Monday, February 25, 2013

Experiencing Lent: Amon's Adventure

Do you celebrate Lent? Do anything special to mark the days leading up to Easter, or Resurrection Sunday?

I confess - that is one of the things that I miss about the Episcopal church I attended in college. The ritual, the liturgy, and the church calendar. Each year, I try - with varying degrees of success - to prepare my heart, and help my children prepare their hearts - for the glorious celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

We have had far more success celebrating Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. Part of that celebration has been the series of books written by Arnold Ytreeide: Jotham's Journey, Tabitha's Travels, and Bartholomew's Passage. We've read each one at least twice. . . . they are captivating stories set in the time of the birth of Christ, weaving tales of three young children who are caught up in adventures and end up at the manger.

This year, by the request - no, the pleading of my children - I purchased Amon's Adventure. Amon is the son of some main characters from the Jotham series, and we follow his life and intrigue around the temple in Jerusalem during - you guessed it - the time when Jesus was approaching His passion.

We've only ready about 5 days so far - there are 28 chapters all told. Mr. Ytreeide gives several ways to schedule the reading; once every few days, start the 28 days before Easter, or read a whole bunch during Holy Week. Each lesson ends with a scripture to consider and a short thought related to the day's reading, making it perfect for family devotions.

You're not too late! If your family has read the Jotham's Journey stories, your kids will laugh and nod their heads as they recognize familiar characters. But even if you are newcomers to Arnold Ytreeide's work, you and your kids will be drawn into the heart of the adventure, and turn your hearts and minds towards the marvelous sacrifice of Jesus.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Sentiments: On Friendship

This will not be a picture-heavy post. It won't show up on Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter.

But it's written - better, engraved - upon my heart.

We have spent today in the company of some dear friends. Twice in about 6 weeks, if truth be told. Laughing, breaking bread, talking of things random and then important.

And today, I'm struck by how important relationships are. True, deep, meaningful relationships where you can know and be known. Where you can talk about issues close to your heart without fear of judgment or condemnation, but with encouragement that points you to God's Word and your relationship with Christ.

May you all have friendships such as we have been blessed with. And may you all take whatever steps are necessary in your life to nuture and deepen those friendships.

A restful Sunday evening to you all.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Online Resources: Scholaric

One of the most popular posts on my blog is an old one. . . a review I wrote of an online homeschool grade book and lesson planning program called Homeschool SkedTrack. You may be surprised to know that I no longer use that website, although I still think it is quite good. I took a year off to go back to good old pencil-and-paper, but have since hunted around for other online resources to make my planning more routine and easier to manage.

My late-night internet wanderings paid off with the discovery of Scholaric - the website that promises "Homeschool Planning Made Easy".

Due to an insanely busy summer, I didn't start my research until the week I was beginning school with the kids. (I know, I know. Not. Smart. Once again bursting the "she's-a-perfect-homeschooler" illusion.) I quickly found that I was stuck! Several of the websites I looked at required a ton of up front work; one was still in development, and basically useless. But Scholaric's promise of "easy"? Now THAT I could work with!

And you know what? "Easy" was absolutely accurate. I was up and running on Scholaric in - no joke - 15 minutes. Here's what I mean:

1. Add a student: See the button at the bottom of the screen? Click it. You get the new student field. Type the name, you're done. 60 seconds, tops.

2. Add a course:

Seriously, that's it. Type in "Math" and then "2nd Grade Math". Done. Another 60 seconds. Tops.

3. Plan a lesson: Here's a screen shot of the planning lesson for Amy's subject, "Grammar 2"

Under "Description", I just typed in what I wanted Amy to see; "Lesson 62". (There are ways to type in the lessons so that they will sequence automatically - honestly, I just don't fool with it. Probably next year!) Next I had to decide if the lesson repeats.

Again, easy! Just select the repetition tab, check the dates you want the lesson to occur, and for how long. Done.

Last step: is this lesson shared with anyone?

This feature is especially helpful for our history and science lessons, when I've got girls working together. And my new secret weapon? I created my own set of lessons! That way, when one of my kids needs me to work a lesson with them, I "share" it with myself. Then Scholaric prints up a daily list for me, and I know who needs what kind of help that day. Sweet!

 That. Is. It.

Simple. Easy. To the point. Repeat for as many subjects as you have, and then print lessons by the day or by the week.

Now Scholaric can do a whole bunch of other things, but no so many that it becomes unwieldy or difficult to use. You can print report cards, track hours or other goals instead of grades, and print your gradebook. Mark a whole day's work as complete, or allow your children to log in and check off assignments as they are completed. Move lessons ahead or back with a simple click. Easy, easy, easy!

If you're thinking about using Scholaric, here are a few more considerations:

• Scholaric does indeed have weighted grading! You can read about it at Scholaric's blog. . .which is exactly what I'll be doing this afternoon.
• Help using Scholaric is accessed on the main page, usually reading through a set of blog posts by the developer. For those of you who like a video tutorial, at this point you won't find one. But really? Y'all. Did I mention it was easy??!!!

And the last consideration:

I was given a free, 6-month trial in exchange for my review. It ended 2 weeks ago. And I happily - happily I tell you - paid the paltry $5 per month (through Amazon payments) to keep using Scholaric for my homeschool planning.

And that, dear readers, it what we call. . . .  a keeper.

If you try Scholaric, let me know what you think!