April 19, 2015

ARTistic Pursuits: Introduction to Visual Arts {Curriculum Review}

We love arts and crafts, but I confess...I'm horrible about actually scheduling time to do it. I prefer the open and go style with minimum preparation, and first experienced this last year when we reviewed the preschool book from ARTistic Pursuits. Needless to say, when I had the chance to review a different one--geared towards Little Britches this time--I jumped on it and welcomed Early Elementary K-3, Book 1: Introduction to Visual Arts into my schedule.
ARTistic Pursuits~ Curriculum Review of Art Program for K-3

Product Summary

ARTistic Pursuits is an art curriculum company believing that all children are able to understand the concepts of art, and enjoy putting ideas and visual images on paper. They are committed to helping children become observant in our world and to be able to work creatively in it. They are determined to offer parents and children a quality art education presented in an easy to understand format for both the teacher and child and gear their books towards the homeschooling community.

Through their program, they encourage children to look at the expressive and technical aspects of art according to their age level. The goal is for the children to be able to be free to explore their world however they see it...not the way that adults think they should see it! There are no "rules" or "boundaries" in the art lessons--no small boxes or limitations. ARTistic Pursuits is all about letting them color outside the lines!

ARTistic Pursuits offer curriculum for Preschool to High School age making it easy for you to find a curriculum just right for your school age child.

Each book has a comb binding, is non-consumable and sells for $47.95. One set of all the books can serve your entire family--from ages 3-18! 

We reviewed Early Elementary K-3, Book 1: Introduction to Visual Arts with Little Britches though Baby Britches joined us when he could.

How Did We Use the Product?

I admit, I was very excited to have another chance to review one of the books from ARTistic Pursuits! We had a lovely time with it last year, and I hoped that it would bring as much joy this year, since Little Britches was going to get to do it this go around.

As soon we got the product, I found the materials list page so I could make sure I had a good collection of supplies that we would need to do this book. Unlike the preschool book which we reviewed last year, this one required a few more extras, but nothing that was super expensive.

 I really liked that if you just wanted to buy it all together you could buy the Early Elementary K-3, Book 1 Art Pack right off of ARTistic Pursuits website that has the complete collection of supplies you need for each book. I didn't need everything so I used a variety of sources to get the things I knew I wanted. I didn't buy the clay since it said you could use the recipe included in the book to make the clay. (That means free! LOL)

Some of the things I ended up purchasing: oil pastels, soft chalk pastels, watercolor crayons, ebony pencil, art tissue paper, and a nice new watercolor brush. I had some gift cards so though it cost about $50 or so, I ended paying out of pocket only about $11. We are a family into arts & crafts (my MIL is an art major!) and I knew we'd use all the things I invested in, so I didn't mind spending the money.

We get excited when art supplies come. We enjoyed looking through them and both boys were eager to get started with the book!

I felt it helpful to look over the Table of Contents to get a feel for how it was set up and what was going to be covered.

The next thing I did was flip through the book and mark what supplies were going to be needed for each lesson. I found that this made planning our art lessons a LOT easier because I could quickly determine what I wanted to do based on what materials were used without having to read each lesson. I wish I had done this last year--and plan to go through that book and do it because it was so much easier to find lessons this year.

Each lesson really is open and go once you get out the supplies you are going to need. Every lesson starts with a "lesson" relating to a piece of art work by the masters. Usually it's to introduce a concept (like what is discussed on the table of contents) and then it has observation questions relating to the piece of artwork to ask the student. This gets them engaged at really searching and looking closer at the artwork being discussed. 

Example of the Lesson portion
After the lesson, the student uses the principles discussed to do their artwork. With this lesson the concept was using a shape and outline and then filling it in. The medium they used was soft pastels.
They were to look at an animal in a photograph or picture and then replicate it on their own paper. We pulled out some great animal books from our stash for this:
He desired to do a polar bear. Baby Britches did rather well!

Little Britches did this cat...he loves doing cats in his art.
Each of the lessons continued in this manner. I am going to share with you some of the photos we took of the projects we did.

One of the first lessons we did...
 Did you notice that we did Lesson 34 as one of our first lessons? That's because you don't need to do them sequentially! You can jump around and do what works for you or maybe what you have on hand first! This is especially great if it works for you to match things up to other units you are studying in your homeschool.

Lesson 1: Artists Compose--watercolor crayons with every day life
 This one cracked me up. He did a picture of his brother sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. That green and blue is the shower curtain. Bwahahahha.
Lesson 22: Art in Caves--soft pastels (just 4 colors allowed) on crumpled up brown paper
 Baby Britches just loved doing art. Giraffes make appearances quite regularly in his pictures.
Lesson 24: Art in Palaces~Fresco Painting (using watercolor crayons and oil pastel)
 Little Britches also loves dogs. Lots of dogs in his artwork. You will see another one later.

Lesson 15: Artists See Shapes (using paper to make your picture)
 Baby Britches filled his paper with pink and blue roses. My flower loving boy.

Lesson 27: Art on City Walls~Making a Bas-Relief (This ended up being a dog)
I loved that with the clay/dough lessons I could make my own dough to use. It really is just a homemade playdough recipe--the only downfall is that it takes it almost a month to totally dry out, so not ideal for the "self drying" recipes where you need to let it dry and then paint it. I would use ACTUAL real self drying clay from the store to make this work next time. But the playdough brought a LOT of enjoyment for them both.
Recipe included in Lesson 23...
I think the lesson we took the MOST time and possibly enjoyed the most was when we had to use just paper to make a dimensional animal in Lesson 16: Artists See Form. This was challenging, but very creative and fun. 
An elephant. Out of all the animals, Baby Britches wanted an elephant. And guess who had to design it.
I am VERY proud of this elephant!!!!!

Little Britches designed his dog all by himself. Even added a "woof".
We also did several of the drawing lessons where Little Britches used the ebony pencil (which he thought was the best pencil ever). 

We ended up completing about 10 of the lessons from the book doing at least 2 per week.

Our Thoughts on the Product

Boys: LOVE!!!!

Me: LOVE!!!

LOL. Okay. So, why do we love it?

1. It guarantees us an art lesson/project.
I am not the best at scheduling in art. The boys both adore art. So having this simple book where I can pretty much open and go with it, makes it a great resource for us. I can simply block off a portion of time, pick a lesson and we can do it. Everyone is happy. Win-win.

2. It is EASY!
Once you have the supplies--even if you don't have them all--you can literally open and go. All the information you need is right there. Even examples of what is expected from the lesson--not professional examples, but examples done by children of all ages. If it's a new concept, they walk you through what they want you to try. A new medium? Same thing. They walk you through how to best use it. 

3. It's non-consumable.
This is a major deal for homeschoolers. We like books we can use over and over. This one is just that. An art book that lasts forever. You could pull it out for multiple children, you could save it and pull it out for the same child 2 years later. The lessons are still valuable and the projects still doable. How many other art programs can you do that with?

4. It's multi-age.
I love that with one art book, I can do BOTH boys. It doesn't matter what their skill level. I simply teach the lesson from the book, and then turn them loose! 

5. It's got comb binding.
I love comb bindings because this means I can easily keep it open. It seems minor, but for me it's a big deal.

6. It's art history!
They use paintings from the masters and ancient history! Vonnoh, Degas, Steen, Demuth--as well as ancient art like cave paintings, mosaics, cathedral windows, the Gate of Ishtar, and much more! My mother-in-law is an art history major and she was very happy to see this worked into the book. It's real world art photos!

7. It introduces a variety of mediums.
Forget the crayons! In this book, they explore oil pastels, chalk pastels, watercolor crayons, clay, ebony pencils and paper! The boys loved trying it out. They discovered they didn't really like clay pastels as it gets all over you. But they enjoyed the oil pastels and the paper. REALLY liked the tissue paper we used. I like that it doesn't just use the mediums one time for one lesson. They are used throughout the book--at least 3 times and some lessons had you mixing it up with more than one.

8. Did I mention it's just fun?
We all just loved doing it. I got my own hands "dirty" a few times and a family art time makes great memories. 

Will I keep using the product now that the review is over?
Absolutely! It's just so easy to work in! I will also be pulling back out our The Way They See It (Preschool) book we reviewed last year and giving it another go with Baby Britches.

Would I Recommend this Product?

Yes. Absolutely yes. ESPECIALLY if you are like me and just need it spelled out for you. It is a great resource and one that can keep coming back out over and over. It's almost $50 per book...but well worth it for a high quality art program that includes art history and can be used for multi-ages.

Want to Know More?

We reviewed ARTistic Pursuits Early Elementary K-3, Book 1: Introduction to the Visual Arts ($47.95). There were 11 other books reviewed by our team--ranging from preschool to high school AND sculpture! Make sure you check out what the rest of my crew thought about this excellent art program!
ARTistic Pursuits Review
Would you like to stay in touch with everything related to ARTistic Pursuits? You can find them on Facebook!
It was about this time last year that I reviewed the The Way They See It (Preschool) book with Baby Britches! Make sure you check that out too because we really loved the program!
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April 17, 2015

Random 5 for Friday~ Spring Changes

The Pebble Pond
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1. Things are starting to grow. It is so nice to finally see new life coming to the farm. It was so barren and brown, but now it's gorgeous and green! When you mow the lawn, the next day it's covered in tiny purple violets and golden dandelions. Making it a sight for winter weary eyes.

2. I have seedings! Okay, so maybe just a couple. But they are there all the same. I am eager for the rest of them to pop up. Right now just the rows of tomato seeds and thyme are showing any progress. Still waiting for the broccoli and two types of peppers. I even have a heating pad under my little greenhouse. LOL.

3. I need the rain to stop. Not forever. Just so that I can have a week of nice 70 degree weather again without it being damp and wet! I want to get out and get in my garden again--and right now it's just a muddy mess!

4. I was tickled to discover that my sage from last year appears to be growing again! I never did pull up my sage plants at the end of the year. And when I went out last night, I discovered baby sage leaves. Once I cleared away the weeds, I discovered there were quite a few on my old sage plant. This is great news as sage is tricky sometimes to grow from seeds.

5. I love the birds. With two bird feeders, and being located near a tree covered hill with a lovely creek next to our house, we have a plethora of songbirds. They are regular feeders and it's rather awesome to look out and see your bird feeder covered with brilliant red cardinals, or goldfinch or bluebirds. You just have to stop and watch them. We have two feeders--one that's a standard house like version and one that's a tube feeder, sort of like this one, only I like this one much better than mine. We used to have a lot of waste as birds would cast down the seeds they didn't like, but this year we have several pair of morning dove visiting and though they are too big to roost on the feeder, they happily do clean-up underneath. And I love their cooing.
In case you missed it, I had two reviews this week--one for Star Toaster (an online reading program) and for First Start Reading. I'm working on another one--ARTistic Pursuits--which will be up before too long. I've also got at least one gardening related post to share next week, and a book review. Did you see my 5 Day Real Life Homeschooling series from 2 weeks ago? It was so much fun to write!

I know that some of my readers aren't homeschooling fans, so I'm going to try to get things back on track for sharing non-homeschooling related stuff so you don't leave me!
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April 15, 2015

Orphs of the Woodlands: An Online Reading Adventure {Product Review}

Little Britches loves "screen time", but we are very strict about the amount of time he gets and what he gets to do. We don't do video games in our home, but we love educational games. We were given the chance to review Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster and I was curious to see how Little Britches would like this online reading adventure.

Product Summary

Orphs of the Woodlands is a groundbreaking online educational series from Star Toaster. This reading program incorporates the use of a great plot and exciting adventure story to teach vocabulary, math, science, thinking skills, nutrition and much more! The basis of the program is a story about a squirrel who becomes a spy to fight a dreadful force of creatures who are terrorizing the woodlands. Along the path, the squirrel becomes caretaker and protector of the "orphs"--small orphaned creatures of the forest.

Your child takes on the role of the squirrel--even picking it's name which is put into the story. While reading the story, your child will learn hundreds of lessons on a multitude of subjects and they won't just learn, they will learn HOW to learn. The squirrel character is mentored and taught about memorization and is frequently advised to "pay attention!"

The game portion of the program is woven in at the end of each chapter as the squirrel gets to "work" to earn goldstars to be able to take care of and provide for the orphs he's adopted. Your child will earn stars by using their new knowledge obtained from the story as they answer questions on all the subjects woven in the story. They can use their earned stars to create a home for their orphs. They can buy extra food, clothing, shelter, medicine to make the costs of caring for their orphs go down. They can buy land and build new orphanages. They can do this all the while they are continuing in their reading adventure.

Orphs of the Woodlands is available as a 60 day subscription for up to 3 children, but you can do a free trial and experience the first 100 pages of the book! It is geared to children in grades 4th-7th.

We were given a year trial of Orphs of the Woodlands series to review, focusing on Book 1: The Treasure of High Tower.

How Did We Use This Product?

This is an online program, so I was able to easily access it using my Chrome browser. It is easy to set up your child with their log in information. They can then jump right on in and access the program. This program came at a good time for us, as Little Britches was sick and had "nothing to do". He was at first bored by the idea ("Reading?? I don't want to read.") but gave it a shot.

The adventure begins with videos to help explain how the program works. It's the first thing that pops up on your screen once your child logs in.

The videos were very helpful in explaining all the different aspects of the game and how it would work. Once these were completed, the next step was to jump into the adventure. Little Britches' adventure began by having to fill out a spy application.

He loved that he got to name his character and over the course of the program changed it's name about 5 times. The program uses this information and adds it to the story accordingly. Once this is filled out, the story begins.
You can see that at the bottom of the page is the page number, as well as the words "29 pages to Ivythwaite". This counts down how many pages there are in the chapter and is very helpful for the child to know how they are progressing.

Little Britches noticed right away that there were links tucked into the pages of the story. As he was told in the introduction videos, these are for him to hover or click on to learn more information to help him later. They are in a couple different forms: videos, recipes, definitions, audio clips and more.

When they are clicked on, the child will either be able to learn more. Here is an example of what pops up when they are clicked on:
Recipes that can actually be made, Videos to learn more about something, or nutritional tips
Little Britches is pretty excited about the recipes. I'm supposed to be making the Nutty Nut Bread later this week. He really likes the in text videos, but I rarely see him actually hovering over the vocabulary links.

Watching one of the Professor Forp videos
As your child comes to the end of the chapter, they are taken to a "help wanted" page where they are asked to complete jobs in order to take care of the orphs they are protecting.

Every job in the help wanted section is based on the chapter's reading--especially all of those in text links and videos. If Little Britches watches the videos and does the links, he does well in the jobs. The jobs all follow the same routine:

The jobs are merely a question or activity related to the story. Nothing new and very easy to complete if your child has been paying attention. When they answer correctly, they get a certain amount of wages. If they get continuous answers withing a category correct, they even get a raise.

It is possible to go straight to the jobs without reading the story, IF you have already progressed in the story. Simply go the top right corner under the child's name and click "skills report". This pulls up all the skills in the program and shows how much has been done. By clicking on any of the skills, it opens up a list of all the "jobs" available within that skill. Then simply either click "review" to being the training or "job" to go straight to the question. But it will only have jobs open within the chapters you have read.

So what does Little Britches do with his goldstars once he receives them? He goes to Ivythwaite to start "playing" the game using his stars to build a habitat for the orphs he's caring for.
He can use his stars to start working on his property, adding in water, food, clothing, etc resources to help lower the cost of caring for his orphs. At the top he can see how many orphs his current star total can support and how many need a home. You can see how doing the jobs to earn stars is a great incentive to be able to do more here in this part of the game. And you do more jobs by doing more reading and learning more stuff. Get the idea?

Once Little Britches has done whatever he wants to do in Ivythwaite, he can exit the game or go back to reading. When he does, a journal report pops up with his progress.

As of this review Little Britches has gone through 4 chapters, well over 100 pages of reading, and he's not even half way through yet.

What Are Our Thoughts About This Product?

Little Britches:
"It's okay. I like the jobs part. Well some of them. I don't like the typing ones. But the multiple choice ones are fine. They are easy. And I like the videos. They are funny. But I don't like the reading. It takes me a long time. And if I skip ahead, it will only take me back to that place when I log in, and not back to where I really am. I wish the chapters weren't so long and that it was easier to get to Ivythwaite. And I wish the font was different so I could read it better."

Here are my primary observations...
#1 Little Britches does NOT read online well. 
He is a swift and accurate reader of books. He's at about a 5th grade level (he's in 3rd right now) but when it comes to reading on computers, he just struggles. This leads to him going very slow, and skipping lines.

#2 Because he reads slow, the chapters take forever to finish
Each chapter is AT LEAST 20 pages. And some are closer to 30 or 40. For a slow reader, this means you have to go a long time before you get to do the "jobs"--unless you know about how you can access them through the skills report. And because the chapters take forever, he gets disheartened and quits. If I had the time, I would sit and read it to him. But I don't have that time right now.

#3 He doesn't read the "training" slides for the jobs if they are needing to be read
This ties in to the first observation. He doesn't like to read the screen, so he avoids reading the training slides of the jobs. This means that he has a very high chance of getting his answers wrong. Wrong answers mean frustration and disgust at the program. Which means no desire to do it.

#4 He loves the videos
What can I say? He's primarily an audio learner. He likes the videos because someone is TALKING with the words and he isn't having to read them himself.

#5 He doesn't quite get how the game works
I have worked with him on it, but he's still not quite sure how to work the game. I don't know if this is because of his age or just that he doesn't do video games or anything remotely like this. Regardless, since he doesn't quite get the game, he doesn't have a big desire to play it.

So, what could be changed?
#1 Make it possible to change the font size with me having to zoom in with my computer

#2 Make the chapters a bit shorter
If he only had to read 10 pages for a chapter or even no more than 20, I think he'd enjoy it more.

#3 Make it a lot easier to get to Ivythwaite
As it is now, we found it a bit tricky to get to Ivythwaite to do the game portion if he didn't want to do any reading. We had to skip pages or by luck stumble onto it. There needs to be a simple icon that can be pushed to get there for the players who want to work on their game without doing the reading first.

#4 Make it possible for a job to be retaken
Little Britches missed a few jobs, and was wishing he could re-do them. It would be nice if there was a way to re-do a job--even if they get lesser pay.

Other things...
I liked that I got an email with progress reports.

This is my personal progress when I was doing it this week.
I honestly really like the program. But then, I am a visual learner and read fast no matter how I am reading. If I was his age, I would ADORE this program. I love everything about it, but I really think it's for a 4th+ grade reader--or someone who can read the screen well and is okay with LOTS of screen reading. The program is exceptionally high quality and we didn't experience any bugs in the system--except that we can't use it on our Kindle Fire (we can read but can't do videos or anything like that). I'm hoping they will work out that bug because doing it on the Kindle would be awesome.

Will we continue to use this product?
I guess. But it will probably only be whenever he wants to work on it. I won't add it to our schedule. That being said, I plan on doing it myself since I have it. hahahahah.

Would I Recommend This Product?

If you have a visual learner who can easily read screens, yes. If you are able to read it FOR them as they go along, yes. If your child is already a big fan of critical thinking games and such, yes.

But if your child isn't a strong reader, or isn't a strong online reader, than no. That is the key thing with this program.

I highly recommend that you at least give the free trial a go to see how your child likes it!

Want to Learn More?

We reviewed Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster along with 89 other reviewers. You know what our thoughts on it, but what did others think? I hope you will go find out!
Star Toaster Review
Are you interested in learning more about Star Toaster? You can follow them on these social media outlets.





Well this didn't end up being the program that catches his fancy, but that's okay. I think that he will still want to do it now and then and he IS learning about different subjects as he works through it. I look forward to "reading" the next book from Star Toaster when it comes out!
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