Sunday, October 27, 2019

4 Steps to an All Saints Day Picnic & Party (with FREE Printables!)




Doh!  I goofed up this year and let All Saints Day get too close before securing a location for our local Catholic homeschool community's annual All Saints Day party.

Thus, I am praying that the rain ends early or stays at bay this All Saints Day and that temperatures are mild so that we can enjoy an outdoor All Saints Day Picnic and Party.

I am also changing up the way I usually plan our All Saints Day party to make it easier to throw together last-minute and to facilitate outside.

In case you'd like to borrow ideas for your own outdoor All Saints Day Party, I thought I'd share my 4-step plan here.


1- Snack and Sip with the Saints


What's a picnic without food?

If you're planning an All Saints Day Picnic & Party, the first step will be planning food.

That doesn't have to be difficult.  Just consider snacks and sips that will be welcome in your climate.




For example, I am in New England, where All Saints Day tends to be a bit crisp, thus, I am planning to make some 
Saint Charles Borromeo Hot Spiced Apple Cider and St. Juan Diego's Mexican Hot Cocoa ahead of time and to have them warm in thermoses to share. (Tent cards for these are included in this free printable.)


Beyond that, let the idea of a potluck be your friends. Simply welcome guests to bring whatever dishes and drinks they wish and bestow on each a "saintly name" like the ones pictured below as they get put on a picnic table or blanket.
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2- Kick Off with Prayer



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No Holy Day is complete without prayer, so besides going to Mass on All Saints Day, it is a wonderful idea to add prayer to your All Saints Day Picnic & Party.

I suggest opening with with a chat about the
significance of the day and then praying this prayer found on Pray More Novenas.


Dear God, thank you for the example of the Saints.  I desire to join in their company, worshiping you forever in Heaven. Please help me follow their footsteps, and yours, Jesus Christ. Please help me to conform myself to Your image, seeking Your will in all things, as the Saints did. Please help me to devote myself, and all that I do, to Your glory, and to the service of my neighbors. Amen.

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After that, have families introduce themselves and the saints any children have dressed up as and pray
 the Min-Lintany of Saints, perhaps with a procession.
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3- Play with the Saints 

Then of course, it will be time for saint-inspired games!

You can prepare a couple yourself and ask fellow party-goers to come with an activity, too. Some games can be sit-down ones and some more active. 

For example, this year, I am planning:

  • Saint Pictionary: I will be bringing several saint books, some dry erase markers, and a self-standing dry-erase board. One child will open to a random page of a saint book and begin drawing the saint pictured on that page. When another child guesses the saint correctly, that person can pick a prize and become the next drawer. At the end of the game, all participants may pick a prize.
  • All Saints Obstacle Course: Using ideas from past All Saints Day Party Challenge Sheets as well as some new ideas, children will be challenged to move through an obstacle course as quickly as they can. Each child who completes the course will be offered an opportunity to pick a prize and the children with the fastest times can pick another prize. The challenges in the obstacle will likely be Pivoting like St. Paul (using ouTwist and Shape board, though a Simply Fit Board or a Sit-n-Spin would work just as well), then Journeying like St. Joan of Arc (running with play armor, a play sword, and pool noodle banner), then Leaping like St. John the Baptist (by jumping over hurdles made with plant stakes and pool noodles), before Balancing St. Augustine's Books (by walking over a raised wooden beam with a book on the head), Sending Roses like St. Therese (by throwing artificial flowers down into a basket), before, finally, Finishing the Race like All Saints (by running back to the starting line). 



I have made
a free printable with challenge sheets for each of these All Saints Day Obstacle Course events, which you are welcome to use.


4 - Serve with the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha


Finally, consider adding a service component to your party.
A fitting one for an outdoor party might be to bring some bags and disposable gloves in order to have a Saint Kateri, Patroness of the Environment, Clean Up Scavenger Hunt using a free printable that I made.

With these four steps in mind, it is my hope that you'll enjoy a lovely All Saints Day Picnic & Party.

God-willing, I also pray that the weather here will cooperate so these plans can come to fruition for my own local Catholic homeschool group. If not, we can always use the plans another time and, hopefully, you can, too!

Saints in Heaven, pray for us.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Learn Spanish with TPR {An Excelerate SPANISH Review}

Over the years, my children and I have dabbled in basic foreign language studies, but never gotten very far. So, this year, we voted on a language to try to progress in, deciding on Spanish. Around the same time, an opportunity to review Excelerate SPANISH Streaming from Excelerate SPANISH came up.

My daughter, who tends to prefer video programs for such things, and I took a look at the website and introductory video and thought it would be worth giving a try.


Because my own Spanish is super-limited, I liked the idea of the video streaming service with a teacher who speaks more fluently than I do.  I also liked that all of us could use the service together or individually as we wished and that the physical books for the program were said to be optional (since I have at least one child who is not a "book person". )

Further, I was interested in seeing the benefits of TPR (Total Physical Response) unfold and loved the idea that the program aims to delight, is based on solid brain science, and is different than other Spanish programs with a purposeful design. I truly think the research and theory behind the program and how it approaches language acquisition is sound.


So, as I thought about Excelerate SPANISH Streaming, I had visions of my children and I learning, enjoying, and retaining Spanish together and individually using the program and some related Quizlets found online.




When we began our lessons, I got my children excited about the program by chatting with them about how the program will help us learn much like one of our baby friends learn to speak our native language, but at a level more suited for our older selves - starting with listening, then understanding and gesture, then verbal communications as they are ready.

I talked a bit about how the learning would not be a word and its translation and a stilted skit using limited phrases, but that it would:

  • present scenes that mimic real-life situations
  • avoid rote drills
  • give meaningful context
  • tap into movement
  • and, promise long-term retention.
My children were excited to give the program a go and so was I.  So, together we began to watch the streaming video, and, despite the fact that we were looking forward to quick comprehension, almost immediately, my children's complaints began.




The kids found the sheer amount of vocabulary presented at once in the video lessons overwhelming and, although the corresponding movements definitely helped some with understanding and retention, the fact that the lesson was so long and vocabulary-packed discouraged my children.

Also, all of us wondered why the program is promoted as book-optional one even though the pre-recorded video lessons have significant portions where we, as living room students watching along, were clueless as to what was being taught. We wondered why there were no screenshots of the exercises that the children in the video were doing and no verbal cues that clued us in, either.


However, not to be chagrined, we just worked around those portions of the videos and kept on going.

Then, before our next lesson, I took time to dive more deeply into the excellent tips available on the Excelerate SPANISH website and perused many of the links, including the one for syllabus found at the bottom of the links page.

After doing so, I decided to back up and slow down with our Excelerate SPANISH studies.

With the children's agreement to give the program a fair chance, we enjoyed using Quizlet cards to review vocabulary we had already been presented with by the streaming videos and also clicked over to other websites to do lessons portions suggested in the free Excelerate SPANISH syllabus.

We also began using only 1/2 a video lesson at a time when using the streaming service, pausing often to review words, to have my children catch up on moving along with the video, and to supplement with our own games and improvs using the vocabulary presented.

This improved our experience somewhat, but, still, my children did not favor the program. They wanted to know words like "Hello," and "What's your name?" as it typical in many Spanish programs and just were not getting the program is created to let the language wash over you and that to acquire a language, you need a rich diet of the language. They also were not realizing that within the stories presented, there were many high frequency words, such as "va," meaning "goes" and the words for "looks for," "looks at," (which is a different word in Spanish), "where is," "what time is it," "waits for," and so on. We kept persisting, but, my children just did not favor this program, which can work for children ages 7-17 and even for adults, can offer high school credit, and promises long-term retention and understanding.


Thus, although I can see benefits to the program, I am conceding that now that our review period is completed, the streaming service is not the right fit for Spanish for my children right now.

For, although I did some see some progress in my children's passive understanding of Spanish after a handful of weekly lessons and can see how the Excelerate SPANISH has been successful in classroom teaching as well as other people's homeschools, it just is not working for us at this stage in our homeschool experience.

The theory behind the approach is sound and I do believe that for right-fit students, the program, overtime, would prompt and 
explosion of understanding and communication, much the way a wee child learns a native language, listening before understanding and speaking, but, finally, exploding with fluency, but my children just are not right-fit students with the program as it now stands.

My youngest child, nine, said:

I don't really like this program, because I don't like the approach. I am more of a simple, first words kind of kid. Instead of telling a whole story about a bus stop, I like to start with things like "hello" and "What's your name?"

I learned "hola" and "gracias" in a different program right away. Here, I learned things like "ay, ay, ay"  "autobus", and "estupido". I cannot really remember much after the lessons, because there are too many words each lesson. The program uses exposure and movement first. I like speaking. 
This program might work for school students and people not like me.

My oldest son, 13, said:

This program is hard for me to follow because of the teaching style.

The style involves a woman writing on a white board saying a litany of Spanish words and their meanings. Then, she speaks the words and makes you do a motion with each. Then, she tests you by speaking quick sentences and having you make hand motions.

After that, the woman tests the kids in her videod classroom with exercises in a book. This portion of the videos is completely useless if you do not have the book, because the woman does not speak the questions, and the questions are not shown on screen. So, you just hear lots of A's and B's and answers that don't make sense to you. So, we usually skip that part. 
Then, you have to perform a weird skit that you don't act out naturally. Instead, you do the hand motions the woman taught. 
I am not learning how to speak words and phrases such as "hello", "What is your name?" and other everyday words I might use when conversing with people who speak Spanish. Instead, I am learning about fishing hooks, taxis, and "estupido". 
To make this program better, I would suggest using fewer, more common words per lesson and making it more engaging. It would also help to use editing in the videos to show words on the screen, show skits and example photographs and video clips of the words, etc. As it is now, it just seems like I am watching a bunch of kids at school get taught a foreign language.

My daughter, 12, said:


I liked the gestures, but, too often, there were pictures of things that you pointed to and that did not help me, because so many things ere just things you pointed to and that doesn't help ME the way it is supposed to help. 
The other gestures did help me, though. 
We used it together and I liked that, because we were able to do some game with the words we learned. The games were ones we made up.
I also liked the Quizlets.
I thought the teacher was okay, but I did not understand why the videos were so long and part of the videos we could not even use because it was for the workbook.  I don't understand why they put that in the videos.  Maybe they could have out that in a separate videos.
I feel like Excelerate SPANISH is a good program to use as a supporting program, maybe, not doing it all the time, because it has A LOT of words to learn for each session  Like 26 words in 30'-60' is a lot for me, but I think it would be okay for certain kids.
I would like to use it sometimes, but to use a different program as our main program.

I think my children's assessments of how the program worked and didn't work for them and suggestions for improvements are fair given our experience.

However, I would like to add that these assessments are just our own.  Other people are finding success with the program, and, I believe Excelerate SPANISH does have merit and could work well for the right students.

There is sound research behind the program's approach, obvious passion in the creator's delivery, and true demonstrated success in the videoed students. So, just because the streaming service was not the right fit for right now for my crew of kids does not mean it would not be for yours.

Every student and home is different. So, if you would like to hear from those who are finding success with Excelerate SPANISH, do be sure to click through to read other reviews from Homeschool Review Crew families.

 Read all the reviews.
Rad all the reviews!

Excelerate SPANISH has the potential to work as a way to help your whole family learn Spanish, with younger students gaining fluency, high school students earning credits with the completion of some additional work as suggested in the free syllabus, and parents gaining retention, too. That potential is not being realized in my home, but it may be in yours.

You can also connect with Excelerate SPANISH via social media:


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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

YOU Can Create a Masterpiece {A Creating a Masterpiece Review}

No artistic talent?  No problem!  The Drawing Program from Creating a Masterpiece can building your art confidence and skill in a single lesson - and, then, keep you creating more advanced artworks for weeks to come!




I say this, because I've experienced it.

In our home, we have me - Mom - a person who just never felt like I was any good at art.



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Then, there is also my oldest son, who likes to make quick sketches and to draw fantasy characters, but who rarely stretches his skills beyond that without a push.



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After that, there is my daughter, who, in the past year, has begun to like drawing more and more and appreciates opportunities to draw on her own with the guidance of video lessons.



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Finally, there is my youngest son, who does not love drawing, but who participates when the rest of us draw, and, sometimes, draws on his own.



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(Okay, there is also my husband, but he's rarely home when we work on things like art.

So, yes, we are a family of not-so-practiced artists, yet, 
Creating a Masterpiece had us creating artworks together before.

A Prior Creating a Masterpiece Review


And, now, with our one-year subscription to the online
 Drawing Program, we surely have been improving in drawing skills and confidence while also learning about value, shading, and more.


A Bit More about Creating a Masterpiece





Creating a Masterpiece is a subscription-based, online program taught by master artist Sharon Hofer.

The 
Drawing Program contains over 30 different drawing projects over the course of 48 lessons which teach you how to use colored pencils, charcoal, pencils, and other tools to create artworks with ease. 

Along with each lesson is a clear supply list, so you never have to worry about surprises and can gather your supplies before beginning. 

There are also sample highlights of each artwork, and, for some projects, samples of different students' works.




The actual art lessons come in the form of  series of short videos for each lesson, which can be completed all on one sitting, or can be broken up into 5-10 minute art lesson segments.


Either way, the teacher Sharon aims to bring out the artist in everyone and so teaches her lessons in a step-by-step way that even young children can follow along with.

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(We know, because a rive year old friend joined us at times.)

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That said, Sharon does not use childish gimmicks nor baby talk. Instead, she just clearly teaches you what to do first, next, and after, demonstrating each step while offering tips so that you can successfully create wonderful artwork at the level you are comfortable with.





The program has a Beginner Level, where you learn:

  • Beginning Value
  • Beginning Project Planning
  • Beginning Shading
  • Beginning Value
  • Beginning Highlighting
  • Beginning Proportions
  • Beginning Composition
  • Beginning Rule of Three




Level 1, which focuses you on:
  • Shading
  • Seeing and Incorporating Value
  • Two Point Perspective
  • Incorporating Velum into drawing




Level 2, where you explore:
  • Composition and Proportion
  • Recognizing and Incorporating intermediate values
  • Incorporating Lost and Found Edges
  • Using Highlighting for Emphasis
  • and much more!



...and Level 3, where you practice all the prior skills and also multiple point perspective.

Obviously, the skills taught at each level become more advanced, but students need not take the course linearly.  In fact, you can jump between levels, doing whichever lesson you like at your own pace - a feature I like.


What Did We Think...

When I asked my oldest child, 13, for his thoughts on the Drawing Program, he said:


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It is an online art program. For each project, you watch a series of short video clips which teach you how to draw things like animals, plants, eggs,... non-human things. 
The woman demonstrates step-by-step and you follow along. 

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In my opinion, it's a good program, but ... I prefer drawing things like elves, dragons, and maps. So, this not exactly my style of drawing. 
People who like realism -not fantasy or Sci-Fi - might like this program. I think it is good for ages 10-12.

My 12-year-old said:


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I like Creating a Masterpiece. 

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At first, I used it by myself and did the forest lesson. I liked that it was multiple short videos and the teaching was step-by-step.
 
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Since then, I have used it with my family. I have made a cartoon, the forest, an owl, and more.

It is a good program. I think people who want to learn independently and those that want a program to use with a small family group would like it.
I want to do more of it.


My youngest child, 9, said 


These classes are good. They are easy to follow and the projects are easy to draw. I like tweaking the projects a little bit like making a giraffe into a giant giraffe machine with a machine gun and cannon. 

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And, I turned my owl into an owl person.
 


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I want to keep using this until I get to the harder projects. 
I think this program is good for ages 5 or 6, mostly 6, to adults. My mom uses it, too.

I sure do use it - right alongside my children, learning with them- and, to tell the truth, if I had more free time, I might use it on my own, too. Why? Because I simply enjoy being able to become more adept at art through Sharon's easy teaching style and expertise. She truly gives me the confidence and desire to draw!


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Learn More


If you are looking for an easy way to incorporate quality, self-paced art lessons for ages 5 to adult into your day, Drawing Program from Creating a Masterpiece is worth considering. It is an excellent homeschool art curriculum!
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You can try a free sample project to see if you enjoy it as much as I do.

 Find all the reviews!
Find all the reviews!

You might also want to see what 70 Homeschool Review Crew families think of this online art program. Click on over to find all the reviews.
Connect on social media, too, using Facebook.


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Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Lessons of a Sunday Stroll

Sundays.

Time for the Lord. Time for family. Time for a stroll.


We have had a tradition in our family for some time now of Sunday family time after Mass.

Whenever our calendar is clear of commitments with extended family, service events, and community events, we rotate through our family, with a different person choosing what we will all spend the afternoon or evening doing on a family date.

Today, was my daughter's turn, and she chose for us to go for a walk at a local nature preserve.


We had not been to the location in a while, so, when we arrived, my daughter ran over to check on the wheel - something we spied some years ago at the base of a big old tree that the kids like to play on.

We noticed that the wheel has been swallowed by the tree trunk a bit more.  Such a curious thing... I am still meditating on what it speaks to me about...




We also noticed how very green and full some of the maples were at the preserve.

It struck us, because the maple leaves by our house have already begun to turn colors and be stripped by the wind.

Seeing the maples at the entry to the trail so filled with vibrant free still reminded how everything has its season - and even within the same season, different individual things (and people!) grow and change at different paces.




There is beauty no matter what - in foliage, children, grown ups, walk with our Lord... 


Then, as we strolled along, my youngest played catch along the trails with Daddy.

I thought about my boy's latest passion and how our Lord gives each of us different interests and talents.

Embrace the gifts God gives us. I thought. Go with them and see where God will take us as I do.


Along the trail, a swampy area caught my eye. It was not awe-inspiring, but had its own quiet beauty. A bit of color here. A reflection there. Texture. Depth. Breadth. Bareness and beauty all mixed together.

Much like life. Everything woven together by God's glorious design.


Next up along the trail, we came upon lean-to's that my children and friends have added to over the years.

We were again amazed at how the huts have withstood the test of time and countless storms.

Those branches placed together - strength in unity.

United with our Lord, we are strong.


Juxtaposed to the strength, just next to the huts was the brokenness of a tree that had obviously fallen in a recent storm.


My younger two immediately turned the "bad" of a fallen tree into the "good" of a new nature's jungle gym piece.


But, once they climbed up the tree and were headed back down, one child began to get a bit nervous, cautiously trying not to slip... Meanwhile the other child waited behind, dancing no less.

Fear and joy. Trepidation and patience... Persistence.


And steady footing came again.


And silliness, too...


Through the paths' ups and downs we walked - much like we walk our journey through life.


Along the trail, we spotted this - a 1/2 and 1/2 leaf - a reminder to slow down and spot the unique beauty of this world.

For it goes quickly... as does each moment...

How is our oldest almost as tall as Daddy already?


What do the Heavens have in store for us?


And what beauty awaits us around the next corner?

Only the Lord knows.

He knows the plans He has for us. The hope.  The future.

We are so very blessed.

Praise be to God for all the gifts He bestows on us.

May we each take some time today to give thanks to our Lord no matter where we are.

And, if you think of it, may you be inspired to take a Sunday stroll on an upcoming Lord's Day.  It is so blessedly refreshing!

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