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Sunday, April 17, 2016

A review of 'Under Construction: A Young Writer's Workbook'

I was recently given a copy of "Under Construction: A Young Writer's Workbook" to try out with my kids. I have known the author of this workbook, Amanda Zieba, since we were both starting out as freelance writers. I've always admired her work, so when I saw that she had put together a writing curriculum for middle to high school age students, I was excited to check it out.

Zieba is both a teacher and a published novelist, but she doesn't just bring her own expertise to the table in this workbook. "Under Construction" features more than a dozen pages of advice from other published authors with tips and helpful instructions from writers who have managed to turn promising ideas into published works.

It took me a while to actually write this review, because once I got the book in hand, I knew I wanted to actually go through some of the activities and share the workbook with other homeschoolers I know to get more feedback. I had a feeling it could be an excellent resource for homeschooling families, but I wanted to be sure.

It turned out the other homeschooling moms with whom I shared the book were impressed. They liked the fact that the spiral bound book, with just over 140 pages, was not overwhelming and that the lessons were short and open ended.

They agreed that one of the best things about this resource, besides the low price, is that it doesn't feel overwhelming. Often, writing assignments are overwhelming to young writers, especially those who are not confident with their skills. This resource includes a relatively small amount of space for each exercise, which of course can be expanded by adding additional sheets of paper, but the original allotted space encourages novice writers to give exercises a shot without feeling intimidated.

Another thing we all loved about the book is that it includes so many different types of writing. Of course, students ought to practice the standard five paragraph essay, but this writing workbook also encourages them to explore not only fiction, non-fiction and poetry, but also screenwriting, graphic novels, and more.

I would not use "Under Construction" as a standalone language arts curriculum, and it is not marketed as such, but I do believe it would work very well as a supplement to any language arts curriculum you are using for your middle school or high school students, especially those who may be considering a career as a writer.

"Under Construction" encourages all writers to use their imaginations, to be brave and just put their ideas on paper. Each exercise is short and easy for students to relate to their everyday lives, such as finding a message in a bottle or describing what is in a main character's closet.

Perhaps the best part of using this "Under Construction" with my own homeschoolers: They don't groan when I get out the book. You can order a copy on Teachers Pay Teachers or by contacting the author directly. And if you are interested in using this workbook for a co-op or other class, make sure to contact the author to check on a discount on combined shipping and tell her the Unplanned Homeschooler sent you!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for my objective review.

Friday, April 1, 2016

April Fools' Day is here: Prank your kids with love

Our family loves April Fools' Day, and we have a great time pulling pranks on one another, as long as they are done in a good spirit and without anyone getting hurt or seriously disappointed.

This year, the objective to my prank was to instill a brief episode of panic in my kids, and then let them off the hook. It worked perfectly! You might want to borrow the prank to pull on your own kids. Here's how it worked.

I called my kids to the kitchen in a rushed state of anxiety. I handed them each a pot, and told them we needed to hurry and fill all the pots and pitchers we could find with water, because I'd just gotten a text from our utilities department that they would be shutting the water off in less than an hour, and it would be off for the next three days.

"Why?" they asked, as they began to fill pots in confusion. I explained that they had to replace a line, and that was a big job.

Suddenly, I gasped and said to my older daughter, "Oh NO! Do you know a place where we can use the bathroom outside in the back yard without the neighbors being able to see? We can't flush the toilets if we have no water!"

She was aghast. My younger daughter looked totally confused and scared. My son just kept filling the biggest stock pot in the kitchen, asking, "Why? Why would they do this to us?"

I said, "I don't know, son. Maybe they're doing it because it's April Fools' Day."


I am genuinely surprised I didn't get sloshed with that pot of water! But we all ended up laughing, and thankful we wouldn't have to go potty outside. I only wish I'd had an accomplice handy who could have shut off the water at the outside valve as the kids were filling up their pots. Oh well, it was still a hoot, and my plants got a nice drink, too!

Learn to fix appliances online: Inspire your kids and save a bundle

Broken appliances happen to all of us. Parts wear out and we're faced with the torturous dilemma: should we try to fix the old appliance or go buy a new one?

If you are reading this, you're probably like me and don't have piles of cash lying around to just buy new appliances every time something breaks. That's why, at least for me, broken appliances are a serious headache, and they make me face one of my biggest fears, that I will waste lots of money trying to fix a problem only to discover that it is beyond repair and I have to buy a new one anyway.

Repair calls are so expensive. You could be looking at $80 to $100 or more just to get an expert in your front door, only to find out your appliance can't even be fixed. If it can be repaired, you'll be out even more for labor and parts, and those parts that can be quoted at virtually any price because you have no idea what you're really dealing with.

But a lot of appliance repairs are relatively simple to perform, and they can make excellent research and hands on learning opportunities if your kids are old enough to help out. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An unplanned St. Patrick's Day adventure

We had a field trip scheduled this morning in downtown Tulsa, and I remembered late last night that today was St. Patrick's Day, a day when some folks do a little more to celebrate than just put on green and look for someone to pinch. So I got online to see if anything would be going on downtown, and whether that might affect the parking situation.

Sure enough, a St. Patrick's Day party was just a couple of blocks from where we would be, and a parade was scheduled to begin within half an hour after our field trip was set to end. So we decided to check it out.

Just before the parade, some women stopped us, and asked my older daughter to join the Ginger Brigade and march in the parade. She wasn't sure about that, but I encouraged her to go for it, and assured her we'd be right there to wave at her as she went by.

Once the parade began, as you can see, my daughter was all smiles. It was her first time to be in a parade, and what fun to have been kidnapped by a bunch of fellow redheads and taken on yet another unplanned adventure! 

I hope you had a happy St. Patrick's Day, too!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I have so much more to learn about history

Tonight I watched a video called "The Fallen of World War II" that has been going viral on Facebook. It explains in great detail how many people were killed, both military and civilians, in every country involved in the war. It shows the deaths in relation to one another, and spread along a timeline, and even has links where you can interact with the data to learn more.

As I watched the video, I was stunned at the sheer number of deaths, and more than that, at how little I knew about various aspects of the war. I have so much to learn.

Public Domain,

I studied history in high school and college, and was an excellent student. But when I started homeschooling my own children, and learning alongside them, I was ashamed and embarrassed by how little I had even been exposed to in the classes I took. To say that the depth of knowledge presented was shallow would be an understatement. My classes barely skimmed the surfaces of the topics that were covered, and so many topics were left as untouched as pristine, shimmering, newly fallen snow.

In recent years, I have dived into long documentaries by Ken Burns and other filmmakers. I have read biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts of Marines who faced unthinkable horrors in the Pacific, a bomber crew that was shot down behind enemy lines and then beaten to death by a German civilian mob, children who lived through the war on both sides, and more. But I have so much yet to learn.

Watching the video tonight, I realized that I know next to nothing about the war on the eastern European front, where the vast majority of casualties occurred. Is it because I grew up in the Cold War, during which any sympathetic reference to the Russians would have been taboo? I don't know. But I want to know. I want to know more about the siege of Leningrad and the mass casualties in the Battle of Stalingrad. I want to know what effect the loss of so many millions of young fighting men and civilians had on the Russian people, and what that means for them and for us today.

I feel blessed to be a homeschooling mom. This summer, my kids will be reading both "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "On Hitler's Mountain" - the first written by a young Jewish girl who died during the war and the other written by a woman who spent her childhood just down the hill from Hitler's compound, living in a Nazi family with limited access to any news unapproved by the Nazi regime, but still silently questioning why things were happening the way they were. We'll be watching the Ken Burns documentary, "The War."
We've visited our local World War II memorial, dedicated to the men who perished on submarines, and were privileged to meet and talk with a veteran of the war. We've also recently seen FiFi, the last flying B-29 bomber. I don't know what else we might do to study World War II, but I think it is important that we continue to learn, and that my kids realize at a much younger age than I did how much there is to learn about this war that truly changed the world.

You can watch the video here, and hopefully be inspired to learn more, too.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A review of 'Nellie Nova Takes Flight'

Earlier this month, I received a review copy of the new book by Stephenie Peterson, "Nellie Nova Takes Flight." This book, about a nine-year-old, crazy-haired, glasses-wearing, homeschooled genius with high aspirations sounded like a fun selection to read with my own precocious, crazy-haired, glasses-wearing, homeschooled eight-year-old daughter.

Nellie Nova is quite the little girl. From the very beginning of the novel, the author makes it clear just how brilliant Nellie is. She's not just smart, and she's not just a regular genius. She's so far beyond, I actually began to worry that the character would not be relatable as I began reading the book aloud to my daughter at bedtime.

But my daughter had no problem relating to Nellie, whose brain was so powerful, she was nearly superhuman. She was excited to see what adventures Nellie would encounter as she traveled through time in her homemade time machine.

Nellie Nova set off in her time machine to meet a woman who changed the world, specifically, the famous pilot, Amelia Earhart. But not everything went according to plan. It's through the twists and turns in the story that you start to see there is a lot more to Nellie Nova than just her big brains. This homeschooled youngster is very close to her family and cares a lot about others, too.

My daughter and I enjoyed this book, and now that she has worked the kinks out of her time machine, I have a feeling there will be more Nellie Nova adventures to come. We look forward to reading them.

Keep up with author, Stephenie Peterson, and all of Nellie Nova's adventures on the Nellie Nova Facebook page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for my objective review. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The History of Rock and Roll unit study available now!

Would you like to incorporate music appreciation into your studies this year, but you haven't been able to find a resource that really strikes a chord with you or your kids? Dive into "The History of Rock and Roll" and have fun learning all about this incredibly diverse musical genre that was born in the late 1940s and helped shape the culture of America and the world for decade after decade as it evolved.

I created this unit study based on the co-op class I taught last year. The teens in my class were very engaged and full of questions and comments as we learned all about the birth of rock and roll and explored how it changed and diverged into a myriad of subgenres up through the modern era.

Enjoy samples of great rock and roll music from rhythm and blues and doo wop to psychedelic rock, surf rock, punk rock, southern rock and even metal. This unit study includes relevant musical selections that showcase nearly every facet of rock and roll, and a wide variety of artists. Your kids will come away with a deeper knowledge of the music that has served as the soundtrack of the last three generations, and an appreciation for the roots of the music that they listen to today.

Get the full size printable version of The History of Rock and Roll unit study, or order the Kindle version on Amazon today.