Thursday, December 19

Five Best Planners for Teens

High school is when we begin to transition our students into college life.  A big part of that transition is learning time management.  As a teen, your student is juggling classes, extracurricular activities, athletics, a part-time job, and friends and family.  It can be difficult to remember all of the details!

A good planner works for you and your needs.  What is right for one person may not be the best option for someone else, so take a moment to investigate each option and find the one that works best for your student.
Two great planners, Clever Fox and Panda, were not included in this list because they are only designed to last six months...which isn't enough to get you through the school year.

Artfan Planner
  • Undated planner allows you to start at any point.
  • Smaller size makes it easier to carry.
  • Hourly blocks for every day of the week.
  • Hardcover and band-closure makes it more durable.
  • Includes calendar stickers for quick planning.
  • Includes references with calendar, goal tracking, reflections, and inspirational quotes.
  • Includes a gift box and pens, for use as a nice gift!
Read more reviews...

At-A-Glance Planner

  • Follows the academic year, from July to July.
  • Simple design is more popular with males.
  • Weekly pages have blocks for each hour of the weekday.
  • Weekend spaces for notes.
  • Tips on studying, note-taking, and time management.

Read more reviews...

  • Available in several colors and styles.
  • Months are tabbed for easy navigation.
  • Blocks for each day allow you to see the entire month.
  • Includes folder and pouch for papers.
  • Inspirational quotes and goal-setting pages.
  • Hardcover makes it more durable.

Freedom Planner Pro

  • Undated planner allows you to start at any point.
  • Section for reflections and goal-setting.
  • Blocks for planning each hour of every day.
  • Includes inspirational quotes.
  • For both academic and professional use.

Read more reviews...

Global Printed Planner

  • Dated from July to June, this is designed for the academic year.
  • Comes in a variety of colors and styles.
  • One column with blocked hours; one 'To Do List' column.
  • Space for reflections and goal-setting.

Read more reviews...

Schoolhouse Teachers has a FREE Printable Planner as part of its membership.  There are a few options for planners here, including one specifically for high school students and one for parents.

In addition to calendar planning pages, the parent planner includes:
  • Helpful articles written by homeschooling experts.
  • Interactive calendars, planning pages, field trip logs, and transcripts.
  • Notebooking and Lapbook resources
  • Must-have lists, including common Greek and Latin roots, books of the Bible, grammar and spelling rules, a periodic table of the elements, U.S. Presidents and more!
  • Helpful household forms such as chore charts, grocery lists, and meal-planning charts.

Read a full-length review of Schoolhouse Teachers here.

Teens aren't the only ones who need a good planner, and that's why we've created "Our Best Year Ever!" homeschool planner.

The “Our Best Year Ever!” Planner is a re-usable, yearly planner that includes:
  • Month at-a-glance (12)
  • week at-a-glance (reproducible)
  • daily planner (reproducible – 2 versions)
  • schoolwork chart (reproducible)
  • meal planner (12)
  • chore chart (reproducible)
  • unit study guide (reproducible)
  • book list for the year

Winter Safety on the Homestead

Animals, outbuildings, pipes...all of these things need tending to and don't just wait for better weather.  On cold winter days, I'm so glad we don't homestead closer to the Arctic!
  • Get Dressed – Dress in layers of sweat-wicking fabric.  Here is a general guide :
    • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).
    • 10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
    • 0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.
    • Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
    • Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses.
  • Be Seen – It stays darker and gloomier, generally, in the winter.  Snowbanks may make it hard for other people - like hunters - to see you.  So wear reflective, neon-colored clothing, and carry a light if it's dark!
  • Warm up Before Heading Out – Jump around inside the house before heading out.  Get the blood moving.  You wouldn’t turn on your car and hit the highway without letting it warm up, would you?
  • Deal with Wind – Start your activities into the wind, if possible, and finish with it hitting your back.  You don’t want a face-freeze when you’re sweaty, and maybe the gusts will keep you motivated to finish chores quickly!
  • Change Quickly Once Inside – Strip down and get out of damp clothes as soon as you return.  Then drink something hot to warm you slowly.

Exercising in the Cold Weather

It's great time to be a runner in spring and fall, but winter can be a frustrating time if you've just started running and have never had to brave the elements...  
  • Turn up Your Warm-up  Stay in constant motion.  Start with a jog that accelerates to tempo pace for the last two minutes, then continue with dynamic stretches and drills like high knees, butt kicks, and skipping.  Finish up with four to six strides, and jog the recovery.
  • Ease Into Speed  Even after a vigorous warm-up, your muscles will be cooler than usual, which raises your injury risk. Start with a tempo run of 10 to 20 minutes, or several long intervals of 5:00 or more, and gradually transition to shorter, faster repeats.  Save all-out efforts for last, when your body temp is highest.
  • Think Effort, Not Pace  Knowing your pace can be demoralizing, thanks to slippery footing and/or your seven layers of clothing; so lose the watch, and focus on your effort.
  • Recover Actively  Alternating periods of all-out running with complete rest causes big swings in heat production. Keep the hot/freezing effect to a minimum with gradual shifts between easy jogging, moderate running, and hard running.
  • Head Uphill  Winter training demands flexibility. Postpone or move up workouts as Mother Nature dictates. And when deep snow makes sessions like long intervals impossible, run hills to mimic the intensity. Run up, jog down, and repeat. Focus on maintaining good form, springing forward with each stride.
  • Get Motivated – Enter a race.  Make a running date.  Tell yourself “just five more minutes.”  Find a tree, and pick it off.  Find what motivates you.
  • Arm Your Feet – Try to find shoes with Gore-Tex uppers, or at least very little mesh.  Wear socks that keep you warm, but not sweaty.  You can’t run on popsicles.

For more on homesteading, check out the Homesteading Course at SchoolhouseTeachers!

This homeschool homesteading course is designed for anyone who has a desire to live more independently and prepare much of what is needed each day using their own hands. In this elective course, the student can learn how to work for what they want by making it themselves, instead of participating in an “on demand” society. Homeschool students of all ages learn patience, along with the skills needed to make their own cleaners for the home, sunscreen, homemade ketchup and dry mixes, as well as how to choose animals and prepare for emergencies, and much more. Learning the patience and usefulness of “doing it yourself” can be immensely helpful not only in the sense of living a healthier life, but also for the budget!

Our Struggle to Learn Mandarin...

Middlebury Interactive Languages  is an online, self-paced, language course for grades K-12.  Middlebury uses the immersion approach to teaching languages. The program was developed by highly academic and linguistic experts to not only master a language, but to learn about the culture. The course engages students through various tasks, and has won several awards for their innovation in digital education.  They offer courses in Spanish, French, Chinese and German and have the following levels available:

Since the advent of Ninjago, the kids have been wanting to learn Chinese. When the opportunity to review Middlebury Interactive Language arose, and I saw that they offered Chinese, I jumped at it and they were ECSTATIC! We received a free six month subscription to the Elementary Chinese 1 course for the purpose of this review. The normal pricing for this course without a teacher is $119 (what we have) with the option of having a live teacher for more.
The Chinese course has seven units, and covers numbers, greetings, family, colors, foods, adjectives, and school topics.  It is very user friendly and they can easily navigate the lessons and get from one to the next.  At first, they wanted to do it every day, but now they typically use it about three days a week.  Not only does this cover language, it covers some culture too, which is pretty fascinating.

Each unit begins with a video about a Chinese legend or myth surrounding the lesson being taught. Then, there are a few games and lab exercises which allow you to explore, practice, remember, and speak the language.  For the speaking lab, the student will be asked to speak and record himself saying the new words he has learned. The microphone should be enabled for this exercise.

The learning isn’t limited to the speaking and listening area.  There are also some video lessons on Chinese culture like social customs, home customs and being a good host. Chinese character formation and stroke order is also taught throughout the lessons.

For every practice and test activity, there is an automated checking. Then the program automatically records the results and you can view the results when you click on Gradebook at the menu upon log-in.

The Elementary Chinese 1 course has a total of 45 lessons broken into 7 units:

  • Numbers
  • Greetings
  • Family
  • Home
  • Adjectives/Colors
  • School
  • Food
Chinese is a harder language to learn but the pronunciation was very distinct and my kids really enjoyed learning to write the characters, which is an element that is usually not included in most foreign language programs.

Extra points:

  • There are several documents accessible in PDF format to print and store in a course notebook. 
  • The program teaches stroke order and Chinese calligraphy. 
  • You cannot go back and re-do tests and quizzes once they are finished.  It would be nice if you could remove the red check mark for finished lessons when you want your child to go back and review that lesson. 
  • Other than the price, I am thrilled with this program, and it is one I am likely to purchase in order to continue.  I like it much better than the other language programs we have reviewed over the years.  
  • To get an overview of what Middlebury Interactive Languages is about you can watch this video.  To find out if your system meets the requirements, you can check the FAQ list.

Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, December 18

Herbal Throat Spray + the Best Medicine...

With the holidays often comes scratchy throats and runny noses.....I'm not sure if it's the travelling, the added stress, or just all that 'togetherness' that brings it on.  Or maybe you picked up something funky just from being underneath the mistletoe at the wrong time!

No matter...around here, we try to tackle it with an ounce of prevention first, and then treat it with some natural remedies if that doesn't work.

Want more natural remedies?  Check out Simple Kitchen Fixes, a booklet about how to use herbs everyday and Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs.
    DIY Herbal Throat Spray
    • 2 Tbsp raw honey (Please remember that honey should not be given to children under a year old.)
    • 1 Tbsp warm water
    • 1/8 tsp peppermint extract (or 1 drop peppermint essential oil)
    • 2 oz glass spray bottle
    • 2 Tbsp total of herbal tincture – optional : see more details below
    1. Mix all of the ingredients together.  Pour into glass spray bottle.
    2. Spray into back of mouth, as needed. 
      • If sore throat persists for more than a week, contact a doctor.
      • When made with tinctures, this throat spray will last for months.  Store in refrigerator to lengthen life.
    In addition to your base, you can add one of these herbs to your spray :
    • Echinacea – helps to boost immune system
    • Thyme – go-to respiratory herb, for bronchitis or infection
    • Elderberry –  an antiviral which also protects against flu
    • Ashwaganda – helps the body cope with stressors
    • Astragalus – helps with stress and boosts immune system
    • Lemon Balm – antiviral that protects against cold sores
    • Ginger – warming antibiotic
    Check each herb beforehand to make sure that it’s not contraindicated for your personal health.

    Looking for more simple ideas?  Check out the Homesteading & Homemaking Bundle It includes twenty-four tutorials with background information for anyone who is interested in homemaking and homesteading. Topics are broken down into:  In the Kitchen – Fall & Winter;  In the Kitchen – Spring & Summer; Around the Homestead – Inside;  and Around the Homestead – Outside

    The Best Medicine
    We've all read it in Reader's Digest -- laughter truly is the best medicine!  Tickle your funny bone today with this "Mom's Letter to Santa."

    Dear Santa:

    I've been a good mom all year. I've fed, cleaned, and cuddled my two children on demand, visited the doctor's office more than my doctor, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground and figured out how to attach nine patches onto my daughter's girl scout sash with staples and a glue gun.

    I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmases since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles, and who knows when I'll find anymore free time in the next 18 years.
    Here are my Christmas wishes:
    • I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache after a day of chasing kids (in any color, except purple, which I already have) and arms that don't flap in the breeze but are strong enough to carry a screaming toddler out of the candy aisle in the grocery store.
    • I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy.
    • If you're hauling big ticket items this year, I'd like a car with fingerprint resistant windows and a radio that only plays adult music; a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals, and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.
    • On the practical side, I could use a talking daughter doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with one potty-trained toddler, two kids who don't fight, and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools.
    • I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting, "Don't eat in the living room" and "Take your hands off your brother," because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.
    • And please don't forget the Playdoh Travel Pack, the hottest stocking stuffer this year for mothers of
    • preschoolers. It comes in three fluorescent colors and is guaranteed to crumble on any carpet making the In-laws' house seem just like mine.
    • If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container. 
    • If you don't mind, I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season.
    • Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It will clear my conscience immensely.
    • It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family; or if my toddler didn't look so cute sneaking downstairs to eat contraband ice cream in his pajamas at midnight.

    Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is ringing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door.

    I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the chimney and come in and dry off by the fire so you don't catch cold.

    Help yourself to cookies on the table, but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

    Yours always,

    PS - One more can cancel all my requests if you can keep my children young enough to believe in Santa.

    ~Written by unknown Mom~

    .....and a little snowman humor!

    Tuesday, December 17

    Road Trip to Orlando + Christmas Around the World

    Our kids better not say we've never taken them anywhere....we just visited eleven countries, plus the moon and the future!!!  We've only ever been to Disney once - after all, it's kind of pricey - so we figured to make it count...

     The kids' first stop was Downtown Disney, where we ate at the T-Rex cafĂ© for lunch and  visited the LEGO store. 

    Kennedy Space Center
    Since we are members of the NASA Passport Program, we visited Kennedy Space Center over at Cape Canaveral.  They had the Atlantis Space Shuttle on exhibit.

    We hopped over to Cocoa Beach for a couple of days, played in the surf, and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic.

    We spent two days touring the Epcot World showcase.  There are some fantastic Christmas and holiday traditions featured at each of the countries.  The kids can't say that we've never taken them anywhere now....they've been all over Europe!! 






     United States


     United Kingdom  (we watched a hilarious improv of A Christmas Carol) 
    Tomorrowland also had great exhibits on communication and aquaponics.  Unfortunately, our camera battery died as we got no photos.  And it was time to head home time we'll have to stay longer!