.

We read from Luke 1:26-27 and discuss and draw our second set of stick figures.

We read from Luke 1:28-33 discuss and then draw, completing our lesson for the day.

Day 3 would be the same, bible reading, discussing and drawing then ending with questions.  The answers are provided in the Teacher eBook.

Day 4 the kids would draw what their favorite part of the lesson was and they would recite or write their memory verse.

This pattern is repeated for 5 weeks, with the occasional addition of a locating a biblical city on the map provided in the eBook.

Final Thoughts

The pacing of using the daily schedule worked out great as it wasn't too long of a lesson for young learners.  We really loved the multi-sensory lessons to learn more about the Birth of Jesus.

Emma (5) really loved being able to feel confident in "keeping up" with us, having a traceable stick figure story to complete.

Connor (8) really loved the freedom of making a unique to him stick figure, frequently asking to add in things that he heard in the story but that were not in the stick figure pictures I drew for him on the board.

When we got to the end on our lessons, after 5 weeks, both kids were sad and wanted to know if we could do more. 

We'd recommend this for any Christian home looking for a fun and engaging way to help your little ones grow to know and understand the Bible.  Having them draw the story really helps them commit to memory.

To see the rest of the crew's reviews on the Birth of Jesus and of Creation to Jacob, click the banner below:
Grapevine Studies Review

Surfing the Net: Science {a TOS review}

My eldest son, Connor (3rd grade) can not get enough of science.  He is always making his way straight to the non-fiction section of the library and then hits ups the documentary DVDs next.  For him, a good school day always includes an experiment of some sort.  Connor was very eager to help review Surfing the Net Science for The Critical Thinking Co.
The Critical Thinking Co. is well known for their curricula that help children become better problem solvers.  They offer a range of material from supplemental to full curriculum for students in Pre-K to grade 12.  You are able to find 8 different subjects in the material offered by Critical Thinking Co.
  • Critical Thinking
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Test Prep
  • Tests
  • Technology
What is Surfing the Net Science?

Surfing the Net Science is a 256 page workbook, written by Jennifer Katherine Brooks, for students in grades 3 to 6 in which the kids learn about science, while learning how to research, using the Internet.

The book starts out with an Introduction.  This is one area I was glad for and I believe it is so important not to skip this part.  The Intro provides a "How to" where a few key links are provided for bookmarking, so that the activities are made easier for the students, rather than having to type in the long links each time.  In addition, the Intro provides an overview of the book's layout and a key to the icons that are used throughout the book.  Finally, this section also provides you with a link to a much advised video lesson on search engines and how key word searches work.
Following the Introduction are 7 sections of topics, with 46 sub-topics.  The book ends with answers to all questions asked.  The 7 main sections are:
  • Animals
  • Atmosphere
  • Ecosystems and Habitats
  • Energy
  • Geology
  • Plants
  • Space

Each section begins with an overview of the section's topic and provides links to get you started.  Following the overview is where the "critical thinking" questions are found, for each sub-topic.  The students use key words found in the question to research and find the answers to write down on their worksheet.

Using the links provided a student might do 1 to 8 activities within a topic.
  • Watch a video
  • Search for images
  • Use a website
  • Take a quiz
  • Play a game
  • View an animation
  • Use an interactive website
  • Read an article
How did we use this?

There is no schedule suggested for this book, and nothing that needs to "build" upon a previous subject.  While it would make complete logical sense to just go in order from page 1, we skipped around following our child-led and unit study eclectic school life.  Connor is passionate about science so we are never bored or wondering what to do next.

When we started Surfing the Net Science we had been studying eastern Canada and fisheries.  It made sense to us to begin with "Fish", which is the 4th of the 8 sub-topics offered under "Animals".  In this section the student has 3 full pages of 11 questions total, pertaining to fish.  Connor researched things such as "Largest Mammal", "Largest Fish", and "What is the world's deadliest fish?".

The last page, questions 7-11, were so fun that he repeated it numerous times.  He was asked to dissect a virtual salmon, label and draw organs and then he was asked to take a shark personality quiz.  My shark enthusiast just loved that part.

Next we went to the Hydroelectricity worksheets, found under Section 4:  Energy.  We had recently taken a field trip to Niagara Falls.  This is the only topic we didn't complete as it is hard for an 8 year old.  (The book is for grades 3-6 and Connor is grade 3). 

After coming to a road block with hydro power we switched gears to child-led learning and Connor chose all the rest of his topics, working on about a page a day, three days a week.  He learned about insects, the solar system and the ocean before I asked him to do a couple of my choice.

We next learned about Taiga and Tundra to fit our unit study on Nunavut and finally, since Connor is currently very passionate about orangutans, we learned about the Rain Forest, where he learned about products that come from the rain forest by playing on online game.

Final Thoughts
I love that the links lead the student to safe, legit, well-known science sites such as Discovery and National Geographic.  There is not a single suggestion to watch a video via YouTube, which is a huge plus to me as we have a strict "no YouTube" rule in our home.
With Surfing the Net Science I felt we weren't just skimming the surface of typical science subjects.  Students aren't just fed information, they are asked to dig in and really think about the topics.  The book really helps teach the student how to research, and what to ask oneself when researching.
The review crew has been working with a number of other items from The Critical Thinking Co., to see them click the banner below:
The Critical Thinking Company Review
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