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Friday, April 27, 2018

To Desk, or not to Desk: that is the question

To DESK, or not to DESK: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous judgment from other homeschool moms, Or to take arms against a sea of distractions, And by opposing end them?

There is a lot of debate about desks in the homeschool community. We have done our school work on desks, the dinner table, the couch, outside on a blanket, and the living room floor!

Every season something different has worked for my kids. Our school space evolves as they grow. In Kindergarten, I tried to make my wiggly boys sit for way too long in desks that were way too big for them, and it was a disaster.  We became more free range in their younger Elementary years.

Later on, I felt like a homeschool mom failure because the free range all over the house school just wasn't working for us anymore.

Each homeschool plan has it's own season.  The floor & couch were perfect for my preschoolers & kindergartners, and the metric ton of picture books we read. The small card table for any worksheets was appropriate for kindergarten, because I could help both of them easily at the same time. They also only had VERY SHORT age appropriate lesson time, which half of the lesson was spent on the couch reading a book.

Preschool Floor Time

Kindergarten we used a card table in the basement

1st grade, we tried a chest in the living room for several subjects
In 1st and 2nd Grade, we had a larger dining room table for our school work. Somehow my kids always found a way to kick each other under the table, or push their papers onto "their brother's side"
Art and science on dining room table

Let's try outside!  
 We tried outside one year because the weather was beautiful, and we had summer fever.  It was nice for a  few days and for a few subjects at a time, but doesn't last when you live in the Midwest.  My mom guilt mounted as I saw these beautiful homeschool blogs of kids reading their math book while in a tree, and felt like I was somehow missing the mark.

We still wonder outside if possible, but honestly it just doesn't usually work for the consistency we need to keep focused.  Don't get me wrong, they get PLENTY of outside time after school, and several times a week my kids are kicked outside to read on the front porch in the fresh air.
I give up, bring on the desks!
In the season of older Elementary and Middle School chool, we have had the most success with open front desks. The desks gives my children their own space, with plenty of storage inside.  It was in third grade when we made the move to desks for each child, and it was perfect timing. Any earlier and they would not have worked. Any later and I may have gone gray early.

Desks give my kids more freedom to move
 No matter how big the table was, someone was always magically kicking or bothering someone else! One of my children is a "bouncer".  He NEEDS to be moving some part of his body while doing school.  His moving tended to shake the table and annoy ALL of us. It seems counter intuitive, but the change to desks has given him more freedom to move during his school work. He can stand up and do his work, or he can wiggle in his desk and tip his chair slightly.  He can kick the wall or his chair band, or bounce on a ball seat.  All of his wiggling  is contained in his own space, without it distracting his brother or me.

Less Clutter
We tried simple desks without built in storage for 6 months, and they were a cluttered disaster! The paper was falling out everywhere on the floor and driving me batty. I switched to the open front desk, and we all love them! As a mom, I love that their clutter is hidden away. At the end of each semester, each child does have to clean out his desk, or becomes it does become a scary mess!

 Focus and Staying on Task
Now remember, MY kids are not YOUR kids.  I believe in allowing them to explore their interests, and seek their desires: but I also believe that my two little boys inherited my ability to become easily distracted! As an adult, I have had to compensate for this distraction bent by building in boundaries for myself that keep me on task. Sometimes I don't like these boundaries, but they actually give me the freedom to do things I love.

The past two years have created more focus without the distractions of having to share a work space, i.e the dining room table.  I recently allowed one of my kids to start doing his grammar work on the couch, but unfortunately it doubled his work time. His mind would wonder and he would twice as long to get his work done. After a week of this, even he admitted he probabaly would do better at the desk.

You will notice that desks are even facing the walls.  This decision was first made just due to space, but it has proved essential to helping my easily distracted kids focus. The lay out we have now helps them stay on track with their school work, and efficiently work through their workboxes. This lack of distraction has enabled all of us more freedom, because they get their school work done faster and I'm able to leave the room for short periods of time without them becoming completely distracted.

But again, this is could be a season. These desks were well worth the investment for how much they have lessened my need to help keep my kids on task and break up silly fights over space. I expect to be in desks through Junior High, but I have no definite plans for High School.

I hope this helps anyone who is thinking about their homeschool plan.  Remember, each room is unique, and each child is unique! These work wonderful for our workbox system, but you must see what works best for your family! 


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pros & Cons Rome to Reformation, My Father's World

We have been using My Father's World for six years, and just finishing Rome to Reformation. The beauty of this curriculum is the core teaching is done together, with additional activities are suggested for older students. You teach ONE science, history, and bible to everyone, and then split for only individual subjects of Math and English. Since the curriculum is designed for a multi-age classroom, some resources hit may resonate more with younger  kids, some middle elementary, and some for older. Don't get discouraged if a resources seems over their heads sometimes, they will retain more then you expect. 

The manual will become easier to navigate as you establish the rhythm  for your Together Time.  It took a week or so of actually teaching from the manual to be comfortable with the flow, and to learn how to leave items out that weren't meant for us.  Throughout the year, you will also need to assess if a book suggested works for ALL your kids. It is OK if your youngers don't retain all the details from every book, they are still learning at their own level. For those of you like to check all the boxes, you need be OK with sometimes not doing something listed because it is too old or too young for your kids.

Below are descriptions of why a book did , or did not, work for our kids.  Your kids are different, so your cons may be our pros!  Please leave a comment on what works for you!

Teacher's Manual
  • Schedule-This year more than any other year so far, the teacher's manual proves itself essential to this curriculum.  One criticism I have heard of My Father's World was that it bounces around a lot.  This criticism has a base in truth, because it DOES bounce around a lot, but there is method to the madness. If you try to read all the books this year from cover to cover, you will miss a lot, and also get bogged down with too many countries and facts. The way the manuals lays out the scheduled readings makes your history study much easier to understand, and retain, because you study one civilization at a time, from start to finish.  For example,  in week 8 you skip several chapters in Augustus Cesar's World about ancient China, but come back to them for an entire 2 week study of ancient china in week 22. That same week you are scheduled to learn "terra" means land in "English From the Roots Up", while learning about the terra cotta warriors that guard an ancient Chinese emperor's tomb.  that same week, you study that mercury is a "terrestrial" planet (another derivative of terra), meaning it has land and is not a gaseous planet.
The manual cleverly aligns our study of the moon in science, with the Latin root word for moon. 
  • Pace-  Some countries and time periods you seem to fly over.  At first this was jarring, but once I realized  it was age appropriate just to introduce my children to the overall history concept, I felt better knowing everything will be covered in deeper detail in high school. 
  • Activities- Like usual, there are several easy to implement activities in each unit.  We missed some, like the roman feast, but did enjoy dressing up as roman solders and making our own helmets.  I was glad many were so easy to implement this year, like we drank hot chocolate the day we learned about the Mayans. 
Mixed Feelings
  • Student Sheets-  While I am thankful for the student sheets, I was kind of disappointed again this year.  The sheets are necessary so that you can use the timeline pieces, notebook pages and maps, but there at 15 to 20 notebooks pages not included, that the manual would say we had to make ourselves.  I am awful at this, and tend to just not to it if it isn't included.  If you are like me, I would recommend looking ahead in your manual & making those extra pages before the school year begins
  • Make Roman Costumes, an activity listed in teacher's manual
  • Augustus' Caesar's World  ACW is a living book, full of accounts of the life of Augustus Caesar, the Caesar that was alive during Jesus' lifetime. I have heard good and bad reviews about this book. My kids really loved to be read to, so they LOVED this book.  As the teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed how it made this crazy time period come to life. It felt like reading a novel, yet it actually all happened! That said, these are longer readings, and I don't know how younger children will do with them (my children are in 5th grade). There are tips in your manual on how to make the long chapters more enjoyable for younger kids. Please read the notes in your manual when reading this book, and do not just hand it to your child to read. The most important notes in the manual are what to skip, and when you may need to prepare for a talk with your kids. This is not exactly a Christian book. For example, as you read about the Jewish faith, it gives fascinating context to King Herod, but does not always accurately describe Judaism. The manual warns you before you read these chapters,  to better prepare you on how you want to share the info with your kids.  We found these times as great opportunities for a discussion of our faith. 
  • Roman Empire This is an easy to read book, full of bright illustrations and visuals.  We all enjoyed it, but your younger students will really get a lot out of the many photographs and models. 
  • Medieval World This is another book where your teacher's manual will be essential.  You skip around a lot, see why in the 'Teacher's manual' schedule section above.  The illustrations are well done and information easy to read, great for elementary ages children.
  • Story of The World.  This is a winner for all of us.  The book reads as a novel, but the chapters are not too long and keep the children (and mom) engaged. 
Mixed Feelings
  • Streams of Civilizations  We have the first edition of Streams, and as my children have gotten older, we have enjoyed it more. We love history, so all the details in this book have really enhanced our study, but it does usually read like a textbook. If you have really young children, you can read before hand, and then sum up what you read. 
Disclaimer: We don't do Read-Alouds during our morning school time.  My husband does he read-alouds for a bedtime story every evening. 

  • Dangerous Journeys- My kids & LOVED this book, they read it twice.
  • The Bronze Bow
  • The Door in The Wall
  • Twice Freed
  • Trial and Triumph-  This is probably a GREAT book, and so important to the church's history, but HONEST MOM MOMENT, we just never seemed to get to it!  Real Honesty, I couldn't even FIND it the first 3/4 of the year, and finally found it once we got out of medieval times!  We'll have a few times to read it finally when we get to reformation. 
  • First Encyclopedia for The Human Body- Usborne never disappoints. Bright colorful illustrations, great for all ages. 
  • The Body Book: Easy to Make Models That Teach   This was a huge favorite in our house, but prepared to make A LOT of copies! You can make most of the copies on regular paper, but I recommend making the skeleton on card stock if possible, because you will be adding pieces it all through the study. Younger kids may have issues if they are not great at cutting, but it provides a lot of practice for fine motor skills & spatial awareness.  It helped us to make ALL the copies BEFORE the school year began.
A model of the layers of skin, from The Body Book
By the time you finish The Body Book, you will have a full body model like this one!
  • Galen and The Gateway to Medicine  A good living book that we all enjoyed.  It added historical context, while also adding to our science study of anatomy & medicine. 
  • The Wonderful Way Babies are Made I can not recommend this book more. It was a gentle approach to a difficult subject. I would not recommend just giving it to your child, but really take the time to read it one on one with each child.  My favorite parts that it doesn't end with an awkward note of reproduction, but on the redeeming note of Adoption.  It really was a wonderful essential resource. 
  • Exploring Creation with Astronomy  This books looks like a textbook, but reads more like a informational picture book.  The activities and notebook activities at the end of each chapter are fun and easy to implement. 
Our Scale Solar System , an activity from Exploring Creation with Astronomy 
A sample Notebook activity, they had to make an advertisement for Earth, listing all the great qualities that make it a perfect place to live! 
Mixed Feelings
  • The Human Body for Every Kid This book took us a few tries to appreciate.  The beginning chapters on cells were so over all of our heads, that we just read the other anatomy books & did the models for the first few weeks.  Once we got into the other parts of our body, we came back and tried it again.  We enjoyed it on the second try.  Sometimes the words are very clinical, but it was a good challenge.  We only did the activity at the end of each chapter about half the time.

  • How the Bible Came to Us-  Easy to read book, with a lot of illustrations & fascinating facts.
  • Teacher's manual Memory Verses-  These are not actually a con, we just don't do them because my children are involved in Awana, which is a Bible memorization club. 


  • Music Appreciation CDs  We did not have these because we just do the basic kit, so I can't review them.
  • God and History of Art- We did not have this book because we just do the basic kit, so I can't review it.
  • Draw and Write Through History- We love these books because they tie in perfectly to the history study and are done pretty independently.  My children's drawing skills have really improved. We also love that they work perfectly with our workboxes. 
A knight out of Draw and Write Through History, The Vikings, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance
Hands-On Activities

  • Make A Castle-  This was a fun little activity.  We ordered the castle that MFW recommends, and it was very easy to put together. My only criticism is that it is big, and we used it only one day.  I think it is a worthwhile activity, but it does take up a lot of space in my very tiny homeschool room, because of course my kids will never want me to throw it away.  

  • Starting Chess.  Since I do not know how to play chess, I needed something that they could open up and IT teaches my kids.  Starting Chess is OK, but we found a much easier to implement a NO STRESS CHESS Game for beginners. Within one day, my boys were playing without the cards, and using the traditional chess board side of the game.

Language Arts
Thankfully you can easily choose your own Language Arts programs, but MFW does recommend some options.  After a few years of tinkering, we have found which of these recomndations do, and do not, work for our family.

  • English from the Roots Up- This was again one of our favorite studies, adding so much to our understanding of the English language. Etymology needs context, and the MFW manual provides this much needed context. For example, you study the wood " sol" for sun is when you begin you astronomy study.  You learn the word "lune" for moon when you study the moon, and the same day read about a medical battle that involved an eclipse. The world "magnus" for great is scheduled the day you read about Charles the Great/ Charlemagne. I used an easy printable from MFW Rome to Reformation Group, that went into our Workboxes. 
  • Language lessons for Today, Grade 5-  We again enjoyed LLFT, it continues to be is a gentle Charlotte Mason approach to language arts.  Some years past have felt almost too light, but I think the 4th and 5th grade are beginning to pick up, at an age appropriate level. 
Mixed Feelings
  • Writing Strand- Level 4.  We had some mixed feelings about this book, and while we finished it, I don't think I will continue with these books.  At first the instructions were confusing to all of us, but once we learned the flow of the book, we got the hang of it.   My children were able to complete the Writing Strands assignments last year, but they never seem to be able to apply anything they learned to  their actual writing assignments.  In hindsight, I  felt the problem was that the lessons broke down & deconstructed writing so much, it became impractical for this age. 
  • Write Your Own Books-   Does your child CRY DURING WRITING? We do some writing during the History notebook, but we were in that boat with Writing Strands, so we quit that curriculum and started Write Your Story Usborne workbook! It was a perfect answer to our Elementary writing woes! It was recommended to me by a friend who is an elementary school teacher. It was a GAME CHANGER in Writing. My Kids LOVED IT, and they learned so much about composing a story. Bonus, it is the cutest keepsake book when they finish! It infused a new excitement for writing that they lacked with writing strands. Because of this excitement, next year we are ditching Writing Strands completely, and starting next year with Usborne Write Your Own Adventure Stories.

  • Spelling-  We have just never liked Spelling Power, it is very teacher driven and we wanted a more independent spelling curriculum that didn't require so much teacher presence.   We use Spelling By Sound and Structure for Christian Schools Grade 5.  This curriculum also works very well with our workbox system. 

Thankfully you can easily choose your own Math programs, but MFW does recommend Singapore math.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Practical Tips For Ordering Glasses Online, Zenni Optical

I have been using Zenni Optical to order my glasses for the past decade. My husband's company does offer eye insurance, but I have done the math, and it is MUCH cheaper for me to pay cash for my exams every two years and then order glasses online.

My son just recently started wearing glasses, and it is still cheaper for us to not use his glasses insurance.  Even if you have insurance, most plans only cover one pair of glasses.  Having a spare pair for these low prices is just smart. My son's glasses (with frames, lenses, and shipping) were only $32!! My last pair of glasses, WITH LENSES, was only $35.  I helped a friend order no line progressive bi-focals, and they were only $75 total (compared to the $475 her doctor wanted to charge her)

I am pretty blind, so I HAVE to have extra pairs. When my glasses broke while I was at a fair 30 minutes from my house, I had to race the sun home because the only extra glasses I had in the car were Rx Sunglasses! Because of Zenni's low prices, I now have a back up pair in each of my vehicles.

Get your Glasses Prescription from your Doctor.
Remember you PAID them for your eye exam, which includes your prescription.  If you get snide comments or looks, just ignore. You have ZERO obligation to order glasses from them if you, or your insurance, paid them for your exam.

Your PD (Pupillary Distance) is on your prescription.  If your doctor forgets to write it down, call and ask because they have to have it on file. Zenni says you can measure your own PD, but  I highly urge you to have this done by a professional, because a millimeter off can change your glasses a lot.  It will be on your eye glass prescription, and never changes.

If you don't have access to your doctor, and don't want to get another exam, you can even walk into any Walmart Optical or Sam's Optical (I did Sam's), and ask them to measure your PD, they have a quick tool to do so and it is very accurate.

2. Try on Glasses in Real Life
  The only downfall to Zenni is you can't physically try on the glasses.  The  TRY ON technology has advanced a lot in past few years, but it still doesn't completely substitute  for being able  to put on a pair of glasses, especially if you are newbie to eye-wear. I highly recommend you measure a pair of your existing glasses, or a pair that fits you in the store.  You also need to see in real life what each frame shape looks like on your face. Take a lot of pictures of the frames you like.

I have only had ONE Zenni fail, my very first order, and it was because I didn't look at the measurements of the frames as much as the  TRY ON option.  I ordered frames that were way too wide for my face.  These are now emergency glasses, and I don't mind the fail because I only paid $15 for them.

My son is an almost 11 year old boy who was too big for child's and too small for many of the men's frames.  He tried several shapes and sizes in the store.  Take a lot of pictures!!!!!! We found the shape we like on him, and took pictures for reference later. He also tried on MY glasses, and the fit was perfect.  We used these as our baseline for ordering his first frames.  When those arrived, we made sure they fit well, and then ordered a second pair using the same method & measurements.

3. Search ZENNI inventory
 Using the measurements, pictures from trying classes, in the store, and your PD, start searching for your glasses on Zenni .   Be sure to make good use of the search filters, or you will be overwhelmed by the vast amount of options.  The filter will save you time by eliminating frames that won't work with your PD or prescription. For instance, when ordering bifocals, you have to have a certain lens height.  Make sure you check filters in your search, so you don't fall in love with pair that doesn't fit your Rx.

You can search for shape of glasses & materials.  This is where the trying on and taking photos in the store will REALLY help, you can narrow your search pretty easily if you already eliminated certain frames.  For example, I don't like any metal glasses, and I don't look good in cat eyes shape.

Again, remember to look at the measurements of your glasses as you search! Use the measurements as your filter for the search.

4. Selfie TRY ON option
This is where Zenni 's new technology makes the process really fun.  Using your PD and the front facing option on your phone, take a straight on selfie.  Zenni will show you how to upload and try on your favorite frames.

Don't Waste Money with Extra Options,  except a few helpful ones. Zenni is just like every salesperson you've ever met, and will try to get you to pay more by adding the expensive add-ons.

Put your RX in very carefully, checking 2 to 3 times that you have everything exactly as the doctor wrote it.  If you can't read something, call your doctor.

Lens Index
The Lens Index is just the type of material your lenses are made out of and the thinness of the lens.  The better the lens index, this thinner the lens will be.   They WILL RECOMMEND a more expensive lens, always, but 95% if people will not need it.  My sons has the lowest prescription you could have, and they still recommended an upgrade from the free lens, so they are just trying to make money.

  • FOR SINGLE VISION, I have a high Rx of -4.25 in on eye, and I am still perfectly fine ordering the FREE 1.57 Mid Index Polymer lens.  The 1.57 are VERY light weight and comfortable. I also drop them all the time, and have stepped on them, and the lens hasn't broken. Zenni doesn't even sell real glass lenses anymore, so all the option are lightweight & durable. If your child plays rough sports, then I would consider the high impact lens for an extra $9.00.  
  • FOR PROGRESSIVE OR BIFOCAL- I always recommend to order the least expensive lens, unless your Rx is astronomically high. 

Lens Tint
This is how you make Rx Sunglasses for only an extra $5.00!! Tint to 80% to make sunglasses! You can make your sunglasses Amber, Gray, or Mirrored.

Polarized Sunglasses
I have heard great things about polarized sunglasses for your overall eye health.  That said, I lose my sunglasses ALL THE TIME, so I don't spend a lot of money on them.  I just add 80% tint (above section) for  only $5.00

Photochromic/Transition Lenses
These are transitions lenses that go from light to dark in sunlight.   All of their options are pretty much the same, but you can pay twice as much for the transitions BRAND transition lenses. I bought a pair of the cheaper photochromic lenses recently, and they work just as well as the name brand Transitions and only $30!

Anti-Reflective coating
Spend the extra $5 and get this!  It is worth it if you ever look at any screen ever!

BLOKZ-Blue-Light Blocker Lenses
This is an option perfect for work glasses. My husband uses non-Rx blue light blocking glasses at work because he spends majority of his work day looking at a screen. I will say, THEY WORK and have cut down on his eye strain and headaches.  That said, eye doctors will recommend this for WORK glasses, but you shouldn't wear blue light blockers 100% of the time because our eyes need some blue light for health.  I have a  friend who ordered the cheapest frame should could find with blue-blocker lens, and then just keeps them at her office for when she has to work on the computer.

Use $5 for your first order!
Use this referral link to get $5 off your first order.  You must enter your email BEFORE creating an account get the $5 off!
You must enter your email BEFORE Setting up your new account to receive the $5 off code!

5.  After Arrival, take into Optical Store for adjustments
Every new pair of glasses I have ever ordered look crooked when I try them on, because I have one ear slightly higher than the other.  I have never once had a problem walking into ANY optical store and asking for them to be adjusted; I've been Sam's Club, Walmart, Stanton Optical, and America's Eye-Glass for adjustments, and all were kind and adjusted the frames for free.   I have never been asked if I bought the frames there or not.

Now remember not all optical technicians are equal. My son's pair of glasses came in, and they were sitting too far out on his face.  We went into Walmart, and the technician working literally did nothing.  We then went into Stanton Optical, (where he had his exam), and they changed out his nose pads with smaller pads for free.
This is just one pair of m many Zenni glasses!

6. Glasses Paraphernalia
To make it special, we bought my son a new case, other than the standard one that comes with Zenni .  We also bought him a special dust free glasses stand to place his glasses in every night, to prevent stepping on them in the morning. I liked it so much, I bought one for myself too!

Fun and practical Glasses Stand

I hope this helps on your search!