Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – July 6th-12th

Welcome to another fun-filled week with the Burgesses!


On Sunday, our old friends, Aaron and Pattie Burleson, were in town from California visiting their daughter and her family, and they all came to church together.  Aaron was our former preacher when we attended Harpersville Church of Christ in Newport News many years ago, and he was also the officiant of our wedding ceremony nearly 20 years ago.  We’ve known them a long time!  I think of them as family.


Needless, to say, it was wonderful seeing them again and having a chance to catch up with each other.  We also happened to be having our monthly potluck after church that day, so they had a chance to stick around and chat for a while.  It was a lovely afternoon!


On Tuesday, it was the 56th anniversary of IHOP, and they were offering 56-cent short stacks of pancakes.  So of course, I took the kids out for breakfast. 


Yum!  IHOP never fails to provide the perfect breakfast.  It’s our favorite place to go for our morning meal.


On Friday, we spent the whole day going around getting free food!  It was both 7-11 Day and Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-Fil-A, which meant we’d spend the whole day driving around dressed as cows and eating chicken in various forms and drinking free slurpees!  It’s our favorite day of the year!  It presented quite a challenge, because never before have both special occasions fallen on the same day. 

Cow Appreciation Day, 07-11-14

We managed to pull off our cow garb each time we hit a 7-11 store, LOL.  We ended up starting at breakfast time and hitting 6 Chick-Fil-A stores and three 7-11’s.  That’s 24 meals, which lasted all weekend for 5 of us, and 12 Slurpees.  Shew!  I didn’t have to cook all weekend!  Smile


On Friday night, we went off to Ocean Breeze Water Park for another dive-in movie night.  This time, we got to see Frozen.  I had rented it from Redbox before, but only Haylee watched it then.  I’d only caught bits and pieces of it, but not nearly enough to even capture the story line.  So we were looking forward to seeing it with all of us together this time.


As usual, we had a great time.  And the movie was wonderful!


On Saturday morning, I took the kids to another Build and Grow workshop at Lowe’s.  This time, they got to make wooden Turbo characters that were also pullback racers!


Afterwards, they had tons of fun racing their Turbos against each other on the long aisles of the store!


Then we came home with tons of bags of Quikrete cement mix for the fellas to use to fix the fence.  Remember how it fell down, snapping off 3 posts during the big storm we had a few weeks ago?  Well, it’s been a real pain trying to let the dogs out to go potty when the fence is merely tied off to the playground.  The weekend weather was finally clear enough to get Steve and Hayden out there to fix it right.


With all that manly work going on, I took our last few tubs of blackberries from the fruit share CSA distribution and used them to make this blackberry cobbler.


Man, that was good!  It actually baked 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to, but it turned out great, so I’m kind of glad it baked extra long!  I will definitely be making this again.  Yum!


That’s a wrap.  It was a busy week of activities and schoolwork, too.  I’m glad we’re still able to fit in some fun stuff, even though we continuing schooling full-time right through the summer.  It still makes summer something for the kids to look forward to.

Until next week…

Friday, July 18, 2014

Awesome Deal on NutriBullet @!!!

There is an awesome deal on the NutriBullet right now!

You’re probably familiar with the Magic Bullet and its 250-watt motor.  Although I love my Magic Bullet, the NutriBullet has a 600-watt motor, making it even easier to pulverize fresh fruits and veggies for smoothies. It's on sale at right now for $89.99.

If you have a Kohl's charge card, stack these codes to get it for just $48.22 shipped, including tax! NutriBullet by Magic Bullet

  • HOMESALE10 takes of $10
  • JUST4U takes off $15
  • BEACH30 takes off $19.50
  • JULYMVC takes off the $10.95 shipping charge

But hurry, because some of these codes expire on 07-20-14! And for even more savings, link to Kohl's through Ebates for another 3% cash back!

If you don't have a Kohl's card, use codes HOMESALE10, JUST4U, SUNNY, and SHIP50JULY instead to get it for about $58 or so shipped.

Enjoy, and happy shopping!

REVIEW: HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books by HomeSchoolPiano

We were excited to get to try out HomeSchoolPiano – Complete Set of Books by HomeSchoolPiano.



HomeSchoolPiano is an online video piano course that allows you to practice in the comfort of your own home.  You can access any of the 4 courses (Core Piano, Book 1, Book 2, or Book 3) in the program by accessing the videos over your internet connection on your mobile device, tablet, or computer at your convenience, available to you 24/7.

Because the 4 levels are available to you and your household members at one time, each student can work at their own level at the same time using their individual login i.d.’s and passwords.

Core Piano is the place to start for anyone who doesn’t have any experience at the piano and needs to learn how to find notes on the keyboard, how to sit properly, how to strike the keys and use proper hand position, etc. 

Book 1: Perfect for Beginners is for the beginner pianist and features 6 original pieces of music to practice.  It teaches students how to read music, improvise, and create their own music.  Each unit includes graded quizzes.

Book 2: Building a Foundation is intended for someone with some piano experience to improve their skills.  It continues with reading music, songs and improvisation, rhythm, and technique.

Book 3: Unlocking the Pianist Within is intended to hone your skills and provide you with more challenging work.  It teaches you how to create rich piano arrangements and incorporates original pieces in a variety of musical styles.

Learn about the program’s 6-step learning cycle and sign up for a free lesson to see what it’s all about. Each book also includes a bonus section so students who are ready can learn more advanced techniques.

The Complete Beginner Piano Program includes:

  • Unlimited lifetime access to
  • Tracking and quizzes for up to 5 students
  • Unlimited lesson streaming to any device
  • Unlimited music downloads
  • Unlimited video lesson downloads
  • Downloadable Jam Track CD

You get all this for one payment of just $299, or three monthly payments of just $99.97.  This program is designed for both children and adults of all ages.



Haylee and I are absolute beginners.  We’ve played around with other kinds of music programs before, but we’ve never really taken any formal piano lessons, so we knew we both needed to start from the beginning.  That meant we would only be working with the Core Piano book during the review period.

We made a plan to work on 3 lessons per week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Then we had the opportunity to practice in between and/or on the weekends when we had more time.  Fortunately, each lesson focused on a specific skill, so it was super easy to integrate the lessons into our school routine.

As we viewed each video, we were able to see the instructor talking to us in the corner of the screen, a bird’s eye view of the instructor’s hands on the piano keys, as well as a view of a virtual keyboard above that where the keys lit up as the instructor played on the actual piano and indicated what note was being played. 

Once I logged in, there was also a link for a downloadable music book to print to go along with the lessons in the Core Piano book, so I opted to print that in booklet style and made a laminated cover so I could bind it from the top and make a little flip book that would lay flat.

Core Piano Book (2)Core Piano Book Inside (2)

Haylee and I were able to complete 18 lessons during the review period, so I’d like to summarize for you what we learned in each lesson in order to give you a good feel for the pace and the kind of material that was covered in the Core Piano book. 

Lesson 1: Introduction

  • This was merely a 2-minute introduction that summarized the purpose of the Core Piano program.

Lesson 2:  Notes of the Piano

  • This lesson was about 5 minutes in length and mainly covered how to find the note C to the left of each grouping of 2 black keys.  It also discussed how to find middle C on the keyboard. 

Lesson 3:  Low and High Notes

  • This lesson was about 4 minutes long, and the instructor explained how to recognize low vs. high notes.  He equated low notes to an elephant down on the ground and showed how those low notes sound like what would make you think of an elephant stomping around.  Then he equated high notes to birds up high with a fluttery sort of high sound.  He explained how notes up high on a staff are the high notes on the keyboard, and low notes on the staff are the low notes on the keyboard.  He talked about how moving to the left on the keyboard takes you to the lower notes and moving to the right takes you to the higher notes.  This was a cute, kid-friendly lesson that was easy for my daughter to understand.

Lesson 4:  The Musical Alphabet

  • This lesson was about 7 minutes long, and he explained how the notes in the musical alphabet are just like saying the alphabet, but only from A-G, and then it keeps repeating only those letters.  He asked the student to practice the letters for the notes both forwards and backwards quickly so you can think through the notes quickly.  He briefly mentioned how you can play steps and skips, and he recommended that for practice, you have someone randomly press a key and then you try to identify what the note is.

Lesson 5:  Finger Numbers

  • This less was about 3 minutes long, and it was all about learning which finger to use to play each note.  We learned that the first finger is the thumb, the second finger is the index finger, the third finger is the middle finger, the fourth finger is the ring finger, and the fifth finger is the pinkie finger.  This numbering system remains the same for both the left and right hands.

Lesson 6:  How to Sit at the Piano

  • This lesson is about 10 minutes long and explains the proper positioning for being seated at the piano.  Basically, the shoulders should be relaxed, the elbows should be parallel to the keyboard, and sitting back at the distance from your fists against the keyboard to your elDSCF1940bows at your sides.  The distance is necessary so you can pivot from your hips, sitting up tall, with room to move your hands up and down the keyboard.  It’s also important not to tilt your head down, but to instead glance down with your eyes.  He talks about how there are famous pianists who use poor posture and positioning, but he explains how they most likely deal with pain and discomfort from not sitting properly at the keyboard.  He also explains how young children may need a small bench to plant their feet on so that their legs are at a 90-degree angle.  He also mentions that nice, regular breathing is important so you don’t create tension in your body.  He also talks about using common sense and altering the rules where it makes sense, like sliding down the bench if you’re playing on one end of the piano for a while.

Lesson 7:  The Grab Technique

  • This lesson is about 10 minutes long, and he talks about hand positioning.  He explains how the natural position of your hand is rather curled, and you should try to maintain that shape when you’re playing whenever possible so your hands are relaxed in a natural position.  He talks about how you don’t need to slam down your fingers on the keys in order to play the notes.  Instead, you set your fingers on the keys and make a grabbing motion in order to play the keys.  He suggests that you put a tissue on the keyboard and practice grabbing at the notes, pulling the tissue off as you do so.  This helps reinforce the technique of grabbing at the keys with your fingers.  He also talks about how there is a tendency to use the side of your pinky when you play finger 5.  But he explains how you should only play with the pads of your fingers.  When you get to the thumb, finger 1, you play the note by pulling in, the way your thumb is naturally designed to move.  He suggests playing a rhythm on each note, practicing doing it with each finger so you can repetitively use the motion that each finger needs to use.  He also suggests that you do this exercise slowly, perhaps even playing several notes at once like a chord, and do this exercise with both hands.

Lesson 8:  Five Finger Scale

  • This lesson is about 6-7 minutes long, and he talks about how the natural position of your hand when you lay it on the keyboard has your 5 fingers on five successive notes.  So if you thumb is on the middle C, your other fingers are on D, E, F, and G.  This is the five finger scale.  He has us practice this scale by playing C, D, E, F, G, F, E, D, C, D, E, F, G, etc. up and down the scale like that.  We repeated the exercise with the left hand starting with the pinky on F and the thumb on C.  He reminded us to sit, grab, and breathe properly as we practiced this exercise.  He said to be sure not to hold our breath as we were playing or else it would create a lot of tension, especially in the arms.  He had us practice this repeatedly, playing both hands simultaneously, playing identical notes with each hand.  He stressed the importance of practicing these little things, however unexciting they might be, so we would really master the technique for when we played more advanced pieces down the road.

Lesson 9:  G Clef Guideposts

  • This lesson was about 5-6 minutes.  He talks about learning to read music and how it will take time to learn it.  He shows us a treble clef and a couple of notes on the staff and explains how treble clef notes are usually (but not always) played with the right hand.  He shows how notes can be on a line or in a space on the staff, and he explains that the treble clef G note is the G beside middle C on the keyboard.  He also reminds us that as notes go up on the staff, they go to the right on the keyboard.

Lesson 10:  Steps and Skips

  • This lesson was about 8 minutes.  He talks about the pattern of lines and spaces on the G clef.  He explains how when you go from a line to the next space or vice versa, that is called a step.  But if you go from a line to the next line or from a space to the next space, that is called a skip.  When I was a kid in school, I remember learning to name the lines by saying “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” and the spaces by saying “FACE.” But the instructor says it’s not a good idea to learn it that way, because when you get to the F clef, it doesn’t follow the same pattern.  He says it’s best to learn the notes based on their intervals (distance from each other).  He also says you should be sure to memorize where the G note is on the G clef, and then you can start to see the relationship to the other notes from there.

Lesson 11:  Half and Whole Steps

  • This lesson was about 8 minutes.  He talks about the chromatic scale and how that means playing all the keys from one note to the very next note on the keyboard, which includes the black keys in between the white ones.  When you go from one key to the very next key, that’s called a half step.  Then he plays some notes together and quizzes us on whether or not he’s playing a half step.  A whole step is when you play 2 notes over from where you are (including the black keys).  He asks us just to practice playing the half steps and whole steps to get familiar with them.

Lesson 12:  Higher and Lower on Staff

  • This lesson is about 6 minutes.  He shows a G clef with 5 notes on it that ends with G.  He directs us to name the musical alphabet backwards to determine what the previous notes are on the staff.  The notes went from middle C to G, and the music showed numbers underneath the notes to tell us which finger to use to play each note.  We start with the thumb and play the notes shown.  Then he showed a G clef with the notes playing the other direction, going downward.  Then he shows some notes where there are downward steps and then an upward skip.  This was a neat opportunity to practice steps, skips, playing both upward and downward, using the musical alphabet, and using the finger numbers.  I think this was the point where Haylee and I both started to see all those simpler little lessons coming together and showing us their purpose.  I got kind of excited myself!

Lesson 13:  The F Clef

  • This lesson was about 2 and a half minutes.  Here, he shows us the F clef, or bass clef as I learned to call it in school.  He points out that the big dotted end of the F clef shows us where the F note is, which is played just below the middle C.  He also shows that the highest C on the F clef is the same middle C note that is shown at the bottom of the G clef, which shows us that C is the one line that falls between the G and F clefs.  These guidepost notes on the F and G clefs are shown in the printable booklet that goes with the Core Piano book I mentioned earlier in the review.

Lesson 14:  The Grand Staff

  • This lesson is about 6 minutes long.  He talks about how when the G clef and F clef are joined together by a bracket on the left-hand side, it is called a grand staff.  He shows how although the middle C note appears on both clefs, the grand staff shows a gap between the two clefs so that the notes don’t get all jammed together on the printed music.  This makes it easier for us to read the notes.  Then he shows us a grand clef with some notes on both staffs and shows us how to play those notes at the same time using both hands.  That was neat!  Haylee and I couldn’t wait to start playing some songs!  We were starting to see that we were working our way in that direction slowly but surely.

Lesson 15:  Barlines and Measures

  • This lesson is about 2 and a half minutes.  He shows us barlines and how those separate measures which show the beats indicated in the time signature.  He explains that the barlines and measures are just a way of organizing the music for us.

Lesson 16:  Time Signatures

  • This lesson is 6 and a half minutes long.  He talks about time signature and how it helps us play with a steady beat, much like a heartbeat.  He explains how the top number in the time signature shows how many beats will be in each measure.  The bottom number shows us what kind of note will get one beat.  So in a 4/4 time signature, the top number shows us that there are 4 beats per measure, and the bottom number shows us that the quarter note will get one beat.  He goes on to show us other examples like 3/4 time…meaning 3 beats per measure with the quarter note getting one beat.  He also shows us different combinations of notes that can total the number of beats per measure.  I already knew how many beats each note receives, but Haylee didn’t.  He told us he’d be teaching us those values later in the rhythm section.

Lesson 17:  Ties

  • This lesson was about 3 minutes.  He shows a series of half notes on a staff with a 4/4 time signature.  But he shows a curved line between the last half note of the first measure and the first half note of the second measure, which is called a tie.  It “ties” the notes together.  So instead of playing two separate half notes, you’d play all 4 beats as one note, as if it were a whole note with 4 beats.

Lesson 18:  Slurs

  • This lesson was about 2 and a half minutes.  He shows a staff with a tie as we learned in the last lesson, with the tie joining two of the same note.  Then he shows another staff with the same curved line but which joined together different notes.  This is called a slur.  A slur joins different notes together and means that you should play the notes “legato” without lifting the hand.  He says he’ll explain what legato is in a future lesson.

Haylee and I have both reaDSCF1941lly enjoyed the lessons.  Haylee was a bit bored at first, but I reminded her of how you have to learn to walk before you learn to run.  She started out learning the same kinds of technique-related lessons when she took guitar lessons last year.  The difference was that we couldn’t afford to continue the lessons, so she never got to the fun of actually playing music.  So what we really love about this program is that once you’ve purchased it, you can continue the lessons at your own pace, whenever it’s convenient for you, and you never have anything else to buy…it’s just a one-time expense!  And what’s more, since up to 5 students can use it at the same time in your household, it really adds to the overall value in my book.  Even my 6-year old son gave some of the lessons a try, and he had lots of fun, too!  In the end, we found that whenever someone was working on a lesson, it was hard to resist having a turn, too!

Plus, I have the flexibility to adapt it in a way that fits each student.  So if we get to a lesson we’ve covered before in a previous music program or experience, we have the ability to just move on to the next lesson, and each student can start in the book that suits their experience level best.  And if I really want to, I can also jump to another book just to try out playing a song so I don’t get too bored while I’m covering the basics.  Also, I like that the website remembers the last lesson each person worked on so you can log in and pick up right where you left off without having to personally note where you stopped the last time you practiced.

I also like that it’s so easy to pause or rewind a lesson if I need to hear part of it again or I want to stop and practice for a few minutes before moving on.  It’s also great that you can use a stand-alone keyboard and aren’t forced to have one that connects to the computer, which makes it possible to use a tablet or other portable device to watch the lessons.  I can even connect my laptop to the tv and watch the lessons on the big screen if we both want to practice and watch at the same time!

Overall, I’m very impressed with this program.  It moves at a slow enough pace for even a child or true beginner to be able to follow easily, and every once in a while, the instructor will play something fancy to give you a taste of what’s to come.  It’s kind of exciting to know that at some point, we’ll hopefully be able to play like that, as well!

I know from my research on this program that it puts a lot of emphasis on improvisation, which is something that sets it apart from other programs out there.  Since we’re both such basic beginners, I can’t say much about that at this point…I’d just be happy to be able to play a piece of sheet music as is!  Smile  But I know that’s something that is important to a more advanced student.

My daughter really likes how easy it is to pull up the lessons and do them any time she’s in the mood without a lot of fuss or the need to ask for help from me.  We’re both looking forward to continuing the lessons, and hopefully by this time next year, we’ll be playing away with actual sheet music! 

Check out what other Crew members have to say about HomeSchoolPiano and its other levels by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – June 29th-July 5th

Happy Independence Day!


Early in the week, we managed to slip out to Ocean Breeze Water Park for another fun-filled afternoon.  It’s always a hit for all of us!



Our family has always had a tradition to go see a Tides game at Harbor Park on the eve of the 4th of July.  Afterwards, Harbor Park does a fireworks show launched from a boat in the harbor.  There was not only a chance of rain, but Hurricane Arthur was headed through in the overnight!  We weren’t quite sure what to expect, so we got seats under the awning, just in case.  Miraculously, the rain managed to hold off, and the fireworks went off as scheduled.

I brought some snacks in my purse, including extra-long Slim Jims.  Hayden had the Flamin’ Hot variety.  He tried it first and then passed it to Haylee to try.  As you can see, they both required lots of beverage consumption afterwards!  LOL


There was also a visit from the Tides’ mascot, Rip Tide.  I took Haylee and Holden down to meet him.  Rip Tide took Haylee’s had off, smelled it, and then pretended to be sick!  LOL  She was laughing so hard.  He’s a trip!


The Tides game was AWESOME, and we had a fabulous time…made even more so because the Tides won in the last inning!


The fireworks were rather boring this year, so we were looking forward to the Virginia Beach fireworks, which were postponed to Saturday, July 5th due to the imminence of Hurricane Arthur. 


July 4th passed with absolutely nothing going on in town because of the postponements from the storm, even though it turned out not to be much of anything for us here.  But it was a bit breezier than usual, so it was probably safer to do the fireworks on Saturday anyway.  In any case, we started off Saturday morning with a kids’ building workshop at Home Depot.  Haylee and Holden got to make a bug house.  They love painting stuff, so they had a really good time.  Fun!



Then on Saturday night, we headed out to our special spot in a local parking lot that gives us a perfect view of the Mount Trashmore fireworks without all the chaos of actually going to Mount Trashmore.  We popped up some popcorn, took along some snaps for the kids’ to play with, and lots of portable chairs.  Steve and I hung out in the van with our iPads while the kids played with the snaps, and then about an hour later, the fireworks show began!  We have to go early to get a good spot in the lot.  Our special spot has caught on over the years!  And because of the hurricane passing through the day before, the weather was unseasonably cool and pleasant, very much unlike past years.  I dare say it was even a little chilly out!


The show was absolutely incredible this year!  It totally made up for the wimpy fireworks we saw at Harbor Park.  They did some really neat stuff with special shapes (even a smiley face in the sky) and explosions inside of explosions!  The colors were absolutely beautiful.  Happy 4th!


I hope you all had an extra special celebration with your own families.  Share what you did!

Until next week…

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

REVIEW: WriteShop Junior: Book D Set (digital) by WriteShop

I was really excited to be able to review the Write Shop Junior: Book D Set by WriteShop with my 9-year old daughter, Haylee.



Write Shop offers a variety of writing programs for all ages from kindergarten through high school.  The Write Shop Junior series covers kindergarten through 6th grade.  Each program provides a series of engaging, step-by-step lessons to get your child on the road to successful writing.

Write Shop Junior Level D is recommended for 3rd and 4th graders or reluctant 5th graders.  The components include:

Junior Teacher's Guide, Book D (Digital PDF)

Junior Time-Saver Pack, Book D (Digital PDF)

Junior Activity Pack w/Fold-N-Go Grammar, Book D (Digital PDF)


This level is also available in a print version for a slightly higher cost.  The advantage, though of the digital version is that you can print and re-print whatever you need for all of your students without having to purchase additional student materials.




When I first received the links to download my digital copies of the 3 items I mentioned above, I went ahead and saved all the files and immediately got to work in skimming through the teacher’s manual and familiarizing myself with how the program works and what materials I’d need to prepare ahead of time for the first lesson so I’d be ready to start on Monday.  I spent a couple of hours reading and getting all of materials printed and assembled.  Don’t panic!  It won’t take that long going forward.  But it’s definitely worth spending some time making sure you understand the approach and how to administer the lessons. 

DSCF1832Although I received the digital .pdf version of everything, I’m one of those people who still prefers to hold a physical book.  But rather than printing and binding one large teacher’s manual, I decided to save paper and make half-sized booklets for each individual lesson so I just have one convenient little booklet to work from on a daily basis.  This also allowed me to print 4 pages of the teacher’s manual per sheet of paper and gave me a series of 12 booklets altogether…1 for the introduction, 10 lessons, and 1 for the appendix.

Each element from the student pages and time-saver pack had its own instructions on whether they recommended it be printed on white or colored paper or cardstock, so I had to gather all the necessary materials and make sure I did it right.  I grabbed a file folder and the colored sheets I’d printed for the first Grab-N-Go Grammar Pack and got that all assembled, too.  Right away, I was struck by how visually appealing that first lesson was going to be with all the colors and fun set-up.

The program gives you two potential schedules to follow, and you get to choose the one that works best for you.  The most common schedule has you complete one lesson over the course of 3 weeks.  This completes the program in 30 weeks.  The other schedule option has you complete one lesson over two weeks.  This completes the program in 20 weeks.  Since Haylee is very resistant to writing assignments and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about reviewing a writing program to begin with, I chose the slower pace, so we spread out one lesson over the course of 3 weeks.  This would allow us to take our time, not spending too much time in one sitting and risk discouraging her or having her develop an even more negative attitude by working too long on a subject she dislikes so much.  It also allows me to use the program for most of the school year.  For the sake of the review, I’m going to detail for you all of the activities we did for the first 2 lessons over a period of 6 weeks to give you a good idea of how things are laid out and what you can expect to accomplish in each lesson.

I also quickly realized that I’d need some way to organize my materials, which would multiply with DSCF1831every lesson, in a way that made sense and would make it easy to gather what we needed each time we sat down for another assignment.  The teacher’s manual suggested that you design some sort of Writing Center, also, so I decided to make ours portable in a large Sterilite Show-Off box with a handle.  I put a sturdy Writing Center label on the front that I picked up in the teaching section at my local Dollar Tree.  I put some hanging Pendaflex folders in it with labels and made sections for the various things we’d be using throughout the program.  I know this will grow as we add more things, and there’s plenty of room in the box for this.  And with the Reading Log, I added a handful of brand new books I just purchased at our Scholastic Book Sale.  Since we just finished up our school year and have a brief break before we start up again, I figured this would give her some special books to read that she won’t otherwise have access to, providing a bit of an extra incentive to read just for pleasure and not only for school.

In the end, I realized the value of preparing everything in advance, so on a day off, I spent an entire morning printing absolutely everything I’d need for the whole program!  It was much easier doing everything like an assembly line…making all of the booklets at once, laminating all of the bookmaDSCF1937rks at once, etc.  And this will save me so much time and interruption during the school year when I really just don’t have time to spare.

I also put together a Said It, Read It, Edit Bag with different colors of highlighters and editing tools, as suggested in the manual.  It also suggested getting a special visor to use as an Editor’s Hat that would be worn during editing assignments, just for fun.  I didn’t have one on hand before we began, but I got one later on. 



DSCF1826On Day 1, I brought out the Fold-N-Go Grammar folder I’d prepared in advance on “Punctuation Marks.”  We read through the rules in each section regarding how to use question marks, exclamation points, periods, quotation marks, apostrophes, and commas correctly.  With each one, it gave the rules, demonstrated how the mark should be used, and then had a “Your Turn” section where Haylee had to add the punctuation marks to the sentences correctly on her own.  Because these folders are used as reference for her down the road, I had to make sure I helped her correct any errors she made.  I felt it was a great idea to have her immediately attempt to apply each rule to demonstrate her understanding or lack thereof so we could talk about what she missed right away.

Then we picked out a reading log of her choice, which I’d printed on colored paper, and we talked about recording her leisure reading on that whenever she felt the urge to read.

DSCF1827On Day 2, we sat down together and went over the “Model and Teach” letter of invitation and discussed all the parts and their purposes.  The teacher’s manual had all the instructions for the lesson nicely laid out, so our lesson flowed very nicely.  It even offered a script for how the conversation should go between teacher and student. 

I brought out a tabletop easel dry erase board for us to write on as we went through the scripted lesson together, and I modeled filling in parts of a letter of invitation based on different scenarios, and she jumped right in and asked to fill some of it in herself.  It was nice to see her wanting to participate instead of staring at me blankly! 

On Day 3, we played a little game called Invitation Mix & Match.  This was a pre-writing activity.  The purpose was to build a complete letter of invitation.  The first one to do it correctly got 3 points, and the other person got 1 point for finishing theirs correctly.  The winner was the first one to get to 10 points after playing repeatedly. 

To play, I had printed 2 sample letters of invitation on colored paper.  We cut the sections apart on the lines, flipped them upside down on the counter, and then mixed them up together.  We started by each of us selecting the body of a letter.  We each read it out loud so we’d know what letter we were trying to build.  Then we took turns drawing random pieces.  If the piece belonged to our own letter, then we had to place it where it belongs on the counter.  If it belonged to the other person, we had to put it back in the pile and mix them up.  As it turned out, we were tied before the last round, and Haylee was all kinds of anxious about whether or not she would win! 


But as luck would have it, she did win in the final round.  She was so excited!



On Day 1, we sat down together and reviewed the parts of the letter of invitation and their purposes while looking at the sample letter from the first week.

Next,DSCF1857 we worked on the skill building activity called “Letter of Invitation: Build It.”  As soon as I told DSCF1858her it had something to do with building a robot, she got all excited and came running over to see what it was about.  I cut apart the pieces of the robot, which represented the parts of the letter of invitation in the order they appear in the letter.  Once she had the robot assembled, there were four little squares that talked about what goes in the body of the letter, and she had to place those in the “body” of the robot in the order they go.  This completed project made a nice reference for the next activity, which was Journal Writing Practice.

For the journal, she got to select a pretty pink folder with 3 prongs inside to house all of her journal writing activities for the remainder of the program.  The one she chose had a pre-printed design on it, so she didn’t need to decorate it herself. 

DSCF1859Then I gave her the Journal Prompt that I’d printed on colored paper.  It was a letter of invitation that only had the beginning of the first sentence filled in, and she had to finish the body of the letter, as well as fill in the blanks for all of the other parts.  I was surprised that she jumped right in on this assignment, because the prompt said that she was the owner of a dinosaur amusement park.  I thought that might be too boyish for her, but she went right for it!  She needed a little big of prompting from me on how to say what she wanted to say, but she mostly did it on her own and did a great job with it! 

The teacher’s manual discussed how important it is to let the student just write to the heart’s content in their journal without any correction as to grammar and punctuation.  The purpose is to practice application of the writing itself and getting the thoughts on paper without fear of correction.  I could see that this activity was building her confidence.  Notice the big smile on her face when she was all done!

On Day 2,  we worked on a Brainstorming activity.  This was a cute ideDSCF1929a.  I drew a picture of a birthday cake on the board, and I explained that each layer of the cake represented an element of a letter of invitation.  The date and salutation went on the candles, the cake layers contained the introduction, the purpose, the details of the event, and the date/time/location of the event, the closing went on the cake plate, and the signature went on the cake stand.  It was such a great idea, and Haylee loved it!  She brainstormed about her upcoming birthday party as I filled in the information for the elements of the invitation on the board, and then she copied it onto her corresponding worksheet. 

On Day 3, it was time for her first Writing Project!  I have to admit that with her past experiences with writing DSCF1930assignments, I really felt like the deciding factor on whether or not this program was going to work for her would be when it came down to the actual writing projects.  Would she hit a total road block or be totally resistant as she had before, or would she actually sail through it after having completed all these wonderful steps that led up to it?  It was time to see for myself.

Using her worksheet from the brainstorming activity, all she had to do was copy over the elements into complete sentences and create the actual letter of invitation from it.  I gave her some lined handwriting paper and instructed her to write it double-spaced to allow herself room for editing.  She moaned a bit at the prospect of having to write this out more than once at some point, but she did it once I explained that we were only doing this one step for the day, so it wasn’t that big of a deal for her then.  This is one of the things I really like about this program…baby steps!  It really keeps her from getting overwhelmed with the overall assignment because it’s broken up into smaller bites.


On Day 1, it was time for Editing and Revising.  We took out the cool editor’s Said It, Read It, Edit Bag we’d put together, and I told her to choose a highlighter and then highlight two difficDSCF1932ult words in her invitation that she spelled correctly.  This was great for building her confidence and making sure the editing process didn’t make her feel like a failure.  Another great idea!  Then I had her read the letter aloud, tracking each word with her finger as she looked for proper indention, capitalization and punctuation, and missing words.  Then I had her circle any words she was unsure about (she didn’t find any).  Any misspelled words were to be corrected in the blank spaces between the lines.  I laid out her Punctuation Marks Fold-N-Go as a reference.  We both gave it one last look for corrections, and then we did a quick activity called Punctuation Pointer.

In this activity, I cut out cards with a series of phrases from the time-saver pack.  On these cards, it gave the same phrases and short sentences using different end punctuation marks.  We talked about how the end punctuation affects the words in the sentence when they are said aloud.  I gave some examples, and then she practiced reading them aloud with the rigDSCF1933ht emphasis and inflection based on the varying end punctuation.  She thought that was fun!

On Day 2, it was finally time for Publishing the Writing Project!  First, she re-wrote the first draft into a final draft, this time not double-spacing it on the handwriting paper.  She made all the corrections we’d indicated on the draft as she went.  Then I had her select her favorite color of oversized construction paper, and we glued her writing project onto the pretty background paper.  She picked out some die-cut embellishments she liked and glued those on as decorations.  She enjoyed this assignment a lot, and she was really proud of her final project!  I made sure to show it to her dad and have him make a big deal out of it, too.  All in all, this first project was a great success!  The teacher’s guide emphasized that even if there were still mistakes or new mistakes on the final project, it was important to overlook them and praise the student for their efforts, simply because writing is an evolving process and will develop over time.  I can see how the praise really helped build her confidence and took away some of the “pain” of writing for her.  So far, so good!

On Day 3, we worked on Evaluating the Student’s Work.  Using the Junior Writing Skills Evaluation Chart forDSCF1936 Lessons 1-5, I simply had to answer whether each skill was done A-All of the Time, M-Most of the Time, S-Some of the Time, or N-Never.  As a teacher, that was so simple!  It really simplified the evaluation process, and the manual explained that the purpose of doing this type of evaluation for each assignment is simply to show whether or not the child is making progress over time.

Next, there was an optional Want to Do More? assignment, which we opted to do.  First of all, let me say that just the fact that Haylee wanted to do this “extra” work showed me that we’d already come a long way in her attitude towards writing since we began this program!  Prior to this, she would have wanted to get the work over with as quickly as possible and certainly wouldn’t have volunteered to do more than she was required to do!  There were two suggested addDSCF1934itional activities…either using math skills to calculate the cost of the party supplies she wanted to buy, or using a computer to design a printed invitation.  She chose the Computer Capers assignment.

The theme of her upcoming birthday party is Great Britain, so we used Google Images to search for graphics and then pasted them into Microsoft Word to create and print out an invitation on cardstock.  This was actually good reinforcement on the elements of an invitation, and it also appealed to her creative, artistic side. 



On Day 1, I DSCF2063took out the Self-Editing Fold-N-Go Grammar folder, and we read through the pages together.  Haylee completed the sample problems on each of the sheets, and she commented to me that some of the proof-reading marks were different from the ones she’d learned in her spelling program.  I told her that was okay, and that we’d go ahead and use these while we’re working on Write Shop assignments.  On the last page, it gave her some self-editing tips, and she got to choose her favorite tip.  She chose the tip where you look for misspelled words  by starting at the bottom and reading backwards, word by word.  She didn’t have anything new to add to her reading log, so we left that alone for now. 

DSCF1967On Day 2, we did a Pre-Writing Activity called the Incredible Shrinking Machine.  I cut various colors of construction paper in graduated sizes.  Then I put labels on each of them with sticky notes and stacked them up.  Meanwhile, Haylee drew her shrinking machine on the largest piece of construction paper.  The manual told me to explain to her how we were going to write about pets, but that pets was too broad of a topic, so we’d be uDSCF1970sing her shrinking machine to narrow the topic.  Haylee closed her eyes and counted down while I switched out the “pets” sheet for a smaller sheet that said “rabbits.”  When she called out “shrink,” she opened her eyes and saw that the paper had shrunk, and the broad topic of pets had been reduced to the smaller topic of rabbits.  We repeated this process, taking the topic down to Foofoo, then taking care of Foofoo, then finally feeding Foofoo a carrot.  The manual gave me other topics and how to narrow them so we could repeat the game.  It also suggested that in future lessons, if Haylee gives me a topic that is too broad, we can use this game to help narrow the topic some more to produce stronger writing.  Neat idea!


On Day 3, we worked on a Model and Teach activity.  The purpose of this was to model writing fiction with humor.  Using the sample ideas from the manual, we talked about different kinds of names and situations that would be funny involving animals.  Then I read aloud a story called “Snack Time for Foofoo.”  Following the sample dialogue, we talked about the meanings of fiction and genre and discussed how different things are funny to different people.  Then we did a fill-in-the-blank type of activity to make up a funny story, which I dictated on the board.  At the end we discussed a possible title and wrote it at the top.  It actually turned out pretty funny, and Haylee was really getting into this activity!  It was nice to see her laughing while working on a writing assignment. 


On Day 1, we worked on the Skill Builder activity called Funny Situations.  For this activity, I cut ouDSCF1972t the Funny Situations Sentence Starters and the Funny Situations Character Cards and mixed them up into piles on the counter.  Haylee had to draw a Sentence Starter, flip it over, and read it aloud.  Then I would draw a Character Card, flip it over, and finish the sentence by reading that aloud.  Then we’d giggle at the silly sentence we’d made.  We repeated this activity until we’d used all the cards.  The purpose of this activity was to help Haylee visualize funny situations involving animals so it would be easier for her to write a made-believe story with humor down the road.


Next, we worked on Journal Writing Practice for Writing Fiction with Humor.  I gave Haylee the journal prompt page from the student worksheet pack.  The prompt said “The snowman laughed and laughed when…” and Haylee had to finish the story.  She had a lot of fun with this!  Her story said the first snowman was laughing because the second snowman was melting, and the first snowman wasn’t melting yet because he was in the shade.  But eventually, he started melting, too, and called to the second snowman for help, but no one helped because he’d been mean and laughed, so he just melted, too!  It was kind of funny, and she built in a moral lesson at the same time, so she was happy with that and called it done.  It was a bit of a run-on story, but the manual reminded me not to critique the journal exercises, but to treat them instead as free-writing activities where she can work without input from me and feel comfortable just getting her thoughts on paper.  It didn’t even matter that her story wasn’t particularly humorous.  My only job was to praise her for her effort.  This is a new concept for me, but it seems to be doing wonders for her, as I can see how it is helping her to want to write without fear of criticism.  And after all, that’s half the battle.  It’s certainly progress over our past experiences.


On Day 2, it was time for Brainstorming.  I re-read the story of “Snack Time for Foofoo” to get her thinking about fictional humor again, and then I gave her the brainstorming worksheet from the student worksheet pack.  I drew a picture of the worksheet format on the board, and I dictated on the board as she came up with story idDSCF2076eas for the beginning, middle, and end of the story.  We threw around a couple of different story lines and filled in some details.  Then she copied it onto her own worksheet and summarized at the bottom what she thought was the funniest part of the story.  Of the two story lines she came up with, she decided she liked the one about a monkey named Charlie the best.

Once she decided which story to pursue, she filled out the Colorful Character Interview form.  This helped her to identify more information and details about the main character in her story, which might help her give more details when writing her story out.


On Day 3, we used the brainstorming and character worksheets to begin the Writing Project for Writing Fiction with Humor.  I gave her some handwriting paper and set her to work on writing out her story in complete sentences with details, reminding her to indent and use proper punctuation.  I laid out the Punctuation Fold-N-Go grammar folder for reference.  I also reminded her to double-space her writing on the paper to allow room for the editing and revising that would take place in the next step of the writing process.



On Day 1, it was time for Editing and Revising!  We took out the Punctuation and Self-Editing Fold-N-Go grammar folders for reference and the Said It, Read It, Edit Bag, and she put on her cute editor’s hat (we found a pretty, sparkly purple visor at the craft store for $1).  I asked her to take a highlighter and highlight a difficult or tricky word that she had spelled correctly.  We also looked for a sentence that was correct in capitalization and punctuation, but thDSCF2081ere wasn’t one that was completely correct!  Woopsie!  Moving on, she read through it aloud several times, tracking each word with her finger.  I helped her spot the problem spots, and together, we used the editing marks to indicate mistakes and then made corrections in the blank spaces between the lines.  Then she went through the self-editing checklist to make sure we’d covered all the bases.

When we were all done with the corrections, she went ahead and re-wrote her sloppy copy into a final draft on a new sheet of handwriting paper.


On Day 2, we were pretty excited!  It was time for Publishing the Project.  The manual suggested hosting a comedy night where she either drew illustrations (either one per page or one per sentence) or chose images from the internet to use in illustrating her story.  Then she got to present it to the family.

She decided to get images off the internet, so I helped her by typing up her story in Word, one sentence per page, and then searching for and selecting appropriate illustrations to go with each part of her story.  We printed it out in booklet form so she’d have a little storybook to share with the family.  Then she let everybody read it.  It was cute!  We had so much fun picking out funny pictures to go with the story, too.DSCF2082

On Day 3, I had to go through Evaluating the Student’s Work.  I took out the checklist and answered the questions honestly.  In some areas, she did better than before, and in some areas, she did almost as well.  I already knew she had issues with language mechanics, and we are focusing more on parts of speech and punctuation in our language arts program this year, so I know that will improve with time.  That’s exactly why she still needs my help for now with the editing process…because she is still learning.  I know that going through this editing and re-writing process together will eventually help her to identify independently when there are errors in her writing.  I think this form will help me see her progress over time.

For the optional Want to Do More? activity, we had a choice between writing alternative lyrics to a funny or silly children’s song, or doing the Computer Capers activity.  We chose the computer activity, so we got to make a Colorful Character Card, which was basically turning the Colorful Character Interview sheet we used earlier into a small, printable greeting card-style aid to use in future writing assignments to develop more details about the main character.  We left a decorative box on the front where Haylee can draw a picture of her main character to go along with the details about them.


Although Haylee’s writing still has lots of room for improvement, I can honestly say that this program has at least gotten her writing!  That’s a huge step in the right direction.  Her level of resistance has dramatically decreased, and with these fun and interactive activities, I actually saw her having fun and enjoying the writing process.  That’s such markedly impressive progress for her!  I have absolutely no doubt that we will continue to use this program for the remainder of the school year and probably beyond that, as well.  In fact, I think I’d like to start my youngest son on this program earlier in elementary school so he warms up to the idea earlier on.

We’ve tried a number of different options with Haylee for writing up until now, but this is by far our favorite of all.  The program is so well thought-out.  There’s so much variety in the assignments so kids are not easily bored with the same old thing, and the activities make it seem more like fun games than boring old steps in the writing process.  Haylee was pretty enthusiastic throughout the review, and I could see her anticipation each day when we sat down to work just to see what kind of activity we’d be working on next.  There’s so much to be said for the variety it offers and the interactive nature of the activities, as well.  I would definitely recommend that you give this program a try!

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