Wednesday, December 15, 2010

North Star Games

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As the weather turns wintry, and our homes become (hopefully) cozy retreats from the cold, those chilly afternoons and evenings become the perfect time for playing games with family and friends. North Star Games provided a great game for  TOS Crew Members to try out, just in time for Thanksgiving gatherings and Christmas get-togethers. What fun!
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Wits&Wagers Family has become an almost instant favorite in our home. Here are some of the things that we really like, along with some playing descriptions:
  • Playing field is leveled so that the youngest and oldest players can remain competitive: A question is asked that can be answered by a number. Every player writes down their best guess(With included dry-erase markers, on included tiny dry erase boards), then puts their card on the table. The cards are put in numerical order, and each person decides where to place their 2 "meeples" (playing pieces).So, if you have no idea what the answer is, but you think your son might be right on, you can put one/both of your meeples on HIS answer. Or you can split your guess, by placing a meeple on your two best guesses. 
  • There are three opportunities to earn points: By having the guess closest to the answer without going over(1 point), Placing your big meeple on the winning guess(2 points), Placing your small meeple on the winning guess (1 point). You could earn 4 points with one question if you're really good! ;) 
  • Play is fairly fast~ the game comes with a dry-erase scorecard ~ first person to reach 15 points wins. Dad really likes this game because even when he's tired, it doesn't require TOO much thought, and goes fairly quickly. 
  • We haven't tried it yet, but thought that this game might provide the ideal opportunity to play a game via skype with family that we don't get to see in real-life that much. Looking forward to that option! :)
Some questions come from the Guinness Book of World Records, as well as other "Fact" publications and sources(Which means this could be a favorite with kiddos that enjoy reading that sort of trivia~ my son being one).

Here is one of my favorite questions from the last time we played: "In miles, how long of a line can the average lead pencil draw?" (Source: American Chemical Society, 2001) You'll have to scroll to the bottom of this post to find the answer.... care to guess?

Here are some of the particulars:
  • Players: 3-5 individuals OR Teams
  • Manufacturer age recommendation 8+ (I think it can easily be played with a 5 or 6 year old, especially if the "Team" option is used... our 3 year old joined in by practicing writing some numbers on one of the boards)
  • List Price: $19.95 at Barnes&Noble.com , other online retailers, and be sure to check out your local toy and/or game retailer.
Quick note about customer service~ North Star games has a great guarantee, that I unfortunately had the opportunity to test. Our game arrived with 1/2 of a small green meeple... :( and one dry erase marker that didn't work. I checked on their "Contact Us" page, and found this information:

Free Parts Replacement - Don’t let a lost or broken component stop you from playing.  If any of our game component(s) should fail (or even be lost) within the first year of ownership, we will deliver an identical or comparable replacement to your door free of charge!  Requesting replacement parts is a breeze... simply e-mail us the requested part(s) along with your mailing address.  We’ll send the parts out within two weeks.

I emailed them, as directed, and received a reply the same day, with parts arriving within a week. Stellar! (And, while I can't guarantee the same, I can tell you that my package arrived with a sticky notepad and a few sample cards from one of their other games. Fun!)

We have found this to be a great "take-along" game for afternoon/evening games with friends and family. If you are still looking for a great present for Christmas (Or later, for a birthday, etc....) this could be a great option for you. I have nothing to say in the negative, except perhaps, that I hope that North Star Games will put out some question expansion packs. In the meantime, this could be a fun research project for your kids... to look up some facts and figures and write their own questions. :)

I hope that this review was useful to you as you plan how to spend your homeschooling/gift budget. To read how other TOS Crew families used/enjoyed Wits & Wagers Family, please visit them at the TOS Crew Blog (Link will take you to the Crew Blog. Scroll down the page to find the link for the rest of the blogs.)

Speaking of scrolling.... Don't forget to keep going on this page to find the answer to the question from Wits & Wagers Family!

Blessings~
 


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**Answer to the question: 35 miles, or about 45,000 words. How'd you do???
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Fiday "Homeschool" Style

I thought I would post a bunch of the homeschool related Black Friday sales that are actually current NOW! Hope that they are helpful!  

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine~
By now you probably know that I like this magazine, the support and encouragement received quarterly from the likes of Ruth Beechick. I also appreciate "Chapel" time, as well as the variety of articles included in each magazine. Although I don't spend quite as much time scrutinizing the new product reviews, now that I get some of them to review myself, that was one of my favorite features when I first subscribed to TOS. I like to see what new things the homeschool community is producing (since many of these products are the brainchild of current and/or former homeschoolers).
So... on with the deal~
The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is extending an extraordinary subscription offer to homeschool families. U.S. and Canadian residents can receive
  • a one-year print subscription and a
  • FREE Homeschooling with Heat tote bag,
  • FREE Schoolhouse Planner of your choice, and
  • FREE E-Book: Cranberry Christmas for just $19.95.
One-year subscriptions start with the winter issue. It makes a perfect gift for yourself and a friend. There are a limited number of tote bags available from November 24 through midnight on November 29-once they're gone, they're gone! Hurry and grab this tremendous value today! It's over $80 in free gifts--one of them the gorgeous Cranberries & Cream tote bag.
While you are at the store, make sure to check out their Black Friday "Sales" and doorbusters (They will be changing regularly, with savings from 10%-70%). 
  • Lapbooks from "In the Hands of  Child"
  • Language software  from Auralog
  • Books from Creation Ministries International 
  • Draw and Write through History(These look neat!)  
  • and heaps and scads of e-books. 
BTW, if you are wondering about the ebook phenomenon, here is... well.... a free  ebook that will "educate you on the many advantages of E-Books". I'll mention one last great Freebie offered by TOS (There are more...)~ The 176-page 2010 Digital Holiday Supplement It is packed with all new content for 2010 and takes you around the world to explore Christmas in other lands. Inside you'll discover festive ideas, fun crafts, special recipes, and activity pages for your children. Plus, as a special bonus, they've included articles full of homeschooling advice and encouragement from their 2010 Fall Schoolhouse Expo speakers(Linking to the "Expo To Go" page in case you want to check it out)
Plus, one family is going to win a getaway package to Great Wolf Lodge! Join in the savings and fun-- Check it out! 

Currclick Is not offering their amazing Black Friday Freebies as in years past, but they ARE having a "Season of Giving Sale" with items discounted up to 70% off, and 5% of proceeds being donated to World Vision. 

Homeschool Library Builder has all items on their entire site on sale for 25% off through November 30. This is a great place to pick up used books for a variety of curriculum, and you can even search by curriculum.These ladies give great service, and I've been happy with all the books I've purchased from them (And they've saved me a bundle!).

Vision Forum has a sale going on from now through midnight, Saturday, November 27~ mix and match any two items*  and receive a third item of your choice absolutely free!* Your free product can be any item* that is equal to, or less than, the lowest price of your two purchased products. There is no limit to the number of free items you can receive during this mix-and-match sale — every third item is free!*

Salem Ridge Press is offering  a sale through Tuesday, November 30~ Buy 5 books, get the 6th book free as well as free shipping. on orders over $30. They mostly reprint books from the late 1800's to early 1900's, with Philippians 4:8 being the standard they use to choose (And lightly edit) their books. 

Franklin Springs' Black Friday sales start now! For your holiday shopping needs, they are making available a special 35% off coupon code  ALLFILMS35  good toward any purchase at Franklin Springs*. In addition to that they are also offering FREE SHIPPING on orders of $50 or more.* (Note: Our HAH Library owns George Washington Carver and the Stonewall Jackson story)
 
Timberdoodle has a 5 day sale going on (Ends November 27) with some great deals to be had, and some FUN stocking stuffers! 

Amanda Bennett is offering a  $5 Unit Study Sale (3 different unit studies on sale each day through Friday). I have enjoyed using the units that we have purchased from her, (Today...Thursday, she has the Digital Photography unit that I purchased, and plan to have Rebecca use as we go through "School Light" in December)


Blessings~

Monday, November 22, 2010

Illuminations~ a Unit Study from Bright Ideas/Mystery of History

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Illuminations, a "Complete, Chronological, Customizable Guide to Christian Education" 
So.. what, exactly does that mean? I really had very little idea when I chose to review Illuminations as part of the TOS Crew Reviews. However, I was intrigued, as we already owned Mystery Of History Vol 1 &  2. I was interested to see what Maggie Hogan, her son Tyler, and others on the Illuminations "Team" had pulled together, to turn Mystery of History into a more complete, meaty "unit study" instead of being simply a great history program.  We received Illuminations 1 (Grades 3-8) for the bulk of our review, and Illuminations 1 (High School) to see where it was going, and to check out the High School Geography.

First a basic fact~
Illuminations is a digital product (Meaning no physical, printed material) that you download directly to your computer(Although it is available on CD for an extra charge of $20). This has a grat deal of bearing on how Illuminations works, as it is a fully customizable set of neatly linked Lesson Plans in Adobe PDF format.

Here is an example of what the schedule grid(Illuminations 3-8) looks like (There are three pages for each week)
The first page schedules what I consider to be the meat of the program~ the History, and Literature, as well as Bible, Vocabulary/Copywork, Geography, and Supplemental Resources.
Illuminations 1

The next page includes rows with lesson plans for two writing programs, grammar and spelling:
    Illuminations 2
      The third page includes rows for Science, Humanities, and (K-2) Early Learning Bible, Science, Literature and Geography(Which we aren't * quite * ready for yet...maybe next time through! )

      Illuminations 3

      To see these pages up close,  and play with them yourself, you can download a sample package from Bright Ideas Press that includes a brochure, course offering and literature list, two sample schedule grids, a family study guide, a read-alone study guide, possibly an e-book, and a sample of the graphic organizers included. I highly recommend checking out one of these sample units if your interest is piqued by this program

      Back to the schedule grid

      You can click on each square in the grid and overwrite the contents with your own adjustments. To fully appreciate my customizations, you might want to look at the samples closely, but here is how I changed the second page to suit the programs that we are using. (Because we only have one writing program for each child, I utilized the extra rows for their science and math lesson plans) Notice the freedom to make the program work for YOU.... you don't have to use EVERYTHING included(We use other spelling and science, as well as different writing programs) for it to be useful and worthwhile.

      Illuminations 1 "Tweaked"

      Another benefit to this lovely grid is that you are able to save the lesson plans that you type, without overwriting the originals. (I just saved them as files with the weekly dates as the file name)

      There is a huge amount of information available on the Illuminations portal website~ video FAQs,  Sample downloads for most of the available units, and more.  I highly recommend browsing a bit at  "The Portal", as you will get a great feel for the program from the visuals and details included there.

      I think that my favorite component of this program was the Literature. I was able to borrow(from friends or from the library) the books that I needed to follow the read-aloud and read-alone portions. The study guide for the Family Read aloud, in particular was very "popular" in our homeschool. :) My kids really enjoyed the reading AND the discussion that followed each chapter of  "The God King". This is something that we haven't done as much of in our schooling (we get plenty of reading done, but less discussing on a regular basis). I appreciated the Godly worldview in both the book choices as well as the discussions.  For the literature component alone, I feel that Illuminations is very worth investigating! (More on that in my "nitty-gritty" section)

      The organization  of the PDFs is amazing to this momma. (I don't quite understand how all this stuff works, but I AM figuring out how to use it anyway!) At the basic "Start Here" screen you will find anumber of navigation choices. 
      • A "Quick Start Guide" which is great for getting started (imaagine that!) and referring to once in awhile later on... I highly recommend reading through the introductions and the user guide, however, it won't be used on a daily basis.
      • The Second option is to "Browse by Subject," which will go to a page allowing you to open up the entire year's schedule in a subject. This gives you the detailed plans for each subject, week by week. 
      • The third option(and my most used), is "Browse by Date." From here you can go to the schedule grid for the week of Mystery of History that you are on. There you will find grids that look like those I included above, with your week's lessons all made out for you (Or ready to be adjusted according to your own situation). From here you may click on each subject, and be taken directly to the detailed plans mentioned above, but only for that specific week. 
      Time for some pros and cons~
      Pros~ These will be more succinct, because I feel that I have mentioned them already in one way or another.
      • Love the organization, the schedule grid, the ability to see the program by subject or by week.
      • The inclusion of schedules for the various writing programs must be useful to a number of people, and if I end up using one of those programs, I am sure I will be grateful to have the year "planned" for me already.
      • One of the reasons I appreciate Mystery of History is the Biblical Worldview, and I will reiterate here, my appreciation for the literature choices and accompanying study guides.
      • Did I mention that I love the scheduling? ;) Really, there was something that just "clicked" for me with the set-up of this program, so I'm repeating myself! ;) 
      • Looking through the graphic organizers, I can't wait to put some more of them into use. There are some that I can see using almost daily, if not week(Story/reading/Bible topics, particularly)!
      Cons~I might be a little more wordy here, not because I felt anything was terrible, but because I want to throroughly explain my "cons". This will hopefully give you a fuller viewpoint of the program.
      • There were a couple of occasions where I felt the Literature Selections could have followed the history a little more closely (for example, Aesop's Fables were read as literature BEFORE Aesop came up in history). This isn't a deal-breaker for me, tho', because I do appreciate the study guides. We also had an instance of the page numbers not corresponding to expected breaks in the reading, but we adjusted.
      • Here's one that is highly individual: my kids didn't consider a DK book on China to be a "Read-alone". They were looking for "Story" whether fact or fiction, not "Facts". That is just a sign to me of where they are, from a reading standpoint, and I am aware that the inclusion of a "knowledge in bite-size chunks" sort of book may be more of a "pro" to other families. :) 
      • I was hoping that the Geography (Illuminations 3-8) would coordinate with the history, rather than being systematic. This was probably my major disappointment. However it was somewhat tempered by the fact that we also used the geography lessons from the High School Level for my 8th grader. This gave me an appreciation for the systematic approach vs what I'll call a "Unit" approach. This will be filling in some of the "holes" that we have acquired over the course of our almost exclusively "unit study" approach in the earlier years. The Geography course as written in the high school version can most definitely count towards high school credit, and my daughter is enjoying learning more about the "Wheres" in the World! :)
      Here is the nitty gritty price information. Before you look at the table from the BIP website, below, consider this~ Bright Ideas Press offers those Literature Study Guides that I am so pleased with individually. They run $10-$14 apiece~ fairly competitively priced according to my research on other study guides, but to purchase each one used in Illuminations Year 1(3-8) individually, would cost $160 by my accounting. That math is pretty simple~ Total program~ $165... all of the study guides $160.

      Item Price
      ILM 3-8 $165.00
      ILM Highschool $95.00
      ILM Combo Pack $240.000 (Save $20)
      1 Semester at a time (Half off base price)
      CD-Option +$20.00 (Free shipping)


      I really enjoyed using Illuminations, and hope that this review gives you a little picture of what is included,  how it worked for us, and how it might or might not fit in your family's schooling.  Please stop by the TOS Crew Blog to read other reviews on Illuminations as well as 5 other product lines sold by Bright Ideas Press (Including more in-depth reviews of some of the Literature Study Guides,  Christian Kids Explore Science Series, A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers, Hands on Geography, and Writer's Workshop).

      Blessings~
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      Friday, November 19, 2010

      Looking for elementary(And beyond!) worksheets? KB Teachers Review

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      From the founders of KnowledgeBears and the interactive KBear website, comes a new activities, printables and worksheet generator,  KBTeachers. For the purposes of review, the TOS Crew members were given a premium membership to the site, so that we could fully access all of the features, and see how things work.

      There is already a nice webpage that lists the benefits of joining KBTeachers, so I won't enumerate those all here, but I will give you a quick overview of our time so far, using KBTeachers, and the nitty gritty details.

      If you (or in spite of you, your kids) are worksheet lovers, then  KBTeachers could come in handy.
      • The "Alphabet Factory" enables you to print up a variety of Alphabet Skills worksheets, with your choice of 5 fonts, beginning cursive worksheets, as well as Morse Code and Sign Language worksheets! (Where were these when we were ran into Samuel Morse in a Unit Study? That would have been fun!) 
      • English Worksheets that include Grammar pages for 6th-8th grade skills.
      • Dynamic Math Worksheets that are different every time you print~ for everything from basic math to multiplication, division, telling time, and using money.
      • Then there are some worksheets for Science(Elementary-Jr. High levels included) and Social Studies (Mostly geared for grades 7-12) (Just a quick note this is a secular site, so expect some evolutionary content)
      • Clipart for you to use just about anywhere, for anything, as long as proper credit is given. 
      • Additionally, there are seasonal and monthly themed worksheets that show up on the site on a rotating basis.... they show up a little before needed, and disappear soon after(This can be a little disconcerting unless you are expecting it).

      Wednesday, November 10, 2010

      Write Foundation~ Sentence to Paragraph Writing

      Note: Republishing this with new (lower!) prices.... :)

      With the focus on  Math reviews last year, I was determined to give a little more attention to Writing this year, as my oldest is heading into the area of high school next year. What a great year to be on the TOS Crew.

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      We have been working through Sentence to Paragraph Writing, the Level 1 course put out by the Write Foundation (How does that famous song go? "Let's start at the very beginning..... a very good place to start..."). This was definitely my outlook, having put off most sorts of  consistent, formal grammar schooling in a Charlotte Mason-esque  manner.

      Each Crew Member reviewing the program was given the choice to try any of the 3 Levels of writing instruction. The basic suggested age levels are as follows :
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      Level 2 Teacher's Manual
      Level 1: Sentence to Paragraph Writing Ages 11-13
      Level 2: Paragraph Writing Ages 12-15
      Level 3 Essay Writing Ages 14-17
      As you can see, there is an overlap of ages, and there is more information on the website on choosing the correct level for your child. Because my Eldest is a voracious reader, but reluctant writer, I felt it best to start with  Level 1, and possibly work through the book at a good clip, depending on our schedules and her accomplishments. 

      Once I waded through the 15 pages or so of "introduction" (Basic instructions on how to use the program) and perused the Additional Resources Files for awhile, we jumped right in. 

      The first few lessons cover the very basics~ The structure of a complete sentence from Capitalization to Punctuation, Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives. The activities in each of these lessons familiarized my daughter with the Thesaurus... they are now great friends! :) I appreciated the time taken to show how expedient it is go through your writing and replace weak words with strong and interesting words. I see it coming through in other areas of the curriculum, and life in general, so this is a GREAT thing! 

      In addition to the basic grammar, there is a poetry component to each lesson. I think this is one of my daughter's favorite things. :) Concrete Poetry was rather new to her, but she enjoyed it, and came up with not 1 but 3 pieces of "Alphabet Poetry" (After declaring that it was going to be impossible!! ;)  )

      It took me a couple of lessons to figure out how to schedule our time, but the basic idea is repeated in each lesson~  Here is my simplistic adjustment of the instructions, based on the way our family works and the fact that we are not a classroom or co-op, but rather mother and daughter working together.
      1. Introduce the concept and fill out a worksheet or two depending on the lesson, together or independently, depending on the day. 
      2. Split up the rest of the worksheets (That reinforce the topic at hand) across the weekdays, with Friday being "Poetry" day. 
      That's it... pretty simple in my opinion. The program asks the student to hand in 10 type-written sentences each week  for "Homework", but I haven't required that every week. As long as the sentences are written neatly, I'm fine with that. (Has something to do with only one computer in the house, and I'm usually the one using it... ;) )

      A note here: The Objectives of the Write Foundation, as found in the introduction of the Teacher's Manual:
      • To teach "The Writing Process" ~ the fundamental writing skills of brainstorm, outline, rough draft, edit, & final copy.
      • To teach "Writing Structure" ~ incorporating structured organization in writing.
      • To teach "Word Usage" ~ the basic grammar and figures of speech used to enhance writing.
      We haven't been had it quite long enough to delve into the nitty gritty of paragraph structure, but the initial lessons are certainly laying a foundation for choosing strong words in her writing. Eldest currently thinks that we should definitely use this with middlest as his next step in writing, which I would take as a reasonable endorsement, and she is not prone to torturing her little brother (much...)  ;)

      More General information for you~ 
      Each level contains 30 complete lessons, which can be used for 1-2 years depending on your circumstances. 
      What we received in our packages: 
      (Note.. this is 1/2 of the first level, and has been made available for purchase in order to help homeschooling budgets spread out the costs)
      1. Spiral Bound Printed Teacher's Guide  Lessons 1-15
      2. Notebook-ready 3 hole punched Student Worksheets Lessons 1-15
      3. Additional Resources (Ours came via download for the purposes of reviewing, purchasers receive a physical CD) that included
      • Grading System
      • Grading Record Sheets
      • Word Games
      • Checklists
      • Teacher Presentation Sheets
      • Weekly Assignments
      • Extensive Reading list

      Here are my thoughts on the additional resources, just because they seem overwhelming at first glance:
      • The grading system was interesting, and I appreciated seeing how a point system could be set up, but since I don't "keep grades" as of yet, I felt it was most appropriate for a classroom setting.
      • The grading record sheets would be practical for a school or co-op situation, but aren't necessary for this homeschooling mom
      • The word games will also be more beneficial in a group setting. They are fairly simple, but I can see that it is nice to have most of the work done and included in the program at appropriate points, so that one doesn't have to "Remember" to throw something fun in, or go "find" the something fun... it is already there.
      • The checklists will be used  more as the writing becomes more complicated. Checklists are good! :) 
      • The Teacher Presentation sheets could be most advantageous again, in a classroom setting, or for a homeschooling family with a laptop... my desktop situation doesn't make them as convenient me, but I appreciate that they are there.  They mostly replicate much of the information in the Teacher's manual as well as the Student worksheets that are to be completed with the teacher. 
      • The weekly assignment sheets are nice to have to remember what needs done, but I did find that the "order" didn't fit the way I set things up, so we didn't go by them "By the letter". However, my daughter loves to have a checklist, so that she can see what still needs to be finished by Friday. 
      • The Extensive Reading List was pretty good. I liked the "Ranking" of the books. It was interesting to see how many my prolific reader had already read, though.... ;) I did get a few more ideas, tho', so that was good.
       Once I figured out what all those folders contained, and which ones would be convenient for me in my own situation, I found it fairly easy to proceed and actually "Grab and go" with this curriculum. There were a few discrepancies between the teacher's manual and the student worksheets (Things like the number of words or sentences that were to be done), but they didn't throw me off... typos happen that spellcheck won't catch!

      By now you're wondering "What is the price of The Write Foundation?" right? 
      Level 1 complete (Lessons 1-30) $70 + tax and/or shipping Order here
      Level 1 in 1/2 year increments (Lessons 1-15) or (Lessons 16-30) $40 each + tax and/or shipping (Must order through this link)

      The prices and set-up for levels 2 and 3 are the same.
      If you would like to read more about some of the other levels, please check out my TOS Crew-mates' reviews, as all three levels were covered.

      As always, I hope that this information is useful to you as you choose where to spend your homeschooling budget~
      Blessings~
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      Books! Books! Books! (Organizing them... YIKES!)

      I am a bibliophile. Some might say I was a book-a-holic. Did I mention that I like books? That bookshelves are found in every room in my home? This is wonderful for someone who tends to loosely follow Erasmus~ "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." And when those bookshelves are filled to overflowing, consider this quote from Henry Ward Beecher~  Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.  Ummm... yeah~ This describes my home: Stacks and piles and baskets of books, along with the shelves( although sometimes I wonder about the "Beautiful" aspect~ I have to work on that part).


      This is a "good problem" to have in my estimation, but in my particular circumstance it carries with it another problem~ That of a homeschool "Librarian" that doesn't have a really good handle on her entire book collection~ Exactly WHAT books she owns, what duplicates she owns (Some intentional, like trying to collect the entire Five In A Row library in triplicate for her children, and some less intentional, like.. OOPS! I already own that book!)


      PhotobucketAll this means that I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to write a review on a product that is intended to help me catalog my extensive book collection.   "The Book Collector" is a software program offered in both PC and MAC platforms by Collectorz.com  .


      The basic concept is that you have the ability to enter books into the software, either  by a cue cat or other compatible scanner, or by manually typing in ISBN or Title/Author information into a form. I don't own a scanner, but if this is something that you are interested in, you might want to check out some of the other TOS Crew reviews, as at least a few of my "mates"  had that technology available to them. However, my review is based on just the program itself, and entering books the old-fashioned way. (Although when I upgrade my itouch, I plan to make use of the technologies that exist for that as well! Here's a little look at how this might look on your computer screen:
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      Let me back up just a minute and let you know that this particular software is for cataloging books, specifically, but collectorz also offers versions that will track your music, game, movie, comics, mp3, and photo collections as well! Each version comes with rather thorough support. Here is the "Support" page for "The Book Collector," which I found helpful, as it took me a little while to find my way around the software. Here is the fairly simple process I have been using:


      Add the Book:
      I discovered that I could add books "Automatically" in a manual sort of way, by typing in the author/title of a book into the correct screen. Then the software searched for all possible "matches" to the book. From there it was easy to sort the returned matches by ISBN or publisher to locate the one that hopefully matched the book in my hand. Sometimes all the information but the last digit of the ISBN matched perfectly, so I would select that book. (Just a note~ It is also possible to add books with no ISBN, but that has to be done from the "Add books Manually" screen)


      Edit the book information:
      Preferences for this software allowed me to set it up to open an "Edit book information" series of pages after selecting the book. This is the place where I could do things like change that last digit of the ISBN of the book, enter in its condition, and if I took the time, I could enter in the price I paid for the book, and the current value. There is a lot more information that can be included here, but I haven't bothered with all that just yet, in my quest to get what I am SURE will end up being thousands of books entered into the system.


      Categorize the book:
      This is one of my favorite things in this software~ There are places to check off the genre and the subject of the book. I was not only able to check off more than one in each list (if applicable), but I could edit each list to include categories that are specific to my way of thinking. So, for instance, I was able to create  "children" and  "education" genres, and in the subject field, I added things like
      • FIAR (For my beloved Five In A Row books)
      • FIAR go-along
      • Bedtime
      • ABC
      • Numbers/counting
      • Science
      • Math
      • History
      • Geography, etc... 
      I am thinking that I might specialize a little more, and include things like
      • horse
      • birds
      • dogs
      • ocean
      • Greek scientists, etc...
      Benefits:
      The huge benefit to this (because I have, for example, what some might consider an inordinate amount of bedtime and ABC books), is that if I want to see which ABC books I own, I can search and sort the whole library by that criteria(As well as by year published, publisher, and a whole host of other information). NEAT!


      PhotobucketHaving an updated list of the books I personally own will save me both time and money, in searching for titles, as well as eliminating duplicate purchases. There is also the potential to keep track of books loaned, and having a hard-copy list for insurance purposes is not a bad idea either. Oh, yes, and I can also assign an owner to each book, which is great, since my kids have also aquired a love of reading, and to some degree, owning their own books.  :) I expect to use this program to assist me in organizing my bookshelves as well, once I get them all entered in, because there is a field that can be personalized with specific locations! Someday, just maybe, my bookshelves will look like this:


      This software is so jam packed with features that it is going to take me a while to explore some of the other features beyond the basic until I  get the bulk of my books entered, but to give you an idea, here is a great page that lists many of the features as well as a "compare" page to help you determine which version of "The Book Collector" might be most helpful for you.


      Price:
      Ah yes~ this leads me to the "nitty gritty" of this review... the cost.
      First there is a free trial version that allows you to enter 100 books(ummm... are you SURE you homeschool?? ;) This is a good option for "Test-driving" the software tho' :) )
      Next there is a Standard version for $29.95
      Third there is a Pro version for $49.95


      (Don't forget that "compare" page mentioned above, to see the differences between the standard and pro versions. )


      Collectorz.com also offers "Bundles"(ranging from $64.80 - $194.80)  that include a variety of scanners that work with their software to make entering books a little easier.


      I've been thinking for YEARS that I need to get my book collection under control/categorized, and with The Book Collector I can do that and make it searchable as well! So far I am pleased with the performance of this program, and think it will certainly add value to my homeschool by increasing MY organization, and saving me time in the long run.


      As always, I hope that this review is helpful to you, as you consider where to best spend your precious homeschool budget. Don't forget to check out other Crew reviews!


      Blessings~
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      Friday, October 29, 2010

      Yucky, sticky, saucy, chunky ... Polymers!


      So~ our latest review item from the TOS Crew was YUCKY!!!!


      Really, I'm not kidding!!! Just take a look at this:
       
      Buckets of Snow
      Now, this stuff isn't too terrible... actually.... it's pretty cool(but not as cold as snow).... little tiny balls! Looks like slush! 
      Buckets of Chunky
      This stuff is pretty neat! (Stay tuned for more photos... my kids liked this a lot! )

      Buckets of Saucy
      Well.... it was "Saucy"... not nearly as exciting as the others, 

      But THIS.... This.... THIS is.... YUCKY! Sticky! Gooey! GROSS!

      Buckets of.. ewww...... Sticky gooo!
      Buckets-O-Fun sent TOS Crew members sample sizes of these 4 "YUCKY"  polymer products to play with and examine. Along with the samples we received some sheets that gave ideas for games (Many of which would work best in group situations, and with larger quantities of "yuck"), and some experiments. The most exciting observations had to do with the textures "Before" and "After" adding water.

      We decided on the advice of others, to take this experiment outside on our front porch, and to use disposable containers, because clean-up could be... well.... yucky! So, we set up some plastic containers:
      Snowy Yuck Crystals
      saucy
      Saucy Yuck Crystals
      snowy

      sticky yuck crystals
      sticky
      The saucy yuck had the appearance of veryfine sugar crystals
      the snowy yuck looked like table salt crystals



      chunky yuck crystals
      chunky
      the sticky yuck kind of looked like finely shredded coconut
      and the chunky yuck looked like rock salt crystals

      We added a cup of water to each (Oops... didn't totally follow directions... note: sticky yuck wants to be stirred.. but it turned out ok in the end), and were amazed that the saucy yuck and the snowy yuck absorbed the water almost immediately! Wow! The sticky yuck kind of hung out on the bottom of the container (hence the note... stir it as you add the water... silly me!), and the chunky yuck expanded VERY slowly. After about an hour the chunky yuck was still only about a centimeter in size, which is still pretty big, considering the initial size of the crystals.

      We ended up with a number of neighborhood boys checking this stuff out and  sticking their hands into our containers of yuck. We talked about how this is the sort of stuff that makes disposable diapers work, and I asked what other sorts of applications it could be used for. I got answers like "Tons of "Snowy yuck" in my back yard so I can snowboard in the summer..." Boys~ gotta love 'em!
      I asked them about arrid ecosystems, and then they started to get the picture. :)

      The snowy yuck was the neatest in my estimation, although I added a little too much water, and we ended up with a "Slushy" consistency, but it was pretty cool to see those tiny balls of mostly water.

      Sticky yuck 2Sticky Yuck 3Of course, the sticky stuff won hands down for most popular, and grossest. I think I may get the cool mom on the block award for actually putting my hands in the stuff and playing with it. Once I worked it for awhile it started to absorb the water quite nicely, in spite of my not following directions, and boy... is it sticky~ see for yourself!

      Of course the boys immediately decided this would be fun to take to school... "Hey, teacher? I need a tissue!" (But, nope... it all stayed at our house in its container) Side note: my 13 yo daughter was interested in "looking" but was not inclined to touch any but the chunky and snowy yuck...

      The chunky yuck took hours to fully hydrate, and was most amazing in it's expansion properties. Here is a picture that shows the expanded chunk, an un-hydrated crystal and a quarter to show relative size.
      Expanded chunky yuck

      If this looks like something your tactile learners or scientific-minded children might be interested in, you can read some other TOS Crew Reviews, and then head on over to Buckets-O-Fun, where you can pick up a pound of Yuck for $16-$20. If you would like to check it out first hand before buying, you can email orders@buckets-o-fun.com for a sample.

      If you are involved in scouts, co-op, youth groups, or field day, this might be an interesting product to check out, and while you're at Buckets-O-Fun you might want to check out their inflatable and water fun items as well.

      Caution: I wouldn't recommend this for anyone that is "mouthy" (3 yo or under, or any other "mouthy" kids), as it is dangerous to ingest. Buckets-O-Fun offers a pdf outlining their YUCK safety guidelines (Mostly common sense, but worth reading).

      As always, I hope that this review is useful to you as you choose where to best spend you homeschooling budget.

      Blessings~
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      Friday, October 8, 2010

      Digital Frog ~ Virtual Fieldtrips DVD

      Digital Frog Intl Logo

      Digifrog Field Trip Series dvdI had "heard" of Digital Frog, (my take being that it is a virtual dissection  software for those that don't have the resources to do dissection labs, OR are too squeamish to follow through....), so I was interested in hearing what they had to offer as a vendor for the TOS Crew this year (RJP would be one of those "Squeamish" types... she gets it from her mom/teacher.. sigh....).  I was pleased to find out I was on the list to receive software from them, but it wasn't the "Digital Frog". Members of the TOS Crew were given the Digital Field Trip Series DVD(Mac and Windows compatible), with 3 "Field Trips" to actual  Desert, Wetlands, and Rainforest Biomes. 
      Hey kids, pull up a chair~ we're going on a few trips, and we don't even have to put gas in the car, or buy a plane ticket! :)
      Digifrog Rainforest

      Each Field Trip includes "virtual" 360° panoramic views of a real location, with the ability to zoom in and scan around. There are  "Field notes" included(See right side of the image below), with clickable blue links that expand on what is written in the notes or seen on the screen. When we clicked on "Coyotes" in the notes,  the scene on the screen rotated to bring a coyote into view. Click on the coyote in the photo, and a "reference" page opened up. These pages often include a video, more photos, and information about the particular subject.  While my oldest enjoyed most of the material, she opted not to watch the video of a wolf catching it's prey, my middlest wasn't bothered in the least. My littlest was happy to sit on a lap and watch the 360° "locations". ~ Something for everyone!  Almost every word included in the text on the screen is "Defined" and even pronounced if you like.That's just amazing to me... what a lot of work went into these!
      The field trips were produced with a high school audience in mind, but if you have a multi-age homeschool, you may find that there is something of interest for everyone. While my oldest enjoyed most of the material, she opted not to watch the video of a wolf catching it's prey, my middlest wasn't bothered in the least. My littlest was happy to sit on a lap and watch the 360° "locations". Note~  Almost every word included in the text on the screen is "Defined" and even pronounced if you like.That's just amazing to me... what a lot of work went into these!

      Digifrog Wetlands
      There is incredible amount of data included for each biome, and we have only scratched the surface. If you'd like to get an idea, here is a list of the topics covered. Just to whet your appetite a little,  a few of the topics covered in one or more of the field trips on this "Series" DVD include:
      Diversity of Life
      • Plant and Animal Structure and Function
      • Animal Comparisons and Adaptations
      • Plant Comparisons and Adaptations
      Interdependence of Life
      • Animal dependencies (food, shelter, nesting, pollination, dispersal)
      • Biodiversity
      • Habitat changes: harmful or beneficial
      • Interactions/relationships (eg. producer/consumer, predator/prey)
      Flow of Matter and Energy
      • Food: building materials, energy/fuel
      • Food: photosynthesis
      • Food: breakdown for energy & materials
      • Energy: food energy from plants
      • Human impact reduces fertility of land
      Given that the company didn't produce from a creation worldview, there are themes that relate to evolution. I haven't run in to any of them directly in our use of the software, but I when I do, I will use the opportunity to discuss our viewpoint, and why we hold it.

      In addition to the panoramic photography, reference materials and videos included in each field trip, there are a variety of activities and worksheets (With "teacher notes/answers") for each field trip.

      The nitty gritty on this resource: Home Licenses come in a variety of options:
      $60/individual Field Trip
      $125 for the 3 DVD Series that we reviewed (on one computer)
      $135 for for 3 DVD Series (on up to 3 computers)

      There are other pricing options for co-op use, and "bundle" prices that might be worth looking at if you're planning to purchase any of their other software. Click here for those details.
      If you would like to research these field trips a little more, you are invited to download limited "Demos" of the Digital Frog Software. You can also read the opinions of my fellow TOS Crewmates by visiting the TOS Crew Blog.

      As always, I hope that this review provided some useful information for you regarding the Digital Frog Field Trips, and will help you plan where best to spend your homeschool budget.

      Blessings~
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      Saturday, October 2, 2010

      Cranberry Christmas extended thru Sunday

      Hi, Friends~

      Just wanted to pass along the information I just got in an email....

      Oops . . .
      If you tried to order the $19.95 Cranberries & Cream subscription special early this morning, you may have noticed a pricing issue in the Schoolhouse Store.
      So, we're extending the $19.95 for 2 years of TOS special!
      You have an extra day to grab this great deal--that's midnight PST on Sunday, October 3!
      Here's what you receive for only $19.95:
      TWO years of TOS Magazine AND
      The FREE gorgeous Homeschooling with Heart tote bag,
      A FREE Fall 2010 Issue of TOS Magazine,
      The FREE E-Book: Cranberry Christmas!
      Please read the previous post for all of the details.
      Again, this $19.95 price is extended through Sunday, October 3 at midnight PST.


      Blessings~

      TOS Cranberry Christmas Sale (Crosspost)

      Receive a free cranberry and cream Homeschooling with Heart tote bag and a 2-year subscription to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine for just $19.95--through October 2, 2010.

      Hey, Friends~ Can you believe the holidays are just around the corner? The folks at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine have been getting ready for months to create this offer for you. I'm sorry that I missed getting this information out to you as soon as I heard(What can I say... it was Tuesday or Wednesday, and we had grandparents visiting from 1000s of miles away, so I have a little excuse), but it is good through Saturday, October 2~

      TOS is offering a great bargain. You can receive two years plus the fall issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.  Packed with more than 200 pages, it is a resource homeschoolers treasure. Subscribers will also receive the Homeschooling With Heart tote bag (I LOVE my TOS Bags! They are sturdy, and come with me just about everywhere!) AND a copy of the E-Book Cranberry Christmas, available for immediate download. You’ll get all of these inspirational, festive, and fun goodies for only $19.95. This price is good for new subscribers, renewals, gift subscriptions, and U.S. or Canadian customers. The sale lasts just through Saturday, October 2. 

      However,  if you couldn't get to it by Saturday, there is still a good deal~  October 3 through October 5, even though the sale drops down to a one-year subscription plus the fall issue, you still receive the tote and the e-book Cranberry Christmas.  

      Here is a little more information about Cranberry Christmas, direct from the folks at TOS~
      This is a great  “idea book” to get your family ready for the upcoming holidays!
      The staff and friends of The Old Schoolhouse® have come together to share their favorite family traditions, recipes, and more with you.


      It’s your FREE gift!


      WOW . . . a gorgeous holiday/Christmas digital magazine filled with inspirational and “how-to” articles, along with a fabulous lineup of planning, recipe, gift, and craft ideas you’ll love. 


      If you’re familiar with The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, you know what an inspiring resource it is. This digital holiday supplement is ourgift to you—a unique way to support, encourage, and inspire you and your family during this wondrous time of year.


      This 100-page digital holiday magazine is not your typical E-Book. Because this supplement is created with the same high-quality format that’s used in the digital version of our print magazine, you can even “turn” its lavishly illustrated, full-color pages. And we hope you will enjoy this timeless, practical, and beautiful resource for years to come.


      Its seasonally rich content will boost your creativity and show you how to make the most of the holiday season! Dive right in and start using the wonderful new craft and recipe ideas to enhance your family's holiday experience.


      Will you bring back old traditions or start some new ones? We’d like to help you plan some meaningful holiday memories that the whole family will enjoy.

      Get a free limited edition, cranberry and cream, Homeschooling with Heart tote bag and a two-year subscription to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine for just $19.95. Offer good only through midnight on October 2, 2010.




      Blessings~

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