Tuesday, December 15, 2009

3P Learning/Mathletics~ Online Curriculum-based Math Resource ~

The TOS Crew received a free 45 day trial period in order to review Mathletics, a web-based math resource. This is another one of those "Smart programs" that advances the child based on their apparent understanding of a topic.

The "hook" is that in addition to regular curriculum based problems, there is a section included "Live Mathletics", that enables your student to safely and semi-anonymously compete with other children across the world in timed math drills. In addition, work done in the regular portion of Mathletics that beats the student's precious record, and winning competitions in the Mathletics LIVE! section, earns the student "Credits" which can be used in the "store" to buy accessories for their Mathletics Character or Avatar.

However, there is more to like than that! (Good thing, too, because this *is* a paid subscription site....)

My 9 year old's favorite things about Mathletics:
  • The ability to earn "Credits" to spend in the "store" on "Accessories" for their Mathletics Characters~ He feels that this encouraged him to do his best.
  • It's cool to race against other people to answer math questions.
  • The Keyboarding lessons were fun.
My 12 year old:
  • Especially liked that if the topic was difficult to understand, she was able to have the problem explained, and have a few examples to work through.
  • Like her brother, she enjoyed the "reward" aspect of the program, earning credits to buy things for her "Character" and
  • The Global competition of Live Mathletics was fun.
  • She also appreciated that the site let her read the problems/explanations at her own speed(fast), and she didn't have to "listen" to someone else tell her something she already understands.
Both children were really only disappointed in one thing:
They participated in the American Math Challenge, and neither child thought it was fair that the things they earned then weren't theirs to "keep" in their accounts... they disappeared after the Math Challenge week was over. (Not a major deal if you don't participate in the "Math Challenge Weeks", but if you do, be forewarned...)

Things that "Mom" enjoyed:
  • Lots of material to choose from: There are over 750 learning activities for children ages 5-14.
  • You can leave what each child chooses to do each day up to them (perhaps specifying that they need to work on a topic that is new to them....), OR you can specify certain topics for them to do that must be done before they can jump into the "Live!" portion
  • Weekly Reports that detail exactly which activities the child worked on, The amount of time they spent logged in, and what their scores were for each completed activity. Interesting for me to see that when DS had trouble with a certain concept, he would "redo" the activity until he was able score 100%! ;)
  • Test Results for each activity that also detail relative Strengths and Weaknesses (nice input!)
  • Live! Mathletics Results are included on the Test Results page, and show what level the student worked at, How many questions/minute they did, how many correct answers they made, and what their accuracy was. Again... great feedback!
  • The Parent Toolbox includes printable workbooks with both student and teacher versions.... all the way up to grade 12! (Now, my kids are nowhere near that stage yet, but I think the information is useful!) The workbooks can be downloaded in "Chunks" or in their entirety, and the parent/teacher workbook includes not only the answers, but assessments and outcomes as well.
Things that "Mom" didn't like:
  • The site is a little confusing... I was forever clicking on a link in the window that opened when I logged in, but the link didn't open in new tabs there, the pages opened in my previous browser window... confused? I was too! Not a deal-breaker, just a bit of an idiosyncrasy that I had to get used to.
  • Ummmm... other than that, the only other trouble I had was trying to kick my kids off MY computer! They both enjoyed using Mathletics a lot!
What's the nitty gritty on this one?
  • The normal cost is $99 per student per year, however the current pricing is $59 per student per year (And that year is 24/7/365)
  • IF you know the human calculator's favorite number (Check out the TOS Crew to find it as well as read some other reviews....) you can save another $10, bringing the cost down to $9.95 per student!
  • Through January 14th Mathletics is offering an extra incentive to subscribe.... be entered in a drawing for an ipod touch! (Side note... this is what my family gave me for my birthday this year, and it is so cool! WAY more than just an mp3 player!!!)
  • Mathletics offers a 10 day money back guarantee.
As always, I hope that this review was helpful to you as you make choices about what purchases will best suit your family. Blessings~

Monday, November 23, 2009

LIFE ON THE FARM board game~ Christmas Shopping????


Are you a fan of games like Life, Monopoly, and Payday? Wish there was a game that was a little more "down to earth", based in reality?

Enter "Life on the Farm"(for ages 8-108), a board game invented by a real dairy farmer as a result of trying to explain the ups and downs of farm life to his city cousins. Members of the TOS Crew received this game to play and review.

The premise is fairly simple, build a herd of 60 cows and retire with at least as much money as you started with. If one follows the "Long game" rules, and starts with no cows, and only seed money.... well, it can take a LONG time to get rolling. You see, there are "Farm Income" spaces/cards, and "Farm Expense" spaces/cards. If you keep landing on the expense cards, and have no cows to create income... well... it can be a very long start to the game.... (Ask me how *I* know... ;) )

We decided that the best tactic for our family is to use a version of the "Short game" rules, and allow everyone at least 5 cows to start with. This means that everyone should be able to collect "milk checks" from the beginning.

My older kids have thoroughly enjoyed playing this game, and ask for it on a regular basis. It has been interesting to see how they have developed tactics (or "business" sense) in order to have a chance to build their farm and win the game. That, in and of itself, makes this game a winner in my book. My daughter said that this game makes her appreciate farmers more, because it helped her understand how much effort can go into the food that ends up in our kitchen.

I value that the game is less about putting your neighbors out of business than it is about running your own farm and doing the best that you can with what you have.

Final analysis:
If you are looking for a fun and educational game about the realities of farm life (How does buying a cow for $500 and then selling it for $300 translate into "income"?... Well.. if you have bills that need to be paid, then you sell that cash cow, and while you lost money in the long run, you have made some cash income to help keep your farm afloat. ), this might be a good choice for a CHRISTMAS GIFT for the family.... It is a fun choice to help to while away a few of those vacation hours around the house, or snowy winter days by the fire later on.

This one gets 4 thumbs up from our family. The 2 year old was the only one that didn't agree... he would like something on his level....and guess what? While our family didn't receive it for review, other TOS Crew members were sent the "Pre Life on the Farm Puzzle Game" for ages 3-7, so be sure to check out their reviews if you have "youngers" in the house.

This board game can be purchased directly from We R Fun (check out their page of "Farm jokes" while you're visiting), the TOS Store (where shipping is always free), and Kmart.com. The base price is $25, but currently Kmart is offering it for $19.99, and there are some "Toy purchase" specials running that you may wish to check out... one ends Nov 25 (5% off) and the other ends December 17 (Free shipping of orders of $49 or more).

As always, I hope that this review was helpful to you as you make choices about what purchases will best suit your family. Blessings~


Thursday, November 19, 2009

AVKO Membership (From the makers of Sequential Spelling)

The makers of Sequential Spelling offered the TOS Crew a free membership to their website, AVKO, so that we could see what they have to offer. Not being familiar with Sequential Spelling myself, I wondered..... why would a $25 membership to AVKO be useful to someone who doesn't use Sequential Spelling???

Well~ I have to say that there is a LOT to be found on the AVKO site, even if you don't have a membership (be sure to check out the freebies ), and even if you don't use Sequential Spelling (Which I discovered is especially useful for those who are struggling with teaching someone with dyslexia, as the author of the program is dyslexic himself).

but with the $25 membership... WOW! What a lot of information!
  • For Sequential Spelling users there are supplemental materials... wordsearches, Vocabulary Illustration Worksheets, and Advanced Vocabulary Flashcards
  • MP3's ~ 6 mp3 recordings of Don McCabe presenting workshops at various homeschool conventions.
  • Reading Comprehension Pages~ A page with "Instructional Ideas" and MANY reading comprehension documents. You will want to preview these, as what some families don't consider appropriate humor have others rolling on the floor. (Do you know what a Tom Swiftie is?)
  • ebooks that are offered free to members (Click on the links below to see the Tables of Contents when available, and free pdf samples)
  1. Word Families In Sentence Context ~ bundled with
  2. The Patterns of English Spelling
  3. To Teach a Dyslexic
  4. The Reading Teacher's List of Over 5,500 Basic Words
  5. The Teaching of Reading and Spelling:A Continuum from Kindergarten Through College This book is fairly "Academic", in that it is intended as a supplementary textbook for those who plan to teach... in either a classroom OR homeschool setting.
  • And I think my favorite thing, as a non-Sequential Spelling user.... They have teamed together with SpellingCity.com to give instructions to create your own customized spelling program that includes the things MY kids enjoy in their spelling workbooks... wordgames and worksheets with the added benefit of multimedia features.... This is a very inexpensive option because you are able to create your own program each year, after the initial investment in the membership.
  • Last but not least, members receive a 25% discount on AVKO's printed materials.
So~ Check it out, check out my fellow TOS Crew Members' Reviews, and as always, I hope that this review will help you as you make choices about what purchases will best suit your family. Blessings~

Sunday, November 8, 2009

American Heritage Education Foundation: America's Heritage, and Adventure in Liberty

History~ once again~
Why is history important? Why should we study history? What can we learn from history?

In my previous review for the Mystery of History, I mentioned that studying history can provoke interesting ideas and discussions. In the case of American History, it becomes more personal, and we hope that our children will understand more about our country, and about OUR roles(and their future roles) as citizens of our country.

Governments, at least representative governments, do not run themselves. They require interest, knowledge, and action on the part of the people that live under them. Because many people, laymen as well as experts see the undeniable decline of our country, from a social, economic, cultural, educational, philosophical, and governmental viewpoint, the American Heritage Education Foundation (A non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation) has written and produced a curriculum (at three seperate levels: elementary, middle, and high school) which is "dedicated to the understanding and teaching of America's factual and philosophical heritage to to promote constructive citizenship and Freedom, Unity, Progress, and Responsibility among our students and citizens."

I highly recommend reading the entire forward and preface in order to appreciate the position we as Americans find ourselves in today. The common lack of education is astounding, and it is particularly important to understand WHY our Founding Fathers based our government on Judeo-Christian values, rather than any other form of government. It was not an arbitrary decision based on the specific backgrounds of the people involved.....

The lessons we used included the introduction to the American Heritage Themes of Freedom, Unity, Responsibility, and Progress, and a variety of lessons from the units focusing on the foundational documents (The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution) of our Country.
While some of the reading was a little dry and difficult for my 9 year old to follow, the discussions that they inspired were great! Definitely got my kids' wheels turning!

(For more thoughts on the problems our country is facing, from a variety of viewpoints, including The Bradley project, Georgie Anne Geyer~ Fulbright Scholar, Bruce Cole~Chairman for the National Endowment of the Humanities, Dr. E.D. Hirsch~ Founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Dr. James H. Billington~ Author, Library of Congress and former Professor of History at Princeton University, Hans F. Sennholz, Economist, as well as other authors, historians, professors, and more.... check out this page )

The entire curriculum is downloadable for free from their website. The TOS Crew received a CD containing all the lessons (Also available for free), or you can order a printed binder for $19.50 (per level ordered).

Visit the TOS Crew if you'd like to get some more opinions on this product. (But, really, as a freebie, what do you have to lose? I recommend checking it out yourself! :) )

Blessings~

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mystery of History Vol 2, Christian Kids Explore Physics

Having heard Maggie Hogan speak a number of times at the MassHOPE Homeschool Convention, and because I hold Maggie in high regard, and respect her opinion, I was delighted that her company, Bright Ideas Press, was going to be a part of the TOS Crew Reviews this year. When it came time for this review, we were given a few choices of material to use and review, and I was so delighted to receive TWO!

First up.... Mystery of History
I received Volume 2~ The Early Church and the Middle Ages~ ($49.95)
moh2
This was a "no brainer" for me to choose, since we had started the Middle Ages last spring, and the kids wanted to continue this fall. I decided to go ahead and start at the beginning, even though we had covered some of the material, because, well... a little review isn't a bad idea. :)

I really like the way that the author, Linda Lacour Hobar, writes directly to the kids, and makes history "Readable". She is also pretty good about warning those with younger children about material that may be too sensitive or difficult for them to handle. I appreciate that, particularly when studying things like the Middle Ages... there's a reason that they are also referred to as the "Dark Ages". We were able to learn a little about Masada, for instance, without getting too graphic, although I did still have to moderate what I read...

I also appreciate the Christian worldview that is presented throughout the text. It is good to see world history through that perspective, particularly for the youngest in our households. Without that viewpoint, and the concept that God * is * in control, history could be a rather depressing read at times.

What I see as the benefits of MOH: The following are all included, and you can decide what to use(Or not), depending on what works best for your family and/or learners.

We used regularly:
  • Multi-level use~ Basic, readable "Lessons"/ Text, expandable with age-appropriate activities
  • Shortish lessons (My kids usually are begging me to read another... )
  • Quizzes, worksheets, exercises and activities to expand on the material (We do these, and enjoy them for the most part... it is good to have something quantitative when so much that we do is conversational)
  • Reproducible student pages and outline maps
  • A GREAT list in the back of the book of optional Supplemental Books and Resources, for enrichment, listed by age category, following the order of the lessons.
Things that are considered "CORE" for some folks, but end up being more "optional" in our homeschool:
  • Weekly timeline and mapping exercises
  • The well thought-out and organized "Memory Card" method~ This is something that I would like to get into more, because I can see that this is a good precursor to writing research papers, and could be a very helpful memory aid.
I do wish that the optional reproducible CD ($19.95) was available for the MAC OS, because I prefer to print from the computer vs copying from the book, but that is minor...

There are some other supplements available that I should mention here, although I have not used them (More information is available on the BIP MoH page):
  • Mystery of History II CD Audio set ($48.95) The entire text read by the author
  • Mystery of History Folderbooks ~Quarter 1 currently available~ ($15.00) ~ Mini books and directions
  • Mystery of History II Craft Pak CD-Rom ($19.95) ~ 8 historical art projects
  • History Through the Ages Historical Timeline Figures~ Resurrection Through Revolution($19.95)By Amy Pak of Homeschool in the Woods~ These would be one of my top choices of supplemental supplies if I had the extra cash to spend... I loved her materials that we reviewed last year.
Final analysis... History is Sooooo huge, that there is no way to cover it all in any one curriculum. However, I think that Linda Lacour Hobar does a fine job of presenting the essential, as well as some of the more obscure stories from history from a readable, therefore memorable, Christian perspective. From what I have seen and used, I am very pleased with her treatment of this study, and feel that it helps to engage the student, and interest them in history. This is important for history's sake, but more important that we learn from history. Here's a slightly political post on my other blog that you might find interesting.... it was sparked by our discussion of the Roman Emporer Diocletian in Week 5, Lesson 13. My apologies for being semi-political here, but the point is... history is so interesting and has much to teach us, both about the past and the present if we will only read/listen and actually hear and learn.

The other item that my family received to use and review was
Christian Kids Explore Physics by Robert W Ridlon, Jr., and Elizabeth J. Ridlon

ckepcover_small

Christian Kids Explore Physics($34.95) is one of four titles in the Christian Kids Explore Science Series and the 2nd book in the series by the Ridlon's(The other is Christian Kids Explore Chemistry). It looked like a great fit for my kids this year, since it is once again, a multi-age (Grades 4-8), easy teacher prep, 2-3 times/week combo of reading and hands on activities.

In general, I like the set up of the curriculum, with vocabulary in the side bars, as well as Bible verses that are relevant to the topic at hand. (I like being able to find the vocabulary quickly and easily... makes it a snap to create those crosswords and wordsearches that I mentioned in my review of abcteach!)

The lessons are a decent length, particularly for the younger age, and are followed by :
  • Review pages (Typically "Fill -in-the-blank) ~I like these!~
  • A hands-on activity (Anything from an experiment to baking cookies!)~ My kids like these!~
  • "Think About It" Questions ~ Your mileage may vary on these... My children didn't particularly enjoy them, although with consistent use, I'm hoping that they may become more "Thoughtful".... ;) After all, school doesn't always have to be "Fun"... although I'm sure that there are some children who would thrive on these sorts of questions. :)
Supplemental books are listed in the back, to give your older student more meat or to reinforce what was learned. There are even books included for the youngest students (PreK-2nd) that might be "tagging along" with their older siblings... this is a nice feature!

My one Con: I feel that the quizzes (and therefore, assessment) are more for the Elementary age(even early elementary) than for the Junior high age. The "Quizzes" at the end of each unit are very simple, multiple choice quizzes. Very easy even for my 9 year old to answer. (A little disappointed in this as it seems to be a little "dumbed down" in my opinion... :( ) I have decided to mostly give the quizzes without using the multiple choice option, and turning them in to "Fill-in-the-blank" questions. For my 4th grader, I might consider an overall "Word bank", or let him match up the correct answer with each question.

An option that I haven't purchased, but would find useful (and this one IS available for MAC OS), is a Student Activity Book($12.95) download. This contains all of the reproducibles in the book, from the coloring sheets for the littles to the review-its and experiment forms.

If you'd like to see a little more, here is the Table of Contents (There appear to be "mark-ups" on the pdf, but I just ignored them...) and sample pages from Lesson 18, and Lesson 19.

Will I keep using this curriculum??? Probably, yes.
Do I feel that it is the most exacting academically for a middle-schooler? Umm.... no, but she'll enjoy tagging along with her little brother, and I can follow the suggestions to "Beef it up" with extra reading from the supplemental list in the back. Right now doing a multi-level curriculum works for my situation, so this fits that bill nicely.

Some TOS Crew members received other products to review from Bright Ideas Press, so you'll especially want to check out the TOS Crew page this time around, and find out "What's New?" at BIP!
Blessings~


PS.... The FAQs page at BIP may be useful to you because includes information on using both Mystery of History and Christian Kids Explore..... (You have to scroll down past the general "business" questions... keep going....)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

abcteach.com Membership

logo

The TOS Crew members were given a short trial membership to abcteach for the purposes of review, and there just wasn't enough time to take advantage of all the things available there!

In case you have never heard of abcteach.com, I'll give you a little bit of information, so that you can decide if it would be helpful for you in your homeschool.

abcteach contains a wealth of educational material, aimed mostly towards preK-8th grade needs. There are worksheets galore and units of study as well. Here is a page that will give you more information about abcteach, including an idea of what is offered on the free portion of the abcteach site, but now I want to let you know about how we used the member portion of the site...

WORKSHEETS~
I know LOTS of homeschooling moms shudder when they hear that word, but guess what?

  • Sometimes it's exactly what your KIDS are looking for! (This *is* the one reason that I have my kids doing a spelling "workbook curriculum".... they are both fairly natural spellers, but they LIKE having a workbook to complete each year.... OK, I can handle that.... ;) )
  • Sometimes it's what YOU need... I know that a lot of our "work" is done orally, so sometimes having something that reviews what they know is helpful for inclusion in a portfolio of work, and quite honestly,
  • Sometimes a little "busy work" is good for the siblings of a toddler.... ;) Read on, though... some of this "Busy work" is just plain fun!
But seriously.... there are worksheets for so many different areas, themes, topics that you might be studying.... here is a list of the "sub-categories" in the member directory:
  • Art and Music:
  • Book Units:
  • Border Papers:
  • Clip Art:
  • Fun Stuff:
  • Graphic Organizers:
  • Handwriting:
  • Holiday/Seasonal:
  • Homeschooling and Parent Resources:
  • Language Arts:
  • Languages/ESL:
  • Learning Centers:
  • Math:
  • Middle School/Junior High:
  • Montessori Materials:
  • PowerPoint:
  • PreK/Early Elementary:
  • Puzzles/Games:
  • Report Forms:
  • Science:
  • Shape Books:
  • Social Studies:
  • Sports/Physical Education/Health:
  • Teaching Extras:
  • Test Taking Skills:
  • Theme Units:
  • Think Green, Teach Green:
  • Thinking Skills:
Each of these include further break-downs~ there is a LOT of material to make use of....
I'm going to give you an idea with a couple of the larger catergories....

In the "PreK/Early Elementary" section you will find numerous pages on the following....

abcteach Early Reader Word Walls - Alphabet Letter Patterns - Alphabet Posters - Badges - Booklets - Certificates - Charts - Class Surveys - Coloring Pages - Colors - Community/Community Helpers - Cut and Paste - Days and Months - Dots - Early Readers - Easy Puzzles - Easy Rebus Sentences - Elkonin Boxes - Facial Expressions - Family - Flashcards - Folder Game Boards - Handwriting - Matching - Math Concepts - Math Counters - Miscellaneous - Paper Beads - Patterns - Picture Cloze - Picture Sentences - Picture/Photograph Cards - Pre-Reading - Primary Maps - Projects - Punch Pin Cards - Reading/Book Units - Rhyming - Senses - Sewing Cards - Signs - Songs - Sorting - Spelling - Story Sequence - Theme Day - Tracing Patterns - Word Families - Word Shapes Activities - Word Slides - Writing


and in the "Teaching Helps" you will find a staggering number of pages as well:

Alphabet Letter Patterns - Badges - Banners - Bookmarks - Bookplates - Bulletin Boards - Calendars - Candy Bar Wrappers - Certificates - Classroom Discipline - Classroom Helpers - Daily Schedule Cards - Desk Tags - Flags - Flashcards - Folder Board Games - Forms - Gift Tags - Greeting Cards - Homework Extras - Incentive Charts - Labels - Lesson Plan Templates - Maps - Memory Books - Mini Offices - Monthly Assignments - Name Tags - Newsletter Forms - Notecards - Paper Beads - Passes - Patterns - Pocket Chart Cards - Portfolios - Postcards - Posters - Rubrics - Signs - Subject/Theme Assignment Sheets - Templates - Tracing Patterns - Vocabulary Extras - Word Families - Word Slides - Word Strips with Pictures - Word Wall Words - Word Wheels

Now, I realize that a lot of these look like they are generally geared more for the earlier years, but there are graphic organizers, thinking skills, writing prompts, science report/chart/forms, maps and... oh so much more.

However..... my absolute FAVORITE thing about the member site is the ability to create my own worksheets! Below you will see some of the variety that are available, and you can even check them out and print out a ready-made sample, to get an idea of what your worksheets could look like.

abctools
custom worksheet generators
Word Sort
ABC Sort
Shapebook
Shapebook &
Border Paper
Word Search
Word Search
Unscramble
Unscramble
Crossword
Crossword
Math
Math
Bingo
BINGO
Sudoku
Sudoku
Word Shape
Word Shape
Spelling
Spelling
Missing Letter
Missing Letter
Circle Spell
Circle & Spell

I was looking for something to challenge my 4th and 7th grader with the science curriculum that we are using right now (More about that later this week... ;) ), so I pulled up the crossword generator, typed in the vocabulary words and definitions for the first unit, and hit "Create". Now... the really cool thing is that I was able to make this crossword with two difficulty levels. The 4th grader's version had a word bank, but the 7th grader's version did not. How great is that? I think that my younger finished a little before his sister, but not too much before, so I felt that I was able to review the same material at the same time, but have something that was able to challenge them both on different levels with not too much work on my part!! :)

I plan to utilize the word searches as well, and DD is a huge fan of sudoku, so I can just print them out for her here! BTW, if you DON'T utilize a spelling "Workbook" curriculum, (ie.. All About Spelling, Spelling Power, etc....) I think that these worksheet generators would be perfect to add some fun to a child's spelling. (The main thing that my kids REALLY enjoy besides the tests... {grin} are the crosswords and scrambled words in their workbooks.....hmmm... maybe I can do without next year?)

If you are at a loss as to how these "generators" work, abcteach has developed a number of tools and tutorials (including videos) that will help you to make good use of your time and effort, when looking to supplement your curriculum.

There are only two things that I could think of that would improve the "useability" of the abcteach site:
  • A "preview" of each document~ I found it takes a little more time than I'd like when I'm looking for a particular worksheet or subject to find exactly what I'm looking for. If the premade pdf pages could be "previewed" on the website before downloading to my computer, that would be a great help, not only in time, but in space on my computer, which is almost bursting at the chips....
  • When searching by keyword, I would find it useful to have a list on the side, like Amazon or Ebay, or any number of other types of sites, where the search results are categorized. I realize that the directory is also helpful, but this would be a useful touch that would streamline the search process.
All in all, I am very impressed with abcteach, and find it a good value for the money, so much so that even on a tight budget, I scraped up funds to purchase a year's membership.
The current prices are:
  • $40 per user per year, or $70 per user for 2 years (individuals and "Groups" of 2-9... each user pays $40 fee)
Now, I imagine that a homeschool group would "Qualify" as a "Group".... you'll have to contact abcteach.com to verify that... but here is the information
  • $35 per user for groups of 10-29 people
  • $25 per user for groups of 30 or more,
  • and if you catch it when it's offered (I know that the Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a group buy for half price going on until November 30) there is a Super Site license for groups of 100 or more.
If you think this could be a good fit for your homeschool.... Check out the free portion of the site, with 5000 worksheets, and then decide if you might like to utilize the 30,000 more that are on the members site, not including the ones that you can generate yourself..... ;)

As always, please check out my fellow TOS Crewmates reviews, to help you make the most sound decisions on where to spend your homeschool budget.

Blessings~

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Virginia Soaps & Scents (not curriculum, but homeschool related!) part 1~ Soaps, shampoo bars

Picture64.png image by homeschoolcrew

Well, this was a fun package to receive in the mail as part of the TOS Crew, and it smelled good too! But, where is the connection with homeschooling, you ask? Well, it's fairly simple, and I'm sure very believable to my local readers.... a homeschooling family began with a history lesson, and ended up making and selling soap! This particular family, the Spargurs, hail from Virginia, and most of their 9 children work in the family business.

OK, so what exactly did I receive to review, and what do I think? Part 1 of my review will cover the Bar Soap, and the Shampoo Bar. Come back later for Part 2 to hear about the Laundry Soap Kit!

Soap.... Handcrafted Olive Oil SOAP (not Detergent..... Click HERE for an education in soaps VS detergents) We were sent "Sample 3 scents~ Orange, Oatmeal, Milk & Honey, and Coconut Lemongrass. They all were quite pleasant to the olfactory organs once they were separated in different parts of the house. The Orange went to the kitchen sink, the Oatmeal and Honey to the Bathroom sink, and the Coconut Lemongrass to the shower.

What do I think? Well, I suppose I have to be completely honest here, and let you all know that I just don't think that I'm a "bar soap" kind of girl*~ Give me my foamy pump soap and bath gels any day. HOWEVER, that being said, I'd LOVE to see them come out with a liquid version that I can "foam" at the faucet... after all... These are all-natural soaps, which my current "Gel" variety is not, and I am a fan of knowing exactly what the ingredients are whether a product goes in or on my body....

I must let you know that I do think that these soaps would make lovely gifts for those that ARE "bar soap sorts".... I can think of a few folks in my circle of friends and family that would appreciate these! They are very reasonably priced for gift-giving:
4.5 oz bars are $4.50 each, 3/$12, buy 4 get one free, and buy 10 for $35




Check out the slide-show above to see how gorgeous these soaps are!
  • "Regular" Soaps, that are a far cry from common... These are PRETTY! They belong in your kitchen, guest bath, etc.....
  • Holiday/Christmas Soaps... I say Holiday, because I think that the Pumpkin Spice Bar would be nice for a Thanksgiving hostess gift!
  • Beautiful "Gourmet" soaps... "Black Tie" and "Cookies and Cream" are the type I long to buy and enjoy.... if only I was a bar soap person.... (sigh)
The other item that I am going to review in Part 1 is the Shampoo Bar
I tried a shampoo bar over 15 years ago, and while it was a "novelty", I wouldn't say that I was overly impressed. I seem to remember almost no lather, and very little else, so I was actually interested in how this would compare.

The idea with this shampoo bar is that you run it over your wet hair and lather up! And lather it does! (I understand that coconut oil is great for that!) So... how did it work? Well, I tried it first without conditioner, and my thin, fine hair got all tangled, but my scalp felt GREAT! Next I tried it followed by conditioner, and that seems to work fairly well, although my hair is still a little more "Fly-away" than I like. What I do appreciate is how my scalp feels, and I'm hoping that this will be a good fit for my daughter, and her semi-dry, flaky scalp, although we'll definitely have to use conditioner on her long fine hair as well.

  • If you're interested in trying something new
  • If your scalp is giving you trouble
  • If you're going to be traveling on an airplane
  • If you're going camping (OK, not any time soon here in New England...)
........ this might be something that you'd like to try, and who knows, you may find yourself a new shampoo that doesn't come as a liquid! (BTW, your mileage may vary, based on hair and I'm guessing ph-type... but it could be worth a try... no more icky chemicals and empty shampoo bottles! Who says homeschoolers aren't GREEN!) 5.5 oz bars for $5.50, 2 for $10

Now, due to a few things, like a husband that does the laundry, but doesn't do "kits", and multiple weekends away from home, I have not had a chance to mix up and use the laundry soap, but that is on our agenda for this weekend, so stay tuned for Part 2, the Laundry Soap Kit. (I'm truly pretty excited about this one as well, since I have read a lot about the advantages of making your own laundry soap, from knowing what the ingredients are to savings benefits, I just haven't "Gotten around to it".... but now I have to! Thanks TOS, and Virginia Soaps and Scents!

BTW, while you check out their site, you'll notice that their soap, shampoo, lotion, and body powder are all available unscented.... yes, there is more to be explored beyond soap & scents at Virginia Soap and Scents... (Check out their new Sampler Sets.... These include the size soaps we received for review....perfect for stocking stuffers and bathroom sinks!) Enjoy!

Blessings~


*My objection to bar soaps has to do with that "Squeaky Clean" feeling that others adore, but I seem to abhor... I really, really, really don't like it when my skin squeaks, and that happens with almost EVERY bar soap I've ever used. I also end up feeling like my skin is drier than usual, which has not been the typical reaction of many of my Crew Mates. Please be sure to drop by the TOS CREW. Based on conversations amongst the crew, I'm sure that you will read a majority of rave reviews! (This means I'm in an odd minority, for no reason I can fathom other than that my skin doesn't like solids.... ??? )

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bible Charts and Maps ~ Timeline/Chart

What you see below is a timeline/chart that the TOS Crew received for review from The Amazing Bible Timeline. ($29.97)

It turns a typical timeline on it's ear, and takes it from a traditional linear set-up that is about 1'x12', to a circular set-up that measures 3'x4'. No matter how you slice it, you end up with 12 square feet of history! :)

Bible Timeline

OK, so here's the nitty-gritty~
The original World History Chart was compiled in 1931. The current owners of the copyright updated it in 1975, and again in 2000, with historical dates as recent as 1982(That's about 6000 years of history). Since I don't actually own a linear timeline, I was looking forward to using something that shows all of World History in a clear an cohesive manner.
After a few weeks of use, with our current history and science programs, here is my list of pros and cons:

Pros:
  • The size could be considered a pro, if you have that much wall space, or a table that would fit it with a vinyl cover to protect it. (BTW, it is fairly heavy-duty, varnished paper)
  • The circular aspect could be helpful for some, given the continuity of certain historical figures and/or eras
  • The huge number of persons and Bible references(over 1000, I believe) listed in a visual manner, to help delineate history across the continents and the ages.
Cons:
  • The Size could be considered a con, if you don't have the space to display the chart (especially if you have a rambunctious 2 year old! Watch out!)
  • The size of the print.. it is teeny tiny, particularly in the middle. I do understand that the font is something that is going to be adjusted, perhaps both type-set and size.
  • The validity of some of the cited sources for the Americas... many of them appear to be stating as fact what could be considered mere conjecture, and/or they are sources* that I wouldn't include on a "Biblical" timeline. (One author/book recommended for reading is an argument for a pre-Adamic race... I have a hard time with that one as a Christian...)
  • The assumption as fact that the Native North and South Americans are Semitic in heritage, when I have also heard theories that they could as easily be Japhethic.
We will probably continue to utilize the major portions of the chart with which I have no concerns, rolling it out as needed, (Potentially with a magnifying glass....) but I will be sure to discuss with my children the difference between historical fact and theorizing.

Oh, here's a note, if you feel that the Amazing Bible Timeline (ABT) could be beneficial to your family, the Agards are offering with your purchase a free download of the ABT in pdf format. This could be extremely helpful considering the small print on the hard copy. You can enlarge any section of the pdf file to print off for easier use in studies. They are also offering with purchase, a download of a 7 layer pdf "Interactive Map of the Holy Land", which allows the viewer to overlay the boundaries of 6 different time-frames on a base map of the Holy Land... kind of nifty.

*A note that may be of interest to some of my readers.... Bill and Margaret Agard were requested to make an LDS version of the chart with Book of Mormon references and "History", which they did. After that printing in 2000, their original films were accidentally destroyed, so they used the LDS version to recreate the original. There are some references that were missed, and remain on the chart as of the current printing. We have been assured that they are working with the printer to remedy that situation.

As always, reviews from more than one angle can help you make better decisions, so please hop on over the see what the rest of the TOS crew has to say....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sarah Books: Sarah's Wish

Note: New Special offered to TOS Blog Readers.... scroll down!
This might make gift shopping even easier! :)


Sarah's Wish is the first in a series of books (Sarah Books)written by a most congenial grandfather, Jim Baumgardner, for his grandchildren, all of whom were homeschooled by his daughters and daughter-in-law. Mr. Baumgardner strikes me as a friendly gentleman, who enjoys history and good humor as well.

Sarah's Wish was enjoyed by both my 12 year old and myself. It is a gripping tale of the Underground Railway, and as such, does not always tell a "happy" tale. However, the story is told with warmth and humor. Mr. Baumgardner creates some characters that will stay in your mind, which is amazing for such a short book (just a little over 100 pages, which qualifies as "short" in our household...;)).

An added bonus to the stories is the newsletter that Mr. Baumgardner freely sends to subscribers on a monthly basis. He includes historical tidbits and quotations that will not only entertain, but educate... have to love it! :) (Send an email to sarahbooks@cox.net to order Sarah's Web Newsletter: It comes by email and it's free! Unsubscribe anytime you want. Enter "send newsletter" in the subject line.)

Sarah's Wish($10.99) is followed by Sarah's Promise ($14.99) and Sarah's Escape($21.99), which we look forward to reading at some point in the future! We want to find out what happens! BTW, those prices are "list" prices, but if you purchase directly from the author, you will receive a discount, and you will even get an autographed copy. Shipping is free when you order directly from Sarah Books. And as has been the case with some of our other vendors, Mr. Baumgardner has chosen to donate a portion of his proceeds to a good cause... Carpenter Place...

***** Special Prices being offered to TOS Blog Readers*****
Mr. Baumgardner decided to offer a special deal to TOS Crew Blog Readers after all our reviews were in. Since the discount is better than I've seen elsewhere, I feel that I should certainly offer it to you!
  • Sarah’s Wish – 126 pages $8.50 retail: $10.99 save $2.49(20%ish)
  • Sarah’s Promise – 245 pages $10.50 retail: $14.99 save $4.49(30%ish)
  • Sarah’s Escape – 304 pages $15.50 retail: $21.99 save $6.49(30%ish)
Extra special offer: Purchase all of the items above and add an extra copy of Sarah’s Wish for $4.00. You can give it to a friend. They will think you are great!

Order must be mailed in to access these special prices. Order Form can be accessed HERE.
I do need to make a disclaimer and note that if you take advantage of this special deal, it is possible that I may receive another book for free and/or at a discount myself, but that had no impact on my previously written review. Thank you!
*********************************************************
I would recommend these books as great Christmas or other occasion presents for your young bookworm~ either boy or girl.... :)

Check out other Crew Member's thoughts on Sarah's Wish here~

Blessings~



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guardian Angel Publishing



The TOS Crew received 5 titles from Guardian Angel Publishing's catalog:
The books are all available as:
  • ebooks($5)
  • ebooks on CD, and DVD Videos($9.95 +S&H)
  • Print Books($10.95+ S&H)
For the purposes of review, we were given the ebook version.

From their Academic Wings Section:

And from the Animals and Pets Category:






These books come from a catalog of over 100 books for ages 0-12, from a publishing company whose goal is "to lovingly create fun, affordable and educational eBook computer & print book experiences for preschoolers and primary age children. And to embed positive, loving and worthwhile meaning into these books." (from the Guardian Angel Publications *GAP* mission statement)

You can read a synopsis of most of their titles from the Catalog page of the GAP website, but I'll give you my quick impressions....
Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair is an inspiring little book for your young horse loving child. It follows the story of Andy, a mostly wheelchair-bound young boy. He finds not only freedom and mobility in riding his horse Spirit, but also strength of character, as he performs with Spirit in a 4-H competition. Included in the back of the book are some great links to learn more about wild horse management in the US and 4-H. This books works fine as an ebook.

Hamster Holidays was a little young for my "Schooled" children, but I can see that it could be one of those useful books for the preschool to the 3rd grade crowd or so. It is a "Noun and Adjective" adventure, in which there are delightful illustrations of Hamsters from different "Towns" cavorting through their monthly "holidays". There is a great deal of repetition for the little ones, the NOUNS are printed in BLUE, and the ADJECTIVES are printed in RED throughout the book. There are also monthly calendars included in the illustrations, which will help with beginning calendar skills. After the 13 pages of story, you will find a 6 pages of "study guide" that will help to teach about Nouns and Adjectives, with activities and games. Personally, I feel that the print version of this book would work the best, although it is nice to have the PDF in order to print off some of the activities, which include a crossword puzzle and a word search.
Rainbow Sheep is a little fairytale about a rainbow that was losing it's vibrant color, and how a young shepherdess helped the rainbow "brighten up". What really makes this book for me are the illustrations, which are full color photographs of felted wool pictures. The back of the book contains 4 full pages of felting information and activities, which makes this book ideal for families with a range of ages~ Story for the youngers, and art for the olders. Fine for either ebook or hard copy, I'd say.

Earthquake is a non fiction, factoid-filled book that has enough information in it that your middle-schoolers may actually learn something. Much of the information is in "Bite-size" chunks, so that you can choose what to read to your youngers. The back of this book includes an emergency preparedness list for your kids to help you pull together. I'd prefer to have this book on my bookshelf than in my computer...

Maybe We Are Flamingos is a great little book in the tradition of the Ugly Duckling and perhaps even Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Two little flamingos are worried about why they just don't seem to "Fit in". One of them finally wisely decides to ask their mother, and what follows is a rollicking romp of silliness and fun. This is a great book to tie in to a zoo visit(if your zoo has flamingos) for your preschool/early elementary crowd. A creative, fun read! Another one that I'd prefer to be able to read in the rocking-chair.

I do have to say that unless your pocketbook can't stand it, the print version of these books would be my pick (Although I haven't seen their quality in person, mind you), because "cuddling up around the computer screen" is just never going to beat a hard copy in the lap on the couch/rocking-chair/bed, in my book. :)

If you'd like to see what all they have to offer, you might want to check out a couple of their free items on this page, and see what the rest of the TOS Crew had to say about these books.

Blessings~


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nature Friend Magazine

Looking for a "Christian" alternative to Ranger Rick? Enjoy beautiful photography, art instruction and essays? Nature Friend Magazine and Study guide has much to offer!
Nature Friend Magazine

Although my family couldn't afford to subscribe to children's magazines when I was a kid, I have fond memories of checking out my friends' copies of Ranger Rick and Cricket. I liked the cool photos and "kid submissions".

Now that I'm a parent, I'm more discriminating(and, I'm happy to say, so are my kids) about the material that we read. We've been sorely disappointed by gifted subscriptions of Ranger Rick and National Geographic Kids, with their evolutionary biases.

Enter Nature Friend, a publication that has been around since 1983. Although the magazine ownership has changed hands a few times, the commitment to "encourage children to believe in God as their Creator and to seek out, recognize, and appreciate His handiwork." has remained steadfast. The photography is every bit as stunning as any other you might see. The articles will enlighten and inspire your children as they consider God's creation, and there are fun activities in each issue, from a hidden picture search to the "You Can Draw A....." feature, a particular favorite of my 12 year old. There are actually two parts to this feature. Part 1 is the current month's instruction, and Part 2 is the page of reader submissions from past issue's instruction. Both are fun!



My children have greatly enjoyed reading the articles included in the August and September issues that the TOS Crew received to review. My 8 year-old particularly liked that it had so many puzzles to do. I was especially interested in the August articles on Owls (a personal favorite), and the stunning photographs.


You can also purchase an 8 page study guide that reinforces the articles and general information found in the magazine. These were included with the two monthly magazines that we were given, and my children enjoyed checking out the extra crosswords and acrostics. Mom (teacher!) appreciated the fill-in-the-blanks, "Writing lessons", "The Photo Critique"(which is great for the older children, and accompanying adults!), and more.

You may wish to click on one of the links I provided above, and check out some of the many free samples provided on the Nature Magazine Website, so that you can "Try before you buy".

I would highly recommend this for a Christmas or Birthday gift from grandparents, or friends looking for a "Family gift"! The quality of the paper, the photographs, and the content make this entirely "gift-worthy" in my book.

Now.. one reason that I recommend this as a gift subscription, is that it might be considered a little on the pricey side if you are pinching your pennies like we are. A one year subscription is regularly $36 ($3 an issue), or you can order a 2 year subscription for $68 ($2.83 an issue).
The Study guide is an extra $2/issue ($24/year) which would bring it up to $50 even for one year. Here is a link that explains a little more about the study guide, and adding it to a current subscription, if you have one... :)

BONUS: Until November 30th, the Shank's are offering a coupon for $3 off a new subscription. Use code BLOG93 when you subscribe. (It's like getting one month's issue free!)

It's actually a pretty good deal, when looking at it monthly... for the cost of one or two tall lattes you can educate and inspire your children for a whole month.... that's not bad! :) (However, if your budget has cut out those latte's, you might want to show this post to Grandma or Grandpa!)

Nature Friend Magazine also has available Back Issues for $5 each (Free shipping). You can click on each year, and each month for a list of the Table of Contents. So.. if you are studying, say, fossils and petrified wood, you might want to order the July 2006 Back Issue which has an article on the Petrified Forest National Park.

Another option (starting with the 2007 issues) would be to purchase a complete year's subscription,
in a Smyth-sewn bound volumes. These hard-covers have a sewn binding that enables the book to lay open flat at any page, and the 304 pages are bound with beautiful, glossy, laminated covers. These run $66, and I think they would rival any Nature book you could find at Barnes and Noble.

Oh, and a thought for those of you who are blessed with extra monetary resources.... Nature Friend Magazine has a program called Cheer the Children that you may be interested in contributing to. They would like to be able to offer a magazine to every child that has to endure a hospital stay, and you can help by purchasing a "Gift subscription". If this is something that interests you, please click here to read more.

I hope you check them out (and make good use of those free samples... there are a lot of them, and although they can't show you the quality of the paper the magazines are printed on, they DO show the quality of the content!), check out what the other TOS crew members had to say about their free issues, and let me know what YOU think! (Feel free to leave a comment!) :)

Blessings~

*Disclaimer~ This review was made possible by the free gift of two month's of Nature Friend Magazine and Study Guide, for the purpose of review.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

EDUDPS "Write With The Best" Volumes 1 & 2



Last, but certainly not least we come to the writing curriculum that Jill Dixon has put out:
I received the pages only versions "Write With the Best: Volume 1" and "Write With the Best: Volume 2 " to use with my 9 and 12 year olds.

I really like the concept and the format of this curriculum, in that there are included excerpts from classic works of literature, in a variety of genres. They are each read, discussed, analyzed, and finally used as models of writing, from which the student creates their own piece of work in the given genre. Imitation is not only one of the greatest forms of flattery, but one of the best modes of learning.... :)

I also appreciate that these aren't lengthy dissertations on grammar, but a more natural approach to writing. Jill teaches attention to detail, and descriptive writing, with an emphasis on descriptive nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. She keeps her "lessons" fairly short (Which I like), although the units are somewhat predictable in form (which I don't mind, but some may find wearying). She recommends writing on topics that will keep the student's interest (well.... what a concept! "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" gets old after awhile, as does any arbitrary choice of topic on the part of the teacher), but she does so keeping within the genre at hand.

One of the handiest portions of this curriculum, and one that will most certainly continue to be used, is the "How To Write" Guide with a list of steps to follow to develop a certain genre of writing. My 12 year old, in particular was impressed with, and enjoyed using this portion of the curriculum.

There were only two things I felt were confusing :
  • The "Answer keys" to the cited literary passages. The words are presented in alphabetical order rather than in the order they appear, which makes it more difficult than necessary to verify student work. The point is also made that not EVERY noun, verb, adjective, or adverb is listed in the answer key, only "the most descriptive", but that could be considered a little subjective, which was confusing to my children.... I finally figured out that I should just nod my head whenever they came up with one that was not on the list.... ;)
  • The objective to "Find an example of _______ (current genre being studied) by a well known author and use it for further study. I felt this should be an objective detailed for the upper middle-school and/or high school student, rather than being a general objective for all. Of course as students progress through the course they should become more familiar with and recognize specific styles of writing, but to expect it immediately seemed a little presumptuous. There is a list of additional Literary Passages included in the back of the manual for "Reuse" of the curriculum, but I feel that they should be noted as options for the parents to bring up for their younger students to complete these objectives.
I am enjoying hearing my children pick up on and think about and use more descriptive words in their every day conversations as well as in their writing. OK, so my 9 year old is still addicted to words like "Sick" and "Cool", but I think he'll get the hang of it... maybe he'll even rub off on his skateboarding neighborhood buddies! ;) The 12 year old... she's another story! :)

I do think that while "Write with the Best Volume 1" is listed as being for grades 3-12, it is optimal for the middle to high-school years. Jill does give recommendations for expectations for younger students, and I appreciate that. I believe that "Write With The Best" is useful for my "School of Two", and would be a benefit for those who have more and varied ages in their "classes". :)

For those concerned about high-school "Credit hours"... I think that if your student is taking a reasonable amount of time to complete the writing and perfecting objectives, then they should fairly easily hit that average of 40 minutes/day.... Some days will most certainly be lighter than others(ie... reading and "Grammar exercises"), but when they get into writing short stories and fables, and more, some of those days will be much longer than others.... it should all come out in the wash.

Alright, so now I should get down to the nitty gritty and tell you some specifics.

From the Table of Contents:
Volume 1: (3rd-12 grade)
  • Describing an Object from Jules Verne - a Place from Charles Dickens - a Character from Daniel Defoe
  • Dialogue from Kenneth Grahame
  • The Short Story from O. Henry
  • Fables from Aesop
  • Friendly Letters from Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Poetry - Rhyming Verse from William Wordsworth
  • The Ballad or Narrative Poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Volume 2 (6th -12th grade)
  • Poetry - Free Verse from Emily Dickinson
  • Business Letters from Helen Keller
  • Persuasive Essays from Thomas Paine
  • Expository Essays from Francis Bacon
  • Literary Critiques from Edgar Allan Poe (That's right! Poe was a superb literary critic at one point.)
  • Newspaper Articles from Ernest Hemingway (Yes, indeed! In his early career, Hemingway was a newspaper article writer.)
  • Speeches from Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • Dramatic Monologues from William Shakespeare
Pricing:
Volume 1
  • $19.95 ebook (Currently on sale for $14.95... 25% off)
  • $22.45 pages only (no Binder)
  • $24.95 3- ring- Binder
Volume 2
  • $24.95 ebook (Currently on sale for $18.65... 25% off)
  • $27.45 pages only (no Binder)
  • $29.95 3- ring- Binder
For more information and insight, don't forget to check out other TOS Crew member reviews!


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