Friday, July 29, 2016

Back to School! August Plans

We had a nice, long summer, but it is time for us to hit the books again. We knew that the kids would be in a dance intensive each morning of our first week of school, so a couple weeks ago, I started slipping an hour or so of school every day so we will already have most of our hours recorded for the first week. Consequently, we really only need to do math and science each day next week.

I never put up a post about what we are using this year. Each time I went to put up a post, I felt overwhelmed. It is not that I don't know what I am doing -- rather, it's because there is so much going on this year. I have two kids to homeschool, yet I am teaching three or four different grade levels, depending on the subject. My daughter is a seventh grader this year. My son is doing eighth grade and a few classes from ninth grade. He really wanted to be in ninth grade, which is his proper grade by age; but I really did not feel that he was ready across the board. So we compromised. He is taking a few ninth grade classes that are strong subjects for him. This will open the door for him to graduate "on time" like he wants -- if he is willing to work hard and do some doubling up on schoolwork for a year or two.  We also have a more intense dance schedule this year. Anne is now in Junior Company and will have 10 hours of dance lessons each week. Dean is a guest in Junior Company and will be taking four hours of dance. Dean is also planning to take a robotics class.

Here is our plan for the month of August ~

We will be following a schedule this year (shown below). Some of the kids' classes are still combined.We are also moving school start time to 10 am and end time around 2 pm. We will also be doing family reading in the evening that will be history or literature for 45 minutes to an hour.

Lessons ~

CNN Student News

Morning Basket ~ 1 per day
  • Fallacy Detective
  • Manners Made Easy for Teens
  • Grammar drills
  • Editing Adventure
English (studying separately) ~ 

  • Writers in Residence
  • A Reason for Spelling
  • MaxScholar
  • Reading and cursive
  • MaxScholar
  • Spelling Power 8th grade
  • Cursive
  • Spectrum Writing 8th grade
  • Reading
Newberry books for English (studying together) ~ For the most part, we will be using Newberry books for family read alouds this year. We are starting with Anne of Green Gableswhich I am sure would have won the Newberry Award, if it had been written after the award was invented.

Math ~ (studying some together and some apart)

Geometry for Every Kid (studying 2 times a week together)
Life of Fred Fractions (studying 3 times a week together)

Teaching Textbooks 7 and Math U-See Epsilon Fractions Anne
I am still debating what to do with Dean. He will be starting out with review workbooks.

World History ~ Three days a week for the month of August (studying together)
Story of the World Vol.3 and activities

We will also be working our way through New York City History for Kids

We will be alternating three days of world history with two days of science each week one month and then rotating three days of science with two days of world history the next month.

Science ~ Anne and Dean will be doing some science together. However, Dean will be doing more and have added textbook reading. We are still waiting for some of our books to come in for the year. Our spine is Real Science 4 Kids. I have created a Physical Science curriculum using many books from the Real Science 4 Kids books. Physical Science is a combination of chemistry, physics and geology. Sometimes astronomy and meteorology are added. We are starting off with 12 weeks of chemistry.

This course will count for Dean's 9th grade Physical Science credit. He needs 150 hours to complete the course.

Art one time a week ~ Art projects will be counting for Dean's 10th grade classes.
Sewing projects ~ Anne
Art with Grandma one time a month

Studying Independently ~

Music Appreciation ~ Anne
Anne will be working her way through Zeezok Publishing Music Appreciation. This month she is doing Bach. She will also be doing a musical each month with me. We are starting with A Chorus Line.

Musical Instruments ~ Dean 9th grade course
Dean will be continuing with guitar this year and adding piano lessons. He needs 150 hours to complete the course.

American History I ~ Dean 9th grade course
I am a little bit concerned about Dean doing world history with us (8th Grade) plus American history for 9th grade credit. We will see if he starts getting confused. He is strong in history and already knows a great deal of it.

The Complete Book of United States History ~ This is really below his grade level, but I want him to get used to reading and completing discussion questions/activities all on his own.
A Young People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

I will be adding more to his history course, such as research papers. Remember, this is just what we are using in August.

Well, we are ready for a fresh start! Our dance classes (besides the intensive) don't start until September so they are not represented here. Also, Dean will be working on hours for a few other 9th grade classes that he is not starting in August. I will be writing a post soon discussing how I intend to record and help Dean complete high school credits.

Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New York City ~ What I Learned

Wow, I can't believe this is my fourth post about New York City! We were only there about 48 hours. We arrived around lunch time in the city and left two days later in the afternoon. This is a nuts and bolts post (partially for my own memory if we ever do it again). Our trip to New York City was a big undertaking for our special needs family. I planned out lots of details for weeks before we left home. I had backup plans in case other plans didn't work out. I am a planner.

My traveling buddies ~
  • Me ~ The Mom, the worrywart, juggler, organizer and probably the most energetic of the bunch.
  • Husband ~ The Dad, supporter, map reader, driver and fixer of things that break along the way.
  • Stepmother ~ Grandma Sue, helper, the fun one, driver (she was the brave one that drove us in and out of the city).
  • Tim ~ Oldest son, 26 years old, brain injured with lots of developmental delays, loads of anxiety, very obedient.
  • Dean ~ Second son, 14 years old, tons of sensory issues and mild cerebral palsy, the comic in the bunch.
  • Anne ~  Daughter, 12, compliant, organized, a little drama driven at times. Okay, this child might be more energetic than me. 
My oldest son announced in the middle of the trip that I am a worry wart; my husband is too goofy; and if any one was going to get lost, it would be my stepmother because she is so easily distracted. I am afraid my son hit our personalities dead on.

One of the big issues for this trip was money. We live on a tight budget and a vacation of this magnitude is a big deal. We tried to make as many cost-saving choices along the way without compromising the experience. 

The second major issue was energy. My husband and boys are all low-energy people. The boys needed lots of breaks and got overstimulated easily. They wanted to be in the hotel room more than I had expected. I always try to plan trips with some downtime, but the boys didn't experience downtime in the places I thought they would (Central Park and restaurants). They only felt rested in the hotel room. My husband stayed back with them one late afternoon/evening while we three gals went out on the town to see the Rockettes. 

Travel ~ The first compromise was to drive into the city instead of taking the train. That saved us close to $400. Our hotel stored our car for a fee. Grandma Sue paid for the storage of the car and all of the toll roads going up and back from NYC (thanks). Once we were in NYC, we also decided  to use the subway rather than take cabs (since our family would not fit into just one taxi) or take the hop on and off tourist bus (which is pricey and not always there when you want it). We also walked our feet off. One of the best things I did before leaving home was to buy each person a new pair of sneakers. 

Subway ~ One thing we learned about the subway is that you can buy one subway ticket and use the same one for four people. We were originally told that unlimited people could use the same ticket, but that is false. We, unfortunately, learned that the hard way. Tim and Dean were the last two of our group to try and use the ticket. It would not let them through the gate to the platform and we had to hand them more money through barred fencing and explain to them how to purchase another ticket. This was a very high stress situation and caused Tim a huge anxiety attack that affected him for the rest of the trip. From that point on, we always made sure that there was a parent/grandparent in the front and back of the line. Otherwise, the subway was a great experience. The maps were easy to read and people were very helpful. We found New Yorkers to be very kind and understanding. Some even overheard us talking and advised us on better routes. 

Food ~ The cost of food in NYC can be very expensive. However, there are ways around it. We did one expensive meal at a themed restaurant, one moderate meal at a fun, historic restaurant and the rest we ate from cheap street vendors, hole-in-the-wall pizza places and little delis. The boys and Dad ate in the hotel bar one night when they didn't want to go see the Rockettes. They had fish and chips. Also, to cut down on costs, we carried coolers of water and drinks when we checked into the hotel and then packed a few drinks at a time into our bags each morning before setting out. 
We ate at the themed restaurant, the Jekyll and Hyde Club.
  • There is a Starbucks on almost every corner in Manhattan. There are 212 to be exact. So my husband had plenty of caffeine at his finger tips.
  • We found the street vendor food to be good and cheap. There was lots of variety.
  • On the Lower East Side, we found pizza on almost every corner. You could buy it by the slice for 99 cents. 
  • For breakfast each morning, Anne and I  went to the local deli on the corner and bought bagels, scrambled eggs (they make them how you right want on the spot) and fruit. Then we crossed the street and got Starbucks. We arrived back at the hotel room with a nice breakfast for six for less than $40.
  • We treated museum cafeterias like snack bars instead of full meals.
  • Fruit is sold at vendors every few blocks. 

We went to Carlo's Bake Shop from the show, Cake Boss, and met Maddalena. Anne was so excited! She loves that show and was very excited to meet a real reality star. Maddalena was so sweet. We also bought some great treats. They were yummy!
Meeting Maddalena at Carlos Bakery

We stayed at the Holiday Inn on 57th street. The location was great and not too noisy. The hotel was nice and it was convenient that they stored the car for us. 

Things I would do differently or try to adapt next time ~ 
  • Tim struggled most with the travel piece of the trip. He had a hard time with the subway and all of the walking. He found the streets way too crowded and was very worried about our group being separated. I might consider how cabs could work better for him next time.
  • I would do more museums, because they were most enjoyable to the kids.
  • I would go at a different time of year. NYC is blazing hot in July!
  • Dean felt that we needed more time to sit down, since the walking was hard on him. He would have liked for us to sit down to eat each time instead of eating while walking on the street. He felt overstimulated by all the commotion. 
  • Try to stay one more night so that downtime wouldn't seem so much like a burden to the higher energy people. The clock was ticking in my mind all the time. 

Things that really worked ~
  • Having music and MP3 players for the boys. 
  • Having a hotel in a calmer section of Manhattan.
  • If it had been cooler, Central Park would have served as a calmer oasis.
  • Splitting up the one night so the guys could rest and the gals could still have fun.
  • The subway once we knew how to use it, but it was still hard on Tim.
  • Carrying drinks helped tremendously.
  • Our experience was that people were very friendly and helpful. We felt safe our entire time in NYC.
Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, July 21, 2016

TOS Review ~ Beric the Briton

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review
We recently found ourselves on a 10-plus hour road trip. I was so happy to have a surprise audiobook for the kids. I received for review Beric the Briton from Heirloom Audio Productions. This is an amazing, fully dramatized audio theater production about a young man who is living in ancient Britannia during the Roman invasion. He is kidnapped and sent to Rome to become a gladiator and serve under Emperor Nero. Through his journey, he discovers Christianity and learns about having forgiveness and faith, even if it means facing death. What an exciting story to help beat the boredom of a long car trip!
Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review
We were instantly sucked back into Ancient Roman times. The kids were engrossed within moments. My special needs son often struggles with audio theater. Sometimes it is very confusing to him. The audio music and special effects often drowns out the storyline for him. However, that was not at all a problem this time. The wonderful actors had strong voices and were very clear and easy to understand. Speaking of the actors, there were so many famous performers in this story. The actors included Brian Blessed, Brian Cox, Tom Baker, Honeysuckle Weeks, Cathy Sara, and John Rhyhs-Davies. What an awesome set of voices for our listening pleasure.

The story was on two CD's in a fold-out case and was 2 1/2 hours long. It was non-stop adventure from start to finish. We also received access to the bonus items on the web. They included Beric the Briton e-book, music soundtrack, study guide, inspirational poster and video. I am going to talk about the study guide. It was 50 pages long! Each set of questions covered about 10 minutes of audio listening. Each section had three parts: Listening Well, Thinking Further and Defining Words. There were also fun activities sprinkled throughout. My kids were looking forward to making some of the baked goods. The Roman Noodle Bake and Roman Apple Cake looked marvelous. There was also an awesome Bible study at the end of the study guide. What a complete learning experience! This study guide could be used by the whole family. The questions were probably geared toward later elementary or middle school.

One of the other bonuses that the whole family found interesting was the behind the scenes documentary. It was neat to see how the actors really got into their roles and acted out the action, even though their voices were the only part that would be used in the audiobook. The documentary was great and showed my children -- who happen to love acting -- another career they could pursue. There was also a wonderful craft section in the bonus area. The kids liked the coins that could be made out of clay. 

This wonderful audio theater gets a thumbs up from my clan. This would be a great addition to your homeschool collection. The whole family got into it. They loved it and there wasn't a single complaint in the car while it was playing. I just wish it had been longer (HA HA). To see what other TOS crew members had to say, click on the banner below. 
Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review
Blessings, Dawn

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

TOS Review ~ 21 Grading Grids for Popular High School Essays and a Position Paper

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I really struggle with grading the essays my children produce. Personally, I find it to be a very daunting task to teach high school writing, especially if you have a reluctant writer in your household as I do. I was very excited to receive 21 Grading Grids for Popular High School Essays and a Position Paper from Writing with Sharon Watson to review. I received a digital copy that I printed off and placed in a binder with my son's writing materials. I can print off more grids as needed.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review
The grading grids are a helpful tool to helping both the teacher and student work towards specific goals. The student is encouraged to look over the grid before writing his/her paper. The teacher uses the grid to give points to the student in each category. I really like that there are two separate grades, one for grammar and one for content. It is really nice to have those two areas separate so I can celebrate the child's thoughts with a positive grade. There are 21 different grids for 21 different types of essays. The types of grids are listed below.
  • Opinion Essay
  • Persuasive Essay with Thesis Statement
  • Persuasive Essay: Specific Audience
  • Persuasive Essay: Moral/Ethical Essay or Letter
  • Emotional Appeal Essay
  • Emotional Appeal Speech
  • How-to or Process Essay
  • Position Paper
  • Devotional
  • Hard News Article
  • Feature News Article
  • Biography
  • Compare and Contrast Essay
  • Literary Analysis of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  • Literary Analysis of a Classic
  • Definition Essay
  • Description Essay on a Person of Influence
  • Personal Testimony
  • Interview into Narrative Essay
  • Personal Narrative Essay
I am so impressed with how many types of grading grids were provided to help me enhance my children's writing. The grids were originally intended to go with Sharon Watson's writing program, The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School -- 2nd Edition. However, they could work for any writing program including one that is made up by the teacher. I found that using the grid for a draft paper and a final paper allowed the child to see his/her grade improving. This is encouraging to the child.
Each question on the content part of the grid gives the teacher the opportunity to give points from 1-5 or 1-10 depending on how well the child did that part of the essay. The grammar part of the grid grades spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphs, paper handed in on time and following instructions. The points for the grammar part are 1-25 for each section. 

I think these grading grids are a useful tool to teachers. They make the process of grading painless. Also, they are helpful to students. They allow students to have a constant visual reminder of what is expected in a paper. I plan to use these with both of my children as they journey through high school writing. 

To see what other TOS review crew members had to say about this product, click on the banner below.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review
Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, July 16, 2016

New York City ~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We had a wonderful time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere. The size of the place is huge. It takes up an 11.5 acre footprint!! There are three floors so that is more than 33 acres. There is no way one could see it all in a day. We decided to see a few areas of interest to the kids, plus a few famous works of art that they had studied in the past. We mapped out our plan and were off.

Both boys love anything ancient so we started in the Greek and Egyptian rooms. They loved it all. It was especially cool for Dean, who had just finished Greek Theater Camp.

We also visited the Impressionists and Edgar Degas rooms. Dean had the pleasure of seeing his very favorite Monet, The Water Lily Pond. He has loved this painting since he was a young child.

Anne loved seeing all of the Degas paintings and statues. However, she loved The Little Dancer statue most of all.

We saw several works of art out of the corner of our eyes and went to investigate. We loved seeing a few Picasso and Vermeer.

We also liked seeing the famous George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Lastly, we looked for t-shirts in the gift shop and visited the rooftop deck. It has marvelous views of the city and Central Park. 

Tips for visiting this museum ~ I am going to do an entire post on New York City with our special needs family. However, I think I will share a few things that made this museum more enjoyable in this post.
  • Take a few minutes to study the map and plot out your route. 
  • Make sure to plan to see something that is important to each member of your group.
  • Accept from the start that you will see very little of the museum. It is better to enjoy a few great works of art than to try and do it all. It will just become a muddy memory of chaos.
  • Take advantage of the benches and rest and look around. 
  • Read The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler before you go, so your kids can look for things that the runaway kids in the book saw when they decided to live in this museum.
  • The fee to get in is a suggested donation. You do not need to pay $25 each. We paid about $5 each. To do this, you will have to get your tickets from a live ticket collector and tell them how much you want to donate. It really was painless.
  • If you are on a budget like us, share sandwiches and a fruit salad in the cafeteria. They offer free water and cups. That is what we did. We treated lunch like a hearty snack. It is important to keep the kids fed so they can enjoy the experience, but you don't have to go broke on cafeteria food either. 
  • Have fun and take pictures of your kids next to art you want to teach them about later. It will make it come to life for them.

If your kids are not familiar with art museums ~ My kids have grown up in art museums since they were infants. I really did not need to go over the basic rules of enjoying an art museum while not getting in trouble with the guards. However, if you and your children are new to art museums, here are a few rules to make it a successful experience: 
  • Do not point at art. Guards may think you are going to accidentally touch it. Use your elbow to point and teach your kids to do the same. 
  • Teach kids to not touch or lean on walls. They may sit on the floor in most museums.
  • Show kids what the benches look like in the museum you are visiting. They are usually the same throughout a given museum. (This will help prevent accidental sitting on "art".)
  • Encourage slow walking and indoor voices.
  • Keep at least one foot between you and the art. (My husband is breaking this rule in the picture above).
  • Find out the rules for using cameras or cell phones. Follow them accordingly.
  • Give your child a map or a few postcards of works of art that you are looking for. Making it into a treasure hunt always lengthens the time that the kids will be content.
  • Use a stroller or make a mandatory hand holding policy for runners. I had two runners, and the stroller was a lifesaver even when they were older. 
Most of all, keep the experience joyful and pleasant, even if you need to start with very short trips and work your way up.

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, July 14, 2016

New York City ~ The Immigration Tour

Ellis Island
Today I am going to tell about the part of our vacation that revolved around immigration and the tenements of the Lower East Side. Before arriving in New York City (NYC), we had planned on doing Ellis Island, seeing the Statue of Liberty and going on a tour of the Tenement Museum. However, our plans changed slightly once we arrived. The city was more overwhelming for my special needs kids than we had expected so we had to adapt our plan. We decided to take the Staten Island ferry past the Statue of Liberty for some good photos and skip Ellis Island completely. We felt that the kids had learned about Ellis Island since they were small children and had read many books with great illustrations of the place over the years. With our limited time and their special needs, it was the easiest thing to drop.

We set off early in the morning on the subway and arrived in Battery Park (where the Staten Island ferry departs from every 30 minutes all day long). The ferry is free and used mostly by commuters. It goes very close to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You can also get a good glimpse of Governor's Island. Of course, there are stunning views of the NYC skyline.

We stood out on the top deck to get the best view. (The ferry is three stories high and has inside and outside seating.) The ferry dropped us off on Staten Island where we could get right back on a different ferry to go back to NYC.

NYC Skyline
After our ferry ride, we jumped back on the subway and headed for the Lower East Side. This is where many immigrants landed after getting through Ellis Island. The streets of the Lower East Side are much narrower and the buildings are older than most of Manhattan (the burough of NYC that most tourists visit).
A typical street in the Lower East Side. The buildings used to be tenements
that were miserable and disease ridden places to live. They are now trendy and pricey condos.
We got a bit turned around trying to find our way to the Tenement Museum. Thankfully, all of the New Yorkers we asked for help were very nice and did their best to put us on the right path. We finally saw the Tenement Museum and a place serving pizza by the slice for just 99 cents. The Lower East Side has much cheaper food than most of Manhattan.

On the front stoop of 97 Orchard street
The Tenement Museum was awesome! They offer several tours inside an actual tenement building that housed up to 20 families at a time from the 1850's to 1935. It also housed stores on the ground level from 1850 to the 1980's. There were several tours to choose from, and we decided to do the shop life tour. We had a wonderful 1.5 hour guided tour of the families and stores who had occupied the ground floor of the building for over 100 years. It was a wonderful history lesson. Dean said, "This was really great. That was the best history we learned all year!" I wish we could have taken photos inside and done more of the tours. Hopefully, we will get to go back one day. They also had walking tours around the Lower East Side, which would be interesting in a cooler season.

After the tour, we decided to grab some more cheap pizza and head back to the hotel. The guys were all exhausted. After a short rest, Grandma Sue, Anne and I decided to go the American Girl Doll store and to see a performance of the Rockettes. The guys opted to rest in the hotel and eat in the hotel cafe, swim in the pool and watch cable TV.

In front of the doors at Radio City Music Hall
The show was amazing. We loved it. Anne got to meet a real Rockette and talk to her for a few moments about dance. We walked the 15 blocks back to the hotel, enjoying the city night life. It was a fantastic and exhausting day!

I still have two more posts coming in the next few days ~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art and another blog about the things I learned traveling with my special needs family in NYC.

If you missed it ~ New York City Central Park

Blessings, Dawn

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

TOS Review ~ ArtAchieve

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review
We are a very art-minded family, so I jumped at the chance to review this program. We received Entire Level I from ArtAchieve.

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review
We are not necessarily the best students of drawing around here, but we love art. It is one of our favorite subjects. Over the years, we have tried lots of curriculum with mixed results. My mother is an artist and she has given us monthly lessons for the last few years. I really wanted to make sure that we started getting art in on a weekly basis. ArtAchieve proved to be a perfect fit.

What It Is ~ ArtAchieve is an online subscription that gives you access to the level you purchase for one year. There are currently five levels. We received Entire Level 1 which has 11 lessons. In addition to the 11 lessons are several free lessons that teach shading and line drawing. The free lessons proved to be very helpful as we moved through the level 1 lessons.

ArtAchieve has a warm up at the beginning of each lesson. Students are encouraged to relax, put on soft music, rub their hands together and do a warm-up exercise. The exercise is a copy of the drawing they are going to make -- except it is all chopped up like a puzzle. The student practices drawing the lines that will make up the picture. By drawing lines instead of the entire picture all at once, it helps build confidence.

Then the student is walked slowly through the process of drawing each part of the picture with step-by-step instructions. The student can pick video instruction or PDF instruction. My daughter often used both versions. The lessons are very clear, and the child or adult can easily work at his or her own pace. 
PDF version
Video version
Each lesson has a short history or science lesson that goes along with each project. My daughter (12) really liked that the lessons were short and to the point. She really likes things to be to the point.

I was pleased that we already had on hand most of the art supplies. Below is the list of supplies needed.
  • black Sharpie
  • washable colored markers
  • finger paint paper
  • oil pastels
  • colored pencils
  • watercolor pencils
  • drawing pencils
  • graphite stick
  • kneaded eraser
  • pastel chalks
  • paper (water color and drawing)
  • paint (water color, acrylic, glitter)
  • masking tape
  • paper blending stump
  • paint pens

What We Thought ~ We loved this program!!! My daughter and I thought that the results of our projects were better than some we have tried with other programs. I am not at all talented at drawing but really liked the lessons and tried my best. My daughter liked it so much that she even continued doing it after she broke her finger on her writing hand. She did her best to do a lesson with her left hand (non-writing hand). She says she prefers the PDF files to the video. However, she really liked them almost equally. She loved that she had a nice finished product after each lesson. 

We occasionally adapted the art supplies to help accommodate my daughter's broken hand. In the picture above, my daughter did not use oil pastels because she was not able to control them with her left hand. She used water color pencils and drawing pencils instead. 

This program gets a thumbs up from our family. We enjoyed all of the lessons we did and will complete the remaining few over the summer. Click on the banner below to see what other TOS review crew members had to say or to learn about other levels.

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

Blessings, Dawn