Monday, August 31, 2009

Maverick Books and "Hank the Cowdog"

Hank logo
This summer, one of the first review products received by the TOS Crew was a package from Maverick Books. Some of you may be familiar with Hank the Cowdog, and his adventures on the ranch, with his perceived side-kick Drover. If not, you may be in for a few leg-slappin' belly laughs. Hank considers himself the head of ranch security, and takes his job fairly seriously. If your children are insightful, they will soon catch on that Hank is more of a Barney Fife than an Andy Griffith, which is the source of much of the humor.

The Crew received:
Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog CD $3.00
Hank's 8th Adventure: The Case of The One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse $4.24
Hank's Tornado Game $12.99

Here is a link where you can listen to John Erickson's performance at the PA Homeschool Convention. This will give you a good idea of who John Erickson is, and what Hank the Cowdog is like.

The Tales and Tunes CD has little excerpts from some of the stories, along with some fun music(mostly bluegrass). Some portions made us groan, some had a little language that I didn't care for (like the occasional "Heck", "Gosh" and "Dern" which is language that isn't used in our home). A lot of the humor is on a jr. high level, so keep that in mind... there are families that find it a "hoot", and others that find it mildly offensive... not passing judgement, just giving you information... :) I will admit that I am not terribly likely to play it too much until my 2-year old is beyond his "repeat-everything-he-hears" stage.... like say when he is about 4 or 5... Just in time for his brother to be at that jr. high level. ;)

Hank #8

The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse is likely to have your kids howling with laughter with its "Stream-of-dog-consciousness" conversation and humor. Similar to the Tales and Tunes CD, there is some language that some will find suspect, but it is never glorified or overly condoned.... it mostly just holds true to what one might expect to hear on a ranch. Likewise, there could be some valuable teaching points in the messes that Hank gets himself into with his frequent poor choices. All in all, my kids seem to enjoy these books, and when I occasionally pick one up to read myself, I tend to find myself chuckling here and there as well.
Tornado game
Hank's Tornado Game is a fun little fold-up travel game (With space for the included bonus cassette tape, if you happen to still have a tape player around.. ;) ) reminiscent of Trouble, Sorry, Ludo, and Parcheesi. If you are familiar with these games, then you will have a good idea of how the play will go. Rather than the typical 4 pieces, there are only 3 pieces (Hank, Drover, and Junior, a buzzard). Play is directed with a clever spinner (I like the way that it attaches, and is so compact... very nice!). This is fun enough and compact enough that it has been traveling with us in our car almost all summer.

If you would like to see what others on the TOS Crew have to say about Hank, don't forget to pop on over and visit a blog or two... ;)

There are many more stories (Both hardcopy and audio) to be discovered..... Happy Reading~

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Web Design for Kids (And Curious Adults)

Do you have kids that are interested in the computer... video games...?
They just might be interested in learning HTML, even if they don't know that they are interested!

When we received the Web Design for Kids DVD, my kids sort of glanced it (the case) over, and weren't terribly excited. However that all changed when I sat them in front of the screen, and popped the DVD into the computer.

Brian Richardson, the creator of Web Design for Kids, is one of the more engaging DVD instructors that we've been introduced to. He simplifies basic HTML enough that my 8 year old was easily able to follow along, and he is relatively pleasant to listen to, which matters to my 12 year old. You can see a 1-minute sample from the 2nd lesson on the DVD. This gives a pretty good feel for the rest of the DVD.

The course is about 1.5 hours long, with 7 lessons covering:
  • 10 Basic Lines of Code
  • Sandwiches and Colors
  • Make Subject Stand Out
  • Stand Alone Tags
  • Designing Backgrounds
  • Fonts and Paragraphs
  • Pictures
  • Bonus Section on File Folder Management
There is no software to download, everything you need is standard to your computer. While the lessons are geared towards the Windows Computer user, utilizing Notepad and Internet Explorer, we had very little difficulty translating that into Text Edit and Firefox on our MAC... HURRAH!

The way the lessons are set up, you watch a portion of the DVD, pause it, and do the work on your computer screen, then return to the DVD. It would be optimal to be able to watch it on a TV with laptops for the children, but again, it was very little trouble to watch it on our MAC with the DVD player screen taking up only about 1/4 of the computer screen, which left plenty of space for the Text Edit and Browser windows.

I really like things that don't require a lot of set-up time and/or extra programs~ Keep It Simple Sweetie (KISS) is one of my favorite phrases, and I think that Web Design For Kids does an admirable job.

DD and DS both have been having a lot of fun switching things up with text and color. DD has exclaimed that learning HTML is a lot of fun, and both of them are asking when they can work on their web pages again.... :)

Brian Richardson is not only a good teacher, he is determined to be a blessing to others. You can check out the charities that he is committed to supporting by donating a portion of all proceeds from Web Design for Kids

The Original DVD price is $40, but for a limited time, a "Summer Special Price" of $19.99 + $3.99 S&H is being offered.

Once your kids finish with this DVD, they are very likely going to be clamoring for more, if they are anything like mine.... so it's nice to know that there is a 2nd DVD in the works. Here is a hint of a few of the topics that will be covered...

-Embedding Games
-Embedding YouTube Videos
and more.......
So you have time to get going with the first one,

and stay tuned for more fun!

Oh, and if you want to be sure that it isn't just my kids (quirky? Not too much, I don't least not too much more than mom... ;^} ) that enjoy this... check out some of the other TOS Crew reviews.... Web Design for Kids appears to get a thumbs up from a bunch of folks!


Friday, August 28, 2009

GrapeVine Studies Old/New Testament Overviews Level 3


This one one of my favorite "Summer Reviews", for more than one reason.....

We were given our choice of a number of GrapeVine Studies Bible Studies. I chose the Old Testament Overview Level 3, which looks like it will be a great option for my DD, now that she has "aged out" of AWANA (Except for helping as a leader....). We are both excited to have a gentle, chronological study of the major points of the Old Testament, and to have memory verses to go along with (OK, so maybe Mom is more excited about that than DD... ;) .. we shall see...)

Photobucket Student Guide Photobucket Teacher's Guide for Levels 3 &4

The Bible study starts with an "Overview" Timeline of the entire Old Testament. The timeline is printed on 9 pages with on average 5 or so events/characters being stick-figured. I did discover that there is a slight difference between levels 3 and 4 in the student book, and that is that the Books of the OT are placed chronologically underneath the timeline in level 4. I think it would be great to include that in level 3 as well.... (You may hear why a little later...)

Once you get through the "Overview" of the timeline, it's time to dig right in to the Bible study, starting with Genesis 1:1. Each lesson starts with a review page of the previous 3 lessons' timeline events and their memory verses. The next two pages contain the current Scripture reading, broken down into about 3 stick-figure illustrations per page, with a set of review questions at the end. The last page contains instructions to make a "memory card" or potential "Flash card" of the lesson, and the memory verse(s) for that lesson.

Definitely a curriculum that touches on all three learning styles...
1. Hear the Scripture
2. See the stick figures that Mom or Dad draws on a white board/chalkboard or paper for the student to....
3. Copy onto their own papers.

The lesson is further "Reviewed" through the questions, which I like to do orally, and then going slightly tactile again, creating the "memory card", and writing down the memory verse. This could be a lot of writing/drawing if you tackle it all in one day, but broken down into 4 or 5 days, it is really quite simple. Oh, and you don't have to be a fine artist... the teacher's manual contains simple stick figures for you to draw, and your student(s) to copy. If you can draw a circle and some lines, you're good to go!

I have to take a minute here to tell you a little bit of a story, that is the basis for my excitement about THIS study, THIS summer, in particular.

For the second year in a row, we have hosted a young Japanese exchange student in our home for almost a month. My brother is a coordinator for this program, and has arranged for the hosts that are Christians to have Japanese Bibles to give to their visiting students. Nice idea, yes?

Last year our student came with us to church, and we managed to help her find her way around the Bible for some Children's Church-type lessons (her English wasn't very fluent, so we decided that it would be better to have object lessons and Scripture than to have her sit through the adult sermon... one of the benefits of a tiny church... personalize what's happening to the congregation and/or visitors), but I don't think she was very interested. We thought it was a good sign that she took the Bible with her, but really felt like we were just sprinkling a few seeds, and who knows the condition of the soil.

This year, with the GrapeVine Bible study needing to be used and reviewed, I decided to wait to start until our visitor (K) was with us. We picked her up on a Saturday, we gave her the Japanese Bible on that Sunday, and started in on the Old Testament Timeline Overview (level 3) on Monday morning. It's recommended that you take 2 weeks to go through a quick overview of the whole timeline, hitting all of the major events and people in the OT, so that is exactly what we did.

Being a homeschooling mom, and being by nature a "Tweaker", this is what we did... I printed up the timeline 2 to a page, cut them down to uniform size, and taped the whole thing together, then rolled it up like a scroll. Every day we unrolled one page and stick-figured the stories/events. I also went through and added the verses that coordinated with the stories from the actual future lessons, because I wanted (K) to have the ability to find them in her Bible when she went back to Japan.

Right before we ended the Old Testament Timeline Overview I asked (K) if she was enjoying it, and finding it interesting. She said yes, and by the smile on her face, I could tell it was true. (BTW, it was fun watching her write the names of the books in the references in Japanese... :D but this is where I would have liked to have them already printed, like I mentioned at the beginning of this review... might have made it a little easier...) I had a bit of a "light-bulb" moment, and thought "Wouldn't it be GREAT if we could give her an overview of the New Testament as well.. after all, that is the GOOD NEWS that we want to share.
I emailed Dianna at Grapevine to see if she would be so kind as to send me the timeline overview for the New Testament as well. It would have been perfectly fine and understandable if she had declined, but she was very gracious and promptly sent me the New Testament Overview Teacher's Manual and the Level 4 student manual. Thank you Dianna! I pray that (K) will be ETERNALLY grateful for your gracious generosity!

The last week and 1/2 that (K) was with us, I would go in to say "Good Morning" to the girls, and I would find her reading her Japanese Bible! When I mentioned it quietly to DD, she told me that (K) would read it at night before she went to sleep, unless she was totally exhausted by the day. All I can say is "What a great way to "go on a missions trip" in your own home!"

We didn't quite finish the New Testament Timeline quick Overview before she left, but I printed up a copy of the completed stick figuring from the teacher's manual, with the corresponding verses written in, so that she could finish when she returned home.

I understand that this wasn't entirely the intent behind this Bible study, but in this case, it certainly what God intended. I have no idea what the future holds for (K), but I know that she has appeared to be very fertile soil, and that GrapeVine Bible Studies were an excellent tool for planting the seeds of the Good News. I would recommend this for use with your own children, but I would also highly recommend its use as a way to introduce the Bible to anyone that is YOUR mission field, whether a foreign exchange student, or kids from the Fresh Air program, or your local Sunday School.

So a little more "General information"~
The OT and NT Overviews are offered in many levels, appropriate from age 5 through adult. There are also a number of other, individual, more in-depth studies available(Like Biblical Feasts and the Book of Esther), some of which were reviewed by members of the TOS Crew, so be sure to drop by the blog and check them out!

So, how much does it cost? The prices regularly range from $22.95 for the student ebook to $45.95 for a color Teacher's edition of the OT Overview. The smaller studies are regularly priced as low as $6.95, for the student ebook, depending on which study you choose. You will also notice that I said "range" because there are a number of formats from which to choose. There are ebooks, soft-bound books, and 3-hole punched for both the student and the teacher. There are benefits to each format, and you can decide what suits your situation. There are also sales and "Dent and Ding" discounts to be had, if you are needing to watch your penny's very carefully. AND... just for reading through this review, and bearing with my "Story" that I just had to share, GrapeVine Studies is offering TOS Crew readers a 30% discount on all their books through September 30 with the code: crew9

If all of this has whet your appetite, I encourage you to head over to GrapeVine Studies, check out some of their samples, sign up for their e-newsletter, and see what is in store for you and your family.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Quarter Mile Math/Barnum Software

Smaller Size
Looking for math drills/practice options that are fun?
Do you have a student that enjoys a challenge, or competition?
Interested in a reasonably priced computer option?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to check out Barnum Software's The Quarter Mile Math. You may already be familiar with this software, but if you haven't checked them out lately, I should let you know there is something NEW!

Previously, your ONLY option was to purchase the one or more of the CD programs and install on your computer(s). Since the CD is required to run the program, you were only able to have one student using it at a time.

Now, Barnum Software is offering a new DELUXE version that utilizes a reasonably priced subscription service with an online connection. With the Deluxe version, the software can be installed on any/all of your computers (including Grandma's so that when the kids visit, they can still practice math/show off their math skills, etc...), AND if you have more than one computer, you can have more than one child using the software at the same time. They can even enter tournaments and "Compete" with one another(or even compete with Grandma... :D ) The Deluxe version also includes all 70,000+ problems in the entire product line, covering grades K-9, so they can practice at exactly the level they need. OH, and it doesn't require your child to go on the web, it just utilizes the connection... NICE!

1/4Mile Image

If you haven't heard of The Quarter Mile Software, I should back up a minute and give you a quick overview....
The Quarter Mile Software is a math practice program that kids tend to love. The visual concept is a quarter mile "drag race" (cars) or "run" (horses*). There are 5 competitors in each race, with your child's current race being the farthest left. When they start each race in a given topic (of which there are 323 total, from K-9th grade), the child's car or horse is racing against "Fast Eddie". Each correct answer accelerates the car or horse in the race against the others. With each race, Fast Eddie is replaced with your child's times, until finally they are racing entirely against their 5 top scores. Got that? Here's a link with more information on how the program works, along with an instructive video that showcases the program.

Just to give you an idea of the topics included, here is a range:
Numbers and letters
  • Keyboarding (1- digit and 2-digit numbers, the alphabet and double consonants)
  • Learning the alphabet, counting, greater than, less than, place value
Whole Numbers
  • Grouping, doubling, Halving, Twins and Neighbors
  • Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division
  • Missing Numbers/ Operators
  • Rounding, Squares, Mean, Mode, Median
Estimation Preparation, Estimation
Math Strategies
Intergers Equations

There is a lot to be covered and drilled in here! Excellent! (Want to see the whole list? Here is a PDF file to download)
They also have a list of state standards and correlations that can be downloaded.

If you would like to try before you buy, there is a demo version available with 12 topics to test.

There is only one caveat that I need to mention~ If you are running a newer MAC (ie... MAC OS10.5 or higher, or a MAC running with an Intel Processor)that doesn't include the "Classic" environment then this software isn't an option for you. Thankfully, I have purposefully not upgraded my MAC because I knew that I wouldn't be able to run any number of my educational programs that require "Classic". If you are on a Windows machine, then you are good to go.

So... what is the cost of this program?
The "Deluxe version" is a subscription that covers your entire family. There are three options available:
  • $2.95 per family per month
  • $19.95 per family for one year (save $15.45 over one year) and
  • $34.95 per family for two years (save $35.85 over two years).
The Standard CD-Rom Versions are available in the following options
  • Levels 1 (k-3rd), 2 (4th-6th), and 3(6th-9th) are $ $39.95 each
  • Bundles of Levels 1&2 OR 2&3 are $64.95 each
  • Bundle of all 3 levels is $89.95
One more thing... the folks at Barnum Software listen to suggestions! They have added a section just for homeschoolers.
  • Personally, I like the "Approachable-ness" of this vendor (Willingness to listen to suggestions, good communication, reasonable/affordable pricing).
  • My children enjoy the race aspect, trying to beat their own best times.
  • We all like the option to compete against each other in "tournaments". (Or rather, at this point, they like the challenge or trying to reach the goals I've set with my races.. ;) )
Check out that demo, and see if this will work for your family! If you want to try it out further, a one month subscription for $2.95(no strings attached!) should give you an even better feel for whether this would be a good fit for your homeschool.

OH, and here's a SPECIAL OFFER, just for readers of the TOS Crew Blogs....
Use the Referral Code 7Z7A7 to get $5 off any product--Standard or Deluxe.
There is a place to input this code on the order forms.
This Referral Code will be good until September 30.


*horses note~ These are not jockey-ridden race horses, but rather horses running free in a meadow, for those that might be concerned about horse-racing connotations. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sense and Sensibility: Girls Edwardian Apron E-pattern

Being a "Sometimes" sewer, with very little formal instruction beyond one year of 4-H when I was about 12 or 13.... I jumped at the opportunity to review Sense and Sensibility's e-pattern/e-class bundle for a Girls' Edwardian Apron.

Girls Edwardian Apron Pattern

I figured that it would be mostly simple lines, and not too many pieces to put together, so worth a shot.

Here's how it went:
  • We watched the instructional slide-show (PDF "Slides" that follow an MP3 audio)I didn't get to watch it all, because "dinner" called, but DD watched while I was cooking.... she found it helpful to have everything described, and commented "We can watch it again, if we need to, right?" Yup!
  • Printed up the pattern (25 sheets of regular 8.5X11 paper... I recommend printing on the "Economy setting" if your printer has one. Here's a tip.... we used "Scrap" paper to print the pattern on... that is, paper on which we've already used one side. Rather than throwing it out, I have a drawer for "Recycling" the paper, and using the back-side as well.. so "Scrap" paper)
  • Read the e-pattern instructions.
Time to put the e-pattern together: 40 minutes
  • We laid it out on the floor
Pattern lay out
  • Taped it together using our storm door as a "light-box" to match up the lines on each page. DH came home to the "Apron sides" on the door, and was wondering what "THAT" was.... hoping it wasn't a broken window... ;)
Pattern "light Box"
  • Cut out the individual pieces(15 minutes), and on to cutting the material(45 minutes to iron and cut)!
All told, it took about 4 hours to sew and 6 hours total to put it together, but keep in mind that some of that time was "instructional", since DD hasn't used a machine much... so between using pins, 1/4" bias tape, and hopping up to iron pieces, the amount of time wasn't unreasonable(Although a bit longer than I had planned).

Keep in mind, if you are planning to use the pattern more than once, the 4o minutes or so of piecing the paper together only need to be done once.

Here are some pics of how it turned out... We chose to make the size 14, so that DD can wear it for a number of years... and hey, Mom can even grab it quick if she needs to... ;)

Apron Front Mom Apron Back on Mom Apron Side view Mom

Here are my thoughts regarding an e-pattern:
  • You can keep it on your computer, or a zip drive, storage is a snap!
  • You can scale it to size for doll patterns
  • You can transfer it easily to interfacing for a more durable pattern if you plan to make more than one or two aprons

  • It takes awhile to piece the paper pattern together, but considering that it really only took about 40 minutes, it wasn't that bad
  • There were a few places where one has to use common sense to make the pieces line up, possibly due to printer vagaries....
Finally, the cost:
$24.95 for the bundle of the e-class and e-pattern, they are available seperately:
e-pattern $7.95
e-class $19.95
and for those who don't want to think about the pros and cons of an e-pattern, there is a hard copy version available for $12.95

One of *my* favorite things about doing this review: Because I had a deadline, my daughter now has a new apron... I have to work on "Getting around to" more things like this... what a lovely sense of accomplishment!

To see what other TOS reviewers had to say about their experiences with Sense and Sensibility's Girls' Edwardian Apron, please visit the TOS Crew Blog




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