Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Flourish

I tried to choose one word to describe my life as a homeschooling mom—aspire, adapt, tweak,  cope?  On the really bad days it might be “worry” or “survive.”  I’ve been challenged this past month with a book from Apologia Educational Ministries.  Its author, Mary Jo Tate, suggests that I might “flourish.”  In fact, that’s the title--Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms.  Don’t ignore the subtitle though—balance.  There’s a lot to balance: school vs. household, kids vs. husband, dreams vs. reality.

Let’s face it, where can homeschool moms turn for tools and encouragement for our unique circumstances?  Women who “work” for a living (read that “get paid for their labors”) think we must have all the time in the world to get things done and if we can’t it’s because we’re lounging and eating bon bons all day.  Even other homeschool moms can turn on one of their own…I had one mom share how hurt she was by comments from others in our co-op when she shared that her son was going to try public school (he wanted to try out for sports).  She was still homeschooling several younger kids, but was made out to be a traitor to “the cause.”  And sometimes our harshest critic is that little voice in our own heads—my kid isn’t learning as fast as the others, what if I leave out something important?

Within the 289 pages of this softcover you’ll find action steps, affirmations, and advice that all moms can use – setting goals, dealing with interruptions, etc. and also some chapters for specific needs –single moms and those running a home business.  Scattered throughout are shaded boxes with quotes by many people I already respect like Zig Ziglar and Elisabeth Elliott.  The appendices contains a list other helpful books to read,  pre- and post- reading evaluations, and several using planning forms (you can also download blank forms if you purchase the book).

I did not read the book straight from cover to cover but let my personal needs and interests guide me.  I confess I was first drawn to a chapter titled “Oxygen Masks and Monkey Bread Days”  simply out of curiosity.   It turns out Monkey Bread Days are those where everyone wants a piece of you and you’re being pulled in multiple directions.  Having flown a lot I had an idea (and was right) that your must put your own oxygen mask on before you help anyone else – a great word picture that we moms must see to our own mental, physical, and spiritual needs if we want to be effective in meeting the same for our spouse and kids.  After finishing the chapter I got over my guilt of spending a little money on myself and ordered a kit to brew my own kombucha.  I had already started a “Couch to 5K” program before I got the book, but it certainly helped my resolve to keep jogging.

A second idea that intrigued me was to start keeping a “Stop-Doing” list.  This is not necessarily focusing solely on time wasters.  It may be a very good activity, but I need to be willing to give it up to pursue a really great activity  (I used to work for a national organization that worked with Jim Collins and his Good to Great program, but I never thought of applying it to my personal life).

While the book is meant for moms, I did find a few things to share with my Schnickelfritz.  He’s involved in Royal Rangers and is starting to prepare for his Frontier Adventure (which includes a series of skill tests like starting a fire with flint and steel).  Although he’s been looking towards this for several years, he came to me the other day and said he wasn’t interested in it anymore.  It turns out he’s afraid of his own reaction if he fails. I found some great stories and quotes in the attitude adjustment chapter dealing specifically with fear, perfectionism, and negativity  that I shared with him.  We even printed out a Mark Twain quote to “Sail away from the safe harbor…Explore. Dream. Discover.” to keep him motivated.

Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms retails for $15.00.  You can find the Table of Contents and a sample chapter on the website.  It probably wouldn’t be a book I’d lend to a parent just considering homeschooling, but it may now be my go-to choice for a mom half-way through the school year that finds herself floundering.


Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, July 21, 2014

M is for Missouri Botanical Garden

Let me tell you, I had a hard time choosing a special destination for the letter M of ABC Blogging Across Missouri.  I mean, the name of the state starts with M so anything that incorporates the state’s name qualifies.   I settled on one of the oldest and most respected institutions in the state and also a National Landmark.  I could have saved it for the letter S because most old timers still refer to it as Shaw’s Garden (we also call Highway 64 by its old number-40, so don’t ask us for directions).  Its official title is The Missouri Botanical Garden.

Henry Shaw, an Englishman, migrated to St. Louis, MO in 1819 and set up a hardware store in what was then still a small village.  The city was growing however and Shaw supplied goods to build up the town as well as goods for pioneers traveling further west on one of the national trails that begin in the state (hint, hint about next week’s topic).  Within 20 years he was able to retire as a wealthy landowner.  He took roughly a decade to travel, but returned to his holdings in 1851 to build a home and extensive garden.  In 1859 he opened the garden to the public.  Today, the 79 acres where his home and mausoleum still stand are are green oasis for visitors from around the world.

Here are some of the highlights as numbers on the map.

5. The Sensory Garden – Built especially for the blind or seeing-impaired, the plants of the Sensory Garden were chosen specifically for their fragrance or texture—yes, you’re encouraged to touch the plants.  Signs and plant labels include braille.  There’s also a fountain and a “Bell Tree” sculpture to make it an auditory experience as well.

19. The English Woodland Garden—Probably my mother’s favorite area when the dogwoods are in bloom.

20. The Japanese Garden – Added more than 100 year’s after Shaw’s Garden opened, it is THE place to see azaleas and rhododendrons, feed koi, walk over traditional bridges, and see the white gravel raked in patterns in the Zen garden.

26. The Center for Home Gardening—The Missouri Botanical Garden has teamed up with the University of Missouri Extension to help us average Joes and Janes. You can view 23 demonstration gardens to discover how to use native plants, take a Master Gardeners course, or bring a sample of your sick plant for evaluation.

28. The Climatron –The first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory.  It was opened in 1961, rising 70 feet high and spanning 175 feet across.  There are no columns or support structures inside to interfere with light or plant growth.  It’s kept warm with high humidity to house tropical plants like a rain forest—it even has an indoor waterfall.  In front of the Climatron is a lily pond with pads so big people could stand on them.  Since this practice is not allowed now, you’ll have to look at this old picture as proof.

Every year, the Garden has a special display.   This year there are giant Lego butterflies and other creations in the Climatron but two years ago there was a magnificent display of Japanese Lanterns.



Bonus M – The Muny

Here I thought I had my M post all wrapped up and then my son and I went to see Suessical the Musical and I new I had to share The Muny with every one.  So here is a bonus M (and who doesn’t like M&M’s).  In the heart of Forest Park lies the Zoo, the Art Museum, and The Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis –this time old timers and newbies alike refer to it simply as The Muny.  Every summer it hosts a season of Broadway worthy musicals.   Some of this years productions are Disney’s Tarzan, Porgy and Bess, Grease, and Hello Dolly!

These aren’t national touring companies. The Muny produces their own performances, using local talents for the orchestra and chorus.  They even “grow” their own talent through the Muny Kids and Muny Teens programs (both groups perform for guests waiting to enter the outdoor theater).  Okay, the secret is out…you’re sitting outdoors in the St. Louis heat and humidity, but when the sun goes down and a breeze comes by it’s actually pleasant.  Last year The Muny invested in ultra-quiet fans that can be run during the performance to ensure the air keeps moving.

I grew up going to The Muny—it’s where I first saw Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, and 42nd Street.  I even saw Mikhail Baryshnikov and his ballet company perform.  In the last two year’s I’ve taken my son to see Mary Poppins and Les Miserables for ….are you ready for this?  ABSOLUTELY FREE!  The Muny sets aside 1500 free seats for every performance—all you have to do is be willing to come early and wait in line.  And maybe bring a small pair of binoculars, but the sound is perfect—everyone is miked.

Here are a few tips if you’re coming for the free seats…

  • The gates open at 7 for the free section, plan on getting in line somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30.  Weekends are more crowded than weeknights and family friendly shows are more crowded than those meant for adults.  I usually stand in line while Schnickelfritz plays on the hillside with other kids (it is a park after all). If you bring chairs or Frisbees, have one person hold the place in line while another returns these things to the car before the line starts moving (there’s a large free parking lot just to the right of this picture).
  • Bring you dinner.  You can either eat in line or wait till you’ve found your seats—there’s still an hour+ wait for the show.  You may bring in soft sided coolers if they’ll fit under the seats and your own food and drink (we usually opt for sub sandwiches and lemonade in old Gatorade bottles).
  • Bring something to “reserve” your seats – a jacket or blanket to drape over them.  I’ve never seen anyone disturb or steal items placed over seats.  Then you’ll be free to go watch the Muny Kids or Muny Teens perform (or visit the restroom before the long lines form).  For family shows, there’s often a “storybook” presentation to give kids the gist of the story before the performance and often a drawing for free teddy bears (Build-a-Bear is a St. Louis based company that supports the Muny).
  • Be aware that you won’t get a program.  If you aren’t familiar with the musical try to research songs etc. online before you go.


I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: HomeSchoolPiano

“Mom, can I do a piano lesson?”  As far as rarely heard sentences are concerned, this might rank up there with “Mom, can I have seconds on spinach?” and yet I heard it nearly every day during our review of HomeSchoolPiano.  Even more amazing, because of our satellite internet package, my Schnickelfritz would have to get up to watch some of these online lessons before 7 AM.   I don’t know which amazed me more—that my adolescent son would get up early or that he was actually learning to play the piano over the internet, but both were absolutely true with our subscription access to the HomeSchoolPiano - Complete Set of Books.


Lifetime access to the online lessons and downloadable PDF books.  There are three progressively difficult books, each book broken into six units and each unit broken into seven lessons – that’s 126 lessons right there.  There are also 33 “Core Piano” lessons for the absolute beginner that cover things like how to sit at the piano or terms like “legato” and “staccato.”

The units in the three numbered book always follow the same lesson pattern:

  • Technique
  • Rhythm
  • Ear Training
  • Reading Music
  • Song
  • Improvisation
  • Bonus


There are brief quizzes after the Rhythm, Ear Training, and Reading Music lessons. The piano teacher is  Willie Myette, a jazz musician who has been teaching kids music since 1996.  He has written original tunes for each of the units and may I say there’s just something about the swing and syncopation of jazz that makes practicing these pieces more appealing than counting the standard 4/4 time signature of the songs I had to use in my own piano lessons.  Willie even encourages using the various rhythms built into the keyboard rather than just the metronome.  (If you don’t have a keyboard with rhythms, you can download the audio files of the lesson and use the recorded version).

The screen for the video lesson is divided into several sections:

At the bottom you’ll see Willie as he talks to you, in the middle is a live overhead shot of the keyboard, above that is a virtual keyboard.  When he strikes a key it will light up and the letter associated with the key is displayed (in my screenshot, he is playing middle C). I believe just below the live keyboard  are three virtual pedals that will light up when used, but we didn’t see that in our lessons to this point.


When Fritz was 4 we bought him one of those keyboards with the keys that lit up when you were supposed to play them and over 100 songs in its memory.  He could follow the lights to plunk out familiar tunes like Jingle Bells and Happy Birthday but he could only play the songs in the memory banks and the keyboard couldn’t provide any guidance if he didn’t know the rhythm of the song.  He couldn’t read music at all.  I had taken two years of piano lessons in grade school and could read music from my choir background.


First I downloaded the PDF book files, printed them on both sides of the paper, and comb-bound them together with laminated covers.  It just made it so much easier to keep track of a book rather than individual papers and kept the pages from flopping over on the stand.

We currently have a Roland D-10 keyboard in our homeschool classroom/basement.  Our computer with internet access is upstairs.  I made Fritz start at the very beginning with the Core Piano lessons.  Since most of these are more theory than hands-on lessons, Fritz could watch the lesson upstairs and if needed, practice down on the keyboard afterwards.  The lessons were so short and Fritz so enthusiastic that he’d go through 2 or 3 per day.  He had the Core Piano completed in three weeks.

Moving on to Book One Unit 1, it became a little more important to view the lesson while sitting at the keyboard.  The lessons can be viewed on any internet capable device so I set up our Kindle Fire HD on a table behind the keyboard.  Although you could watch on a smartphone, I think it would be too small to see much detail.  The lessons from the numbered books are downloadable so I’d go to the library and use their Wi-Fi to download a week’s worth of lessons at a time (for some reason none of the Ear Training lessons have the download feature, nor do the Core Piano lessons). 

Fritz would have to play with one side of the headset off so he could hear the lesson (our keyboard doesn’t have speakers).  His favorite lesson was on improvisation and he’d often have me wear the headphones to listen to his latest “compositions” better yet, he’d ask his friends to listen. I was so thrilled he wanted to show off his piano lessons rather than hide them for “lack of coolness.”  This fall, we’ll continue to keep piano lessons as part of our curriculum.  I’ll be honest here and say while my son loves the lessons, he’s not crazy about the recommended 30 minutes of daily practice –I guess that goes to prove he’s normal after all. 

Although I didn’t need it, there is a Records tab for parents to track up to 5 students’ progress. You can see which lessons have been begun and completed and quiz scores to verify students are actually doing the work if you’re not sitting beside them.  This feature doesn’t work if you’re downloading the lesson to view later – everything just shows up as 10 percent complete (for accessing the lesson I presume).

HomeSchoolPiano  offers unlimited life-time access to the lessons, sheet music, jam tracks and other downloads for up to 5 students with either a one-time payment of $299 or an installment plan ($99.97/month for three months).   These lessons are for all ages (I’ve even started sitting at the keyboard myself after years of regret for dropping out). 

The cost isn’t chump change I know, but it’s also not out of line for piano lessons—especially if you’ve got several kids.  HomeSchoolPiano does offer a full cycle of free lessons, from Technique through the Bonus for you to try before purchasing.


Click to read Crew Reviews

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

L is for Lewis & Clark

Missouri not only sits in the middle of the country physically, but it’s often in the center of the country’s history.  You can’t study slavery without coming across the Missouri Compromise for example.  Studying the Western Expansion Movement, many of the trails began in Missouri as did the Pony Express.   But first the country had do be explored and that leads us to todays subjects—Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery.

After the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis  to lead a military expedition through the new territory.  He selected William Clark as his co-leader (Clark exercised equal authority on the journey, but he did not officially hold the title of captain).  The Corps’ goals were to look for a passage to the Pacific Ocean, establish trade with the natives, and gain a U.S. foothold in the Oregon territory.  The journey began at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in May of 1804 and they returned to St. Louis in September of 1806.  Along the way they only lost one man, and he apparently died from acute appendicitis.

In 1813, William Clark was made governor of the Missouri Territory.  When he failed to win the election for governor of the newly formed state of Missouri in 1820 he shifted to a new post—Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  He remained in St. Louis until his death in 1838.

There are plenty of historical markers along the Missouri River dedicated to Lewis & Clark and the Corps.  Traveling upstream they set up 51 campsites within the present-day boundaries of the state (the downstream return trip only required 14).   [SKIP THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH ABOUT BODILY FUNCTIONS]  The most accurate way to locate or verify a campsite is to test for traces of mercury.  In the Corps medicine box was were 600 capsules of Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Thunderbolts” to be dispensed at the first “sign of an approaching disease” which could mean anything from a headache to upset stomach from unfamiliar foods.   The good doctor believed illness was the result of poor flow of bile in the body and these strong laxatives would help the men expel any excess bile.  A concentration of mercury in the soil would pinpoint the site of the camp latrine.

Here are a few places for any Lewis & Clark fan to visit when the come to visit the Show Me State.

The Museum of Western Expansion in the Gateway Arch

The museum houses the largest display of Peace Medals, tokens of friendship given to chiefs and tribal leaders by the Corps.  You can also view a movie—Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West in the underground theater.  Below the Arch on the riverfront is a giant statue of Lewis, Clark and Seaman (the dog) called The Captains’ Return.  As I write this in July of 2014, the statue has been removed for cleaning (it has spent a lot of time under water due to flooding) and it will be relocated higher on the bank.  Also, the Museum is scheduled to be closed after Labor Day and not reopened until 2016 with new exhibits and a new entrance.  All this has to do with refurbishment for the 50th anniversary of the Arch. 

Camp Dubois' Visitor Center

Camp Dubois

Technically this site is in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River at the confluence with the Missouri, but it’s such a wonderful little museum I have to share it. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1803-4 here preparing for their trek.  The rebuilt fort hosts a variety of reenactments and educational events and the visitor’s center is open Wednesday-Sunday.  My son loved all the interactive exhibits (you can read about our visit by clicking here).  The site is owned by the state and doesn’t charge admission, although they ask for donations (and deserve them).

Lewis & Clark Heritage Days in St. Charles, MO

The third Saturday of May, St. Charles honors the anniversary of the reuniting of Lewis and Clark (Lewis had stayed in St. Louis to finish some business while Clark to the boats and men upriver).  The Corps attended church on May 20th and set out the afternoon of the 21st.  The annual event includes fifes and drums, firing cannons of the period, a grand parade and a re-enactors’ camp.   Often they launch the boats built for the 200th anniversary trip retracing the journey.  If not, you may see the boats at the Lewis & Clark Boat Hose and Nature Center just a brief walk away.  The entrance fee is $5/adults, $2/under 17.

This same group of re-enactors holds a second camp/educational experience in Hermann, Missouri in early December.  Fridays are reserved for school groups (including homeschoolers!) and Saturday is open to the public. Daytime events are free, but you must buy a ticket to attend the banquet and ball in the evening.  You can read about our 2011 visit by clicking here.

Bellefontaine Cemetery

As I mentioned before, William Clark stayed in St. Louis until his death and he is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.  It may seem a strange place for a field trip, but the cemetery does offer free educational tours (I went there for a school field trip).  The monument was erected in 1904 (the centennial of of start of the expedition).  As long as you’re at the cemetery you can visit the final resting place of James Eads (who designed and built the first bridge across the Mississippi River).  Or visit “Millionaires’ Row” to see the mausoleums of Adolphus Busch (founder of the Anheuser Busch brewery) and other prominent St. Louisans –one mausoleum was designed to withstand earthquakes (more on that when we get to the letter Q.

Fort Osage

The site for the second fort to be built in the Louisiana Purchase Territory was spotted by William Clark on the outward bound leg of the Voyage of Discovery.  He returned to the spot in 1808 to build the fort after a treaty of peace had been signed with the Osage Tribe.  There is a reconstructed fort on the original site with staff and volunteers acting as living history interpreters. The Educational Center is open year round ($7/adults, $4/ages 5-13) but it’s even better if you can come on one of their big event days: Flag Day, Independence Day, or the Grand Festival of Chez les Canses.  The latter takes place in September and has re-enactors showing how early French fur trappers traded with the natives.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: Write Shop Level D


Two years ago, my son and I were introduced to WriteShop.   Schnickelfritz really enjoyed the 15 minute lessons and the program sanctioned parental help so he was more than willing to step up a level and try their WriteShop Junior: Book D Set.   It is available in a physical format or an eBook format. We downloaded three PDF Files: the Teacher’s Guide, the Student Activity Pack, and the optional Time-Saver Pack.

The Junior writing program uses letters rather than grades to separate levels.  Although Set D is recommended for grades 3-4, it can also be used with reluctant writers (like my son) in grades 5-6 without them realizing they’re “behind.”  

The Teacher’s Guide ($45.95 physical copy, $35.50 eBook) is 278 pages and contains supply lists, an overview of how to teach each activity day as well as specific instructions for each lesson,ideas for setting up a writing center, etc. There two different lesson plan schedules—the standard model takes three weeks per lesson with activities three times per week for a 30 week school year.  If for some reason you want to move through the curriculum at a faster pace you can use the daily plan and finish in 20 weeks.

The Student Activity Pack ($45.95 physical copy, $35.50 eBook) has 66 pages of writing worksheets, editing checklists, printables for games, etc. Also included are the pages needed to assemble the Fold-N-Go folders.  If you opt for the physical copy, you’ll need one per student.  With the eBook, you may print as many copies as needed for your family.

The Time-Saver Pack ($14.95 physical copy, $11.50 eBook) is only 24 pages long.  It contains printables for certain activities to save you the trouble of making your own from scratch. For example, instead of writing my own sentence starters and characters on 16 pieces of paper I can print and cut out their version.  You just have to judge which is more valuable—your time or your money.

Three lessons focus on a specific writing assignment: writing an invitational letter, expository writing, and writing a Haiku poem, but most of the  lessons focuses on a different genre of fictional writing.

  1. Letter of Invitation
  2. Humor
  3. Adventure
  4. Science Fiction
  5. Mystery
  6. Haiku
  7. Folktales
  8. Historical Fiction
  9. Personal Narrative
  10. Expository Writing

Each lesson is broken into eight Activity Sets

Assembling Fold-N-Go folder

1. In Fold-N-Go Grammar, the student builds two reference tools: a 6-page file folder book and a bookmark (which I chose to laminate) on a variety of grammar subjects: Punctuation Marks, Self-Editing, Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Prepositions, Capitalization, References.  This activity set also includes four options of printables for the student to keep a Reading Journal.

2.  Pre-Writing Activities gently introduce the student into the subject, often in the form of a game. For lesson 1 we had to turn over slips of paper (date, salutation, body, closing, signature) to mix-match a complete letter.   This activity set also provides a script for parents to Model and Teach the writing assignment. 

3. Skill Builders give your students the opportunity to learn new ways to enhance their writing or reinforce what’s been learned in the Model and Teach activity. It’s not necessarily a writing activity—to the right you can see a robot skill builder we assembled to reinforce learning the parts of a letter.  Kids will put pencil to paper during Journal Writing Practice.  There are writing prompts to give students a direction to go or they can keep a daily log, write dreams & goals, etc.  This is mostly to give their mind and hand exercise and isn’t graded.

4. Every lesson includes a Brainstorming printable to help students organize their thoughts before the writing project.  My son felt this so helpful.  If I just gave him a blank piece of paper and said “Write a mystery story” he’d get a case of writers block bigger than the iceberg that struck the Titanic. This way we could work together on characters, setting, and general flow of the story first.

5. Kids will use their Brainstorming notes as the foundation of the Writing Project.  This is really the first draft and parents are encouraged to give as much help as needed, even to the point of writing down what the child dictates.  In the Teacher’s Guide is a whole page on “How Much Help”  that talks about frustration or complaining about his hand hurting is my cue to step in with or step up.  The goal is ease the child into writing and make it an activity they look forward to, not push or force them into drudgery. This activity can even be tailored with Smaller Steps for struggling writers or Flying Higher for advanced students.

6. For Editing & Revising, the student has a check-off list to remind him to look for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors (the bookmark you make for proofreading/editing marks also comes in handy here).  Schnickelfritz edits the work first and then I can go over it.  It really helped to explain to him that this step was “editing” not “correcting” and that every writer goes through this step to make their work better.  I was the same way at his age though and insisted I wrote it down just the way I wanted the first time.

7. Publishing the Project is creatively enhancing the final copy of the Writing Project.  It can mean printing the work on fancy paper, sharing a humorous story at dinner, or pasting the story in a decorated manila file.  Sometimes Fritz was ready to just have the writing be over with after he’d finished rewriting it, but the next day I’d let him decorate the paper and he’d show off the finished work with pride.

8. Evaluating Your Child’s Work is really for parents/teachers.  The printables help me “grade” the writing project based on content, mechanics,  and self-editing skills.

You’ll need copy paper and some cardstock to print out the student workbook pages and activities (I transferred the Teacher’s Guide to my Kindle rather than print it out).  You’ll probably have all the other supplies needed –rubber bands, manila folders, yarn, coins, etc.  Optional projects may mean a trip to the store for scrapbooking supplies . A complete list of items broken down by lessons is in the Teacher’s Guide.

Writing is my son’s weakest skill and the area we have the most frustration during our school day.  I have to admit, I get less complaining when we use Write Shop.  Short lessons are over before the melt downs come, the every other day schedule means some days he doesn’t have to worry about writing at all (he does write on those off days but just the fact it isn’t its own subject gives him a great deal of satisfaction). Yes, there are times I think he’s capable of harder work, but maybe I need to lower my expectations for now and focus on developing his love of writing rather than his skills.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

K is for Katy Trail

The Fourth of July has now passed and we’re in the height of summer.  Have you enjoyed the great outdoors lately?   Gone for a hike or bike ride"?  Watched a hawk circle in the sky?  Watched a mighty river flow past? Missourians have a wonderful resource for doing all that and more!  Winding it’s was through the heart of the Show Me State is the longest “Rails to Trails” project in the country—the Katy Trail.

The name comes from the pronunciation of the last two initials of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad.  The trains stopped running in October, 1986 when the Missouri River once again flooded and washed out the tracks.  The railroad made the decision to reroute and abandon the lines and the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources acquired the usage rights under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

Tracks were pulled up, crushed limestone was put down and trail opened in 1996—originally stretching from St. Charles in the east to Sedalia in the west.  A shorter section (donated by Union Pacific) extended the trail from Sedalia to Clinton making the entire length of the trail 240 miles (390 km).   There are those with hopes to extend the trail all the way to Kansas City  or even link up to other trails in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Currently, the Katy Trail doesn’t go to the two biggest cities in the state, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other towns worth visiting along the route.

  • St. Charles—home of the state’s first capitol and the Lewis & Clark Boathouse (more on that when we get to the letter L)
  • Defiance – site of the Daniel Boone home
  • Augusta – the start of Missouri’s wine country
  • Hermann – founded by German immigrants in the mid 1800’s.  A great place to celebrate Maifest and Oktoberfest and Weihnachfest (Christmas) 
  • Jefferson City – the State Capital
  • Boonville—the sons of Daniel Boone harvested salt here to sell in St. Louis. Across the river is Franklin, the start of the Santa Fe Trail
  • Sedalia – home of the State Fair

 Because this was formerly used by trains (and it runs along the Missouri River flood plain), the trails don’t have any steep grades or sharp turns –great for family biking, maybe a little dull for the X sports crowd.  Still, many cross county cyclists include the Katy trail as part of their journey.  I’ve also heard the crushed limestone is easy on the legs for runners. Since I’ve recently started training for a 5K and the trail is just across the river from our home, I may have to give it a go.  If you plan a long hike/ride you’ll want to carry you own water as there are no fountains.  Horseback riding is allowed on the far western side of the trail (from Clinton to Sedalia).

Boy on Katy Trail.jpg

"Boy on Katy Trail" by MoBikeFed - . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: Moving Beyond the Page

On the inside cover of the Moving Beyond the Page catalog,Moving Beyond the Page Review in bold lettering, it says “It is essential that children become thinkers and problem solvers, not just memorizers of facts.”  Since I agree so heartily with that statement, I was pleased to be selected to review two of their unit studies.  Although Moving Beyond the Page is marketed a full-year, unit study based curriculum covering literature, science, and social studies you may also purchase individual units (1 book/1 guide).  We received the literature study for The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the science study for  The Solar System.

Moving Beyond the Page sells their units with either physical copies of the curriculum guides (a coil-bound book) or online guides for a slight discount.  In either case you’ll receive a print version of the literature.  We reviewed one of each version and I can see some advantages and disadvantages to each.  The print version has all the work pages to be filled in, the test, the game cards to be cut out all in one package.  The front of the book is written directly to the student and the back contains the “Parent Overview” or what I would call the teacher’s guide.  NOTE: this has the Test Answers so you’ll need to remove them before you give the book to your child.  On the bottom of each page is the copyright information with explicit instructions NOT to copy the page so if you have more than one child, you’ll need to buy more than one guide.  That may be a reason to consider the online version where I’ve found no restrictions to the number of times you can download and print the PDF files.   I only have one child so the number of copies wasn’t an issue, but there were a lot of pages were had to cut out for a board game and I would have liked to been able to copy them onto cardstock for durability—as it was we had to cut and paste them onto heavier paper.

Online Guide or Printed Guide

In the online version guide, you may choose to have the Parent Overview turned on or off (this feature is password protected so don’t pick the dog’s name as your password).  When it’s on, you’ll see notes to the parent and the answer key in gray boxes.  When it’s off, questions for the student have pencil and keyboard icons.  Choose the pencil and you can print out the page of questions to write on, choose the keyboard and a separate window opens for you to type in your answers (my son’s a typist).  The image below compares the two views of the first lesson.

Moving Beyond the Page Online Version

The Solar System

Ages 11-13, $33.94 ($29.88 online version)

Now onto the individual units. My son wanted to start with The Solar System, so we will too.  In addition to the physical copy of the 153 page curriculum guide we received a hardback copy of 13 Planets:The Latest View of the Solar System (60 pp.) written by David A. Aguilar.  This book is written from a big bang/billions of years/the Moon forming from pieces of the Earth perspective   You’re probably familiar with 9 of the planets (Pluto is classified as a dwarf planet), but this might be the first time you’ve heard mention of 4 other dwarf planets: Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

13 Planets sample (Mars)

For each planet, the is a full page photograph or artist’s conception, a drawing of the god or goddess it’s named after, a diagram of it’s orbit around the sun, but really just a short paragraph with a few facts about the planet itself.   Often, this wasn’t enough information to fill in the charts for the student’s activity and we’d have to look at other resources from our o home library.   Younger (or less enthusiastic) students may opt to write the answers for the board game questions on the back of the cards—most only require one word or number (larger/smaller, length of a year, etc.).  There were also three “Ideas to Think About” in each lesson—I suppose this is what they consider the critical thinking part of the lesson, but there was no direction how to use the questions other than read them.  The entire unit has nine lessons and is designed to be covered in 15 days according to their syllabus.

 Grocery Bag Solar System

Our final project was a grocery bag solar system.  We gathered and labeled our planet models but didn’t actually space them out according to scale – it really wouldn’t be realistic to place grains of sugar and salt hundreds of yards apart and be able to see anything.  The guide also mention a Styrofoam ball solar system kit that comes with the full year curriculum but I could not find it sold as a separate item on the Moving Beyond the Page website.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find a similar model at the local craft store.  Other activities involved typing in a web address for the Moving Beyond the Page website, but then we’d be forwarded on to an outside site like NASA.  At least one of these links was out of date and we got a 404 Error message.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Ages 9-11,  $39.98 ($35.92 online version)

For The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we had the online version of the guide but were sent the hardback version of the novel by Brian Selznick. Rather than look on the computer every day, I stuck Post-it notes to divide the book into each day’s reading assignment.  If you’re not familiar with this novel, a great deal of the story is told simply with pictures.  In fact, you may find a span of 20 or more pages of only illustrations.  For this reason, my son didn’t mind “reading” three chapters a day nearly 10 days in a row (and sometimes the activities would involve more reading, like two versions of Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).  Still I wonder  if that pace could be maintained by a 9-11 year old in a normal book?   Of course if you purchase the study as a stand alone unit you can set your own schedule, but as a full year curriculum, the student is expected to work through  five science, five social studies, and five language arts units per semester.

For each of the seven lessons there are comprehension questions to answer and vocabulary to learn (words, suffixes and prefixes).  Sometimes there are printables for writing assignments and sometimes the student is expected to write in a journal they’ve been keeping.  Among the PDF files for getting ready is a Guide to Writing and Grammar, but other than that I found no formal instruction.  I assume that might be in a different language art unit of the complete curriculum.

It wasn’t all study, reading and writing.  For the second lesson my Schnickelfritz got to practice some magic (one of the key characters in the book used to be a magician).  One trick involved optical illusion, one manipulating cards, and one based on math.  Fritz already has a fair number of magic tricks under his belt so he put on quite a show.

We did not complete every activity for every lesson.  In lesson Six, is was much easier for Fritz to draw a picture of a dream (I’m not sure it was even a sleeping dream, but perhaps a day dream) then to analyze the purpose of each character and each member of the family.  I have to admit even I struggled with the word “purpose.”  We left it as a discussion about “roles” and “responsibilities” and I did not make him write anything down.

Bottom line: would we use Moving Beyond the Page Units again?  If there was a particular novel with a guide, perhaps, although it seems expensive for a 2-3 week study.  For the science units, I felt there was a lot of work summarizing facts, no experiments and very little critical thinking.  This goes against the standard they had written in the front of their catalog.  For this age group I think they need to be doing more lab work and work with the scientific method rather than painting models.

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