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 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 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! :) )


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)
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


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!

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 Membership


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, 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...

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.

custom worksheet generators
Word Sort
ABC Sort
Shapebook &
Border Paper
Word Search
Word Search
Word Shape
Word Shape
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 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.




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