Thursday, March 28, 2013

Theme Posters

My 12 year old daughter has always been very interested in drawing and art. In her spare time she is often drawing something. Within the last couple months she has started making theme posters. 

We have an assortment of how to draw books here at home and she often pages through them looking for an object to draw. Then she adds personality to the item and gives the poster a title. 

She has done a music poster with notes, a grand piano, and other music items, but unfortunately I do not have a photo. She gave it to her music teacher before I could get one.

Virtual Refridgerator

I am linking up with Jennifer at a glimpse of our life.

We Choose Virtues Review

A review for Mosaic Reviews

We Choose Virtues

We Choose Virtues is a multi-faceted curriculum designed to help children learn and grow in making those decisions that enable them to “reach their true potential” and succeed in life. The product site is The curriculum features 12 virtues or positive traits with memorable characters and catch phrases to help a child learn, memorize, and put into practice each of the virtues. Each virtue has its own child character who exemplifies the virtue being taught.It also appears each virtue is a unique color.

The curriculum was born out of the sincere concern that children overcome behavior patterns that hamper their ability to cope with others, function effectively, and be productive. Creator Heather McMillan designed materials that seek to make it fun to learn virtues and easy to put that learning into practice.
I received for review a subset of the Virtue Kit products that included student cards, a sample of a parent card, and assessment and Bible verse forms. PDF documentation includes a teacher resource and coloring materials. The product web site illustrates tools for kids, families, homeschools, churches, and schools. The products include posters, progress charts, awards, coloring media, iron-ons, and materials for parents and teachers to track and chart progress. Materials are available in King James version and New International Reader's Version as well as a secular version, without Bible references on them.

Three basic tenets are obedience, kindness, and helpfulness. The twelve virtues recall both the Boy Scout Law and the Beatitudes, as well as other biblical and traditional moral precepts. The curricula are designed with different learning styles in mind and are also designed to scale to different age groups.

The curriculum tries to be fairly comprehensive and offers elements for different age groups, early childhood through elementary. The “Three Rules” are geared more for the young, while the older children have the full twelve points. The former are more concrete while the latter are more advanced and abstract, requiring some self-reflection and thought.

Some of that information is available on the blog. Also as part of the blog Heather engages her customers and their questions in a manner that is helpful in finding ways to best apply the curriculum for various needs.

Visit the We Choose Virtues Website to see pictures and contents of other kits available as well as pricing information.

Heather has generously provided several coupon codes for saving on purchases.
HOME20 is for 20% off the Homeschool kit during the months of March and April
VIRTUE15 is for 15% off purchases. There is no expiration date for this code.

My Thoughts

I received the Virtue flashcards ($14.99) and pdf copies of the teacher handbook($5.00), coloring book($3.00), memory work list (free) and family character assessment (free) to review.

The picture to the side is the front and back of two different cards. I wanted to give you an idea of what they look like. Each card is about 3 x 5 inches and made of card stock. To me they feel slightly slick, which I like as they are easy to handle.

It seems like the curriculum tries to span the cognitive abilities of both younger and older children. In the coloring materials, for example, one will find both simpler and more complex coloring pages, as well as simpler and more complex activities. My eight year old would be frustrated with the activity pages as there wasn't a word list for the word search puzzle and the directions on another page where written is a script similar to cursive. Similarly, the suggested activities contain both simpler and more advanced suggestions. There is a concern to keep the activities fun while not taking away from the seriousness of the material. It is  also emphasized that teachers should model virtue.

Some aspects of the curriculum seemed a bit vague, and even the web site  appeared to be the same way. In some ways, reading various blog entries helped give far greater insight into the thinking behind the curriculum than the actual materials. But at times one seemed caught between secular or psychological expressions, while seeing more “spiritual” or Bible-based expressions elsewhere. The issues of scalability and market certainly have a part in that; it is hard to be all things to all markets.

I found some virtues to be well-designed for children. Kindness as the Golden Rule, what it means to be gentle, and attentiveness are all portrayed in a way that is straightforward and attainable. Yet patience, perseverance, and diligence seem to be more abstract. Obedience is fine in theory, but it also is very dependent on the family and social systems of the children. Contentment is almost exclusively negative in portrayal. In short, it was hard to find a consistent target age for the curriculum because, with Piaget, one might discern differences in concrete and abstract concepts that cut across certain concepts.

In trying to use these cards, I found myself thinking that “this is good in theory, but...” I kept coming back to Romans 8. Virtue, at its root, means sharing in the inheritance and the nature of the one in whose image you have been made. The Latin word “vir” mean man, and he passes his “virtus,” his defining qualities, to those of his kind. Thus, virtue is not fundamentally a choice, but a reflection of either freedom in Christ through the Spirit or slavery to Satan via sin.

I understand that this plays out in the daily decisions that we make, and that it is hard to make a curriculum that reaches a broad consensus on the basis of virtue and the motivation for being virtuous. For example, one can show that the Japanese have a culture that is very conscious of virtue, family, respect, hard work, and social order. Yet their society has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. If love has a central importance to the curriculum, why should the teacher be the one having to write that into the materials and their use?

In other words, if I am going to use materials on virtue, I want to see something that features the story of love, where God first loved His creation by making it very good. Where He modeled love to His fallen creation by dying to save it. Where His Spirit calls people to a new life, a new freedom, in which they have been set free from the total depravity of sin in order to live lives of freedom to choose the virtuous, yet realizing that we fall short and need forgiveness. I think that the curriculum can go in this direction, but its wording falls short of that in order to appeal to the widest possible market. The result is something that doesn't know whether it is psychological or spiritual. One could get the idea that one can simply choose to be free, choose to be good, choose to be virtuous, without the fundamental narrative of forgiveness and new life in Christ.

I found a number of virtues simply to be the expression of “don't do bad things.” I found that the opportunities for compassion, for working with possible child frustration, and for dealing with different situations that might color a child's experience to be something that I had to provide. As a result, I found that I could use my own denomination's materials on how to talk about virtues to be more effective, less work for me, and at a better price point.

Also, Zondervan's position on gender neutral language and its 2013 mandate that its clients are required to adhere to the new versions that use such language have eliminated Bible versions produced by Zondervan (NIRV) from use in my denomination due to their failure to be faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Yet King James is a bit outdated for kids to use.

Although I believe that this curriculum was born out of genuine love and spiritual concern for children, I also believe that the broad market focus of the curriculum dilutes that driving force. Moreover, the price point makes it prohibitive, given the amount of work that I need to do in order to “baptize” for my purposes some otherwise helpful ideas about virtue. I can find other materials that have a stronger focus on Christ, deal with similar issues, and have a better price point.

A small issue is that the McMillans have changed Internet domains, while a number of their print and electronic materials still point to the old domain. The old domain produces an error when accessed. In addition, some elements on their site, especially in the blog area, are still under construction or did not survive their transition well. Hopefully that will be fixed.

 Having said all that I do believe the materials are very kid friendly, engaging and colorful. Their bright colors make all the products inviting and engaging for young children. Children will want to learn more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

FamilyMint Money Management

A Review for Mosaic Reviews

It seems that you can't turn on the computer or tv or read current material without running across a story or information about money, the economy or something closely related. It is an inescapable fact that money is a necessity in our lives. Because of its necessity, money management skills are becoming a crucial part of a well rounded education. Not just facts about money, but also the opportunity to practice related skills.

FamilyMint was designed to help young people practice and acquire useful and positive money management skills.  FamilyMint was created when two fathers, Robert Masterson and Jeff Eusebio, saw the need to help their own children learn about money and collaborated on the program. They felt strongly that attitudes and behaviors about money are formed outside the academic setting, in the home, and set out to create a money education/ management program for families. They also realized it takes time to develop and practice money skills, so it was important to have a program that was ongoing.

FamilyMint began as an online program, similar to online banking, to help children learn about saving and spending money. A parent sets up and maintains the bank account for the family and then sets up individual subaccounts for each child. A parent becomes the banker for the family. Each child has the opportunity to set up multiple spending and saving accounts, each with various goals or purposes. When they have money to deposit the child has the opportunity to decide which of their accounts to put money into and can divide it between several as well. When the child deposits money into their account the parent receives it and places it into safe keeping until the goal has been reached or the child has a spending request. Also as the banker the parent has the responsibility to approve or deny deposits the child requests. Parents also have the option of adding interest to any or all of a child's accounts.

After the FamilyMint program has been online for a while they received requests for written materials to go along with it. These requests resulted in the workbook. The FamilyMint Money Management Certification Program contains 4 chapters, a summary, and many reproducible forms and worksheets as well as brief directions for parents. Each chapter includes several vocabulary words to learn.The workbook concludes with a parent checklist to help parents make sure they have covered everything in the program and assess their child's knowledge and retention. The final part of the workbook is a certificate attesting to the students knowledge and abilities.

The workbook chapters cover

  1. Tracking Your Money
  2. Goal Setting
  3. Budgeting 
  4. Interest
Tracking your money covers income, expenses, several ways of tracking money and benefits to various methods, and learning about checks and deposit slips. Activities include practicing check and deposit slip writing, matching vocabulary and definitions, and determining how much money a child already has.This amount of money is entered into the Family Mint online program or the general savings tracker worksheet.

Chapter Two discusses goals and the importance of developing attainable goals. Children are guided through the process of determining goals and breaking them down into parts that are attainable. They are walked through this in steps. Goals are then transferred to the online account or Goal Tracking worksheet.

Chapter Three is about budgeting. Here children are taught about the envelope method of budgets, which uses a separate envelope for each category they are saving towards. The text presents one example to teach with and one to practice with. Additional practice is gained with the child's money online or on a worksheet.

Chapter Four presents the concept of interest. Both simple and compound interest are defined and demonstrated. There are basic tables illustrating both concepts. The chapter concludes with exercises for the child to compute both simple and compound interest and which one results in greater earnings.

The final exercise has the child define four terms and write about how their money habits have changed because of using the program.

FamilyMint Premium Online is accessed with the code found in the back of the workbook.

FamilyMint also maintains a blog with many ideas for helping children learn money management, fun money related activities to do with children, and helpful money advice for parents. I particularly like the ideas about encouraging children's entrepreneurial aspirations and frugal holiday ideas.


Money Management Certification Program workbook + 
aLIFETIMEsubscription to the FamilyMint Premium application  $29.99

Premium Online Application Subscription   $24.99 Annual Subscription    $4.95 Monthly  

Online Application Only Free 14 Day Trial

Additional Workbooks are also available with purchase of book and lifetime subscription

Visit FamilyMint for more details on packages available.

My Thoughts

I like how FamilyMint covers the basics of money management in simple clear steps. Each chapter of the book presents the concepts clearly and concisely without extra, distracting material. It's also relevant to children in the examples it uses, like a goal of saving to buy a present for Mom or budgeting for a game and shoes. The material is presented in short bites so that even with practice children are still engaged at the end.

All of the budgeting and planning worksheets in the back are wonderful. While many of the things covered in the worksheets are also done with the online program I feel being able to write something down makes it more concrete than just seeing it on the computer. I think it is easier for concepts to become concrete if they are experienced in written form and it is easier to discuss them as well.

I found the online portion of the program to be challenging to use. It took some playing around for me to figure out how to apply what was in the book to the online component. Part of this maybe that I have not switched to online banking so the format is not familiar to me.

One part of the online program which is very attractive to me is that the child is told the parent "banker" will keep all deposited money safe for the child. This eliminates battles over the child keeping it safe in some location of their choice. The parental approval aspect is nice as well as it helps the child with making good choices as to prioritizing the amount of money in each account.

While there is a lot of flexibility for the child in using the online portion of FamilyMint, there is ample opportunity for parent/child discussion and parental guidance.

How I customized FamilyMint for our family

My children don't receive an allowance or money on a regular basis so I came up with my own system. My youngest really needs to work on writing legibly so I gave him 10 virtual cents for each item of work which was nicely written. He then divided his "earnings" between three goals he choose; computer time, baking, one on one time. My oldest earns "money" for piano practice without being told and for doing it at a certain time of day. She also chose three in which to put her "earnings".  This seemed to work well for us and I have ideas for other incentive possibilities.

They also have their long term saving money in FamilyMint which will make it much easier to keep track of.

The book is very complete, but I made up vocabulary review for chapters two through four as there isn't any in the book.

My children's thoughts

Twelve Year Old Daughter
"I liked the online component for tracking money and knowing how much you have to spend as well as save. I had fun practicing writing checks and deposit slips."

Eight Year Old Son
"I liked the idea of separate envelopes. I liked being able to keep track of my goals on the computer. I also liked being able to give each of my goals a different color to see how close I was getting."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow? A Review of Seed Starting The First Step to Gardening

Several years ago I had a small garden in our back yard; one year was a success, but another year it was a total flop. After the flop I wasn't eager to put all the effort into a garden again and haven't tried since. So when the opportunity to review Seed Starting was presented I eagerly accepted hoping I could learn some tips to have a successful garden again.

 Seed Starting The First Step to Gardening
$2.99 Kindle

Seed Starting topics including:  planning your garden, choosing seeds and equipment, potting soils, a plants light and other needs and transplanting. Not only is the reader pointed to things to look for when they are making choices at the garden store, but also cautioned as to what to avoid. For example in the chapter about soils it is clearly laid out what composition of potting soil is ideal for which use and which products won't be as beneficial for achieving the desired results. There is also a clear explanation as to why it is probably better to avoid dirt dug up from the backyard. If this is your only option, Gary shares a simple remedy to improve the dirt.
Another important topic of the book is a discussion of when to plant various types of seeds, both in the house and outdoors in a garden. Because of varying germination times and hardiness different seeds need to be planted outside at different times, both before and after the last expected frost date. Several lists detail when it is "safe" to plant each item outside.

 My Thoughts

I really enjoyed this little book. It is packed full of useful information and written in a conversational tone. I was able to read through it in a short time and learn a lot, but because there is so much information I will refer back to it when I am ready to plan a garden. For me the tone or style of the book is such that Gary is having a conversation with me or a small group of people. The facts and how to's that he shares are supported with examples and explanations of how he does things in his own garden and what he has found successful as well as what has not worked for him. The suggestions he makes for doing things in a specific way are backed up by experience.

As with just about any new activity there are a number of supplies which a new gardener needs and the variety of choices can be overwhelming. Gary talks about many of the most common and explains the pros and cons of each, thus allowing the gardener to choose what will work best for their situation. The information shared builds on itself. As the reader goes on the journey of growing seedlings they will see the reason for doing something in a specific way or not doing something which could hurt. The steps to growing seedlings, from determining the size of a garden to pick out seeds and supplies, to transplanting into the larger garden is clearly ordered throughout the book. There is no need to go back and forth from chapter to chapter.

If you are even the least bit interested in starting any size garden, from a container garden on your window sill to a raised bed outside  and have never planted anything before you will find loads of helpful advice and suggestions in Seed Starting.

Since my failed garden attempt several years ago I haven't tried a garden again, but Seed Starting has encouraged me to try again when our situation is right. For a number of reasons I can't try a garden this year, but maybe next year. Besides a year should be more than enough time to plan. right?