Friday, May 22, 2015

Family Game Night #2

We play board games often, but we always aim to have at least one "Family Game Night" each week. The kids and I mostly play during the day, while Albz is at work. But he enjoys playing with us too, so Family Game Night is important because it means the kids are able to play with him too. Albz and I usually play "big kid" or "adult" games after the kids go to bed, which means they don't always get to see us playing games together and with our friends. We love inviting the neighborhood kids to join in a game or two after they get out of school and they love browsing our collection of games. It makes me a bit sad that they don't have games at home, and if they do it's usually only Monopoly, so it's a fun experience for all of us!

The games we played tonight are new. They just arrived today! And both games were a huge hit with the kids! Bean preferred Bugs in the Kitchen and Munchkin preferred Aargh! 

Bugs in the Kitchen is a new family board game from Ravensburger. Ours is straight from Germany and called La Cucaracha, which means The Cockroach in Spanish. It's a super fun game that uses a cockroach HEX Bug nanobot that runs around the kitchen... The game is technically for children 6+, but both of my kids were able to play it using the rules and had no issues. 

We will be reviewing Bugs in the Kitchen on the blog soon. But I just wanted to share how much fun the kids had playing it! We literally played for 40 minutes straight! 

And now that they know what HEX Bugs are... they need more! We'll be checking them out at Target the next time we go shopping.

The HEX Bug definitely makes this game unique! You basically roll a dice, letting you move a fork, spoon, knife or random utensil. You're working towards getting the HEX Bug into your trap. It's really fun to maneuver the utensils and create paths for the bug to follow.

The second new game we played was AARGH! from Simply Fun. It's a memory game for children 3+, with a fun pirate theme. 

You place 25 tiles in 5 by 5 rows. Each player flips tiles and so long as they continue to make a match, they can keep playing. Once they flip a tile that isn't a match, they collect coins for any matches they made and then place the pirate ship on the last tile played. Then all the other tiles are flipped back over.

The game ends when you run out of gold coins. Then each player counts their coins and the player with the most wins.

It's a unique take on a memory game and added lots of new elements that were fun to play with. 

And check out our adorable new buddies from The B Hive Creations!! They came out so cute and my kids love them! We are thinking of commissioning an Iron Giant for Munchkin's birthday!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Forest for the Trees Review

Forest for the Trees from Homeschool Legacy is a Biblically centered Once-A-Week Unit Study. This botanical study of trees and forestry is perfect for children in grades 2-12. Even preschoolers and Kindergartners can use it, depending on how you teach using the materials. You'll learn how to identify trees, create a nature journal and observe botany experiments. You can even use Homeschool Legacy's no-prep unit studies to earn Boy Scout badges! The Forest for the Trees unit study would earn you the Forestry Merit Badge!

Homeschool Legacy Review
Forest for the Trees is a 4 Week Unit Study that comes with everything you need. However, you'll still want to pick up a few library books and take nature walks. We also created a lapbook to go along with our studies. I absolutely loved that this unit study heavily focused on living books and using them to learn more about trees. Living books make up the core of our unit studies. And Homeschool Legacy makes it super easy to find these books at the library by providing the Dewey Decimal identification numbers for all the books they suggest.

Week One focuses on tree identification, which takes you outdoors with a field guide. We walked around our local park, down by the river, and through a small patch of trees near grandma's house to find leaves, bark and seeds to use for tree identification. Some were even added to our lapbook! But most were collected in small baggies and glued to a poster board with the tree name underneath. We also brought our nature journals to the park with us and spent a few minutes drawing trees and leaves, and writing sentences on their observations.

Tree rings.

The tree Bean made for the cover of her lapbook.

The first week has a vocabulary section. We looked up tree words online and then added them to our "Word Tree," which is a big cardboard tree hung up on the wall with velcro spots and removable leaves, which are just laminated green construction paper leaves. We're able to write on them with dry erase markers and it helps us learn words by practicing to read and define them. The words start in a small basket near the base of the tree and the kids can learn one a day or all at once, whichever they prefer. Once they understand the word we add it to the tree. At the end of the week we do a sort of ask out-loud quiz and then we move on to the next set of words. For example, some of the words we used were deciduous, coniferous, tree, leaf, stem, roots, botany, seed, acorn, photosynthesis, gas, tree rings, phloem, xylem, cambium, bark, to name a few. We aim for ten words per week.

We researched local tree information, such as our state tree, what trees grow in our state, what times of year those trees react to the seasons, etc. We drew many trees and plants in our nature journal and we loved all the outdoor activities, like learning to climb a tree! Bean was especially thrilled at the prospect of climbing a tree. Her initial reaction was, "I can do that?" She started with thick trees and quickly found that the bark was too rough on her skin and then moved on to thinned trees with smoother bark. Her favorite tree to climb happened to be the same tree I climbed as a kid at my grandparent's house. We also collected fallen tree branches and leaves to create a sensory bin that we kept at our nature table all month. They added acorns, seeds and bark pieces that they found on their nature walks. We use them for drawing inspiration and to explore textures.

The science activities we attempted were to change the color of celery and white flowers by leaving them in a cup of water with food coloring. We also looked at plant cells under our microscope and drew pictures of the cells. We created a food web focusing on creatures that eat trees and plants and what trees eat using Safari Ltd figures (they have a tree set) and drawing on the poster board things that we didn't have figures of (sunlight, water, soil, etc.).

While this is a Christian curriculum, non-religious families can still use it and either include or exclude those parts of it. We typically just graze through and use what parts we want. We don't usually teach from a religious perspective, but when we are learning about science, I address the issue of how different people view the subject matter. So when it came to those parts of the lessons, I would say something like, "Christians believe that God created trees and plants on the third day of Creation." This way when their cousins or friends talk about Creation, they still know what it is about.

We did not need to take a trip to a local nursery because we have our own little apple garden growing in our window! My kids have been taking care of their small apple trees for a couple weeks now and have loved observing the growth and recording what they learn in their nature journals. Within a few weeks they started to outgrow their container and we will soon be putting them in larger planters. And we actually grew these from seeds we collected from organic apple trees, so it's been a learning experience for the past few months.

We Googled tutorials on growing trees and watched a few videos on YouTube. "How to grow a tree from a seed" and "How to grow a tree from a branch cutting" yielded the best results. The plant in the glass container is actually a plant we grew from a cutting.

During the third week we followed the recipe and made a yummy apple pie! We used fresh apples and were able to pluck out the seeds and used them to explore how seeds grow inside apples and they had first hand experience growing apple trees from seeds.

The longest part of the unit study is the final week, which heavily focuses on the history of trees in america. We watched documentaries and read books about how trees grow and why protecting them is important. We spent a couple days learning about deforestation and how logging can ruin entire ecosystems. During our research we stumbled upon a really neat project to plant new trees using drones.

Overall, we really enjoyed using Forest for the Trees as a month-long unit study. We will absolutely use other Homeschool Legacy unit studies in the future. It was really great how much material they covered and since each week had new books to check out, there were so many opportunities to learn more than just what was in the curriculum. You can also tell that they carefully picked out the best book choices. We were very satisfied with our learning experience.

Forest for the Trees is available for $14 using the Grab-and-Go option or $18.95 for the paperback copy.
Check out the other Unit Studies from Homeschool Legacy!

Homeschool Legacy Review

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

S is for Smiling Sunrise Review

Smiling Sunrise Review
We received S is for Smiling Sunrise from WordsBright. It's a bright and creative ABC picture book for young children. There are educational sing-along rhymes that focus on values and virtues. When you read it to children of mixed ages, you can also put an emphasis on comprehension and vocabulary words. The overall theme of the book is about being positive! 
S is for Smiling Sunrise is suitable for children 3 and up, however toddlers will still enjoy listening to the book being read to them. It has 32 colorful pages and is a hardcover. It's available for $16.95 and can be found online and in bookstores. It can also be used as an early reader. 

S is for Smiling Sunrise is not a long book. Each page features a sing-along rhyme, one for each letter. You can read the book all at once (it's really great for circle time!) or you can use for Letter of the Week activities.

We read it all at once the first time and since then we have focused on one letter at a time. We have created crafts and activities to reflect on each letter. Some examples:
A is for Artwork. So we created art by painting pictures and dancing around to cheerful music.
B is for Butterflies. We read some of our books on butterflies, learned about their life cycle, and went on a butterfly scavenger hunt.
C is for Colors. We created a rainbow using perler beads and then hung them in the window to see the light shine through. We also experimented by making rainbows using water, a glass, sunlight and paper.

Another activity we used this book for was to create our own alphabet books. We would read the page, talk about the letter, list off words off the top of our head that start with that letter and then create a little story about that letter and word in our literacy journals.

For example, Munchkin wrote stories primarily about vehicles, robots and monsters. His favorite letter, currently, is I. "I is for Iron Giant. Iron Giant is a big robot who loves to eat metal and is really tall and can fly!" For Bean, the themes were much more varied, as she has many more interests. B is for Bruce Banner. E is for Electricity. I is for Island. J is for Journey. K is for Kinetic Sand. T is for Teleportation. Z is for Zoobs.

There are also pre- and post-reading questions that we addressed for each letter, as part of the parent guide activities. They revolved around Goodness, Beauty and Wonder. We also took the time to come up with some of our own questions, unless no one could think of one. It really made the kids think about each letter and word we were talking about and helped them understand concepts better after talking about them.

Smiling Sunrise Review

We had a lot of fun creating fun activities to go along with this book. It was a perfect addition to our circle time activities, especially because when it arrived, Munchkin had just started to become more interested in letters. S is for Smiling Sunrise is a colorful and inviting book. My kids immediately picked it up and started flipping through the pages. At this point we have read it enough that Bean can read most of the pages on her own. She loves reading it to her brother, although she does sometimes sneak in her own stories while reading.

One major reason why we really enjoyed this book was because it wasn't just another "simple" ABC book. It used beautiful, strong words, that are enriching to a child's understand of words and literacy. It wasn't all A is for Apple, B is for Ball. My kids gave up on those books when they were toddlers and always preferred the book with richer descriptions and interesting words. It was also entertaining to read and got my children singing about their favorite letters. Bean was able to find a word on most pages that she wanted to look up and learn the meaning of.

Visit the WordsBright website to check out the freebies available, including an MP3 download of the alphabet song. They also have a parents guide for Pre-K kids and K-3 kids. Our review copies came with these three included as a CD and printable. 

I would suggest this book for any family or classroom with preschool aged children. It's a wonderful book for introducing the alphabet and if you use the teacher/parent guides, you will find more educational uses for the book, including concept examination, questions for conversation starters, vocabulary to learn new words, and activities to create and explore. 

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Boy Scouts Yard Sale Haul

We found some seriously awesome toys and games at the giant Boy Scouts Yard Sale in one of our local towns! It's an annual Mother's Day weekend event that I look forward to every year. We always find lots of amazing things! As homeschooler's, I always head straight for the kids section and scope out the toys and games.

One of the items that I bought for myself was a My Keepon interactive robot, which I have always wanted... and of course Munchkin immediately fell in love with it and declared it his "friend." Which means it's now.. his. :(

We snagged a Bristle Block set and a brand new Blokus game!

We found a ZOOB Modeling System, which are seriously cool building toys! Munchkin is simply obsessed with them! He really likes to make robots and cars. The Kid K'NEX set is also a really fun building toy! They love creating unique bugs and monsters!

And can you believe that I only paid $1 for a like-new Snap Circuits Jr. ? My kids LOVE it! They have played with it for like an hour every day! The instruction booklet is full of awesome experiments and they are learning a lot about how electricity works!

Their favorite is the Flying Saucer experiment!

Last year there weren't too many puzzles, but this year there were SO MANY! It was hard to choose and I honestly didn't want to be greedy, despite the fact that my kids LOVE puzzles. So we grabbed a handful that would be useful in our homeschool.

This Upper and Lower Case Alphabet puzzle is pretty great. It was a little worn, but that's just a sign of being well loved!

Melissa and Doug puzzles are pretty amazing!

The Maisy Floor Puzzle was a gem to find! My kids love reading Maisy books and this puzzle is really unique. Once you put the puzzle together, it looks just like Maisy's house and then you can use removable vinyl pieces of Maisy and her toys and objects to set up and play in her house! It's very cool. The other puzzles are of a pet shop, kitchen cooking gadgets and four seasons.

I didn't notice until we got home that I grabbed two USA puzzles, but I was actually glad I did. The Crocodile Creek mini puzzles are awesome for car trips (if you have carseat trays). They are double sided puzzles, so there's actually two to make!

I found a set of plastic pattern blocks, wooden pattern blocks, a Magic School Bus science kit and a pet drawing activity set.

We love this magnet play set. We have been adding to it every day with magnetic items around the house.

This zoo themed felt board is also really cool! The kids like all the animals and think that the felt board is cute. It's an awesome addition to our collection!

One of the best parts of our haul are all the board games we picked up! Rush Hour Jr, Boggle, a collection of Cars themed games, Zingo, Thomas the Train tracks building game, Goodnight Moon matching game, Superwhy Letter Game, Spider-Man matching game... there were so many games to choose from, but these were the ones we really wanted.

Spider-Man game, Krill, Blokus, and two USA card games. Plus an ocean expedition fossil kit.

We didn't find too many Lego sets left over, but we did find two Skylander Mega Bloks sets, two Lego containers (which are perfect for traveling!), and four Lego base plates!

We only recently started playing with Perler beads, but they love creating with them, so of course I had to snag this huge lot of Perler bead shapes!

We happened upon a small set of K'NEX... and then found the motherload of K'NEX...

An unopened box of the Roller Coaster K'NEX! Everything else we paid $1 for, but we donated $20 for the K'NEX. Because they are awesome, and it's a huge set! I actually had this set as a kid growing up and I always had so much fun building with them. We're saving this for Munchkin's birthday in August, but we know he will love it!

Not pictured are the dozen or so trucks and cars Munchkin picked out and the armful of doll clothes and accessories Bean picked out, and a handful of other small toys, including a complete astronauts small world play set! I also managed to snag an adorable handmade picnic basket, a Knifty Knitter set, a cute dog themed cookie jar and some wooden baskets for books and toys. Somehow I never manage to make it into the book area because I know that if I do, I probably would come out with 8 boxes of books and I simply don't have space for them, as much as I would like them! Besides, we enjoy our trips to our local Used Book Superstore. Either way, this was a pretty awesome yard sale haul and we made out like bandits!

Technically this is the second yard sale I have ever been to! It was such a fun experience and I was glad to bring Munchkin and Bean this time. They were able to pick out a bunch of things that they wanted, which I probably wouldn't have picked out if they weren't there. They also had fun talking to people and checking out all the interesting stuff at the yard sale. I look forward to going next year too! We can't wait to incorporate all of these items into our homeschool lessons!

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