Checking In, Laser Focus, and All That Jazz

This seems like an appropriate time for a post like this, so it’s rather fortuitous that this has been on my mind.  This post is so long, but at least skim it, I’ve pinked and bulleted the important stuff, like what’s coming up on Sweet Phenomena.

For those of you who are bloggers, I’m sure you’ve had that whole “I need to refocus my efforts, I need to re-assess” thing going through your brain.  I do.  Quite often, but more often lately.  Maybe because we’re surrounded by “new year, new beginnings” stuff.  I’m not a big fan of that, I think it can always be time for a new beginning, but that’s not really my point…

Huh?

 

Yeah, I confused myself too…  I enjoy blogging.  I enjoy social media.  I enjoy interacting with you guys.  I like participating in and holding giveaways.  I like reviewing stuff.  I love what I do.

No matter how much you love something, though, sometimes you need to ponder how you’ve been displaying that love.  I’m happy with the overall direction of Sweet Phenomena, but I’m ready to do some laser focusing and really clarify what I want it to be.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that you should first blog for yourself.  If you aren’t doing it from a place of truth, you won’t survive in the multi-million blog world.  The readers will come.  There will be people who can relate and who enjoy your voice.  And there will be those who don’t.  And that’s OK.

I’m also the type of person to jump into something feet first, learn a ton of stuff after starting, redo it a better way, and then evolve it as I change.  It’s not “right,” but I’m OK with that.

Purpose

 

Sweet Phenomena has gone from being a blog about homeschooling to being a mish-mash of stuff.  That’s what my life is like.  That’s what my brain is like.  I love homeschooling.  Fact of the matter is, though, I’m not an uber-homeschooler like many of the homeschooling bloggers out there.  I can’t come up with curriculum.  I don’t want to.  I can’t make worksheets, create printables, devise games.

I’m so much happier by finding these things on the internet and implementing them, sharing my findings and experiences with you guys.  So, one of Sweet Phenomena’s purposes is:  homeschooling schtuff.  It probably won’t be anything earth-shattering, but it will be tons of resources, links, and info; our honest-to-goodness experiences; and other morsels I’ve picked up along the way.  This includes The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew reviews.

I’ve also decided to use my voice and my reach {no matter how small} to bring awareness to a cause so important and personal to me:  domestic violence.  I grew up in a household where my mother suffered from it for many years, and I think people need to know about domestic violence, how prevalent it is, what the warning signs are, and how to help.  You’ll continue to see this here.

I like reviewing stuff.  It’s fun.  You get things for free.  I’m just putting that out there.  I really like bringing you guys this information.  I don’t know about you, but I love it when people I know share new, exciting, innovative, and fun product information with me.  I’ll buy something that’s been recommended to me over anything else in a heartbeat.  So, you’ll still see product reviews on Sweet Phenomena.

The stuff won’t always be directly related to homeschooling, but it will be related to life as a mom, families, or life in general.  Basically, if it’s applicable in my life and it’s a company/product I feel I can get behind, I’ll review it and let you know what I think.  Believe me, I’ve turned down stuff that is not at all related to my life, from a company I can’t feel good about recommending, or from a company that is a competitor of something I’ve reviewed before.  I’m not about whoring out my internet real estate.

I like Social Fabric and shoppertunities.  They’re fun and interesting, so you’ll continue to see those.

I’m a blogger, and I’m constantly learning, so you might find a few tidbits of info on blogging and social media here.

And, because I can talk and talk and talk, you’ll get injections of life here on Sweet Phenomena.  That makes me real to you.  That opens up conversations.  It gives me a record of time.

Oh, and miscellaneous.  I have to throw that in there to cover my bum.  Just know it will always be family-friendly.  Yeah, I feel I need to say that.

To recap:

  • homeschooling schtuff
  • domestic violence awareness
  • product reviews
  • Social Fabric and shoppertunities
  • info on blogging and social media
  • injections of life
  • miscellaneous

So, Really, What’s Coming Up?

 

I hate vagueness, so here are a few specific things I’ve got in the works for the next year:

  • A series on archaeology and homeschooling – Babydoll wants to be an archaeologist and I’ve been unhappy with the surface info/products available for fostering this, so I’m putting together what we’ve found and will be doing.
  • An editorial calendar – I can’t promise I’ll stick to it {because, well, I’m imperfect}, but I’m working on an editorial calendar for the year that will show the general subjects I’ll be covering each month.
  • A regular posting time frame for domestic violence awareness – this cause is important and I want to cement a specific posting time frame for it.
  • The return of The Homeschool Mother’s Journal – I have missed this, and I haven’t done it because {I’m not going to lie}, we’ve not had a stellar first half of the year.  I believe Babydoll is learning, but I’m trying to reconcile my style of homeschooling with my view of education, and that’s like a freaking mallet to the head…
  • A new site design – I probably shouldn’t put this out there because it’s such a far-off thing {and so expensive}, but I really want a new site design for 2012.  I’ve got visions, I just need to get them out of my head, and pay someone to make them a reality.
  • An eBook {or two} – Yet another thing I probably shouldn’t put out there, but I have several ideas that I’ve already begun researching, and I really want those to come to fruition.
  • A series on lapbooks – I was recently talking with a few homeschoolers who had no idea what these were, so I thought I’d break them down.
  • Better pictures – I can’t promise anything here, but I’d really like to improve my pictures.
  • More on what it’s like to be a secular-friendly non-traditional homeschooler – I’m such a weird homeschooler, and I can’t be the only one…
  • Unit studies/lesson plans – OK, so I kind of lied when I said I don’t like coming up with curriculum and printables.  Really, I don’t, but I have a few items I’m interested in developing a small unit study for.
  • How I am getting my mommy swagger on – I turned 30 in 2011, and while that didn’t bother me, I’m going through that whole really finding out who I am.  I feel like I’ve thrown myself into being a stellar wife and mom {and fail so miserably so many times}, and have forgotten about me.  To his credit, Vince is always telling me to do for myself, always helping, always encouraging, but I’m an all-or-nothing martyr, and that’s not cool.  I need to make me happy.

OK, I really could go on and on.  I’m so excited.  I’m so glad to have you along for the ride.  This is so gonna rock.  :)

TOS Sweet Critique: I See Cards – Fractazmic

Fractazmic win

FractazmicWhat:  Fractazmic

Contact

Cost:  $6.95

Recommended Ages:  1st – 8th graders, although I had fun playing it, and I’m a 30 year old woman…

What is Fractazmic?

 

Fractazmic cardsFractazmic is a card game designed to visually teach children how to convert and add fractions, how fractions and measurement are related, and how fractions can be used in real-world applications.

Each card has a fraction printed in the upper left and lower right corners and a large picture demonstrating the fraction utilizing measurement and real-world uses.

The object of the game is to collect as many hands as possible before someone runs out of cards.  Hands consist of cards in the same suit that equal one.  The game ends when a player is out of cards, and the person with the most hands wins.

Our Thoughts

 

Babydoll and I enjoyed Fractazmic.  Once you get the hang of it, the game doesn’t take long to play and you really do have fun while learning.  Babydoll and I haven’t really gotten into fractions formally, but it only took a couple of minutes to explain to her.  She’s learned about them through practical application, such as cooking, so it was fun for her to see the eggs.

While I understand the reasoning behind it, it was a little difficult to explain the different denominators in each suit at first.  She wasn’t sure why she had a card that had six eggs out of twelve, but the fraction was 1/2.  The upside to it, though, was that it provided me with a great visual to teach her why it was that way.  It was still difficult for her to grasp the addition of the fractions with different denominators, but I think once we have a piece of paper and write it out, she’ll totally get it, thanks to these cards.

Fractazmic winIn addition to the educational benefits, Babydoll enjoyed beating the crap out of mom…  That large number of cards to the left?  Those are her hands…  I had like three.  It was a great game for us to play together; it was engaging, fun, and we both got a chance to exercise our brain a bit.

Other Products

 

I See Cards is the genius behind Fractazmic, and they’ve got a few other products as well:

What Did Others Think?

 

Other TOS Homeschool Review Crew members reviewed Fractazmic as well.  Visit the Crew blog to see what they thought!

True Confessions:  I was provided with a complimentary Fractazmic game in order to facilitate my review.  All opinions are my own.

Seasonal Science with Elmer’s #GlueNGlitter #ElmersScienceReady

Colored Flame Pine Cones

Group logo of Elmer’s Glue ’n GlitterWoohoo, it’s time for another science project with Elmer’s!!!  Last time we made butter.  This time, we’re doing some seasonal science!!  Check out how we made colored flame pine cones, a crystal snowflake, and invisible ink messages below.

Documenting Our Experiments

 

Before we got started, we decided to get our display board ready.  We love the selection of Elmer’s Tri-Fold display boards at our Walmart; we always have tons to choose from.  Today, we’ll be using a basic corrugated board.

Elmer's Science Ready

We also picked up some Elmer’s X-TREME glue to attach our photos once we are done.

Colored Flame Pine Cones

 

Color always makes stuff more fun!!  So as you’re sitting by the fire on these cold winter nights, why not throw a few colored flame pine cones into the mix?  These are so easy to make; they literally take about one minute to make.

  1. Colored Flame Pine ConesGather dried pine cones.
  2. Sprinkle pine cones with boric acid {you can find this in the pharmacy section of most stores}.
  3. Spritz pine cones with rubbing alcohol.

That’s it!  Now just toss these into a fire, or just light the cones themselves, and you’ve got colored flames!!  Boric acid is one of several chemical substances that can be used as safe colorants.

I’m sure this doesn’t need to be said, but always be careful when playing with fire.  :)

Crystal Snowflakes

 

Crystal SnowflakesWe like sparkly stuff, so naturally, we wanted to make crystal snowflakes! This is another really easy project, and the way we did it, really fast too!

Simply dissolve three tablespoons of borax per cup of boiling water, then form a snowflake with pipe cleaner pieces.  Tie a string to the snowflake, then to a pencil, and balance the pencil on top of a jar with your borax solution.  As the snowflake sits in the solution, the crystals will start to attach.

We’ve made crystals using a sugar and water solution before, but that takes a looooong time.  Borax dissolves in hot water, and since you can dissolve quite a bit more in hot water than you can cold, you’re uber-saturating the water.

As it cools, the water molecules can’t hold as much borax, so it releases them as chemical crystals.  They start attaching their crystal selves to the pipe cleaner snowflake, and before you know it, you’ve got one heck of a snowflake.

We’re still working on ours; we want a super-snowflake…  You can also color the water with coloring and get a colored snowflake.

Invisible Ink Messages

 

Our final project was to make invisible ink messages!!  You can use a variety of materials as invisible ink, such as baking soda and lemon juice.

To start, we took a few cotton swabs and dipped them in lemon juice.  Next, we each wrote a message to each other, keeping it secret of course!

After the paper has dried, we held it up to a light bulb and it revealed the messages!  Since lemon juice is an acid, it breaks down the fibers in the paper.  When heat is applied, it causes the paper to break down and the lemon juice to oxidize, revealing the message.

Final Thoughts

 

There are tons of seasonal science projects all over the internet.  Many take just a small amount of time to complete, and are tons of fun.  They’re also a great way to spend time together as a family.  Some can even be used to make gifts for others.

Babydoll made a fabulous display, complete with pictures and instructions!

 

Check out my Google+ slide show for more pictures and outcomes!

Do you engage in any seasonal science in your house?

True Confessions:  This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #elmersscienceready #collectivebias #CBias.  All statements are my own.

TOS Sweet Critique: Artistic Pursuits

Artistic Pursuits

Artistic PursuitsWhat:  Artistic Pursuits

Contact

Cost:  Books – $42.95; Art Supply Packs – varies

Recommended Ages:  Preschool through High School

What is Artistic Pursuits?

 

Artistic Pursuits is an art curriculum designed “to give children a quality art education that will prepare them to meet creative challenges in their future endeavors.”  The curriculum is made up of ten books and a variety of art supply packs, all designed for a specific age group and a specific art focus.

Our Thoughts

 

cover

We reviewed Grades K-3, Book Three because Babydoll really liked the idea of engaging in a bit of painting and sculpture.  This book is filled with 32 lessons that focus on painting, sculpture, history, and artists.

Favorite thing #1 – This curriculum does a phenomenal job of combining art appreciation, artist study, art exploration, and history, all in an easy-to-understand-and-teach way.  The lessons are short and to the point, but pack a punch and we love them!

As you move through the book, you learn about artists, their work, why it was important in the historical period in which it was created, and other fun tidbits.  At the end of the lesson, the student is given an art assignment, such as painting or sculpting in our case.

Favorite thing #2 – I absolutely love the fact that this book does not tell the child how to create the art.  It explains the concept and gives pointers to build confidence {and a picture of actual student artwork}, but it doesn’t tell them how they need to create or what they need to create.  In previous art instruction we’ve used, I hated the fact that it told Babydoll how she should do something.  That’s not art!

Babydoll was so excited to try this out; she loves art.  She spent hours {I’m not even kidding you} creating her Impressionist painting.  She understood why they were called Impressionist paintings, and understood how she could create an Impressionist painting.  It made sense to her, and she felt like she was given a task that she could easily complete.  Total success!

The lessons are age appropriate and engage the child without putting them on the spot. The evaluation of art it asks of the child is not pretentious, it’s done in a way that a kid can understand and have fun with, not something that makes them self-conscious about not knowing the “right” answer.  That was favorite thing #3.

Bonus favorite thing – Lessons are not too long. Other art curriculum we’ve done has had such drawn out lessons; it wasn’t fun. These are just right.

Definitely check this one out; I think this is one of our favorite TOS things thus far.  The books are non-consumable, which I know is a huge plus for many of you.  The materials required are not obscure and hard-to-find.  Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!

What Did Others Think?

 

Also, check out what other TOS reviewers thought about Artistic Pursuits!

True Confessions:  I was provided with an Artistic Pursuits book to facilitate my review.  All opinions are my own.

Sweet Studies: Lapbooks

Currclick

LapbookingBabydoll and I learned the latter part of last year that we really enjoy lapbooking.  It combines our love of learning with Babydoll’s love of cutting, pasting, coloring, and creating.

Until recently, though, our lapbooking was strictly for fun {like when we did the chocolate lapbook}.  As this year has continued, lapbooking has become more of our core work in certain subjects, thanks to finding a few awesome publishers and resources!  With so many resources that really turn these into full-on unit studies, why not give them a try?

The First Lady of Lapbooking

 

Amanda Bennett Unit StudiesMaybe there is a better term for her, but Amanda Bennett was the first place we ever got a lapbook, so for me she is the First Lady.  I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon her site, but I’m glad I did.

What I like best about Amanda’s products is that they are like uber-lapbooks:  you get a unit study and lapbook in one.  See, that’s how we like to roll.  If you’ve been reading Sweet Phenomena for any length of time you know that I’m not a fan of putting together any sort of curriculum on my own.  It’s just not me; I’m not good at it.

This is where products like Amanda’s come in:  I can get a unit’s worth of education in while at the same time making it interesting for Babydoll.  She’s got stuff that can be completed in a week, stuff that takes a month, and geography stuff!

The Smorgasbord

 

CurrclickAnother of my favorite resources for lapbooking is Currclick.  Man, I could spend days there.  They’ve got lapbooks from a variety of publishers, on a variety of subjects, in a variety of lengths.  Hence, my little nickname…

It is important to note, though, that Currclick doesn’t just sell lapbooking stuff; they sell all sorts of educational resources such as notebooking pages, review worksheets, and eBooks.  They even offer live online classes.  Babydoll did one and really enjoyed it.

There are free resources and really inexpensive resources.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something that I thought was crazy expensive.  As a matter of fact, no matter what my current budget is like, if I’m in need of something to drive home a concept, I know I can go to Currclick and get something without worrying.  Plus, I absolutely love that I get instant gratification with a PDF download for most of what I buy!

The Lone Wolves

 

While looking for a few options for a study we have coming up, I stumbled upon a few sites that I totally heart!

  • Dynamic 2 Moms – Extensive, detailed, totally cool, totally unique {Iroquois Confederacy?  Glass Blowing? Score!} lapbooks for FREE.  That’s right, free!  What more could you ask for?
  • Homeschool Launch – OK, so it’s not necessarily all about lapbooks, but they’ve got mini-books, notebooking pages, and a ton of other cool stuff.  For free.
  • Homeschool Share – OMG, squee!!!!  It’s what I’ve always dreamed of {you know, since we started homeschooling…}:  a site with blank templates for all sorts of mini-books, pockets, graphic organizers, and a ton more!  Oh, and it’s free.
  • The Home School Mom – A list of sites with all sorts of lapbooking information and resources!
  • A Journey Through Learning – Great lapbooks and unit studies, as well as one of our favorites:  binder builders.  They’re like lapbooks on steroids.

I’m excited to move forward with this chapter of learning, but more importantly, Babydoll is excited!  I’m loving that we’re making homeschooling our own.

Do you use lapbooks or similar manipulative resources?  Which ones are your favorites?