Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What I Keep In My Tutor Bag {Plus Review Games!}

Oops! The page you're looking for has moved!

In order to generate better content, this page has moved to a better website. To read this article, head here: http://woodhavenpl.com/classical-conversations-inside-tutor-bag/ 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Curriculum Review: Handwriting Without Tears

Oops! The page you're looking for has moved!

In order to generate better content, this page has moved to a better website. To read this article, head here: http://woodhavenpl.com/handwriting-without-tears-review/ 

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Top 20 Shows We Love For Our Kids

I remember reading a blog post a few years ago by a fellow mom who made a list of the top shows her young kids were loving on Netflix. It was so helpful to have a list created by a mom -- especially one who picked shows according to the same criteria that I do. We found a few winners from her list.

I know it can be a bit daunting to find shows that fit one’s family values. We like shows that teach about morels and character, while not overinflating kids’ self esteem or presenting more controversial topics.
But our philosophy goes a bit deeper:
  • We don’t like shows that are scary or intense – or hyper stimulating/sensory overload (have you seen the new VeggieTales in the House?? HOLEY MOLEY. Overload). 
  • We like our main characters to be kind, loving, and not argumentative with each other. Or whiny. Or bossy. Or sassy. We've seen a direct link between what my kids see on TV and how they treat each other.
  • We like our “bad guys” (when they exist) to be clearly defined as “bad guys” and our “good guys” to get in trouble when they do something not-so-good. This is one reason why we don’t watch Thomas the Train in our house – some of the trains in that show are quite bratty and there are rarely consequences to bad behavior. Or Curious George – which does give consequences for George’s disobedience, but the entire show is built around not obeying authority. My oldest tried the line "but I was curious!" when she directly disobeyed a few times. After connecting the dots, we pulled the plug on this show. 
  • We love our shows to be educational (when possible).


I should also add that these shows are also on our list because they are not too intense for our kids. There are some other shows that friends have recommended, but they were too intense (whether from bad guys, ominous music, sensory concerns, flashing scenes, danger, etc). This list is not the end-all, be-all. It's just where our family is, right now.

Naturally, when looking at shows for your own family, use your discretion.

So here they are. The top things we are loving on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and all those other streaming places you can imagine. Not every item is available on all platforms. And I confess – we’ve become lazy. If it’s not available for streaming, I’m not inclined to reach for it first (sorry, DVDs). We have some great DVD-based shows. But... streaming wins.

So our top 20, in no particular order:

1. Wild Kratts

This show is fantastic. Kris and Martin Kratt have spent many years in the educational kid-TV-show-industry. Their latest project is the tale of two brothers (and their crew) who help curious creatures all around the world and discover their creature abilities. They don special “Creature Power Suits” that give them the traits of those animals. I know this sounds frightening on paper; it really isn’t. I’ve learned so much and my kids love this show. Bonus points: Kris and Martin never argue once (but aren’t overtly saccharine, either). There is an occasional villain in the show, but I would not classify it as intense. The bad guy usually is trying to steal the animal and the Kratt brothers always save the day.

2. Zobomafoo

Speaking of shows by Kris and Martin Kratt, this is one of their earlier projects. It involves a (puppet) lemur named Zobomafoo. They learn about animals (all live film) and occasionally will slip into claymation.

3. Octonauts

Do you like singing radishes? I never knew that could be a thing… but I do have to say my kids LOVE this show. In keeping with the theme of animal shows, this British-produced show features a few lovable animals who are… I’m not really sure what they are supposed to be doing. But they travel around and find curious sea animals and just have delightful adventures. And there are singing radishes on board their Octopaud. There’s no villain in this show and it’s very low key.

4. Word World

This is personally one of MY favorite shows. Everything is based on letters. So a cloud is actually made up of the letters C-L-O-U-D. So clever and creative! The characters go on whimsical  adventures and learn about phonics along the way. I cheered when it came to Netflix.

5. Magic School Bus

Another treasure of my childhood. I grew up watching Magic School Bus and LOVED these. I’ve heard some parents complain that a few of the kids could be “whiny.” But compared to the “whiny” of some shows I’ve seen today, this is gem. It’s the story of a classroom of kids and their crazy teacher, Ms. Frizzle. Their school bus transports them into all sorts of fascinating adventures and they learn fantastic lessons about science – from gravity to the water cycle to the human body. You can also find Magic School Bus BOOKS at the library. We ended up getting the all 4 seasons on DVD at Costco (they run it for a great price) because Netflix is scheduled to release their own reboot in 2016. And based on how they have slaughtered other reboots, I’m not holding my breath.

6. Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That

Speaking of science shows, this show was a surprise. It’s not the Cat in the Hat from our childhood (who kinda creeped me out, actually). This show is also science based – focusing on everything from ants to seeds to weather to the human body. Just like the Magic School Bus, there are also a series of BOOKS that go along with these. And they rhyme! We use these a LOT in our homeschooling. And the best part? The show is mindful how the Cat in the Hat could be a “pied piper.” Remember in the book how he was tempting the two kids to come with her – “your mother will not mind at all if you do”??? What the what?! Well, they turn that line around in the show and the Cat makes SURE they never go anywhere without their mother’s blessing. Phew.

7. Signing Time With Alex and Leah

Switching over to the language arts, Signing Time with Alex and Leah is actually quite a hidden gem. If you have a moment, you should read the biography about the family in this show. (http://www.signingtime.com/company/about-us/story/ ). This professional-recording-artist mom has created some catchy and amazing songs to teach sign language. This show is great for teaching a second language or helping parents/children with special needs (like autism) to communicate. The show is the perfect pace and does such a great job introducing concepts and vocabulary. And if learning sign language doesn’t jazz you, then at least watch it for the other topics it covers: types of weather, days of the week, the months, the seasons, etc.

8. Guess How Much I Love You

This is an adorable show with some beautiful artistry. Based on the popular kid’s picture book, this story features Little Nut Brown Hare and Big Nut Brown Hare, along with an assemblage of woodland animals. This show isn’t overtly educational, but it does have good morals. I love that it’s not super flashy or overwhelming to the senses – I call it “gentle on the eyes.”

9. Daniel Tiger

I am ashamed/pleased to say that this show has been fundamental in my parenting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been desperate trying to get my kids to do something – like brush their teeth, go potty, or eat their carrots – and a power struggle ensues. There is something MAGICAL about Daniel Tiger. He sings these (annoying? catchy?) little jingle songs that stick in your head and are SUPER effective. Based on the characters created by Fred Rogers (of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood), this show has a real innocence to it. I prefer the first season over the second season – I think the songs and lessons are better. But, for good or for bad, this show has left its mark on our parenting. For every parent who has sung:
If you gotta go potty,
And go right away!
Wash and flush and be on your way! 
Yeah, you know what I mean.

10. Leap Frog Letter Factory Adventures

So, this isn’t ONE actual show with subsequent episodes. Rather there are a few Leap Frog single shows (ie – you have to hunt for each one and put it on your watch list). Currently on our list are:

  •        Great Shape Mystery (shapes, math, fractions; a little intense but my kids love it)
  •        Phonics Farm (great for preschoolers)
  •        Letter Machine Rescue Team (letters and phonics)
  •        Counting on Lemonade (math, money)
We don’t own any LeapFrog electronic toy thingies, but my kids enjoy these shows. My then-6yo watched the Great Shape Mystery once and completely understood fractions. I was flabbergasted when it came time for me to read a recipe (ie – 1/4 cup of flour) and she not only knew how to read it, she knew what it meant. Entirely due to this show.

11. Shaun the Sheep

Oooooooooooh, my goodness. This show is amazing. This British claymation production is by the same team that brought you Wallace and Grommit (a show I love but is too intense for my kids). It’s the adventures on a farm with Shaun (a sheep), Shaun’s sheepmates, the farmer, and the trusty farm dog. But the amazing part? There’s NO dialogue!!! This show is so clever at communication as a result. The antics are humorous. There are one or two episodes that were a little intense for my youngest the first time, but he has since come to love this. The best part? Since the show has no dialogue, you can watch the episodes on MUTE in case you have an important doctor appointment and you’ve been waiting in a waiting room for over an hour and need to silently keep your kids entertained because it’s past lunch time and you forgot to give them lunch AND snacks. Ahem.

[BTW, Amazon sponsored a random semi-movie Shaun the Sheep about Llamas. WATCH IT FIRST. My husband and I are huge Shaun the Sheep fans and so when we saw it on our Amazon Prime streaming, we watched it. This one was … odd and a little creepy. I hope that Shaun isn’t selling out… but if you stick with his traditional season episodes and his Olympics spoofs, you’ll be fine.]

12. Timmy Time

Insert everything I just said about Shaun the Sheep right here. Same company. Same animation style. EXCEPT this show was designed for preschoolers. No intense scenes. It’s about little Timmy the sheep who goes to school with his woodland creature buddies. Adorable and cute. A little slow for my taste, but cute. Perfect for a 2-4yo.

13. Lego City

Oh, my children. I love them. But sometimes they perplex me. The first time I turned this on, this scared them so bad they ran out of the room. It took me quite awhile to force them to watch this. And then they made it through and loved it. I don’t know if it was the sound volume? The elements of bad-guys and robbers?? So why am I including it on here? Because it’s a whimsical, fun and not-intense adventure. And it involves Legos. Many of the others Lego shows are too scary/have themes we really don’t do in our house. But this one was a winner. Now they watch it all the time. There is nothing educationally redemptive about this show. But I don’t mind. After all, it’s Legos.

14. Cars-Toons: Mater Tall Tales

I must be the rare oddball who thinks Pixar’s Cars (the original) was one of their best films. I loved all the parodies and I loved the message. Maybe it came from driving an old car. Maybe it came from my love for Route 66. Who knows. But I loved Cars. This is a series of shorts featuring Mater and Lightning MacQueen that are hilarious and fun. A few are a little intense, but once my (sensitive) kids watched it once they were fine. Why this was less “scary” to them than Lego City, beats me. There is nothing educationally redemptive about this show, either. But what’s life without a little fun. ;-)


15. Andy Griffith Show

Did you know this show was on Netflix? I love that there’s a good, wholesome show we can watch as a family (ie – mom and dad aren’t losing brain cells). Along the way, I’ve been touched by Andy’s parenting – and I’ve actually learned a thing or two about how he handles his son. It’s quite a good show. And it’s ALLLLLLL on Netflix. Also, I love me some Don Knotts.

16. Fixer Upper

My kids absolutely love watching This Old House with us. So it’s no surprise that they love Fixer Upper as well. This HGTV show isn’t your regular “home-improvement” show, though. It features the amazing husband-wife team of Chip and Joanna Gaines who work out of Texas. Their humor, team spirit, and antics leave us laughing. It’s just a bright, fun show.

17. How the States Got Their Shapes

This is one of my most recent finds! And I’m LOVING it! It’s a fascinating look at America and American History. It’s hard for me to describe this show – it’s witty, upbeat, funny, and just fascinating. It features the host who travels across the USA teaching about the states and history. For example, he explains why the US timezones aren’t just perfectly straight lines (thank the railroads), why West Virginia looks so odd (mountains, rivers, and a flood), and other trivia – like how part of Indiana tried to secede from the US in the 1970s and why. CRAZY! I love this show and the content has been family friendly (so far).

18. Aristocats

This is one of the many Disney movies rotating on Netflix. There is no evil, dark villain (like there are on so many Disney movies). My kids crack up laughing on this one. They have yet to make it through a Pixar film and not freak out, but they love Aristocats. So it regularly loops through Family Movie Night.

19. Robin Hood

If you haven’t seen the Disney cartoon classic, you’re missing out. This one also is on our Family Movie Night queue.

20. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Enough said.


1. Sid the Science Kid

While I’ve never seen an episode of Sid the Science Kid that had any objectionable material, I feel like I lose brain cells whenever I see an episode. I can’t put my finger on it. But if I’m feeling my IQ drop, I’m betting it’s impacting more than just me…

2. Dinosaur Train

This is such a fun show. It has trains. It has dinosaurs. It is pro-family and pro-teamwork. And even though it features all sorts of dinosaurs, it’s NOT scary. At all. This may be the only show you’ll ever meet with friendly velociraptors. :) They go on all sorts of adventures and talk about perseverance, team work, diligence, and all sort of other important family values. The only reason I’m recommending it with reservations is that the very end includes a science lesson with “Paleontologist Dr. Scott” that heavily features evolution. I know this can be a deal breaker to some families.

3. Arthur

Another show I loved growing up. The fact that it is still airing blows my mind. :) However, some of the newer show content is a little more edgier. So take the time to sort out the older cartoons versus the newer ones. Or just always make sure you’re watching with your peeps.

4. Angelina Ballerina

PBS ran a TV series on Angelina Ballerina, which was a little mind-numbing but still nice. Netflix has several Angelina Ballerina hour-long movies. These are not the same as the PBS show and sometimes I find Angelina’s attitude a little… bullying.

5. Super Why

My kids LOVE this show!!!! And so do I!!!!! You’ll never hear a catchier way to sing the ABCs. :) And the lessons in phonics, spelling, sight words, and letters can’t be beat. So why is this on my recommended list?! Well, Super Why and his team travel inside books to find their answers to the episode question. And some of the books they look inside are… a little scary. Sometimes there are monsters and aliens and trolls and witches and goblins. Things we really don’t “do” in our house. My 4yo sometimes runs out of the room because it frightens him. It’s hard to know if the episode will be okay or it will be too intense. So pick your titles carefully and watch out if Netflix automatically plays the next episode. But we do love us some Super Why. :)

On The Horizon...

As my kids get older, their tastes and interests are broadening. I still plan to preview shows before given them the all-clear. So the shows on my radar to check out:
  • Word Girl
  • Martha Speaks
  • Reading Rainbow (they’ve put up a series of classics; I just need to look over the list)
  • Cyber Chase (a new PBS show; I’m not holding my breath on it)
  • Odd Squad (another PBS show)
  • Jake and the Neverland Pirates (recommended by a friend)
  • Monster Math Squad (about math and recommended by a friend; a little sensory overwhelming for my kids with lots of color, sound, and fast-paced scenes)
  • Peg + Cat (PBS show)
  • Justin Time (recommended by a friend; about cultures and world history)
  • Space Racers (recommended by a friend; all about outer space, but was too intense last time I looked at it -- need to revisit)
  • Kids Animated History with Pipo (Hulu)

Got any shows you’d add to this list? I’m always open to ideas! Give your ideas in the comments below!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Top 12 Things We Are Loving on CC Connected Right Now

If you’ve been participating in Classical Conversations for any length of time, I’m sure that you’ve heard the term “CC Connected” thrown around. CC Connected is a wonderful resource where fellow parents can upload resources they have created and share with others.

(And I will confess, it’s not the easiest thing to first figure out. Check out my popular tutorial on how to navigate CC Connected, as well as tips on how to organize the files you download.)

It feels like there are bazillions of files on CC Connected… and not every item on there is necessarily the best fit for your family. Personally, we love CC’s Stick in the Sand philosophy: keep it simple. And even with a simple-motto, there are glorious gems to be found.

  • BTW – for legality purposes, I cannot provide links to the files themselves, but I can share a few photos and I will underline all usernames so you can retrieve the files for yourself.
  •  Most of the items I am highlighting can be found across multiple cycles. When I wrote this post, I was originally focusing on Cycle 1.

Here are the Top 10 Favorite Things we are loving from CC Connected right now: 

1. Songs. This is perhaps the best-known feature on CC Connected. You can find some FANTASTIC songs centered around the memory work. After awhile, you’ll figure out which usernames are your “golden standards” and favorites. Right now, we are loving anything by marykbry (especially all her science songs and second-semester math songs) and lbbcyouthpastor. Additionally, we use the same songs campus-wide for English.
            -Prepositions: tbrowne
            -Helping Verbs: sing4jy
            -Linking Verbs: thjonkers

You can no longer find official CC songs on CC Connected for download, but you can purchase the CDs for your own personal use. Latin, History, and Timeline all have songs on the Cycle CD.
CC Username: melodystroud
2. Memory Work Flip Books. These flip books by melodystroud and keppel are literally my salvation. I keep one in my car, one in my tutor bag, and one with our homeschool collection. All the memory work for the whole year is formatted beautifully into a single 4x6 page that you can print and stick in a 4x6 album, like found at the Dollar Tree. My kids love flipping through them and they are my #1 indispensable tutoring tool, making review time a snap.
CC Username: TierneyTribe
3. Geography Flip Books. Of course, no memory work is complete without geography. Thankfully, tierneytribe has completed some GORGEOUS maps that are both easy-to-read and wonderful for geography. She does a great job zooming in on difficult places so you can see exactly what you are supposed to find. And, yep. These are designed to fit in your 4x6 memory books. LOVE THEM!

4. Geography Hand Outs. Well, tierneytribe really is my geography hero. In addition to her 4x6 flipbook maps, she has some excellent 8.5x11 maps that you can print in either color OR black and white and have your student color them in. Love. Them. So. Much. Don’t forget, you can also print the official CC maps, too. Look for uploads by fmoderator1.
CC Username: tara504
5. Science Pictures. Although CC makes their own science flash cards, I find the pictures to be… not very helpful. However, tara504 has created some beautiful handouts that you can use to help explain each item on the science memory work. In some cycles, she even gives a small explanation as to what each item is. One can simply look at the page, or write in an answer, or cut and paste. Lots of options.

6. Science Snippets. If you haven’t seen the back of science flash cards produced by CC, you should check them out. They are extremely helpful. Or you can find them uploaded by fmoderator1 in an easy-to-print document.

7. History Highlights. Similar to the Science Snippets, you can find a full page explanation of each weekly history sentence uploaded by fmoderator1. This Wikipedia-style document may be over the head of some younger kids, but it is great for explaining more detail to parents.

8. History Strips. If you’re looking for a way to shake up the (very long) history sentences, TammyOostdyk has some history strips that are just brilliant. Print the document, cut into strips, and have your kids arrange in proper order. I love that this requires very little printer ink.

9. Timeline Hand Motions. While I studied American Sign Language in high school, understanding the CC Hand Motions is a little beyond me – especially because not every sign is actual ASL. If you want step-by-step instruction broken down weekly, rafikipaka is your gal. She demonstrates and explains in wonderful videos. NOTE: Hand motions are NOT mandated by CC, nor do they have to be standard. If your community does something different, great. Hand motions are purely optional. NOTE: CC Connected Moderators have since removed rafikipaka's videos, which makes me very very sad. You can find a printable description of the timeline hand motions under fmoderator1.

10. Timeline Tidbits. Well, this may be at the risk of tooting my own horn. On the back of the Timeline cards is a whole host of information about each fact. But I found my young kids’ eyes glossing over when I read it to them. Using my background and degree in history, I used the Timeline Cards (and several other sources) to write simple explanations of the Timeline Cards for younger students. Look for my Timeline Tidbits under my username, bentkitchen.

(Looking for a way to create your own portable Timeline Cards? Check out my tutorial.)

11. Printable Posters and Placemats. If you’re a visually-based person, there are all sorts of gorgeous printables people have made. Perhaps my most favorite are the ones by otanna, who puts all the science (or history, or geography) for the semester on one large document that you can make into a poster or placemat. Granted, we have yet to actually print ours. But I think it is a really cool idea. :)
CC Username: SherriEllis

12. Notebooking Pages. Okay, I just have to confess something. THESE PAGES ARE ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. And they are free (with CC Connected membership, of course). SherriEllis has done the CC community an amazing service in creating these notebooking pages. You can find more explanation on her blog. She has each notebooking project broken down by subject (history, English, science, etc) and then divided into skill-appropriate categories based on your needs. There is literally something for everyone here. 

We printed off a large binder before the year began, and you should see how awesome it is. If you can only get TWO things from CC Connected, I would get the flipbooks and these notebooking pages. Because they are. that. awesome.

Got any other favorites from CC Connected? Share them in the comments below!