Thursday, October 23, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

We received the K-2 Spanish Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages to review. You can also choose from other languages, including French, Chinese, German and Arabic. These courses can be used by children as young as Kindergarten (5-6) and as old as High School (18). And despite being a language program for children, I'm quite sure an adult could learn a language using this program, especially if they work with their child on these courses. Middlebury Interactive Languages also uses an immersion approach, which is the best way to teach a new language.

The K-2 course is 35 lessons for one semester. K-2 students should ideally work on their lessons for 2 days a week. There is no speed limit, so children can work at their own pace and either work ahead of schedule or slow down and take their time. There are plenty of activities to review what they learn, but I feel like you should understand each lesson before you move on to the next.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Since we live in an area that could be described as a melting pot of cultures and languages, we decided to go with Spanish, since it was the most commonly used language in both our family and on the street we live on. It also is the only course that is suitable for children as young as mine are (granted, mine are 3 and 4, but did perfectly fine with this course).

We used this course 2 or 3 days a week, sometimes for as long as two hours. We honestly do not usually follow the recommended amount of time required for each block of the course, and that is because my children are slightly younger than the recommended age and we did not want to overload them with a new language, especially because both of my children were slow to talk. That being said, they did wonderfully with these courses. My daughter especially enjoyed them and will often reply to comments in Spanish or ask a question in Spanish. I made sure to stay by their side as they completed the lessons, mainly because it has been a really long time since I have spoken Spanish and definitely needed to brush up on my knowledge.

About a month after we began using the course we picked up a few books at a local used bookstore that were in Spanish, or Spanish and English (typically Spanish on one page with an English translation on the next). This became a really fun way to work on what they know and to learn new words. We also practiced speaking Spanish with our neighbors. The adults were really helpful and patient and had fun teaching the kids simple phrases and words. Many of the kids in our area, as we quickly found out, do not speak Spanish (or at least not well), despite their parents being fluent. I asked why this was, and they said it was because they wanted their children to focus on English, since that is what is taught in school. In our area, foreign languages are not taught until middle or high school. However, in many parts of the world, it is required to learn an additional language, if not several, at the beginning of their school years.  

The Spanish K-12 Course was really wonderfully designed and appealed to my children. My daughter did respond better to the real pictures, and very quietly told me she did not like the cartoon faces. But that is just her preference. My son sat through every lesson that we have completed, but for the most part did not engage himself in the course. He paid attention and occasionally I would hear him whisper a phrase or word that he liked, but otherwise let Bean focus on it. Occasionally she did have trouble with the pictures and matching a word or phase to them, so I had to go through and tell her what was going on in each picture (see the picture above).

The word matching activities were certainly Bean's favorite and the part of the lessons that she enjoyed at the most. I would say things like, "In English, this animal is called a lion. In Spanish, this animal is called a ___?" Then she would tell me her answer and I would drag the word for her. We practiced this sort of activity while playing, as well, and would quiz her knowledge of animals, objects and places (using maps). The one part of naming that she did not like, is the new names given to family members, so I had to reassure her that it was just part of the learning process and she did not have to start calling her Grammy abuela (although we do have a family member we call abuela, even though she is actually a great aunt).

I really liked that they had interactive activities, such as the one in the picture above. You would click on the pictures that needed to be colored in and you'd listen to the words in Spanish. They also had many videos throughout the lessons of stories spoken in Spanish. This reminded me of taking Spanish back in school and I would find movies in Spanish to watch. While definitely still being a beginner, they were able to understand many of the scenes, even being able to tell me what was going on, even if they couldn't understand all of the words. (Just a helpful hint: if you are learning a language and also have Netflix, many of their movies and shows have a Spanish translation.) This helped to expose them to more of the language and make them even more eager to learn.

I also created Spanish letter stones (I could not find an adequate printable to create a set of felt bean bags) to practice pronouncing the letters, as well as a set of numbers and punctuation marks. Not only were we able to practice pronouncing, but we used them for ordering and matching (having two sets of each), and for spelling and math activities.

While I can't say they are ready for full conversations or to read a book in Spanish, they are certainly doing as well as I expected. It helps that Bean is more of a visual and auditory learner and the lessons support both of these learning styles. However, Munchkin is a kinesthetic learner, which is why we have created so many hands-on activities on help him keep up with the lessons.

You can use Middlebury Interactive Languages on a laptop or computer, and you will need a microphone (which is a great tool for children to see if they are pronouncing words correctly). You'll also need internet available, as this is an online language course. I honestly wish this was the type of course you could download and have available at any time without needing internet (though only available for the amount of time you were subscribed to), since we spend so much time outside. We usually just take our lessons with us, and this is one that is only available in the house.

One thing I did not like, and honestly I find it to be a too common problem with online programs like this, that there is no easy way to track down a new password if you have forgotten yours. We typically use the same one for Bean's online curriculum programs (it's an easy one for her to remember), but on one day it didn't matter which password we typed in, nothing worked. I waited on the phone for over 20 minutes to speak to someone, and in the meantime I cleared out the cache, on the off-chance that that was the issue. It turns out it was, so I never spoke to anyone from the help line. However, I really wish there had been a note or helpful suggestion that said what the problem might be or a link to direct us to retrieve our password.

Overall, we did really enjoy this program and loved that it was available for younger children. I hope that they continue making their courses available for younger children, since Bean is interested in Mandarin Chinese and German. I have high hopes that this interest in foreign languages keeps up, because someday I expect it will be really helpful for her to speak several languages.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Spanish K-2 Course is available for $119 (per semester) for an Independent Study or an additional $175 (per semester) with a Teacher ($294 total cost for both). This course will provide a young child with fun, interactive lessons, with songs, games and practice activities. They will learn basic expressions and an understanding of Spanish vocabulary. Each unit is based on an authentic fable, myth or legend from a Spanish-speaking culture. If you're taking a fully immersion approach, you could also combine this course with Spanish-themed unit studies, learning more about these legends, the people who believe them and where they are located in the world.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Apple Butter Recipe

Recently we made a big batch of apple butter (the same day we made Pumpkin Butter), and per usual, it came out pretty amazing! My kids love it, and it makes a great gift to give at family parties around the autumn holidays! I fill up some canning jars, add a freezer-safe lid, and tie on a pretty ribbon and label (with a recipe printed on the back). It's an easy gift, and everyone loves it! 

I honestly don't follow too close to the original recipe for this one. I typically add more cinnamon and vanilla extract, and if an extra apple or four end up in the batch, it doesn't effect the overall taste. 

You'll need:
12 Apples or 6 pounds of Apples (Granny Smith, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, whatever you have on hand - ours were a mix of fresh picked apples from a local orchard)
2/3 cup packed Brown Sugar (or 1 1/2 cups if you omit the honey)
2/3 cup of Honey
1 tablespoon of Ground Cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Vanilla Extract (optional)
1 tablespoon of Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Ground Allspice
1 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
And since we add water, we leave 1/2 cup in the pot, rather than adding 1/2 cup of apple juice or apple cider.

One thing we do slightly different is that we add about two cups of water to the batch while it has just apples in it. We let it boil for 15-30 minutes and then I scoop out most of the water. It's better than store bought apple juice, and it's nice and warm! The kids love it!

We always cook our apple butter in a heavy-duty pot, but you can cook it in a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker (8 to 10 hours on low). If you cook it in a pot, you'll want to add all the ingredients and let it come to a boil and then reduce the temperature to low. You'll want to cover the pot and stir it frequently. Once the apples are soft, begin mashing it with a potato masher. Continue cooking it until the mixture is really thick. Stick a knife into it and if it slides off, it isn't thick enough. If you wish, you can let it cool and pour it into a food processor to puree it. After 2+ hours it should be cooked down enough that there aren't many chunks left. Spoon the mixture into containers and store in a fridge for up to 3 weeks. 

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Pumpkin Butter Recipe

I have been so busy lately that it completely slipped my mind that I promised to post this recipe!! I am happy to report though that once again it was a huge hit! It's super easy to make, but does take a bit of effort, mainly because it is time consuming. However, the end result is delicious and sure to be gone before you know it! Luckily it is really easy to make, so you can whip up another batch!

It's yummy when it's spread on Portuguese sweet bread and toast. Or spread it on a pumpkin bagel (double pumpkin - delicious!). It's even good on muffins, especially corn bread muffins! And if you have ever heard of Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips, you should try it as a dip! Pumpkin butter can be added to a ton of desserts and recipes to make things extra tasty!

I'll keep things simple and just get on with the recipe!

You'll need:

1 can 15 oz Pumpkin Puree
2/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Honey
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (though you can use bottled!)
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon Ground Cloves
(You can also add 1/2 teaspoon Pumpkin Spice mix! More spice the better!)

Once you have all the ingredients ready, combine them in a heavy-duty saucepan. You'll want to bring the ingredients to boil on a medium to high heat. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking the soon-to-be pumpkin butter, stirring frequently, for 25 minutes, give or take a few. You'll want the pumpkin butter to be thick. To check, simply dip a butter knife into the mixture and if it slides right off, it is not thick enough!

Store your pumpkin butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, though I doubt it will last that long! You can also freeze it, if you make a big batch!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow; I'll be sharing our Apple Butter Recipe!

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Beyond Zombie Linky Party #5 - Simple Activities to Spell Super Hero Names

Welcome back to the On Beyond Zombie Linky Party! Sadly we missed linking up last week because I was sick, but we're back again this week to share another nerdy activity that we love!

One of the ways we learn about superheroes is by spelling their names or words associated with them. Here are a few examples: Captain America - courage, brave, soldier. Iron Man - rich, technology, smart. Thor - mighty, god, thunder. Black Widow - stealth, Russian, agent. Falcon - fly, wings, pilot. Hulk - green, angry, scientist. Hank Pym - giant, ant, particles. Wasp - sting, small, fashion. There are tons of other words that we use, and usually they are chosen by Bean. These are the most common words she uses to describe these characters. They are written on flash cards and we use them to create sentences.

Another simple activity that we create to learn names, and is used mostly by Munchkin, is to spell names using our alphabet fabric wall hanging. There's a space at the bottom to spell words, so we practice spelling names. I sound out the word or spell it out, and the kids find the letters to spell it. It also happens to be a fun activity that works on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

And since there's only lowercase letters and only one set of each letter, I am working on some additional letters to add to this board so we can spell longer names and words.

Bean loves writing, so I will write out the name or spell it out-loud for her to copy on a dry-erase board or paper.

Munchkin on the other hand has no interest in writing right now, although he does hold pencils and markers correctly when he draws. So we find other creative ways to practice spelling and writing, like tracing letters in a salt tray or on sandpaper cards. However, his absolute favorite literacy activity is this one! I will write down a name and he will use stickers to trace the letters. It's a fabulous activity that never loses its appeal and has been really successful to teach him letters and how to spell short words.

Like most of the activities we create, this simple activity promotes fine motor development, hand-eye coordination and tactile skills, not to mention all the literacy skills he's learning. Munchkin is a kinesthetic learner, so this activity really appeals to him.

These are just a few ways that my children explore and learn about their interests. Be sure to come back next week to see what super hero themed activity we share next!

This week we are featuring The Science Kiddo's awesome activities: 7 Ways to Play with Dry Ice + Water! Be sure to check it out, because these are some really neat ideas! You could definitely use some of these ideas for Halloween themed science experiments!

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Link up your geeky or nerdy posts below! Comics, superheroes, LEGO, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, Magic the Gathering, math, science, STEM, video games, table top games, mythology, dragons, books, outer space, Star Wars, Star Trek, robotics, and any other geeky or nerdy activity you want to share!

Don't have a blog, but you want to share an activity idea or photo? Add it to the comments or email me at MunchkinandBean(at)yahoo(dot)com and I will do my best to include it as a Reader Idea in my next On Beyond Zombie Linky Party post!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

9 Usborne Truck Books and More!

We love Usborne books and since we have decided on a literature-based approach to our homeschool lessons, what better way to do it than with Usborne books! These books are colorful, informative, and fun to read. There are so many different books to choose from, so each week we will choose a handful to feature! We'll work with different themes for toddler to early elementary aged children.

First up is Munchkin's favorite thing in the world: TRUCKS! Big trucks. Small trucks. Mid-sized trucks. Mega trucks. You name it! Munchkin's love of trucks started when he was a baby. My dad drives an 18-wheeler and I used to show him pictures and read him books about big trucks all the time. Once he was able to sit up and crawl, all he wanted to do was push trucks along on the floor. To this day he still lays down on the floor, so he is at eye level with the trucks, and drives them around. Nowadays we add his love of trucks to his lessons. We count wheels, measure them, even use them for painting and drawing activities. Nearly everything he draws is some sort of vehicle. He learned his colors by matching and sorting his trucks. And now he's learning how to read and can recognize several truck names.

Truck Books for Toddlers

That's Not My Truck is part of the "That's Not My" series and is a touchy-feeling book for babies and toddlers, though preschoolers will certainly still love this cute book. Little ones will love this book that supports tactile and sensory exploration. Follow the white mouse on each page as it will show you where to feel. There are different textures on each page and these books are specifically designed to promote sensory and language awareness. 

Teeny Tiny Trucks is an adorable rhyming story about little toy trucks and bugs. This book will grow with your child and become a great early reader. They will recognize many sight words throughout the book. This book especially appealed to Munchkin because he loves bringing his trucks outside to play in the dirt and grass. There is also a storytime app available for this book!

Busy Trucks on the Go explores a journey taken by a father and son that travel from town to town. You'll be taken through farms, towns and cities, and see lots of different trucks along the way. Small trucks and big trucks, fire trucks and working trucks. The journey also transitions from day to night, making it a great storytime and bedtime book! Your little one will love this engaging rhyming story!

For Preschoolers and Older Children

Big Book of Big Trucks is just that, a big book of trucks! This book includes a handful of fold out pages, that show just how big some trucks are compared to others. You can use this book for so many different activities, like matching, identifying and measuring (go ahead and give them a ruler, they will love it!). The pages are nice and thick, so you could even introduce this book to a toddler. You'll find all your favorite big trucks in this book, like heavy haulers and front-end loaders!

Big Book of Big Machines is just like the Big Trucks book, but Big Machines! So this book includes everything the Big Trucks book left out, like tractors and cement mixers and drillers. You'll also find plenty of huge fold-out pages in this book. If you have a toddler or preschooler who loves monster trucks or giant ships or jumbo planes (or all of the above), they will be delighted to read this book! 

Build Your Own Trucks Sticker Book is one of the many sticker books that Usborne has to offer! This one specifically features trucks and truck parts. Preschoolers and early elementary aged children will love this engaging sticker book. It's great for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Not only that, but while they design and build their trucks, they will be learning about the different parts of the truck, from the tires, to lights, to bumpers. This sticker book would be wonderful for a truck themed unit study, to take on a road trip, as a quiet time activity or to simply let your child explore their interest in trucks! They will be kept busy building 21 different big trucks!

Building Site Sticker Book is another great book for big machine and big truck lovers. This book includes 100+ stickers, including cranes, trucks, bulldozers and concrete mixers. Your child will love setting up their construction sites and deciding where to position the trucks. There are plenty of construction site scenes to choose from, including road building, bridge building, house building and more! 

Construction Sites Lift and Look is a book with plenty of flaps for children to explore a construction site! You'll find out what the builders are doing and what is happening at the construction site. Lift flap books are also wonderful for fine motor practice and hand-eye coordination; your child won't even know they are working on them!

And last, but not least, Munchkin's absolute favorite set of cards! 

Big Machines to Spot is a set of flash cards that have tons of facts about 50 different trucks, from pick-up trucks and dump trucks, to monster trucks and concrete pump trucks. We have found tons of uses for these cards, including matching and identifying activities (both at home using toys and on road trips to spot them driving), math activities for counting wheels (the trucks are all a side view, so we count the wheels on the visible side and then multiply it by two, or add or subtract them). You can also line the cards up to count them, since each card has a number in the top corner, so you can practice counting from 1 to 50. Here's an example of a couple cards from the set:

Next week we will cover some of Usborne's amazing science books! 

I am an independent consultant for Usborne Books and More. If you would like to purchase any of the books from this post, head on over to my Usborne Store! If you love Usborne books and would like to host a party on Facebook (and earn free books!) or become a consultant, feel free to contact me for details! 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia Educational Ministries Review

We received iWitness Biblical ArchaeologyNew Testament iWitness, and Old Testament iWitness to review from Apologia Educational Ministries. These books are great for children of all ages, but the reading level is for children ages 11 and up. Add them to your Bible study class to learn about the history of the Bible and the Christian and Hebrew religions, or use them simply to learn about Christian worldview for educational purposes. These books were written and designed by Doug Powell, who has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola, and is an award-winning graphic designer, and is an app developer and musician.

I read through these books and found them to be very interesting. What I like about them is that they are wonderful resources to explore the Christian religion and are designed in a way that will appeal to children. They are factual and give many details from history, including people and places, while explaining their importance in the Bible. The Bible is not a history book, but it does mention people and places that were lost in history until archaeologists discovered them and proved their existence.

While I am not a religious person, I do love history and enjoy learning about religions. These books will someday be a wonderful resource in our homeschool when we learn about religions and ancient history and civilizations in a few years. I can't imagine teaching Ancient History without also exploring religion, because the two practically go hand in hand.

Apologia Review
Cost: $14.00

iWitness Biblical Archaeology explores the history of the Bible. It talks about many historical events and people who are talked about in the Bible and if you use this for homeschooling, you can use this book as a resource to create a timeline from ancient times all the way to the present. This book has many historical pictures of people, places and works of art, along with ancient artifacts and snippets of scripture.

Apologia Review
Cost: $14.00

The Old Testiment iWitness explores the Hebrew Bible and compares the different scriptures. You'll find lots of interesting facts about how the scriptures were written, how important copying was and the variations between the scriptures in ancient times compared to today. You'll also find facts about the prophets and scrolls, including the dead sea scrolls. The timeline at the back of the book is also fantastic and can be used with the iWitness Biblical Archaeology book. 

Apologia Review
Cost: $14.00

The New Testament iWitness book explores the modern Bible, along with the roots of its beginnings. This book mainly focuses on Jesus and what his place in Christianity is. This book does a great job explaining the importance of the Bible and why certain books were included while others were excluded. There's also a timeline of the progress of the Bible, including how many copies were written. You'll even recognize the periods of time they were from, especially if you are learning about ancient history the same time.

I would definitely suggest purchasing the three of these books together, or even one by one throughout a year, because they really do a great job of exploring Christian history. And coming soon in 2015, there will be two more books added to this collection: iWitness World Religions and iWitness Heresies and Cults. And if you really like these books, you might also be interested in the app that goes with them! It's called selflessdefense and was also created by Doug Powell. You can find it in most app stores.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Game of the Month: Bee Alert

Welcome back to our Game of the Month series! Each month we will feature one of our favorite games, give you a general idea of the game play and how we use it for homeschooling. These will always be games that we love and play often. We featured Ani-gram-it last month, and this month we are featuring Bee Alert! Bee Alert was created by Reiner Knizia for Simply Fun.

Cost: $30.00

Bee Alert is intended for children ages 5 and up, however my children began playing this game when they were 2 and 3 and had no issues with it. Please use your best judgement when letting a toddler play games with you, as there may be some small parts. Bee Alert can be played by 2-5 players and each round lasts an average of 15-20 minutes. The game includes 36 cards, six beehives and six bees.

Bee Alert focuses on memory and observation skills, focus and attention skills, fine motor skills and learning to be patient while taking turns. That last skill did take some time getting used to, but this was a great game to practice taking turns and learning to be patient while other players took their turns. My own children are fairly cooperative, and it may help that we play games often.

Everything stores neatly inside the box, which makes clean up quiet and easy! There is also a thin directions paper that fits on top. 

How to set up Bee Alert:

Set up the bees in a circle and then place a beehive over them. You definitely want younger children to see the bees before you place the beehives over them. Have your child watch you set up and tell them they need to "be alert" and remember where each bee is. 

Shuffle the cards and set them up beside the beehives. I typically place them near me, or another parent, who will flip the cards on each players turn. 

How to play Bee Alert:

The player who ate honey last begins, then proceed clockwise. On your turn you'll flip a card to reveal a colorful bee, bear or beehive. All revealed cards will be placed face up in a discard pile. 

If your card has a bee on it, you have to "be alert" and remember where that colored bee is. Lift up the beehive you think that bee is under. If you are correct, move the beehive in front of you. If you are wrong, place the beehive back over the bee. Keep all bees covered up, because if someone draws a bee card and that bee is in front of you, they can guess it and then move it in front of them. 
- If you choose a bee in front of you and get it correct, you can immediately take another turn. 

If your card has the beehive on it, select any beehive from the middle of the table and place it in front of you, but you do not have to lift it to reveal the bee underneath it. If there are no beehives in the middle of the table, you can take a beehive from in front of another player. 

If your card has a bear on it, you loose a beehive! Push one of the beehives in front of you back into the middle of the table, but you do not have to reveal the bee beneath it. If you have no beehives, pass to the next player. 

Play clockwise until one player has four beehives in front of them. Otherwise play to the end of the deck of cards and the winner is the player with the most beehives. If there is a tie, shuffle the deck and those two players will play until someone scores. Then they are the winner! 

You want to remember not to shuffle any beehives during the game. The purpose of the game is to have them remember where the beehives are, not to guess where they are. 

My daughter likes to check first, and when she is right (which she usually is), she announces she got it right really loudly. She also doesn't try to hide her bee color.

My son on the other hand likes to peek under the beehive.

We love Bee Alert. We literally play nearly every day, if not several times a day. While their memory skills were really great before, I think this game has done a wonderful job to teach them to concentrate and remember where things are. They do very well with matching games now. If I know we will be learning something that requires focus and attention to detail, we will play this game before starting that activity. It has worked wonderfully for us!