Dec 072011

Do you have a future engineer in your home? A model lover?

How about a history buff? Or a child who is interested in wars or weapons?

The Pitsco Medieval Machines Pack is a fantastic resource for any of the above students and many more. Designed to be used by students about 5th grade and up, this pack contains kits to build both a model catapult and a trebuchet. Also included are weights for the trebuchet, clay for launching, assembly instructions, and a manual with experiments to perform using the catapult and trebuchet.

Both of the machines are made of strong but lightweight basswood. The pieces are stamped into a single piece of wood and are punched out just before assembly. The assembly required a few additional items, such as glue and a hobby knife. My 13 year old son assembled both the machines with minimal assistance from me. He thought the trebuchet was more difficult to assemble than the catapult because the instructions were not as clearly written. Also the sling for the trebuchet required tying knots in string, and it was difficult to achieve the same length of string on both sides of the sling to make both sides even.

After assembling the machines, the real fun begins. In the Siege Machines book are various experiments designed to be performed with the catapult and trebuchet.

The catapult experiments begin with mass versus distance. Different sized clay balls are launched from the catapult, and the distance the ball travels in the air is recorded for each. This experiment is followed by two math sections to practice converting between the English and metric system and calculating averages. Then the physics behind the catapult is explained, followed by another experiment testing different rubber bands.

The trebuchet section begins with an explanation of the science behind the trebuchet. I found this very helpful, because I was not familiar with a trebuchet before this project. There is a discussion on prediction with an experiment testing different masses of projectiles and different masses of plates. Further experimentation with the trebuchet involves attaching wheels and learning about their affect on the operation of the machine.

This is hands-on learning at its best! Students gain valuable skills in following instructions while assembling the machines. They can learn about the uses of the catapult and trebuchet in warfare, while learning about physics. Students learn firsthand about experimental error and the need for repeating data points. I’ve had my son go a step further and use EXCEL to plot the data, so he’s learned about using formulas in spreadsheets, as well as curve fitting tools. He also has made a video of the assembly and each of the experimental points. He was able to understand the motion of the trebuchet much better after watching a launch in slow motion.

Here’s my son’s finished video of the catapult assembly and a trial launch.

Here’s the trebuchet in action.

The Medieval Machines pack is available for $21.95 from the Pitsco website. They have many other interesting products too! My son and I have thoroughly enjoyed these projects, and I highly recommend them. Thanks Pitsco!


Disclosure: I received this product for free in exchange for my honest review of the product. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Oct 232011

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I enjoy reviewing homeschool curriculum. I love comparing and contrasting different resources. Most of all, I love finding products that really work for my children. In addition to curriculum, I’m also a bit obsessed with researching methods of home education. I don’t think that this obsession is a reflection of a lack of satisfaction in my own teaching methods. I am just fascinated by all the different ways that children learn and how different people have implemented different learning strategies. Plus, I am always eager to see if there’s something else I should be doing to help my children learn.

When I was given the opportunity to review Educating the WholeHearted Child (3rd edition) by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson), I was very interested because it was a book that I had heard of, but never read. I thought I knew a little bit about the book, but I was mistaken! I thought the book was a “standard” size paperback book (maybe 250 pages max) that contained ideas to help you and your children enjoy learning together. What I found was much more!

This book is huge! It is has 376 (8-1/2 X 11 sized) pages full of information. In addition to the main text, each page has a sidebar filled with extra information such as supporting scriptures, quotes, and historical details. It is impossible for me to thoroughly cover this book in this single review, both because the book is so lengthy that a thorough review would be too long, and I honestly have not had time to digest all the ideas discussed.

My very abbreviated version of the Clarkson’s basic premise is this.

The Christian home should be the center of learning for the Christian family. Learning should be a natural part of family life, and the primary goal of any Christian family should be to raise children who love and serve Christ.

The subtitle of the book is A Handbook for Christian Home Education. This is an excellent title for what you’ll find in this volume. The book is divided into 4 large sections.

  1. Home
  2. Learning
  3. Methods
  4. Living

Within these sections are details of everything from how to train your children, how to be discerning about what you allow into your home, descriptions of different homeschool methods, various personality types, and a thorough explanation of their own method of home educating.

In their home, they divided all the various “subjects” into 5 different categories. These 5 D’s  are:

  • Discipleship Studies
  • Disciplined Studies
  • Discussion Studies
  • Discovery Studies
  • Discretionary Studies

Discipleship studies are the most important and include Bible knowledge, reading, devotions, and study.

Disciplined studies are the foundation of other study and are essentially the traditional 3R’s.

Discussion studies are history, geography, and fine arts. Included in this section are various methods like narration, reading aloud, and memorization.

Discovery studies include science, nature study, and foreign language.

Discretionary studies are all the extras. They discuss leaving time for private lessons, field trips, and really knowing your children’s strengths and weaknesses.

This only scratches the surface of what all you’ll find in Educating the WholeHearted Child. It’s really the compilation of the 20+ years of experience the Clarksons have in home educating their own family and ministering to other home educators.

I really appreciate their sharing all their knowledge and experience. But I must confess that certain parts of the book left me feeling more guilty than encouraged. I in no way think that this was their intent. Actually, I believe this is the complete the opposite of their intent. I am sure that they did not do all of the things listed, all the time, with all their children. But seeing them all in black and white, I began to think I was failing my children. They did say that all families were different and that every home would not look the same, but I still left feeling that somehow we weren’t measuring up to their standard of a Christian homeschool.

I do intend to spend more time reading this book. I want to read it slowly and allow more time to think and pray about what I’ve read. I wish I had read this years ago. I think I would have felt more encouraged reading it at the start of the journey than I do now, 8 years into it.


Educating the WholeHearted Child (3rd edition) is published by Apologia Educational Ministries. You can purchase a copy of the book from their website for $22.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of Educating the WholeHearted Child from Apologia to review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.



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Aug 312011

Academics are an important part of our homeschool. We have high standards and I make no apologies for that. But as we work hard, we try to remember 1 Corinthians 10:31:

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

God’s glory and serving God have always been the #1 priority of our homeschool and our lives.

At least that is our highest priority on paper.

I confess that it hasn’t always been my highest priority in practice. And there is a word for saying one thing and acting in a different way. It’s called hypocrite.

It’s not hard for kids to recognize. They can see it much easier than I could see it in myself.  And it’s so very dangerous.

But I am thankful that God is so gracious and merciful to me. He nudges me gently. (And sometimes not so gently.)

There were several things that I was “required” to read in the last month that God used mightily in showing me what my true priorities are.

One of them is this little book: How to Have a H.E.A.R.T. For Your Kids by Rachael Carman. Rachael begins the book with her own story of how she began homeschooling, and shares very openly the mistakes she made in trying to homeschool in her own power. She then begins to share 5 simple steps that will change your thinking about how your homeschool. She uses the acronym H.E.A.R.T.

H- Have a heart for the things of God
E- Enrich your marriage
A- Accept your kids
R-Release them to God
T-Teach them the Truth

I learned so much from this book. Well, learned is maybe not the right word. I have heard much of this before. I just wasn’t doing it. I was failing at the very first priority. I have to have a heart for the things of God! No wonder my kids weren’t having a heart for the things of God. I have to be a living, breathing example to them. I have to be more transparent with them. I have to demonstrate walking with God to them in a real way. I have to be faithful to Him. If I preach that to my children and fail to do it myself, I am a hypocrite!

I do not mean I have to be perfect. I also do not need to make my kids think I’m perfect. (That would be an impossible task anyway.) But I need to let them see my heart. And my heart needs to be focused on the things of God.

I have read the whole book and the other letters are just as powerful as the H. But H really spoke to me as I read the book the first time. I will be reading this again! (And in case you can’t tell, I highly recommend it to all homeschool moms.)

You can purchase this book from Apologia for $13.00.(Rachael and her husband Davis are the owners of Apologia Educational Ministries.) There is also a sample chapter available for free on the website.


You can read more reviews of How To Have a H.E.A.R.T. For Your Kids on the Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book as a member of TOS Homeschool Crew. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.






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Jun 072011

Last weekend I went to the NC Home Educators conference. While I was there, I purchased a resource that I have had my eye on for quite a while. It’s the Brain Integration Therapy Manual by Dianne Craft.

Brain ModelI listened to Dianne Craft at the Schoolhouse EXPO last fall. She talked about the 4 learning gates: Visual Processing, Visual/Motor (writing), Auditory Processing, and Attention/Focusing/Behavior. Each of these gates can be blocked, making it much harder for a child to learn. As she described the signs of each of these blocked learning gates, I sat with my mouth hanging open and almost in tears. In describing those who had these gates blocked, she was describing my 9 year old son.

But I didn’t purchase the Brain Integration Therapy book then. There were several reasons. Though the book is inexpensive compared to therapy, $58 is not what I consider inexpensive. Especially when the whole concept seemed a bit, well, odd. But I bookmarked Dianne Craft’s site and I didn’t forget about Brain Integration Therapy.

My son definitely made some progress this year. He is reading better, but I can see that his eyes are all over the page and he can’t remember sight words. He loses his place frequently. His writing has also improved, but he still struggles with making his letters the correct sizes and spacing them correctly on the page. We’ve been doing dictation this year. Once again, there has been improvement with practice but he still struggles to remember a short sentence long enough to write it down.

My husband has seen enough of these problems that he was willing to let me try the therapy. The therapy consists of 6 daily exercises and one weekly therapy session. We started last week learning the exercises. We’ve been adding in a new exercise every day. We will learn the last new exercise tomorrow and we will do our first brain training session on Friday.

So far I’m pleased. My son is basically cooperating. I’m not going to lie and say he loves it, but he’s tolerating it. One thing I have noticed is that these simple exercises are difficult for him. He has a very hard time keeping his eyes on his thumb as we move it in the pattern described in the manual. Hopefully that means that this training is going to be helpful for him!

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