An Update and Review of Christian Kids Explore

It’s that time of year. I see it all over blogs and pinterest. It’s the time of year when curriculum goes on sale and homeschoolers come out of the woodwork offering advice on how to evaluate your year. And because of all that evaluating, I’ve been in a very reflective, evaluating frame of mind. One of the areas I’ve been evaluating has been our science, specifically our Christian Kids Explore curriculum.

This is the first year for me to attempt to tackle something resembling formal science. Nature studies, lap books, read-alouds and living books—yes, yes, and yes, but up until this year there’s been very little in the way of science experiments and formal observation and terms (well, unless you count the parts of the skeleton and body organs as “terms”).

But honestly, during my evaluating, this is one of those areas where I’m realizing that I’m not superwoman, that there might be somethings I’m just not ready for. While science has been a highlight for the kids, the subject always listed as their favorite when we talk about school, I’ve felt like a total failure in this area—and I’ve missed our nature study, something we really haven’t had time for (or the weather for lately; it is winter after all).

So, on one hand, my first reaction was to decide to purchase a formal science curriculum next year. Something more structured, more like the real thing. But then, how would I have time for that? As I confided to my husband my struggle, he gave such a terrific insight. He mentioned that he didn’t remember having formal science until 5th or 6th grade, so why not enjoy nature study and simpler science activities until the kids were old enough to be doing most of history independently. Then, I could feasibly switch my teaching efforts to science at that time. Ah, bless that man!

So that’s what I’m doing, starting now. I have a fabulous nature-oriented study on rain (welcome to the Pacific Northwest, folks!) that we are doing, and it’s been such a balm to my nature-loving soul.

 

What’s the deal with our other science, Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space? Here’s a quick list of what it is and isn’t:

 

Christian Kids Explore science review

It Isn’t…

  • a textbook, which is a good thing really. But that also means that there are no photos or colored illustrations. It’s an introduction into a topic, some terms to learn, and some coloring pages and experiments.
  • a complete science curriculum. Really, my best description is that it provides the backbone, the jumping off point for you to create your own unit study. There is a great list of both book and video resources by topic and grade at the back. But it takes a lot of time to piece together a study on your own, as I’ve learned first-hand.
  • watered-down, in the sense of a shallow little kid’s book on science. I loved that it used real science words and explained concepts for all ages.

It Is…

  • just barely scratching the surface of the subject. To me, it didn’t feel complete on it’s own. I felt that it needed embellished with those “additional resource suggestions.” And that took more time than I had.
  • for all ages, but sometimes that idea felt like it compromised some of the quality of the activities. Maybe it tried to be too all encompassing?
  • a great jumping off point. If you are looking for a place to jump-start your science unit studies, this is a fantastic resource, providing the activities and terms and allowing you the freedom to customize for each level. If you are expecting that, and allow the time for yourself to do that, it’s a terrific curriculum. I, on the other hand, was rather caught off guard and out of time.

So, while Christian Kids Explore is a great science curriculum, particularly for those that like to create their own unit studies, it has not been a good fit for us. What have you found yourself evaluating lately?

Art in the Mail: Kelly Kits review

During my online holiday shopping this season, I stumbled upon a product that was an absolute God-send. Art kits that come in the mail with all the supplies included! Can anyone else say “hallelujah”?

Kelly Kits Art Review

And I’m not referring to craft kits. This is real art—sculpting, painting, drawing, collage, and printmaking—complete with a mini-lesson on a famous artist and a cross-curriculum lesson incorporating another subject. Kelly Kits are sold as a monthly subscription service (purchased monthly or annually) or in packaged kits of 5 projects. The subscription packages come with enough supplies for two projects, $9.99 a month including shipping.

But when I received our art in the mail, I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. It was soap-sculpting. Sculpting soap was an art project I must have skipped at least three different times last year. I had no desire to see my children make a mess with a bar of soap and butter knife. I didn’t want the tears when their tools slipped and carved into their masterpiece. And I didn’t want to end up carving for them.

So when our mail-project included a bar of soap, I was bummed. (Why not watercolor, pastels, or print-making?) And yet, it couldn’t have been more perfect to illustrate the awesome-ness of Kelly Kits. Here I was at the kitchen table with everything my kids would need for this project: two bars of soap, different sized carving tools, and templates. I had no excuse.

Kelly Kits Art review

 

Kelly Kits art review

Of course, the kids thought it was fantastic. I showed them the instructions and helped to get them started (I traced the template onto their soap for them). Then I let them get to work. They needed a little help from me but did most on their own. And they loved every moment of it. When they were done, they even carved embellishments, a face and scarf on the snowman and ornaments for the tree. Because I had everything I needed, my kids got to enjoy a project that I definitely would have continued to skip over.

Our mini artist lesson was on Michelangelo. It gave an example project to google, a brief bio, and a couple of age-appropriate discussion questions.

The bonus was a science lesson and experiment with the left-over soap shavings. We learned about molecules and surface tension.

I did the whole kit in one morning. The kids had so much fun that they couldn’t believe they had done school. Because, of course, learning about sculpting, Michelangelo, molecules, and surface tension doesn’t count as school, right?

Kelly Kits art review

If art is something you have trouble fitting in, or if you’d just like the convenience of having all you need right at your fingertips, Kelly Kits are awesome!  You just can’t beat getting art in the mail, with project supplies, instructions, and everything included.I have been super-impressed with Kelly and with her Kelly Kits. Her YouTube videos are also fantastic and really give you a good picture of what the projects include.

Check out the new Kelly Kit website and art videos, or visit her Facebook page.

Singalong Stories for “big” kids: a Music Together review

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for an honest review. I have not been compensated for a positive review and all opinions are entirely my own. 

I’m finishing up a review I started in my previous post about Music Together Singalong Stories. Last post, I wrote about how much my toddler loves these. Now, I want to highlight how these same books engage my older kids, too. Older as in 5 and nearly 7 years old.

Their favorites:

five year old Middlest—Sandpiper, Ridin’ in the Car, and She Sells Seashells (see previous review here)

six year old Oldest—All Around the Kitchen and One Little Owl (see previous review here)

The storyline of these books is set to music, so the books are intended to be sung rather than merely read. Why is that important?

I’m no expert, but I’ve seen music hold my children’s attention riveted, while they’ll fidget through a typical read-aloud. Also, it helps my pre-reader really stay engaged on her own. She has the book memorized, every note of it. I hear her in her bedroom, singing through her books all on her own. (If you have a four or five year old, you know how important those four words are.) It’s a book that she can be independent with, a book with words no less, before she’s quite ready to read it by herself.

Music Together Singalong Storybooks review

Music Together Singalong Storybooks review

Then, there’s the pictures that carry multiple little story lines of their own. Every picture is a story in itself. The illustrations keep us talking about the book, stopping mid-song to point something out, practicing counting, or simply laughing at the characters.

Music Together Singalong Storybooks review

Last, there are the suggested activities at the end of a book. And what a perfect place for those suggestions. We finish a great reading time, and then—oh, wait! It says to make up our own song verses, or act out the actions in the song, or something similar. So what happens? We start the book again, reading it through with the suggested variation. And these activities are what seals it for my oldest. He’s big enough to read on his own, but now he gets to create, to act, to become part of the story and the action. He’s learning rhyme and rhythm. He’s learning creativity, and he’s learning to explore a book rather than simply read it and close the cover.

All Around the Kitchen activities
All Around the Kitchen activities

These are valuable lessons, lessons that, even though I’m a book-lover, I don’t think I would have thought of on my own! If someone asked me what books to include in a home library for their children, these would definitely be among my recommendations. I have never encountered a set of books before that so totally engaged my children, all of them.

The Music Together Singalong Stories are available as hardbacks ($13.95) or board books ($9.95) on the website or on Amazon. Visit the website to watch a video of one of the storybooks, listen to samples of the music, and read reviews from teachers, librarians, and language experts that rave about these books. 

(Note: My five year old helped with the taking of some of these pictures so that you could see us reading together. I’ve got such great little helpers!)

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for an honest review. I have not been compensated for a positive review and all opinions are entirely my own. For more, see my disclosure policy.

Singalong Stories for Babies and Toddlers: a Music Together review

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for an honest review. I have not been compensated for a positive review and all opinions are entirely my own.

Music Together Singalong Storybooks review

You should have been at my house when this package arrived, a big box of beautiful books—stories made from our favorite songs! We received the latest of the Music Together Singalong Storybooks for review, and my kids were stoked. As in, I didn’t know if I’d even get to open the box I had so many hands “helping” me.

We’ve enjoyed some of Music Together’s great Singalong Storybooks before, and I just can’t compliment them enough.  Even my littlest still totes around his favorite Singalong board book, Hello, Everybody, and has me read it three or four times in a row before wriggling out of my lap. Now, he’s got a few new favorites.

These books are beautiful, and they are ideal stories for babies and toddlers. The idea behind the songs and stories is to use music and activity to teach kids not just music and rhythm and harmonies (though that’s a wonderful part of the experience), but language and sound and creativity. The huge range of experiences that these songs and books provide makes them suitable for a wide age-range of children. I really wanted to highlight that, so I’m actually doing this review in multiple posts. I’ll be concentrating on my Littlest one today and focusing on the older two in an upcoming post.

To start off, Littlest is about 20 mo. and his favorites are Ridin’ in the Car and Sandpiper. How do I know a book is his favorite? When he has me read it to him multiple times in a single sitting, or when he brings it to me to read to him. Most of the time, Littlest reads books the way the normal toddler does: we get through maybe one or two pages of actual reading, flip pages back and forth (because the sound of a turning page is golden), and close the book. The whole process is maybe 30 seconds long before he’s on the search for a new title.

Music Together Singalong Storybook review

But not with these books. I’m telling you, these books are something special. For one, we already know and love the tunes. When I start the Music Together songs, I have kids running to me from all over the house. Littlest absolutely lights up. So when I pull out a book and sing the book to the tune he already loves, he’s captivated.

He listens to every page.

He stays on a page and talks to me about what he sees, babbling and pointing.

He lets me finish the book. Then, he bobs his head great big and says, ” ‘gin!” (Baby language for “again.”) We literally read a book through 3 or 4 times this way before he decides to move along.

Why the magic? These books are fun and beautiful, but I’m super-impressed with how Littlest responds to these books. They are perfect stories for babies and toddlers because of the beautiful illustrations, engaging characters, and THE MUSIC!

Music Together Singalong Storybook review

The books are sung, not read. Catchy tunes keep the little ones actively involved in the process of reading. They don’t sit passively; they engage with the story. Also, many of the books have pages of sounds instead of words: “brrrr,” “beep, beep, beep,” “vroom,” “nyrrr” and others. That’s right where he’s at developmentally. He loves noises: animal noises, car noises, plane noises, etc. Then, add to that fact the beautiful illustrations with so many fun elements to point out and talk about. The music, the story, the pictures, the activity suggestions provided in the back, all keep him totally engaged. (And the website is now offering free coloring pages to match the stories! Oh, the bliss!)

Ridin' in the Car
Ridin’ in the Car
Ridin In the Car activities
Ridin In the Car activities
Sandpiper
Sandpiper

We count. We talk about words he’s learning to say. We talk about faces the characters are making and make those same faces to each other.

Music Together Singalong Storybooks review

Honestly, it's hard to get good pictures with all the moving and grooving going on!
Honestly, it’s hard to get good pictures with all the moving and grooving going on!

He’s learning so much through these stories. And honestly, I think I am, too. I’m learning the fine art of reading to a toddler.

I highly recommend these stories for babies and toddlers and anyone who loves little ones. Story time will never the be same again. The Music Together Singalong Storybooks are available as hardbacks ($13.95) or board books ($9.95) on the website or on Amazon. Visit the website to watch a video of one of the storybooks, listen to samples of the music, and read reviews from teachers, librarians, and language experts that rave about these books.

(Note: My 6 year-old helped in the taking of some of these photos so that you could get a glimpse of us all snuggled up reading. I think he did pretty good for his photography lesson. Thanks, Helper!)

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for an honest review. I have not been compensated for a positive review and all opinions are entirely my own.

A Foundation for Fun: a Logic of English review

This review is purely out of love (I love this program!) All the materials in this review were purchased, and I received no compensation for my opinions.

Logic of English Foundations review Logic of English Foundations Phonics

This year, I made a very scary decision. I changed our phonics program to something new. I can’t tell you how many times I re-evaluated that decision and wondered if I were making the right own. We’re only a few weeks in to our new year, but I’d have to say—all my fears have been relieved!

Not only am I impressed with what Middlest is learning and the things I’m discovering about her in the process, but I am thoroughly convinced that the program must have been written with her in mind!

Logic of English Foundations teaches solid phonics and eliminates nearly all the exceptions and sight words. It teaches detailed awareness of sounds and how to make them. It teaches phonemic awareness and how to blend sounds. It teaches consonant blends and reading in a very logical, simple progression. But best of all, it does all of this in a way the child would never suspect because we’re having so much fun.

We explore sounds; we play guessing games (she “guesses” the word I’m sounding out to her, or I “guess” the word she’s sounding out to me) and scavenger hunt (she hunts for the word I’ve sounded out); we play phonogram hopscotch; we march, twirl, dance, shout, jump, and run.

Logic of English Foundations

And in the process, I’m uncovering problem areas before they become problems. For instance, in one lesson (the work page pictured above), Middlest was to stamp the picture that had the initial sound I said. When I said “ch,” she kept thinking the answer was the tree because she says “chree” instead of “tree.” And I’d never noticed before. We were able to correct the sound before it caused her trouble in her reading.

Last year, consonant blends were nearly our undoing, but this year she is learning to blend orally before she ever sees it on paper. It’s a brilliant strategy that keeps learning to read a lot of fun rather than intimidating. Last year, she dreaded phonics time and pouted nearly everyday; this year she asks to do it first. Best of all, she’s sounding out and reading simple words all on her own throughout the day, before we’ve even introduced a single reading book. I’m ecstatic about the difference!

Logic of English Foundations Cursive

Although Logic of English Foundations gives you the option for cursive or manuscript instruction, cursive is recommended; and I must say, this is another aspect of the program that I have been most impressed with.

Just the like the phonics, the writing instruction is simple, methodical, and logical. It engages both fine and gross motor skills, and it’s creative. This is Middlest’s favorite part. Games are a big part of this instruction as well, games that get my child out of her chair and moving. For my little wiggle-worm, this is ideal. We write in the air with our noses, elbows, feet, and fingers. She writes on my glass door and on my whiteboard. She writes on the line size that she is most comfortable with, and then we each draw funny faces over our favorite letter she’s written.

Logic of English

And honestly, there are days when I wouldn’t be able to tell her letters apart from mine; she’s learning it so well! As a matter of fact, I’ve retaught Oldest a few of the letters using the LOE program because he’s had so much trouble writing the letters with our original program. The LOE cursive makes so much sense and actually helps the children to be less confused about letter-formation. It’s a-mazing!

Logic of English Foundations comes in 6 different levels (A-F) with about 40 lessons each, equivalent of K4-2nd grade. These levels can be used one or more a year, depending on the level and maturity of the child. We opted for two levels this year. Though I probably could have jumped to Level B (a kindergarten equivalent), I really felt that Middlest would benefit from a quick review with the Logic of English approach. We are whizzing through Level A at about a lesson a day, and the lessons are taking roughly 20-30 minutes for both phonics and cursive instruction. We’ll slow down when we get to Level B and take a couple of days per lesson.

I couldn’t be more pleased with Foundations, and highly recommend it over any phonics program I’ve seen or used.

I received the Basic Phonograms cards as a part of an earlier review of the Essentials program. Otherwise, the only other materials I’ve purchased for Middlest are the teacher and student copies of Levels A and B and the Doodling Dragons app on iTunes for $4.99. Teacher copies are $38 each, and student workbooks are $18.

If you are looking for thorough phonics instruction that will totally engage your child, Logic of English Foundations is all that and more.

Music Together Lullabies Review

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Music Together Lullabies review We have thoroughly enjoyed our Music Together CDs (read my reviews of Family Favorites and Family Favorites 2), and I totally anticipated loving  Music Together’s Lullabies as well.

Then, Littlest got a nasty case of roseola about the same time he was cutting his top molars. It was a miserable week and a half for the little guy, and Lullabies sounded like just the ticket to soothe my suffering babe.

Lullabies includes 18 songs that have won 11 different awards. These are quality bed-time tunes, providing a diverse selection of music from various ethnic origins, including a Spanish and a Yiddish lullaby. I love this, and I’ve seen it to be especially appealing to the kids.

Music Together Lullabies review One of the things I love about Music Together products are the activity guides that come with the music. Each song has 2-3 activity suggestions that bring learning and parent-interaction into every musical encounter. Lullabies was no exception. From suggestions on how to personalize the songs by adding the child’s name or singing your own lyrics, to soothing “bed-time” routine ideas, this guide was the perfect compliment to the songs.

Littlest continues to enjoy his lullabies. And I found they were a great morning activity to prepare him for his nap time. He loves this music and asks for it nearly every morning, toddling over to the CD player and bouncing up and down. Who could resist that?

Music Together Lullabies review

Other places the Lullabies have come in handy: the airport and airplane (especially after weather delays got us home one whole day late); hotel rooms; and the doctor’s office (Littlest has had quite a summer fighting germies).  We’ve taken our Lullabies everywhere this summer!

I don’t have as many adorable photos, because I usually had my hands full of Littlest each time we played the music. But I do encourage you to grab your littlest and check out the samples on the website.

Music Together’s Lullabies is available for $14.95 for the CD or $9.99 for the download.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.