July 16, 2014

Fresh From the Bookshelf: A Match of Wits by Jen Turano (Book Review)

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano, book #3 in a series (Ladies of Distinction) that I fell in love with right after reading book #1 (A Change of Fortune). Needless to say I've been on pins and needles for the 4th book in the series to come out and was delighted to be offered a copy of A Match of Wits to review! 



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Each book in the Ladies of Distinction series by Jen Turano revolves around a set of friends in high society New York in the late 1800's. Book four finally gives the much awaited story of Agatha--a quirky, constantly in trouble, impetuous, adventures, gifted journalist, and kindhearted young lady. From near the beginning of the series, we the readers were privy of the fact that Agatha was in love with Zayne...brother of her dear friend Arabella (her story is in book #2). This book FINALLY tells Agatha and Zayne's story!

July 11, 2014

Chats on the Farmhouse Porch #147

Click here to add YOUR answers!
Patrice at Everyday Ruralty has another great collection of questions for our link up this week. I just love having the bits of randomness to share. 

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Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you!

1. Do you like cucumbers? Is there a favorite way for you to prepare them?
No. I am not a cucumber fan unless in the form of sweet pickles. I do enjoy pickles and canning pickles. We lost our whole crop last year (as did most of the gardens in our area) due to a horrible blight, but this year they are looking lovely! 

I really enjoy using my re-usable canning lids when I can now. They work perfectly and eliminate the lid cost each year. I can get them in wide mouth and regular mouth which is perfect. I prefer using wide mouth jars for things just like pickles! Lots of hands go into those jars! LOL! When we are done using a jar, we just put the reusable lids in a ziplock bag in the pantry. 

2. How good a housekeeper are you?
Define good...I enjoy a clean and tidy house, but I am definitely not OCD about it. In fact I am rather...ahem...messy at times. My house looks lived in, but I do enjoy a sparkling clean kitchen and bathroom! :) Just ignore the cobwebs and dustbunnies everywhere else.

3. Please finish this: To spend a day____________would be amazing!
To spend a day....zip lining and/or white water rafting would be amazing! I love both of those things and haven't done them in awhile. I always wanted to do one of those really big ziplines where you go for a few miles over a rainforest or something. But I also love white water rafting and haven't been in about 12 years.

4. How do you handle times when you are "down" or "blue"( depressed )?
I have a few things I like to do:
*I put on some good music...usually the classic oldies. You can't help but get cheerful when "Splish Splash" comes on.
*I spend some time chatting with my friends. They always make me feel better.
*I open up the Psalms. King David can bring anyone out of the dumps!
And when I'm REALLY in the dumps--which like hardly ever happens--
*I get down on my knees and start counting my blessings and thanking God. I don't go very far before I realize I have nothing to be depressed about.

But I'm very much a glass half full kind of person so I hardly EVER get blue...

5. Have you started using essential oils, since they have become so popular?
Oh yes. If you are a regular reader you know that I totally love my essential oils. I've been using them regularly for about 2 years now. I own about 25 singles or blends and use them daily. I purchase oils from three companies that I am very very happy with: Mountain Rose Herbs, Aura Cacia and doTERRA. Most of my oils are from Mountain Rose Herbs and Aura Cacia--as they are singles. I have had great success with them both and believe they are each high quality--and I've heard and read that they are both ranked in the top 5 oils...side by side with Young Living and doTERRA. I use doTERRA exclusively for oil blends. My favorite blends have some expensive single oils in them, so it is far less expensive for me to buy them pre-blended instead of trying to blend them myself. My favorite blends are: Breathe, On Guard and Serenity. I don't sell oils--but I read and learn about them as much as possible to help my family and friends. We have had great success with them--especially for every day ailments like colds, fevers, wounds, stings and sore muscles. 
*****
I am so thankful to be home from my whirlwind trip back to WA for my grandpa's memorial service. My boys are happy to have me back. I'm thankful to be back in the country away from the city. I'm happy to pick my green beans and lettuce. To hang my clothes out on the line. Sigh. I love this country life.
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July 8, 2014

WriteShop Primary: Book A (Curriculum Review)

I have always believed that we have not done enough writing in our homeschooling. We have worked on handwriting itself, but the concepts of writing and focused attention on creative writing is something we've not had any experience with. When the opportunity arrived to review the writing curriculum WriteShop, I was eager to give it a try and waited for WriteShop Primary: Book A Set with anticipation.

What is WriteShop?


WriteShop is a homeschool curriculum designed to help children succeed at writing and for teachers to succeed at teaching it! Whether a new or veteran homeschooler, WriteShop helps you teach with confidence! WriteShop provides the step-by-step process needed to take ideas through brainstorming, pre-writing, writing projects, editing and revising and finally publishing using crafts, games, picture books, lapbooking and other projects which kids will enjoy. 

WriteShop offers a variety of levels for your student including:
A Primary level for ages K-3rd
WriteShop Review
A Junior level for grades 3rd-6th
WriteShop Review
WriteShop Review
WriteShop also offers a junior/high school level course as well called WriteShop 1 & 2

The books do not have to be done in order, thus it's best to view samples and hard copies for each book to find the best one for the level your children are at. Many of them cross over to allow for reluctant writers who need to bring their skills up to par. Some of the books are only available as print copies, while other sets can be purchased as e-books for your convenience.

After looking at the very helpful sample pages for each of the levels of product, as well as reading about the recommendations for each level and placement suggestions, I decided to go with WriteShop Primary: Book A ($29.95) with the Primary Activity Pack, Book A ($5.95).

How Did We Use the Product?

I chose the WriteShop Primary: Book A because although my son is heading into 3rd grade level work this fall, I did not feel like his writing skills matched where he "should" be based on what we have done thus far in his schooling. I examined all three of the primary books and after reading their descriptions, I noticed that Book A was good for a reluctant 2nd grade writer which is where I basically considered Little Britches to be. I still wasn't 100% sure that it was the right choice, but decided I'd rather have it be on the easy side of things in the long run. I dove into our books once they arrived.
The teachers guide was a nice spiral bound book--my favorite kind. The beginning of the book is full of great introduction information about how to use the program and explains how the book is set up. One of the most helpful things right off the bat was seeing the different schedules in the books introduction, that could be used to teach this curriculum--including one that moves faster to bring an older writer up to speed. I decided to use that schedule for our review.

I love that in the introduction portion of the teachers guide, it states that to be flexible is the key...that if things are easy move faster and if things get harder, slow down. This is my kind of curriculum---move the speed of the child.

The teachers guide also provides you a list of the kind of materials you will need throughout the lessons.

I decided to check out lesson one...and kind of groaned. It started off with a guided writing practice. In fact this activity is part of every days lesson work (which you can see from the above schedule). Problem? It was wayyyyyyyyyyy too easy. In fact, as I flipped through the book I realized that every guided writing practice was ridiculously easy ---for my almost 3rd grader. Now if it was a Kindergartner and the first introduction to writing, it would be different and it would be VERY useful and helpful. 

Remember that I chose this book knowing it was for K-1st grade OR a reluctant 2nd grade writer

Thus, I quickly decided that every week we would SKIP the guided writing practice. It made my son's eyes glaze over it was so easy. LOL! Once we decided to skip it things moved along much better. 

Just in case you want to know what the Guided Writing Practice is...it is a routine done every single day following the same method every single day where it is a dialogue between parent (teacher) and student to teach them to speak in complete sentences and learn that sentences go together to make little stories. But they were SO repetitious that they were boring for us and not helpful at all. Here are a couple examples of the ones we did at the beginning.

I might say "What would make a big pet?", "what would be a funny pet", and then "What would be scary pet?" and I write their answer in full sentences.
After doing two days worth I decided this was just a waste of time for us...

It wasn't too long into this curriculum that I discovered I had HIGHLY underestimated my sons writing capabilities. Though we hadn't spent any detailed work on writing, his skills were NOT the "reluctant 2nd grade writer" that I thought he was. THUS I had to make a decision with this book before we could move forward. 

If you use this book as it is designed using the schedule that is given (see above photos) it goes at a great speed, is very gentle and there are great ways to custom fit it to your student's capabilities.

BECAUSE of this, I found it very easy to adapt it to fit Little Britches in what I knew he needed. The main thing that I did was skip the guided writing practice for each day, and instead do all (or most) of the daily activities for the actual writing process. 

Here is what can be expected in the activities for each lesson:

*Pre-Writing: This typically included reading a book pertaining to the theme of the lesson (every lesson has a different theme)
 *Brainstorming: Teaching your child about how to throw out a lot of ideas before ever narrowing it down to what you want to write about. This can include charts, worksheets, or oral discussion
*The Writing Project: Here we learn what we are going to be writing and we write our rough draft using our ideas from the brainstorming session.
*Editing and Revising: You do just that--look back over and make any changes to what you wrote
*Activity Set Worksheet: This worksheet coordinates to what is being learned during the lesson
*Publishing the Project: making a final draft with a craft project or other activity
*Evaluating Student's Work: using a checklist provided to note their degree of accomplishment in their weekly writing

I decided to focus on these activities for each lesson as this was what I felt we needed to work on. The evaluation included in the teachers guide was not very useful for me as I it is geared to a beginning writer without any writing experience. It noted things like "student starts at left side of paper", "student uses capital letters and end marks".

If there is any advance prep work that needs to be done to get ready for the writing project, it is clearly noted in the teachers guide.

There are 10 lessons in the book. We did not do all the lessons, because some of them I truly felt were TOO easy--even as the writing activity. What I did was examine each lesson to see what the writing project was and determine whether it was going to be too easy or not. I started out with a couple easy ones, but then moved on to more difficult ones. Just because I skipped certain lessons does not mean that I still didn't use something from them. There were some GREAT pre-writing ideas that we'd never done before, that I believed to be very useful and made sure we completed them.

One of these activities was to make Word Bank Folders to keep in one place words (nouns and adjectives) all related to a particular subject or theme. We simply printed them into a file folder with a cover photo. We made one for Seasons and for Trains.
Making a Word Bank Folder
A second activity that we did was to make a story idea file. In the teachers guide they suggested you did this using and index card box...but I liked the idea of keeping it in a file folder, so we did it using post-it notes. We wrote down words that might be fun to use in a story and then two words describing that word on each post-it. We put all of these in our story file folder.

Another activity that I knew would be useful was to make some Word Family Flowers. I picked a few of the base word options (one for each vowel) and then printed off some flower pages that I made on Microsoft Word and had him complete them. These will be especially useful when we study poetry this year.
We did do some complete lessons which I will share with you now. Each time we completed one, the next one seemed to be even easier for him...and he took great pride in sharing them in their PUBLISHED form with the family when he was done. Here are some photos of the full writing projects we completed:

Lesson 2: All About Me

Lesson 3: Favorite Things
If you notice from the photo collage above he USED our story file to pick words to help him write his story. He LOVED having them to reference. And Baby Britches wanted to write a story. It was about a blue dinosaur and how a truck smashed it dead. LOL!
Lesson 4: Friends
We took this lesson further by writing a letter to his best friend at the end of the lesson and he used some of the words we brainstormed.

Lesson 5: Trains
The focus here was on how a story needs a title, a beginning, a middle and an end. I loved the train cars that he used to put his story together. You can see that we did a lot of brainstorming on the white board before he got started.

Lesson 10: Sequence of Events
The final lesson in the curriculum is all about writing stories with a sequence of events. The first aspect was to go through a series of pre-writing and learning the sequencing words. We read a book (Katy and the Big Snow) together. Next I wrote certain events from the story on sheets of paper and hid them in his bedroom. He found them and then put them in order according to the story. He enjoyed this activity. We brainstormed for a long time about what kind of story about vehicles he'd like to write about and he decided on a tractor.

As part of the writing he needed to come up with his sentences (5 total) for his story. The book suggested I make him 6 squares to write his story on. But since I knew he was doing a tractor and his story was about baling, I opted to make "haybales" for him to write his story on. He took a lot of time on this story and he enjoyed making his tractor for the "publishing". We put this up on the wall above their desks. He enjoyed reading his story to daddy.
Lesson 10: Sequencing Event Story about Vehicle

Using the schedule I had initially intended to use, this book would do 10 weeks of lessons. With our adaptation we used it over about 6 weeks doing it 3-5 days a week depending on the activity.

What Are Our Thoughts on the Product?

*Little Britches: 
I liked the coloring and crafts and the part where I published my writing. I kind of didn't like the writing, but it really wasn't that hard. I liked having stories when I was done. Oh but I didn't like having to write all my stories two times.

*My Thoughts
Let me start by admitting I FAR underestimated my son's writing skills and ended up choosing a program that was almost too easy for him--even by the final lesson. Knowing what I do now, he was FAR more suited for Book B than Book A. At first it was a challenge to think I could adapt this to work for us, but I remembered the reminder in the book itself to be FLEXIBLE. I found this to be a pro for the book--it shows you how much your child really knows!

My overall goal of this program was to get him writing mini-stories without having to pull teeth and I am happy to say we met that goal. He realizes now that writing "from scratch" isn't something scary. We learned the benefits of having word files, and a story ideas file. 

As to the program itself, I think it's a great curriculum and it's very easy to use. Everything is laid out so that it takes the "thinking" out of it on behalf of the teacher. The guided writing practice that we skipped, though not useful for us, WOULD be very useful for a younger student. The program shows how brainstorming can be done in many different ways for coming up with story ideas. The writing projects are both simple and fun and the published projects are great for putting into portfolios.

I like that throughout the lessons there are options for simplifying the lessons as well as taking them to the next level. This would be very useful for using it to teach multiple children at once.

My favorite thing about this program is that BECAUSE it was a bit easier than I had hoped, it meant my son wrote with confidence and moved through the activities with ease. I didn't hear very many complaints during our writing process which is a great recommendation.

Would I Recommend WriteShop?


I would definitely recommend the WriteShop curriculum to people looking for a solid writing curriculum that is both easy to teach and to learn. I think the Write Shop Primary: Book A is definitely geared to a K or 1st grade level just like it says...but it is absolutely possible to use it for a reluctant writer in 2nd grade to give them more writing confidence. The book is very easy to adapt to your needs and very thorough in teaching the writing process itself. The book includes a lot of hands on projects and activities which always make teaching easier--but you could just stick with the basic writing if your child doesn't do well with those things.

The Primary Activity Pack is reproducible, making it ideal for families with more than one student in the course and the course itself gives ideas on how to teach more than one level at once.

I was very pleased with this curriculum and I definitely see myself using it again for my youngest son when he gets into Kindergarten. I am strongly considering purchasing the next book in the series to use for Little Britches this coming year.

Want To Learn More About WriteShop?


We reviewed the Write Shop Primary: Book A ($29.95) with the Primary Activity Pack, Book A ($5.95). You have heard our thoughts on this program, but there are more levels in this series...hop on over to see even more reviews by click the graphic below!
Click to read Crew Reviews

Looking to connect with WriteShop? You can find them on these social media sites:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writeshop 
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/writeshop
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/writeshop/boards/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+Writeshop/ 
*****

Thanks for checking out my review today! Tune in later this week for my weekly bit of rambling--and if you are interested in seeing MORE of my curriculum or product reviews, make sure you visit the page I have devoted just for these!
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