Saturday, August 28, 2010

SpellQuizzer Review and a giveaway!

I was contacted recently by Dan Hite, the developer of SpellQuizzer, to ask if I would review his spelling software program.  I enthusiastically agreed.

SpellQuizzer is  spelling software that quizzes children on the spelling lists that you choose!  The children and I have put SpellQuizzer through its paces for a week of school now.  Was it helpful?  In a word, yes.

SpellQuizzer was very easy to install and get "up and running."  Dan includes videos on his website that succinctly demonstrate how easy it is to use this program.  I loved the fact that I can record my own lists of spelling words/sentences to coincide with what we are studying right now.  In addition, there are a substantial number of spelling lists (frequently misspelled words, Dolch sight words, etc.) available for free download on the SpellQuizzer website.

In the past we have used Spelling Power as our spelling program of choice.  I love its comprehensive, multisensory approach.  I also love the fact that it is nonconsumable.  The problem I've had with Spelling Power is the time it takes for me to dictate spelling lists every day.  With even 15 min/child/day, that works out to at least 1 hour, 45 minutes/day for me to fit into an already busy schedule.  Unfortunately, spelling has too frequently been dropped from our schedule.

Enter SpellQuizzer!  In order to test the program I simply downloaded the ability-appropriate spelling lists from the SpellQuizzer website and assigned all of the children to work on their lists each day.  SpellQuizzer dictated, word by word, each child's spelling list to them and gave them opportunity to re-try the missed words. By Thursday they had learned their words and were ready to move on to a new list.  Success!

In the future I plan to integrate SpellQuizzer with our Spelling Power lists by having Hannah record spelling lists prior to each week of school.  I am encouraging the children to utilize the multi-sensory spelling study sheets from Spelling Power as they work on their lists in SpellQuizzer.  For each word that they miss on the initial SpellQuizzer quiz, they will write the word on a spelling study sheet and go through the steps to master the word.  SpellQuizzer definitely targets auditory learners, so this should help children who have different learning strengths.

SpellQuizzer's simple interface is very intuitive and easy to use... almost no learning curve.  The recording feature works well and is not tedious at all.

The only "negatives" that I saw were that there is no way to enter separate "user accounts" right now.  One way to work around that would be to title your spelling lists, including each child's name in the title.  In addition, there is no record for me to access at the end of the day to see each child's score.  Dan tells me that he has plans to include both of those features in the next update to SpellQuizzer.

Would you like to win your very own copy of SpellQuizzer?  I thought so!  Dan has generously offered to give give away one SpellQuizzer license.  Yay!

Here's how to enter:  simply leave a comment below (with correct spelling! LOL!) for one entry.  For an additional entry, mention this give-away on your blog and leave another comment here, letting me know that you did that as well.  I will randomly choose the winner in one week, on Saturday, September 4, 2010.

Happy spelling!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Still here...

We officially started school last week and I'm getting settled with my new iMac.  I can waste more time getting things organized.  Are you like that?  For some reason I almost always feel like I need to have everything in order before I can be creative.  That's good, up to a point, but sometimes I think it keeps me from accomplishing things.

I'm also learning how to use Homeschool Tracker.  Thus far, I am super-impressed with this program.  FYI, there is a free trial version available as well, which might just do everything you need it to do... lesson plans, log hours, etc.  Go over and check it out!

And, how cool is this?  Just found out that you can get a free book from Picaboo (a free 20 page hardcover photo book~ $39.99 value), for all new customers.  Use the code FREEBK through August 31, 2010.  I know it is close to the end of August, but you have the weekend to make a super-cool photo book~ of summer memories etc.  nice.

There.  Now I've filled your weekend for you!

I'm still mostly sitting and "crutching" around here, but my arms are getting really strong, and the boys like to pretend my crutches are rifles, so we're good here.  : )

Monday, August 23, 2010

Unexpected blessings

he goldfinches have been delighting in flowers that are past their prime (from a blooming standpoint) in my herb garden.

I too am learning to delight in less-than-perfect situations.

The slow healing of my femoral neck stress fracture (a stress fracture at the top of my femur in my hip) caused my orthopedic doctor to recommend four more weeks totally non-weightbearing on crutches.  The other option is surgery to have my hip pinned.  I'd like to avoid that for a variety of reasons.  : )

Just like my friends the goldfinches I am finding treasure where I am, with what I have been "given" right now.

I'm continuing to add to my list of blessings:
224. the opportunity to strengthen my arms.
225. many willing helpers to carry a glass of water or even a bowl of granola for me.
226. being forced to  s l o w   d o w n
227. that I can work out riding my bike attached to a trainer
228. I am forced to delegate more than usual.  I tend to work way too hard and not delegate enough.
229. I am taking more time to read.  I *love* to read, but haven't taken the time to do as much reading the past few years.... there always seems to be things that feel more pressing to attend to.
230. lots of time to plan and prepare for this year homeschooling.
231. finding His grace sufficient here too....

"Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?"
Job 2:10

"It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes."

"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord,
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hand"

Rejoicing in His goodness, even in the less-than-perfect times,

Linking up with the Gratitude Community over at Holy Experience.

holy experience

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A letter to summer....

Dear Summer,
Can it be?  The end of August, already?   I find myself reluctant to say "good bye" to slow-paced days, swimming and abundant flowers. I'll miss you.

Fondly remembering summer celebrations,

Anxiously awaiting autumn (shhhhhh, don't tell summer!),

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Homeschool Record Keeping...

Aaaah, record-keeping. Isn't that your favorite part of homeschooling? Mine either, but oh so necessary. Here in Missouri, we are required to keep a log of hours. 1,000 required per homeschool year, 600 in core subjects, 400 in non-core.

In a family our size, 10 of our dozen children still at home, and nine of those "officially" in school this year, I must keep careful track of what we have done and plan carefully in order to accomplish all that the Lord calls us to do.

When we first began homeschooling, way back in '93, I simply wrote down on graph paper a list of hours and kept a running total for each month. It was free, simple and it worked. As we added children to our family though and as computer applications became more common, I began to take advantage of those to save me time.

Initially I used a program called Homeschool Easy Records. For reasons that I now can't remember I then switched to a free program specifically made for Missouri homeschoolers called "Missouri Loggerrhythms." It was free and did everything that I needed. Unfortunately the developer of that program moved on to other things and once it wasn't supported any more I decided that I needed to switch on purpose rather than being forced to switch when I had a problem and couldn't get support.

My next acquisition after quite a bit on research online was Edu-Track. I have been using this record keeping program since 2008. Edu-Track does everything that I need it to do, and has many features that I don't even take full advantage of. I primarially use it to plan our school year, entering specific assignments for each child and then logging their grades and time spent on assignments so I can keep track of cumulative hours for each school year. In addition, it can be used to create a transcript.

During the past year I have had problems in increasing frequency with my aging Dell laptop computer. Not wanting to spend any money on a new computer (there are *always* other, more pressing things to spend money on in a family our size), I kept reformatting my laptop each time it would crash. This would require me to to spend the next few days reloading programs and finding and restoring data that I had backed up, etc. This was supremely frustrating for me.

During the past school year I had to reformat about 4 times, but this summer it has been every few weeks, the last time being only 5 days since reinstalling Windows. My very sweet husband took pity on me and gave the ok to purchase a new iMac! Yay! If you are familiar with Macs, you know that they tend to be a much more stable operating system and are significantly less prone to virus attack. (Plus you've gotta' figure in the "cool" factor!)

Anyway, the only "down" side to Mac usage is that not every program has a Mac equivalent. Homeschool Record keeping programs are a case in point. I did find a shareware type program here that looks interesting. Anyone know of a Mac homeschool record keeping program? I'd *love* to hear about it!

My other option is to run a program like Parallels on my new Mac which would allow me to install Windows and run it alongside Mac OS X. Do any of my readers do that? I'm curious if I would be giving up speed on my Mac to install and run Windows too. I think the only programs that I would run on Parallels are:
  • Edu-Track
  • Advantage Cooking (fabulous batch-cooking program)
  • Electric Quilt (digital quilt design software~ really want to learn to use this!)
  • e-Sword and
  • Sport Tracks (super-cool program to track workouts. I can upload info from my Garmin and it plots the route I run or bike~ once I can *finally* do those things again, keeps track of my heart rate, calories burned, etc. Did I mention Free? It is!)
If anyone has any experience with running Parallels, VMware Fusion or Virtual Box I'd love to hear about it. I am torn since I do have those programs that I love and don't want to give up, but I also don't want to ruin the "Mac experience" by potentially slowing it down by installing and using Windows. Any thoughts?

As an aside, if you are considering using a computerized homeschool record keeping program, you might also want to check out Homeschool Tracker. It gets rave reviews from its users and, from what I have read, has fabulous (and fast) tech support! That, for a busy homeschooling mom, is *huge*. I recently had a problem restoring the data in Edu-Track after my last laptop crash. Edu-Track was helpful and did help me resolve my problem (it turned out that my backup was corrupted. Thankfully they were able to repair my backup and email it back to me!). However, this process took 5 days of emailing back and forth. There is no phone # to call and talk with a "real" person, so I had to wait until they returned each of my emails. Frustrating for me. They did help though and went out of their way to repair my backup, so I am super-grateful for that.

Anyway, if I were choosing a new program now (for Windows) I think I would go with Homeschool Tracker. That software is their only specialty and they are reputed to be very, very helpful with any problems.

Hope my experiences are helpful for you. Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments section and I'll try to answer.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, friends! It's cooler and I'm lovin' this weather here!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Project Life 8/6/2010-8/12/2010

The children and I were looking through my "Project Life" album this morning. Joshua sighed, "I love looking through these memories!" Me too, buddy. That's why I do this. Only on month eight of this year and already there are so many memories in that album that I would have totally forgotten if I hadn't taken a few minutes to document them. This way I get to enjoy those moments as they happen and again as I turn the pages in our album. A win win situation, for sure!

A photo/day for the year, all neatly packaged in an album. Sweetness.

Here are the photos from the past week:

::Friday 8/6/2010
Tom and the boys stretching after a run. (the girls were saying "eeewwww, feet on the table!" LOL!)

::Saturday 8/7/2010
Getting ready to go "'fimmin," as Timmy puts it. His very. favorite. summer activity this year.

::Sunday 8/8/2010
I think I've mentioned this before, but I love Timmy's bed head. Adorable.

::Monday 8/9/2010
Dude continues to take every possible opportunity to sneak up on someone's lap. He *really* doesn't fit any more, but that makes no difference to him.

::Tuesday 8/10/2010
I had the boys clean up our homeschooling/rec room today in anticipation of our new school year. Daniel found the cowboy clothing. "Mom! Please take my picture! Please?" How can I resist that?

::Wednesday 8/11/2010
No photo taken today. This picture of a Ruby-throated hummingbird will fill in. Having a zoom lens is so fun!

::Thursday 8/12/2010
Another hot day. The children got out the sprinkler. This was new for Timmy, who spontaneously danced with delight in the sprinkles! Love this shot, even though it is slightly blurry. His enthusiasm is fabulous!

Hope you are having a fabulous week as well, friends!

Linking up with Jessica over at the Mom Creative today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Endless blessings

We are beginning to hear the end of summer here. I'm working on lesson plans, local schools are already in session, grasses are browning in August heat and I'm beginning to watch the extended forecast, looking for cooler days.

Still working on my list of blessings here. My continuing list:

206. a cooler day~ so refreshing!
207. new iMac on the way!
208. clink of far-away hammer as boys build forts.
209. bigger boys looking out for littler boys.
210. no crutches today!
211. new school year ahead of us.
212. the end-of-summer insects' melody.

213. bread baking aroma
214. freshly weeded front gardens
215. big boys who will still stop before leaving to kiss my cheek.
216. open windows~ fresh air!
217. sweet cold cantaloupe and,
218. children I can share my fruit with!

219. God's unfailing love and mercies, new every morning.
220. for repentance, forgiveness and new beginnings.
221. answered prayers
222. house loud with many active children, and
223. for a few minutes of quiet as tree forts are refined and rebuilt.

Want to join in the "gratitude community?" Gratitude can change your life. For the better.

holy experience

Monday, August 9, 2010

Project Life 7/9/2010- 8/5/2010


ne thing I've been working on here is my "Project Life" album. I have *really* enjoyed the results of this. My goal is to document our life this year, a photo a day. I don't always get a picture taken each day, and I'm totally ok with that. I don't want the album to be a burden, so if I can't or don't take a photo, I usually put another photo in that spot, or a receipt, note from one of the children, or even some journaling. The pages have a pocket for 7 4"x6" photos, and smaller pockets across the middle of each page for journaling related to each chosen photo.

I'm posting *lots* of photos today.... you can, of course, skim or skip if it's too much. Posting them here helps me organize my thoughts and keep caught up on this project.

::Friday, 7/9/2010
Jake and Gabe painting the rails on our lovely old farmhouse porch. Old houses not only *have* a lot of character, they also *create* character as you maintain them!

::Saturday 7/10/2010
Getting ready for a family bike ride. It's quite an undertaking here... just being sure that a dozen bikes are all in working order would keep a bike mechanic employed full time.

::Sunday 7/11/2010
We had a tremendous thunderstorm here this morning, later confirmed to be a "microburst." Trees were down everywhere. Thankfully the only damage at our house was a large tree that fell and knocked down a portion of our privacy fence.

::Monday 7/12/2010
The storm yesterday gave our hard working older boys *lots* of work to do. Some of the work was for us plus they had many opportunities to help other families too. I love it that our boys find such delight in helping others (some of the jobs were done for free.)

::Tuesday 7/13/2010
Playing with light and shadows here. Great Dane puppy Dude and I standing in light reflected through the glass storm door. The real "story" for today didn't have a photo, but I'll never forget it. You can read about our scary incident here. That story will go in a journaling pocket on the page, or I might make a larger 8 1/2" x 11" page from my blog post and include that in my Project Life album.

::Wednesday 7/14/2010
A very generous neighbor gave me several boxes of homeschooling books that they wouldn't be using this school year. I captured Timmy checking them out.

::Thursday 7/15/2010
My thankfulness journal~ totally changes my perspective on life.

::Friday 7/16/2010
A beautiful thunderhead. The storm stayed south of us, we were able to enjoy the clouds though.

::Saturday 7/17/2010
I *love* having older boys who can help with things like cutting up chickens! Not only can Gabe cut up the chickens, but he mans a mean BBQ too! Yummy!

::Sunday 7/18/2010
See what happens when I go out with my mom and leave my camera at home? Silly boys!

::Monday 7/19/2010
I'm not sure who captured this, but I love it. Hannah in her pretty skirt, swishing by on her way to do something around the house.

::Tuesday 7/20/2010
Wow! What a storm we had this morning! I don't know if I have ever seen it rain so hard. The photo doesn't really capture the intensity of this storm. Incredible!

::Wednesday 7/21/2010
Can you believe how big our Great Dane puppy Dude is? He is 10 months old now~ lots of growing yet to do. (Dude's father weighs 220lbs.!) As you can tell he still considers himself a lap dog!

::Thursday 7/22/2010
Gabe and Caleb adding compost to our vegetable gardens. What a hot job that was~ but the plants are so happy that the boys added the extra nutrients.

::Friday 7/23/2010
I snuck (is "snuck" a word?) out the ol' zoom lens to capture Josiah and Josh talking on a summer afternoon, way up the hill. Sneaky, huh?

::Saturday 7/24/2010
Tom, Jake, Gabe and Caleb ran in their first 5K! We had so much fun cheering for them.

::Sunday 7/25/2010
No photo today... so a summer zinnia will fill this spot.

::Monday 7/26/2010
The last night of my triathlon class. I learned so much... open water swimming, how to change a bike tire, and much, much more. No triathlons this year (femoral neck stress fracture), but I'm already looking forward to next year.

::Tuesday 7/27/2010
Love this photo of Hannah helping Timmy cook. He *loves* to help crack eggs, etc., and I *love* watching my children invest in each others' lives.

::Wednesday 7/28/2010
No photo again today... I haven't taken as many photos since I've been on crutches, so I'm including this daylilly photo in today's slot.

::Thursday 7/29/2010
Again, no photo, so included this photo of peaches ripening up the hill in our little orchard.

::Friday 7/30/2010
Black-Eyed Susan growing in our front garden.

::Saturday 7/31/2010
The boys love bringing me nature finds. This one was multi-purpose. They have had a lot of fun lately using acorns as ammo for their slingshots.

::Sunday 8/1/2010
Tim and Dan playing with Playmobile together.

::Monday 8/2/2010
Aaaahhh..... summer!

::Tuesday 7/3/2010
The goldfinches love the echinacea growing my herb garden..... and I love watching them!

::Wednesday 8/4/2010
Our good friends, the Dickersons are moving. I was so glad that they could come over one last time before heading out East.

::Thursday 8/5/2010
Timmy has discovered puzzles. I loved the light and reflection on the hardwood floor, plus the intensity of Tim's play.

That's about it! Thanks for sticking with my on that *long* post!

Linking up with Jessica over at the Mom Creative. Be sure to check out her Project Life post today for details on some free brushes to add the days of the week to your photos! Cool!