Monday, September 27, 2010

Rocking Robots DNG Review

This past week we've been using Amanda Bennett's Rocking Robots unit study, available from the Schoolhouse Store for $7.95. We received this study free of charge in return for an honest review.

This five-day study covers the following topics:
* What is a Robot?
* The History of Robots
* People and Places of Robots
* Science Secrets of Robots.
* Goodies and Gadgets of Robots

It covers a variety of subject areas, including history, science, and language arts. And, as with all DNG units, it facilitates the use of lapbooks as a means of documenting learning in a keepsake fashion. (We have done several lapbooks over the years, all of which bring back great memories when they are pulled off the shelf and perused just for fun.) If you'd like a glimpse inside "Rocking Robots," you can click here.

One of the things I love about the DNG unit studies is the wide range of internet links provided, all of which, of course, connect the user to MORE links on the topic, making the available resources virtually endless. During this unit, we particularly enjoyed watching the videos about robots -- in the kitchen, under water (rescuing a very daft marlin, among other things), and in space. For some reason, we got a big kick (ha!) out of this You-tube clip of mini robots playing soccer:

We were able to acquire a number of library books on the topic of robots, but we found that there was more than enough information available online via the links provided in the unit study to keep us busy. I was particularly impressed by a timeline of the history of robots/automated machines, including the work of Leonardo DaVinci. I'd never really thought of him in relation to the modern concept of robots!

I will be frank and say that DD8 wasn't the least bit interested in the unit, it was mostly way above DS3's comprehension level (though he did enjoy the matching exercises and the videos), and DS11 was disappointed that it wasn't more hands-on. He was excited when he noticed the "Design a Robot" subtitles in the unit -- but lost his fizz when he discovered that such designs were simply words or pictures on paper. We'd all hoped there would at least be some links to sites that would teach us how to build simple robots at home. But, alas, we only found one for making "bristlebots" -- which we tried -- unsuccessfully -- mostly because I'm inept at mechanical things.  We couldn't even detach the motor from the cell phone we'd acquired from freecycle just for the purpose of making our bristlebot! {Sigh. Nothing like disappointing your son to make you feel majorly unqualified for the parent-of-the-year award!} While the connections to history, science, and even the Bible are really strong in the unit, it is disappointing that most of the "hands-on" elements consist of cutting and pasting, writing, or drawing. To be fair, DNG units ARE designed for children up to grade 4 -- so it does make sense that the unit's content would be below my DS11's age level. However, many of the links are heavy on text, so some of the material is be more suitable for older children.

The graphics are fabulous, the unit is easy to implement, and the wealth of information is impressive. If you have a young -- but not too young -- person interested in learning facts about robots, then this unit would be perfect for your family!

If you'd like to take a blog tour of other reviews of this product, go here.

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

Photo courtesy of Windows "Public Pictures" ("Sample Pictures")
"And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold,
it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)

Wow! How often do you look at the things you've made (be it dinner, a piece of art, a photo . . . ) and pronounce it "very good" ?

We live in a fallen world, so it makes sense that our creations would be riddled with "imperfections." And yet, as humans made in the image of God the Creator (Genesis 1:27), and as followers of Jesus who have Christ in us (Galations 2:20, Colossians 1:27), I find myself wondering why most of us have so many insecurities about the products of our own creativity.

I explored this idea a little bit in my post about my DD8's art journal, with which she expressed dissatisfaction, but it's something that has been swirling around in my brain for quite some time. I thought it would be worth exploring a bit more here on Monday Musings about the Creator in Me . I don't pretend to have the answers on the subject, but I'm hoping that by asking some of the questions, I can challenge us all to come to a better understanding of what it means to BE a creator and have THE Creator in us as followers of Christ.

I wonder if the "goodness" we miss in some of our work is from a desire -- and inability -- to achieve perfection. It's kind of an interesting thought, since God created a perfect world, and humanity was part of that perfect creation -- but because of sin, we are in need of being made perfect (Hebrews 13:21) by the blood of Christ. So, until we are perfected, perhaps we will always be discouraged by our imperfections, even those that appear in our creations. Or is that just relevant to those who have "perfectionist" tendencies?

And why is it that we so often feel the need for external affirmation that our work is "very good"? Are we trained from childhood to believe that our creations must conform to certain criteria in order to be "liked" and "acceptable" ? If so, how does that happen? Some might argue that it's because, in the effort to explain "how" to do something, or in offering pre-made templates to facilitate learning, we are often stifling natural creativity. (And yet, if there is "no new thing under the sun" [Ecclesiastes 1:9], then in reality, we can only strive to imitate in some way. Is there anything inherently wrong with that? But that's a whole other topic!) Perhaps the issue might be the source of approval that we seek. Colossians 3:23 instructs us to do whatever we do "heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men." So maybe we are bound to be disappointed if we seek the approval of humanity, and should be more concerned about pleasing God with our creative endeavours.

But what does it really mean to please God in the area of our creativity? Does it mean our creativity has to be used for a certain purpose, such as to serve others? Or can it simply be a means of expression -- be it some aspect of Him or ourselves as created and creative beings? Based on my own experience, I'm inclined to think that the purpose of the creativity is not what's important. An altered book serves no real functional purpose (that I can think of, anyway!) -- and yet some of my book altering experiences have been quite spiritual in nature. They have enabled me to explore tenets of my faith as well as express some of the joy I've found in simply being creative. They (along with most of my artistic endeavours) have also served in some way to make me feel connected to the Creator (in a heart-knowledge way vs. a head-knowledge way), bringing a sense of peace as well as inspiration in those moments of creativity. So really, is there any reason for me to question whether those things I've created are "good" -- whether other people like them or not -- or even whether I like them or not?

You and I might have different answers to the questions I've posed here, and I do hope you'll share your opinions in the comments. As you contemplate your own creativity this week, and your thoughts on this matter of "goodness," I challenge you with this verse: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Colossians 3:17).
Photo courtesy of Windows "Public Pictures" ("Sample Pictures")

Now just one more thing about creative masterpieces and goodness . . . My DH came across this God-tube video/skit that talks about each of us being "God's original masterpiece." God doesn't make junk. Remember -- "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). (I would have embedded the video if I could have found the HTML -- but, alas, you'll have to click on the link to view God's Chisel.)

So, what do YOU see when you look at the products of your creativity? And more importantly, what do you see when you look in the mirror?

P.S. You can read this post over at Homeschool Blogger Company Porch, too :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Creative Day

I didn't set out for it to be so, but today turned into a rather creative day . . .

It started with DD8 catching a good picture of our golden doodle, Caspian. I recently rearranged our Learning Lab and moved a rarely used armchair in there for a comfortable reading spot. He seems to think it was put there for his lounging pleasure. He's not generally allowed on the furniture -- but how can you shoo such a comfortable cutie off?

With the littles, I've been using a wonderful curriculum called Five In A Row (no, this is not a review or a solicited plug!), and this week we're reading . . .

In the story, the main character (historical figure/artist, Charlie M. Russell) makes little animals out of beeswax. So, since I'm a bit of a hoarder at heart, I thought I'd pull out my stash of beeswax bits . . .

And we tried our hand at making our own animals (after I warmed the wax a bit in the microwave -- a luxury Mr. Russell didn't have. I know working it would have helped develop their finger muscles, but they were a little discouraged by the hardness of the wax):

Here we have DD8's snake, my piggy,  and DS3's -- ummm -- turtle:

It was tricky work, so we really got a good appreciation of Mr. Russell's art. But our hands smelled nice afterwards! (I love the smell of beeswax.) As I've mentioned before, the finished product isn't always what's important -- but enjoying the process is, and this was kinda fun.

Later, DS11 asked if he could make cookies. I'm thrilled that he's taking an interest in food preparation (he made supper TWICE this week!), so I gave him the good-to-go-ahead.

Do you notice anything unusual about that picture????

Our newly acquired kitty, Nikita, decided she needed to supervise the endeavours.

I'm not big on kitties in the kitchen (as in climbing on counters and such), but I did get a kick out of this.

Anyway, here is the proud boy with his almost-made cookies:

And here is the yummy finished product:

I love it when creativity is spontaneous!

Have you had any spontaneous creativity lately? How about letting it happen today?!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Family Devotions

As this school year got under way, my husband and I discussed ways that we could facilitate more opportunities to discuss the Bible in a family context. One of the ideas he came up with (he's so awesome! ;) was to conduct family devotions at the dinner table in a way that challenged us all to be memorizing verses together, as well as discussing their significance. To appeal to our visual learners, and to help us remember the format for the week, he created and laminated this seasonal poster and pinned it to the wall by the table:

And each week he creates and laminates a verse poster with the current week's memory work, and posts it on the wall, too.

Besides making our kitchen walls look more interesting than they did before (an added bonus), isn't this a great way to hide God's word in our hearts and learn together as a family? (I can say that cuz it wasn't my idea ;)

I'll bet some of you have great ideas or traditions for encouraging spiritual growth in your family. Could you share them in a comment? I'd love to hear them!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Musings on the Creator in Me

I don't know what it's like where you are, but where I live, the air is getting crisp, the days are getting shorter, and the leaves are beginning to change colour. We have just completed Amanda Bennett's "Autumn Treasures" unit and are getting geared up for one of my favourite seasons -- fall. So, it's appropriate that the theme for this week at HSB is "Autumn"!

Perhaps it's because God's creativity and wonder of design is so evident this season -- with trees bursting into flame, monarch butterflies and geese mysteriously navigating their way thousands of miles to their southern habitats, and the animal kingdom (including humans) instinctively preparing for the cold, dark winter ahead -- that I usually feel compelled to exercise some creativity in the fall. I dread the end of summer with an intensity that affects my body, mind, and emotions; but once I've accepted its departure, I find myself welcoming the coolness and colours of the changing season. I am inspired to give expression to the Creator in me, and use the lovely, rich colours and textures to adorn my home and to create seasonal memories for my family.

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up in just three weeks, so it is at the forefront of our minds as we anticipate what the season holds. Of course, we usually surround ourselves with family, and often friends, and bear witness to the verse in Acts 14: "[He] gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (vs. 17). "Fruitful seasons" . . . hearts full of "food and gladness" . . . those are some of the things we're thankful for as we enjoy this autumn season. Just to give you a glimpse of how we go about making memories at our home, here are some of the traditional sweets that grace our Thanksgiving table:

I know it's early for some of you to be thinking of Thanksgiving, but what are some special traditions that you have created to make memories for your family? They could be food related -- or activity related -- or maybe they are book related. For DD8 and me, reading Cranberry Thanksgiving and making cranberry loaf is a tradition we started a few years ago.

God gave us so many wonderful foods to relish and enjoy, and if He prepares a table for His beloved ones in the presence of their enemies (Psalm 23), surely He means for us to feast together with friends and family.

And just as He adorns His creation with beautiful colours and textures, I suspect He is pleased to see us reveling in those same colours and textures as we bring beauty to our home environment. Have you established some favourite ways to decorate your home in ways that reflect the season? When we moved to our current home, which has a partial wrap-around porch, I was excited about how that space could be used to reflect the seasons. Summer decor is probably my favourite, because the hanging baskets of flowers create a fragrant "room divider" effect, so that we have a private haven to enjoy on summer mornings and evenings. But in autumn, I have also taken to using dried cornstalks and hay bales with a plethora of mums and gourds to create some porch prettiness.

I admit -- I'm no Martha Stewart -- but I do enjoy bringing bits of beauty to my home for my family and others to enjoy. My husband does, too! See that wreath on the door? He made it -- and won a first place ribbon for it at a local fair! :)

I truly believe that making our homes havens of loveliness, comfort, and peace is a means of allowing the Creator to work in and through us. So this week I challenge you, dear reader, to find ways to bring the glory of God's great creation into your home and celebrate all that is autumn.

To get you started, let me share some inspirational links with you . . .

For Thanksgiving decor ideas, try:

HGTV Thanksgiving Decorating Ideas

Inspiring Ideas (Jeanne Winters)

For general autumn decor inspiration, try:

Far Above Rubies

CSI (Create Something Inspiring) Project Links

Thrifty Decor Chick (Fall Inspiration Link-up)

Please share any of your own ideas by leaving a comment, perhaps with a link that will "show" as well as tell :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Altered Book - September 2010 Challenge

Amazing -- I'm finished the Altered Books September challenge before the end of the month! The challenge was to use the theme "School Days" and incorporate a pocket with something interesting in it.

As I rummaged for inspiration and materials to incorporate, I found myself drawn to medieval images and colours schemes. I won't go into detail about all my selections -- I'll show you the spread first, then tell you about the significant features . . .

The images are just ones that tickled my fancy from an old art calendar. The sonnet is a copy of one I studied in high school and university, so it has a bunch of my notes written on it. The required pocket is in the bottom right corner, secured by ribbons through pierced holes (oh, and one staple because the first hole tore!)

In the pocket is a special holographic/hologram bookmark . . . But first, the "boring" side:

On the other side, we have children reading a medieval story together:

But turn the bookmark slightly, and suddenly they're IN the story!

Cool, eh? Here's a glimpse of both holograms at the same time:

How fun is that? I knew I'd hung onto those school agenda covers (for YEARS!) for a reason!

While I'm here, I thought I would show you another version of our tree art that DD8 did today with a couple of her friends. We did it "right" this time and used acrylic paint for the leaves. It turned out so much better than the paint dabbers!

Have you done anything creative today?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Autumn Treasures DNG - Product Review

My children and I recently had the privilege of using our first Amanda Bennett "Download N Go" unit study,  "Autumn Treasures."  We received this unit free of charge in exchange for an honest review. No financial compensation was received.

DNGs are week-long, topical unit studies designed with K-4th grade students in mind.  They are, however, adaptable for use with older students (DS11 participated in several activities), as each unit offers a wealth of information via embedded internet links -- enough to satisfy the curious cravings of any inquisitive student. Daily book suggestions, lessons, activities, and lapbook ideas provide the parent with all that's necessary to conduct a thorough topical study. Books can be accessed through the local library, and do not need to be the exact titles suggested. The fact that these unit studies can be downloaded immediately means that studies can get under way right away with minimal preparation.

"Autumn Treasures" (available for $7.95 at The Schoolhouse Store) was a nice way to ease into our school year, though I think I would have preferred to do it a couple of weeks later, when the leaves are more colourful, apple and pumpkin picking are fully in-season, and it really is fall.

We began our unit by printing the pages we would most likely use, and going to the library to find as many of the suggested books as possible. Oddly enough (shoulda known!), the shelves were picked clean. (Those public school teachers -- I tell ya! ;-) (For the record -- I do love 'em -- I used to be one, and I'm married to a principal :-D ) We did manage to scrounge up a few books for most of the daily topics, which include:
Day 1: What is Autumn?
Day 2: Science Secrets of Autumn
Day 3: People and Places of Autumn
Day 4:  Time for Tips and Treasures of Autumn
Day 5: Goodies and Gadgets of Autumn

Here we are enjoying a little read-aloud of one of those books on Mom and Dad's bed:

Even the dog wanted to be in on the reading, though he did decide to catch a little shut-eye while he listened ;)

In our study of leaves and their changing colours, we did an experiment suggested by one of the unit links, which involved lots of fun snipping and smushing:

We drew the chlorophyl out of three different types of leaves. It's always fun when experiments work!

And everyone enjoyed the simple activity of leaf rubbing, though we didn't use the unit's page designated for that task:

"Autumn Treasures" also gave us opportunities to practise writing and other fine motor skills in an engaging way:

Most of the written work we housed in a lapbook, as the unit provided several templates for mini-books associated with the theme. An important feature of the DNG unit studies is that each one offers a wealth of information, including how-to videos, for those unfamiliar with the conept of lapbooking (a great way to document learning).

While some of the links offered material that was too advanced for my young learners, some of it I thought was worth keeping, so we printed it and put it in a pocket of our lapbook. We also incorporated some mini-books about butterflies from another study we did, but never got around to making a lapbook with them.

One of the things my children and I loved about this unit study was the amount of time we were encouraged to spend outside studying the real world. On one particular day we discussed the ways in which seeds travel, and after collecting an assortment of seed samples from around our neighbourhood, we set up a little science lab on the front porch. The children enjoyed examining their collection with a microscope and magnifying glasses -- and all those fluffy and clingy seeds remained comfortably outside the house, where neighbourhood children also enjoyed some impromptu studies ;-)

I think the sure sign that "Autumn Treasures" was a hit is the fact that after studying the season for the five days designated by the unit, DD8 asked why we had to stop!
(The great thing about homeschooling is -- we don't! :-)

"Autumn Treasures" has directed our attention to many of the wonderful things there are to learn about fall, and because we couldn't complete every suggested activity in the five-day time frame, we still have lots of material to use to satisfy our cravings for more knowledge and experiences. It has also reminded us of all the things we look forward to as the season sprawls before us -- decorating with corn stalks and hay bales and gourds, picking apples, making and eating apple and pumkin pies from scratch, cider with whipped cream, Thanksgiving celebrations . . .

What's your favourite part of fall? What creative endeavours does it inspire in you?

P.S. If you'd like to read other reviews of DNG's "Autumn Treasures," click here. And don't forget to check out all the other great titles available here.
One more thing . . .
"Autumn Treasures" is on sale (20% off) until September 24, 2010.
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