Search This Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons

Curly loves to write and has a talent for it. He has been writing stories since before he could actually write. He used to dictate long, elaborate stories to us when he was three and four years old. I still have the old notebook full of these early stories, and they are a lot of fun to read now. His ambition is to be an author someday, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he achieves that goal.

Because he is a gifted writer, we haven't focused much on a formal writing program in the early years. I let him write what he enjoyed, sometimes with a prompt from me. Then we would go through the editing process and create a final product. Last year, I decided we needed some more structure to take his writing to the next level. We floundered a little bit. We tried Writing with Ease, but it is very repetitive, and he was bored and frustrated by the interminably slow progress through the book. We threw in a book full of creative writing projects, and while he enjoyed that, it still wasn't what I felt we needed.

Our homeschool evaluator recommended the Institute for Excellence in Writing, but the sticker price was a bit too high for me. She then recommended their history-based writing lessons, and they have been a perfect fit.

We are using the Medieval-based book because that is the time period we are studying this year. I purchased Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons in Structure, Style, Grammar, and Vocabulary from Rainbow Resources. I picked up the student book, the teacher's manual, and we downloaded the Student Resource Notebook e-book free of charge. All of the books can be purchased at

There are 29 lessons in the book; each one takes about a week. The first five have taught how to create a key word outline and produce a written piece from that. Topics have included the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mohammed. Future assignments will include formal essays, narratives, critiques, creative writing, and the super-essay. Lessons are divided into Parts A (grades 3-5) and B (grades 6-8) , depending on the level of the student.

What I like:

As we are a classical schooling family, it fits perfectly. We are learning about the Middle Ages in history and reading works from or about that time in our literature. It makes sense that our writing should focus on the same topics. For example, this past week, we were studying Charlemagne, and Curly's writing assignment was on... you guessed it. Charlemagne.

The lessons are well laid out. He can work through the numbered assignments for the week on his own.

The lessons build on one another. Lessons 1-5 focused on using quality words (There is a list of banned words he may not use, like said, went, interesting, and big.), titles, dialogue, emotion, and the five senses. Now he is expected to incorporate those ideas throughout the rest of the book AND add in the new material. He is now learning about opening sentences and clinchers.

Each week's lesson comes with a grading rubric. He can see up front what is expected of him that week. He is responsible to make sure everything that is in the rubric is in his piece. On the final draft, he is to highlight different words or phrases to be sure he has included them. This helps him to be very sure he has done all he can to have a well-written assignment. There is a different rubric for level A and for level B.

There are five vocabulary words each week, with periodic quizzes. The words are printed on little cards with a picture to help. On the reverse side, there is a definition and synonyms. The words are relevant and required for use in the assignments.

The Details:

Title: IEW Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons
Age: 3-8 grade, leveled
Length: 29 weeks
Price: $49.00 for the student/teacher combo pack
          $29.00 for student book only, $24.00 for teacher book only

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disney Memories

Last week we were treated to a trip to Disney World by my parents. It was fun and exhausting! Disney World is a vacation like no other I have been on, in that it doesn't really feel like a vacation at all. I kept my children awake way later than I would ever dream of on any other vacation. We ate every single meal in a restaurant.  We walked miles and miles per day. As I said, it was fun AND exhausting! 
Little Bear's favorite ride is the "golf ball" ride. He particularly likes the technology activities.

I could write pages and pages about our trip - how much fun we had, what we did, what we would do differently, and those may be worthy posts someday. But today I thought it would be fun to write some of the highlights of our trip.

So, here they are: the good, the bad, and the funny...

The Good:

This is her first princess sighting. Can you see the huge smile?

Tiny Dancer was enthralled with the princesses and Minnie. We don't watch much in the way of princess movies or read princess books here, but she was overjoyed to be part of it nonetheless. She was ecstatic to see Cinderella Castle (Did you know it's not called Cinderella's Castle? I did not!) My mother treated her to a morning at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I can't even think about how much money people spend in there, but I will say she had a wonderful time. And she was very pleased with all the compliments she received throughout the day. Although, she actually had more people call her "princess" and fuss over her when she was just wearing her tattered Cinderella dress. 
My little "ladybug" is on the right, next to the trainer. You can't quite see him, but Curly is in the back, just over her shoulder.

Using the force.

Defeating Vader.

Curly and Tiny Dancer took part in the Padawan training at Epcot. Curly was in a portion of the show where he not only fought Darth Vader but also had to use the force to hold back the Storm Troopers. And the Jedi trainer called Tiny Dancer "ladybug." ;) He said she was wearing a polka dot dress to prove her power. She carried a stuffed Chewbacca all through the airport on the way home. You know, princess one minute, Jedi the next.

Two thumbs up after riding the Tower of Terror.

Curly tried his first thrill rides and loved them. He worked himself into a frenzy before each one, and then would come off the ride begging to do it again.

He had a little crush on the step-sister. He does like the brunettes.

He was so strangely captivated by this lamp. He made a video of it??

The biggest cupcake ever.

Little Bear fell asleep curled on a bench in the Hollywood Studios. Too much fun for him!

The Toy Story Mania ride is the best ride in all of DW, in my opinion. I wish the lines weren't so crazy!

Papa took part in the show at the Backlot Studio tours. He had tons of ice cold water dumped on him, and we had so much fun watching!

Her favorite ride.

We have amazing table manners.

Wearing my Figment shirt from when I was seven.

Tiny Dancer was at just the right age where she super excited about absolutely everything she did and saw.

Little Bear loved seeing the behind the scenes at the Studios. He loves technology, so this was right up his alley. 

The bad...

There wasn't too much bad other than waiting in much longer lines than we expected. We had heard repeatedly before we went what a great time this is at the parks because the crowds are low. They most definitely were not low, and the crowds were frustrating after a few days.

We ate dinner at Chef Mickey at 9:30 one night. A huge mistake. I will not eat that late on a major vacation again. (See, I tell myself not to say "never," so I had to work my way around that wording!)

The funny...

My mother called 911 from Tom Sawyer island. Completely by accident. They called her back three times before she realized her phone was ringing. She couldn't figure out who was on the phone when she finally did answer, and she kept insisting they had the wrong number. She had to apologize quite sheepishly. :) We had a good laugh after the fact, imagining a SWAT team piling in to the island.

Curly nearly choked at the Crystal Palace. This was not a restaurant we particularly enjoyed, and we were more than ready to leave. As we were getting up, Papa bumps into the waiter and says, "Sorry, buddy!" as if the poor man were his son. I had to seize the opportunity to tease him for this, of course. As I was mocking joking, Curly took a huge drink. He heard my merciless teasing good-natured humor, and started laughing. Next thing you know, he's knocking the table over as he's choking. I mean, the whole thing is tipping and plates are sliding. (Because I am such a good mom, I am rolling my eyes. I mean, he does have a flair for the drama, so I thought he was being dramatic!) My mother is freaking out, hubs is running to him, and out of the corner of my eye, I see a man rushing at the table. This kind man jumps into action, checking to see if Curly is okay, repeatedly asking, "Is he okay?" He finally says, "I'm a doctor; is he okay?" Can you picture this scene? Of course Curly was okay. He WAS choking, but he was not in any real danger. I am grateful to the kind man who left his family in a heartbeat to rush to the aid of my son, while on his own vacation. I just still think it's funny. See what a good mom I am? I take his pain very seriously. Very.

On a more ironic side of funny, I bumped into an old friend from elementary school/high school at 40,000 feet! What are the chances? We live almost 2 hours from the airport,  and we don't live in the same town. But there we were on the exact same flight. I didn't even see her until I was returning to my seat after taking Little Bear to the bathroom (Did I mention he used the bathroom on the airplane three times in each direction? That kid has a thing for bathrooms. I really do think he's part dog.) An older woman called me by my maiden name, which I haven't heard in about a million years, and I saw my friend sitting by her own mother. How unlikely! We were staying at the same hotel, but we never did see them again.
Taste testing sodas from around the world.

All in all, it was a great trip. We are hoping to go again in the future. It will be nice to go without a stroller, with kids who can walk longer and stay awake later. I need to remember to write down what things did/didn't work for us because there is no way I will remember in the years to come.

 It was fun making these memories as a family!

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Might Be Slightly Neurotic

Merriam Webster says:


noun \n-ˈrō-səs, ny-\
medical : an emotional illness in which a person experiences strong feelings of fear or worry

Is that me? I think it might just be. Oh, great. Now I'm rhyming.

We're getting ready for a trip - a trip of a lifetime. Though maybe not to my ideal destination, it still has the potential to be an amazing time.

So what am I doing to prepare? Cleaning. Every single thing in my house. I need to go away with a closed door on a clean house. Then I will be able to sleep while I'm away. And I will be able to come home to a house that is not screaming at me about all the things that need to be done.

I'm also packing. And cleaning some more.  And making lists. More lists. Maybe even lists about lists.

Yesterday was kind of my breaking point in the mess I was creating for myself. Stress was overtaking me. I went for a run with some worship music and had an amazing time with my Lord.

And today? In my weakness, I went back to the stress. But as I was making soup for our supper, one song kept popping in my mind:

I am free. I am a child of the one true king, and I am so much more than lists or a clean house or baggage left by my past.

"Through you my heart screams 'I am free!'"

He has overcome the world and no lies can change that. I am free to enjoy this time with my family. I am free to tell the Enemy he has no claim over me.

I am not neurotic. I am free.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tree Study

Our science this year is a loose study of biology. In the elementary school years, I feel it's important for kids to explore the world and learn about it through their hands first and with books second. We have found that a textbook approach just doesn't work for us at this stage.

Two years ago, we did a study of the ocean, mostly using Janice Van Cleave's Oceans for Every Kid book. We also threw in studies of ocean animals including projects, lapbooks, and many books from the library. We had such a great time that year, and I felt like we all learned so much.

Last year, we attempted to use one of the science textbooks from a popular Christian publisher. It didn't work for us at all. I felt like the text was too dry; my kids weren't at all excited by science, and it was painful for all of us. We abandoned that text and sort of floundered our way through the rest of the year.

This year, I knew we needed to go back to what we love. Studying science through exploration. Our topic is biology, so we are studying animals, plants, and the human body. So far this year, we have studied the platypus, earthworms, and owls. We're learning about the animal kingdom and classification within our studies. We've had a lot of fun with dissections, diagramming, and lapbooks plus a number of books we've checked out of the library. Next on our list is alligators and crocs.

We are taking a break from the animal kingdom at the moment, though, to take advantage of the fall. We are starting a study of trees and leaves. 

We have two great resources we are using to start: Fun With Science: Trees and Leaves by Rosie Harlow and Gareth Morgan and Common Trees of Pennsylvania by DCNR, a free resource we picked up at our local fair.

The first book has some great experiments in it to learn how trees work. Today we made posters about one of the trees in our backyard. We measured it to find out how old the tree is (one inch = approximately one year), made bark rubbings, identified the tree by its leaves and bark, measured the height of the tree, and learned to measure the area of the crown. We listened to the sounds of the tree and talked about the ways in which it is good for our environment. We compared this tree to another, older, slightly different variety in our yard. We even found a mourning dove and its nest in the tree. The dove sat and watched us while we worked and watched it in return. 

It's too big!

He just discovered the tree is older than his granddad.

Can you see the mourning dove and nest?

The kids loved this science class, and we had a beautiful day for it. We have a great deal more to do with the trees in our yard, and I am hoping to do some work with other trees in our town. I am planning to graph the trees in our town, continuing to identify what we find with the help of our common trees book, and learn more about why trees lose their leaves, etc. I am very excited for this project and am looking forward to it with the kids!

What kind of science do you do in your class? Do you have any fun tree ideas for us?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bad Hair Day

This kid has some hair. 

People ask me all the time: Where did he get those curls from? Papa and I have vaguely wavy hair, if you're being generous. I think they are implying the curls must have come from the mailman.

The truth is that I can't think of anyone on either side of the family, as far back as I can remember and as far out as I can think, who has or had curly hair. Not like this.

I did a little research into it a couple of years ago (to have a way to convince people he does not belong to the mailman), and here's what I found:
There are two versions of the hair type gene, curly (C) and straight (s). Hair type is an interesting case of something called incomplete dominance. What this means is that with hair type, if you have one of each version of the gene, you get a mix of the two or wavy hair. So for hair type, CC gives curly, Cs gives wavy and ss gives straight hair. (

So... Papa gave him a C, and I gave him a C, and he gets: CC.

And here's just what that looks like. 

This is what his hair looked like for Awana last night.  
The sweet, elderly gentlemen who listens to his verses complimented him on this hair style. He asked: What did you do to it? Did you do something different?

His response? Nah, I haven't washed it or combed it for two days.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Whitaker Center

Hurricanes, movie production, airplanes, and more all in one afternoon! Only at a science museum.

Our little family has a big thing for science museums, and we have visited a number of them over the past few years. We are fortunate enough to have a decent-sized one close to home, and we took a field trip there last week.

There are actually about four of them within 30 minutes of our house, of varying sizes, themes, and budgets. One has a planetarium, another focuses on engineering, and another is three floors. We chose to go to the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts because we have an annual pass for entry.

The first floor has some small exhibits with bubbles, sound, and the like, but its main feature is the large area for small children. They can act, build, shop, dress up, and play with water. We have spent many hours in this one area of the museum, but this time we opted to skip it.

The second floor has the Carnival of Health. It's exactly what it sounds like: carnival themed activities to teach kids about their bodies. You can feed Gorgo the correct amount of colored basketballs to represent the food groups, race on bikes to see who can burn calories faster, see what you might look like at age 70, and play whack-a-germ, just to name a few. The kids love this section of the museum, although the smaller two are a little afraid of some of the exhibits. It can get pretty noisy in there, and the germ game sneezes very loudly on the loser. It can be a little disconcerting the first time!
Seriously, how gross is that clown?

Also on this floor is a section called Move It! Kids can build and race cars, build and fly paper airplanes, use a variety of methods, including vacuuming, to move small particles throughout a large machine, build a bridge and test it, and find their home or famous landmarks and locations using Google earth. We found our old house, complete with our van in the driveway! It was a little creepy, to be honest.

The final floor has a  number of displays about our planet, including weather forces. Activities include making tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, as well as trying to catch a cloud. Our favorite exhibit here is the hurricane chamber. 
Do you see me clutching him for dear life? Like those 65 pounds are going to save me in hurricane winds. He is, however, doing his best Harry Potter/Daniel Radcliffe.

In the rear of this floor is a behind the scenes look at movie production. We got stuck here for a really long time. Visitors can change the lighting, create some digital graffiti, experiment with music, and, our favorite, stop-motion animation. Oh, my, was this fun! I never dreamed I would have as much fun as the kids! We created a ton of movies and emailed them home to view later. 

This was my first attempt at the animation. Don't blink, or you might miss it! Next up is Little Bear's. Please don't ask me what it's about. I'm sure it has no point. When you get to trash can, I'm sure you'll agree!

And below is one of Curly's.

The best part of our visit was that it was a Friday afternoon in early October - too early for school field trips. We were five out of maybe 20 people in the entire museum! We practically had our own tour guide! An amazing museum employee named Jim enhanced our visit by showing us the ropes and explaining some of the concepts to us. We owe a lot of our fun to him!

This was our first field trip of the year, and we all loved it. I can't wait to take more!

Where do you like to go for field trips or family days?